Warning: Some very graphic images ahead. Reader discretion advised.
Wayne Rock, Guest Writer
Invincible is Amazon Prime’s latest offering in the superhero comic-to-small screen adaptations, following the massive success of The Boys. Created by Robert Kirkman (who also created a little series called The Walking Dead) and produced by power couple Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Invincible tells the tale of Mark Grayson, son of superhero Omni-Man, and the discovery of his powers, growth into a superhero, the challenges of leading a double life and…gruesome, bone-crunching, exceptionally animated murder?
Invincible starts off deceptively generic and almost parallels similar superhero stories like Sky High, until it punches you in the face with twists, turns, and decapitations, revealing itself to be a nuanced commentary on the superhero genre. There has been much said about the decline of Western animation, especially when compared to its beloved cousin anime, but there is nary a complaint to be made about Invincible’s animation. The translation of the characters from comic to small-screen is ridiculously faithful. Every episode is consistent in quality and the animation truly shines during the fight scenes. Characters move and flow with grace while still allowing the audience to almost feel the weight behind the blows being exchanged. I winced more than once watching characters beat each other to a bloody pulp almost every episode. It’s easy to see why Amazon went the animated route as the violence doesn’t have to be restricted without coming across as gratuitous.
Another way the over-the-top action remains palatable is the way the creators balance it with the story, characters, and dialogue. There are so many characters introduced in just the first season, but thanks to the veteran cast, featuring heavy hitters like J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man, Legend of Korra), Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy, Killing Eve), Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2, Joker), Mark Hamill (Star Wars, Batman: The Animated Series), Walton Goggins (The Shield, Justified) and Jason Mantzoukas (Brooklyn Nine Nine, Big Mouth), each performance is unique and can sell even the weirdest dialogue.
That being said, even with the stellar voice cast, I was way more invested in some characters than I was in others. Some characters, like the seemingly one-note Monster Girl, turned out to be way more compelling than at first glance. Others, like the Mauler Twins, are given a ton to do, but you never get a sense that they’re there for much more than to push some other character’s arcs forward. This inconsistency persists with the character relationships. I found myself thinking that the family and interpersonal dynamics between Omni-Man, his wife Debbie ,and their son Mark (Invincible) worked a lot better than the constant build-up and breakdown of Mark’s relationship with Amber.
The story is mostly a faithful recreation of the comic arcs, with some characters being introduced earlier than they were in the original and some events being brought forward and switched around. Also, the adaptation is a lot more diverse than its admittedly white-washed comic counterpart. In particular, Debbie, a mostly silent background characte,r is given way more to do here, and makes her relationship with Omni-Man and Invincible much more compelling. This keeps this adaptation fresh and surprising even for fans of the original. This is how adaptations should be done.
Omni-Man himself is such a fascinating character that he could easily be considered the main character. Without spoiling anything, he starts off as a Superman parallel, a symbol of hope for humanity, but as the story peels away the layers he is revealed to be a duty-bound individual, enslaved to the ideals of his home planet. The final scene between him and Mark is truly a thing of beauty, enhanced by the emotional vocal performances of J.K. Simmons and Steven Yeun, along with the gorgeous animation that displays every impassioned facial expression to perfection.
Unfortunately, even with an eight-episode run, some episodes still feel a lot like filler. This is especially compounded by the fact that the season is bookended by its two strongest episodes, “It’s About Time” and “Where I Really Come From”. The fact that I have to say that the payoff of a set-up from the first episode comes in the last, is really a testament to how slow the buildup is. And it’s probably best that they had built some characters up more before dropping that bomb of an ending that came in episode one.
Invincible himself seems like he needs some time to truly grow into that title. For the most part, he has been beaten to hell at almost every turn, and even when you think the story is building to his inevitable angry power-up moment, he still is taken out with ease. I get that a truly invincible main character can be a boring affair, but Mark is much more resilient in the comics and it’s still engaging. I’m not sure why they went this route in the TV show. Perhaps it’s to tell a bigger story, but as it stands, I’m not a huge fan of seeing the main character get rag-dolled all the time.
That’s all personal preference though—Invincible is still a beautifully-animated, well-written, character-driven piece that is certainly worth your time, even if, like its main character, it’s not 100 per cent indestructible.
Wayne’s Score: Invincible Season 1 gets a strong 7.5/10
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to guest reviewer Wayne Rock. He is no stranger to the site as he has participated in several blockbuster collaborations. On his RockLee Productions YouTube channel and Facebook page he has reviews and some pretty funny skits as well, so do check those out and show him some love.