Invincible

3 out of 5

Created by: Robert Kirkman

covers season 1

My introduction to Invincible, the comic book, came via a comic book-reading friend who passed me the first bundle of issues – up through its first major reveal, I believe in issue 12 or so? – in a brown paper comic bag, issues carefully cared for, pleading with me to mind that care but also telling me I had to read them. I’d been, at that point, relatively recently reintroduced to comics (post- lapsing as a reader as a youngster) partially by that same friend, encouraged to check out the staples I’d missed – Watchmen, Y the Last Man, Preacher – and also getting an education in some Big Two runs, like Grant Morrison’s JLA, that would shape my buying practices at the time. In short, I’d had enough reading under my belt to inform the kind of stuff I was picking up during my weekly buys from the shops, but I was also still wholly open to recommendations.

Invincible: I went through the issues fairly easily. My reaction: okay, so this is just like a regular Superman pastiche, but with a twist? I appreciated the cleanliness and bright look of the art, but the dialogue and characters felt incredibly cliched, and the whole thing hung on the “shock” of that reveal, a tactic which really bores me. I admittedly played down this reaction to my friend, who clearly adored the comic – and he was focused on that twist, I felt – but I made a mental note that comics with some accompanying hype needed more to hang their, er, capes on than just “Like That Thing You Know But Different!”

I would later read the first couple trades of The Walking Dead (also by Kirkman), waiting for some moment when the thing would click, but settling on similar blase sentiments. However, when The Walking Dead was translated to TV, it confirmed the strength of playing to your medium: Frank Darabont made the first season of that show brilliant, dialing all of its zombie and character cliches in to an intensely horror-filled study of humanity. …Later seasons and other show runners would prove the same due to the weaknesses of the presentation, falling in to the same repetitive and predictable and reliance-on-shock sensibilities that, to me, fueled the comic.

So we know, now, having suffered through three paragraphs not mentioning Invincible the TV show, that I have no particular love for the source material, but that I believe that can still be dressed up for a visual format.

On the one hand, Invincible the TV show cast really well, and smartly moved its twist up to its first episode, allowing things to focus more on character relations, which are a more interesting component than the winky Marvel- / DC-comparisons it commits. It maintains the clean art style, and although it definitely still relies on sudden violence (and “this ain’t your daddy’s Justice League” swears) for shock, the character stuff is ultimately primary. On the other hand, it’s still, at its core, a Superman pastiche with a twist, and the juxtaposition of regular life vs. superhero life isn’t especially deep, just a slight variant on any given serialized ensemble’s drama.

Mark Grayson (Steven Yuen) is suffering through school and girl problems, waiting for the day his powers will kick in. He’s the son of Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons) after all, an alien Vitrumite – think Krypton – who came to Earth and ended up marrying Mark’s mother, Debbie (Sandra Oh).

But with a blink, Mark can now fly and super-strength it up, and rebrands himself as Invincible, learning the ups and downs of trying to maintain that school and girl-problems lifestyle while also destroying Earth-destructing meteors and fighting alongside hero groups like Teen Team. He also has to interact with the Global Defense Agency – a government organization closely interknit with the various heroes – and put up with his father’s tense lessons on applying his powers.

…And then we find out that Omni-Man – our Superman – may not be the best guy. And for 8 episodes, Mark and Debbie come closer and closer to understanding what, exactly, that means.

The “any given serialized ensemble drama” descriptor ends up being much more tolerable in TV form than it does as a comic; by moving that Omni-Man reveal up to the front, all of the day-to-day stuff we experience has more relevance and irony, and also resonates well with the modern day, in which catastrophe after catastrophe occurs, and we still try to cling to sanity by, like, binging streaming shows. T.A.P.’s animation can sometimes be limited – a little stiff – it’s not lacking in great character designs (inherited from the book, of course) and a well-applied sense of scope. Yuen is great at affecting Mark’s growing pains, and the writers cast between serious and comedic actors well to keep a balance in the tone.

It’s a good time for the show, I’d think. You have legions of potential new comic fans brought in by Marvel’s movies, and Invincible might act as their gateway to other books just like reading Watchmen and whatnot did for me. However, ‘neath its shiny exterior, it’s still a pretty generic show, akin to an R-rated version of what CW does with its DC series. Then again, those shows can manage to be mighty entertaining as well.