Amazon’s latest superhero series launched under the radar. Is it worth tracking?
I hadn’t heard anything about Amazon’s new series, Invincible, until it was sitting in my recommended list. Based on the Image Comics series of the same name, it features the voice of Steven Yeun as the teen son of the world’s strongest superhero who is just coming into his own powers. While the set-up seems fairly unremarkable in the capes-and-tights saturated market of today, it was groundbreaking in 2003 when it came out – mostly for the contrast between it’s bright style and bloody story.
We’ve had no end of dark and bloody superhero stories as of late. Amazon is even competing against themselves here, against their anti-hero series The Boys. We’ll check out the first three episodes and see if Invincible can rise above the fray.
Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), 17, is just like every other guy his age — except that his father is the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man (J K Simmons); as Mark develops powers of his own, he discovers his father’s legacy may not be as heroic as it seems.
Episode 1: It’s About Time.
After an attack at the White House, the Guardians of the Globe and Omni Man defeat the Mauler Twins and save the President. Mark Grayson the son of Omni-Man who is waiting for his powers to come out goes to school and defends a girl named Amber from a bully but loses badly; later that night he acquires his superpowers.
Omni-man begins to train Mark on how to use his powers. Later Omni-Man meets with the Guardians of the Globe in a fateful encounter.
My first impression of Invincible is that it goes too slow, and then too fast. The episode starts with two guards at the White House discussing their lives and defending the president in a world of super-powered freaks. It’s long and drawn out and while it does have some pathos, it really should have been cut down and tightened up. We then get a battle which spends a lot of time showing off the Guardian’s powers but the actual fight against the villains feels like an afterthought.
From there we spend the majority of the episode on Mark: his home life with his mother (Sandra Oh) and father, Omni-Man (Simmons), his troubled school life, and his eventual powers and training under his dad. It’s not groundbreaking, but the voice talent is top notch and it’s well done, if a bit parochial.
Then Omni-Man does something horrific and the whole series is turned on its ass.
Episode 2: Here Goes Nothing.
The clandestine Global Defense Agency puts Omni-Man in the hospital, but he is in a coma. An inter-dimensional race called the Flaxans attack the city. Mark, dressed as Invincible, teams up with the Teen Team -consisting of Atom Eve, Rex Splode, Robot, and Dupli-Kate- but they lose badly until the Flaxans suddenly retreat.
Mark recognizes Atom Eve as Samantha Eve Wilkins (Gillian Jacobs), one of his classmates, and she takes him to Teen Team’s base. The Flaxans arrive again, but Invincible and the team stop them and the Flaxans retreat.
Demon detective Damien Darkblood (Clancy Brown) begins investigating the death of the Guardians of the Globe. The Flaxans attempt to attack Earth a third time, until Omni-Man recovers from his coma and forces them back to their home world, where he kills all of them and returns to Earth.
Episode 2 is more evenly structured. We get to see a lot more of the moving pieces of this world, where superheros are normal and the government has to deal with them. We also get a look into the hero pecking order as we see Mark navigate an alliance with the Teen Team. The antagonists of the episode are better sketched out, and pose a real threat. Omni-Man’s ruthless streak again manifests, making a bit of a pattern – when no-one is looking, he gets his kicks cutting loose. I’m glad to see Clancy Brown, who does a nice job with his character who is part Hellboy and part John Constantine.
So far, Invincible has stayed just ahead of falling down the cliche chasm. The series is so obviously riffing on DC…which has become a bit of a tired canard. I must have missed the memo where we all decided that humiliating the Justice League was in fashion, and everyone’s favorite Superman is dickhead Superman. What keeps these JLA and Teen Titan clones fresh is the voice talent and commitment to character development.
Episode 3: Who You Calling Ugly?
After the funeral for the Guardians of the Globe, Atom Eve discovers that her boyfriend, Rex Splode, is cheating on her with Dupli-Kate and leaves.
Cecil Stedman assigns the new Guardians of the Globe, consisting of Atom Eve, Rex Splode, Dupli-Kate, Monster Girl, Black Samson, Shrinking Ray, and led by Robot. Atom Eve, still resentful of Rex Splode, quits. She begins to form a bond with Invincible as they take on a mad scientist, but Mark has begun a relationship with Amber.
Elsewhere, the Mauler Twins escape from prison with the help of an unlikely hero.
Episode 3 is by far the weakest of the trio, mostly because there is a larger proportion of vegetables to steak on the plate. While Doc Seismic is funny, he’s no hostile alien invasion. I was really looking forward to Allen the Alien’s character showing up (this world’s version of a bumbling Green Lantern) I didn’t really enjoy the over-silly performance by Seth Rogen, or how he was written. The teen romance triangles are tiresome, but par for the course of a teen superhero show.
The show has really set up its pattern: we get a fairly standard teen drama for 4/5ths of the show, then suddenly the show finishes with a bloody epilogue where somebody good does something sinister.
Binge or Purge?: Invincible.
It’s not great that the show is already in a stylistic rut three episodes in. I wanted to keep going for a fourth episode just to check to see if it would keep this pattern up, but Amazon only released the trio, with new episodes out on Fridays.
While I enjoy some of the characters and their interactions (especially their voice actors) and I appreciate finally having an Asian-American superhero as a lead, Invincible is just not quite hooking me. There’s too much where the constant riffing on the DC universe feels lazy. Back in 2003 it may have been engaging, but it’s been done to death in 2021.
We haven’t had the optimistic UN for superheroes Justice League in decades, so there’s little contrast to this dystopian world and Zack Snyder’s dark visions. Even Marvel has given us superheroes we can’t always trust to do the right thing. If you wanted to shake things up in 2021, give me some actual idealists as superheroes.