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.