Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mistico: The Most Bootlegged Wrestler of the Modern Era

Alien. Luchador. Ninja. Samurai. Cage fighter. Just a few of the titles Mistico has worn throughout his bootleg form anyway. Created in a Mexico City lab as a modern day El Santo, the young wrestler would take a mouthless mask to extreme success in his home country before exploding onto the international scene as both a lucha libre icon, and the most prolific bootleg action figure of the modern era.

The man that came to define the name Mistico began wrestling at age 15, paying his dues and learning his craft on the lower end of the card of Mexican wrestling shows near Mexico City. His big break came in 2004 when CMLL, the oldest and most respected wrestling company in Mexico, literally blessed him with the Mistico persona. Wrestling priest and inspiration for Jack Black's Nacho Libre, Fray Tormenta, brought the young wrestler out, claiming to have raised and trained him at his orphanage. The spiritual overtones gave the Mistico gimmick a holy aura that really helped the Mexican crowds rally behind the smaller luchador, but the fact that he was a bonafide lucha prodigy didn't hurt. His small stature and superhuman agility allowed him to show off a level of technical crispness that was missing from lucha main events, and as a result, he became the most popular wrestler in the country in years.

Chicks dig the mask: The original Mistico holding one of the many titles he won during his CMLL run.
The man behind the mask grew up in the famously violent slums of Mexico City called Tepito, where Santa Muerte-tinged violence isn't uncommon, and where pirated and bootlegged goods are freely sold in open markets. It's somewhat poetic that even with the fame and success he's achieved, he's become an icon as a bootlegged action figure, and I'd like to think that thousands of his unauthorized figures have been sold in same marketplaces he frequented as a child.

Unlike most bootlegged figures, where the child is looking to get a reasonable facsimile of an existing toy franchise, the Mistico bootlegs are seldom presented as wrestlers, making them appear as generic or original creations resembling a Power Ranger or ninja assassin. That means that while thousands of children will grow up with Mistico in their toybox, very few will connect the figure with the man himself. Compare that with the most famous bootleg luchador of all time, the static "one hand up, one hand down" lucha figure that is commonly found in 6 packs anywhere crappy Mexican tourist merch is being sold. While these are commonly painted (poorly) to resemble a wide spectrum of lucha characters, a closer inspection of the mask sculpt reveals the signature characteristics of El Santo's famously plain mask. A distinctly Mexican toy, it's tough to mistake the base figure for anything other than Santo himself.

Original bootleg: Several examples, both customized and scrubbed clean, of the first lucha figure.

The first Mistico bootlegs started showing up stateside around 2008, with generic Ninja 2-packs starting to appear at flea markets, dollar stores, or any other spots hocking mass-produced Chinese imports. Using what I assume is a shrunken head from the 2006 CMLL figure line, an enterprising bootleg designer attached it to the body to a generic action figure body creating something greater than the sum of it's parts. The stylized eye shapes and mouthless mask design offer a versatility that lent itself to several variations, including samurai, aliens, and MMA combatants. I give a lot of credit to the enterprising bootleggers for squeezing out as much usage as possible out of their figure mold, but they really struck gold when they started throwing together groups of figures and random accessories into full-on Mistico playsets. Cybernetic wings, Wolverine claws, even a straight-up motorcycle were carded with 4 or 5 multi-colored Mistico figures. And when that wasn't enough, translucent plastics and even battery-powered action features were included. Each new playset pushed the envelope a little further, and as of the publication date of this article and 5 years after finding the first Mistico bootleg, new variations are still being spotted in the wild.

And now I present my personal collection of bootleg Mistico playsets, all acquired by walking countless flea market aisles and sorting through piles and piles of crappy toys. While rarely costing more than $12, the hunt and scarcity of them makes me treasure them more than most of the "art toys" purchased online.
The "vanilla" Mistico uses the entire CMLL figure mold, whereas most just slapped the head on a plain body. This one is still commonly found in Dollar Tree stores, often featuring a chainsaw accessory and a fucked up paint job.

The Ninja's were the first figures I stumbled across and I literally didn't believe the information my eyes were sending to my brain. Completely amazed by it's existence, I bought it and uploaded pictures to a lucha libre message board, where other miscreants offered up cash for it. But even with it's $2 price tag, I couldn't part with it. I'd occasionally run into uninspired color variants of those first Ninja figures at Dollar Trees and gas stations, but it wasn't until about a year later that I realized the Mistico bootleg had become a sort of phenomenon.
Translucent Power Ranger Misticos! The first playset to be discovered, and you can bet your ass I started lose my mind when I spotted that see-through red Mistico with pterodactyl wings and working eye lazers! Plus airbrushed prehistoric flame weapons for his henchman?!? Did someone lace my morning corndog with acid, or did this somehow actually exist? Just to be sure, I wolfed down the remaining corndog and handed over the cash for this magnificent bastard.
As MMA became more and more popular, speculative bootleggers made sure to keep all of their bases covered as they converted a handful of pro-wrestler figure molds to mixed martial artists (you know, the kind involved in ladder battles). I applaud their bold decision to feature a masked MMA fighter, giving this version of Mistico some extreme tats, a Rob Liefeld torso, and stylish black-and-gold biker shorts.
While some of the other sets have a sense of "lets just throw together some similarly colored stuff together and card it", this bad motherfucker seems a bit too calculated for that. Maybe I'm projecting based on how bad-ass this turned out, but I definitely detect that some love went into this playset. As if some rogue bootlegger, up late in the toy factory decided to challenge himself to make the most balls-to-the-wall awesome set and when he exhaustedly collapsed in a pile of plastic figure bubbles and tiny ninja stars the next morning, this was what was assembled at his workstation. Wolverine claws? Why not! Samurai helmet? Sure, and why not throw a Kendo fencing mask in while we're at it. The cherry on top? A god-damned Action Cycle! I love this set so much that there are explicit instructions in my will for this to be presented to me on my deathbed, so my last moments are not spent sharing cherished moments with loved ones, but rather finally putting Mutant Samurai Mistico on his rad Action Cycle.
A bit of a callback to the Super Samurai series above, they even got the figures right on the packaging this time. Part of being X-treme must involve better quality control! The same set of Samurai and Kendo armor are included, albeit in a flame color scheme this time, but the real kicker is the full size kid's sword included with this set. While the heavy sword tends to jostle the rest of the smaller accessories packaged, the bootleggers showed some real ingenuity in ditching extra in-scale accessories for a Power Ranger-style sword they could wack a younger sibling with once they were tired of the figures themselves. X-treme, indeed! 
Alien Spider

Alien Spider The most recent playset find, this one features a UFO figure that is commonly sold by itself wherever bootlegged toys are found. The detail that helps this transcend from a shitty toy set to a head-scratching bootleg treasure is paint application to the UFO figure itself. Had you ever noticed that Spider Man has the same eye shapes as a generic UFO? WELL THE BOOTLEGGER SURE DID! An intricate web design mimicking Spider Man's costume has been faithfully applied, creating an interesting "What If?" scenario where Peter Parker was never bitten by a radioactive spider and was instead granted his great powers from a spider-themed spaceman. Throw in a few Spider-Clones and a Mistico Venom or two and you got yourself some flea market gold! Safety tested, of course. ;)
Where's the Wolverine claws? And no Action cycle? What a gyp! Man, some bootleggers have no class!

Out with the old: Mistico adopts the Sin Cara persona / Mistico II makes his debut.
While new Mistico bootlegs are still seemingly being produced, there has been a major shift in the identity of Mistico, the wrestler. Over the last two decades, it's become more and more common for top-level luchadores to relocate to the United States for broader fame and a bigger payday. This leaves the promotion they've left feeling a little betrayed and with a hole in their roster, and they're quick to rectify both situations by putting a new wrestler under the established mask. While the masses don't seem to mind, or even really notice for that matter, hardcore lucha fans tend to hate these bootlegged wrestlers, as they generally don't live up to the greatness of the originators. This exact scenario recently played out when Mistico, having thoroughly conquered Mexico's wrestling industry, jumped ship to Vince McMahon's WWE. Like an evolving Pokemon, his mouthless mask gained some aerodynamic wings, and he announced the not-very-awesome name of Sin Cara. Not too long after that, CMLL announced new Mistico would debut in the same mask and costume as the original. So far, it's fair to say that neither experiment is working as well as they'd hoped, with Sin Cara seemingly unable to find the rhythm that made him such a phenomenon in Mexico and Mistico II's first year is plagued with lackluster matches and multiple injuries. Proof that the emergence of a lucha god is a once-a-generation occurrence that simply can't be manufactured...unless you own a bootleg toy factory.

Did you know Mistico has also been bootlegged as a sticker?  Get your Cabroncito sticker pack in the Scraped Resin store!

Thanks again to Jessina Z. for the majority of the photos here. If it wasn't for her help, this article would have been my words joined by several photographs of giant glares.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the info! Do you know about Non Specific Action Figure?

    I'm looking to find the sword and wings if you have any suggestions that would help! I found some overpriced but in both in red at my local flea market months ago but passed them up.