A New Take On An Overdone Story
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Most people aren’t looking for more superhero content. After finishing their 22-movie run, Marvel is starting its third superhero show in just over five months. In March, DC released its overstuffed coda to their dark, moody universe, and is now preparing to pump out new reboots of the same overdone properties in the coming years. Even the backlash to the Superhero genre appeared to be played out, with the dark and gritty Amazon’s “The Boys” (2019-), HBO’s “Watchmen” (2019), and the animated comedies “Harley Quinn” (2019-), “One Punch Man” (2015-), and “My Hero Academia” (2016-), all being released within the last two years. So there was good reason to be skeptical of Amazon’s new gritty, animated superhero comedy that had all the familiar DC and Marvel tropes.
“Invincible” quickly eased all those doubts. While the show doesn’t redefine the genre, it expertly tells a superhero story with likable characters, surprising twists, and sharp writing that’s a constant joy to watch.
“Invincible” follows high schooler Mark Grayson (Steven Yuen) whose dad just happens to be Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), the most powerful superhero on earth. Mark gets powers himself and has to balance superlife and high school, relationships and secret identities, great power and great responsibility—blah, blah, blah, you know the drill by now. The story is intentionally cliché, winking at the tropes, while occasionally subverting them to great effect.
While the show’s violence and dark comedy will draw comparisons to “The Boys,” its story and themes align much more with the mainstream superhero genre. It’s a parody that admires rather than mocks pop culture’s idealistic concept of superheroes. The lack of moral ambiguity or critiques of capitalism frees “Invincible” to deliver one of the most entertaining superhero TV shows in recent memory.
The credit for the world-building and characters should all go to Robert Kirkman, writer on the series and author of the “Invincible” comics, as well as “The Walking Dead.” The tidbits of information that Kirkman provides the audience implies a larger universe that rivals Marvel and DC. And unlike those properties, “Invincible” is the product of just one mind. It is the closest we’ll get to true auteur superhero filmmaking, where one man has near-total control to create and adapt his vision.
“Invincible” fills this world with dozens of characters made memorable due to unique character designs, a talented voice cast featuring too many stars to list, and most importantly, writing that establishes personalities, motivations, and personal relationships for each one. Even the minor characters possess their own lives with their own backstories and given the number of “Invincible” comic books they probably do. The most work is put into the protagonist Mark. He’s relatable and effortlessly likable, with the same wants and needs as any high schooler, except he’s got superpowers. If this sounds a bit like other superhero stories, that’s because “Invincible” uses a formula that works. A formula executed perfectly doesn't feel formulaic.
That’s not to say it adds nothing new. The most obvious difference between “Invincible” and most superhero stories is the rating. The show features cursing, sex, and graphic violence, but never uses them gratuitously. The maturity arises from the actions of the characters to create realism in an unrealistic world. Mark isn’t a Marvel protagonist who can be beaten and thrown around endlessly with no discernable damage. When he’s losing a fight, we hear the bones breaking and see the blood pouring out of his wounds. We can feel the stakes because we see the damage. While Mark calls himself Invincible, he always feels vulnerable.
The few issues the show had really didn’t matter in the long run. The subplots focusing on a group of side heroes felt slightly inconsequential, but the show moves so fast and each character is too likable for it to ever get boring. The show’s heavy use of licensed pop songs can feel trite and the seams of the animation occasionally show, but it can only work with the budget it has. A full score and beautiful animation is a lot to ask for a first season with this loaded of a voice cast. Not every episode is amazing, but that’s to be expected. Each one’s blazing pace rockets the viewer through to the riveting final two episodes, which have fight cinematic in scale and length that maintains constant thrills and emotion.
“Invincible” delivers a masterfully done execution of the hero story whose maturity and self-awareness should win over anyone fatigued by the cliches it employs. In one season, Robert Kirkman gets the audience to care for his characters and universe and leaves them hungry for more. If nothing else, “Invincible” proves that the best superhero content isn’t coming from Marvel or DC anymore.