I put this together after I started pondering which of the Mighty Max toys were objectively the best and worst as far as design, aesthetic, and functionality goes.
Best: Series 1
The highlight of the toy line definitely got off to a great start with Series 1. There are a lot of creative designs and very distinct locales, with a good balance of spooky, colorful, and endearing to introduce young kids to a toy line that would get progressively more gruesome as they got older. The compact designs weren’t as outrageous as Series 3, but none of the Series 1 entries are forgettable, whether or not you like the cutesy design aesthetic. The whole thing has a 50s cult monster movie vibe, with tributes to Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Fly, and the countless cult and alien films of the era. Each set also has one or two cool gimmicks to make it stand out from the others, like moving machinery, giant monsters that are part of the inerior AND exterior, and tightrope acts to name a few.
Worst: Series 2
Series 2 isn’t “bad” by any stretch. It just isn’t as inspired as 1’s distinct locales or Series 3’s amazing compositions. Where it falls short is how half of them have bland exteriors, strange color choices for interiors, and/or general lack of anything going on inside, almost like oversized horror heads.
Series 1 Best: Palace of Poison
Not only does it feature the badass setting of ancient Egypt, it has the most creative design of Series 1 that can depict a dig site with or without a giant snake shrine protruding from the sand, or an elaborate tomb with a tightrope act. The color scheme is unmisakably sandy and the whole thing gives a great Indiana Jones vibe. Every area is interactive and pitting sweet little Max against a giant scorpion for the amusement of a dehydrated despot is truly magical.
Series 1 Worst: Ice Alien
A great color scheme is wasted on a rather dull interior, foreshadowing half of the Series 2 sets. It’s extremely pretty and has a wonderfully detailed exterior, but inside it’s just kinda bland, and the big monster is sort of amorphous and not terribly memorable (though it is neat that it features one complete ice alien and two more still forming out of the glacier). The main baddie is pretty cool at least, and didn’t use the awkward-looking hinged waist mechanic.
Honorable Mention: Skull Dungeon
Awesomely detailed tribute to Frankenstein. When you mention Mighty Max, this is immediately what I think of. A shining example of what the toy line was capable of, and never fails to impress: every time I show this one off, I get a gasp of delight. Bonus points for the awesome jawbridge that makes a rare use of a playset’s interior AND exterior.
Series 2 Best: Maneater
An attack sub designed as a giant shark is amazing all on its own, and allows Max to fight on the inside AND outside, which is rare for a doom zone. The details are exquisite and the colors and overall aesthetic are a perfect balance of flesh, tech, and treasure. It also splits into various layers: from giant shark, to attack sub in a cavernous bay, to an undersea treasure trove or biomech ship interior. Top it off with a cool squidman, two squid minions, and a cyber-manta jetski, and you’ve got a winner.
Series 2 Worst: Scorpion
Worst was initially a tie among Ape King, Scorpion, and Battlecat given the lack of interesting interior design, among other problems. Originally I picked Battle Cat because it lacks a titular cat and has a gaudy Polly Pocket palette, but after some deliberation I realized Scorpion was the biggest offender. For all their faults, the other two can at least stand on their own. Scorpion is basically two vehicles, one of them totally impractical, the other only interesting when combined with other sets.
Honorable Mention: Cyclops
Shades of Skull Dungeon, but much more macabre. There’s a ton of interactivity in this dungeon, a very cool giant eyeball monster, and a compact that screams Ray Harryhausen. A great layout as well, with the twin stairs leading up the horn and onto the upper landing. It’s easy to fall in love with this one, and it’s my personal favorite of Series 2.
Series 3 Best: Fly
An awesomely detailed giant fly compact hatches into a Cronenberg-esque nightmare filled with giant maneating bugs and squirming human hosts for their parasitic young, with a little mad science thrown in via the man-fly villain and his cyber-bug forklift thing. The compact’s eyes double as sliding windows in a very cool clockwork touch. Color choice is perfect here, screaming “alien bug” and other general unpleasantness. Cool setting and very cool goodies inside, most of which contribute to the overall presentation whether the set is closed or open.
Series 3 Worst: Cyberskull
Nothing in this set resembles much of anything. It’s a random mix of bone and computer guts. Yawn.
Honorable Mention: Nautilus
I really wish more of the playsets went with the vertical split gimmick seen here — some of the less interesting playsets might have benefitted from it. It’s an awesome two-part bisection of a biomechanical submarine lair, but hurts from the gaudy Polly Pocket colorscheme. I guess parents were getting angry about the macabre atmosphere of these toys and felt goofy pastels would tone it down sufficiently to placate them. With a more macabre palette this might have had a shot at my #1 spot for Series 3.
Best: Series 2
Whereas most horror heads were glorified figure carrying cases, the Series 2 ‘Heads did it right by establishing a tangible and interactive environment inside. The overall designs were also the most fearless of the whole toy line, with lots of gore and gross fleshtones. Fantastic work.
Worst: Series 3
Series 3 was the first sign of the toy line’s downward spiral. Like Series 1, the interiors were a bit lazy and uninspired, but they also didn’t include the featured bad guy! It’s nothing but shit vehicles and henchmen here, and just about all of these designs had lots of room for improvement before final production.
Series 1 Best: Kronosaur
It’s almost impossible to pick a best from the series that started bringing out Mighty Max’s more gruesome side: each of the original Horror Heads had a tangible environment but figures that were lacking, or lazy environments with really great figures and accessories, with exterior designs that were okay on average. I settled on this one because it has the best balance of all three. A beautifully lush colorscheme, an interior with bloody and mechanical highlights, a wonderfully mean-looking caveman villain, and an excellently designed exterior complete with the compact clasp being incorporated as the kronosaur’s incisors, all makes this one a winner. It looks good in your collection and has neat stuff on the inside. Best of all, it’s really easy to find on ebay.
Series 1 Worst: Sea Squirm
The monsters are awkwardly posed and the interior has a lot of clutter. They put more thought into the looks than the functionality for this one. As I said, most of the Series 1 ‘Heads are aesthetically beautiful, but limited play-wise; this one is the extreme in both. Really pretty pattern on the serpent’s skin, and a lovely undersea motif overall, just bettter suited to making your collection look good than actually playing with.
Honorable Mention: Zomboid
It’s so wonderfully icky I can’t ignore it. Disgusting interior of a giant rotting human, with the abcessed brain as the villain and a giant centipede sidekick. What’s not to like?
Series 2 Best: Corpus
Takes a note from Maneater by providing a shifting environment: the action takes place at an open grave or inside a spooky catacomb. Either way, it’s a great idea with some spooky-ass bad guys, grim Poe-esque detail, and a palette so disturbing they had to make a “safer” pastel-colored re-release.
Series 2 Worst: Werewolf
It gets points for great presentation, but lacks the titular Werewolf, thus the set has a lack of overall direction. Honestly not that bad for a “worst” pick, further demonstrating the expert design of Series 2.
Honorable Mention: Ax Man
This one has the most fun interactive feature: a giant swiveling guillotine for disemboweling Max. Co-starring gruesome maniac with a chainsaw!
Series 3 Best: Beetlebrow
This is as close as the awful Series 3 comes to including the featured villain in the set, unlike the other three, and the showdown basically boils down to a jousting contest: Max riding a giant tick, versus the beetle borg riding a space jetski. The color scheme has some nice stark contrasts, the interior features hapless astronauts being eaten alive by parasites, and when the set is closed up, all of the components contribute to a rather fearsome space bug mug. The theme is the least abstract — people being fed to alien parasites by a scooter-riding bug-bot — and there’s plenty of goodies to fool around with. Too bad it’s impossible to find on ebay, probably the rarest of the entire toy line.
Series 3 Worst: Hydron/Rhesus 7
A “planet of the apes” setting is perfect for Mighty Max, but they bungle it pretty badly here. Half the pieces form the worst vehicle in toy history, and again the (ridiculous looking) main villain is strangely absent. There was plenty of room for both Hydron and his lackey and a smaller, more sensible mount for Max. All the good designers must’ve left the company by this point.
Honorable Mention: Freako
Freako is the black sheep of this series: the only one to lack both a vehicle AND the “removable jaws” aesthetic of the other three sets. It also has a great exterior design with a striking color scheme that really grabs your eye, and everything inside does a nice job conveying “circus freakshow”. Unfortunately the compact’s interior, while awesomely psychadelic, is useless except as a carrying case, and again the featured villain is absent. Why not a retractable highwire and a Freako figure?
Everything about this screams “awesome”. Undead ED209 with a variety of killer missiles/extending arms, a flying vehicle for Max or Cyberskull, and a command post inside the big guy’s head. Battle Masters / Battle Max / Whatever the hell you call this particular branch of the line was never better than this.
Worst: Lava Beast
It seems when the designers didn’t know what to do, they defaulted to lava, and the result is always dull. A nice minimalist colorscheme, and the big guy can eat the little guys and puke them back up. There’s nothing interesting inside, and the accessories are all bland.
Honorable Mention: Battle Conquerer
Easily one of the best in this series: a giant lion-man with giant weapons that he OR Norman can use, plus a dragon-jet with a ballista for finishing him off. Only gripe is the Conquerer’s crappy “side kick” leg pose. Handsome metallic color palette as well. A great medieval counterpart to the sci-fi Cybot — if you only own one from this series, and it’s not Cybot, make it this one.
Best: Skull Mountain
The pictures speak for themselves. If this were a GI Joe playset, it would be six feet tall. It’s the biggest set in the toy line, and filled with tons of goodies and features: skelevator, dragon lair, two retracting bridges, a face-changing villain, projctile weapons, a guillotine, a submarine bay…Skull Mountain has it all.
Worst: Terror Talons / Dread Star
A giant horror head with lots of figures. The only intersting part is the wall-face throne that opens and closes it jaws and moves its eyes around. This coulda been two more doom zones. Utter crap.
Honorable Mention: Dragon Isle
Like Skull Mountain, every inch of this set is a finely detailed environment, although there is only half as much to do. The bay areas are particularly spooky and delightful. One of the easiest MM toys to find on ebay, too.
Best Overall Collection: Horror Heads, Series 2
As far as design, creativity, atmosphere, and playability, this set is the most consistent across the board. Every other collection has its ups and downs; here, even the downs have enough going for them to put the “worst” of the other collections to shame. Not only are these great looking and fun to play with, they attest to the creativity of the designers: look what they were able to do with such restrictions on space, size, and number of pieces. These are outstanding, and if you only own one collection, you could do a hell of a lot worse than this. Each one draws your attention and admiration.