Invincible (2021): Alien Yet Remarkably Human

Has nearly twenty years and an adaptation to the small screen altered Robert Kirkman's Invincible for the better?

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Mark Grayson is Invincible
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Has nearly twenty years and an adaptation to the small screen altered Robert Kirkman’s Invincible for the better?

Invincible was first published by Image Comics in 2002 when I was seven years old – the same age Mark Grayson was when he was told he was going to get superpowers. I didn’t start reading Invincible until I was about the same age Mark is at the beginning of the story. Good ol’ Mark and I even had the same first job working in fast food.

Now nearly two decades after its initial release, the comic I related to back then has gotten an adaptation on Amazon Prime, and it hits just a little bit different. Scenes are in a different order, new scenes have been added, and familiar scenes are tweaked slightly to give them a different vibe. The first three episodes dropped on March 26th, and, honestly, with what the MCU has been doing on Disney + and now this, I can say we are in some kind of Golden Age of superhero media on streaming services.

It’s About Time

Invincible (2021)

The first episode introduces us to The Grayson Family, including our main hero Mark Grayson, played by Steven Yeun of “Walking Dead” fame. He is the son of the world’s greatest superhero and Superman analogue, Omni-Man, played by the legendary J.K. “Get Me Pictures of Spider-Man” Simmons. When Mark first begins to manifest his super strength while at his job at Burger Mart, he begins training to control his powers with his father so that he too can be a great hero. Fans of the comic will quickly notice some subtle changes, one example being that the Guardians of The Globe, this world’s equivalent to The Justice League, are introduced in the opening scene. In contrast, the comic didn’t show them until issue seven.

My favorite example of a departure from the comic would be the additional scenes with Mark’s mother, Debbie Grayson, played by Sandra Oh, most known for her role as Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy. Debbie is, without question, one of my favorite characters in the comic, and she maintains that position in the show as well. Being the wife of the world’s strongest superhero has hardened her to all of the aliens and giant monsters this world has to throw her way. She’s seen her husband fight all sorts of horrors for years, so her response to alien invasion is a mild inconvenience at best. With Mark coming into his own as a hero being trained by the best of the best, it’s up to mom to keep Mark in check, keep him down to Earth, and just be a good mother who is always there for her son. In the comic, Mrs. Grayson has her strong moments of character, but they aren’t given much focus, as the narrative centers on our titular hero. 

With the pilot episode being written by Robert Kirkman, the comic’s original writer, the feeling is spot on. It genuinely feels like a refreshing update to the first few issues and not just a television episode using the comic as a script. Whether this was because Kirkman felt these changes would make a smoother adaptation, or he felt the need to go back and edit something he wrote nearly twenty years ago for a modern audience, I’m not sure. What I am certain of is that this is definitely the show putting its best foot forward right out of the gate and delivering one of the best pilots I’ve seen in a long time.

Originally Mark doesn’t need any help learning to fly and fight villains, but now with the training scenes, we get a lot more from not just Mark but also his father. The anxiety and bravado of a teenage boy land perfectly with Steven Yeun’s performance, and J.K. Simmons does an incredible job of portraying a concerned father that is hiding something dark just beneath the surfacer. Kirkman has been writing these characters for over a decade, and with the show being a chance at starting over from the beginning, we see a lot of new sides to them. I was more than pleasantly surprised to see the new scenes that weren’t in the comics. The episode ending with Mark donning his costume and flying around the city before cutting to credits – and then a surprisingly brutal and bloody mid-credit scene – is extremely reminiscent of that Image Comic feel. Invincible was fresh and exciting when it first debuted as a comic, and I’m ecstatic to see the show doing the same thing.

Here Goes Nothing

Invincible (2021)

Episode 2 begins with Omni-Man being rushed to a government-run hospital designed for superheroes after he was the only survivor of the brutal murders of the Guardians of the Globe. He survived because he was the one doing the murdering; also, he’s Omni-Man. Why Omni-Man committed this heinous act is yet to be explained, and it seems he’s going to be tight-lipped about it as well because he’s in a coma. It’s in Episode 2 where we really get hit full-force with the world-building, but not in a boring exposition kind of way.

A literal demon from literal Hell in a trench coat is a recurring character in this universe, and it’s played off like that’s just a normal thing everyone deals with. Plot points are introduced with characters that are already familiar with each other, and the dialogue is subtle enough so it doesn’t feel like the audience is getting their hand held.

My favorite character Debbie has a great moment in the superhero hospital. In the pilot, she brushes off Omni-Man being in danger because he is Omni-Man. She doesn’t worry about him fighting building-sized monsters because she’s seen what he’s capable of, but when she sees him bloodied and injured she refuses to leave his side. I reiterate: the writing in this show is superb. Every line of dialogue keeps up Kirkman’s original mission of making that relatable and real-feeling superhero story. 

There’s another discrepancy between the show and comic in this episode and the fact that it involves an actual full-scale alien army attacking a major city makes it weird that this change is welcome. On the page it’s Invincible and Omni-Man who fight the aliens, the fight ending with Omni-Man being pulled into the aliens’ dimension on the attack. On the screen, however, it’s a different story. The aliens called the Flaxans, attack multiple times and make tactical retreats when things aren’t going well. On their first attack, Invincible is aided by a rookie hero group called The Teen Team, characters that were introduced on much more casual means in the comics, but here they are in this television series, just dropped into the action from the word “go.”

The Flaxans run away and Mark is surrounded and scarred by the gory mess the alien attacks leave behind. We get a very humanizing scene where he takes an old woman to the same hyper-advanced hospital his father is staying in. Mark learns her name and checks on her when he sees his dad, scenes meant to just show Mark’s empathy and why he was born to be a superhero.

The Flaxans attack with better equipment for their invasion two more times before we get the scene from the comic, father and son kicking ass together, but then something new happens. After Omni-Man goes through the closing portal that leads to the alien home world, in the comic he is gone for some time and the audience never sees what happens to him. He comes home suit ripped to shreds, caked in blood, and sporting a full beard with only Omni-Man’s word for what happened. The fatherly hero tells the story of how the aliens enslaved him and he brought together a rebellion to take down the alien empire in their own home as a glorious freedom fighter. The show doesn’t play around: Episode 2 ends with Omni-Man committing a one-Viltrumite-lead genocide on this planet, flying through buildings, reducing their entire planet to rubble and blood, no diplomacy, just slaughter. Then he just comes home wondering what’s for dinner like he just came home from the office.

The scenes of fun superhero action juxtaposed by grotesque violence are nothing new but they still have that sense of weight and oomph behind each meaty thwack. Invincible keeps pace going into its second episode and tells a familiar story so well it gives the viewer the feeling of something brand new. The Teen Team members are more fleshed out in the show, the stand-out member in the comic predominantly being Atom Eve, a red-headed popular girl from Mark’s school who just happens to have Green Lantern-like powers and fights crime between college applications. We get more time to see the team’s interactions with Mark and each other thanks to the fact that they are introduced just a little earlier. Eve gives Mark that person he can relate to as a fellow teenage hero, as well as someone who isn’t his father and the world’s greatest hero to talk to when it comes to hero work.

Who You Calling Ugly?

Invincible (2021)

Episode 3 continues the mystery of Omni-Man killing the Guardians of the Globe, which was introduced in the first episode’s after-credit scene. The news is beginning to cover it and the people now know the most famous and powerful super-team are all dead. Omni-Man is still seen as innocent by everyone except the demon detective Damien Darkblood. The mustachioed murderer gives his victims a eulogy while the Global Defense Agency begins plans to form a new Guardians team. Robot, a robot member of the Teen Team, is given the assignment to perform trials and pick the world’s new saviors.

Meanwhile, Mark is trying to cope with all the changes his life has been going through. He is processing all the traumatic things he’s seen in only a few weeks, as well as his father/mentor becoming oddly distant and aggressive. All of this is on his mind and he still has to deal with the normal troubles of being a nerdy teenager in a comic book– you know- being in a love triangle. I hadn’t mentioned it earlier, but in Episode 1, before Mark even had his powers, he stepped in to help a woman who was being harassed. The harasser smashes up Mark’s face, but while he’s distracted, his victim smashes his nuts. We learn the woman’s name is Amber and she quickly develops an interest in the man who got his face busted for her. Mark has a crush on Atom Eve, but she’s already in a relationship with another member of Teen Team named Rex Splode.

Rex may be what we call in the business a Total Raging Asshole, but Mark doesn’t intrude. He schedules a study date with Amber which gets the Spider-Man treatment of getting interrupted by hero work. I won’t give every detail of the show’s romantic elements, but the way these characters act feels nuanced and real in a way that feels so refreshing after countless stupid misunderstandings-based breakup plots in media. Give Mark some credit; when it comes to balancing his superhero life and normal life, he has made more good decisions in three episodes than Peter Parker has in entire television seasons.

The third episode focuses more on the characters than anything else, which I welcome any time. With the writing staying as good as it has been, I’m hanging on every line of dialogue no matter how much of a douche Rex is. The new Guardians of the Globe are formed, and several of the new Guardians are former members of Teen Team. Darkblood visits the Grayson home and speaks with Debbie about the former Guardians’ deaths, revealing to her that her husband has left out some crucial details. Each episode sews more doubt about Omni-Man into the audience and the characters at the ending of each episode, leaving me on my seat for the next episode more and more each time.

Invincible knocks its first three of eight episodes into orbit, and I, for one, cannot wait for more. As mentioned above, these first three episodes were released all at once on March 26th, and we will be getting single new episodes every Friday for the next five weeks. The Invincible comic series has been concluded for a few years now. Some of the events covered in just these first three episodes are from both the first and second volumes. The twists and turns that I never expected got me thrilled for more. Invincible, just like its main character, is a little alien yet somehow remarkably human.

The writing walks that tightrope of violence, dick jokes, and genuine wholesome superhero fun like the work of a master. Even the sillier moments are given the room to breathe, providing a wonderful, consistent feeling. I’m going to be writing more pieces like this for each episode released until the season has concluded.

New episodes of Invincible debut on Fridays via Amazon Prime.

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