Glowing rubber worm toys based on the famous 'Glo-Worm.'
GUTS! Made by Mattel in 1986, these small-scale action figures sought to swipe some of the market share from other tiny competitors like M.U.S.C.L.E. and Battle Beasts. The line never achieved success great enough to make them anything but a distant memory from an era filled with defining toys, but that had nothing to do with their quality. Well-sculpted and meticulously painted, the GUTS! warriors were upscale contenders in a land filled with so much cheap plastic crap molded in some backwoods country nobody's ever heard of. Adding another plus mark, their very name made kids think about gooey, half-exploded intestines. Sold American.
Basically, they were toy soldiers -- little green army men at heart. GUTS! figures didn't look like much at first, but proper fondling reveals them to be as top quality as any of the other popular lines from the mid-80s. Just a lot smaller. And cheaper. And murderous.
Today, we pay tribute to these fine commandos and jungle ninjas. They're not the kind of thing you would've heard of if you didn't grow up buying 'em, but there's no reason to take a pass on such cool toys just because they never had an unsuccessful feature film or their logo pressed onto a TV dinner fold-out tray. Best of all, their obscurity lends itself to cheaper pricing. Compared to the toys that had correlating cartoon shows, GUTS! are a bargain in the collector's market. I'd much rather pay twenty bucks for a few handfuls of these guys than a urine-soaked Transformers sleeping bag with Megatron's face colored in with old kiddy shit. After this article, maybe you would too...
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The most common GUTS! toys were the 2-packs, where you received teammates from a particular squad for a low, low price. There were several squads in the line, with every figure being posed in a ready-to-DESTROY-YOU position. I've got three different to show you here, but there were even a few more than that. This gave kids the chance to know which of the figures should be killing the others. The last thing anyone wants to do is make two toys battle when they don't even have a checkered history with one another. The lines of camaraderie were clearly drawn in the GUTS! series, which was great since it decreased the chances of dimwits spelling it 'comrodery.' I wouldn't call them 'teaching toys,' but if the shoe fits...
The figures shown above are from the elite Aikido Force, 'Aikido' meaning 'Stereotypical Japanese Iron Ninja Assassin Chef.' If I'm not mistaken, each squad had ten figures. You only got two here, so you can see how GUTS! managed to bring in the dough from fans despite the nominal retail price. If you were into these figures, chances were that you planned on buying a whole lot of them. Besides, it's really just an 'Aikido Club' if you've only got two members.
Mattel was pretty clever in how they illustrated the package's cardback. Showing each character in full detail and giving them all their own special names helped kids get past the idea that they were just 'stupid toy soldiers.' With the lack of a cartoon or comic book, these guys were fighting an uphill battle as it was. If the public didn't think the characters had any background story, what's the point in respecting them, buying them and kissing them? With that, we're allowed to learn about the whole Aikido Force roster.
Names: Tsunami, Kobudo, Tiger Tooth, Torinoko, Panther Claw, Sensei, Long Chop, Dart, Dark Dragon, Iron Fist. Aren't those all Bruce Lee flicks?
Not a single one of the Aikido Force soldiers is without a weapon. They range from simple spears and throwing stars to elaborate broomsticks and something that looks like a sickle from a baby Grim Reaper Halloween costume. My pack included 'Dart' and 'Iron Fist.' Dart is a fully cloaked martial artist with banana peel yellow ninja stars. Iron Fist is a hotbodied asskicker with what appears to be a very large woman's thong stretched around his shoulders. I imagine them as having been reluctant allies, Dart always seething with jealousy because he couldn't pull off Iron Fist's shirtless look.
Course, it's possible that you wouldn't have wanted to spend so much time collecting the 2-packs. If you were willing to spend a little more money to get a little more GUTS!, Mattel also offered a much cooler 5-pack. I'm not building up to a 17-pack, so halt your anticipation, the climb stops here.
The larger packs shared the same package scheme as the smaller ones, but these figures came in a full-color window box, compartmentalized into a fitted sheet of thin plastic on the inside. The 2-packs had no such sheet of plastic. In addition, the GUTS! logo became so much more impressive looking when enlarged on the bigger package, and this compounded with the three extra figures made the 5-packs a must-have. My real goal here is to get you so sick of the word 'packs' that you'll have a Beethoven's Ninth Clockwork Orange Moment any time you hear it forever more. It's just a little thing I do to keep myself amused.
We've got two of the 5-packs to take a look at today, starting with another warrior ensemble, the 'Ground Troops.'
These were probably the most iconic of the GUTS! sets, all looking like full-blooded and very-armed Americans. This actually made them the most boring of the squads, since they all appeared to be same guy fitted with different weaponry. Same green uniform, same patriotic scowl, occasionally differentiating shoe color. The real coup of the Ground Troops figures were the impossibly huge guns they carried -- some with handles wider than the soldiers' heads. If you look real close, you'll notice my fortune in attaining the elusive Vin Diesel chaser figure.
None of the figures were posable, but on the upside, they were certainly chewable. The paint job on most of 'em was fantastic, sometimes using far more colors than the much bigger action figures from more popular lines. While the immovable joints might've seemed annoying at the time, it was for the best in the long run. Since their legs didn't move, there was less of a chance of the various gizmos and rubber bands used to make that happen becoming loose. GUTS! are some of the only action figures who don't lose their ability to stand after a few months. And they had BIG guns!
(click picture to enlarge)
According to the back of the box, the characters included in my package were: Sgt. Stubble, Pistol Pete, Major Dome, Otto Matic, and Grunt. I really wanted 'Cappy' and 'Devil Dog,' but it's the luck of the draw and beggars can't be choosers. Eh, I just wish that one of the figures I got didn't look so constipated. I've got a whole set of soon-to-be-shitters. Kinda makes it hard to get into the whole pretend world when my front line looks so ass-uncomfortable.
I know what you're thinking, though. It's okay if the Ground Troops aren't at 100%. They've only got to fend off a few Aikido massas. The guns'll take care of that, right? Well we ain't done yet - the last series of GUTS! we'll be reviewing today also knew the power of a good firearm, not to mention the importance of wearing matching hats to avoid any accidental friendly fire. Here's the 'Green Berets!'
The box claims that the Green Berets 'march in where no others dare to go.' The Aikido Force's tagline called them 'aces of the martial arts.' Green Berets really got shafted with their promo slogans. Again, there were two different 5-packs available. The first was fairly standard - just a bunch of guys in green caps holding bazookas and grenades. Direct and simple, nothing fancy about 'em. The second set was way more interesting -- on top of four of the usual kinds of troops, you also received a special surprise puppy! A special surprise puppy!!!
The best thing about the 5-packs were the bios written for the characters on the box -- the 2-packs gave you names, but nothing more than that. Since I got the dog in a 5-pack, not only can I tell you that he's named 'Detail,' but also that he's 'armed to the teeth,' and was 'pure bred for fighting!' This is also how I learned that 'Hot Launch,' another Beret commando, was 'always ready to let one loose.' Sounds more like one of the Ground Troops to me.
Obviously, Detail was one of the most popular GUTS! figures. No kid passed up on the cute little doggy. This also marked the line's greatest flaw - the soldiers were just too alike. While there was an effort to give each character his own specific traits, it wasn't enough to shake the feeling that we just bought a pile of no-name clones who sporadically changed their costume theme. I guess similarity breeds contempt just as well as familiarity and Mortal Kombat's oft-disputed inclusion of the babality.
Other sets tried to rectify the situation with stranger offshoots, including a squad of underwater frogmen and another group with lazer weapons. These were generally more interesting than the initial sets, but in the end, it just wasn't meant to be.
There were a few vehicle toys in the line, too. They look just like what you'd expect - standard military vehicles modified to fit the particular squad. Oh, let's not forget the 10-pack of figures, either -- the only way to collect an entire squad all at once. I can only judge what I see, so we've got one question left: of the three groups we've reviewed, which was the most powerful?
Well, the army guys have huge guns and Vin Diesel, so they're way up there. The Green Berets have tiny guns, but even small bullets are known to hurt. The Aikido Force are sentimental favorites of mine, but I can't claim that ninja stars and karate kicks are gonna take down a bunch of handheld missile launchers. Let's just call it a tie. Ties don't hurt anyone's feelings.