Virgil:"Max, my boy. You are earth's only hope!" Max:"You know, I knew you were going to say that. Come on man. What about the air force, or the U.N.? Arnold Schwarzenegger? I mean we don't want to hog all the glory for ourselves..."
Mighty Max is an animated series by the Film Roman animation studio. It ran from September, 1993 to December, 1994. A total of 40 episodes in two seasons.Starring a smartaleck boy who is sent an artifact by his archeologist mother, only to find an enchanted baseball cap signifying him as a chosen hero, the "cap bearer" or "mighty one." He comes across two individuals who are also destined to protect and train him, the immortal viking Big Guy Norman provided the muscle and protection while Mr. Exposition Virgil was to be his mentor, who happened to be a humanoid fowl (but certainly not a chicken). Oh... and that baseball cap is a legendary key to open a series of ancient portals to transport them around the world and even beneath it.The resident Big Bad was Skullmaster, a dyed-in-the-wool villain powered by the voice of Tim Curry. While Skullmaster formed an overarching storyline involving his desires to Take Over the World, there were plenty of other creatures and stand-alone enemies that encompassed many cultures.The show was technically Merchandise Driven, although this aspect wasn't too noticable. It was also unusual inasmuch as Max had no real 'powers' to speak of, and its classic monster horror roots meant it never shied away from actually killing people (especially in the final plot arcs) during a time when most cartoons would Never Say "Die".On top of everything else, the show technically qualified as educational without being patronizing or boring, thanks to making it distinct and separate from the main show by ending the program using And Knowing Is Half the Battle tags. The show typically worked a given topic into the episode's plot, such as by showing a monster powered by quartz crystals and then explaining quartz's scientific properties afterward.Not to be confused with Mad Max.
All Myths Are True: Mostly played straight, sometimes subverted (vampires are born as larvae, and grow into adult, shape-shifting, intelligent flies), and occasionally deconstructed (What exactly does "destiny" imply?).
Sometimes bleeds into All Myths Are One, as Norman was apparently Thor, Lancelot, and even Samson before the series began.
An Axe to Grind: Norman eventually gains the confidence to beat Spike when Max and Virgil retrieve his father's battleaxe.
Arbitrary Skepticism: In "The Mother Of All Adventures" Max's mom says early in the episode there's no such thing as voodoo and zombies. Even though in an earlier episode she recognizes Norman and Virgil, and even takes Virgil shopping with her since he'll help her recognize genuine antiques better, which says she has a pretty good inkling of what her son does. She didn't even bat an eye when they fell through a portal and were suddenly in the middle of the Serengeti.
Batman Gambit: Skullmaster pulls off one in "I, Warmunger" based on him knowing that his Dragon (as in The Dragon, not the giant lizard Skullmaster rides) will betray and kill him in order to seize ultimate power and release such powerful evil that Virgil will be forced to use the only weapon Skullmaster fears on that problem, instead of him.
Big Bad: Skullmaster. One of the most competent and dangerous villains to ever appear in a kids' show. He has an impressive track record for killing heroes and succeeding in his plans to the point where the heroes only ever get mixed bag victories, their victories coming at a heavy price, while Skullmaster's cost him nothing.
Even at the end, they don't really defeat him. Just another small victory.
Bloodless Carnage: While the show was mostly bloodless with only off screen violence one episode is a major exception. "Werewolves of Dunneglen" is surprisingly bloody for a cartoon including blood splattered ground following a werewolf attack, a trail of blood drops, blood dripping from a hand, and bloody claw and bite marks during a werewolf fight.
"Along Came Arachnoid" has Max gutting a Giant Spider with a helicopter's rotor blades. The spider ends up lying in a pile of its own gore in the street. "Fly By Night" had Norman hacking off Countess Muska's wing with his sword and later splattering her into jelly with a giant pillar he used as a flyswatter. Note that in both episodes, all this violence took place onscreen.
Catch Phrase: As mentioned above, Norman's is "I eat ______ for breakfast!" (The blank space represents whatever monster he's about to defeat.)
Chalk Outline: In the episode "Werewolves of Dunneglen" a man is brutally murdered off screen by a werewolf. Later we see police at the scene and while they are discussing the incident the camera shows the chalk outline on the ground along with blood splattered about during the attack.
The lava monster in the first episode melted everything it touched (except for a wall Max portaled through), but didn't light anything on fire.
Cosmic Horror Story: The series arguably takes place in such a universe. Although over the course of the series we find Max beating his fair share of enemies, ultimately the great Big Bad is shown to be unstoppably powerful, and our hero's only hope to even TIE with him is to let all his friends die and restart the timeline with his own death in the hopes it goes better the second time.
Empathic Weapon: The baseball cap takes on the appropriate form of its destined wearer. If placed on another (which only happens once) it becomes what is appropriate to that wearer.
Except in one flashback where it's still a baseball cap... on a cave man.
Everyone Lives: Averted. Most episodes begin with somebody getting killed by whatever Max fights that day. The final episode utterly averts it when Norman, Virgil, and Warmonger are killed.
Evil Former Friend: It's revealed in the Pandora's Box two parter that Skullmaster is this to Virgil.
Evil Plan: There are many of these in the series, the most diabolical coming from the resident Big Bad.
Evolutionary Levels: In one episode, a villain uses some sort of evolution device on himself, and he changes shape repeatedly, including at one point taking the same shape as Virgil, who comments that at some brief point in the future, humanity will find it quite useful. He eventually evolves beyond good and evil and leaves.
Generation Xerox: Maximus, Max's predecessor from 5000 years ago, looks a lot like the kid would if he were a buffed up barbarian-type.
Max: Aw no! I'm not falling for any of that "loooooook into my eyes" stuff!
Guile Hero: Often or not Max will outsmart the villain.
Groundhog Day Loop: The end of the series loops time right back to the first episode, though Virgil and Max can remember everything that happened and will use that knowledge to defeat Skullmaster once and for all.
Here We Go Again: The final episode has Max find himself back where it all started, with the same statue that has the Cap inside being delivered... except there's a P.S. telling him to get there faster this time. Everyone remembers the last loop. This one will settle things.
Heroic Sacrifice: Max gathers a group of legendary warriors to help fight Skullmaster in a major episode to destroy the Crystal of Souls. Each one teaches Max a lesson about how to fight an enemy and they are victorious in destroying the Crystal but each hero sacrifices themself to ensure Max got to safety.
Norman eventually gets one by sacrificing himself to protect Max and Virgil from a giant spider.
Hey, It's That Voice!: Max = Rob Paulsen, Virgil = Tony Jay (who even narrated a few of the later toy commercials), Norman = Richard Moll, Max's Mom = Tress MacNeille, and as mentioned above, Skullmaster = Tim Curry. Frank Welker is Warmonger and various monsters, but as usual he's trickier to point out unless you've had experience watching cartoons with his monster voices.
Except when he's voicing Lava Lord. So long as you know he did the voice of Megatron, you'll know it's him because it's the same ever-so-creepy rasping voice.
Hot Mom: Max's mom in that skimpy half-open cleavage-exposing robe in the zombie episode? Yum.
How Do I Shot Web?: Dr. Eggbert Zygote uses his evolutionary ray on himself to evolve himself into a higher form of human, but he has absolutely no idea how to use his advanced intellect and powers. Later subverted in his second episode, where he's learned how to use his new abilities.
Norman: Six against one, hardly fair. I'll fight with my eyes closed.
Infant Immortality: Quite possibly one of the VERY rare times this has been averted for a kid's cartoon show. The episode "Snakes and Laddies" features a young boy who has his life force drained from him to enable an ancient pharaoh to continue living. The event itself is not shown on screen, but it's eventually revealed that the boy didn't survive the process.
Merchandise Driven: The show was based on a series of monstrous horror-themed heads, hands, creatures (and sometimes action figures) that opened out into playsets for miniature figurines. The goal of each figure set was ostensibly to help Max survive the events, but half the fun was dropping him through all the elaborate death traps. Once the toys were adapted into a series (and the "kill Max" theme was toned down), aspects of the show were brought into the toy canon. The best ways to tell if a toy comes from the old school (pre-show) or new school (post-show) were the presence of Norman or Virgil figures, and the design of the Max figure himself (if he's short and has a different colored hat in each set, it's old school; if he's taller and has an exclusively red hat, it's new school).
Never Say "Die": Definitely averted; Skullmaster and various other villains aren't afraid to say that Max and his friends are going to die, sometimes even going so far as to give graphic descriptions of exactly what they're going to do to the heroes.
Skullmaster: Go! Bring me his beating heart! And I'll eat it... raw!
The Mad Scientist in "The Missing Linked". Every time he tries to announce his name, he keeps getting interrupted. Since he calls the creature he created Corpus it's possible he is Mort, from the Corpus playset. He even looks a little like him.
Not so Above It All: Virgil chides Max for spending time playing "childish" video games. However, when Virgil is forced to play the game after Cyberskull pulls Max and Norman into the game itself, he starts to develop a taste for it as well.
Virgil: But I had just about achieved proficiency!
Our Vampires Are Different: They're horseflies, apparently. Vampires are born as larvae, and grow into adult, shape-shifting, intelligent flies. Which goes to show how inventive the show could be: in the universe of the toys, vampires were a lot more standard.
Our Zombies Are Different: Episode seven had a group of parasites controlled by a central brain. When they latched onto people, they became zombies. Removing the parasite turned people back. Skullmaster's own zombies are eventually freed once Max destroys the Crystal of Souls that kept them bound to obey Skullmaster.
Papa Wolf: Norman isn't Max's father, but threatening Max when he's around is a very bad idea.
Portal Network: A very complicated one; Virgil is the only one with a map that details the whole network.
Possession Implies Mastery: Averted in one episode, when Dr. Zygote initially uses his evolutionary beam to advance himself a few thousand years forward. The problem is, with his homo sapien brain in a homo superior body, he is completely incapable of using whatever gifts that advanced form would have. Virgil compares it to an infant suddenly finding itself in an adult's body. He would be unable to take advantage of them until a later episode.
Resigned to The Call: There are clearly times when Max would rather just be skateboarding or playing video games like any ordinary kid, but he's always there for the world every time it needs him.
Rogues Gallery: Skullmaster, Dr. Eggbert Zygote, and Cyberskull all return for at least a second shot at Max and company.
Running Gag: Virgil often sends a summoning to Max in ways that can only be supernatural in nature, such as spelling out a message in his alphabet soup. Max is frequently bewildered.
Except in one episode where Max was contacted by telegram, delivered by a man in a chicken suit. It is the one time that Max actually refers to Virgil as a fowl, and the delivery man corrects him "Actually, I'm a chicken!"
Sealed Evil in a Duel: The fate of an immortal and invulnerable caveman and an immortal and invulnerable sabre-toothed tiger. The episode ends with the caveman trapping himself and the beast at the bottom of a tar pit.
Sociopathic Hero: Norman loves to fight, and occasionally gives a Psychotic Smirk whenever he gets into a really nasty fight. More than that, though, he's also devotedly loyal to Max and the cause of good.
Somewhere a Paleontologist Is Crying: One episode had a villain using a de-evolving ray to bring back dinosaurs (see the Evolutionary Levels example above). However, the Mad Scientist used lizards to get his dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and lizards, despite some similar features, are only related very distantly. Ironically, the de-evolution beam is used on Virgil, who should become a dinosaur, but instead becomes a pterosaur. Although it is unclear how closely related dinosaurs and pterosaurs are, birds did not evolve from pterodactyls. Birds evolved from theropod (meat-eating) dinosaurs.
Somewhat justified, in that the public awareness of dinosaurs being large ancestral birds, rather than large ancestral reptiles, did not come about until the movie of Jurassic Park was released in mid-1993. The scientific/paleontological community was, of course, aware, but the average person (read: the writers of the show) would be unlikely to know this at the time the episode was written.
Squishy Wizard: Virgil qualifies, even if he doesn't have much in the way of magic.
Take a Third Option: At the end when Skullmaster has all the essentials to take over the universe. Max, obviously no match for him, remembers the last thing Virgil told him. And rather just wait around for the world to end, grabs onto the staff holding the Crystal of Souls as Skullmaster is in mid-ceremony, just hoping something will happen. Amazingly his interference rewinds time, thwarting Skullmaster's endgame. Yeah it throws Max to the beginning of the series when he got the cap, but he's optimistic as Norman and Virgil are still alive and they now have the knowledge to beat Skullmaster for good.
Since Max, Virgil, and probably Norman had full memory of everything that happened, and Skullmaster probably did not, this would give the team an enormous advantage over Skullmaster in round two, and since pretty much every prophecy that was given actually DID happen in the now aborted timeline, those destinies could now be averted, up to and including Norman's death by giant spider.
This is Max's ability in general. His relative naivete and his fresh outlook on the crisis at hand allowed him to create solutions no legendary scholar would ever think of.
Tearjerker: The episode where Max meets the legendary warriors.
The Tape Knew You Would Say That: One of Max's summons is the delivery of a taped recording of Virgil reading the coordinates of the local portal. Max is astonished by this and the tape responds to his shock, bewildering Max even more. The tape then tells him not to think too deeply about this.
Time Abyss: Virgil, Norman, and Skullmaster are all at LEAST 10,000 years old.
Ultimate Evil: Surprisingly, Skullmaster is not the ultimate force of evil in the series, as he mentions having a master in "The Maxnificent Seven."
Villain World: Skullmaster's plan in the finale would have created this by rewriting time.
What Happened to the Mouse?: The Conqueror, after being defeated by Norman, has been set free of his neverending cycle of fighting, and wishes to join humanity (humans flee from him out of fear, though, which rather irritates him). He's never seen, heard of or mentioned again after that. Apparently, eight foot tall humanoid talking lions just wandering about is no cause for attention.
What Have I Become?: Being turned into a human spider-thing drives Dr. Stanley Kirby completely insane. Although he was originally an innocent victim, he becomes determined to convert every other person on Earth into a human spider like him. What's especially chilling about this episode is that he actually becomes more and more spider-like over the course of the episode, finally becoming a sentient giant spider right before he's consumed by the flames.
You Said You Would Let Them Go: The final ep, Skullmaster threatens to kill Virgil if Max doesn't hand over his portal making cap to him. Max obliges but Skullmaster simply disintegrates his hostage anyway.