Alternative comic Patton Oswalt built a cult following for his geeky and insightful stand-up throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. He may have found mainstream success on King of Queens and Ratatouille, the comic book king persona never disappeared. His encyclopedic knowledge of the subculture became an undeniable asset as comic book movies began to dominate the box office. It was only a matter of time before he was able to merge that knowledge with his pathos-driven storytelling. This week, M.O.D.O.K. comes to Hulu with an undeniably strange blend of humor, visuals, and its wildly absurd villain at the center of it all. Oswalt and co-creator Jordan Blum embrace the on-the-face oddity behind MODOK as a character. The resulting series is at once hilarious, surprisingly heartfelt, and the first true R-rated series during Disney’s ownership of Marvel.
The titular villain, M.O.D.O.K. (Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), loses a battle to Iron Man (Jon Hamm) and The Avengers. Shortly after the battle, M.O.D.O.K. loses control of his company, A.I.M., to tech company GRUMBL. Simultaneously, his wife, Jodie (Aimee Garcia), decides to leave the selfish and egomaniacal villain. As M.O.D.O.K. reconnects with his son Lou (Ben Schwartz) and daughter Melissa (Melissa Fumero), the villain schemes ways to take back his company and save his family.
For those unaware of M.O.D.O.K., he is a literally big-headed villain who consistently does battle against the Avengers. As one of the smartest characters in the world, he presents one of the few intellectual threats to the team. Simultaneously, his odd design has made him a fan favorite. He’s a combination of a giant head, very small gangly arms/legs, and a floating chair. A creation from the mind of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, M.O.D.O.K. remains one of Marvel’s strangest characters.
Due to M.O.D.O.K.’s absurdist nature, the writers dive deep into Marvel lore. Chock-full of obscure and fun references to the larger universe, comic fans will quickly find themselves in a hunt for the next Easter Eggs. The references go beyond mere passing references, as the narrative introduces time travel, alternate dimensions, and other planets into the equation. Aliens and robots are scattered throughout, as are many of the most obscure villains in Marvel’s rogue’s gallery. It’s a delight to see a story embrace the weirdest elements of the Marvel canon.
Oswalt’s fingerprints are all over M.O.D.O.K. as he pulls triple duty. His commitment to the vocal peculiarities of M.O.D.O.K.’s arrogance bring out the mania lurking beneath the surface. M.O.D.O.K.’s evil ways have made him one of the Avengers’ most dangerous villains. His petulance is singular, even within Marvel’s long history. Oswalt’s commitment to this anger and arrogance makes it more impressive that he can bring anything human out of something so selfish. Not only does Oswalt make you root for M.O.D.O.K., but he turns him into a genuinely sympathetic sociopath.
The visual aesthetics of M.O.D.O.K. differentiate the series from most of the animated world. The use of puppets, stop-motion, and Robot Chicken’s style is far from coincidental. Seth Green serves as a co-producer on the series and lends his voice to the series on more than one occasion. It might cause audiences to view the series as a cavalcade of violent jokes with no purpose. At times, the critique may be warranted. Some unbelievably violent and disgusting images cross the screen, some of which involve animals and exploding limbs.
The humor may not be for everyone, but M.O.D.O.K.’s real triumph is its compelling serialized narrative. There are plenty of emotional and heartfelt moments throughout the season, which offsets the series of crude deaths awaiting the hazmat-suited AIM workers. The payoffs do not just come for M.O.D.O.K. alone, as the supporting cast gets plenty of moments to shine. As relationships develop and shatter, M.O.D.O.K. masterfully swings between nihilistic depression and genuine hopefulness. That quality elevates the series above some of the darker series on television and shows its creators’ true brilliance in crafting their story.
Even if M.O.D.O.K. is the only series of its kind under the Marvel banner, it is an unbelievably fun first outing. At times, you will genuinely wonder how Oswalt and Blum got this series on Hulu, let alone past Disney. Yet, that subversiveness is exactly what makes M.O.D.O.K. so enjoyable. Astoundingly heartfelt and funny, M.O.D.O.K is a triumph.