Ben Grimm. (The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing!) Something new, something different. A monster – yes. A superhero – yes. But more than that – a human being.
This was what Stan Lee (Excelsior!) and Jack Kirby (The Once and Future King!) brought to the world in 1961: This Man . . . This Monster!
This new thing came on the scene at a time when freaks were just beginning to break out, to crawl out from under the sideshow tent, and to take center stage in popular culture. Tod Browning (Dracula!) made his classic movie, Freaks, way back in 1932. (It ruined his career!) In the 1960s, the movie made a come-back, at least in the less-than-polite circles of midnight movie fans. The real-life-freak stars of the movie had names like comicbook heroes: Daisy and Violet Hilton were The Siamese Twins, Johnny Eck was the Half Boy, Peter Robinson was the Human Skeleton, Prince Randian was the Living Torso, Elizabeth Green was Bird Girl, Schlitzie was the Pin Head.
There were so many more to follow, so many freaks as heroes, and, more importantly, so many freaks as humans, that before the decade ended freaks were everywhere. They were marching in the streets. They were turning on, tuning in and dropping out. Frank Zappa was a freak. (Freak Out!) John Waters, too. (Pink Flamingos!) Even Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a freak. (You would even say it glows!)
We learned a lot from these freaks. We learned that human beings, the normal kind and the heroic kind, come in all shapes and sizes and genders and colors. It is something we are constantly learning. (And constantly forgetting!)
M.O.D.O.K. (Mental/Mobile/Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing) is one of Lee’s and Kirby’s weirder creations, though my money is on Kirby, rather than Lee, as the instigator of this delicious freak of nature. He is little more than a giant head with tiny useless limbs. Bodiless I suppose. (The Living Head, he might have been called on the sideshow circuit. Or, perhaps, Humpty Dumpty – the Human-Egg!)
M.O.D.O.K. is evil. (Gives a black eye to freaks everywhere!) Though lately, in the pages of Secret Avengers, he has been a member of Maria Hill’s undercover team of heroes – part of a joint effort between the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. (I’m not going to tell you what that stands for. Look it up!)
Hill kept M.O.D.O.K. a secret from the other team members: Black Widow, Spider-Woman, Nick Fury (not the one you think, unless you only know him from the movies and then not really that one either), Phil Coulson, and Hawkeye. Hill took M.O.D.O.K. on as part of a deal that he would provide S.H.I.E.L.D. with secret information about the evil organization known as A.I.M. (You can look that one up, too.) and use his scientific genius to design new weapons for the good guys to use. (Mushroom gun!)
The problem is that along the way all kinds of bad things have happened to the Secret Avengers. Someone tried to kill Hill. Coulson disappeared with an apparent case of P.T.S.D. (O.K. I’ll give you this one: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.) Black Widow was sucked into a black hole. Fury had his face horribly burned by acid. And Hawkeye has been a real jerk.
At the heart of all these problems stands M.O.D.O.K. (Standing on his robot legs of course. His real legs are tiny and useless, remember.)
The first big reveal in this issue is that, of course, M.O.D.O.K. is responsible for all of these things. His move from A.I.M. to S.H.I.E.L.D. has proven to be a bit more complicated than Hill would have liked. Indeed, everything that has happened to her team has been a part of M.O.D.O.K.’s diabolical plan from the very beginning.
The second big reveal . . . well, I’m not going to tell you about that. You should definitely read it for yourself. Suffice it to say that in this issue Ales Kot (Writer. Hilarious. Master of chaos.) has made all of the crazy events of the last 7 issues make a lot more sense and, more importantly, taken this Lee/Kirby freak and made a real-live human being out of him. Michael Walsh (Artist. Also hilarious. Master of pathos.) and Matthew Wilson (Color Artist. Sunsets and shadows.) have done more than their share to pull this off, too. (There is a full-page beach scene toward the end of this issue that I want framed and on my wall. Signed would also be nice.)
Monsters can be heroes and heroes can be monsters.
All freaks are human. All humans are freaks.
Love is universal.