I was scrolling through Tubi a few nights ago in an effort to find something a little different to watch, which is a fantastic free on demand app if you’ve never checked it out for yourself. I wasn’t noticing all that much that struck me for the current mood I was in but then something in the kid’s section jumped out and caught my eye. It was the old Double Dragon animated series from the early 90s, a show that I hadn’t seen in years and had fond memories of, or so I thought. I gleefully clicked on the first episode and settled in, ready for the adventures of Jimmy and Billy Lee as they went up against the evil Shadow Master and his gang of thugs. Unfortunately, what I found was a train wreck of a show that was far from what I recalled, with horrible animation, subpar voice work, and plots so thin I think a basement rat in a coma could have written better. It got me thinking about some of the old shows that I used to watch when I was a kid and just how bad some of them really were in retrospect. It also planted the desire to find some that didn’t suck quite so much as the others, which turned out to be rather difficult when it came to late 80s and early 90s animation.
First off, let me say that they did produce some quality stuff in the first half of the 90s, but I think it’s often too easy to point to Batman, Superman the animated series, or Gargoyles as a go to, because they always seem to be near the tops of the lists when you’re talking about that timeframe. What I wanted to do was look a little deeper into the catalogue and come up with something else, something a bit more obscure that a lot of you have probably never heard of before. So what we’re going to do over the next few weeks is just that, take a look at a handful of animated series you’ve more than likely never seen but should have. So let’s have a gander at a few hidden gems that deserve a second look, because in a time that produced a lot of crap, these are really worth the watch.
We kick things off with one of my favorites, a series based on a spinoff toy line of the Polly Pocket brand, and that’s Mighty Max. For a kid’s show at the time, Mighty Max was a really well-done effort, focusing on action adventure with strong horror elements that pushed the boundaries for children’s programs of the era. It follows the exploits of Max, a twelve-year-old who’s been chosen by destiny as the next to hold the title of cap bearer. The cap is a baseball hat that can open portals through space and in rare instances time itself, which is kind of a ridiculous premise to base a show around when you take the time to think about it. But the idea is actually handled really well and with a sense of seriousness that sells the whole concept, and to be honest, the show is just so well-conceived from episode to episode that it all just works.
Max is of course accompanied on his adventures by a pair of mismatched companions named Virgil and Norman, because any pre-teen thrown into such a situation just has to have buddies. Virgil is an ancient anthropomorphic Lemurian fowl that Max keeps calling a chicken. He speaks with an effete British accent and serves as the Yoda like guide for Max, and he was also responsible for being the caretaker of the cap until Max was chosen as the next mighty one of destiny. Norman, on the other hand, is a strong, silent warrior that rarely utters a word, save for when he grumbles his signature catch phrase of, “I eat [monsters, zombies, aliens, yetis,]” and so forth, “for breakfast.” He has been alive for nearly ten thousand years and has served as humanity’s inspiration for dozens of mythical beings over the ages, including Thor, Hercules, and Gilgamesh.
Each episode focuses on the group as they tackle Max’s exploits around the world, often facing off against threats that are supernatural or otherworldly in nature, but a few adventures did feature strong sci-fi elements. We get a clan of werewolves on the Scottish moors that actually turnout to be the good guys in one episode, while others featured a brutal barbarian from Norman’s past who murdered his father and a mad scientist that kidnaps Virgil and uses him to force an evolutionary change within himself, which implies that human beings at some point will evolve into super intelligent fowls. All of the stories and villains are really unique and pretty different than what other kid’s shows were offering at the time, but nothing can compare with the show’s main antagonist for pure badassdom, and that’s the dreaded and terrifying Skullmaster.
Skullmaster is an ancient sorcerer that has been trapped at the center of the earth for ages, taken and stranded there by Max’s predecessor as cap bearer centuries ago at the cost of his own life. Skullmaster is responsible for the fall and destruction of countless civilizations, including Egypt (hinted at being his native land), Atlantis, and Virgil’s ancient home of Lemuria. He is also what history’s idea of the beings of the underworld and the fiery pits are based on, including Hades and the biblical Satan, which is really cool to see addressed roundaboutly in a children’s program. And the best part about the villain is that he’s voiced by the greatness of Tim Curry, which can sometimes go snobbish or scary but in this case it’s just plain horrifying as all get out. At one point he threatens to slice Max across the middle and suck the marrow from his bones, which is leaps and bounds more violent when compared to most animated baddies of the day, whose worst lines were you’ll never succeed in defeating me or I’ll have my revenge. Curry’s work always made this guy seem like he was just inches from accomplishing his goal, and that was the death of Max and the enslavement of the entire world as we know it, or be utterly crushed at his hands.
In all, Mighty Max is a definite watch if you can find it, which is a bit difficult when given its age and obscurity. The look and overall tone of the show is top notch and the voice acting is second to none when you look at the cast and see who all is involved. One thing I really like about it, too, was that it had a definite ending with the final episode, which is refreshing considering that most animated series at the time just stopped without any closure. Do yourself a favor and put in the effort to track down a few episodes and give them a watch, especially if you have an interest in lesser known animation like me, you won’t be disappointed if you do. Until next week, gang, and another show. Enjoy, and talk to you later.