Sunday, June 10, 2007


Let me tell you about a comic book that I totally love. It's Robert Kirkman's Invincible, published by Image Comics, and it kicks so much ass it should get arrested for assault.

Invincible is the continuing story of Mark Grayson, an average kid with decidedly above-average abilities. His dad happens to be Omni-Man, a Superman analog, and his mom happens to be a normal human being. Mark's normal, too, until one day when he's taking the trash out at his crappy after-school job:

The trash bag lands in London -- several issues later.

From that point on, Mark's life changes for the better (and the worse). He starts to develop super powers like his dad, who is a sort of secret ambassador to Earth from the planet Viltrum, where EVERYONE has super powers. Omni-Man begins training Mark in the superhero business, and young Mark becomes Invincible in name and in reality.

*SPOILER!* It turns out Dad has not been completely honest with his family. Sure, he's a super-powerful alien, but the Viltrumite Empire he works for are a pack of fascist supermen who take the concept of manifest destiny to a cosmic level. Omni-Man is really here to "prepare" Earth for assimilation into the Empire, and he wants Mark to join him.

Mark is a stand-up guy and wants no part of any world conquering so he says hell no, of course. Omni-Man beats the living bejeesus out of Invincible, pounding him from one end of the planet to the other, with massive colateral damage. Just as he's about to kill his son - he can always make more - Omni-Man has a change of heart and rockets off into space, abandoning his post.

Mark tells everyone his dad died in a car crash. His mom is devastated and starts drinking. Betrayed and abandoned by his father, Mark rejects his sinister birthright and has to learn how to become a hero on his own.

Of course, the shit ain't easy. He's got a secret identity, a crush on a cute superheroine, the occasional moral quandry, bad guys coming out of the woodwork, and he's still gotta finish high school. Welcome to the world of Invincible.

Basically, Invincible is like a candy bar with nutty Superman on the outside and chewy Spider-Man on the inside.

Creator Robert Kirkman's greatest achievement with Invincible is creating strong characters that you really care about in a superhero setting that is at once familiar and new. Mark Grayson is a likeable young protagonist, sort of like Green Lantern's Kyle Rayner done right. He's noble and cocky and overconfident, but insecure and wounded at the same time.

The supporting cast is equally good. Mark's mother Debbie is the MILFy Aunt May of the series, who has to endure a lot of traumatic shit just because she married an alien, yet manages to take it in stride.

Mark hangs out with the Teen Team, a group of young heroes led by the enigmatic and well-named Robot. Foxy Atom Eve, the matter-shaping teen heroine, happens to attend the same high school as Mark, and they develop a long-standing unfulfilled love thing - sort of like Ross and Rachel from the first couple of seasons of Friends. You know what I'm talking about, dude, don't be ashamed. She's brave and resourceful and compassionate - at one point she quits the hero business and does some Peace Corps stuff in Africa with her matter creating powers, which if you think about it, more heroes should do. I mean, would you rather have Firestorm fight Black Bison or patch up the holes in the ozone? What's the best R.O.I.? Anyway, Atom Eve rules. She would be played by Laura Prepon in the Invincible movie.

Other noteworthy characters include Robot, the acerbic genius with super-robot armor and a dark secret; Monster Girl, a woman who is cursed to grow younger every time she transforms into a powerful troll beast; Rex Splode, who just has an awesome name; and The Immortal, the ageless hero who was once Abe Lincoln, no kidding.

Invincible is absolutely lousy with characters as a matter of fact. Kirkman's not afraid to spend page space on Robot or on Mark's girlfriend Amber Bennett, and after 42 issues, it makes for a pretty rich little superhero universe that liberally samples from and sends up just about every comic book ever.

There's something for everyone, though. Invincible is chock-full of pathos and relationship drama that is counterbalanced by a flip sense of humor. The romance stuff is played with such sincerity that you can't help but get sucked in. For instance, when Mark hooks up with his classmate Amber Bennett, she's the Other Girl that is keeping Mark from Atom Eve, his destiny. But with each issue Amber becomes more and more important to Mark and likeable to the reader, until she's so likeable that you're sure Kirkman will have something horrible happen.

In Invincible, the frequent superhero fights feel dangerous and are often deadly and shockingly gory. The issue where Omni-Man beats on Mark is brutal, and a battle between Viltrumites later in the series is so violent it made me vomit a little. Seriously, there's blood everywhere and they're all holding their uncoiling guts in their bodies with broken fingers and oh, the blood! Invincible is like a Superboy movie directed by Sam Peckinpah.

The violence in Invincible is jarring, particularly because most of the time the fights are standard superhero violence. But sometimes Kirkman follows a terrifying logic and writes some crazy Scarface shit. It makes the fate of all the characters in doubt and creates a dangerous subtext to everything. Of particular note is the issue where Mark accidentally pummels the life out of a particularly troublesome villain in a gory scene. "I thought you were stronger..." Mark says, shocked.

I should say in the interest of full disclosure that I have done some Invincible-related work, so I'm not exactly impartial. I wrote a bunch of entries for the Official Handbook of The Invincible Universe and I wrote the series recap in Invincible #42 - on stands now for only $1.99!

But I've already been paid for all that stuff - I can honestly recommend Invincible because I think it's an excellent comic book that delivers all the stuff that made comics so great when you were a kid, but filtered by an adult sensibility.


Anonymous said...

You are righter than Right Jack MacRight, the winner of last year's Mr Right competition... except you forgot Allen the Alien. I love that guy!
But I'll let you off! Just this once.
Love this blog, BTW!

Tom the Bomb said...

Impartial, imsmartial. It's just undeniable fact: Invincible rules. And you already captured the Invincible flavor perfectly in the Handbook.

I keep hoping that if we support Dave's comics work, someday we'll see some original comics stories along the lines of the Velvet Marauder -- one of my all-time, no-kidding favorite pieces of superhero writing.

Anonymous said...

Where's the love for the artwork? The book has gone through a couple artists since its inception, but has steadily maintained a graceful visual storytelling pace and some nice, clean lines. It's not the drop-dead gorgeous artwork you can find in a few other books, but it's a very effective style of presentation that doesn't try too hard.

Bill D. said...

The violence in this book can indeed be quite shocking, but thankfully Kirkman uses those scenes pretty sparingly. And if anything, that approach helps ensure that such scenes actually do come as a shock, rather than use that sort of thing in that "ooh, look how badass and mature we are now" approach the Big 2 seem so fond of these past few years.

I've been reading Invincible in trades, and I'm really enjoying watching the book's universe being built and expanded upon in each volume. No subplot gets wasted, and everything gets an eventual payoff (even the little stuff like the garbage bag and its eventual follow-up). Great stuff being done here.

LurkerWithout said...

After Dupli-Kate's (another great name) gruesome demises I could go a couple issues without any people being torn to pieces or having their heads punched off...

Also more Science Dog and Brit...

Andres Salazar said...

if you are going to mention comics you love, please, you MUST talk about Walking DEAD.

I'm serious, biscuit.


Tim Easy said...

Righter than Right Jack MacRight, the winner of last year's Mr Right competition? I wonder what Mad Jack McMad, from the Blackadder series would think of that! LOL

Alas, I must confess that I haven't read the Invincible books yet. What am waiting for? Well, let's see...there's a new copy of Essential Howard The Duck patiently waiting for me on the shelf, alongside The Eternals Omnibus, and The Darkness compendium, and Heroes Reborn FF, and gosh...too many more to mention.

But here's the plan...Invincible in 2008 :)

It sounds too good to pass up!

Anonymous said...

Sold! I will be taking a trip to my friendly local comic store toot sweet* to pick up Invincible. Thanks Dave.

*I keed, French speakers, i keed.

Anonymous said...

"they're all holding their uncoiling guys"

I buy Invincible in trades, and have no recollection of when the Viltrumites were holding their uncoiling guys. HA HA I FOUND A TYPO

Anonymous said...

Hey, some of these arts look like Nextwave: Agent of H.A.T.E. Are they from the same artist or colorist?

Arkonbey said...

Wow. I am so picking this up. Thanks, Dave!

SRH said...

If I were still reading comics, this would definitely be one I would go for. Every review of it has been absolutely stellar.

Anonymous said...

So THAT'S how you have the money to pay for those fancy plaid shirts...

Cool stuff, Dave.

Anonymous said...

I read Invincible from the first issue -- I remember my jaw dropping like no other after the big "Omni-Man is evil" reveal -- though I did recently switch to trades. If Invincible has one flaw, it's trying to do too much. I simply couldn't keep all the plots and characters of its expansive universe straight in my head. It's easier to follow in trades.

But you're right, it's a great book, and trying to do too much is a good flaw to have -- the book sometimes reminds me of the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four; that's how much stuff is going down at any given time. The art does deserve the massive props, as well.

I'm a bit disappointed you didn't mention the Spider-Man/Invincible crossover Kirkman wrote, though. That issue was awesome. How Kirkman can rock out the Image stuff so hard and drop the ball so badly with his Marvel stuff -- Ultimate X-Men springs to mind for me -- is a bit mystifying.

Anonymous said...

I tried to like Invincible but I found the episodes of ultraviolence extremely unpleasant. I really don't know what Kirkman is trying to accomplish with them when the book bounces right back to light fun as if it never happened.

That said, I'm buying Dave's issue and I may give the book another shot.

Chris Arndt said...

"the episodes of ultraviolence extremely unpleasant"

You should!

I feel our wars should be nasty and vicious and the kind that scares people off from fighting wars.

I feel that the occasional superhero combat in a not-quite-all-ages young adults super hero book should be occasionally unpleasant to make us appreciate the restraint that the all-ages heroes show, or when Mark shows restraint just what it means. What does it mean when Luthor shows restraint? It may be business as usual but we should appreciate that Elliot S! Maggin's Luthor was not Tony Soprano!

What many fans of The Authority miss out on is that the ultraviolence like that should not be the norm.

Even Jack Bauer doesn't pull out the hell until the major episodes.

Anonymous said...

You forgot INVINCIBLE's other greatest trait - the fact that stuff happens in every issue. Plot lines advance, time moves forward, characters interact and change, and so on. It's the exact opposite of the "decompressed" take-six-issues-to-tell-one-story model that most of the big superhero franchises have been operating with for the last decade or so.

It also refuses to wallow in continuity p0rn (because its continuity is still being built, issue by issue), which puts it way ahead of most of DC's recent efforts.

It's just such a breath of fresh air after reading the big two's giant, lumbering efforts at committee-written mega-events, with their cheap shocks and heavy foreshadowing and people acting all out of character just to make a plot work. And you don't need to buy a dozen issues a month just to keep up!

Invincible is probably the best monthly superhero comic published today.


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MasGrandeQueJesus said...

I have much love for Invincible, which I never would have picked up if it hadn't been for this blog, which made me want to pick up the Handbook to see what you wrote, then made me realize that I'd spoil the series if I read it, so I had to catch up, and now paradoxically can't seem to find the Handbook anywhere.

Fuck you, irony. Fuck you.

While the violence in Invincible is extremely graphic, I think it serves a purpose. It reminds us that violence should be shocking, that we should stop and take pause when someone is beaten to death, or nearly to death. It also provides the somewhat scary reminder (for me, anyway) that it takes seeing something like the particularly brutal beating of Allen The Alien to make me genuinely concerned, and peel away the jaded veneer that stuff like Identity Crisis puts on.

Invincible consistently reminds us that actions have consequences, and that this holds especially true for superpowered folks. They have to use their powers wisely, and be in control even when delivering a snappy one-liner, else it's Entrails Across America. It adds some gravity to superheroing. We all know that Superman is never going to accidentally hug Lois too hard and squish her, but we have to wonder if Mark might accidentally send a villain flying into Amber's dorm, or might pull another Angstrom entirely by accident.

Invincible is my favorite read every time I pick it up, and now that I'm (almost) done with the trades, I can start picking it up at the shop and know I'll have something good waiting after I slog through another issue of JLA where nothing happens.

Which is to say, Dave is awesome. Invincible is awesome. Can't wait to read the series recap.

Jhunt said...

Actually, Firestorm does try to repair a region of Africa during Ostrander's run, just like Atom Eve. It, however, ended poorly. (He turned into a nuclear-powered Thundercat and the lush ground was deformed and tainted, if I remember correctly)

Flamehead also failed miserably at ridding the world of nuclear weapons. So cut him some slack... at least he tried!

BTW - that Ostrander run of FS would make a great companion Showcase volume for the upcoming Suicide Squad tome

Unknown said...

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bfnh. said...

by hook and crook i've been able to read every issue and the official handbooks and i can say that i started along this path because of this blog.

not sure if that sentence is in english. should i consult octoboss?

Anonymous said...

Dave. I can't believe you used MILF. wtf, man.

Anonymous said...

I miss Shrinking Ray.

Dr. Pants said...

You know when you get your new comics and you sort them out by which ones you have to read right then and which can wait. Invincible is the comic that is before the other comics at the top of the list. I break into UPS to read it out of the Diamond box early.

So, yeah, it's OK.

Anonymous said...

Invincible is, hands down, the best superhero comic being published. Everything about it is outstanding.

I've been reading it in the hardback, ULTIMATE Collections and they're a fantastic format for this book. The larger page size really opens up the already beautiful artwork. Plus there's the fact that Mark Grayson is such a likeable guy! He's a genuinely nice guy but not in an overly forced or shmaltzy way.

And I'm warning you, the scene with Mark and his mother in the kitchen a while after his dad leaves is heart-breaking...

Jeff Hebert said...

Thanks a lot, Dave. You're now responsible for my buying the two hardcover Invincible collections. I haven't even opened them yet, but I just wanted you to know the power you have over the Internets. If your next post urges your readers to go buy a speedboat, I'm never checking it again. Of course I won't be able to, since I'll be in the middle of the lake with a new boat, but you get the idea.

Jacob T. Levy said...

You know when you get your new comics and you sort them out by which ones you have to read right then and which can wait.

But I always try to have the last one I read be something that I think I'm going to especially enjoy, too. If I've got a super-hero plot-and-action intensive one that I'm especially eager to read to Find Out What Happens in (say, Birds of Prey or Manhunter) I'll put that on top; if I've got something that I'm even more excited to read but will require more time to savor (Fables, or Astro City) it'll go to the bottom. It gives me something to look forward to, and a good note to end the week's reading on; and it means that the slower reads won't slow me down from getting to the whole stack.

Anonymous said...

After reading this post, I borrowed every issue up to 42 (I'll pick up the trades later, now that I know I want to), and I have to say, Invincible is not only a damn good read, but refreshing and fun(!) too. But it's also mature in the sense of actions having consequences, and it recognizes that people could and would get hurt or killed at the kind of power levels that superhumans operate on.

I've also learned a few things after reading all those issues in a couple days, including:
1)Somebody has a man crush on Reginald VelJohnson.
2)Mustaches are evil (unless worn by characters that look like Reginald VelJohnson).
3)Mark's Dad is apparently willing to mate with anything that isn't nailed down.

Anonymous said...

another "thanks" to add to your pile.

after reading your post, I checked out the first seven trades from my local library, and devoured them in the space of two days.


Anonymous said...

Spot on that Invincible is one of the best comics being published today. I am one of the lucky bastards that actually own each and every issue since day 1. While getting my first few issues signed by Bill Crabtree he was like "Damn! Even I don't own issue 2, and I inked the thing!"

And you really should do a review of The Walking Dead. That is Kirkman's second best comic.

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