The Case for MODOK
Marvel's Next Big (Headed) Threat
For those who don’t know, MODOK (Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing) was once a brilliant human scientist named George Tarleton. Tarleton was originally only a technician in the employ of the nefarious Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). In order to better study the recently created Cosmic Cube, Tarleton’s bosses subjected him to experimental mutagenics, creating MODOC (Mental Organism Designed Only for Computing). As is so often the case in these Frankenstein-esque stories, MODOC rebelled, killing his bosses and becoming MODOK, the new leader of AIM. Ever since then, he’s been a consistent thorn in the sides of many of Marvel’s heroes, most notably Captain America, Iron Man, and the Avengers.
Nowadays, MODOK is mostly used as a source of comic relief, what with his ridiculous appearance and his habit of speaking in the third person. It’s understandable, given the vase collection of more interesting, frightening, and better-looking supervillains that Marvel has built up in it’s 81 years of existence. However, there is a case to be made for MODOK to be treated as a greater threat than he’s normally played out to be. Square Enix’s 2020 video game Marvel’s Avengers features MODOK as the main antagonist, and the game does a great job of making him a compelling, nuanced, and down-right scary villain.
In the context of the game’s story, Dr. George Tarleton is a scientist in the employ of the titular super team. Having discovered a mysterious mineral in the San Francisco Bay called ‘Terrigin’, Tarleton begins to work with Dr. Monica Rappaccini, Tony Stark, and Bruce Banner to turn it into a clean, renewable energy source. All the while, Tarleton harbors a deep resentment for the Avengers (and super powered individuals as a whole), because he believes it’s in their nature to hurt rather than help. During the televised unveiling of the Avengers Terrigin-powered helicarrier, The Chimera, the mercenary Taskmaster attacks the event, causing The Chimera to engage its autopilot and take off. Soon thereafter the Terrigin generator aboard the helicarrier explodes, destroying much of San Francisco and resulting in the Avengers being outlawed and the deaths of thousands of people, including Captain America. Tarleton survives the explosion, and along with Monica creates AIM to replace both SHIELD and The Avengers.
In the ensuing 5 years, Tarleton becomes reliant on a serum created by Monica to stay alive, with side effects resulting in technopathy and an increasing large and grotesque head. Soon after it's discovered that the mist created by the Terrigin created the super powered Inhumans. Tarleton, vowing to cure the new Inhumans, was actually torturing them and harvesting their abilities to create powerful robots called Adaptoids. Eventually, the reunited Avengers discover that Captain America is in fact alive and being held captive by Monica, who’s using his blood to make the formula keeping Tarleton alive. Upon finding this out, Tarleton kills Monica for “making me into the thing I hate the most”. After sending warships out to kill any and every super powered individual on the planet, Tarleton (now calling himself MODOK) is defeated by a giant Ms. Marvel, falling into the San Francisco Bay, leaving his fate unknown.
Marvel’s Avengers proves that MODOK can be a serious threat. And if Square Enix can do it, there’s no doubt Kevin Feige and the other minds behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe can do it, too. The MCU has taken many properties once thought ludicrous and made them into legitimate and popular blockbusters, namely Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man and the Wasp. And a sequel to Ant-Man and the Wasp could be the perfect place for Marvel Studios to introduce MODOK into the beloved franchise. Neither Ant-Man nor the Wasp have any kind of established rogue’s gallery, with Yellowjacket actually being an alter ego of Ant-Man’s and Ghost being a recurring Iron Man villain in the comics. Conversely, MODOK is not known as any one hero’s nemesis, serving as a villain for any hero who might need a funny-looking punching bag that week, so the precedent is already there.
Not to mention the nameless “employer” mentioned by Ant-Man and the Wasp’s secondary antagonist Sonny Burch. Burch’s role in the movie is to try and steal Hank Pym’s quantum technology on behalf of this mysterious employer. While not named, he does mention that his employer is “dangerous”, which lead many to believe that famous comic book villains Dr. Doom or the Green Goblin could be his benefactor. However, these villain’s scientific expertise doesn’t usually include quantum physics, with Goblin’s focus on genetics and Doom’s on both cosmic radiation and the occult. MODOK, however, has shown no such obsession with any one facet of science, instead fancying himself as “Scientist Supreme”, master of all forms of science. A genius, homicidal cyborg with a disgusting, enormous face could prove to be exactly the kind of “dangerous” enemy that our tiny heroes would need to face down in the conclusion to Peyton Reed’s Marvel film trilogy.
All this to say: MODOK should not be over-looked just because he looks ridiculous. It’s been proven that he can be just as serious a threat to the heroes of the Marvel universe, and he should be treated as such.