The following piece will contain spoilers for the show M.O.D.O.K. Read at your own risk.
A common thread with superheroes is tragedy, Peter loses his uncle, Bruce lost his parents, you get the idea. Tragedy shapes our heroes to be responsible, to do good, to understand sacrifice, but what if you apply that tragedy to a villain? Yes, many supervillains are faced with their own tragedies, but they normally aren’t handled the way a hero’s tragedy is. If a villain turns to evil because of a lost loved one, they aren’t made to learn a lesson about why things went wrong. Mr.Freeze turns to villainy to save his dying wife, but he’s not learning about right or wrong, nor does his turn to villainy impact the world in the same meaningful way Batman does, he’s another villain in a world full of them.
During the opening of M.O.D.O.K. we see a young MODOK crying because of bullies, his caring mother comforts him “you’re gonna change the world” she says, a message he takes to heart, but in the most twisted way possible. While this set up is a joke, it is clearly meant to set up the season finale, MODOK choosing villainy despite his mother essentially giving him a message of heroism mirrors the shows eventual end goal for the season, the world is changed, but only after MODOK twists his own heroic sacrifice. Over on DC comics, the competition I know, the Flash once choose to use his powers to save his mother, the result was the universe going to hell, the choice clear, save a loved one and ruin the world, or accept loss and keep the world safe. M.O.D.O.K. provides this same choice for MODOK, save his family and let his world go to hell, or let them die to succeed and take over the world. As a villain, MODOK sacrifices his family, yet consider his choice from a neutral perspective, free from good or evil, this is a superhero origin, the world is changed, MODOK is key to the change, a possibility that could only exist without his family.
So how is this specifically a superhero origin? Going back to what I said earlier, while yes MODOK losing his family might be reminiscent of Mr.Freeze losing his wife, Freeze’s loss results in his goal of saving her, MODOK’s loss results in him becoming ruler of the world, in a way, it’s “savior”. As they say, history is written by the winners, Spider-Man losing his uncle makes him a hero, but if MODOK rules the world is he not it’s hero? At least from his perspective? Which is why this is fascinating to me, we know MODOK is a bad guy, but in his view it’s deeper than that. Sure, he may know he’s seen as the bad guy, but he likely sees himself as a hero, after all even the season finale has MODOK admitting “I don’t hate the world, I just want to change it”. MODOK’s family was sacrificed so that a better world for him could exist, but to our villain lead, he likely also made that sacrifice to fulfill his mother’s words, to create a world he believes is better despite serving him mainly, much like a hero may knowingly sacrifice their own loved one if it means saving others from a worse world. Unlike those other heroes, we’re witnessing this choice from an evil being, so we can see the selfishness of the choice, the downside of it and it makes sense that despite accepting the choice, MODOK is filled with regret. As the season closes, we see MODOK, in the world he rules, all is well, but he regrets his choice, rather than undo it, he seems focused on bringing his family back by means of time travel. It’s a long story, but to make it quick, some shenanigans early in the season results in a younger MODOK being fused with time crystals, creating a separate entity known as the Anomaly. The Anomaly, tortured by MODOK, taunts or lead, “You can’t have it all”, but MODOK denies the statement, ending with what will likely be our focus for the next season, when faced with a superhero origin, can a super villain succeed? Can the world stay changed for their better while retaining loved ones? We’ll have to wait and see.
It really shouldn’t be all that surprising that this is the angle they went with, aside from writer Jordan Blum expressing his desire in giving the show a villain ending, it’s natural for the studio. Stoopid Buddy Stoodios is perhaps most known for their start at Adult Swim with Robot Chicken, and while that show is maybe not a prime example of it, Adult Swim has had a reputation of taking familiar shows, movies, concepts, etc. making farces out of them, and eventually taking certain ideas to their extreme, becoming deeper than the initial joke. I imagine it’s that experience that has helped shape some of the crew into storytellers digging deeper than the initial joke premise. At it’s core, M.O.D.O.K. is a Marvel cartoon making silly jokes about the company but by the end it feels like so much more. The show feels like it’s heading to question what exactly it means to be evil, question how we tell stories about heroes and villains, maybe it gets meta, existential or far beyond what we expect a comic book comedy to say. Does MODOK stay a villain by the end? Become a hero? Or are we doomed to never really know, I wouldn’t mind any of those three, but I would like to see more someday.
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Written By Octaviano Macias