Before the debut of the M.O.D.O.K. Head Games comic miniseries, I had never heard of M.O.D.O.K., but all it took to pick up the first issue at my local comic shop was seeing Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum’s names attached to the series. Further, one brief flip through the pages vibrating with Scott Hepburn’s artwork blew my mind. Regrettably, I didn’t read the floppies about the eerie villain with a gargantuan head while they were being released on a monthly basis. It was only when Oswalt and Blum’s Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. (2021) animated television series premiered that I began to engage with any M.O.D.O.K. content. Flash forward to now, and I cannot get enough of A.I.M. leader M.O.D.O.K. Superior.
I would rank the stop-motion M.O.D.O.K. show starring Patton Oswalt as the titular antihero up with my top favorite comedy series. Immediately after finishing the show, I read Unbelievable Gwenpool Vol.1 which centers around a head-to-head mercenary matchup between Gwenpool and M.O.D.O.K. Superior. M.O.D.O.K.’s first appearance in Tales of Suspense #93-94 is worth reading for his origins and Kirby’s art. M.O.D.O.K.’s 11 proves an essential piece of M.O.D.O.K. comic lore. The series peers back into George Tarleton’s origin before he became the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing. Cardinal to the Head Games comic narrative, M.O.D.O.K.’s 11 also provides hilarious insights into his tenuous relationship with A.I.M. Scientist Supreme, Monica Rappaccini.
So where does M.O.D.O.K. Head Games fit into Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. comic book pantheon? Co-written by Jordan Blum and Patton Oswalt, the trade begins with A.I.M. leader M.O.D.O.K. hallucinating images of a family who never existed inside his computerized brain. Not only does he see visions of a daughter named Melissa with an oversized head and confined to a hovering wheelchair like himself, but he also retains memories of a human wife and son named Jodie and Lou, respectively. The images terrify the terrorist organization ringleader enough to make M.O.D.O.K. mind blast his way toward discovering the menacing truth behind his “malfunction.”
Meanwhile, Monica Rappaccini recruits the bees–er, yellow-clad A.I.M. agents to murder her boss. Evading Monica and her rogue A.I.M. minions while also searching for answers about his family places M.O.D.O.K. in the company of some unlikely allies. Tony Stark and even Gwenpool aid M.O.D.O.K. in a quest to “fix” himself. Instead, he ascertains a truth about his mirage of a family — and a family member from the past — who complicates his unstable mind.
Inherent absurdity reigns in any take on the Marvel supervillain. For god sakes, poor George Tarelton’s mind was transformed into a supercomputer against his will. We actually see an image of a naked M.O.D.O.K. that will either induce nightmares or have you chuckling for a lack of proper means to fully articulate the experience. Aside from the hilarity — which this comic nails — M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games treats M.O.D.O.K. with a sort of reverence for his afflictions. If you’ve ever wondered whether he can transcend the role as a cameo or functioning punchline in Marvel comics, Oswalt, Blum, and Hepburn’s miniseries elevate M.O.D.O.K. as a character you can finally empathize with. And shouldn’t great stories impart readers with a sense of emotional investment?
M.O.D.O.K. fits a certain mold of odd Marvel villains. In Head Games, his trademark tendencies are present. M.O.D.O.K. exhibits a triptych of egomania, pontification, and sadistic love for violence. Blum and Oswalt pay homage to these trademark attributes in their script, while letting Scott Hepburn loose in his intricately detailed depictions of M.O.D.O.K.’s rage.
M.O.D.O.K. often inflicts carnage breaching two full comic pages. These graphic illustrations dangle between the line of campy and grandiose through Carlos Lopez’s Kirby-inspired colors. Splash pages or wide-pan shots in Head Games capture M.O.D.O.K.’s movement to its fullest extent as he spins around like a top to defeat his (numerous) enemies attacking from every page corner. Colors swirl around the comic with finite attention to the narrative’s tone. Even during battle scenes, letterer Travis Lanham crisply presents M.O.D.O.K.’s inner musings as dialogue inside bright pink caption boxes. Feast your eyes as M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games serves visual buffets on each page.
Dualities saturate the narrative about the usually gag-centered antagonist. M.O.D.O.K. hears a voice inside his head. Arguments between the mechanical part of his brain and an untethered voice reveal inconsistencies in the makeup of his being. When these disputes occur, handwritten dialogue protrudes from black caption boxes skewed over M.O.D.O.K.’s thoughts. The contrast stands out starkly. Later in the comic, M.O.D.O.K. faces off against Gwenpool. M.O.D.O.K.’s internal dialogue is expressed in white letters against a pink backdrop throughout, a bold color choice seeming to allude to his matchup with the famously pink-tinged Gwenpool.
M.O.D.O.K. commands A.I.M., yet he can not control his minions. He finds himself at constant odds with Monica, who prescribes sovereignty to herself. But when given the opportunity to kill Monica, he only calculates the hundreds of ways he could eradicate her instead of, you know, really killing her. Furthermore, dual color schemes divulge subtext. Purple hues engulf M.O.D.O.K. himself, as well as washing the backgrounds when he engages in contemplation. Conversely, green tones assault the page when M.O.D.O.K. faces enemies, suggestively deriving from the green color palette associated with his unwilling subordinate rival, Monica. Applause all around to the entire creative team’s synchronicity in foreshadowing plot points, and paralleling themes with color choices.
Head Games presents M.O.D.O.K. as both neurotic yet justifiably inquisitive. M.O.D.O.K. tries to accept that visions of a family are glitches in his system or merely fabricated memories. However, the possibility of the hallucination’s validity torments the human side still flickering somewhere inside his analytical brain. Is M.O.D.O.K. destined for an eternity of isolation? Or is there a family awaiting him somewhere? In Head Games, M.O.D.O.K. can’t help but gravitate toward the probability of hope, fulfilling his dueling consciousness.
The comic begs the query: Does M.O.D.O.K. have a purpose? The writers of Head Games give him one. Additionally, in order to pursue that purpose, another duality plagues M.O.D.O.K. He is forced to set aside his biases as a supervillain and enlist the help of his greatest nemesis, Tony Stark. Placing M.O.D.O.K. alongside Iron Man at a supervillain convention may be the funniest gag in the series — and gags run amok in Head Games.
M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games works because it tempers comedy with gravitas. M.O.D.O.K. acts in accordance with his previous comic book characteristics, yet Head Games literally crawls inside M.O.D.O.K’s freakishly large mind to assess his thoughts, perspectives, and motivations. Vibrant artistry plays a dominant role in distilling both the emotional and logical reasoning behind actions M.O.D.O.K. takes. Issue #3 departs from the narrative to center around Gwenpool. X-Men cameos, a visit to Krakoa, and fourth-wall breaking antics ensue when Gwenpool enters the scene.
Spread across the comic, Head Games overflows with great character cameos like Gwenpool. It’s a pleasure to see giant-sized X-Men fan Jordan Blum getting to dip his toes in the X-Men comic writing waters. M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games excels at quippy dialogue, thematic nuance, vividly illustrated action sequences, and charging M.O.D.O.K. with personality. If this be…a new introspective version of M.O.D.O.K., mind blast more comics from these guys into existence!