** Karl Stern hosts an excellent audio show over at f4wonline.com, focusing on “classic professional wrestling.” You can check it out by becoming a member of the f4wonline.com Empire (which we heartily recommend). He covers everything from the Pioneer Era to the Monday Night Wars, and sometimes even veers into contemporary stuff, but that’s part of the fun of the free-flowing show. Classic pro wrestling becomes a springboard to all kinds of topics. During the show, Karl answers questions and engages with reflections sent in by listeners. I’ve recently corresponded with Karl a bit, and since a few of the things I’ve written about were topics I’ve meant to address on the blog, I figured I’d reprint those letters here, rather than try to write separate entries. For more on Karl and his work, check out dragonkingkarl.com **
6-1-13, re: M.U.S.C.L.E. figures –
Hey Karl, just listened to your talk regarding M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. The talk was notable to me, since my interest in M.U.S.C.L.E. as a youth coincided with my interest in real world pro wrestling, and the combination of the two helped my general pro wrestling fandom to explode.
Like you, I was more of a GI Joe kid when it came it action figures, and M.U.S.C.L.E.’s size/lack of poseability wasn’t normally my thing. Still, there were so many of the unique little things that they captured my imagination.
In addition to the fact that it was easy to acquire a lot of the figures in one whack (they were sold in multi-character packages of various sizes), there was also a wrestling ring where two figures could be attached to stands controlled by joysticks on either end of the ring, allowing two players to have a “match” (first one to knock the other guy off his stand wins).
My friends and I would get our figures and ring together and spend hours booking angles before we even knew the term. I really think this time spent with M.U.S.C.L.E.–alongside a heavy dose of Rock ‘n’ Wrestling-era WWF–was responsible for deepening my interest in the wrestling genre and turning it into a fascination that’s still with me today.
Further, the exotic nature of M.U.S.C.L.E. helped my interest in pro wrestling extend past the confines of WWF and North America and move into the worlds of Japan and Mexico as well.
Before M.U.S.C.L.E. was M.U.S.C.L.E. it was a series of Japanese comic books and then an animated series known as Kinnikuman. At some point a line of collectible erasers in the shape of Kinnikuman characters were released in Japan and were extremely popular. These erasers, remade with a harder plastic material, were then released as M.U.S.C.L.E. figures here in the States.
Although I don’t think M.U.S.C.L.E. was ever as popular in the U.S. as it was during that initial mid-80s run, it has popped up again from time to time. There was a Fox Kids cartoon called Ultimate M.U.S.C.L.E. in the early 2000s (a port of a Japanese Kinnikuman cartoon), and a video game or two as well.
As for any of the M.U.S.C.L.E. characters being based on real world wrestlers, there were a few that bear striking similarities. I don’t remember all the M.U.S.C.L.E.s, much less their names, but I do recall that there was a cowboy character called “Terryman” (Terry Funk), a hulking monstrous looking guy with tell-tale Abdullah the Butcher scarring on its forehead (I THINK in the cartoon this character was actually called Abdullah), and a Dusty Rhodes lookalike named “Beauty Rhodes.” There may have been others as well.
While this makes sense in regards to Kinnikuman/M.U.S.C.L.E. (since the whole series is pro wrestling based), as someone who plays a decent amount of Japanese video games and watches a decent amount of Japanese animation, it isn’t unusual to see thinly veiled versions of 1980s pro wrestlers pop up from time to time, even in non-wrestling related works. It seems more common to come across nods to wrestling (and informed nods at that) in current Japanese pop culture than it is in America.
Anyway, sorry to go on, but M.U.S.C.L.E. holds an important place in my own wrestling fandom, and I’d kind of forgotten about it until you brought it up on the show. Thanks. One of these days I’ll have to bug you about another slice of Japanese pro wrestling related mania, the Fire Pro Wrestling video game series. But for now, back to listening to your show and doing dishes.