It seems like such a simple question, but it has spurred a multitude of possibilities.
Since it will be very difficult to uncover the absolute truth, each theory will be presented. It could turn out that all of
these are wrong or that the truth is in a combination of theories.
The Final/Next Wave
This is perhaps the most likely scenario, because it is the simplest. The first
year of release Mattel only produced the figures in the original “flesh” color. The second year saw the introduction
of various colored figures. Perhaps the Super Rares were part of a second wave of flesh figures that was halted, because the
second wave was going to be the same wave of figures – but colored. These also could have been part of a third year
of release, but after the line was cancelled only a limited number found their way into the general public.
I believe that the appearance of both a flesh and dark blue Robin Mask Super
Rare add credence to this theory. Additionally the Super Rare colored figures have only been found in dark blue and red –
two of the three first colors introduced.
There have been many other examples of
toy manufacturers that have dumped their unwanted product into foreign countries. Kenner sent some Power of the Force to Europe and Takara
sent some of their Laser Beasts to Europe. So there is precedence for this type of behavior by toy companies.
Bandai USA did release the MUSCLE toys during the 80’s in
Latin America. This piece of information is especially
interesting because of Kenner’s relationship with Latin America.
When the Star Wars line was dying in the US, Brazil received a figure that was not part of the American release. Perhaps our
Super Rares are exclusive to Latin America?
There are also some facts that suggest
that the Super Rares may have come from Canada.
As with the Latin America example, perhaps these figures were dropped into Canada
as the line started to falter. Many of the Super Rares have been from sellers in the upper New York
region near Buffalo. It’s not unthinkable that figures
were purchased in Canada and made it into the Buffalo area. It’s also interesting to note that the Oriental Trading Company at one
point distributed the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. I’m unsure if it was during M.U.S.C.L.E.’s official release, or if
they distributed them as a clearance center. I tend to believe the latter because they a “dollar store” distributor.
There were also French/English 4-packs released in Canada.
These are the only know examples of bilingual M.U.S.C.L.E packaging.
This theory is based on the
relatively small number of Super Rare figures that have been found. This seems somewhat unlikely for a few reasons. There
was already an ample supply of samples because of the Japanese line of Kinnikuman. There were already hundreds of examples.
It seems unlikely that a few examples would be made just so that people could experience the different texture and rigidness.
Mattel was known for making
limited quantities of certain toys as samples or tests. Hot Wheels has a well known history in this regard.
“Mr. W also
had some interesting information about where a lot of these production pilots ended up.
He told us about some
of the "Consumer marketing" that was being implemented by Mattel then. The Mattel employees' kids were categorized by age
and sex. This would determine which toys they got to "test".
Typically, there were approximately 100 production samples
of certain cars given away. They would always be in some sort of container, such as a sealed baggie, but never loose. (for
safety reasons) So these production sample were simply given away as test market toys!
Another category, the Mattel
defects were sold at the Mattel Toy Club at closeout prices. Even today, the Mattel Toy Club sells (non-defective) cars that
failed to sell in the stores and they often have closeout prices on them.” - From: Red Lines Online
This interview was from a Mattel
employee, and deals with Hot Wheels. However I thought it was interesting that Mattel had this type of “procedure”
in place. Perhaps they had a similar practice for MUSCLE? This is very unlikely since Bandai actually produced M.U.S.C.L.E
in Japan and China.
When SC was first found in a sealed 4-pack collectors believed that perhaps
SHA and BHS were recalled either through an internal Mattel recall or as a consumer safety recall because they had small loose
pieces. This theory seemed reasonable until DM showed up. It was argued that perhaps DM was lumped into the recall group because
his cane was too sharp or too prone to snapping. This theory took another hit when DE was discovered. There was nothing about
this figure that was sharp, fragile, or loose.
This theory took a tiny
step forward with the Magnificent 11 because there is a two-piece Satan Cross, unfortunately the other 10 figures and following
five figures did not have loose pieces.
I was able to uncover some
initial information about toy recalls. Here’s some of the interesting information about child safety. It should be kept
in mind that these are 2003 guidelines, not 1986 & 1987 guidelines. Updates could mean that they are now different.
“In 1994 and
1995 the United States Congress passed and the Consumer Product Safety Commission implemented the Child Safety Protection
Act. The CSPA requires, among other things, the banning or labeling of toys that pose a choking risk to small children. The
CPSA specifically requires:
2. Any toy or game that is intended for use by children who are at least 3 years old but
less than 7 years of age be conspicuously labeled with a warning statement that the toy contains a “small part”
and it therefore poses a choking hazard to small children. The Act defines a small part as one that fits completely into a
“small part tester” with a diameter of 1.25 inches.” - http://www.safekids.org/
I also went to “The Consumer
Product Safety Commission” and couldn’t find any Mattel recalls from 1985-1988 (Actually ’88 had something
about cribs). Although I did find this, http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/cpsr_nws03.pdf
On page six it has an
interesting graph, notice that action figures aren’t on the list. I also contacted
the Consumer Product Safety Commission to try and get addition information about 1986 and 1987.
I also spoke with Todd Stevenson the Director of Office
of the Secretary with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Here are some of the questions I asked in the email I sent: