Review: Invincible 2021- Tv Series
Steven Yeun, J.K. Simmons, Sandra Oh
There are two audiences for Amazon’s Invincible, which kicks off on March 26 with its first three episodes.
On one side, you have the curious newcomers who might’ve been drawn to the animated comic book adaptation by any number of factors: Its pedigree as the other big, early series from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman (both comics started in 2003); the absolutely bonkers voice cast; or maybe just the trailer and pre-release hype was enough.
Then there’s the other audience, the people who know. We know where this story starts. We know where it’s going and how it ends. We know the twists, the turns, the ups and downs. We’re tuned in to see the adventures of Mark Grayson brought to life, yes, but we’re also watching with the hope that the show just gets things right. Change this story too much, and it’s not Invincible anymore.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. If you’re new here, you’re surely wondering what Invincible is all about. Kirkman’s comic series, which ended in 2018, told the story of Mark Grayson. Mark is an average high school teen who’s sitting on an enormous secret: His dad is Omni-Man, Earth’s premiere superhero and an alien from the planet Viltrum.
That makes Mark half-alien as well, and the story begins as his powers are just starting to manifest. Omni-Man is basically Superman with more impressive facial hair: He can fly, he’s super-strong and fast, and he’s generally indestructible. That’s what Mark is in for, too.
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Amazon’s first three Invincible episodes, which each run for about an hour, tread along a similar path, inviting us into the Grayson household and letting us see Mark’s life both before and after his powers show up. It’s important to see the before picture of this journey because so much of the central tension, at least early on, grows out of Mark grappling with some seismic changes in his life.
But it’s a bigger world out there, and the show’s early episodes don’t lose sight of that. Omni-Man is hardly Earth’s only hero. He doesn’t do super-teams, but he frequently partners with the Guardians of the Globe, an “Earth’s mightiest” sort of lineup that very clearly (and intentionally) riffs on the Justice League.
Fans of the DC and Marvel rosters will pick up on plenty of familiar riffs like this as more heroes are introduced. Kirkman himself has said on numerous occasions that he wrote Invincible as a sort of trope-obliterating take on pop superhero comics. That layer is less apparent in the show’s opening stretch of hours, but there are certainly hints.
You’ll see it in the hero lineup, of course. But Invincible also grounds itself in a world where people (including superhumans) bleed, things break, and endings aren’t always happy. There’s plenty of days being saved thanks to impossible feats and incredible luck, but there’s also collateral damage, wrenching civilian casualties, and gallons of blood.
The show definitely goes there. When alien invaders suddenly show up in the middle of a bustling city, there isn’t any shyness about building up a body count. In fact, it’s a plot point, as we see Mark beginning to grapple with the reality of what he’s been born into. He grew up reading comics and understanding superheroes through that lens, but then he suddenly finds himself taking cover inside an impact crater and cradling a horrifically wounded old woman as aliens rain hell down on the city.
Mark quickly learns that for all the flash and fun of having superpowers, the real-world consequences can be painful and even deeply traumatic.
The hour-long episode format works very well for a story this dense with detail and character development. That kind of running time gives each episode the space to really dig in and expand on things in ways that even the comic struggled to do at times. It remains to be seen how much Invincible the show deviates from Invincible the comic; but so far, at least, this new Amazon take seems more intent on fleshing things out.
It’s maybe not the prettiest animated series you’ll ever see, but the art style lines up perfectly with work that Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley did on the comics. You’ll also be too distracted most of the time to care about any visual shortfalls, what with the killer soundtrack that leans heavily on punk and electronic music and an absolutely monstrous voice cast.
You’ve got Steven Yeun and J.K. Simmons voicing Mark and Omni-Man, respectively. Sandra Oh is Mark’s human mom, Debbie. Then you’ve also got Gillian Jacobs, Zazie Beetz, Walton Goggins, Mark Hamill, Zachary Quinto, Seth Rogen, and Jason Mantzoukas — among many others — popping up in just the first three episodes alone.
The real reason to watch, though, is the narrative roller coaster that is Invincible. This is the part where I turn once again to the longtime fans who are wondering how an Amazon-produced “TV” adaptation delivers: I came out of the first three episodes a very happy fan. The show is already hitting on the right themes for Kirkman’s earliest run of the comics, and the seeds it’s laying for future surprises are clear.
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For everyone else, I hope you have fun. It’s hard for me to completely factor out my appreciation for the source material and just look at these first three episodes in a vacuum. I know what’s coming, and I see how this show is setting those things up, so part of my positive reaction is rooted in anticipation for stuff that hasn’t happened yet.
Invincible’s story, in the big picture, is going to appeal to people who like their stories to have layers and surprises, building unexpected twists and turns on top of a fundamentally grounded and relatable foundation. Based on the choices made in these opening hours, including a major surprise at the end of the first episode that brings a pivotal moment from the comics to life, I’m optimistic about the road ahead.
If you’re in the audience that knows what’s coming, rest easy. We’re off to a great start. And if you’re in the newcomers crowd… just get ready. You’ve got quite a ride ahead. I can’t wait to geek out with you about it.