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 run from September 1993 to December 1994, with a total of 40 episodes in two seasons.
Starring a smart-alek boy who is sent an artifact by his archaeologist 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 noticeable. 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 afterwards.
- Action Survivor: Max
- Aliens and Monsters
- 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.
- And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Mostly various facts regarding the location, villain, or MacGuffin of that particular episode.
- And the Adventure Continues...: Or rather, starts again from the beginning.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: "Zygote Music"
- Badass: Norman
- 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."
- 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, 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.
- The Big Guy: Norman is one outside of the Five-Man Band dynamic.
- 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
- 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: A whole lot of it. Lava only ever hurts anything it directly touches.
- 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...
- Deadpan Snarker: Max. Sometimes Norman.
- The Drag Along: Max had his moments.
- 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 alongside Max and Virgil.
- Dwindling Party: Happens in the last episode.
- 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.
- The European Carry All
- Evil Plan: Skull Master had his Take Over the World thing and the one shot villains had their own thing.
- 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.
- Genre Savvy
Evil Vampire Lady: Loooooook into my eyes!
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.
- Hair of Gold
- Hat of Power: The cap of the Capbearer.
- Here We Go Again: The final episode has Max find himself back where it all started, with the same note on the counter... 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, 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.
- Hostage for McGuffin: The last episode.
- 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.
- If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him: Subverted at the end of "Norman's Conquest".
Spike: "If you kill me, You'll be no better than me."
Norman: "I can live with that."
- 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 and Sir Lancelot.
- I Like Those Odds:
Norman: Six against one, hardly fair. I'll fight with my eyes closed.
- Insistent Terminology: Virgil is a fowl, not a chicken.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes
- Kid with the Leash: Max occasionally has to remind Norman that beating up policemen and soldiers is a bad idea.
- Merchandise-Driven: The toys were monstrous heads, hands, creatures (and sometimes action figures) that opened out into playsets for miniature figurines.
- 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.
- Never Say "Die": Definitely averted, the first episode has Skullmaster tell Max he'll die several times and they sure weren't afraid to include it either. Most episodes begin with somebody getting killed by whatever Max fights that day.
- No Name Given: Max's mom.
- The Mad Scientist in "The Missing Linked". Every time he tries to announce his name, he keeps getting interrupted.
- Noodle Incident: Rangoon.
- Except that most of it is explained... sort of.
- No, Really, It's Okay: In "Sirius Trouble" aliens appear and try to steal "the source of all power" from us. In the end it turns out what they use for power is nuclear waste, and Max is immediately all like "You guys win, take as much as you want"
- 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 himself.
- Our Vampires Are Different: They're horseflies, apparently.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Professor Guinea Pig: Dr. Zygote and Dr. Mac Taggart both count as this.
- Reset Button: 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.
- Rogues Gallery: Skullmaster, Dr. Eggbert Zygote, Spike 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!"
- Max referring to Virgil as a chicken.
- "FOWL, actually!"
- Scream Discretion Shot: Used frequently when the Monster of the Week kills a random person.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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 Evil 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.
- Sidekick Ex Machina
- Tear Jerker: The episode where Max meets the legendary warriors.
- 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 hes optimistic as Norman and Virgil are still alive and they now have the knowledge to beat Skullmaster for good.
- Villain World: Skullmaster's plan in the finale would have created this by rewriting time.
- Whole-Plot Reference: The episode "Out In The Cold" to The Thing/"Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell - except here, there are multiple shapeshifting aliens.
- 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.
- 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.
- Which makes the Title Sequence that much creepier.
- 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 S.M just blast his hostage to nothing anyway.
MAX: (After seeing Virgil killed) YOU PROMISED!
SKULLMASTER: Yes, I did... didn't I?
- Your Vampires Suck: They hate being associated with bats. They're FLIES, DAMMIT!
- 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.