FIGURE FLASHBACK: Mattel’s GUTS!
"The world’s toughest troops at your command"...
In the mid 1980s, Mattel sought to enter the miniature figure battlefield -— a market dominated by Battle Beasts and M.U.S.C.L.E. men —- with their own brand of wee warriors. The line was named GUTS! and that exclamation mark was there to prove that these toys meant business. "The world’s toughest troops at your command!" stamped on each package further boasted these small soldier's bravery, and as kids, we darn toot'n believed it.
Alas, GUTS! never found its victory in the mini-market war and hastily made a retreat... but not before releasing 60 brave fighters and a handful of vehicles upon our collections!
The premature death of GUTS! had nothing to do with the line itself, but more so with the toy landscape of the time. The late eighties was the heyday of such legendary toy lines as He-man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers; and GUTS!, not having the marketing push of a children’s show or even a comic book, simply did not have the massive exposure in the cultural mindscape that these other properties did. It simply could not compete, which is a shame given the novel concept of the figures and their fantastic execution.
GUTS! were essentially glorified green army men, roughly painted and cast in soft plastic. Sure, they weren’t much at first glance, but once they were inhand, the quality of this little line really showed. The figures were posed for playability, with soldiers of various kinds wielding a variety of guns, lasers, explosives, and hand-to-hand weapons. From spacemen with futuristic weaponry to ninjas bearing ancient Asian arms, the GUTS! line covered a variety of combat-types.
There were 6 different units to collect: Aikido Force a group of ninja warriors; Ground Troops, grunts in green fatigues; Green Berets, special forces soldiers identified by their hats; Underwater Demolition Team, troopers in wet-suits; Jungle Fighters, a team of topless militiamen; and Laser Fighters, futuristic soldiers with space outfits and weaponry.
There were 10 unique figures per unit, and each had his own codename (like a G.I.Joe). This gave the GUTS! a semblance of story when there was none, and buyers could form attachments to the characters, such as Tiger Tooth, Max Destruction, Slugs McGee, Otto Matic, Pistol Pete, and Iron Fist. With witty names like that, they had to be characters worth caring about. The line also included vehicles, but these were even more obscure than the figures and not nearly as important.
Mattel made the figures available in 2-packs, 5-figure-sets, and 10-figure complete units. Rather than go the usual, “vs.” method of packaging opponents, GUTS! were sold with other members of their own squads. The 2-packs were featured on a standard blister, and the 5-figure and 10-figure sets shipped in a full-color window box with a removable tray with fitted compartments for each figure. The 5 and 10 figure sets also included a dossier on the included troopers, while the 2-packs only provided character names for other soldiers in the respective unit.
GUTS! have been gone from store shelves for some 20 years now, but their more detailed descendants, Star Wars Unleashed Battle Packs, continue to ship to toy stores everywhere. Who knows, in time maybe they’ll be resurrected like so many other lines of the '80s... but probably not. Frankly, I only got back into collecting them so that I could have some soldiers to fight my Transformers, and even that time is coming to an end with the release of the new Transformers "Scene Battle" sets.
GUTS! fought a brief, but valiant war. Tiny toy heroes, we salute you.
Article and pictures by C.J. Stunkard
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