Anyone unfamiliar with the Robert Kirkman Image Comics series Invincible might find the first episode of the animated TV Show Invincible to be your typical superhero yarn. It starts out generic enough except for some wittier than normal dialogue; Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) a young teenage son of the world’s mightiest hero, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), develops his own superpowers and juggles teenage life with learning to be superhero called Invincible. Adding to the familiarity is that Omni-Man is clearly inspired by Superman and his comrades in the superhero team, the Guardians of the Globe, are stand-ins for the Justice League.
Then the first episode concluded, and Invincible veered off violently into a completely new direction. Fans of the comic book series should enjoy the adaptation now streaming on Amazon Prime, since it is fairly faithful with a few differences as to the timing of certain character developments and events.
Without going into spoilers, the plot lines in the show are surprising as are the revelations about certain characters. For instance, in the episode “That Actually Hurt” Invincible is convinced to help a low-level supervillain to take out a dangerous criminal kingpin. What followed was one of the most wincing and savage fights as Invincible and his allies are nearly killed by the kingpin’s hired supervillains. But as graphic and epic the fights were what was more shocking were the final reveals which called into question Mark’s judgement.
Invincible is decidedly not for children as it is brutally violent in the vein of The Boys but in a more graphic extreme since the show is not limited by a live-action budget. In fact, some may complain Invincible may be too graphic with its violence. However, the show shows just enough restraint to keep it from going overboard.
As violent as the show is, it takes a mature approach to its character development. Mark goes through the well-known but perfectly executed tropes of a teenage superhero which explore the headaches of having a secret identity as his busy superhero life interferes with his ability to hold down a job or being honest with this girlfriend Amber (Zazie Beetz) or his growing relationship with Omni-Man and his perfectly normal mother (Sandra Oh). To the show’s credit, the characters are well explored and are captivating.
The secondary characters such as demon investigator Damien Darkblood (Clancy Brown), Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs), Cecil Stedman (Walton Goggins), and Robot (Zachary Quinto) sometimes outshine the main characters. Damien is an interesting combo of John Constantine, Hellboy and DC’s the Demon. Atom Eve/Samantha Wilkins is a classmate of Mark and has an existential crisis over whether or not to remain a superhero or do meaningful work to help people. The stoic Robot trains the new version of the Guardians, but exhibits a surprising humanity, both good and bad and his final revelation was a genuine surprise. Meanwhile, Cecil is a dark yet humane version of Nick Fury and runs a super secret government organization that supports and monitors superhumans. It is very easy for viewers to get invested in these characters’ arcs and with minor appearances from other characters. One stand out was Allen the Alien (Seth Rogen), who becomes a relatable friend to Mark after the two initially fought on the moon. The actor’s easygoing, stoner vibe was emanated in his voice performance which made Allen so likeable.
Rather than mocking its superhero tropes, Invincible embraces them. It actually feels like a comic book while at the same time it functions as a deconstruction of the supehero genre.
To be honest, Invincible is not for everyone. The graphic violence can be offputting and the animation is not the most sophisticated, though its well done. The fact that the first episode “It’s About Time” feels like a retread of a Justice League story may lull people into thinking they’ve seen this before. But stick with the episode to the end. If the shock twist is not enticing enough to learn more about the show, then move on. Otherwise, sit back and explore the refreshing and hard-edged world of Invincible. By the time, the final episode “Where I Really Come From” is watched, viewers will be desperate to find out what happens next. Thankfully, Amazon Prime renewed Invincible for two more seasons.