(Review by Erik Slader)
“Invincible” is… hard to describe to the uninitiated. First starting in 2003, this Image comic series by Robert Kirkman (of ‘Walking Dead’ fame) follows a young man, Mark Grayson, who just so happens to be the son of the world’s greatest superhero, but when his own powers kick in, everything changes forever. And that summary doesn’t do it justice, but honestly it’s really hard to go into further detail without spoiling the $#!÷ out of it!
Long story short, I’ve read the *entire* run of this comic (all 144 issues!), I have the first printings of the first few issues sealed and graded on my shelf, I have several of the graphic novels, and I even have an Invincible t-shirt that I used to wear to comic cons that doesn’t quite fit the way it used to. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan.
It’s an incredible comic that feels like reading an entire universe of stories told through one title. It’s got everything I’ve ever wanted from a comic book: cool visual storytelling, crazy sci-fi shenanigans, insane superhero brawls, great characters, drama, humor, and gorgeous color-popping panels by artist Ryan Ottley and Kirman’s co-creator, Cory Walker (issues #1-7, 127-132). It’s also has some of the most disturbing moments in comic book history – you guys, it gets dark fast! I mean, Nerdist even called this series “The Game of Thrones of Comics” and I can’t say I disagree.
However, I think one of the most endearing things about this title is that it genuinely feels like an epic saga.
Like the Arthurian legends of old, this is a story about a hero’s life story. He gets older, he falls in love, he loses loved ones, learns from his mistakes, has a kid of his own, and struggles with anxiety. As out-of-this-world as the plot sometimes gets, it remains immensely relatable throughout. These characters feel real and this world has very real stakes. Unlike so many DC and Marvel heroes that are perpetually bound to an eternal status quo, this is a superhero story that not only has a beginning and a middle, it also has an end. Even more astounding is the fact that it’s all the same writer!
Now, when I first heard that Seth Rogen was looking to adapt the series for Amazon Prime I was both excited and more than a little skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I love Seth Rogen, but I was a little hesitant because this wasn’t just any comic to me – and as good as AMC’s Walking Dead was (compared to the comics) I still wasn’t sure they could really pull it off, even in animation.
Then I started to hear the cast announcements: Steven Yeun (Glenn from TWD), J.K. Simmons (J. Johan Jameson!), and Mark Hamill?! (The animated Joker / Luke freaking Skywalker!) – and I officially got excited…
I was counting down the days until #InvincibleFriday when out of nowhere, the first three episodes dropped Thursday night on Amazon Prime! As I’m typing this, I just now finished watching the first episode and this is already one of the best adaptations of anything I’ve ever seen.
Episode 1: “It’s About Time”
First off, the animation is phenomenal, it’s surreal how good this show looks! The characters, dialogue, and voice acting is all top notch. They made some interesting narrative choices as far as when certain characters are introduced and when certain events happen, but considering this is a different medium, I think it absolutely made sense to shift things around slightly. That said, this episode proves right away that these folks know what they’re doing.
They absolutely nailed it. The tone, the characters, the look, the heartfelt coming of age story beats, and yes, the brutal violence. Did I mention the brutal violence? Oh yeah, this show is *not* for kids. Like, not at all. Basically, if you like “The Boys”, then you’re gonna love this!
The episode opens with a really cool action scene debuting the “Guardians of the Globe” a not-so-subtle Justice League knock-off (don’t get too attached), as they fight off a supervillain duo known as the Mauler Twins, and demolish the White House in the process.
Cut to Mark Grayson, your average every day high school student, dealing with your average every day high school drama. We’re introduced to his family life with his average human mom and his super-powered alien father (J.K. Simmons), the dude with the 70’s stash and the red cape.
We get a flashback to Mark’s dad revealing his secret origin, explaining that he’s from a far away planet, sent to Earth as it’s protector by a “benevolent” race known as the Viltrumites, and that one day he will develop powers of his own. Just when it seems that he’s destined for a normal life, Mark’s powers kick in at his fast food job and he accidentally sends a bag of trash into orbit!
Soon, Mark’s learning how to fly (and fall) and before you know it, he’s out on the streets fighting his first bad guy! After training with his pops, Art (Mark Hamill) a friend of the family, helps him design his own (iconic) super suit! So yeah, seems like your typical run of the mill superhero origin story right? Wrong! We get the post-credit scene to end all post-credit scenes with what is perhaps the most graphic and disturbing moments in animation history! It’s downright BRUTAL! (I repeat, this show is NOT for kids!)
So yeah, if you haven’t seen or read Invincible yet, go do that, because I’m about to spoil the end of Episode 1 and the first 10 issues of the comic…
Ok wow, just give me a minute to pick my disembodied jaw off the ground…
Holy crap, that was nuts! If this is your first time experiencing “Invincible”, you’re probably wondering what the heck just happened, right?!
So the big reveal at the very end is of course the massive plot twist from the comic: that Omni-Man (Mark’s dad) isn’t who he seems, because we see him straight up murdering *ALL* of the Guardians with his bare hands (!) in what is without a doubt the goriest superhero fight to date! (outside of the Invincible comics that is) I remember this moment being pretty messed up in the comic, but seeing it in motion, even though I saw it coming, was pretty shocking! Like seriously, it takes a hard left down Elm Street.
In the comics, the Guardians of the Globe aren’t introduced (and dispatched) until Issue #7, but I did think it was really kind of clever the way they introduced these characters in the first scene and then immediately killed them off at the end of the episode. I was almost certain that was going to be something they save for the end of the season, but I also totally understand why they did it that way, because otherwise the severe tonal shift might not have worked as well as it did with the book, especially to those coming to this fresh!
On the latest episode of Kevin Smith’s Fat Man Beyond and The Invincible Podcast, Robert Kirkman himself delved into the process of bringing the comic to the screen, and explaining how they looked at the entire story arc from beginning to end and used that as the basis for the series, dividing it up into smaller chunks, shifting things around, expanding on some plot threads and streamlining others, in a similar way to how they approached The Walking Dead, where they would intentionally change certain things on purpose, like who lives and dies.
Once again, considering this is a different medium, it totally makes sense to change certain elements and shift around a few plot points here and there. I thought this was a clever way to be like, “This is what you’re in store for!” Although, I was a little surprised that they gave away the big twist so early: that Mark’s dad was the big bad after all!
All in all, this show is fantastic, the first episode blew me away and I can’t wait to see more!
-Review by Erik Slader.
Erik Slader is an author, podcaster, and full-time nerd. He’s the co-author of the “Epic Fails” book series (The Wright Brothers: Nose-Diving Into History, The Age of Exploration: Totally Getting Lost, etc) and the creator of Epik Fails of History, a podcast and blog about the most epic fails… of history. He’s also a co-host on 2 Young 4 This Trek: A Star Trek Podcast, and an editor / frequent contributor on Podcasters Assemble – where this season they’re counting down to “Godzilla vs Kong”! ErikSlader.com