I’ve written reviews of the first shows of new series I’ve watched before. I recall writing separate reviews for the first and second episodes of The Orville. I wasn’t crazy about the first, but I came around by the second. Still, I generally wait until I’ve watched the whole season. There are only eight episodes in this first season of Invincible, and they will all be streaming by the end of April. I could have waited.
This episode entertained and surprised me. It’s not always easy to pull off both of these feats.
Invincible was a comic book, published by Image Comics and written by Robert Kirkman, the man who brought us The Walking Dead.
I knew the title involved superhero types instead of zombies. I had seen some of the artwork. I had some vague notion that it was probably another example of that superhero deconstructionism thing that’s been all the rage recently.
Otherwise, I knew nothing about the story. I had contemplated reading the collected issues of the comic, but had never pulled the financial trigger on the decision. Collecting Kirkman’s The Walking Dead compendiums wasn’t an inexpensive pursuit, and I don’t think reading Invincible would be, either.
Amazon came through for me with another original series based upon a comic book property I’ve never read. The Boys has been kind of a surprise hit for Amazon Prime Video. I’ve certainly enjoyed watching that series. The first episode of Invincible reminded me of The Boys in certain places.
That’s unavoidable when both series are about costumed superheroes, I’d imagine. There are similarities in the hero archetypes. Both feature speedster heroes similar to the Flash and stand-ins for Superman (Omni-Man/The Immortal), Batman (Darkwing) and Wonder Woman (War Woman). Green Ghost is similar—at least visually—to Green Lantern. Aquarus is Aquaman, of course. Martian Man is barely a short hop from Martian Manhunter. The Guardians of the Globe is obviously an analog to DC Comics’ Justice League, just as The Seven are.
Homelander and Omni-Man seem cut from the same cloth, and, in this first episode, provide similar surprise reveals. That’s as close to a spoiler as I plan to get.
One major difference between the series is that Invincible is animated, not live action. The animation is serviceable, and reminds me of other things that I’ve seen. Venture Bros. springs instantly to mind. Also the Harley Quinn animated series. We’ve both seen things with better animation, I’ll admit, but it’s good enough to tell the story, and often visually striking.
Another difference from The Boys is that on this series the focus and primary viewpoint is that of a new superhero, whereas The Boys is primarily about nonpowered characters. Sure, that other series has superhero characters with their individual story arcs, but the main attraction is Billy Butcher and his team of superhero killers.
In the first episode of Invincible, we’re introduced to Mark Grayson (Stephen Yuen), the 17-year-old son of Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). All the evidence indicates that Omni-Man is this universe’s version of Superman, with the alien backstory and everything. Mark is feeling stressed because he wants to be a superhero like his father, but until now his powers haven’t manifested. He suddenly comes of age in this first episode. He has super-strength and he can fly.
Mark is a late bloomer, and his training montages remind me of that old television series The Greatest American Hero. Early on, there seems to be a lot more crashes than landings as Mark grows accustomed to his powers.
It occurred to me that this series was going to be about relationships between fathers and sons. This time, both father and son are superheroes. Mark’s mom Debbie (Sandra Oh), a non-powered human with whom Mark has had a closer bond until now, says she feels that she’s giving her son up to his dad now.
It’s also going to be how Mark deals with the civilian side of his new superhero existence. He’s still a high school student, with typical high school problems. In this respect, I can imagine that the stories will be a lot like your normal Spider-Man origin tale and those early Ditko books. Teen angst, girl troubles, bullies—you know the drill.
All signs indicated this was going to be another straightforward take on traditional superhero comic books, the main story told from the perspective of the offspring of a famous constumed superhero. Costumed supervillains to balance out the costumed superheroes. Frequent battles in an urban environment. Positive, uplifting messages with every story. Plenty of characters to identify with.
Then, following Mark’s origin story as Invincible (his super-suit was made by the same tailor who makes his dad’s costumes), the episode suddenly turns dark and ultraviolent. I’m not going to ruin the episode for you, but I will say the tone shift from classic Silver and Bronze Age superhero comics to more modern dystopian, nihilistic, deconstructionistic and antiheroic fare is similar to the change of tone in this episode. After what felt like the natural conclusion to the series premiere, I felt like I was suddenly seeing someone’s nightmare play out on the screen. The ending suggests that this wasn’t a dream sequence.
I suppose a spoiler warning is warranted here. Skip the next paragraph if you want to preserve the surprise. I promise, no other spoilers after this.
This changes everything. Invincible may continue to hearken back to those great superhero comics I grew up on, but it’s also something different. In the first episode, the Guardians of the Globe are murdered. We know by whom, but we don’t know why. At least, those of us who never read the comic don’t know. I seem to gravitate to shows that set up a seasonal mystery arc (sometimes an entire series arc) right off the bat. This whydunnit was the perfect ploy to get me to watch the second episode . . . and the one after that.
I’ll find out soon enough if the series delivers on the promise I see in this first episode. I like superhero shows, certainly, but it’s easy to begin to feel inundated by all of the offerings that exist out there. This embarassment of riches.
The ties to Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic and AMC series are obvious. The voice actors for all of the original members of The Guardians of the Globe were also on the other television series. Lauren Cohan, Sonequa Martin-Green (now on Star Trek: Discovery), Chad L. Coleman (who went on to The Orville and The Expanse), Michael Cudlitz, Lennie James, and Ross Marquand.
The Teen Team—obviously an homage to the Teen Titans—features Zachary Quinto as Robot, Gillian Jacobs as Atom Eve, and Jason Mantzoukas as Rex Splode. Walton Goggins appears as Cecil Stedman, the director of the Global Defense Agency. Seth Rogen is Allen the Alien. Mark Hamill is Art Rosenbaum, the guy who makes all the super-suits. I understand that many other names I recognize will appear on the show as the season progresses.
This series looks like it could be fun. I will warn you that this is intended for an adult audience. There is harsh language, and the violence—when it gets cracking—is ultra. Lots of blood and guts, which somehow seems even more graphic in a cartoon.
This one is easily four-out-of-five stars.
I’ll be watching. I won’t write another review until after I finish watching the entire season.