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" with Virgil even pointing out in one episode "Real violence has real consequences."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.Has a character page.
A Child Shall Lead Them: Max. It's implied that Virgil would have waited until he was older, but Skullmaster nearly breaking free forced him to give Max the cap while he was still a kid.
Absentee Actor: Virgil and Norman do not appear in "Snakes and Laddies" (although both are still mentioned). To an extent, "Werewolves of Dunneglen," too. They do show up, but they've been arrested as murder suspects and spend the whole episode in jail while Max deals with the Monster of the Week on his own.
Absurdly Sharp Blade: Norman's sword can cut through quite a lot. In one episode it cuts a very large tree down with a single swing. It can also cut down rock monsters by the dozens without dulling.
Adaptational Heroism: Several characters who were outright villains in the toyline and corresponding mini-comics become much less evil.
Ravendark from "Let Sleeping Dragons Lie" goes from a true villain who wants to sacrifice Max as part of a black magic ritual, to being much more sympathetic, even pulling a Heel-Face Turn.
Kalamarus from the episode "Less Than 20,000 Squid Heads Under The Sea" goes from being an Omnicidal ManiacMad Scientist in the toyline to being the benevolent (if cowardly) leader of a civilization of squid people in the cartoon.
Gor the Caveman from "Tar Wars" is arguably an even bigger example than Kalamarus. His toyline incarnation wasn't as bad of a villain, being presented as more simply brutish and savage than actually evil, but his cartoon incarnation is outright heroic, even sacrificing his own freedom to keep a monstrous immortal sabertooth tiger sealed away.
Lava Lord goes from being an outright villain with plans to conquer the world to being close to an Anti-Hero; he still dislikes Max but the two never come into direct conflict and even end up working together on two separate occasions.
Adapted Out: Max's dad. He never really appeared in person in the toyline either, but he was at least mentioned - early toys and their corresponding mini-comics stated that he was the one who left Max the cosmic cap, and implied that he was also the one leaving messages behind to help Max out. In the cartoon both of these were given over to Virgil, with Max's father never being even so much as talked about.
Aliens Speaking English: Played with from episode to episode. Most often it's played straight, such as when the group finds a civilization of intelligent gorillas who somehow speak perfect english despite living in an isolated valley with no access to the outside world. Often it's justified, as with the case of Kalamarus and the squid people, who learned to speak english from the labels on trash that was dumped in the ocean. On one memorable occasion it's actually inverted when we learn that Virgil can speak the Neanderthal language, even though he was born 20,000 years after that subspecies of human went extinct.
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.
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.
Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The final fate of recurring villain Dr. Eggbert Zygote. His evolution device pushes him forward to a point where he is beyond all earthly desires. With no more reason to fight Max he simply flies off into space.
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, or really any show for that matter. 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 generally cost him little or nothing.
Bigger Bad: On several occasions Skullmaster explicitly states that he has a master of his own, though this master is never seen, named, or even described at any point.
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.
Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: At the end of "The Maxnificent Seven," Hanuman attacks Skullmaster to give Max a chance to get away, despite knowing he's no match for the villain. He mentions maybe he'll come back as a butterfly, and as Max prepares a grave for the four heroes at the end of the episode, a butterfly is shown landing on it, implying Hanuman may have been right..
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.
Convection Schmonvection: All lava works this way on the show, only ever hurting anything it touches. One memorable example comes from the first episode, in which a lava monster chasing Max melted through just about it touched, but never set anything on fire. People are even able to stand next to it without injury, just so long as they don't let it touch them. Another notable example is the last episode, where Max is able to scoop up lava in the cosmic cap and throw it out a villain without his army bursting into flames.
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.
Deconstruction: It's not clear if it was intentional, since the toys they were based on were unafraid of being scary and graphic as well, but this cartoon viciously deconstructs nearly every aspect of Saturday morning cartoons:
The Kid Hero is not even remotely prepared for being a hero and the only reason he is one is because Skull Master arose sooner than he was supposed to, which meant that Norman couldn't wait for Max to grow up. He also expresses a strong desire to not be the hero, completely averting Jumped at the Call.
The He-Man-esque Norman is a Sociopathic Hero who has zero problems with killing villains.
Disappeared Dad: The fate and whereabouts of Max's father are never mentioned or explained. As mentioned above, he was talked about in the toyline in which it was explained he left the cap for Max and may have been a previous Mighty One himself, but he was Adapted Out of the cartoon with all traces of him scrubbed clean.
Dream Land: The Astral Plane is explained to be where your mind goes when you dream.
Drop the Hammer: When he was known as Thor, Norman wielded the mighty warhammer Mjolnir. He uses it again when he fights the Doom Dragon. After the battle he throws it into the ocean, presumably returning it to the gods.
Dumb Blonde: Jiffy definitely counts. Despite being actually quite book smart, she has no common sense and is totally clueless; even when she's about to be sacrificed to an ancient snake god all she can think about is not being able to study for a test at school the next day.
Dwindling Party: Happens in the first season finale, as well as the series finale.
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.
Enemy Mine: In the series finale, when his usual allies are no longer available, Max goes to Lava Lord for backup in his confrontation with Skull Master. Now, Lava Lord didn't much like Max to begin with, and even less so after Max destroyed his Humongous Mecha. Max was still able to talk a temporary alliance out of him because Lava Lord hates Skull Master even more.
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.
Evil Sorcerer: Skullmaster. The one-shot villain Ravendark also qualifies in a big way.
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.
Expanded Universe: In some adventure storybooks, based off the playset "Mighty Max Storms Dragon Island", Skullmaster joins forces with The Doom Dragon proper against Max for a final showdown. They both meet their demise when Max fires the Arrow of Death at them. Blasting its way straight through Doom's head and out through Skullmaster's heart.
Good Is Not Nice: Norman is not exactly forgiving or kind, though he does care deeply for his friends. Virgil, as well, shows that he can be quite cold and calculating when it suits him.
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.
Hellhole Prison: If the episode "Day Of the Cyclops" is to be believed Max's world's version of Turkey clearly doesn't follow the Geneva Convention rules.
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.
Hollywood Nerd: Ernie, Max's classmate wears a bowtie, calls Max "Maxie-Waxie", and is an extreme stereotype of what a nerd is. Nobody in real life dresses or acts like him. Also applies to Cyberskull before his transformation, as well as to J. C. Mega, the CEO of Mega Corp.
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.
Hurricane of Puns: Most of the dialogue from the episode, "The Mommy's Hand" centered around hands, sayings about hands, and hand puns. Gotta hand that one to the writers.
Norman: Six against one, hardly fair. I'll fight with my eyes closed.
I'm a Humanitarian: The giant squid in "Less Than 20,000 Squid Heads Under The Sea" arguably counts, given that it's trying to eat a population of humanoid squid-people that it strongly resembles.
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.
Insane Troll Logic: Dr. Scorpio's plan in the episode "Scorpio Rising." Scorpio is tired of living all alone underground and is running out of food, but after forty years in a contaminated bunker he can't live without atomic radiation. His solution? Flood the world with radiation so he can return to the surface! Of course, doing so will kill all of the normal humans, meaning he'll still be alone, and kill all of the plants and animals so he won't have any food either.
Kid with the Leash: Max occasionally has to remind Norman that beating up policemen and soldiers is a bad idea.
Kill Us Both: Virgil tried to pull one of these at the end of the Pandora's Box two-parter, but Max took a third option. It ended up being a bad call since it set Skull Master free of the Earth's core.
Less Embarrassing Term: The bird-like scholarly mystic Virgil is constantly correcting people that he is a "fowl", not a "chicken."
Lovecraft Lite: Taken to a great extent in "Less Than 20,000 Squid Heads Under The Sea", where Max and company encounter a civilization of squid-headed beings who look like something out of an H.P. Lovecraft story. However, they're all quite friendly and in fact very timid, afraid of the giant squid that's really responsible for all the problems in the area.
Magma Man: The lava beasts are this combined with Blob Monster: they're literally made of magma! Lava Lord counts as well.
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!
No Name Given: Max's mom. Even played for laughs in "Tar Wars" when Norman tries to figure out what to call her.
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.
Noodle Incident: Whatever incident occurred between Norman and Virgil in Rangoon. We do find out a few details, but not many.
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 Dragons Are Different: Dragons themselves are fairly standard western dragons, except where their blood is concerned: drinking dragon blood turns humans into super strong, immortal lizard men.
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 Werewolves Are Different: Immortal, benevolent creatures that can change into either form at will. Attempting to distill their power into a potion transfers only the lycanthropy, with the added side effect of growing two additional heads.
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.
Power Trio: The three main characters, in several different ways!
Freudian Trio: Norman the reckless Blood Knight represents the id. Virgil, as the critical and analyzing one, is the superego. Max, of course, is the ego which holds the group together.
With a Friend and a Stranger: Done in reverse, interestingly enough. Norman and Virgil have been good friends for thousands of years. Max, despite being the main character, actually starts out as the stranger.
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.
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 (It's mentioned that the Mighty One himself has more influence over the ceremony than his cap). 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.
That's No Moon: Twice, both times involving dragons. The first time was the episode "Let Sleeping Dragons Lie" when Max arrives at the Cavern of the Doom Dragon and expects there to be a dragon inside the cave only to discover that the dragon literally isthe cave. Happens again in the episode "Blood Of The Dragon." Seeking Skullmaster, who has supposedly gone to a place called Dragon Island, the team climbs to the top of a particular foggy hill only to discover the "hill" is Skullmaster's pet fire dragon, and the fog is smoke breathed out by the creature.
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. The cause of Norman's longevity is explained in one episode (he battled a magical creature from dawn to dusk, thereby earning the right to live for 10,000 years) but Virgil and Skullmaster...we can only assume magic has something to do with it.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Hardly anybody reacts to a 3 1/2-chicken and and a huge guy with a sword strapped to his back, no matter where the episode's set.
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 episode, 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.