Taking the superhero genre to new heights.
There's been a recurring theme in contemporary superhero shows that being a superhero isn't all it's hyped up to be. Amazon's The Boys speaks on the corrupting influence of capitalism on superheroism; Watchmen explored the minefield of vigilante justice; and even the MCU's recent foray into the world of television yields some interesting commentary on the implications of being a superhero. While the subversion of classic superhero stereotypes is often quite compelling, I can't help but feel we are reaching a point where the genre is starting to dry up. So when Invincible made its way onto the scene a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I was more than pleasantly surprised by the level of depth and detail present within this animated series, and how quickly it had me invested in its world and characters.
Invincible is an animated series based on Robert Kirkman's graphic novels of the same name. It takes place in a world where superheroes are everywhere and battles with dangerous supervillains are practically the norm. While it introduces us to a number of these superpowered individuals, the main focus of the show is Mark Grayson, Invincible himself. Mark is the son of Omni-Man, who's basically Invincible's equivalent of Superman, meaning that when Mark finally gets his powers he immediately feels as though he has some big shoes to fill. As Invincible, Mark finds himself battling all sorts of villains and working alongside new allies in his pursuit of becoming Earth's next best hero. However, in the background, a disturbing murder leaves many of Earth's protectors wondering who among them could commit such a crime; and whether or not they can be stopped.
To put it simply, Invincible is one of the most fun and exciting shows I've watched in a long time. Unlike The Boys, Invincible's superhero universe isn't dark and sinister. Instead, there's a strange familiarity to its style and tone that make it a joy to watch every episode. It opens with a fairly cheesy comic book scenario, where the famous Guardians of the Globe (Invincible's Justice League shoe-ins) swoop in to take on two supervillains who are attacking the White House. It sounds awfully cliche, but it works. Fight scenes are gripping, and the animation is sublime, making for some pretty awesome moments throughout the entire season. Our first introduction to the heroes of Invincible feels triumphantly heroic, as in classic superhero fashion they beat up the bad guys and rescue civilians with some good old teamwork. The structure of the series also aids in making the show that much more approachable, as every episode is like its own little adventure with a self-contained plot and new characters to meet; subtly feeding in key characters and story threads that set up the larger universe of the show without ever making you feel too overwhelmed by all the moving pieces. The simplicity of Invincible helps ensures its near-flawless execution, creating a show that succeeds at feeling welcoming without sacrificing its world-building and underlying complexities. It perfectly captures the fun of the superhero fantasy, and you'll no doubt be enchanted by all of its comic book goodness.
Aside from this, the show explicitly leans into the comic book aesthetic, with over-the-top characters and wacky costumes that range from campy to cool. Yet while a lot of the world may seem larger-than-life, its characters still feel down-to-earth and human, highlighting just how much detail is present under all the flash and flair. But at the same time, it's the flash and flair that contribute heavily to the show's success. Its energetic style of animation is exceedingly well done and remarkably stays true to the style of the original graphic novels. Scenes are animated smoothly and the art style is on point, making the show truly feel like the graphic novels come to life. Even its fight scenes are given a lot of attention, as you can feel the impact of every kick, punch and superpowered strike. Almost every aspect of Invincible has been crafted with care, making it excel at being a kickass superhero series by respecting its source material and masterfully adapting the comic book aesthetic for television.
However, the show isn't all triumph and cheer. In large part the first episode makes the show appear like a fun coming of age superhero story, but by the end, you might find yourself feeling a little nauseous. The end of the opening episode shows us the gruesome murder I mentioned earlier, where we see someone's head literally crushed into a bloody paste, someone else sliced in half, and by the end, a room painted red with guts and gore. If the show didn't have your attention before, I assure you it will now. Without spoiling too much, the show brilliantly involves the audience by literally making us the sole witness of the crime and the criminal, yet deliberately leaves us with more questions than answers. Despite giving the audience the what, it doesn't give us the why, and for the entire series, you'll be eagerly trying to figure it all out. The fact that we know what's happened makes watching the characters investigate the murder that much more interesting, as you're left sitting there like an invisible witness, unable to point to the bad guy appearing stage right. There's even a couple of tantalising subplots that add more intrigue to your growing list of questions, to the point where you absolutely have to see where it all leads. Combine all of this with the way the series sets up its vast universe, and you have one of the most well-written shows out there, with an enthralling narrative that will reel you with thrilling twists and turns throughout.
Yet where the show truly shines is in the strength of its characters. There are various different characters in the series, all with their own motivations and personalities that are brought to life by the outstanding performances of its cast. It's no surprise that the voice acting in the series is so great, after all, it features some pretty big names. Notably, the show stars JK Simmons as Omni-Man and Steven Yeun as Mark, both of whom display an overwhelming amount of dedication to their roles. Even the shows supporting cast members, such as Gillian Jacobs, Walton Goggins, and Zachary Quinto to name a few, give a wonderful performance as their respective characters. The show even recruits academy award winner Mahershala Ali for an episode. Together, the cast brings their characters to life in ways that make them feel as real as you or me, with dedicated voice acting performances that bring an incredible amount of value to an already valuable series.
But above all else, the highlight of Invincible is its title character, Invincible himself. Steven Yeun embodies his role as Mark to perfection, bringing to life a character that the audience can empathise with and relate to with ease. Mark is incredibly likeable, with a boyish charm and candid innocence that make for some of the series' most lighthearted and relatable moments. It's hard not to sympathise with Mark as he navigates the complex life of being a superhero and a high school student, constantly worrying about living up to his father's expectations and maintaining his high school relationships. It's clear he is nowhere near ready for a life of saving the world, as his intemperance, naivety, and self-doubt stop him from reaching his full potential and put him in more danger than he really should be in. Yet in spite of how much Mark struggles, his optimism and compassion remain intact, sustained by his determination to do the right thing and live up to his father's legacy. If that doesn't already make him a character deserving of your admiration, I don't know what else will. Mark, like everyone else, is imperfectly human, and it's his subtle flaws and resolute spirit that allow the audience to share in his every moment of joy, excitement, sorrow, and sadness.
It's never really made clear why Mark chose the name Invincible, but through his actions, you begin to understand why. On a basic level, Mark's ability to practically withstand anything makes him live up to the name, as he is frequently beaten within an inch of his life, and yet still makes a full recovery. Yet it's never his incredible resilience to a beating, but rather the purity of his heart and strength of his character that makes him truly Invincible. When faced with the reality that being a superhero isn't what he expected, the wall of Mark's blind optimism is torn down as he is forced to come to terms with the fact that the job of a superhero is bloody, brutal and emotionally devastating; and the realisation that he can't save everyone is by far the part he struggles with most. Yet after all he suffers, he keeps getting up and puts on his suit to go and take another beating if it means saving lives and protecting others. Mark's unwavering commitment to do the right thing is immensely powerful, as even in the face of a devastating tragedy, he never loses sight of why he wanted to become a hero; delivering one of the most heartbreaking lines in modern television. Mark Grayson is a character that embodies the best parts of humanity and is without a doubt one of the most good-natured protagonists out there. He is such a big part of what makes Invincible so great as a well-developed protagonist that is more than worthy of your investment and praise.
At the end of its eight episodes, I was amazed at how much of an impact Invincible left on me; even now I'm still in awe at its dramatic finale. In an ever-expanding sea of superhero movies and series, Invincible stands tall as something that feels truly special. Its stimulating narrative and strong focus on character building, combined with its commitment to its source material, make this one of the most extraordinary superhero shows available, and one that has a bright future ahead of it.