No Law and Disorder: Van Lente talks "Super-Villain Team-Up/M.O.D.O.K.'s 11"

This summer Danny Ocean and his gang might be back on the silver screen with the release of "Ocean's 13," but if Ocean and his pals ever set foot in the four color world they would be demolished by the stars of "Super-Villain Team-Up/M.O.D.O.K.'s 11," a five issue mini-series from Marvel Comics that hits stores in July. CBR News spoke with "M.O.D.O.K.'s 11" writer Fred Van Lente about the mini-series, which mixes the elements of heist stories, with super villainy, and doses of black humor.

"M.O.D.O.K.'s 11" began for Van Lente with a phone call. "My editor Mark Paniccia had an idea for a series called 'Masters of Evil,' which would focus on the big-time villains of the Marvel Universe, and he called me about developing it," Van Lente told CBR News. "He had forgotten that a few months before I had pitched him an idea for a relaunch of 'Super-Villain Team-Up' that would sort of be a Marvel Universe version of 'The Silencers,' the crime series about super-powered mob enforcers I did for Image and Moonstone. Except 'SVTU' would be more of a heist drama than a mob drama.

"So Mark and I merged the ideas," Van Lente continued, "Except -- and here's a window into how comics really get created -- because of commitments in other series, all the big-time villains we wanted to use were tied up in other books.

"ME: So can I use Taskmaster?


"ME: Sabretooth?


"ME: Dr. Doom?

"MARVEL: No, no and no.

"To make a long story short, all the cool villains were taken. I was literally left with M.O.D.O.K. [laughs]. But you know, you roll with the punches in this business. I thought it was actually a much more interesting idea that the Grade-C villains have gotten together to pull one, last big crime in classic heist movie fashion. And the idea that M.O.D.O.K., one of the most derided villains of all time, would head up (get it? head up? get it?) this team was just terrific."

Van Lente and Paniccia's plans for "M.O.D.O.K.'s 11" actually were made some time ago. "We had a lot of the series in the can when Marvel made the decision to reschedule it for after 'Civil War,' given the tidal wave of new titles to come at the beginning and at the end of that event," Van Lente explained. "They wanted it to have a chance to garner its own following, not get lost in massive crossover hype, and for that I can hardly blame them."

Before M.O.D.O.K and his brigade of brigands attempt their heist, the big-headed one must square off against Ms. Marvel in the pages of her own title as part of the current "Ready, A.I.M., Fire" story line. "Brian Reed has crafted a great storyline that really lays out the stakes involved in the conflict between M.O.D.O.K. and A.I.M., the organization he created and he used to rule," Van Lente stated. "A.I.M. booted his floating ass, and they've been trying to wipe him out ever since, at the behest of their beautiful new Scientist Supreme, Monica Rappaccini, a villain I introduced in the new Scorpion 'Amazing Fantasy' series. I won't give away the ending of Brian's arc, but it perfectly sets up the predicament M.O.D.O.K. finds himself in at the opening of 'SVTU' #1, and the necessity for pulling off his score so he can get back to the top of the super villain heap."

M.O.D.O.K's quest to get back to the top of the supervillain heap in "M.O.D.O.K.'s 11" will involve scenes where the former head of A.I.M. (both literally and figuratively) is played for laughs and some scenes where he comes off as a creepy and capable mastermind. "You know, it's hard to get around the fact he's a giant floating head," Van Lente said. "We actually open the series with a retelling of M.O.D.O.K.'s origin, which, I flatter myself, sets him up as a rather poignant and creepy character - and kind of a bad-ass, of all things."

While his new status as a bad-ass may be established in Van Lente's retelling of his origin, M.O.D.O.K. will still need some assistance to accomplish his goals. He spends the first issue of the mini-series assembling that help. "M.O.D.O.K.'s plan is so insanely complex he needs supervillains with very specific powers to pull it off," Van Lente explained. "So, he's gathered together:

"Puma - As others have pointed out, not a villain, technically, but a mercenary that fights Spider-Man a lot. But as we see in 'SVTU' #1, he has financial troubles that force him to throw his lot in with M.O.D.O.K.

"Rocket Racer - Another sometimes-hero that has his own problems that force him to agree to M.O.D.O.K.'s offer to join his team. On top of that, he's had a nervous breakdown since we lost saw him. M.O.D.O.K. needs a gadgeteer on the team, particularly one who can design a unique escape vehicle.

"Armadillo - No super-team would be complete without a strongman, and this one is sick of playing at cheap Lucha Libre wrestling ampitheaters in Mexico. (Apparently the whole 'Rangers' thing didn't work out.) M.O.D.O.K. also needs him because of those big tunneling claws of his.

"Nightshade, a/k/a Deadly Nightshade - A mainstay of the latter part of Priest's 'Black Panther,' she's made a failed attempt to go straight, and is at the end of her rope when M.O.D.O.K. comes a' callin'.

"Chameleon - Would it shock any of you to say this Master of Disguise may not be entirely what he seems?

"Mentallo - Telepathic wiseass. My editors predict he'll be a fan favorite.

"Living Laser - A poignant figure in our series; desperately trying to figure out how to turn himself human again, and helps out M.O.D.O.K. in exchange for help with that.

"The Spot - I love the Spot. Love the Spot. That, however, doesn't mean he's still not a total loser [laughs]. M.O.D.O.K. needs a teleporter, and I guess Sidewinder had other commitments, because he's stuck with this guy.

"I know what you're thinking - 'Hey, that's only nine people (counting M.O.D.O.K.)!

Well, there are some surprise members, so I'm going to play that close to my vest..."

With nine colorful characters and two mysterious members, readers might have guessed that the group dynamic of "M.O.D.O.K.'s 11" will be very interesting. "We have quite a range of 'villainy' going on here," Van Lente said. "Puma, Armadillo, Nightshade and Rocket Racer, in fact, have all acted, if not as actual super heroes, than on the side of the heroes quite frequently - it's unusual circumstances for all four that drive them back to crime. Living Laser and M.O.D.O.K. are poignant mutated freaks. Chameleon is an amoral professional. Spot and Mentallo, I think, are out for a quick buck. Which one of these will turn on the others? And will more than one? Well, that's half the fun of the series."

It's unclear which members of "M.O.D.O.K's 11" will turn on each other, but one of the reasons why M.O.D.O.K. chose to assemble his team at this particular time is clear; the heroes have their hands full with the events of "World War Hulk." "Basically the opportunity for the heist would not be possible if not for World War Hulk," Van Lente explained. "Nevertheless, 'SVTU' is not a 'tie-in' to 'WWH,' and events unfold completely separately from that event. It's just one of these unintended consequences that happen from a big, world-shattering event like 'WWH.'"

"World War Hulk" sets "M.O.D.O.K's 11" in motion and sends it's stars across the globe. "It's set all over the world, across the United States, and time and space," Van Lente stated. "Seriously! [laughs] It's a 'super-heist!' They're not knocking over the corner liquor store.

"M.O.D.O.K. has learned that The Infincide, a cabal of infinitely powerful temporal cartographers from the end of time, have phased their impenetrable fortress just out of the time stream into our era so they can 'map' major current events, specifically 'Civil War' and 'World War Hulk,'" Van Lente continued. "Now, if Reed Richards found out about this, he might want to learn stuff from them. The Avengers might simply want to go and investigate and make sure they weren't up to any badness. M.O.D.O.K. is a villain, though. M.O.D.O.K. wants to rob them blind! [laughs] Specifically, he's after the power source for the Infinicide's fortress, 'The Beacon.' It's powered by a hypernova - a huge star exploding, over and over again, in a perpetual temporal loop; a limitless power source - or unstoppable weapon. Depends on who has it. M.O.D.O.K., of course, was created by A.I.M. in the first place to perform the calculations necessary to power the Cosmic Cube, so the Big-Headed One's thoughts might be headed in that direction, and that's why he wants the hypernova. I hear those Cosmic Cube things can come in mighty handy at parties ."

"Super-Villain Team-Up" won't be a party for its cast; to successfully pull off their heist M.O.D.O.K.'s 11 will have to overcome a number of obstacles and adversaries. "Other than somehow breaking into an impenetrable fortress phased only partially into our time stream and stealing the most powerful weapon ever devised out from under the noses of vastly powerful psychic beings evolved billions of years beyond us and their army of indestructible synthezoids?" Van Lente asked. "Let's just say, as the solicitation says, that word travels fast along the grapevine of villainy and that there are two other big heavy-hitter Marvel villains waiting in the wings to steal the hypernova from M.O.D.O.K.'s 11 once they pop up for air."

"Super-Villain Team-Up/ M.O.D.O.K.'s 11" is a story with plenty of humor, but at its heart it's a tale of crime and the rogues who perpetrate it. "It's not a parody, it treats the characters with respect, but I mean, c'mon. It's M.O.D.O.K.," Van Lente stated. "Him looking in the mirror every morning is probably the definition of 'black humor.'"

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