That's Sam up top and Max down below. Don't get them mixed up.
"We save the world. Sometimes on purpose!"
Sam & Max: Freelance Police started in 1987 as a comic by Steve Purcell. It covered the surreal and satirical adventures of two anthropomorphic animalprivate investigators: Sam, a six-foot tall "canine shamus" dressed like a stereotypical Film Noir private eye, and Max, a deranged, trigger-happy white rabbit (sometimes described as a "lagomorph" or a "hyperkinetic rabbity-thing"). Sam was always the more laid-back of the two, and usually the voice of reason keeping Max from unnecessary violence, though Sam's definition of "unnecessary violence" could be a bit flimsy at times. In most of their adventures, the two would receive orders from the faceless Commissioner to defuse some bizarre situation, doing so with a combination of violence, gunplay, and their wits.The comics eventually spawned a short lived animated series and popular Adventure Games by two different companies (all with Steve Purcell having considerable involvement):
Sam & Max Hit the Road, originally released in 1993 by LucasArts, was a game in the mold of other LucasArts SCUMM engine classics such as Monkey Island. At least two known attempts at sequels were made (one by a third party) and both were canceled, the last being in 2004.
There was also a series of one-page comics for The Adventurer, LucasArts' quarterly company newsletter, with Sam and Max typically getting into misadventures related to a LucasArts game. These were eventually collected in the Surfin' the Highway TPB.
Soon after the last LucasArts attempt was canceled, their licence to the franchise expired. Steve Purcell awarded the next licence deal to Telltale Games, which was made up of many ex LucasArts people. Since 2006, Telltale has put out three seasons of episodic games: Sam And Max Save The World, Sam And Max: Beyond Time and Space and Sam And Max: The Devil's Playhouse.
Use the links above to navigate to the pages of the various Sam and Max incarnations.The wiki is here.
Sam & Max in general, and its original comic book, provide examples of:
Accidental Misnaming: Max has been addressed as both "Maxwell" (by Granny Ruth, in the animated series) and "Maximillian" (by Bosco when he was British), but neither on those occasions, nor any other, has Max given any indication of the name that actually appears on his birth certificate (assuming the doctor stuck around long enough to fill one out; you never know, with Max).
All There in the Manual: According to Telltale Games commentary on Season One, Creator Steve Purcell has a list of mandates he gives to the writers of various Sam And Max projects, the biggest being that Sam And Max, despite all the havoc they wreak, are always on the side of good. Another is that they often create a bigger mess while solving the problem at hand.
Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Done in one of the comics, where Sam and Max travel to the Moon and find a civilization of man-sized rats, who are being preyed upon by a civilization of 50 foot cockroaches. And if that weren't enough Nightmare Fuel for you, the 50 foot cockroaches lives in a giant human apartment that makes them look normal-sized in comparison. In the Cartoon, there's an adaption of the above comic "Bad Day on the Moon" as well as AIEEEE Robot, which features a 50 foot robot and baby. In the games, there's the stone statue of Abraham Lincoln and the killer robot thingy as well as a transformed Max in the Season 3 finale.
Badass: Flint Paper. Sam when he loses Max also counts.
Badass Grandma: Sam's grandma used to run Alcatraz, but still has a lot of influence and power there.
She's such a badass that a bunch of hardened criminals react to her return like... well... children when grandma comes to visit.
Barefoot Cartoon Animals: While it is true that many (if not all) of the other animal characters are barefoot, Sam seems to be the only one with humanoid feet.
Batman Can Breathe in Space: Sam and Max and a couple of other people can breathe on the moon without any trouble. The explanation given is that the "pansy" astronauts didn't bother to try.
Sam: So let me get this straight, we can breathe here?
Max: I guess those candybutt astronauts just didn't have the stones to try it.
Later spoofed in a Star Wars parody. The duo gets into an X-Wing knockoff to go fight the ''New Hope" Trench battle scene, Sam hopping into the cockpit, and Max into the unprotected socket that Droids go in.
Max: Sam, it's cold out here, and I'm having trouble breathing.
Sam: You're a real pest today, Max.
In "Moai Better Blues," there's an underwater scene with this exchange.
Sam: How are we breathing?
Max: You're breathing?
And in the animated series, Max begs Sam for a set of gills like the enslaved mutant townfolk they're trying to save.
Sam: We don't need gills, little buddy! We're cartoon characters with absurdly large lung capacities.
Max: I know, but I really want some!
Casual Danger Dialog: These occur regularly, given how Sam is unusually laid back and Max simply has little touch with reality.
"Well, here we are in/on/at [name of location]..."
"Holy/Sweet [elaborate non sequitur]!"
"You're (such) a [adjective] [noun], Max."
"That's none of your damn business, Sam."
Characterization Marches On: The very first Sam and Max cartoons were actually created as a parody of similar (albeit more serious) characters drawn by Steve Purcell's younger brother, Dave. When Dave left an unfinished comic lying around the house, Steve would take the opportunity to "finish" it for him, having the characters do things like mock the art style and mix up each others' names. Eventually, the parodies developed into comedic figures of their own right, culminating in the late 1970s when Dave Purcell formally signed over the rights to Steve as a birthday present.
Steve remembers this in a slightly less romantic, though no less friendly, manner - his brother's wording was apparently something along the lines of "These characters are now Steve's and I don't care what he does with them."
Christmas Episode: There's one for each medium: the comic story The Damned Don't Dance, the game episode Ice Station Santa, and the cartoon episode Christmas, Bloody Christmas.
Cool Car: The DeSoto (well, both of them... the one in the new games is explicitly a replacement) is capable of, among other things, driving to the Moon. Via stuffing the tailpipe full of matchheads, no less. (In the comics, at least. In the cartoon, itgrenade jumps there.)
It can also cross the Atlantic Ocean.
The DeSoto ends up with a case of demonic possession in Season 2 of the Telltale Games series; it got better in Season 3, mostly.
Curt: It's not so bad if you don't turn on the air conditioner.
Couch Gag: Each of the longer comics, and each game in Telltale's Seasons 2 and 3, is said to be based on something, like:
Bay Day on the Moon (Based on the completely obscure French farce "Garçon, une omelette et deux bifteks")
Night of the Raving Dead (Based on the heretical apocrypha "Sam and Max Meet a Guy Who Sucks")
They Stole Max's Brain! (Based on the similarly-titled novel by Jane Austen)
Eldritch Abomination: The comic story The Beast From the Cereal Isle centers around the duo's assignment to stop one haunting a grocery store.
Maxthulu/Junior Max in the last couple of episodes of Telltale's Season 3.
Also Yog Soggoth from Season 3.
Establishing Character Moment: In the first proper comic, Max foils a stalker and would-be rapist in an alley by gouging out his eyes with a particularly vicious Three Stooges style eye-poke while scolding him, then goes back to walking with Sam as if absolutely nothing of note had happened.
Fastball Special: One of the ways Sam uses Max as a weapon. It usually ends with Max biting into the skull of whoever he's being thrown at.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: The Telltale games in particular have a good bit of text on the graphics that is tough to read but fun to catch. For instance, the coffee machine in Bosco's Inconvenience has settings of "warm", "hot", and "Lawsuit Hot".
Max: "There's just one thing I believe in!" *pulls out his Luger. His Luger is immediately pulled to the strongly magnetic North Pole* "Okay, make that two things."
Grievous Harm with a Body: In the comics, a particularly good one is Sam using Max as a club to knock someone off a motorcycle. Some puzzles in "Hit The Road" are solved by threatening to hit people with Max.
"I want you to sniff these handkerchiefs, and tell me which one smells more like chloroform!"
Sam: That was the Commissioner.
Max: Did he get my notes?
Sam: Yes, but he said to quit carving them into the suspects. He can't read them without his bifocals.
Max: Why don't I just write bigger?
Heterosexual Life-Partners: The titular duo, although Max doesn't really seem to understand sex one way or the other. He seems to understand "gay", though; he takes offense when Sybil calls the two "Luddites," declaring they're just "very good friends".
I'm Taking Her Home with Me!: Despite his sociopathic personality, Max has a fondness for cute things; when he sees something he likes, he will occasionally ask Sam if he can keep it.
Inherently Funny Words: Sam often makes Max laugh or cringe with his choice of voculabulary. Several, including "Insensible", "Acumen", and their own creation "Undisquietingly". They reference the latter by saying it's impossible to say without laughing.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sam and Max can both fall into this category. They're both Heroic Comedic Sociopaths, and Max explicitly states that he doesn't have a conscience at all at one point; but they both genuinely seem to have a passion for justice, and are almost always willing to help people who are in trouble. It might just be how they get their kicks, but still, it warms the heart to see.
Confirmed in the finale to Season 3 of the Telltale games: Max instinctively acting to try and protect a pregnant Sybil Pandemik in labour is what convinces his own superego not to explode and destroy New York.
Man of a Thousand Voices: Roger L. Jackson voices Abraham Lincoln, Beelzebub, Charlie Ho-Tep, General Skun-ka'pe and Grandpa Stinky, in addition to several extra voices throughout the Telltale series.
Mood Whiplash: Max's (temporary) death, (and Sam's reaction to it) in Bad Day on the Moon is a surprisingly somber scene.
As is the end of Telltale's Season 3, in which a similar thing happens. Many people didn't get the reference.
Never Sleep Again: "The City That Dares Not Sleep" is about a monster, namely Max as an Eldritch Abomination, releasing spores that feed on the citizen's dreams and make the monster stronger. Which is why the whole city has spent a while without sleeping.
Noodle Incident: Sam and Max continually refer to the events and consequences of previous cases and adventures, not quite explaining what exactly happened.
The Other Darrin: Sam and Max have different voice actors with each incarnation (although the cancelled LucasArts game would have kept the "Hit The Road" actors, Bill Farmer and Nick Jameson).
Telltale tried to get some combo of Farmer, Jameson, Harvey Atkin (Sam in the animated series), or Robert Tinkler (Max in the animated series), but no go.
Pet the Dog: After finishing a case involving a demon in their usual chaotic style, Sam and Max are leaving a store when a child falls off the Ride-a-Demon. Max, still talking and walking with Sam, casually reaches out and catches the kid, and then sets him down to toddle off, never breaking stride or losing his train of thought.
Retired Badass: Sam's Granny Ruth. She ran a Jail much like Alcatraz during the Cold War.
Running Gag: In every adaptation, Sam and Max always fight over answering the phone shouting "I GOT IT! I GOT IT!". Sam always wins.
With two exceptions: once in the cartoon when Max found an alternate reality Sam who was too mellow to be interested in answering the phone, and once in the finale of Telltale Season 2 when Hell literally froze over and Sam simply stood by and let Max answer the phone (just one of many improbable or out of character events resulting from the infernal ice).
Another running gag in the comic was a fake "Based On..." line under the titles of most stories. Telltale Seasons 2 and 3 continued this gag.
"The Damned Don't Dance" (Based on a beloved holiday cookie recipe)
"The Penal Zone" (Based on the classic instructional video "How to use your new SM-301 industrial strength dehumidifier")
Sam and Max occasionally get their names mixed up, but they always quickly correct themselves.
Sam: Hey, Sam - I mean, Max!
"Don't say X, Sam."
"We killed your dog. =D"
Max responding with "None of your damn business" whenever he's asked where he keeps his inventory.
When Max asks Sam this in Telltale Episode 303, Sam responds in the same way. Max immediately lampshades this and finishes the comment.
Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Sam is fond of using big words, often to the annoyance of Max. Also Sammun Mak, to the annoyance of Sam, ironically.
Although it may also have something to do with the fact that the latter party is a ten-year-old boy with a very girly ten-year-old boy's voice, a voice which will likely grate on the player as well.
Sidekick: While Sam and Max are usually referred to as "partners", the dynamic between the two, with Sam usually taking the lead and acting as the voice of reason (comparatively speaking), is such that Max clearly comes off as the sidekick. Or maybe the enforcer. For what it's worth, sometimes Sam is seen as Max's sidekick by other fans and characters.
Sam: (reading newspaper) "President [Max] and Assistant Destroy Internet." Assistant?!
Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Completely Subverted in the single-page comic "Terror of the Tanbark". Despite said story labeling them as more soft and marketable versions of themselves, it turns out that Sam and Max were just as nuts (if not more so) as kids. (They're still marketable, just not exactly soft.)
In this case "soft" is most definitely a physical descriptor.
What Could Have Been: Around the early 90's or so, Steve Purcell received an offer from Marvel to produce Sam & Max comic strips for them. He declined, opting instead for LucasArts and Hit The Road. Who knows what might have happened if he had taken them up on their offer?