Sunday Slugfest – Super-Villain Team-Up/Modok’s 11 #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Ariel Carmona Jr., Michael Deeley, Kelvin Green, Luke Handley, Jason Sacks
“Mistaken for Happiness” or “The Team”

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews reveal plot developments of the issue.

Ariel Carmona Jr.

Commentary: Ah yes. M.O.D.O.K. If you’re a regular reader of Marvel comics, the super villain known by the acronym Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing is a familiar sight. However, if you are new to the world of comics, you may scratch your head with disbelief. A giant head with tiny limbs? What the..?

Whatever the case, M.O.D.O.K. was another fictional concoction conceived by the brilliance of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s prolific partnership during the 60s. First appearing in Tales of Suspense #94, M.O.D.O.K. has been seen opposing the Avengers and other Marvel heroes countless times since. A testament to his longevity is that he is still around four decades later. It seems the best characters always have this kind of staying power.

M.O.D.O.K. is back in this fun new book by Marvel, and the highest compliment I can pay it is that it’s a fun, silly romp. In my estimation, this is what comics should strive to be and Van Lente, Portela and company deliver the goods by crafting a great read in this first outing. Besides bringing to the forefront silly but long lasting outfits of dastardly villainy such as A.I.M., the comic’s credits bring back the convention of giving each creator a ludicrous nickname, just like Stan Lee used to do. If a comic book goes to the trouble of doing this, then you know it can’t be half bad. Put M.O.D.O.K. in a box in the upper left corner, and I will be in fanboy heaven.

From the retelling of George Tarleton’s origin (the average minded A.I.M. scientist who is picked to merge with A.I.M. technology to become the ultimate hybrid of man and machine) to a Mexican wrestling match between Armadillo and a wrestler named Chupacabra, Van Lente doesn’t miss an opportunity to take the reader from the bizarre to the absurd and to set up a fun and light atmosphere from the very onset of the book.

The pacing never lets up from there as we witness the circumstances which lead up to each member of M.O.D.O.K’s 11 team of super villains being recruited for a mysterious assignment which involves traveling to a secret location. The title of the book is undoubtedly a humorous take on the film Ocean’s 11, and the plot involves the reader in a nice little mystery. Are the villains being set up? Is it a trap? Or is there more going on than we and the characters are privy to? Well, getting there is half the fun my friends. Unfortunately, the composition of the team is disappointing. I realize that obscure characters need to be used here, but I was never really excited by the likes of the Rocket Racer, The Purple Man, or Marvin Flunn (A.K.A. Mentallo), but I suppose some of these lesser known characters’ past histories with A.I.M. in the 616 Marvel universe’s continuity necessitate their inclusion in the roster.

As far as the artwork is concerned, Portela’s pencils are nothing spectacular but it suits this comic well whether it is depicting action sequences or more detailed panels focusing on close ups. His style is reminiscent of Steve McNiven, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

This comic book proves that the presence of a big name superhero like Spider-Man or Wolverine isn’t always needed to tell a successful and enjoyable story, though the business side of the comics industry often dictates otherwise, and we may yet see one creep in before the series is done.

Final Word: The bottom line is this is a fun, carefree, and therefore rare comic book, and Van Lente’s script is full of enough levity and winning characterization to insure a pleasant comic reading experience, we should all enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Michael Deeley

We take another look back at the origin of MODOK as he calculates his latest scheme. The former George Tarleton has recruited 8 low-level super-villains to break into a fortress to steal “the most fearsome weapon ever devised.” But what is it? What is MODOK really after? And why is it called MODOK’s 11 when there are only 8 villains?

Let’s get the good out of the way first. We’ve got fantastic art by Francis Portela, Terry Pallot, and Guru EFX. It has the depth and texture needed to give this book weight. This is supposed to be a heist comic, so anything that adds grit and a sense of reality will help the story. I also like comics that take minor, forgotten characters and re-invent them. Justice League, Thunderbolts, and just about anything by Alan Moore are the most successful stories in this vein. I also liked the look back at MODOK’s origin. It helps explain how he went from a computer to a killer. It also hints at his hidden purpose and an inner conflict. (The dumping from Monica Rappacini was also a nice touch.) I wanted to like this comic more than I did.

But there are some big flaws. First of all, we only really meet four characters. Puma, Armadillo, Rocket Racer, and Mentallo are all introduced, explained, and given good reasons to take this job. Suddenly, Nightshade, Living Laser, The Spot, and Chameleon are thrown into the mix. I know it’s asking a lot to introduce 11 characters in a single issue, but it can be done. I’m hoping the next issue will explain why they’re there. Personally, I consider Chameleon and Laser to be in a higher class than anyone else in the group. Chammy’s made Spider-Man’s life hell for years. And the Laser? Avengers-class foe and arch-enemy of Black Panther. They don’t seem to belong. And who is Deadly Nightshade anyway? I’ve been reading the entire All-New Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, and I still don’t recognize her!

Speaking of the Handbook, two things bother me about this comic only because I’ve been memorizing an encyclopedia. Last I heard The Spot was an undead slave to the Hand. What happened to that? And the Rocket Racer wasn’t a stuttering man-child one blonde away from becoming Norman Bates. Is this personality change supposed to make the Racer seem sympathetic? Because he’s just pathetic and annoying. There are plenty of loser villains who have always acted like the Racer’s acting. No need to screw him up. Again.

So we’re off to a shaky start. A good concept marred by faulty execution. We haven’t been introduced to the entire cast, and the details of the plot haven’t been revealed. However, the basic premise is still intact. We do get interesting and sometimes human character studies of four villains. If Fred Van Lente can do the same for the rest of the cast (and bring in as many characters as the title suggests), the whole story might be worth the price. For now, I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Kelvin Green

Long term readers will know I like to rib Marvel for their grandiose self-applied “House of Ideas” moniker. After all, their big “ideas” for this year are “The Hulk Punches Things” and “The Skrulls Disguise Themselves As Things,” neither of which, let’s be honest, is cutting edge stuff. Even so, I’m inclined to believe that the original pitch for this story, seeing homicidal floaty head MODOK gather a gang together for a heist, had some potential to it; unfortunately, almost none of that potential seems to have made it into the first issue.

The main problem with the comic is that it’s all build-up and preamble and little else. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory, and indeed it could work well, but the slow build-up has to be inherently interesting in its own right. Here we get essentially the same scene repeated numerous times, as MODOK recruits his team one by one, and even the creators get bored of it after a while, flipping to a quick summary/montage after a few largely identical full-length iterations; why we couldn’t have seen just one example of the recruitment followed by the montage, I don’t know, as it would have worked just as well to convey MODOK’s activities, without going over the same sequence again and again. We don’t even learn anything particularly interesting about the characters in these sequences, certainly nothing that couldn’t have been conveyed more effectively at another point in the story.

Similarly, once the team is (finally) assembled, we immediately segue into a lengthy fight scene, which may very well be a genre convention, but it’s utterly gratuitous and doesn’t carry the story or characters forward in any useful way. It feels like it’s there just because there’s some rule in Marvel’s offices somewhere that every issue should have a fight scene, whether it’s appropriate or not. Basically, it’s all fluff and padding, and the story would have been better served jumping straight into the run up to the heist itself, and having the tensions in the ramshackle team come through later, due to the stress of the job.

Portella and Pallot’s art is of the semi-realistic style we see a lot from Marvel nowadays, and while there’s nothing wrong with it technically (beyond an over-abundance of Dutch angles, perhaps), there’s nothing particularly unique or evocative about it either. The artwork tells the story efficiently and clearly, but one can’t help but wonder what an artist with a more distinctive style would make of the visual potential inherent in a comic about a giant floating head and his band of downtrodden costumed criminals.

I had high hopes for this story; MODOK is one of Marvel’s craziest character concepts, one I’ve been fond of since I was a child, and based on the premise of this series, I was looking forward to something that properly played up the absurdity of the character while delivering a fun crime caper. Perhaps that’s to come in subsequent issues, but the first chapter of MODOK’s 11 is definitely more bland than fun.

Luke Handley:

Ocean’s Eleven. Never seen the original, but I have seen the remake and found it entertaining. Then I saw Ocean’s Twelve. That was not so entertaining. Ocean’ s Thirteen was recently released and for those of you, like me, who couldn’t bring yourselves to face it, fear not, for M.O.D.O.K.’s Eleven is here for you!

There’s something about series or films in which the villains are the protagonists. Though most of the time people want to see good triumph over evil, it’s refreshing to have a tale told from the bad guys’ perspective once in a while, especially if they win. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed The Fallen starring Denzel Washington. In this first issue, there’s no real spandex wearing heroes in sight. This book looks like it will be about the bad dudes, and A.I.M.’s giant floating head has assembled quite the eclectic and intriguing group for “the greatest heist in the history of the Multiverse”; you’ve got to love bad guy talk!

With the exception of Identity Disc, which I’ve been advised to avoid like the plague, I can’t recollect Marvel publishing a series with supervillains as protagonists for a while. Thunderbolts doesn’t count; that was about redemption and now conscripted villains forced to work for the government. Even DC published Villains United and Secret Six, but Catman’s group are more anti-heroes than actual villains. With this series we might finally get a bad guy book and, possibly, the first ever supervillain heist book.

As the title of the issue suggests, this first instalment is about getting the crew together. After a brief recap of his origin, M.O.D.O.K. is seen solving the equation that presumably will lead to a successful heist. He comes to the following result: “recruit minions.” These minions turn out to be a variety of more or less villainous individuals. Four of them enjoy most of the attention this issue: Armadillo, Puma, Mentallo and, of all people, Rocket Racer. Armadillo apparently “washed out” of the Texas Rangers, Puma desperately needs the cash, as does Racer, and Mentallo, well, he just wants the cash. Each one has a very unique personality, all bringing something different to the band and to this book. Surprisingly, they all work rather well together, from the stuttering Racer to the confident smarmy Mentallo, who, just as his ex-partner Fixer used to do in Thunderbolts, steals most of the scenes he’s in, but that still allows the others moments to shine. M.O.D.O.K., the leader of this merry group, is one of the more ridiculous villains in the Marvel Universe, and Van Lente acknowledges this fact whilst at the same time reminding the reader that if anyone could plan this to perfection, it’s him.

The exact nature of the heist has yet to be revealed and thus far there are only nine villains involved in the plot, but, as the final page suggests, there’s something going on behind the scenes and only a fool would think that M.O.D.O.K. is going to play these guys straight.

The pencils are provided by Francis Portela. All in all, he does a good job. Given the nature of this series, I hardly expect it to be a massive seller on the stands and as such wasn’t expecting an A-level artist to be attached to the project. Well, though Portela isn’t a “superstar,” he’s pretty damn competent, and I can’t fault his work here. In fact, the quality of the art is one of the reasons I will be coming back next month for the next instalment.

The overall result is a fun mini-series with a refreshing premise and a strong creative team that deserves to be given a chance by anyone who’s ever rooted for the bad guys.

Jason Sacks:

Modok! Modok! Modok! Man, it’s hard to resist that giant-headed bad guy. Modok is resurrected in this clever little first issue. Only now he’s called Modoc, with a “c,” as a “Mental Organism Designed Only for Computing,” not killing, and the guy who inhabits his body is an unimaginative dullard AIM agent named George Tarleton. And the first thing George does when his mind takes control of Modoc’s body is to take revenge on all those who mocked and hated him. Then the next thing he does is recruit a gang of z-grade villains - the Rocket Racer, the Armadillo, the Puma and others - for an Ocean’s 11 style act of revenge.

This is a cute beginning to what should be a very entertaining limited series. Fred Van Lente’s script is clever and entertaining. The interaction between the villains is clever and amusing, and it will be fun to see Modoc’s plan come to pass. I really enjoyed the little mocking comments by the villains, and the villains actually seem to be fairly competent in this story.

Francis Portella and Terry Pallot do a solid job on the artwork as well. The art has a kind of grittiness to it that gives this series a clever ground-level feel. That’s appropriate for these villains - they look like bad guys that have traveled a long and hard road to even get to the fringes of society that they live in.

My only real complaint about this issue is that this is clearly just a set-up for the full limited series. I recently pretty much switched over to reading TPBs only, mainly due to comics like this one. Super-Villains Team-Up #1 is very entertaining, but it’s just a stage setter, almost a prologue for the action that will be coming. I wish Marvel would bite the bullet with comics like this and just publish them as original graphic novels. It’s inevitable that this will be collected, so what’s the point of cluttering up comic shop shelves with comics like this one?

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