Life In Plastic: RETRO REVIEW: Super Scary Monster In My Pocket

Once upon a time, Monster In My Pocket was the greatest thing that ever existed.  It was a line of small rubber figures, all based on monsters from mythology, folklore, and literature.  The original line, which consisted of forty-eight figures, had things ranging from the Behemoth to the Jenny Haniver, and in the days before Google, this meant I had to research to find out what the Tengu or Coatlicue was.  This means, of course, that my love for research and mythology can be traced to these toys.

Series 1 was the most famous (of course), although Series 2, which had twenty-four figures, was also fairly good, featuring creatures ranging from the French Tarasque to the medieval Bishop Fish. There is some confusion afterward, with the unofficial “series 3” consisting of several promo and exclusive figures released in cereal, in restaurants, and with a video game – there were also several announced yet unproduced monsters, making that “series” kind of a mystery. The next genuinely-released set, though, were the “Super Scary” monsters.

The Super Scary Monsters In My Pocket were the last real gasp of the line. After this series, it ditched its mythological roots, producing toys of bugs, dinosaurs, space aliens, wrestlers, sports stars, and ninjas. That’s… kind of one of those “how the mighty have fallen” situations, but the reason is fairly obvious: controversy. For some reason, the line’s designers kept including Hindu deities as monsters – Kali in Series 1, Ganesha in Series 2, and Hanuman and Yama in Super Scary. Hindu advocacy groups raised quite a bit of controversy, and the line shifted away from mythological stuff. It’s kind of sad, really – and sort of hilarious that absolutely nothing else caused much of a public outcry, not even the Great Beast of Revelation.

Super Scary had a few things making it different from the previous two (or three?) series of Monsters In My Pocket. The sculpts were larger, had painted details, and six of them could glow in the dark. The paint was very hit-or-miss, accentuating some sculpts while ruining others, and it scuffed away extremely easily. Most figures looked terribly worn very, very soon. Sadly, the Super Scary line has never been anyone’s favorite MIMP series, thanks to the paint issue as well as its “last gasp” status. But to be honest, the figures really aren’t all that bad, and if not for the internet’s way of SUPERHATING everything, they’d probably be beter-remembered. So, you know what? Let’s look at them. I may revisit Monster In My Pocket for Series 1, 2, and 3, but let’s start with a close survey of the Super Scary figures.

Oh yeah, I just want to say in advance that those glow-in-the-dark figures are nearly impossible to photograph well. In fact, a lot of the sculptural detail is even lost to the naked eye because of the way the rubber turned out. It’s kind of annoying. They came in yellow and green, but by strange coincidence all these photos will be of yellow glowing figures. Just roll with it, and enjoy all twenty-four!

Also, I promise to keep the descriptions semi-brief. Seriously, I’m a mythology nerd. I could vomit out massive paragraphs for all of them if I didn’t control myself.

CHARUN is an Etruscian god of the dead, a winged figure who carries a hammer – he may or may not be related to Charon, though his actual role was far more punitive in nature… sort of. He didn’t directly punish the souls of the dead, but he did take them to their final destination. And he always had that hammer.

THUNDERDELL is one of the giants featured in Jack the Giant-Killer, a British story set during the reign of King Arthur. Jack (maybe the Beanstalk Jack, maybe not) defeats Thunderdell by beheading him (both heads!) with a drawbridge. Yeah, Jack the Giant-Killer is that kind of story.

HANUMAN is the Hindu monkey god, a trickster by nature, a benevolent hero, and the root source of the Monkey King in Journey to the West. He really shouldn’t be considered a monster, even if the figure has a fierce baboon face.

YAMA is the judge of the dead in many Hindu and Buddhist traditions, ranging from India to China and even Japan (in Japan, he’s usually known as Enma). In fact, he’s even a character in Dragon Ball Z! The figure is clearly based on some of his HIndu depictions, based on the face and fire surrounding his feet.

GHILAN is essentially an Arabian Ghul, which is an evil spirit that can take the forms of any living creature to trick and devour its victims. The Ghoul was one of the first series monsters, but this figure more accurately captures their freakish shapeshifting nature It has extra faces, even!

ASTAROTH – I’ve mentioned Astaroth before. More importantly, this figure is a huge research mistake – it’s clearly designed after Baal, what with the spider body and three faces. As it turns out, there is one book on demonology that used Baal’s picture for Astaroth, which explains this figure thoroughly. But yes, it’s Baal.

DYBBUK is a posessing spirit from Jewish folklore. As Judaism has moved away from believing in demons, Dybbuks are more often thought of as vengeful ghosts, but the end result is the same. They posses people, and require an exorcism to expel. And yes, this figure is pretty obviously Regan from The Exorcist.

LAMIA – “Lamia” in fiction can mean just about anything, but in Greek mythology, she was a horrible vampiric monstrosity with hooves and scales who could remove her eyes. So yes, this figure is way better-researched than all those snake Lamias you see running around.

GRAVE WATCHER – Although it seems like a generic skeleton guarding a grave, this actually appears to be Ankou, the Breton/Cornish/Welsh servant of Death who patrols graveyards, protecting those who rest in peace. Ankou was a slated, but unproduced third-series figure, which might mean that this one isn’t Ankou… or it might not. It’s either Ankou, or just a generic tombstone beast. MIMP had occasional research failures before (just look up “karnak”), but they never outright made up monsters.

CREATURE FROM THE CLOSET is the closest MIMP ever came to just making up monsters, sort of. It’s the personification of every child’s “There’s a monster in my closet!” Although there is no formal mythological lore surrounding it, this is something that many have believed in. I love how he actually wears the closet doorframe around his shoulders.

SLAUGHTERFORD is the ghost of Christopher Slaughterford, the first person convicted and executed in modern England (1706) on circumstantial evidence, for the murder of his fiancee. His last words proclaimed his innocence, and legend has it that his ghost tracked down the real murderer, appearing with a noose around his neck and wielding chains, crying “Vengeance!” until the actual culprit committed suicide.

JENNY GREENTEETH is a wicked fairy with rotten teeth who grab children and drowns them, but only if they swim unsupervised after their parents told them not to. She is very similar to many bogeymen in folklore, some of whom got made into Monsters In My Pocket.

HOUNGAN is the title of a generic vodou priest, though this one is very clearly meant to be Baron Samedi, the loa of death. Samedi wears skull makeup, has a fancy top hat, and smokes way too many cigars – though he’s not necessarily a malevolent figure.

MAD GASSER OF MATTOON was the supposed source of various poison gas attcks (or just stinky gas) in Botetourt County, Virginia and Mattoon, illinois in the 1930s and ’40s. It was likely mass hysteria, or perhaps an ordinary prankster, but this figure looks really cool.

DRUDE is a type of Germanic witch, which invades people’s nightmares, causes sleep paralysis, and possesses them. The Nightmare Witch is horrifying enough when you imagine her as a person, but this surreal design is one of MIMP’s most horrifying figures.

BOOGEYMAN is, well, the same Bogeyman (more accurte spelling, though it doesn’t matter) that has terrified children since forever. Parents make the up to scare their kids straight, and their ranks include Jenny Greenteeth and Rawhead & Bloody Bones (in Series 2), and even some Creatures From The Closet. This figure’s proportions break the uncanny valley quite nicely.

ALU is a type of evil spirit from ancient Mesopotamia, which lacks a mouth, lips, and ears (or even a full face). As a deon of night, the Alu will invade people’s dreams, cause sleep paralysis, and possess them – just like the Drude, but that is a common running theme in many, many tradtions. The Alu is one of the oldest monsters in the entire toy line, and matches up with the Scorpion Man released in Series 2. One of the reasons why I love this line is its willingness to delve even into ancient Sumerian legends for their toys.

FACHEN is a type of Irish fairy, often described as feathery, with one arm, one leg, half a face, and half a torso. Literally, half a giant split down the middle. This figure is a very loose interpretation of that, but is really a cool design.

JERSEY DEVIL is one of America’s most famous cryptids (and yes, they made a figure of Bigfoot in Series 1). The figure kind of resembles some of its descriptions, though there are so many differen ideas of what it looks like that it works. Interestingly, New Jersey’s Pine Barrens are a genuine wilderness, and if I were a secretive monster, I’d hide there. Or in Alaska.

WURDULAC is a type of Romanian vampire variant which, although resembling classical “movie” vampires in almost every way, has an extra wrinkle: They are forced to prey on their family, loved ones, and friends first. That is depressing, and will never be made into a best-selling series of romance novels.

POLTERGEIST is, of course, an invisible mischief spirit that tosses objects around. This interpretation gives it a monstrous body, and is screwing around with cups, knives, and a bottle. It has a ton of personality, and showcases the designers’ creativity in what was essentially a blank slate.

UMI BOZU is a massive Yokai water spirit that appears as a huge, featureless black face rising from the waves. MIMP got that face right, and then made up a body – and again, I love the creativity in this line, and it’s just a solid figure all around. It’s also one of the largest and heaviest by pure size and mass alone.

WILDMAN OF CHINA is the Yeren, essentially a Chinese bigfoot. Yeren are described a red-furred, and somewhat manlike, somewhat monkeylike, and somewhat bearlike. If you’ve seen Big Trouble in Little China, you’ve seen a Yeren. I have no idea where they got the idea for that geometrically gigantic haircut.

IMP is a small demon. But then, they were originally generic mischief fairy spirits before then, and only later turned into demons. Sometimes, creatures change around in mythology and folklore – but that’s moot, as this is pretty much a tiny devil. The only classic devil in the entire line, amazingly… and there was no controversy, unlike, say, with Ganesha from Series 2.

And that’s the Super Scary Series. Despite its dubious distinction as the last gasp of MIMP’s glory days, it’s not that bad a line. The paint was a bad idea, but the monster selection is really something else – and honestly, those sculpts have some creativity behind them. If they had meshed better with the previous series, they’d be much better-regarded today, but they are rather enjoyable on their own terms. And besides, how many toys of the Alu do you know about?

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