Patton Oswalt On The Pathos And Chaos That Fuels Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.

Superhero projects are the new normal and it’s hard to turn to television or cinema without a wealth of comic-fueled adaptations being at the forefront. This enthusiasm towards superheroes and their exaggerated world has allowed some more atypical visions to come to life, with Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. being one of the best examples. The new Hulu streaming series centers around the genius supervillain M.O.D.O.K.–a Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing–yet finds the humanity within the larger than life character. M.O.D.O.K. digs into the humanity of this obscure Marvel character, which is beautifully realized by Patton Oswalt. 

Patton Oswalt lends his voice to M.O.D.O.K.’s distinct brand of supervillainy, but he’s also responsible for this new animated series that attempts to dissect the method behind M.O.D.O.K.’s madness. Oswalt opens up on the raw nature of M.O.D.O.K.’s character, the use of comedy to accentuate the humanity of this universe, and why lower tier Marvel characters can often have more depth than the A-listers.

Daniel Kurland: M.O.D.O.K.  isn’t a character that’s exactly mainstream among non-comic book fans. What was your perception of the character in the past and is he always a character that you’ve been interested in?

Patton Oswalt: Yeah, I’ve always loved the idea—and they make it pretty clear—that not only is M.O.D.O.K. angry at heroes, but he’s also resentful of other villains that have not put him in the top tier along with people like Doctor Doom and Madame Mask. He’s an eighth level intellect, but he’s on the bottom tier. How dare they! So that level of frustration felt so funny, but also really, really real! So to get to work with that comedically felt so rewarding. And he’s such a fan favorite character, so to be able to take him and expose him to people who aren’t hardcore comic or deep Marvel fans and humanize him and make him real was such a joy.

DK: You’re the voice of M.O.D.O.K., but you also write a couple of episodes. Was the plan always to be so involved in the production process? 

PO: Right from the beginning, Jordan [Blum] and I worked on the pitch together. We broke stories together, so we wrote the pilot together and I was always interested in writing more. All of that was there from the start.

DK: You have previous experience writing comics and you and Jordan Blum even wrote a M.O.D.O.K. comic to go along with this series. How did you approach that story differently than the material in the TV show and would you like to do more of that?

PO: We wanted to find a way to logically link—as well as make it emotionally satisfying—what was going on in the TV show with the current Marvel continuity of the time, which I think we did! That was the goal. 

DK: There’s been plenty of humor in Marvel projects, but nothing on its TV slate has been an outright comedy like this. Has it been satisfying to get to tell more unconventional self-aware superhero stories now that audiences have become so savvy with the genre?

PO: Yeah, it’s like now that people know the groundwork we can start messing around with it a little bit. It plays around with this idea that all of this stuff is funny, but it’s also the stuff that I think people think about between issues and between movies. What do they do on their downtime? What does a lazy Sunday look like for the Black Panther? These are all very human characters and we wanted to demonstrate that through this side of the universe. 

DK: M.O.D.O.K.’s family is such a major part of this show and the balance between his villainy and affection for them is really well-handled. How did this dimension to the series come together?

PO: For us, it goes with M.O.D.O.K.’s hubris and frustration, which is that “I am a greater intellect than everyone else. They have to use ALL of their intellect to take over the world and I can accomplish that with just a fraction of my intellect, become Emperor M.O.D.O.K., and still have a family that loves me. I can have everything.” It’s absolute ego and hubris on his part and he won’t compromise or sacrifice his ideals for anything. Compromise and choice are insults to M.O.D.O.K.

DK: Just as a comic fan, is it fun to see how these ancillary superhero characters are now getting spotlights like this and how the idea of a M.O.D.O.K. TV show would have seemed ludicrous a decade back?

PO: I love it so much. It’s absolutely what I love about the Marvel universe. It’s a world where their C- and D-level characters are just as rich—and in a way even more human than their A-level characters. I love exploring that world, but it also stays consistent and real. It’s the best. I just love it.

DK: The stop-motion style for the series is really gorgeous and some of the action sequences look amazing. Was this always the look for the series and why did it seem like the best approach for M.O.D.O.K.?

PO: We looked at different types of animation—some 2D and some 3D—and Stoopid Buddy just went so big, and colorful, and loud. It felt like what [Jack] Kirby would have wanted if he animated it. “It can’t be 2D, it needs to be 3D! I’m Kirby!” So it’s got to look like this. It needs all of that depth and weight. 

DK: A huge component of this season revolves around time travel. Why did you want to explore that idea and were there any reservations there with how strangely prevalent the device has become in superhero cinema?

PO: None at all! We actually love how time travel is so messy and creates so many problems because we wanted to see it in the hands of someone who’s very emotional and egotistical and see what they would do with it. And then have fun with all of the ensuing problems of time travel. So our only worries were that we wouldn’t make things catastrophic enough. That’s what we wanted. We wanted that whole, “Oh, dude…” energy. 

DK: There are certain episodes that make visits to Asgard, Broodworld, Murderworld, and other iconic Marvel locations. Were there other places that you wanted to fit in or hope to visit in a season two?

PO: I’m going to stay mum on that. There are plans! Let me leave it at that!

DK: Similarly, the first season ends on an exciting cliffhanger. Has there been much discussion there on the vision of what’s to come and how you’d like to make things evolve in season two?

PO: Not yet. We’re letting ourselves take a breather, get some space, and not hammer it too hard. We’re kind of limbo right now. I like that. 

DK: That’s a very M.O.D.O.K. kind of place, being in limbo.

PO: Very much, yeah. 

The first season of ‘Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.’ is now available to stream on Hulu

Daniel Kurland

Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, and Bloody Disgusting. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and that Hannibal is the greatest love story ever told. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.

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