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Invincible (Season 1): super hero or super sorrow?

By Drew Page

Earlier this year, the first few episodes of Invincible, an animated superhero show on Amazon Prime, were released. Critics were impressed, or about as much as they should have been; the animation was nice, the story was serviceable, and the characters and fight scenes were all done quite well. But, with the final episode of the first season being released for some time, allowing plenty of analysis, and reflection. And, with the newer episodes providing a new depth to the earlier episodes, it’s quite clear the series had far more thought than many had expected, just like the comic it was based upon and is actually an interesting, engaging, and high-spectacle show, that still provides plenty of substance under the flashy, stylistic, and hard-hitting action scenes. Spoiler warning here: much of what will be touched on requires analysis.

The plot, at a first glance, is rather bland. Mark Grayson is the son of world-renowned superhero Omni-Man, or Nolan Grayson, who, through the course of the series, teaches Mark to use superpowers he inherited from his father to become his successor, Invincible. However, as the series progresses, this sort of storyline fizzles out to tell a much richer experience. Omni-Man, or Norman Grayson, is actually an alien from a race called the Viltrimites. Their planet was on the brink of overpopulation so, in an effort to save their species, they whittled out the weakest of their population until only their strongest survived. Afterward, they traveled planet to planet, conquering them and assimilating them into an empire. Nolan, to prepare Earth for an invasion, is sent alone, both to scout and to ensure compliance in the assimilation in the empire. However, after creating a child with a human woman, Debbie, Nolan tries to raise his son as a Viltrimite. Mark refuses and battles his father for the fate of Earth’s freedom. This story, while not the most original, certainly provides an interesting depth and duality to almost all of its characters, Omni Man, Invincible, and Atom Eve being the most notable examples.

Speaking of the characters, they are probably the most intriguing part of the series by far. Mark is just a teenage boy trying his best to live up to his father’s expectations, which at first seem pure. He’s charming, intelligent, funny, and has an active social life (when not dealing with being a superhero), but can be reckless, ignorant, or callous. He’s a very well-rounded character, with a supporting cast that, while not perfect (his friend, William Clockwell, stands out as a rather blatant stereotype of a gay man), fit well for their roles in the story, and many have charm that makes viewers want to see more.

The look of this show is a major part of the enjoyment. The animation is fluid, with just the right amount of frames per second to add weight and momentum to every attack, while still paying respect to the comic-y feel. The choreography, while not always the most engaging, always gave a good sense of strength, stakes, and (most importantly, in superhero media) scale. The superpowered characters feel incredibly strong compared to the world around them, emphasizing Omni-Man’s viewpoint of humans being small and insignificant. Meanwhile, within fights and encounters, each character (with the exception of Omni-Man, because…you know) is balanced well with each other, which makes the fights last longer, the stakes higher, the hits hit harder…what have you.

Something that not many superhero properties take notice of is the tone of these heroes, and how they appear to average people. While DC dabbles in this kind of scale, and Marvel (as much as I love it to death) does the polar opposite and makes the highs incomparable with their lows, Invincible feels both grounded and otherworldly but knows when to do both. The entire series is a slow burn to the bigger, world-ending threats, while still showing smaller-scale superhero life, as well as normal life for a high school student, especially in a world with superheroes. We see the effect these godly figures have on society: the damage they cause, the lives they change, the people they anger or inspire. It has fun with the concept, to put it simply. And while the topic is rather simply touched on, and for a rather brief period, Omni-Man’s views on life, civilizations, and society provide a lot of thought-provoking questions and interesting, cosmic-scale viewpoints. While this certainly isn’t the first of its kind (The Boys, for example. Coincidentally, is also an Amazon Prime production), I would hazard to argue that this is one of the objectively best takes. 

Overall, Invincible is an incredibly fun, catching, shocking, dark, surprisingly thought-provoking, and very engaging TV show with a high emphasis on scale, society, public and governmental figures, and the roles people play in different societies.

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