Amazon Prime’s superhero show returns with 4 episodes of Invincible’s new season.
(Contains Spoilers for Season 1)
Mark Grayson discovered his powers and honed his skills under the tutelage of his father Nolan, the hero Omni-Man! KA-POW! In his first months as a superhero, Invincible fought back an alien invasion, travelled to Mars, and risked his life for the betterment of humanity! WA-CHOW! And in a final twist, Omni-Man murdered the Guardians of the Globe, attempted genocide and…nearly beat his son to death on the side of a mountain? Oh, that’s way less fun…
Invincible was a show of two halves: part coming-of-age superhero origin; part blood-soaked
thriller. The closing moments of the first episode were a brutal shock to anyone unfamiliar with the excellent source material from showrunner and comics writer Robert Kirkman, who convincingly wove those stories together, culminating in a truly devastating final episode:
“You’ll outlast every fragile, insignificant being on this planet. You’ll live to see this world crumble to dust and blow away! Everyone and everything you know will be gone! What will you have FIVE-HUNDRED years?!”
“You, Dad. I’d still have you…”
Now with last season’s proverbial cat out of the bag, Kirkman needs to find a status quo where those two shows can co-exist. This season finds Mark (Steven Yeun) picking up the pieces of a life shattered by Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), trying to be the hero he thought his father was. Mark’s desperation to return to his superhero career, and everyone else’s reluctance, provides a high-stakes emotional throughline as Mark barrels through a seemingly unrelated collection of one-shot stories. And besides a wonderful stay in Atlantis to visit the local wildlife, none of them engage beyond a cursory exploration of Mark’s own motivations and state of mind.
I’ve found this to be an issue amongst Kirkman’s other adaptions, namely The Walking Dead, in that his scope is often too wide and audiences end up spending less time with the characters they care about. Seriously, what in the ever loving fuck is a Lizard League…or the Shapesmith…or yet more of the Mauler twins – and why should I care? That’s not to say that some of these threads aren’t fun in their own right: Debbie’s (Sandra Oh) struggle with PTSD and depression after Nolan’s rampage is powerful, Atom Eve and her choice to use her powers in a more constructive way features some strong voice work from Gillian Jacobs, and even the new Guardians of the Globe leadership crisis continues to be interesting enough – but at a certain point we start drawing focus from our core cast, and diluting the potency of the story. The nature of adaptation demands that certain storylines have to be cut, altered, or restructured for the televisual medium. The series cannot simply be a one-to-one retelling of the comics.
At least the multiversal antagonist voiced by the indomitable Sterling K. Brown seems to have a little more forward momentum, and brings with it a gruesome adventure through a classically nightmarish alternate universe that opens the season with a bang.
I realise I’ve done a lot of complaining in the last paragraph or so, but in reality these are nitpicks when placed in the context of the entire season. The combined talents of Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, and Steven Yeun are reason enough to tune in, and as previously mentioned, they all knock it out of the park: Debbie grieving for a relationship and a life that was never real, Nolan struggling to extricate himself from a mission that consumed him and his life on Earth, and to his son, Mark, striving for a new ideal in the wake of his father’s betrayal, whilst forging his own superhero identity. Fundamentally, it’s compelling material that’s been given to an ensemble of committed character actors that translate their skills to the voiceover booth seamlessly. Pound for pound, it’s some of the best superhero content out there.
The action direction is just as strong this season, too, although a few moments of emotional drama are somewhat held back by a flat animation style that looks best drenched in blood and guts, which admittedly happens rather frequently. Fundamentally, what matters is the characters and the story, but after experiencing such animated gems as Arcane, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners or more recently Netflix’s Blue Eye Samurai, I wonder if they couldn’t have pushed the envelope.
Which ultimately brings us to the midseason finale: a final chance for Kirkman & Co. to signal the path forward for the season. And they nailed it. The previous episode’s cliffhanger ending promised an epic family reunion, and it didn’t disappoint. We finally have some much-needed direction for both the season and series as a whole, and if they capitalise on the promise of the excellent ‘Viltrumite War’ arc from the comics, then viewers are in for a treat. The action is crazy, the destruction crazier, and it’s all anchored by two stellar performances from Yeun and Simmons, as well as an instinct to not simply let certain characters spin their genocidal wheels. The latest instalment exemplifies everything that Invincible does well: compelling characters, fist-pumping action, and some shockingly gruesome moments.
Mark Grayson makes his way back to Earth early next year, and I truly believe Invincible can make a real, lasting impact beyond the existing fanbase Kirkman has garnered over the decades. He just needs to remember who this epic, universe-spanning story is actually about. It’s right there in the name.
Verdict: The sophomore outing of Invincible continues the tale of Mark Grayson and co. with style and a bunch of heart – but a host of unwieldy subplots threaten to sink the ship if the series loses momentum again.
Invincible returns in early 2024 to Amazon Prime Video.