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Tuesday, June 22, 2021
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‘Invincible’ turns superhero fiction on its head with ambitious first season

Series was a pleasant surprise for many viewers, despite minor issues

“Invincible” parodies and satirizes the usual plot points and story beats of a stereotypical blockbuster superhero story, like those that involve saving the world from an alien invasion.
“Invincible” parodies and satirizes the usual plot points and story beats of a stereotypical blockbuster superhero story, like those that involve saving the world from an alien invasion.

“Invincible” may appear run-of-the-mill at first glance, but its first episode makes it clear that this isn’t an average superhero show. 

The show effectively takes generic tropes from the superhero genre and flips them on their heads in order to tell its fun and gory anime-styled story. This is where the show thrives, despite its somewhat slow pace. 

The Amazon exclusive follows Mark Grayson, the teenage son of Omni-Man, the world’s most powerful hero. Mark develops powers of his own during the series, such as super-strength and flight, and begins his journey to becoming a hero like his father. Much of the eight-episode first season deals with Mark feeling like he cannot live up to his father’s legacy, but slowly proving himself wrong as the season progresses. 

Borrowing powers and personality traits from characters like Spider-Man and Superboy, Mark lives in a world that acts as a blatant parody of Marvel and DC Comics stories and characters, hilariously referencing these pop-culture icons across the first season. Other parallels occur between characters such as Superman and Omni-Man and groups such as DC’s Teen Titans and the aptly named Teen Team. 

But viewers shouldn't let these references fool them; “Invincible” is its own universe not affiliated with Marvel or DC, based on the 2003 comic book series of the same name by writer Robert Kirkman — who also acts as executive producer of the series — and publisher Image Comics, best known for “The Walking Dead.” 

Over the course of the first season, Mark learns how to use his powers to save people like his all-powerful father, and  struggles to balance his superhero duties with his personal life and school. 

It’s the type of story that has been told countless times within the superhero genre, and it’s fairly similar to stories like Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2.” Though Mark is a somewhat stereotypical superhero, possessing the standard “heart of gold” found in many modern comic book heroes, he is still a fun, likable and empathetic character, with viewers always rooting for him no matter the situation. 

But Mark’s balancing act between his personal life and superhero gig isn’t the show’s main focus. Instead, it takes a backseat to the mystery that perpetuates the entire first season, which cannot be told without spoiling the show for newcomers. 

“Invincible” parodies and satirizes the usual plot points and story beats of a stereotypical blockbuster superhero story, like those that involve saving the world from an alien invasion. The show plays with that idea by exploring the consequences of Mark’s actions. 

Sure, Mark may have saved the city, but how much destruction was caused in the battle? How many lives were lost? And how does that weigh on Mark, who, despite his immense powers, is still just a 17-year-old high schooler?

The show’s animation is fantastic. Riding the fence between anime and cartoon, battles feature two or more superpowered beings each fighting for the upper hand. They are incredibly detailed, with characters realistically destroying whole city blocks with every punch they throw. 

The animators are able to create outstanding setpieces, with characters breaking the boundaries of what superhero action can be. This stands in stark contrast to live-action superhero flicks such as “Justice League,” which are limited by a much tighter budget and prioritize realism over spectacle. 

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Just like Amazon’s other superhero satirization, “The Boys,” “Invincible” doesn’t shy away from copious amounts of blood and gore, with almost every battle ending with someone in a bloody pulp being taken away on a stretcher. While this may turn off some viewers, those who can tolerate the violence will be rewarded with eye-catching action at every turn. 

Additionally, while most of the characters are well fleshed out and usually make sense in terms of their decisions and characterization, there are some who seem to be much more underdeveloped than others, particularly Mark’s girlfriend, Amber. 

Her character seems indecisive when it comes to her feelings toward Mark each episode; in some episodes, she is clearly upset and angry at his actions due to his secret superhero life, while in others, she seems to ignore it completely. However, Amber is an outlier. Almost every other character within “Invincible” is consistent and believable, especially Mark and his family. 

As is the case in “The Boys,” the gore can seem a bit excessive, as if there’s violence just for the sake of having violence. However, the show can also be viewed as a commentary on superhero films and TV shows, which almost always censor themselves in terms of violence, with films like 2012’s “Avengers” never showing more than the occasional nose bleed or bruise. 

The voice casting of “Invincible” is near-perfect, with an all-star ensemble cast. A-list celebrities like Mark Hamill, J.K. Simmons, Zazie Beetz and Seth Rogan make regular and guest appearances throughout the series and provide perfect voices for their respective characters. 

However, the highlight of the cast is easily Steven Yeun, who starred in last year’s Oscar-nominated film “Minari.” Yeun voices the main character, Mark Grayson and does an outstanding job of breathing real emotion into his animated character, from his casual conversations with friends to his brutal fight scenes with supervillains brimming with life in each line. 

“Invincible” brings yet another social commentary of the superhero genre to the small screen, but is able to deliver a host of original ideas, due to the unique perspective Mark has on the world. Despite some minor flaws in pacing and characterization, “Invincible” delivers on its initial promise of flipping the superhero genre on its head. With second and third seasons already confirmed by Amazon, viewers are excited to see where Mark’s journey takes him next. 

“Invincible” is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. 

The arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com

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