Marvel makes a big splash in the Adult Swim sandbox with “M.O.D.O.K.,” a stop-motion animation series that aims for hilarity by exploring the lighter side of one of the comics’ more ridiculous characters. While the show, which is clearly not for children, should amuse those who are well-versed in comic-book trivia, the thrill of doing something different is tempered by the absurdity of the endeavour.
“M.O.D.O.K.” was created by Patton Oswalt (who also provides the voice of the title character) and Jordan Blum, and features several equally obscure, third-tier figures (as well as one more prominent one) making cameos.
The appetite for all things Marvel is almost too much of a good thing for comic-book fans who once grumbled about the medium not being taken seriously on screen.
The name is an acronym for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, which isn’t the most inspired creation from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s fertile minds. Despite this, the series significantly broadens M.O.D.O.K.’s story, portraying him as a sort-of sitcom dad to a pair of kids and an unhappy wife (Melissa Fumero), whose marriage is suddenly on the rocks.
M.O.D.O.K. is first seen fighting Iron Man and taking megalomaniacal pride in the tiniest of victories. But his joy is short-lived, as he gathers his yellow-costumed henchmen at AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics, of course) after learning that the criminal empire has run into financial difficulties.
One of the most daring flourishes is the appearance of a corporate white knight in the form of Grumbl, a tech company. Selling a controlling interest, on the other hand, requires M.O.D.O.K. to relinquish control of his criminal enterprises, forcing the title villain to fight two battles: one at work and one to keep his family together.
Grumbl’s oily CEO (“Saturday Night Live’s”) really just wants M.O.D.O.K.’s fantastic technology, and M.O.D.O.K. assures him that he can “kill all the Iron Mans you want” as long as he supplies product for the company’s pipeline. With a serialized storyline that grows darker — and odder — as the season progresses, M.O.D.O.K. becomes increasingly frustrated and experiences mounting indignities on both fronts.
Although the image of parents inadvertently letting their kids watch the next “Marvel show” might be as darkly comical as anything within these 10 episodes, the R-rated nature of the dialogue and situations explains why the show landed on Hulu rather than Disney+.
On the one hand, the unbridled enthusiasm for the comics displayed demonstrates how far Marvel has progressed, to the point where the brand can take a chance on something as self-awarely absurd as this. On the other hand, because so much of the comedy is based on violent sight gags or sex (the logistics of which are beyond comprehension), it’s easy to wish Blum and Oswalt — whose Marvel ties already included a recurring role on “Agents of SHIELD” — had aimed (or AIM-ed) a little higher.
Clearly, the Marvel vault has been opened due to a lack of content, particularly for streaming, where this type of strange confection only needs to entice a small subset of subscribers.
Simply put, the animation technique emphasizes the need to think outside the box, which should be applauded in general.
Even in the world of supervillains designed to kill, however, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.