Profiles in Supervillainy: M.O.D.A.M.
What is a superhero without a supervillain? Not much. Some supervillains, however, are worth a lot more than others. I have therefore decided to spotlight some lesser-known villains. Are they underrated gems or irredeemable losers who deserve to be forgotten? You decide! Today’s subject: M.O.D.A.M.!
Some of you may be familiar with M.O.D.O.K. (Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), the occasional (literal) head of A.I.M. He’s showed up quite a bit over the years in both the comics and various cartoons. Less famous is his female counterpart, M.O.D.A.M. (Mental Organism Designed for Aggressive Maneuvers), who first appeared in West Coast Avengers #36 in 1988…not that anyone knew it at the time.
In this issue, the Avengers were forced into a reenactment of The Most Dangerous Game: a mind-controlling villain made them all hunt down fellow member Hank Pym. While trying to evade his teammates, Hank stumbled across what appeared to be his wife Maria, who was supposedly killed by Communists years ago. Instead, they experimented on her and used her increased intellect to direct the creation of many Silver Age villains, like Crimson Dynamo.
With Maria’s help, Hank broke the villain’s hold over the Avengers. He then decided to stay with Maria to try to shrink her brain and return her to normal.
Solo Avengers #16 revealed that Maria was not really Maria: she was an A.I.M. operative designated S.O.D.A.M. (Specialized Organism Designed for Aggressive Maneuvers). She now could attack opponents with power blasts and mind control rather than sitting back and designing weapons for others.
At that point, it was still unclear if “Maria” was the real Maria Pym, mutated and brainwashed beyond recognition, or if she was just an experiment designed to look like her and trick Hank into doing some free repair work. The Avengers only knew that they had a powerful new enemy to contend with…
S.O.D.A.M. became M.O.D.A.M. and acquired her more familiar, M.O.D.O.K.-with-lipstick appearance in Quasar #9. Alas, this issue is not available on Marvel Unlimited, so I can’t tell you much more about it.
I should point out that her transformation was not common knowledge among Earth’s superheroes: during the blisteringly stupid “Superia Stratagem” storyline in Captain America, Cap learned his friend Diamondback had been kidnapped by a “monster-size head,” and he assumed M.O.D.O.K. was responsible. He seemed quite surprised to find M.O.D.A.M. instead.
Iron Man #296–297
Here we finally get the truth about M.O.D.A.M.’s origins. (Well, maybe.) Omega Red, normally an X-Men villain, interrupts a fight between Iron Man and M.O.D.A.M., claiming that she is really Olinka Barankova, who once betrayed him to the Soviet secret police. She insists he’s mistaken, but he’s not buying it.
Iron Man saves her from Omega Red’s rage, and M.O.D.A.M. repays him by trying to kill him. Nice. No wonder Iron Man muses that she “plays rougher than…M.O.D.O.K. did.”
Captain America #440
In this issue, M.O.D.A.M. was tasked with trying to fix the vessel containing a Cosmic Cube, which was expelling violent energy. She is clearly afraid, and she even suspects that A.I.M. has deemed her “expendable.” Yet she does her duty anyway.
I’m not clear on whether she was killed in the ruptures — that’s when A.I.M. lost contact with her — or by the Red Skull, who pops up out of nowhere later in the issue. Either way, even though this wasn’t much of an appearance (she vanishes pretty quick), I think it’s interesting that M.O.D.A.M. is still capable of human emotions like fear, even if she is so devoted to duty that she can’t do anything to avoid a nasty fate.
Or maybe she physically can’t disobey: it’s made clear in the Iron Man issues that the mutation process had psychological side effects.
Whatever killed her, Hydra clearly got to her body before A.I.M. did: her only other appearance was in Captain America #3 in 1998, when we see her corpse on display at Hydra headquarters. Yecch.
Too soon to tell.
That might sound weird, since the character has been around for 35 years. But all of M.O.D.A.M.’s appearances have revolved around A) her serving as a lackey for other villains, usually A.I.M., or B) new revelations about her history. That doesn’t leave much time for her to develop as a character in her own right. Heck, we still don’t know if Omega Red correctly identified her as the former Olinka Barankova, or if she was correct in saying that A.I.M. falsified her records. Exploring her origins could probably make for an interesting adventure.
Maybe Marvel never did anything with this character since she is so visually similar to M.O.D.O.K. How many giant-headed super-geniuses does one need, anyway? For me, that becomes something of a catch-22: I can’t tell if this character is worthwhile because Marvel hasn’t done anything with her, and Marvel won’t do anything with her because they don’t see her as worthwhile.
Want to meet more overlooked villains? Check out my profiles on King Tut, the Matador, Peek-a-Boo, Man-Killer, Mad Mod, Big Wheel, KGBeast, the Living Monolith, Egg Fu, Mahkizmo, and the One-Shot Special!