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Playthings Magazine & M.U.S.C.L.E.

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Why Care About Playthings?

I have a subscription to Playthings, which is a toy industry magazine. While I was at their website I noticed they had an “Archives” section. Unfortunately on their website the back issues only went back to the year 2000.


Knowing that Playthings had been around well before M.U.S.C.L.E I wanted to search their back issues. During a trip to the library I decided I would read every article that could possibly relate to M.U.S.C.L.E. in Playthings magazine from 1985 to 1988.


I was able to find three issues that mentioned M.U.S.C.L.E. Below are the snippets from these articles, with a little contextual commentary from me.

The Playthings Issues

        February 1986 – “What’s new under the sun in 1986”

Every year Playthings highlights new toys that will be released. This issue is usually closely tied to the American International Toy Fair in New York City.

“M.U.S.C.L.E.s are miniature action figures and accessories with a wrestling theme that are intended for collecting, trading, and playing. There are 230 of these highly detailed figures available. The Battlin' Belt enables kids to transport these figures, and the Buckle turns into a miniature wrestling ring.”

        April 1986 – “More action figures battle for shelf space; TV advertising support, licensing tie-ins, in-store special events improve chances for success in crowded field.”

This article discussed that action figures had been experiencing sales growth and that there was a bevy of new product available. There was some concern that there were almost too many new action figures. The importance of TV support for action figures was also mentioned as crucial to a figures success. There were various quotes from toy store buyers in regards to what they expected to succeed.

“G.I. Joe, LJN's Thundercats, and Masters of the Universe were best selling action figures at Toyville in Downey, Ca. Toyville significantly increased its action figure shelf space last August, especially stocking up on G.I. Joe items. Buyer Dennis Cherry is also extremely high on Mattel's M.U.S.C.L.E. action figures.”

        December 1986 – “GI Joe marches to top of best-seller list; buyers representing 5,400 stores nationwide cast votes in 4th annual PLAYTHINGS' survey.”

This article, a yearly tradition, highlights the top selling toys. GI Joe and Pound Puppies took the number one and two spots for sales. There were two sections that mentioned M.U.S.C.L.E.

“Rounding out this year's Top Ten list are Mattel's Barbie and the Rockers, Worlds of Wonder's Teddy Ruxpin, Kenner's MASK, Galoob's Baby Talk, Playmates' Cricket, AmToy's Madballs, Mattel's MUSCLES, and LJN's World Wrestling Federation Superstars.”


“Half of the top ten toys were new to the market this year: Barbie and the Rockers, Baby Talk, Cricket, Madballs, and MUSCLES.”

This was the last mention of M.U.S.C.L.E. in Playthings magazine. In reading the various articles that followed there were a multitude of reasons given for action figures sales dropping. Some articles mentioned a surplus of action figure lines, a surge in plastic prices, a reduction in products produced in Asian countries, the failure of various cartoons, and several other possibilities.

But I think the December 1987 shed the most light on the decline of action figure sales. Nintendo was named the top selling toy. The toy industry was certainly forever changed by Nintendo’s success. Apparently toy stores had been burned by purchasing too many lines of action figures and only the strongest lines would survive. Mattel was especially burned by lagging action figure sales, so it should no longer be a surprise that M.U.S.C.L.E was cancelled.