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WWE Legends

M.U.S.C.L.E.
by yo go re

At SDCC 2018, Super7 took advantage of their relationship with Mattel to debut a set of MUSCLE packs based on classic WWE stars. Since the original MUSCLE was all about wrestling, it's kind of shocking this never happened before.

The packaging does not copy the 1980s toys as closely as the Alien sets did - the pale blue used here is more in line with WWE's branding back then, and the figure leaping off the ropes is not Kinnikuman, but Randy Savage - you can tell these figures came out in that small period of time when the WWE was not ignoring Hulk Hogan's racism, because he's nowhere to be found among the toys or on the packaging. (It's a conspicuous absence, especially since everybody knew them scrubbing him from the history would only be temporary. But hey, you want him back, that's all you; it's not our place to forgive him, because we're not the ones he insulted.)

The back of each card has two of the characters inside taunting each other - yes, they're different for each set, which means they had to print four different ones, and make sure they got glued to the right figures. That seems like a lot of extra work.

[Note: in order to best show off the details, the individual images in this review are at twice actual size. --ed.]

Bagpipes and a kilt? You really can never go wrong with the "evil foreigner" trope, can you? Well, with Muhammad Hassan, maybe, but that was more a question of timing. Anyway, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper was actually the nationality he played, though there was more to his personality than where he was born. A fast-talking smart-mouth, he annoyed the heck out of whoever he was facing, and the audiences loved him for it. This figurine, with its kilt and "Hot Rod" T-shirt (with the letters lightly molded in, though they're hard to see unless you're really close) suggest this is a "ring entrance" Roddy, not one from the middle of a match. Shame they didn't mold him with his bagpipes, rather than this open-handed pose.

Andre the Giant is the biggest toy in this entire lineup, as he should be: he may not be the biggest man to ever wrestle, but he sure feels like he is, doesn't it? The sculpt here doesn't depict him in his most famous look - that wouldn't have big Zach Oat muttonchops - but it does give him his typical one-strap singlet. He's posed with one fist and one open hand, and the figure seems to be using foreshortening to make it look even bigger than it is: the mold stands nearly 2¼" tall as it is, but while the legs are barely longer than any of the other wrestlers, by the time you get up to the top, his head is twice the size of anyone else's. It feels like you're meant to imagine his legs are farther away than they seem, which is an interesting way of cheating the proportions.

It's not often you get a MUSCLE figure of a beef jerky salesman and a Spider-Man villain all at once, but don't you know anything is possible when you're rolling with the Macho Man? He's even more dragon than Ricky Steamboat, ooh yeah! Leaping Lanny Poffo's slightly better-known brother, Randy Savage was the perfect foil for Hulk Hogan, even when they were working different tiers of the show: he wasn't a cartoony hero, he didn't take time to pose like a bodybuilder, and he knew more than five moves, so he could entertain anybody who got bored by Hogan. He's molded wearing his bandana, sunglasses and, making him better than Mattel's version, a title belt. He has the typical "arms out" MUSCLE pose, which is a missed opportunity: they absolutely should have done him with one arm raised up slightly, like he was delivering an elbow drop. Dig it!

The Iron Shiek was the evil foreigner of WWE's Federation years - yes, even with Iran being an afterthought to Russia, and with Nikolai Volkoff bellowing the Soviet national anthem before every match. His most impactful role with the company was being the guy who passed the belt from (old-generation good guy) Bob Backlund to (new-generation) Hulk Hogan. And he apparently turned down a $100k bribe from a rival promoter to legitimately injure Hogan during the match, which is pretty impactful as well. Shiekie Baby hung around for a few more years, but mostly faded to obscurity... until someone decided to buy him a beer and interview him for YouTube, giving him a new career as the internet's favorite crazy old man. The figure has one hand on his hip and one pointing toward the sky, which is pretty much what we just asked for from Randy Savage. He's sculpted wearing his headdress, and with his big mustache, but no robes - probably because of the next guy in this pack.

If not for Hulk Hogan's racism, there is absolutely no question this spot would have gone to him. Nothing against Ric Flair and his outstanding talent, but in the era these figures represent, he was the big star of the NWA, the DC Comics to WWF's Marvel. But thanks to Grandpa Terry being declared an unperson when these went into production, someone had to take his place, even if it's like getting a set of toys with 11 X-Men and a Lex Luthor. Flair has his robe on, and his hands are held out to the sides. Because of the MUSCLE style, it looks more like a placating gesture than the "soaking in the adoration" it should be. Also, since they couldn't make the robe sparkle or put feathers on the collar, this really just looks like a guy in his housecoat. They've chosen to sculpt him with a big smile, not a "WOOO" face, and his wavy hair falls down onto his shoulders.

Really selling the idea that Flair took over Hogan's vacated spot in this pack is the final figure, Mean Gene Okerlund. Yes, Flair's interactions with him were undeniably memorable ("Meeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaan - WOO! BY GOD! - Geeeeeene!"), but Mean Gene spent more time carrying Hogan than everybody the latter ever wrestled with - he just did it in the backstage interviews rather than in the ring. He's slightly shorter than the other figures are, to help them look more impressive, and he's sculpted in his tuxedo and bowtie. His mustache kind of disappears into his ssmile lines, but his big bald forehead is right there. The toy's pose has him with one hand behind his back and the other holding up a microphone; anything else just would have been wrong.

Hey, at last it's a character we haven't talked about before! Junkyard Dog rose to prominence in the Mid-South Wrestling Association, where he was one of the top guys - so much so that when a storyline feud had him "blinded" by his opponents, they needed real-life police escorts to and from the arenas. In fact, he was the first black wrestler to ever be a promotion's #1 star. He was lured to the WWF in 1984, and while he was definitely popular there, he was a perpetual mid-carder. He's seen here wearing a chain draped around his neck (it's supposed to go along with his "wild dog" persona, but try not to think about it too hard, or your mind may stumble upon the... other implications). The way that his left arm is molded - hand open, palm down at about waist height - doesn't look great for fighting, but maybe it's supposed to represent him dancing with kids in the ring after a victory.

One of the guys JYD feuded with in Mid-South Wrestling was Jake "The Snake Roberts" - in fact, they took part in wrestling's first ladder match. A deeply cerebral wrestler, Roberts worked hard to psych out his opponents as well as the fans, especially once he turned heel. Naturally, the figure is sculpted with his python, Damien, draped around his shoulders - but in real life, Jake has said he has ophidophobia and legitimately dislikes snakes. To help support the snake (as part of the sculpt), Roberts' arms are held wide, and his hands are open instead of clenched into fists. So that we can see how long his hair is, it falls over the snake instead of being trapped beneath it.

Continuing the five degrees of feud separation, Jake the Snake was booked for a big one with the third figure in this set, the Ultimate Warrior. In the build-up to his big match with the Undertaker, Warrior asked Roberts for help preparing, but The Snake betrayed him; before the two could have it out, Warrior was suspended/fired for getting in a fight with Vince McMahon over money. He was the architect of his own Destrucity! Warrior is recognizable in this toy mainly by virtue of his "belief banners" tied around his biceps - his trademark look involved facepaint that an all-pink toy just can't re-create. Yes, the lines of the paint are sculpted on his face, but they don't stand out well enough to be seen, and "guy in trunks with big '80s hair" isn't really that distinctive without arm-ribbons.

"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan was another all-American good guy, often booked into feuds with whatever evil foreigners were available - and in a roundabout way, that got him in trouble. Once when diving between shows, he and the Iron Shiek were pulled over by police, who found them in possession of drugs. That was bad enough, but what pissed the powers-that-be off was that these two arch-enemies were seen travelling together like buddies. Gotta maintain that kayfabe, Jimbo! He's standing in a suitably goofy pose, with one fist on his hip, and the other hand proudly resting his 2x4 on his shoulder. Yes, a 2x4. How does a wrestler get to the point where his gimmick is "carries a plank of wood"? I don't know, but it works for him. He was usually the guy who got beaten up by whatever bad guy was next in line to face Hulk Hogan, but kept his prestige by being fed a steady diet of lesser villains to defeat himself - that way, his losses seemed to matter, even if he was just a big doof.

And speaking of being pro-America, here's Sgt. Slaughter! A real US Marine, The Sarge came to WWF as a heel, the type of sadistic drill instructor you'd normally get R. Lee Ermey for. But when they needed someone to oppose the Iron Shiek, he was a natural fit (thus increasing the irony years later, when he turned against America during the Gulf War and partnered with Shiek instead). This is his classic look, with a campaign hat, sunglasses, and a whistle hanging around his neck. His left hand is a fist, while the right has a finger extended for emphatic pointing action! Because of his big lantern jaw, his head seems slightly too large. Or maybe his neck seems too small. Either way, they should have titled his chin up a little, to better showcase that lantern!

The final figure in the set probably wasn't planned to be included, but bought his way in. The Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase, was played as a parody of Donald Trump, in that he was incredibly self-centered, venal, cheated people out of paying them what they were owed, and didn't actually have nearly as much money as he claimed to: the WWF gave him a huge per diem so he could be seen acting rich and maintain kayfabe. Hey, it beats laundering mob cash through a casino until it fails, right? Millionaire Ted is sculpted wearing his tuxedo, with the Million Dollar Belt draped over his shoulder. He's also holding a wad of bills in his left hand, ready to stuff down some jobber's throat after beating them. His face has a disappointed pout, which isn't as much fun as giving him his huge, maniacal laugh would have been.

Although they were an SDCC exclusive, the WWE MUSCLEs eventually showed up at GameStop as well, and have now generally hung around long enough to reach clearance. You might not be able to get all four packs at a single store, but you can get them all for a really good price. And honestly, the combo of WWF and MUSCLE is something that should have been done long ago.

-- 02/20/19


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