Considering that the live action adaptation of comic book author Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead has been such a global success it is unsurprising that anything else in Kirkman’s catalogue was likely to get significant attention. Thus Invincible, which pre-dates The Walking Dead, has had money and stars thrown at it by Amazon to bring the blood-soaked superhero series to life with an 8 part animated series.
Much like The Boys (another Amazon show that explores a dark take on the reality of the existence of superheroes), Invincible sets up a world where super powered people exist on both sides of the law. Even in the realms of good guys and bad guys there is plenty of grey, something which wide-eyed 17-year-old Mark Grayson (Steven Yuen) slowly discovers once he begins to develop powers of his own.
At least Mark has a teacher with experience as his father, Nolan, is the mighty Omni-Man: the most powerful superhero on Earth, and an alien from the planet Viltrum. Mark, as a half-Viltrumite, has to learn the basics such as flight, super strength, and what to do when you arrive to save the day only to instead get soaked in the spurting blood of those caught in the crossfire. Both Nolan (J.K. Simmons from The Accountant) and Mark’s human mother, Debbie (Sandra Oh) impart their life experience as Mark learns to come to terms with what kind of hero he wants to be.
The show deliberately wrong-foots you in the first episode. To begin with, we are in typical coming of age/superhero origins territory. Before coming into his powers Mark stands up for a girl (Amber, played by Zazie Beetz) and gets beat down by a bully, etc… We see the Guardians of the Globe in action as a well-oiled machine (the powers possessed by its members are rather obviously based on that of the Justice League) and so far, so DC comics. Yet come the end of the first episode, when many horrifically violent and gory deaths have splattered across the screen, any preconceptions you had will be stomped into the ground.
Yuen as Mark is pitched the right side of teenage naivety. He’s learning in love, life, and harsh reality. Through his general good nature (which is sometimes abused) the plot is allowed to go wander into vignettes, like a jaunt accompanying some astronauts to Mars, which hark back to the show’s comic book origins. Keeping the overall narrative together is a murder mystery plot in which we the audience get to see the how, but slowly learn the why, whilst the bedrock of some characters’ lives slowly unravel.
As with any superhero show there is a lot of fun in the sheer variety of characters and powers on display. Most are used as examples of what different personalities with power would try to do. There is a government body involved, sure (the Global Defence Agency), and leagues of goodies and baddies, but someone who can harness kinetic energy and make everything he touches explosive is going to have a different personality to someone who de-ages every time they transform into their fighting self.
Whilst not quite as dark as the amusingly nasty The Boys, Invincible uses an adult lens to bind together a mystery, superhero fun, an exploration of the responsibility of power, and the harsh and bloody consequences of choices. If you can stomach the bone-cracking result of overwhelming strength, then Invincible is here to protect you…whether you want protecting or not.
Words by Mike Record