The Marvel Cinematic Universe has often been accused of having a villain problem. Those watered-down bad boys weren’t compelling (Ultron), or they ended up being under mind control, as Marvel actually revealed about Loki following his Chitauri-aided attack on NYC, which wasn’t really up to him but, rather, his scepter. The same goes antagonists like Winter Soldier, who was programmed by HYDRA, and Crossbones, who bit the dust too soon, and so on. MCU villains started to improve in Phase 3 with Erik Killmonger, and Thanos could have been the ultimate villain but still failed to totally hit the sweet spot. And although WandaVision‘s Agatha did rock, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s Flag Smashers confused everyone going into Phase 4. [Big sigh.] Marvel’s villainy is one area where it trails D.C./Warner Bros., but there’s hope on the horizon.
What I’m saying, quite wildly, is this: Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. brings us a supervillain who’s not technically part of the MCU, but he really should be (even if he’d be hard to render, live-action). He’s actually my favorite Marvel onscreen villain now, too.
Funny how that works, because M.O.D.O.K. is essentially a giant freaking head. Well, Patton Oswalt, who co-wrote this series’ first season on Hulu alongside Jordan Blum, has been relishing voice work lately. He recently managed to shock The Boys audience (that’s what happens when you “cameo” as a set of gills for the lead pervert character), and now, he’s the leading man in a very adult-oriented animated series. What is fantastic about that final detail is that M.O.D.O.K. is very adult-oriented, but it doesn’t bury itself in d*ck jokes and gore simply because it can make the whole show about d*ck jokes and gore. As sad as it is to say, that’s something that still happens, as evidenced by another Hulu series, but with M.O.D.O.K., the crude jokes are mere icing.
What’s marvelous about M.O.D.O.K., as well, is that the show moves further than the source material for the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing. He’s not only a megalomaniacal genius (with a massive, unwieldy noggin), but he’s struggling to balance his day job (as a bad dude) with family life. That conflict is where the show shines the most, even if it sure is fun to see him smart-off while going up against a certain billionaire playboy philanthropist named Tony Stark, who’s voiced by Jon Hamm. Nathan Fillion also plays another hero-enemy, and all of those interactions are fine. What’s more real, though, as well as different for current audiences, is to see a Marvel supervillain whose entire arc isn’t confined to taking down the world powers that be.
That is to say, M.O.D.O.K. would absolutely love to exercise world dominion and defeat every superhero out there, but situations like this…
… end up taking a backseat to dilemmas like this.
Oh, and this is surprisingly funny stuff and not at all where M.O.D.O.K. finds himself within the comics. I like what Oswalt and Blum decided to do here while branching off, rather than defer to all-too-familiar ground by, say, writing about a son fretting over how best to be like dad. Instead, this is a series that happens to be about a supervillain but really beats the stuffing out of him and family-sitcoms, too. He’s is basically the Kevin James-type husband here, and his wife, Jodie (Amy Gardia), has had enough. She’s divorcing his narcissistic, work-obsessed butt, and M.O.D.O.K. can’t cope. His daughter and son are caught in the middle, and that includes the voices of Melissa Fumero and Ben Schwartz (he threatens to walk away with his scenes). M.O.D.O.K. is scrambling to keep all the pieces of his life together, and it’s simply not flying.
M.O.D.O.K. is an altogether different breed of show than people are expecting, even if there are hefty shades of Robot Chicken happening. One would expect rude humor and a lot of Marvel easter eggs here, and they exist in abundance, but that’s not the hook. Rather, M.O.D.O.K.‘s got layers and doesn’t underestimate its audience. Patton and Blum both recognize that anyone who’s watching this show already knows all the ins and outs of the MCU, and all the easter eggs involved with time travel, an arguably obscure female wrestler-character called Poundcakes (Whoopi Goldberg), Tony Stark being mildly insufferable at times, and so on. Such jokes mostly land in the right place, but the focus in this series is telling a proper original story.
That’s a rarity on TV and in film these days and especially when it comes to comic book adaptations. Everything’s all franchised up, for better or worse, and we could use a re-upped approach, which we receive in ten breezy, half-hour episodes. Further, this version of M.O.D.O.K. is surprisingly affecting with the villain careening to a very bad personal place, not only at home but at work (his company, A.I.M., is going belly up because it’s awfully expensive to launch assaults on The Avengers), and everyone on this show seems to want to push a bad man down. He doesn’t exactly strive for redemption (that would be insincere), but Oswalt’s character does strive toward re-earning some reverence. What results is a show that genuinely funny and heartfelt and complex and filled with sharp writing.
Respect the giant head.
‘Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.’ streams on Hulu on May 21.f