M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games
Series covers by Cully Hamner.

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games

Written by: Jordan Blum and Patton Oswalt
Art by: Scott Hepburn
Colors by: Carlos Lopez
Letters by: Travis Lanham
Published by: Marvel Comics

In the four-issue miniseries M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games, which just saw its fourth issue released this Wednesday, April 28th, 2021, one of Marvel’s most infamous super villains gets his time in the spotlight.

Mental Organism Designed Only for Continuity

M.O.D.O.K. was first mentioned in Tales of Suspense #93 (1967) in “Into the Jaws of… A.I.M.!” by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott, and Artie Simek. In that issue, Steve Rogers was captured by A.I.M. as he attempted to infiltrate their base, and under the orders of “MODOK,” they attempt to analyze the extraterrestrial metal that makes up Captain America’s shield, but their leader doesn’t appear in this issue.

However, in the follow-up story in Tales of Suspense #94 (1967), “If This Be… MODOK!” by Lee, Kirby, Sinnott, and Sam Rosen, MODOK makes his first full appearance. A grotesque creation, it’s hard to decide whether you want to laugh or recoil from the oversized head in a hover chair…

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games
A womb-wrecking face only a mother could love. From Tales of Suspense 94.

But one thing is for certain: to be introduced to M.O.D.O.K. is to have the character permanently introduced into your memory banks. It’s an axiom that has proven true for many writers over the years, and especially over the course of the past two decades, M.O.D.O.K. has had more appearances than ever.

But is the character a punchline or a threat?

Grand Unified M.O.D.O.K. Theory

Between the mohawk’d M.O.D.O.K. that Gwenpool sent to space, the version known as “M.O.D.O.C.,” and now, the patriarch who is equally concerned with his responsibilities as a suburban family father as with his responsibilities to A.I.M., it can seem like M.O.D.O.K. is all over the place.

Gwen learned not to treat M.O.D.O.K. like a joke in The Unbelievable Gwenpool #1 (2016) by Christopher Hastings, Gurihiru, and Clayton Cowles.

However, what M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games understands is that while each of these disparate elements may seem to be at odds with one another, they are all nevertheless contained within M.O.D.O.K.’s oversized skull. This bundled-together contradictions are intrinsic to the character’s design: scroll back up and look at that first full appearance again. Do you want to laugh or scream? Is George Tarleton’s fate hilarious, or a nightmare?

The Poole Factor

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games
Yes, the series accounts for Gwenpool Strikes Back! From M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games 3.

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games succeeds not just because it understands M.O.D.O.K. on an elemental level, but because it understands the characters of the Marvel Comics universe on an elemental level. Nowhere is this more obvious than in issue 3, which features the inimitable Gwen Poole.

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games
If this be… Gwenpool! From M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games 3.

Back-flipping off of a last-page appearance in issue 2, the recently retcon-relocated Gwenpool accepts a mission to dispatch her old nemesis. However, when she locates her bounty, she discovers a lesson she demonstrated to readers herself over the course of the first volume of The Unbelievable Gwenpool: the main characters of Marvel Comics stories are liable to be humanized, no matter how grotesque they may initially appear to be.

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games Supporting Cast

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games
From M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games 1.

It isn’t just Gwenpool who gets her chance to shine in the carefully-structured four-issue series. The first issue sees M.O.D.O.K. butting his enormous head against Monica Rappaccini, while the second issue is focused on a “team-up” with Iron Man that leads the unlikely duo to a cameo-packed conventional hall.

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games
From M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games 2.

But whether M.O.D.O.K. is teaming up with or battling against another familiar Marvel Comics character, each issue presents a somewhat self-contained episode, each with its own distinct (and distinctly Marvel) flavor. 

Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.

How does M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games connect with Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., the adult animated series from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios which will see all ten episodes of the first season released for streaming on Hulu on May 21st, 2021? Suffice to say that the answer to this question is indeed answered by the conclusion of the four-issue miniseries.

From M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games 1.

But more important is the question of whether or not the comic stands alone – a relatively easy one to answer, since the show has yet to be released: yes, absolutely. And although it may take until issue 2 for the introduction of his family’s characters to land with the intended emotional weight, by the time Gwen is surveying the situation in issue 3, readers completely understand M.O.D.O.K.’s emotional attachment to his family.

For more on the secret origin (and tumultuous history) of Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. on Hulu, click this link. However, even if you aren’t a Hulu subscriber (save your free preview week for M.O.D.O.K.), you’ll want to consider checking out M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games. 

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games 

In the best Marvel Comics stories, a sort of alchemy occurs. At first, you may think you’re laughing at a character that is the brunt of the joke. But soon, you begin to realize that the “punchline” is actually their defining characteristic. And a little while after that, you realize that the person you’re really laughing at is yourself.

By the time you reach the conclusion of this four-issue miniseries, some real pathos has been uncovered. But whether it makes you want to laugh or cry in response, one thing’s for sure: the final panel of M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games cultimates in a conclusion that simply won’t let you look away.

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games
From M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games 4.

And really… who would want to?

All four issues of M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games are now available – and the first two can currently be read on the Marvel Unlimited App.

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