It’s an amazing time to be a Madballs fan. You’ve got a new line with regular and mini-sized balls at Target, high-end figures from Mondo, not-quite-as-high end from Kidrobot, blind-boxed almost-minis from Kidrobot, keychains, Christmas ornaments, and… huh. For a fad that was barely a blip on the cultural radar (well, minus innumerable knockoffs), it’s fairly amzing how strongly Madballs have come back.
ANYWAY! You know the drill – in the ’80s, Madballs were a gross-out line of foam balls, they had a brief heyday with everything from a short-lived comic book toa (terrible) cartoon pilot, and then they went away. Knockoffs and ripoffs have had a much longer lifespan than the original toys (because hey, monster balls/severed heads are marketable, and there have been a few revival attempts, most notably one in the mid-2000s that resulted in a few original characters released in Europe. Look up the water squirters sometimes, they’re awesome. But as for TODAY… we’ve got the new minis. Made from foam, and bite-sized, these figures are sold blind-packed at Target. Despite the packaging artwork showing about twelve figures, currently only six can be found. If you want a complete set, just look on the back for an embossed serial number, and pay attention to the last few digits:
001 – Skull Face
002 – Horn Head
003 – Screamin’ Meemie
004 – Dust Brain
005 – Slobulus
006 – Oculus Orbus
007 – Glow Skull Face
Congrats, you win! Anyway, let’s look at the individual figures. Before we jump in, I’ll say this much: 1. These are new, updated redesigns in a cartoon style. If you want a straight-up resculpt of the originals, go for the Kidrobot minis (which are hard vinyl, expertly painted, a little biger than these, and straight-up redone classic figures). And 2) being soft foam, the paint will chip and peel from these guys if you handle them too much. In fact, they’re likely to come with a few cracks and flaws right out of the foil pack. They cost $3 each or thereabouts, so it shouldn’t be hard to grab a mint set and store it safely if you feel the need. Just be aware that these toys are not in any way durable. It’s the same with the big ones, too. Anyway, let’s have a look at ’em all!
Skull Face was a pretty simple design back in the day – a cracked, creepy skull. The new redesign has messed with his proportions a bit, and now he’s a rather stylizd skull – I can’t quite pick up on his mood, but something about his face seems pretty sarcastic. Skull Face is judging you now.
For a huge change, he now has a tremendous mount of exposed brain (maybe he’s been merged with Bash Brain?), with its very own face. Unlike the sardonic expression on his skull, Skull Face’s brain seems to be absolutely psycho, gibbering as it breaks free from its confinement. They all have little details all over, from Dust BRain’s scarab beetles to Screaming Meemie’s tiny extra mouth on his back, but the facebrain is pretty big and dramatic.
Horn Head is pretty close to his vintage design, albeit with snot and slime in his nose and mouth, and an X in his eye (a standard stylization with the new figures). He’s pretty solidly an update of the original, and the general lack of “new” flourish helps underscore Horn Head’s position as one of the flagship Madballs in the entire line. He’s great, though he’s honestly always been a little out of place – a straight-up cyclops in a world of severed corpses and gross-out humor, Horn Head’s stitches were the only things making him “gross” back in the day. He’s got some green ooze now, at least. The red x in his eye is honestly somewhat odd – does this mean that he’s dead? That they all are? Who knows.
Screaming Meemie is an actual ball. Very few Madballs are repurposed sports balls, but he sure is. His tongue has been shortened to less-resemble… uh… I forgot its name, but there is a very similar baseball logo out there somewhere (can somebody help with this?). He’s also got Xs for eyes, signifying that he might be dead. Bit aside from the shortened tongue length, his design is what it always has been.
So, is Dust Brain male or female? Male in the comics, implied to be male as a toy, but re-envisioned as “Dusty” in the cartoon… you know what? It’s a girl. I’ve decided. Anyway, Dust Brain is really similar to her old design – the eye xs are almost hard to spot, in fact. It’s a basic mummy, but one oozing with personality. Much like Skull Face, Dust Brain looks kind of bored, and even though they had to add some gross-out details to make her match up (a little bit of slime and a beetle), she’s a pretty solid part of the lineup.
Slobulus has always been the goriest, grossest Madball of them all. His old toy boke the bounds of decency with kids’ stuff (but was AWESOME), and his redesigns have often upped the ante. Notably, his vintage head0poppin’ figure gave him th bloodiest, goriest body imaginable, taking away all doubt about whether he is meant to be a corpse or not. This version is softened and less gross due to the cartoon stylings, though still very clearly him. His trademark dangling eye is very well-done (albeit a site for future paint-scuffing), and he has an oddly coiffed hairdo now. Honestly, Slobuluss smoother, more cartoonish, less abjectly awful detailing is a matter of taste. He’s not as gross as he used to be, so it’s up to you if you like the idea or not. He does look great in multiples as a pile of decomposing heads, though!
Oculus Orbus got the biggest redesign of all the figures. The original Oculus was just an eyeball, straight-up. Very simple, but extremely effective. His 2009 update added a stitch or two, which was… eye stitches exist. Kind of crazy, that. But his new design gives him a full face, with a mouth, teeth, and tngue somehow embedded in the vitreous fluid, and an extremely hyper, zany expression. I… like it. I know I shouldn’t, because it’s new and not a carbon copy of the original design, and they original was great in its simplicity, but I definitely like this. He looks insane.
The “secret Ultra Rare” figure (not that rare) is a glow-in-the-dark Skull Face. He glows, as you can see. When not glowing, he looks much like the original, except with a slightly different off-yellow coloration, and no paint for the brain. He also smells like a smell factory during a bad smell festival in the middle of Bad Small Day. Not the most inspired repaint in the world, but that’s life.
So, overall? You have to look past the cheap material and durability – you know, the vintage issues – and if you don’t like the new designs, well, there you go. But if you do, then these are great little foam abominations. I like mine, but I like them with that “these are going to disintegrate, aren’t they?” cringey feeling. Toy durability is a big issue with me, and I’m not a fan of Madball foam. But all the same, they’re great for what they are.