Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Hulu's M.O.D.O.K. showrunners jump to comics in this Head Games exclusive

Cover by Cully Hamner
Cover by Cully Hamner
Image: Marvel Comics

For decades, M.O.D.O.K. has been one of the biggest jokes in superhero comics, a supervillain whose ridiculous design makes it very hard to take him seriously. But M.O.D.O.K.’s giant head is floating into the spotlight in a big way, taking a central role in the new Marvel’s Avengers video game and headlining the upcoming Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. Hulu animated series. The cartoon’s showrunners, Jordan Blum and Patton Oswalt (who also voices the main character), gained a deep familiarity with the comic-book M.O.D.O.K. when they got the TV gig, and they’re putting that knowledge to further use as the writers of M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games, a four-issue miniseries debuting in December with art by Scott Hepburn. When an accident awakens memories of a life and family M.O.D.O.K. never had, he’s ousted from the evil super-science organization, A.I.M., and sent on the run to find new allies and solve the mysteries of these strange flashbacks.

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Cover by Cully Hamner
Cover by Cully Hamner
Image: Marvel Comics

Blum and Oswalt were huge fans of the character before pitching the show, and once the series became a reality, they went and tracked down every M.O.D.O.K. comic-book appearance. “I had read a lot growing up, especially the Mark Gruenwald Captain America Serpent Society issues, but reading everything really filled in some gaps,” says Blum. “What you find is M.O.D.O.K. is an incredibly versatile character. He can be very Silver-Agey and arch, other times incredibly menacing and violent like in the video game and obviously very comedic like in Gwenpool or our show. Trying to marry all these versions is what led to the idea for the story we’re telling in the comic. Grant Morrison’s approach to Batman was ‘what if it all counted’ and that’s what we explore in the comic with M.O.D.O.K. as we send him on this action-packed adventure through his own history as he tries to solve a mystery about his very origins and who he is. We were really stoked to write ‘Marvel Comics Proper’ M.O.D.O.K. and not just the funny version in our show.”

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“One of the things that tickled us about M.O.D.O.K. was his insistence on keeping up this intimidating/frightening front even when all visible evidence pointed to the opposite,” says Oswalt. “Even from the get-go, those early Kirby issues, he’s still frothing and gnashing about the majesty of himself even when he’s been knocked to the ground. The malevolent Weeble was love at first sight for us. So after exploring every aspect of that in the series—showing him in lonely moments when he’s got no one to impress but this desperate self-image he keeps trying to prop up—it was super-fun to bear down on M.O.D.O.K. trying to unravel a specific mystery about his origin.”

“‘Over-the-top’ is a key phrase for M.O.D.O.K.,” says Oswalt. “Yes, he’s ‘over-the-top’ when he’s being villainous and destructive. But that also means that his boredom, self-pity and doubts are also over-the-top, which was super-fun to write. Watching someone deal with crippling depression and their only go-to is to launch an array of Stinger missiles or burn off an entire tank of flamethrower fuel ended up being weirdly symbolic for what a lot of people, I think, go through.”

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Art by Scott Hepburn
Art by Scott Hepburn
Image: Marvel Comics

“There’s an absurdity built into every facet of the character,” says Blum. “From the Kirby design—he’s a giant floating head with baby hands but he’s a legitimate and capable threat—to his insane personality. He’s a genius but he’s also a petulant child, often meeting defeat at the hands of his own ego. He’s got the mind of a super-computer but at the same time he’s petty and vindictive. All these weird dichotomies are what make him a fascinating character. And that’s what the comic is about.”

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“To make him the main character of his TV series we had to find what makes him human,” says Blum. “The more we wrote him the more we related to him. I’m not quite sure what that says about us. But his background is so incredibly tragic, you begin to understand where his rage comes from. The comic really let us explore that. We get to go back to the original M.O.D.O.C. experiment (it’s C because it used to stand for computing) and track the events that led George Tarelton into that hoverchair.”

For Oswalt, twisting domestic bliss into supervillain motivation was a big part of this story’s appeal: “I was delighted about how M.O.D.O.K. is able to repurpose what should be benign and positive aspects of life—a family, fatherhood, life in the suburbs—and find a way for those things to feed his quest for domination and evil. It made me question my motives for wanting the mail brought in on time every day—do I have a super villain sleeping inside me somewhere?”

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“Patton isn’t just the literal voice of M.O.D.O.K., he really understands how the character thinks and speaks,” says Blum. “He just has a way of phrasing things where you’re like ‘Yes! That’s the only way M.O.D.O.K. would say that!’ There are so many dialogue moments that he just knocked out of the park. Patton’s also brilliant with visual storytelling. Comics are part of his lifeblood and he’s amazing at coming up with these moments that really take advantage of the medium of comics.”

Art by Scott Hepburn
Art by Scott Hepburn
Image: Marvel Comics
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“Good lord does Jordan know story,” says Oswalt. “The poor guy had to wrestle all of my vague, abstract ideas about M.O.D.O.K. as a character and especially as a damaged human and he just effortlessly spins them into these mind-cracking action sequences. But then he’s also got to work out the mechanics of heists, escapes, fights—and then on top of that there are cool Easter eggs and moments of fan service that never gum up the works. Dude’s a stone pro and I’m lucky I get to do anything with him.”

Blum and Oswalt are ecstatic about collaborating with Hepburn, one of Marvel’s sharpest and most versatile artists. These preview pages spotlight the explosive energy Hepburn brings to the page when M.O.D.O.K. lets loose, sending the bucket-head barreling through a swarm of A.I.M. agents. “Scott really captured the “kitchen sink” aspect of M.O.D.O.K.,” says Oswalt. “The anything-can-pop-out potential of M.O.D.O.K., plus the constant chaos and destruction he leaves behind him. I’m buying so much of this artwork when we’re done.”

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“Scott is so unbelievably talented—he’s the star of this book (sorry, M.O.D.O.K.),” says Blum. “Every new page we get to see is even better than the last. His art is so dynamic and energetic. It’s widescreen Marvel Universe insanity. He can turn M.O.D.O.K., who is basically a floating toilet, into the most badass action-hero you’ve ever seen. On top of the fights, his expressions and acting balance the drama and humor perfectly. I’ve been a fan of Scott’s for awhile but he has leveled up on this book. He’s going to be in such high demand after this and I just hope he still answers my emails. I’d work with Scott until the end of days...which I guess is sort of now... but you get what I mean.”

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