Witty and colourful, the animated adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible is a sleek superhero romp sometimes held back by its writing.
I watched Invincible on a whim. I was after something palette-cleansing, steadily losing interest in the simultaneously airing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (which admittedly pulled its star-spangled socks up in its second half). It came at the perfect time for this and the first three episodes, released together, acted as a reminder that yes, the superhero genre can be interesting when translated to television and yes, there were still creators of it who trust their audience. Across its 8 episodes, Invincible ultimately overcomes some baggy writing and character sidelining for a charming debut season. And with 2 more on the way, the team behind the show (including Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as producers — go figure) have plenty of time to streamline these entertaining foundations into something great.
The show is totally colourful, a breath of fresh air from recent live-action franchise joints. The grimdark world-building of Snyder or the muddy concrete visuals of many MCU products are nowhere to be found and Invincible is stronger for it. The series’ moments of extreme gore are therefore more shocking and its carefully drawn action more eye-popping. The visual appeal extends to a brilliant ensemble of characters, filled to the brim with interesting designs and fresh superpowers. Between Machine Head’s autotuned dialogue and Doc Seismic’s hilarious “gender roles” quip, the show consistently spits creativity. Robert Kirkman’s involvement as an executive producer probably explains the faithful adaptation. There are a couple of duds — Rex Splode is very annoying — but Invincible has a formidable roster, brought to life by a frankly ridiculous cast (seriously, Google it). The occasionally cheap visuals can detract from this by underselling some important dialogue, but it becomes much less noticeable as the series progresses.
Though quite happy to do more than just flirt with adult content, Invincible does not over-egg its moments of wanton subversion but rather plays these cards a little closer to its chest. Don’t get it twisted, these elements hardly take a backseat; there are plenty of smaller moments along this line, such as Duplicate cloning herself for sex, but only a handful that will make the audience say “blimey” under their breath. This is a good thing, as the faux-comic excessive-violence shtick has been done to death lately (injected with vigour into the mainstream by the very good The Boys) and so it was refreshing to see an adult superhero show that abstained from exploding a character as a punchline or coating our protagonist with blood and guts simply because it could. Moments of extremity hold weight, and culminate in a truly striking finale whose scenes will likely be seared into the minds of invested viewers for time to come.
Not all of Invincible is novel, however. There’s no escaping that Superman equivalents are an overindulged trope and no amount of misdirection can totally shield the show from feeling just a bit baggy on that front. Mark is an OK example of putting a spin on things as a young, inexperienced half-breed (think Spider-Man’s personality grafted onto a teenage Clark Kent) who spends most of the season getting the shit kicked out of him. But since the Krypton parallel Viltrum is treated with such narrative significance, it’s hard to feel like Invincible transcends the conventions it’s playing with. The episode-to-episode structure can also get sloppy; it shifts, sometimes liberally, between villain-of-the-week and straight narrative and may take some settling into. It doesn’t help that its multitude of plotlines occasionally feel unfulfilled: whether this is the unnecessary Mars cliffhanger or Titan’s subplot, plenty is established but not always rewarded. With the season’s central mystery forming a clean narrative thread through each episode, the lack of concrete resolutions elsewhere could disenchant viewers. Mark, I felt, was sidelined as a result of this. Though an enjoyable protagonist, I came away from the season feeling as though there should have been more to him. I’d have liked a tighter focus.
Invincible is worth your time, though. It is at once very original and a little derivative, but convicted of itself enough that its several issues don’t obstruct an otherwise enjoyable series of animation. I’ll be looking forward to its next batch of episodes while a friend lends me the comics — and thinking about Omni-Man’s wonderful moustache.
Invincible‘s first season is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video. You can watch a trailer below.