Warning: There are some super-spoilers below!
Here’s the scene: You want to read some comic books, but at the same time you don’t want to be bogged down by several decades of continuity or feel out of the loop because you didn’t read a huge event series such as Crisis on Infinite Death Metal Zero Hours. Where do you begin? For years, that answer could be found in Invincible.
Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley’s masterpiece of a comic book series was simple in its concept, brilliant in its execution of its ideas, and absolutely brutal with its action. Here was a comic book series that wasn’t just a love letter to the medium that spawned it, it actually sought to evolve how these stories were told.
Characters didn’t just stick to a simple status quo that would be resolved by the next story arc, they grew over time and the consequences of their actions were felt for dozens of issues. Having wrapped up a few years ago, Invincible’s core 144-issue run is recommended reading on any planet in the multiverse.
Adapting Invincible to television would be a tall order for any studio, but Skybound and its team of producers–which include Kirkman as an executive producer–made the best choice possible in how this adaptation got off the ground. The team stuck to the source material as closely as possible, creating an incredibly faithful adaptation.
Now granted, not every comic book would work as a one for one translation in a new medium. Most productions choose to cherry-pick the best from a comic book series and transform that into a film or a TV series, but Invincible’s animated offering is incredibly close to its original printed page run. Much like a Japanese anime series based on a popular manga, it’s as if the comic books were used as storyboards for the TV series, with nips and tucks coming in certain sections to either help the flow of the story or introduce new elements where necessary.
One such clever tweak is that Omni-Man’s murder of the Guardians of the Globe happens much sooner, resulting in not just a massive cliffhanger in the first episode but a slow-burn plot line where Earth’s mightiest hero works to hide his crime while allies slowly begin to realise something is very wrong in the current superhero status quo.
What starts out as an atypical superhero coming of age story, Invincible’s training wheels quickly come off when it starts to flesh out its world. New characters are introduced, tough lessons are learned along the way, and a more morally grey world is constructed within the structure of a world that would ordinarily fit right at home in Marvel’s Silver Age of comic books.
This is a world that is visualised with animation that saves its biggest punches for when the scene truly calls for an animated extinction event. For the most part, the way in which Invincible is animated is pretty average stuff, but considering that each episode is over 45 minutes long it makes sense that the budget had to be conservative in some places.
Where the show really shines though, is in how accurately it takes the original art of Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, translates it to animation, and runs wild with the duo’s signature artistic flair. If you’re familiar with the comics, you know that Walker can ring an amazing number of emotions out of you with only a handful of inked lines, while Ottley’s action sequences are single-handedly responsible for reducing the world’s supply of red ink down to dangerously low single-digit numbers.
But where the animation is mostly a bright and energetic mix of competence and holy shit moments, Invincible’s cast of actors is a phenomenal flex of talent that elevates the genre. We’ve mentioned before just how stupidly stacked the cast is and I’m not going to repeat an entire telephone directory’s worth of names right here, but its Steven Yeun as Invincible/ Mark Grayson, J.K Simmons as Omni-Man/ Nolan Grayson, and Sandra Oh as Debbie Grayson who are the heart and soul of this series.
Imagine being 17 years old, strong enough to bench-press a bus with ease, and wondering what you’re going to do with your life. Yeun’s performance not only captures the sheer joy of being Invincible, but also the frustration and uncertainty of being Mark Grayson. Caught between two worlds and looking for direction, Yeun’s performance perfectly nails the feeling of alienation, teenage angst, fear, and even more. Seriously, he must have Viltrumite vocal cords considering all the heavy lifting he does in the acting department.
By now, J.K Simmons is a veteran of stage and screen who regularly appears in animation, and there’s nothing less than his usual 200% effort on display here. When I was talking to Kervyn about Invincible, which I planned to binge instead of watch weekly, I asked him if Simmons could deliver on one particular scene, and he told me I had nothing to worry about. He was right of course, because you could give Simmons a job reading a recipe book and it’d be captivating stuff.
Here’s an actor who can turn on the charm whenever the scene calls for it, be icy-cool a second later, and go full Whiplash during the climax of Invincible’s devastating third act. As for Sandra Oh, it can’t be easy portraying the wife and mother of the two most powerful men on the planet, but she handles the job with grace, style, and plenty of attitude as well. She’s the moral center for her family, a fixed point of interest who gets the chance to carry more of the story and makes Invincible a better series overall.
And in case you’re wondering, oh my yes the action scenes do not disappoint. The aforementioned slaughter of the Guardians of the Globe plays out like Sam Raimi directing an MCU version of Evil Dead, Invincible’s initial battles have a fantastic awkwardness to every super-punch thrown, and the final big fight is going to serve as a template for what a battle between two titans should really look like. I would not be surprised is subway ticket sales go down because of that one episode’s particular brutality.
I’m not joking, because the Invincible comics had infamous levels of violence and the animated series keeps that tradition alive. Teeth get punched so hard out of faces that they become shrapnel, bodies are torn limb from limb, one character gets used as a living paintbrush as the floors are painted with guts and gore. There’s some seriously Tarantino-esque violence here, that squeamish people might want to keep a bucket for just in case.
I could go on for days about Invincible, but the important thing here is that the show not only looks like the best adaptation that fans and newcomers could have asked for, but it also feels just right thanks to its heart being in the right place. It’s brave and energetic, optimistic and also realistic in its themes. It wears its influences on its spandex sleeve, flies high, and nails a perfect three-point landing.
Long since hailed as the best damn superhero comic book around, Invincible is more than that right now. It’s also one of the best damn superhero animated series on TV right now.
Last Updated: May 6, 2021