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BRONZE-AGE FLASHBACK: Ms. Marvel 7 (July 1977)

April 26, 2002

This week we stroll down mammary lane to dissect an issue of the short-lived late-1970s Marvel series, Ms. Marvel.

This particular issue features the super-villain known as the Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing (better known in comics lore as MODOK). MODOK made his first appearance in the late 1960s toward the end of the Tales of Suspense series as an adversary of the red, white, and blue avenger, Captain America. MODOK was created by the super-sinister organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (more commonly known as AIM [not to be confused with the multi-colored toothpaste loved by children and adults]). As the initial Captain America storyline was crafted by Stan Lee and the late Jack Kirby, I can only assume it was Kirby who designed the character (and in truth, MODOK’s design is replete with classic Kirbyesque features, lending support to this supposition). Words cannot describe MODOK’s appearance though I will attempt a prose description, albeit brief, for those not in the know:

MODOK’s head is huge and is encased in a metal body—picture Billy Barty with gigantism of the cranium. MODOK sports a thick head of brown hair that he combs straight back. Across his forehead is a metal band, not unlike the sweatbands of yesteryear (excepting it’s metal, not terrycloth), from which he fires his powerful brain-beam (more on that later). He is always shown seated in an amazing floating chair. I’ve recently, Lord only knows why, become fascinated by MODOK. In truth, he's become my favorite of the Marvel villains second only to Dr. Doom. Thus, I’ve been actively seeking comics from the 60s thru 80s featuring MODOK and have found several, such as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Team-Up and Ms. Marvel 7, into which I shall now plunge.

The story is entitled “Nightmare” and its author is Chris Claremont. Most will recall Claremont as the definitive X-Men writer of the ‘70s thru ‘90s, though I tend to prefer some of his lesser-known work (e.g., the short-lived though brilliant War is Hell series—conceived by the gentlemen’s gentleman of the comics industry, Ohio’s own Tony Isabella). Chris also wrote numerous stories for the Marvel Team-Up series (many drawn by the amazing John Byrne) and several Marada the She-Wolf tales exquisitely rendered by John Bolton and initially published in Marvel’s Heavy Metal clone magazine Epic Illustrated, as well as countless other projects including Ms. Marvel from which I continue to digress.

When I read Claremont’s dialogue I’m often reminded of the voice of the old Movie-Tone News serials of the 1940s and ‘50s—the narrator placing strong emphasis on every second word (MST3K fans will know this well since Crow T. Robot often assumed this persona). Okay, no more digressions I swear to God:

Our story opens with a refinery tower collapsing on our bare-midriffed heroine. The ground beneath her feet collapses and she plummets into an underground pit before blacking out. She awakes with the worst breath of the day and faces MODOK. Ms. Marvel is no longer wearing her costume but is, instead, dressed in a white, skin-tight body suit with matching boots. One almost expects MODOK to say (in his best Dr. Evil voice), “Do you like your quasi-futuristic clothes? I designed them myself.” But this is 2 decades before Austin Powers so no such luck. She is trapped in what can best be described as an energy-type device that both immobilizes and levitates her body. MODOK tells Ms. Marvel that with her help he can once again rule AIM (from which he was deposed recently) and, ultimately, the world (and trust me, his plan is inane to the degree one might believe his second-in-command is the dim-witted servant Baldric from BBC's Black Adder series).

Ms. Marvel ponders her current predicament trying desperately to break free of her electronic prison. She sees a woman wearing her (Marvel’s) costume. MODOK, it seems, has learned that “much of your power is derived from a sophisticated alien electronic webbing built into the very fabric of your costume.” His cunning plan, you ask? MODOK intends to analyze the alien costume and mass produce it to “have an army of Ms. Marvels” at his command. It is unclear which designer—Gloria Vanderbilt or Levi Strauss—would be contracted to manufacture sufficient numbers of Ms. Marvel costumes to wardrobe an entire army. Equally unspecified is the third-world country whose inhabitants would be exploited for slave wages during the creation of the clothing.

MODOK instructs the woman wearing Ms. Marvel’s costume (whom he affectionately calls “Agent M17”) to demonstrate the costume’s abilities. However, M17 is unable to fly and she’s unable to stop MODOK’s patented brain-beam (both of which she should have been able to do while wearing the union suit). Unbeknownst to MODOK, the costume’s circuitry web was burned out during a recent altercation (in issue 6) rending the costume useless. MODOK turns his mind-ripper on our heroine in an attempt to “tell me all I wish to know.” Then, in what can only be described as David Lynchian (or perhaps Ray Jay Johnsonian), Ms. Marvel’s mind sees images of a MODOK in which he is “tall and strong and beautiful.” Artist Jim Mooney illustrates a horrifying image of a kiss between Ms. Marvel and MODOK that caused me to sleep with the lights on for 13 consecutive nights.

Convinced that Ms. Marvel is now his to command, MODOK releases her from stasis. However, much to the chagrin of MODOK’s blue-clad underlings, Ms. Marvel is not a brainwashed slave. In narration that, perhaps, outdoes the words of William Shakespeare, Claremont describes the action: “Her tone is bantering but her actions belie her words as she slams into MODOK’s elite guard in a berserker fury. They haven’t a chance against her.” Ms. Marvel defeats his elite guard, then threatens MODOK with what appears to be an Olympic torch (you figure it out). However, upon hearing his voice, Ms. Marvel falls into a hypnotic state and in Manchurian Candidate fashion, is ordered to assassinate the lovely Agent M17. A catfight ensues, but as the ladies tussle, Ms. Marvel begins to have flashbacks to her training days as Carol Danvers at Kennedy Space Center. This series of flashbacks helps her to break free of MODOK’s mind control. She carries Agent M17 and flies them both to safety (surprised at her ability to fly without the use of her costume).

Ms. Marvel and Agent M17 exchange clothing (but don’t get your hopes up for any disrobing scenes, kids; it’s all done “off camera”) and returns to the fray. Punches are thrown as if she were attending an Ozzy Osborne family reunion (and forgive me the “trendiness” of that reference) until MODOK unleashes the full power of his brain-beam. Ms. M. comments on the experience in the form of a witty analogy: “Impact..like having Jupiter dropped on my head…” I can only wonder why she referenced "Jupiter" and not "Uranus," considering that MODOK is, after all, butt ugly. Ms. Marvel at this point realizes that she and Carol Danvers are “the same, yet completely different.”

Meanwhile, MODOK’s mind-beam has burned a hole in a wall, revealing a tunnel into which Ms. Marvel escapes. MODOK orders his underlings to “seal the opening immediately! Before anyone from AIM’s New York Headquarters stumbles across our base.” His latter statement is a sentence fragment, but I suppose if you are Designed Only for Killing, grammar is not necessarily one of your strong points. As Ms. Marvel is escaping in the tunnel, she runs into “more AIM goons.” However, these goons are wearing yellow jump suits while MODOK’s employees (I certainly hope they are being compensated financially for their time and efforts) wore blue jump suits. Ms. Marvel continues her escape and flees through an elevator shaft. Upon reaching an opening she finds herself in a department store. She walks across the department store in her red and blue and very flesh-revealing costume (unnoticed by at least 15 shoppers), steps behind a curtain, and in a flash of light resumes the identity of Carol Danvers. As the story ends, Carol steps aboard a commuter bus and vows to one day return to “Alden’s Department Store” to settle the score with MODOK (and purchase some new underwire bras).

I suppose this issue could be summed up as follows:

Bus ride across midtown:
45 cents
Electronic mind-ripper: $500
Comic book catfight: Priceless

NEXT: A look at one of the most bizarre MODOK stories ever published, featuring a lipstick-wearing Ms. MODOK (va-va-va-voom!).

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