Originally published at 7:49 a.m. on May 21, 2021
M.O.D.O.K. is a villain from Marvel Comics. He’s a knucklehead. Without a doubt.
M.O.D.O.K. has always been about his visuals: he’s a guy with a huge enormous head who toodles around on a flying metal chair, zapping people with mental blasts and other such nonsense (M.O.D.O.K. stands for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, of course).
In terms of personality, he hasn’t done much in the past. He yells a lot. Frequently swears revenge. Plots a lot of world dominance. To the “petty-minded fools!” goes… well, a lot.
Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., a new Hulu series, is also amusing. In the Robot Chicken mode, it, too, has fantastic aesthetics — vibrant, vivid stop-motion animation boosted by computer. In fact, everything about Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. reminds you of Robot Chicken: the very astounding joke density, the profound enthusiasm for backstory and characters so esoteric that even the managers of a Marvel wiki would be stumped, and a fantastic voice cast.
That’s understandable. Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K is created by Jordan Blum (who wrote numerous episodes of American Dad!) and Patton Oswalt, who also voices M.O.D.O.K. It’s produced by the same people who made Robot Chicken — Stoopid Buddy Stoodios — and it’s developed by Jordan Blum (who wrote several episodes of American Dad!) and Patton Oswalt, who also voices M.O.D.O.
Even while it tries to extend out the similar high-pitched, setup-punchline-blackout intensity to fit a serialised comedic structure, Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K isn’t a sketch show like Robot Chicken. The result is jagged but mainly works; the series’ go-for-broke, gag-based strategy constantly undercuts the emotional beats its tale tries to reach, which, in a bizarre way, becomes part of the joke.
The situation: M.O.D.O.K.’s life is in shambles. His nefarious corporation is purchased out by a big-tech conglomerate helmed by the promiscuous Austin Van Der Sleet (voiced by Beck Bennett). Monica, a smarter coworker, mocks him (voiced by Wendi McLendon-Covey). His marriage to Melissa (voiced by Melissa Fumero) is on the rocks, and his children Jodie (voiced by Aimee Garcia) and Lou (voiced by Ben Schwartz with wonderfully insane energy) are glum and cheerful, respectively.
For his part, Oswalt manages to imbue M.O.D.O.K. with far more personality than the comics ever could. His M.O.D.O.K. is a vain, petulant jerk with no sense of self-awareness, but he’s also an inveterate loser who flails around, attempting to fix his relationship, assassinate his boss, and take over the world. Just like you do.
The jokes are frequently flippant and occasionally harsh, but they’re always satisfyingly particular ( “You’re questioning my masculinity? I’ll tell you, my last squabble was a genuine brawl! “), which at least gives the impression that they have a distinct and well-defined humorous sensibility.
When a massive mega-globo-corporate juggernaut like Marvel delivers you one of their characters to play with, that’s the real problem. Even the best rendition of a character can be flattened into flavourless paste by the IP itself, let alone the teams of studio brand-management officials giving critiques. Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., on the other hand, was established specifically to isolate one small, strange, backwater region of the Marvel Universe and let loose. That’s exactly what it does, in a lighthearted, Robot Chicken-flavored way.