I consider myself the genderbent Gandalf of this blogging band of adventurers. This is because I am possibly the oldest member of TVGB’s editorial staff, not because I like to trick little people into improperly disposing of hazardous waste. The downside of being the oldest is that I am closest to death’s sweet embrace. But the upside is that as a child of the 80s, I got to play with the grossest, creepiest toys of any generation. From Mattel’s Mad Scientist kits to Hasbro’s Belly Buttons to Topps’ Garbage Pail Kids, the Reagan era was a veritable treasure trove of incredibly inappropriate children’s toys. And now Mondo, purveyor of posters and other awesome pop culture ephemera, has brought back my absolute favorite of the bunch – Madballs.
Madballs were the twisted brain child of AmToy, a division of greeting card titan American Greetings. Having already struck girl-market gold with Care Bears, they were looking to corner and capture the boy-market, which they did with these delightfully disgusting rubber balls. The first series hit stores in 1985, and were an instant (if fleeting) success, spawning a second series of foam Madballs, super-sized Madballs, head-popping Madballs, as well as a video game, a 10-issue comic book series, a couple of direct-to-video cartoons and even a tie-in novel written by future Goosebumps millionaire R.L. Stine. And don’t even get me started on all of the licensed merch; from stickers to shampoos, if AmToy could slap a picture of a severed hand clutching an eyeball on it, then slap they did.
Ultimately, Madballs were a victim of their own success. In the words of Lao Tzu, “the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” With the market super saturated not just with official Madballs merch, but lesser-known knockoffs like Blurp Balls, Weird Balls, Spit Balls and Ugly Balls, it wasn’t long before kids were burnt out on balls. Madballs faded from popularity, but they never faded from my heart. Nor from the hearts of Mondo’s talented designers, who have poured their love into every glistening tendon and writhing insect on these highly-detailed and highly-collectible Madballs Series 1 vinyl figures.
The first three characters to get the Mondo makeover are Slobulus, Skull Face and Horn Head. Each stands about 3.5″ tall, making them a bit larger than their 80s counterparts; these are baseball-sized as opposed to the tennis ball-sized originals. They are also made of a hard, hollow vinyl rather than rubber or foam. This means you can’t throw them at people, but it also means you get an absolutely stunning amount of detail that would never have been possible in the original materials. Mondo’s Madballs may be based on the original designs, but they have gone next level with the sculpt and paint.
The sculpt work on these is phenomenal. I remember the original Skull Face being pretty boring, lacking any real depth and detail; not so with Mondo’s Skull Face, which has gone from being my least to most favorite. Smooth yellow foam has given way to a variety of gritty, grimy textures; from pounded metal to porous bone to coiling brain, Skull Face is a feast for the worms and the eyes. C’mon, even the teeth have been individually sculpted! Mondo has embellished Slobulus and Horn Head in equal measure. Slobulus has more stitches, more slime and more creepy crawlies. And Horn Head has, appropriately, more horns thanks to the Klingon-esque re-imagining of the back of his head. In keeping with the spirit of the characters if not the original design, Mondo has added lot of little details that make these figures as awesome as I remember them being, which is more awesome than they actually were.
As much as I love the sculpts, it’s the gorgeous paint decos that really brings these figures to life. Kidrobot also makes a line of Madballs vinyl figures, and while I feel their brighter, bolder colors are the perfect compliment to their more cartoonish sculpts, I much prefer Mondo’s aggressive approach. They went dark with the paint, and damn does it look good. Mondo’s deco is richer and dare I say more realistic, the layered washes drawing out all those delightfully disgusting details. The gradients are super smooth, and I love the judicious use of gloss on the eyes, gums and exposed brain, giving them a sickly wet sheen. I do wish they came with a stand, like Kidrobot’s, but that’s the only complaint. Thankfully, there’s enough detail to the sculpts that you won’t have to worry about them rolling away despite their (mostly) rounded bottoms.
Mondo’s first series of Madballs vinyl figures are a must have for any collector. They’re just $20 each, or $55 for the whole set. I’m excited that there are 13 remaining original Madball characters that could possibly get the Mondo treatment. But even more exciting, the company is working on licensing deals to make Madball-ified characters from popular properties, cleverly named Mondoballs; they’ve already struck a deal with Marvel for Venom, with more characters planned from Gremlins and Friday the 13th. So even if they don’t dip back into the Madballs well, we can still look forward to more bad ass balls from Mondo.
This review is based on retail product provided by the manufacturer.
Works of art. Disgusting, but still works of art.
If it seemed like I was dragging out this review with my nostalgia for and history of Madballs, it's because I was. A review sans-padding would have been two sentences: "These are cool. Buy them now."