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Western Animation / Mighty Max

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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 UN? Arnold Schwarzenegger? I mean we don't want to hog all the glory for ourselves...

Mighty Max is an animated series created by Film Roman. It ran from September, 1993 to December, 1994 in syndication (a total of 40 episodes in two seasons), with later reruns on the USA Network.

The show centers around a smart-aleck boy, Max, 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— indeed, he looked more like an owl). 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 based on the Mattel Mighty Max line of playsets and intended to be the Spear Counterpart to Polly Pocket- so it was technically Merchandise-Driven although this aspect wasn't too noticeable.note  It was also unusual amongst its fellows 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", Virgil even pointing out in one episode that "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.

Mighty Max contains examples of:

  • 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.
    • Though Norman did once throw his sword to Max, who caught it by the blade with his bare hands without injuring himself at all.
  • Action Survivor: Max is just a normal kid who wants to do regular kid stuff, but Destiny keeps calling. However, over time he does become more accepting of his role as the Cap Bearer.
  • 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 Maniac Mad 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.
    • Dr. Bob Scorpio from the episode "Scorpio Rising" is a downplayed example. In the toy "Mighty Max Stings Scorpion" he was a Card-Carrying Villain and a willing servant of Skullmaster. Compare this to the cartoon, where he's just insane and an Obliviously Evil Well-Intentioned Extremist with no ties to the Big Bad at all.
  • 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.
    • In "Mighty Max Liquidates the Ice Alien", the titular ice alien was Cryogenoid, a Mr. Freeze look-alike creature in a robotic armor suit. In the episode based on that playset, "Out in the Cold", Gryogenoid does not appear at all, with the "ice aliens" from that episode being based on the "Iceosaurs", two alien heads that only had a minor role in the toy's mini-comic.
  • 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.
  • All Myths Are True: Mostly played straight, sometimes subverted (for example, see Our Vampires Are Different), and occasionally deconstructed (What exactly does "destiny" mean?).
    • Sometimes bleeds into All Myths Are One, as Norman was apparently Thor, Lancelot, and even Samson before the series began.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Mostly various facts regarding the location, villain, or macguffin of that particular episode. Only one episode had an epilogue that was a moral lesson. note 
  • And the Adventure Continues: Or rather, starts again from the beginning.
  • Animated Adaptation: It's based on the eponymous toyline from the previous year.
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – Paleontology: 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. And yet, the post-episode segment has Max correctly point out that birds like Virgil are descended from dinosaurs (although this further implies that the writers think pterosaurs are dinosaurs).
  • 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.
  • Ax-Crazy: Spike is utterly batshit, spends almost all of his screentime trying to kill Norman For the Evulz, screaming that he will tear him apart and eat his heart, and enjoys being stabbed in the face with a tree branch (and then proceeds to stab himself in the face with another tree branch).
  • Back for the Finale: Many of the series' villains come back in the final two episodes.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Norman used this like, every other episode at least.
      Max: "I have a good feeling about him."
      Norman: "I eat aliens for breakfast."
      Max: "Ha, see! They're even on his diet."
    • An evil example might be Spike. When Norman's dad stabbed him in the face with a tree branch, Spike then proceeded to stab himself in the face with another tree branch and said he liked it.
  • Badass Normal: Although he doesn't have any unusual powers, Max typically manages to save the day through quick thinking and cleverness.
  • Batman Gambit: Skullmaster pulls off one in "I, Warmonger" 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.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Virgil tells Max that its his duty to defeat the Skullmaster because the prophecy says so.
  • Beneath the Earth: Skull Mountain, located deep underground and surrounded by magma, is Skullmaster's abode, having been banished there thousands of years ago.
  • Beware the Skull Base: 5000 years ago, main villain Skullmaster was banished to Skull Mountain, located deep deep underground. Now it is where he hatches his schemes to escape his imprisonment and conquer the planet.
  • 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.
  • The Big Guy: Norman is one outside of the team dynamic.
  • Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: Norman dies at the end of the series, sacrificing himself to allow the heroes to escape. Of course, his death gets reset along with everything else at the very end.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: The final episode takes place on Max's birthday, and he still has to try and save the world from Skullmaster.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The final episode has all of the supporting cast die and Skullmaster nearly achieving his goal, but then Max interrupts Skullmaster’s ritual and resets the timeline to where the series began. Max is now back at square-one, but he is undaunted and ready to fight evil again with greater success alongside his revived friends. Making this more sweet than bitter is that when Max finds the note from Virgil that started everything, it ends with a PS telling him to move faster this time - everyone else has their memories as well.
  • Blood Knight: Norman enjoys fighting. A LOT.
  • Bloodless Carnage: While the show was mostly bloodless with only offscreen violence, some episodes are exceptions.
    • "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.
  • Bound and Gagged: Max and the others have to overcome getting tied up a few times, and, yes, it's done according to villain gimmick. The Egyptian villain Mummy Wraps the gang, the Giant Spider villain has them All Webbed Up, and so forth.
  • 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...
  • Catchphrase: As mentioned above, Norman's is "I eat ______ for breakfast!", the blank space being whatever monster he's about to defeat. Amusingly, there's one episode where they have to fight some really ugly mutants, and, after winning, Norman says "I eat mutants for... uh, nevermind"
  • Cats Are Mean: The sabertooth cat from "Tar Wars".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Max. Sometimes Norman.
  • Death of a Child: Quite possibly one of the VERY rare times this has been played straight in 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.
  • Devolution Device: In "Zygote's Rhythm", a mad scientist named Dr. Zygote develops a ray that devolves anything to their prehistoric state. A bunch of human tourists become apes, Max's pet lizard becomes a dinosaur, and Virgil (a lemurian who is supposed to be the next step in human evolution) gets turned into a pterodactyl (?!) Later it's used by Dr. Zygote to turn a bunch of devolved mutated monsters into primordial ooze. He surmises that the ray "reversed their evolutionary path to the final quagmire, an evolutionary dead-end"—which really makes no sense at all.
    • Then in "Zygote's Music", Dr. Zygote uses the ray again to further evolve himself into a more advanced form, from a big brained alien, to a humanoid-fowl, to a floating giant brain, and finally into a flash of light. At the end, he "evolved beyond good and evil" and left. There was a subversion along the way, when he became a fowl-like humanoid, similar to Max's mentor Virgil, Virgil mentioned humanity will find the form enjoyable, much to Max's surprise.
  • Did Not Do the Bloody Research: In an episode where Max must fight a swarm of killer bugs, he uses the term "bugger" a lot. For some unexplained reason, it was shown on the BBC completely unedited. Needless to say...
  • Dirty Coward:
    • J. Ollie Penderoil in the episode "Less Than 20,000 Squid Heads Under The Sea." Max and the other heroes have just finished working out a plan to defeat the giant monster squid threatening them, only to have Ollie almost ruin the whole thing by skipping out on them and attempting to flee with their only weapon. Fortunately Max manages to talk him out of it.
    • Maximilian in the season 2 episode "Max vs. Max." He pretty much cements his place as this when he abandons Max to be killed by a yeti, mere seconds after Max saved his life from the same yeti. It ends up getting Subverted, though, because it wasn't actually cowardice. He was trying to get Max killed, because that was part of his job as The Mole.
  • 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.
  • The Drag-Along: Max definitely had his moments as this.
  • The Dragon: Warmonger is this to Big Bad Skullmaster.
  • 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 Mjölnir. 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.
  • Eerie Arctic Research Station: The episode "Out in the Cold" has Max and company arrive at a research outpost in the Aleutian Islands. It turns out the recent cold snap across the globe is caused by cold-loving aliens who have arrived to terraform the planet to their liking. Oh, and they're also [[Shapeshifting shapeshifters]]. Why, yes, this episode was an homage to the horror classic The Thing (1982).
  • 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.
    • Happens in a flashback in the episode "The Axeman Cometh." In ancient times Norman and his tribe were at war with a tribe of barbarians called the Strangers, who hated Norman's tribe so much that they had their shaman summon and release the demon of violence, Lockyar. An hour into their final battle, Lockyar used his destructive scream and caused so much devastation on both sides that Norman's tribe and the Strangers immediately made peace and worked together to subdue the demon.
  • 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 Is Not a Toy: Violated by Max's mom, and lampshaded by Max, who comes close to dropping the trope's name.
    Mom: Do you think I could possibly have [the idol]?
    Witch Doctor: If you like you may have it, but I must warn you: this place is filled with evil.
    Max: Mom, oh, uh... I don't think it's such a good idea messing around with evil. Call it a hunch.
  • 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, Dr. Zygote 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.
  • Explosive Instrumentation: Max manages to literally detonate a computer with enough force to blow a hole in the table it's sitting on... by making a programming error.
  • Famed In-Story: Anybody familiar with the supernatural world knows of the significance of the Mighty One.
  • Family-Friendly Firearms: Averted, along with most other kids' show tropes. Several episodes feature realistic guns that, as far as we can tell, fire realistic bullets. Granted we don't see them all that much, as most of the villains are still fairly archaic, and the only real combatant out of Max's group eschews guns in favor of his Viking longsword.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Asian, Indian, Native American, African, Arthurian, original and even Biblical mythical elements are all shown to exist in the show's setting. The astral plane is real, Virgil and Skullmaster were from Lemuria, and the guys also tangle with werewolves, vampires (of a sort), talking ape warriors, yetis, dragons and more. That's not even getting into the episodes with sci-fi elements instead.
  • Forced Transformation: Freako the Clown uses magical funhouse mirrors that transform anyone who looks at them into monsters in "Clown Without Pity." In addition to several children who have gone "missing," the sinister clown kidnaps Virgil and Norman after drugging them with cotton candy and turns them into freaks early on in the episode. During the climactic set-piece, Freako traps Max in his funhouse and drops a mirror directly in front of him. Max initially tries to avert his eyes, but reluctantly gazes into the mirror and reacts with utmost horror. He initially appears normal through our perspective of his reflection, but then his pupils swirl into spirals and Freako erupts with sadistic laughter. As the clown's spell begins to take effect, Max's blue eyes shrink into dots, his nose grows large with warts and his hands morph into claws. Looking down at his wrinkled arms, Max gasps in terror as he realizes that he's been warped into the hideous, hunchbacked creature reflecting back at him. Max cries out to Virgil and Norman for help, but Freako responds by saying "there is nothing you can do, but become a freak" and continues to cackle maniacally.
  • Foreshadowing: Norman has a fear of spiders. That's because he knows that he's going to be killed by a giant one.
  • Formulaic Magic: Lemurian Calculus seems to work this way. In fact, Lemurian math is so advanced that it can even predict the future with nearly 100% accuracy.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: While it initially seems like Arachnoid is simple lashing out over being turned into a human-spider hybrid, and later that he has been driven so insane by his condition that he desires to turn every human on Earth into spiders as well, Max eventually realizes he’s really doing this so he can get the recognition he thinks he deserves.
  • 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.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: Skullmaster has a pack of these among his minions.
  • 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.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: From "Snakes and Laddies", after Venom introduces himself as "the last of the supreme pharaohs."
    Max: Supreme Pharaohs... isn't that a Seattle grunge band?
  • Greater-Scope Villain: 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.
  • "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.
  • Guile Hero: Often or not Max will outsmart the villain.
  • Hat of Power: The cap of the Capbearer.
  • 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.
  • Hoist Hero over Head: In "Mother of All Adventures", a zombie lifts Max's mom above his head.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: Several episodes, most notably the final one.
  • 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.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Subverted at the end of "Norman's Conquest".
    Spike: *dangling from a cliff* If you kill me, you'll be no better than me.
    Norman: I can live with that. *drops the villain to his doom*
  • I Have Many Names: Norman is the name he was born with, and that he uses today. However, he's also been known as Thor, Little John, Samson, Sir Lancelot, and possibly even more.
  • I Like Those Odds:
    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.
    • Skullmaster has a disturbing habit of mentioning his intention of eating the Chosen One (i.e. Max), or at least his heart.
  • Insistent Terminology: Virgil is a fowl, not a chicken. Inverted when Max calls a delivery man in a chicken suit a fowl, and the delivery man takes offense and insists on being called a chicken.
  • 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.
  • Large Ham: Spike.
    • Skullmaster also qualifies; it helps that he's voiced by Tim Curry.
  • Less Embarrassing Term: The bird-like scholarly mystic Virgil is constantly correcting people that he is a "fowl", not a "chicken."
  • Lethal Lava Land: Skull Mountain.
  • Literal-Minded: In "Sirius Trouble", Norman angrily calls Virgil a "mother hen", which refers to an overprotective person who meddles in other people's lives. Virgil replies that Norman is incorrect in his denotation of both species and gender.
  • Living Motion Detector: According to Virgil, The Zomboid queen can only see you when you move.
  • Living Relic: Virgil is the last survivor of Lemuria.
  • Lizard Folk: Skullmaster's minions in season two.
  • Loophole Abuse: "Only one who beareth the cap of the Mighty One" may escape the astral plane. After Talon steals the cap and leaves, Max argues to the portal guardian that as the Mighty One he's the rightful bearer of the cap whether he actually has the cap or not. The guardian concedes the point and restores the cap to Max, allowing him to depart.
  • 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.
    • Even if he does not beat Skullmaster in the finale, Max still wrecks Skullmaster’s plans by resetting things and gives himself and his allies another chance at beating the villain.
  • Mad Libs Catchphrase: Norman has two of them:
    • "That... is a big (insert item here)!"
    • "I eat (insert item here)s for breakfast!"
  • Mad Scientist: Many examples. Professor Mac Dougall, Dr. Zygote, Dr. Scorpio, Dr. Kirby.
  • Magic Meteor: In "Tar Wars" we learn that a meteor fell to Earth a million years ago and gave immortality and super strength to both a caveman and sabertooth tiger.
  • Magma Man: The lava beasts are this combined with Blob Monster: they're literally made of magma! Lava Lord counts as well.
  • Matchstick Weapon: In "Dawn of the Conqueror", Norman's second battle with the Conqueror has the latter using a staff with both ends aflame. It can also serve as a Fire-Breathing Weapon of considerable range, leaving Norman at a considerable disadvantage with his sword until he finds a set of magical bellows to put out the flames.
  • 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).
  • Monster Clown: Freako the Clown, the titular Clown Without Pity, a deformed clown/ringmaster of a Circus of Fear staffed by children transformed into hideous monsters by his magic.
  • Monster of the Week: Several episodes have Max fight one-shot villains, most of them being unaffiliated with the Skullmaster and doing evil deeds of their own accord.
  • Mook Carryover: The lava beasts used to work for Lava Lord, until he was deposed by Skullmaster. They go back to their old leader after he is released, forcing Skullmaster to get new minions.
  • Mooning: It is mentioned by Bea in "Bring Me The Head of Mighty Max" that Max got two hours detention for mooning the teacher's lounge.
  • Musical Spoiler: If Max came up with a risky plan, if it was going to be successful, a guitar riff played before he tried it. If it wasn't, silence.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: In "Beetlemania", Max tries to calm down a Peruvian woman by talking to her in Spanish. Bea giggles and points out that he just said "Stop crying eat, we're gonna eat your feet."
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: So, so many. Skullmaster! Warmonger! The Doom Dragon! Hilariously subverted with Norman in one episode. When the Doom Dragon asks him what he is called in this century he list of several legendary warriors Norman has been known as. He replies, with a dramatic lighting bolt no less, they call me... Norman.
  • 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!
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The opening two episodes of the second season end with Max allowing Skullmaster to leave his underground prison and finally return to the surface world, due to not wanting Virgil to die in a Taking You with Me gambit. To say the least, he finds Skullmaster much more dangerous when allowed to roam free. The irony is that the reason they had come to Skull Mountain was to try and take out Skullmaster when he was at his weakest, as he had just lost the Crystal of Souls.
  • Night of the Living Mooks: Skullmaster's soulless zombies, unstoppable monsters that track down Max wherever he may be once Skullmaster sics them on him, forcing him to either be constantly on the run or try something drastic.
  • '90s Anti-Hero: Norman, definitely. Loves to fight, carries a big sword, is big and muscular, and is always ready with a Badass Boast or Bond One-Liner. At the same time, he also averts some of the related tropes: he's not entirely fearless, he doesn't hate the world, and he does have people that he cares very deeply for. One could say he's a (slightly) Lighter and Softer version of the Nineties Anti-Hero.
  • No Name Given: 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: The unfortunate events 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!
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
Spike: If you kill me, you'll be no better than me!
Norman: I can live with that. (pushes Spike off a cliff)
  • Older Sidekick: Max is a twelve year old boy, so his bodyguard Norman does all the killing. Meanwhile Virgil who is even older, serves part as his boss (telling him what needs to be done) but more as a sidekick, helping him out and giving him details he'll need to know.
  • 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 and arms.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Two different episodes featured creatures that could be considered zombie-like:
    • Episode seven had a species of tiny parasites controlled by a central brain. When they latched onto people those people became zombies, reverting when the creatures were removed.
    • Episode 11 introduced zombies under the control of Skullmaster - unstoppable monsters created from the bodies of humans who gave up their souls to Skullmaster's Crystal of Souls. They are released from their enslavement when the crystal is shattered.
  • Papa Wolf: Norman isn't Max's father, but threatening Max when he's around is a very bad idea.
  • Parental Substitute: Virgil is something of a father figure to Max in lieu of Max's Disappeared Dad. Norman functions more as a cool badass uncle.
  • 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, though his brain is bigger, 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!
    • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Max is blonde. Norman is redheaded. Virgil has no hair, but does have brown feathers. Max (blonde), Felix (redhead), and Bea (brunette) also qualify.
    • Fighter, Mage, Thief: Norman, the huge and muscular guardian with the Cool Sword, is the Fighter. Virgil, the short, physically weak fowl who can foresee the future, is the Mage. Max, the Kid Hero who always thinks on his feet, represents the Thief.
    • 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.
  • Prefers Proper Names: Virgil the Fowl will often prefer to use proper names and titles when referring to others while also being a devotee of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness as well as Insistent Terminology. Actually manages to annoy one of Max's friends by using her full name, causing her to refer to him as "Virgillius."
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Dr. Zygote and Dr. MacDougal both count as this.
  • Protector Behind Bars: Norman and Virgil spend "Werewolves in Dunneglen" arrested as murder suspects note . Fortunately Max gets help from a werewolf who happens to look a lot like Norman and sound a lot like Virgil that episode.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The zomboids from "Mother of all Adventures" are green parasites that latch on to the victim's skull and control them, making them behave like zombies.
  • Radiation-Immune Mutants: One episode has a Mad Scientist try to irradiate the entire Earth, because after an accident, he couldn't live without high radiation levels.
  • Reset Button: The last 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.
  • Retired Badass Roundup: Max collecting the four heroes in "The Maxnificent Seven."
  • 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.
    • Max referring to Virgil as a chicken ("FOWL, actually!"). The gag is inverted in one episode where Max was contacted by telegram, delivered by a man in a chicken suit - the one time that Max actually refers to Virgil as a fowl, the delivery man corrects him with, "Actually, I'm a chicken!"
  • Scream Discretion Shot: Used frequently when the Monster of the Week kills a random person.
  • Screw Destiny: Done many times, particularly when it's brought up that said destiny would mean Virgil dies along with Skullmaster.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Many times.
  • 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.
  • Shown Their Work: There were times when Mighty Max got it right, most notably an episode in which Virgil, Max, and Norman were about to be mummified. Virgil gave a rather...detailed ...description of the process.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Norman was good with this.
    Villain who killed Norman's family: "If you kill me, you'll be just like me!"
    Norman: "I can live with that."
  • Skeleton Motif: The show is obsessed with this.
    • The Big Bad is Skullmaster who lives in Skull Mountain. In the finale he resurrects various villains from earlier in the series including a skull-faced cyborg, a skeletal cyclops, a giant flying skull and a big spider with a skull-like marking on its face.
    • For good measure, the toyline also included Skull Warrior, Skull Dungeon, Skull Crusher, a skull with a snake wrapped around it and a spaceship shaped like a wolf skull, along with Skullmaster's fortress (which looked like a skull).
  • The Smart Guy: Virgil.
  • 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.
  • Some of My Best Friends Are X: Played for laughs in "Snakes & Laddies". When Max freaks out at seeing a skeleton chained to the wall and is reminded by Bea that there's nothing to fear from something that's dead and inanimate, he tries to play it cool saying that some of his best friends are skeletons.
  • Squishy Wizard: Virgil qualifies, even if he doesn't have much in the way of magic.
  • Spear Counterpart: To Polly Pocket.
  • Spiders Are Scary: Norman is a millennia-old warrior in who acts as Max's bodyguard. He fights all manner of horrific creatures, but nothing ever scares him. That is, until he fights a spider. Specifically a giant spider the size of a school bus. In the final episodes we find out precisely why he's afraid, there's an ancient prophecy that says he will finally die by being eaten by a giant spider.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology: The artifact that opens all those portals? A simple cap. The rest of Lemurian technology was probably like this as well.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: In one episode, a barbarian has recently rampaged through a village, killing everyone. Norman goes into a house and prevents, nay explicitly forbids Max from going inside the house. Max claims that he's seen the stuff in video games and movies all the time; but Virgil replies that "real violence has real consequences." meaning that Max really shouldn't see an actual bloody murder like whatever was in that house.
  • 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.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: One of Max's summons in "Werewolves of Dunneglen" 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.
  • Techno Babble: A lot, especially in the Cyber Skull episodes. We also get some pretty amazing babble courtesy of Ernie in the second episode. If you know anything about computers, this will blow your mind:
    Ernie: Looks like you blew out the BTR and the SCSI with a little extra juice in the GUI, Maxie-Waxie!note 
  • 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 is the 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.
  • This Is Reality: While tracking down Norman's nemesis via his trail of destruction, they arrive at a house whose occupants were slaughtered. Norman was the only one to see the carnage and absolutely refused to allow Max to enter. Max tried to reason that he has plenty of experience with violence on television. Max tries to enter, but is blocked by Norman, who replies that he should not go in there. When Max asks why, Virgil responds simply, "Real violence has real consequences."
  • Thunder Beetle: In "Beetlemania", beetles are revealed to be highly intelligent insectoid aliens. When they crashlanded on Earth long ago, they created a Humongous Mecha (from their perspective — it's "only" somewhat larger than humans) called Beetle-Ra to protect them from the hostile wildlife like dinosaurs (they crashlanded a really long time ago). Beetle-Ra can fire electrical blasts strong enough to bring down a T. rex.
  • Time Abyss: Virgil, Norman, and Skullmaster are all about 10,000 years old. In one episode Norman battled a magical creature from dawn to dusk, thereby earning the right to live for another 10,000 years. As to Virgil and Skullmaster... we can only assume magic has something to do with it.
  • Undying Warrior: Norman the Guardian was born in an ancient Viking village that was razed by an immortal monster. He wandered the Earth afterwards honing his fighting skills, and eventually acquired The Ageless type of immortality. He's Been There, Shaped History as a legendary warrior ever since, and 10,000 Years later he's able to take revenge on the guy who killed his family.
  • Unnamed Parent: Max's mom. Even played for laughs in "Tar Wars" when Norman tries to figure out what to call her before finally settling on Mom.
  • 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.
  • Visible Invisibility: The first episode, and a few others, allude to the portals Max's cap creates as being invisible. Nonetheless, they're quite visible to the audience as big vortexes of multicolored light.
  • Walk, Don't Swim: This is how the soulless ones get around.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Multiple, but enough of a humorous twist to be more than worth watching.
  • 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 (though 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.
    • In the episode "I, Warmonger", Skullmaster orders his dragon to leave after it takes him and Warmonger to Zero Island. This is the third and final time said dragon is seen in the series, (the first two times being the very end of "Pandora's Box Part 2" and most of "Blood of the Dragon" respectively), and it doesn't reappear in the series finale, nor is it even acknowledged.
    • In "Zygote’s Rhythm," an elderly tourist couple is hit by a devolution ray and turned into apes. They are never turned back.
  • 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.
    • To be fair, the episode implies that his motive for doing so was just so he could get the recognition he thought he deserved.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Norman has a case of arachnophobia. Eventually justified, when it's revealed that he knows that he will die by being eaten by a Giant Spider.
  • Worf Effect: Norman is the show's badass which means that a lot of Monsters of the Week go through him to show how dangerous they are.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Naturally, Max's enemies have no trouble attacking him.
  • You Don't Look Like You: Skullmaster. In his first appearance in the toys ("Mighty Max Trapped In Skull Mountain") he was a small, thin, and for some reason orange sorcerer in a robe. Here he's a much larger, much more muscular Magic Knight.
  • 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.
  • Your Vampires Suck: When Max, Virgil, and Norman encounter a vampire in "Fly By Night", a lot of aspects of vampire folklore are proven to not be true to the vampires of this show's universe. The stuff about vampires being weak against sunlight and garlic and being unable to cross running water turns out to be complete bunk, plus it is revealed that vampires' true forms are giant flies, their association with bats being the result of misconception and superstition.


Video Example(s):


Mighty Max

Subverted. Before his death, Spike attempts to save himself, by saying this. It doesn't work.

How well does it match the trope?

4.58 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / IfYouKillHimYouWillBeJustLikeHim

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