The trickiest thing to get right in MODOK, according to Jordan Blum, was figuring out how to take off his clothes.
Blum is the co-creator of the new comedy series hitting Hulu today; a 10-episode first season following the office and family drama of the Marvel Comics villain MODOK (an acronym for Mental Organism Designed Only For Killing). And MODOK is...
OK, he’s like ... a giant head. With arms and legs so small as to be nearly vestigial. And he hovers everywhere in around in a ... I guess it’s a cowl? Or maybe it counts as a suit? These are the questions that Blum and fellow co-creator Patton Oswalt (who also voices MODOK) had to ask in order to figure out what MODOK looks like when he’s not wearing his hover suit. Cowl. Thing.
“It was the most back and forth we had with design with the puppet department,” Blum told Polygon over Zoom. “Where we were like, ‘[His head has] got to be bigger!’ And they were like ‘The body would never support this.’ We were like ‘That’s the point! The body needs to be smaller, and the head needs to be bigger.’ And they were like, ‘We’re trying!’”
Eventually, they reached an accord with Stoopid Buddy Studios, which produced all of MODOK’s retro-style stop-motion animation. And we won’t tell you exactly where naked MODOK shows up in the series, but to Blum, the effort was certainly worth it.
“It took a lot of R&D, but credit to our puppet department. They nailed it.”
That attention to absurd detail is everywhere in MODOK, and Blum said that that was very deliberate. “We [didn’t] want this show to just be Hey, look at this Marvel toy. Hey, look at this Marvel toy. These needed to be real stories that you invested in. But our thinking was, Well, we can we can really pepper this stuff in in the background. It’ll be there if you’re a Marvel fan and you can see it.”
Blum said Marvel Studios was almost completely open with whatever characters the MODOK writers wanted to bring into the series, and that there were multiple copies of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe involved in the brainstorming. Jon Hamm plays a recurring role as Tony Stark, Nathan Fillion has a compelling turn as Wonder Man, Bill Hader guests as both A-List Hulk villain the Leader and absolute obscurity Angar the Screamer. Eagle eyed viewers can spot Illyana Rasputin’s soul sword, the Wand of Watoomb, and Ant-Man’s helmet all in a single scene.
But there was one place Marvel put their foot down. According to Blum, “They were like, ‘You can’t use Stilt Man.’ And we were like ‘What?!’ That’s the only time Marvel said no, was some of the [D-list villains]. Like, they were fine with Iron Man and everyone else. I think it was Daredevil rights, or whatever, for that character.”
But Blum says that all these references aren’t the kind intended to drive away newcomers to the Marvel universe — rather the opposite.
“From the very beginning, we talked to Marvel,” he told Polygon, “and said ‘We want this to be something that drives people to the comics. Pat and I will do whatever it takes, we’ll do playlists for each episode telling you what comics we referenced.’ We want to drive people back into the comics, and be this thing that that feels one and the same.”
It helps that Blum and Oswalt collaborated with Scott Hepburn on MODOK: Head Games, a four-issue Marvel Comics miniseries. MODOK viewers on Hulu will see a little bumper for the comic at the end of every episode.
“The idea to incorporate it wasn’t ours, we were just told later [...] And we were so excited,” Blum says. “Hopefully it opens you up and you want to learn more about Armadillo and you go seek out that run or Fin Fang Foom or any of the other characters that are in here. In my opinion, I think there should be comic racks outside of every movie theater. It should be one and the same, and be connected. I love comics and if I can get more people to read them, that’s amazing.”