Each Saturday, Kevin from @tastienfilm_bad will be recapping the most recent episode(s) of Invincible and giving us insight into the comics on which the show is based.
Next Friday, March 26th, Amazon Prime will debut the first three episodes of their new animated superhero series, Invincible. Every week I’ll be posting recaps of the show plus insights from the comics. Hi! I’m Kevin and I am very excited to get the chance to gush about my favorite comic book every week. This week, since I am but a lowly math teacher and didn’t get screeners, I’ll be introducing the world and story of the Invincible comic series without spoiling potential cliffhangers in the show.
Isn’t that the Mark Whalberg movie where he tries out for the Philadelphia Eagles?
Different Invincible. This one is based on a Robert Kirkman comic that debuted in 2003.
Should I/do I have to read the comic?
Do you have to? Definitely not. Amazon knows Invincible doesn’t have the same name recognition as Kirkman’s other little indie comic, The Walking Dead. I expect the series, especially the first season, to be a great jumping-on-point for everyone. I also think the show could be radically different from the comics in some ways, but more on that in a minute. Should you read the comic though? Yes. Heck yes. In my opinion, it’s one of the best superhero bildungsromane ever inked. Superpowers-as-a-metaphor in coming-of-age narratives is nothing new. But Invincible brought a fresh take to the genre in 2003, and it holds up eighteen (holy crap…eighteen?!) years later. Also, the comic came to an end in 2018 a mere 144 issues later. That means you can binge the entire run without fear of an extended cliffhanger
The elevator pitch I give people when I’m trying to get them to read the comic is “what if Spider-Man was Superman?” Mark Grayson (played on the show by the wonderful Steven Yuen) navigates the tribulations of high school, feeling incredibly average in every way until he discovers the superpowers he’s been waiting for. I suppose one not-so-average thing about him would be that his dad is Omni-Man, the Image Comics store-brand version of Superman. JK Simmons is a perfect casting choice, mostly because Omni-Man is known for his push-broom mustache. Where Superman stands for hope, Omni-Man takes more of a “intimidate the hell out of attacking alien forces through sheer brutal force” approach to his protection of the planet.
Mark does all the things: has a crush on a girl who might not know his name, has one best friend who’s also seemingly a loner, works a minimum wage fast-food job, until he accidentally launches a garbage bag into orbit while taking out the trash. From there on it’s full steam ahead as Mark meets new superhero pals, thinks about joining a Teen Titans like superteam, fights his first villain, and bonds with superdad over their new shared connection.
In its first seven issues, Invincible reads like another recent Amazon adaptation, The Boys, in that it’s a satirical homage to the caped crusaders we all love. Where The Boys had way more venom for its subjects, Invincible is much more of a loving sendup. There’s lots of superhero pastiche and character allusions to big DC/Marvel names that range from the sly to the intentionally ham-fisted. But it’s in the seventh issue that Invincible goes from loving parody to bold new take on the genre. Without spoiling it, #7 ends with a twist big enough to forever change the world and direction of the story; and it is also the last issue drawn by artist and co-creator, Cory Walker. I liked his work fine, but when I think of Invincible I think of Ryan Ottley, the artist who takes over on issue #8. It’s his pen that gives us the book’s iconic violence. A big part of the appeal of the comic is that a lot of blood is spilled between the covers. Like, a lot a lot. Imagine the scene from season 2 of The Boys, (you know which one) but every ten or so pages. Maybe an exaggeration, maybe not, but the trailers all seem to indicate that the gore will be there.
OK, so it’s another gory, self-serious, overly-moody superhero story?
Thank you, imaginary straw man character that’s really just a lazy writing device, for that great question! The answer is NO! One of the great things about the comic is how it juggles a slew of disparate tones and moods. One page has you laughing and empathizing with the horrors of high school while the next has you reeling over a particularly brutal fight or the gutting death of a beloved character. The trick is in the world-building. So many of my favorite superheroes from the DC and Marvel come with the added baggage of decades-long backstories, a gaggle of retcons, and a multiverse or two, for good measure. It can be intimidating to just pick an issue and jump in. While Invincible drops you in a world already full of aliens, superheroes, clones, and all the other tropes of the genre, the actual world-building starts from a completely blank slate. Kirkman is a good storyteller, and the world of Invincible feels full and alive and as if it goes on existing whether or not you’re reading it. Actions have consequences, and those consequences reverberate and shape the plot ahead. That weight makes everything feel earned. When you add in Ottley’s over-the-top, almost farcical, gore you end up turning the page on some fight sequences with a pit in your stomach, terrified of what might happen to your favorite character if you read on. That’s what I’m looking for in a comic: the fear to continue reading.
That’s as much as I’m willing to tell you details-wise about the plot. For now. As the episodes come out, and we get a better sense of how the season will unfold, I will divulge more while trying to keep you enticed enough to venture out and read the series on your own. I really think it’s worth your time! Robert Kirkman isn’t paying me to say that though it’d be cool if he was!
I’m tapped out on superhero shows, and as you said, The Boys is already on Prime, and already good. Why give yet another one a chance?
Well, I feel like if you are on reading this on guyatthemovies.com, chances are you aren’t superhero fatigued yet. But if the explanation above isn’t enough, here are three more reasons you should tune in:
- It has an insanely stacked voice cast that fits pretty neatly into three main groups: Huge, recognizable stars (Simmons, Yuen, Sandra Oh, Seth Rogen); veteran voice actors you’ve heard in 1,000 different shows growing up (Kevin Michael Richardson, Clancy Brown); or Walking Dead alum (Lauren Cohan, Lennie James). There are a lot of instances where I’d see a certain name attached to voice a certain character and say, “oh yeah that’s a GREAT fit” (see Jason Mantzoukas as the borderline irredeemable Rex Splode) I also have a feeling a lot of big names will get the “Brad Pitt in Deadpool 2” treatment and be there for a bloody cameo at most.
- It seems to be diversifying the cast a bit, which feels like a great move. I love the comic, but it was definitely written in the early 2000s for better and for worse. Zazie Beetz, for instance, plays Amber, Mark’s first girlfriend. In the comics, both characters present as white, as does most of the supporting cast. This isn’t meant to #cancel Invincible by any means, but rather to say it’s refreshing that the series can grow and adapt for a new audience. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like empty, performative stunt-casting either. Instead, it just feels like the right move to inspire a new batch of comic-lovers the way it did for me many years ago. Plus, again, Sandra Oh, Zazie Beetz, and Steven Yuen are phenomenal actors. It’s a win-win.
- In the comic, and this is really what I should have led with, Mark attends Reginald VelJohnson High. If that reference is lost on you, VelJohnson is a beloved actor best known for his roles of Carl Winslow on Family Matters and Sgt. Al Powell in Die Hard. He is one of the most prolific cop-actors (actors who seemingly only play cops) of his generation. It’s just a funny sight gag joke as the principal is drawn to resemble him and everything. Anyway, long story short, they got RVJ to voice the role of the principal for the show! Sometimes the most obvious choice is also the most inspired. What a great nod to the comics.
Ha! Tricked you! I’m actually a huge fan of the series and this was all an elaborate ruse to test your love and knowledge of the comic. What do you have to say to people like me who have reservations about Amazon adapting my favorite cape comic?
Well, I want to direct anyone who has read Invincible to the IMDB page and look at the role Max Burkholder is playing. If I were making a straight adaptation of the comics, I wouldn’t introduce his character until season three at the earliest, right? Maybe season five depending on how long I spend on the whole [spoiler redacted] plot. The fact that he’s in season ONE means that the show is setting itself up to be a totally different take on the Invincible universe than the one we are used to. I’m excited and curious and nervous and all of the feelings you feel when something you love and are invested in gets adapted. Shout out to all the Snyder fans doing their victory laps this weekend, by the way. Congrats. All I can do is hope it’s great, trust in Kirkman (which I do) and log into my neighbor’s dog-walker’s aunt’s Amazon Prime account to find out!
OK. Fine. You got me. I’m sold. This was great, where can I hear more of your incisive wit and playful writing style?
You can follow me on Twitter @tasteinfilm_bad or letterboxd @kevbot9000. OnlyFans coming soon at 10k followers. Click back here every Saturday (but also every day) for more recaps and theories!