Superheroes are still everywhere, and with that comes plenty of shows that poke fun at the concept. The latest to arrive is Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., an animated series in which the super-brained supervillain must balance his oft-thwarted ambitions to bring the world to its knees with family life and financial struggles. Now, co-creator (and voice of the titular menace) Patton Oswalt tells Empire about the dangers of being able to do anything with the character, and who kept him from stuffing it chock full of comicbook Easter eggs…
With stop-motion animation from Robot Chicken team Stoopid Buddy Studios, the show was created by Oswalt and Jordan Blum, who first connected on a very different project. “Jordan and I had done a pilot together for Fox that didn’t go, another superhero idea,” Oswalt explains. “And we’d stayed friends because he’s such a great writer and such a deep comicbook fan. And then Marvel wanted to hear a pitch from us because they’re doing all these animated shows and we know we had to do M.O.D.O.K., because he’s our guy, we both had such a love for him, that’s one of the things we bonded over. So we pitched it and they loved the pitch, so we just ran with it.”
For the uninitiated, M.O.D.O.K. stands for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, and the big-headed one was the subject of a terrible experiment. With his boosted brain powers (and little teeny body), he’s an endlessly frustrated villain with a chip on his shoulder bigger than his head. He’s also dealing with a serious financial shortfall in evil organization A.I.M. and steady dissolution of his marriage to wife Jodie (Aimee Garcia).
The series is unafraid to generate laughs from all aspects of the villain’s life, and Oswalt knows why there are so many shows around that take a skewed look at superheroic (or villainous) subjects. “When you really, really love something, you will not be able to not see the flaws in it and want to explore those. So with The Boys, you think, ‘if a guy like Homelander did have these powers, wouldn’t you also be an asshole?’ And especially with M.O.D.O.K., if he has this superior, eight-dimensional intellect, but he is a D-level, bottom-tier supervillain, what does that do to him emotionally? That’s a real thing to explore. We’re exploring it comedically, but I think it comes from a very real emotional base that anyone can understand looking at it. So that kind of real world frustration we wanted to get into and ended up having a lot of fun doing it.”
Oswalt’s instinct initially was to load the show with references galore, deep cuts that Marvel true believers who’ve read every issue of the character’s various comics (and more) will enjoy. Blum pulled him back to focus on the important issues, like story. “I was the kid who had gone trick-or-treating the night before, stayed up until 4am the night before and brought back five pillowcases full of candy. And Jordan was, ‘pick 20 and we’ll put the rest in the freezer for you, we’re not gonna eat them all.’ That’s what it was!”
According to Oswalt, Marvel was very open to all their ideas, and with that comes some responsibility. After all, with such powerful freedom, no one wants to become like The Boys‘ smug, superpowered arsehole. “You don’t want to become the Homelander of comedy!”
With Melissa Fumero, Ben Schwartz, Sam Richardson, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jon Daly and Beck Bennett among the regular voice cast and cameos from the likes of Jon Hamm, Bill Hader, Nathan Fillion and Whoopi Goldberg, M.O.D.O.K hits Hulu in the US and Disney+ Star in the UK from Friday 21 May, with episodes arriving weekly.