BY MATT TUCK
If you are not watching Invincible, you are missing out on what is shaping up to be the best series on streaming platforms.
GRADE (so far): A
After my review for Godzilla vs. Kong ruffled feathers, I stand accused of not liking anything. This is not true, but I am a tough critic.
I am analytical by nature, and, as a writer of blogs, novels, and everything in between, I approach what I read or view from a critical perspective. I like things that make me think, leave me guessing, or find a way to make me care about the characters. What makes me groan are tired clichés, heavy-handed dialogue, and overused stereotypes. I can overlook a few plot holes if those other cardinal sins are mostly avoided.
After I lost a couple of brain cells thanks to Godzilla vs. Kong, I needed something better. I found it in Invincible.
Based on Robert Kirkman’s comic series, the story focuses on Mark, who is the son of this world’s Superman, Omni-Man, a superpowered alien sent to protect the Earth. There is even this universe’s Justice League duplicate, not that we haven’t seen that before. By the end of the first episode, the blood begins to flow, and the series puts a dark twist on this Superman tale.
Is Invincible something I have never seen before? Not at all, but it seems to proudly grasp at its thematic roots in Alan Moore’s masterpiece, Watchmen, with a touch of Garth Ennis’ The Boys. The art style and animation echo cartoon favorites like Justice League Unlimited, and that is fully the point. At first glance, this show feels like your standard, coming-of-age superhero story. We have the child of a godlike hero to millions. Mark is learning to harness his powers and emerge from his father’s massive shadow. It has the ambiance of Spider-Man being trained by Superman, complete with teenage angst over an identity crisis.
Then the show gets very mature faster than a speeding bullet, and the roller coaster is already launching down the rails. All you can do is hold on and enjoy the ride. Five episodes in, what a ride it has been so far. There is excessive blood and gore, which I interpret as a commentary on the real-life implications of the damage a superpowered being could do in reality. With each episode, the title logo gets more blood splattered across it, indicating the rising death toll and darker themes.
What works so well for Invincible is what Marvel Studios and DC could learn from: balance. My complaint about the current state of the MCU is that it has become too silly. I understand the studio’s hallmark is perfecting the action-comedy formula with a dose of drama, and I do enjoy the MCU. However, they tend to rely too heavily on silliness and sight gags (i.e., the majority of WandaVision and the entire time heist in Endgame). The drama seems to be injected to break up the jokes rather than as levity for the more emotional elements.
Invincible is more or less the opposite. Each episode covers plenty of emotional ground, taking the audience from a lighthearted sitcom with the superhero family dynamic to a teenage melodrama that would give Riverdale a run. The best part of the show is in the near horror element that I won’t spoil for those of you who have yet to watch it. Suffice to say, there is a looming threat hovering in every scene that could have been pulled from a Dean Koontz novel. Looking for comedy? Invincible has you covered with enough humor to make the drama unfolding with each episode that much more impactful.
The real treat is the excellent voice acting from the all-star cast. Among others, there is Steven Yeun and J.K. Simmons as well as Sandra Oh, Mahershala Ali, and Zazie Beetz. There’s even Seth Rogen and Mark Hamill lending their voices to minor roles.
I have never read the Invincible comics, so I am fully invested in the twists and turns of the plot as I have no idea where it is going. That is refreshing for me when it comes to superhero shows. But that’s the thing about Invincible - it is much more than a superhero cartoon, and that is what makes it stand out as the best drama on streaming services.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.