“Invincible” brings a fresh face to the superhero films we know

The Walking Dead creator’s new show helps redefine what it means to be a superhero

Jefferson Le

Invincible” follows the story of 17-year old Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) and his coming of age story as an alien Viltrumite superhero living in the midst of ordinary humans. Based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, season one of Invincible,” which premiered on Amazon Prime Video on March 25, is an animated show that offers a completely new look to the repetitive stories that perpetuate the Marvel and DC Comics superhero comic-book and movie industry. 

In a welcome contrast to the scores of superhero epics that begin with a motivating tragedy to set characters up on a heroic path, Mark Grayson’s teenage life is as normal as being the son of a superhero can be. His father, Nolan Grayson (J.K. Simmons), is known worldwide as Omni-Man: a caped flying streak of red and white boasting recognizable powers like super strength and flight. The relationship between Nolan and Mark is a key part of “Invincible’s” plot, as Nolan mentors Mark — who is simultaneously going through high school — to help him become a superhero.

The most notable difference betweenInvincibleand classics like Superman, aside from its TV-MA rating, is the realism depicted throughout the show. Despite being a superhero, Mark is never guaranteed to survive a fight, especially without a scratch.

The animation is strikingly similar to many panels of the comic, and Yeun’s performance is witty and likeable, perfect for the naive Mark’s image as a young protagonist. At the same time, Simmons’ range allows him to portray Omni-Man as caring, stern or furious as the show uncovers more thematic layers. Specifically, the show explores Mark and Omni-Man’s characters, focusing on their father-son relationship and their lives as powerful aliens living amongst humanity —  one raised amongst humans with a human mother, and the other raised among fellow aliens galaxies away. 

Invincible voice cast | Amazon Prime cartoon superhero voice actors - Radio Times
Mark and Omni-Man during episode 1 of “Invincible.”

Perfectly complementing the main characters are Eve (Gillian Jacobs), another hero, and Amber Zazie Beetz), Mark’s human girlfriend. These remarkably fleshed out side characters provide further insight into the two different worlds Mark finds himself trapped in between: human and hero. Amber’s reluctance and to some extent, inability, to understand Mark’s heroic duties often renders her unlikeable, but is also realistic — how can a normal person wrap their head around the double life of a hero? 

Eve provides a stark contrast to this — making her more likeable than Amber —  because despite not being a Viltrumite like Mark, she is also an alien and understands Mark’s dilemma of being an alien on Earth. There’s no wildly unwarranted, unconditional understanding between characters, like, for instance, what is often seen between, for example, Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson.

“Invincible” also explores a far more honest approach to humans from a powerful alien’s point of view — while a boy scout, goody-two-shoed like Superman is famous for his care towards humans, much of the conflict between Mark and Omni-Man comes as a result of their differing views on humans. Due to his upbringing, Mark identifies with humans and, other than with his powers, feels that his identity is closer to human than Viltrumite, while Nolan perceives small jobs, like preventing a robbery or saving someone from a fire, as insignificant compared to the various galactic threats he faces. 

This difference of philosophy between the two, despite their father-son resemblance and parallel morals at the beginning of the show, is further emphasized by their own conflicts. While Omni-Man is almost never shown injured and doesn’t lose a physical fight throughout the entire show, Mark spends a vast amount of time doing just that. Mark also has interactions with human friends and humans in general often. Unlike conventional heroes like Superman and Batman, who always end up on top of their struggles, in many cases, Mark’s conflicts don’t result in sweeping victories. His humanity is the highlight of his character, and is both his greatest strength and his weakness, providing a character to root for even when it’s clear  they’ll likely lose. 

Mark’s humanity is explored even outside of the show’s storyline. Mark’s superhero alias is “Invincible,” hence the show’s name, but the show’s musical intro never says the word “Invincible” even as the title card shows up — perhaps a sly reference to the fact that despite the name of the show, Mark does not seem to be able to survive a fight without at least a scratch. As the episodes pass, each intro includes more and more blood on the title card, highlighting Mark’s mortality despite his superhero status.

Overall, Invincible” is a refreshing new take on the superhero origin story. Marvel and DC regulars will find the show a fresh and dark counterpart to the movies they know, and readers of “Invincible” comic book series will be delighted to find that Kirkman’s vision was replicated almost perfectly in this series. 

Viewers new to the superhero genre, however, might find Invincible intimidating. The show breaks the stereotypical superhero storyline, and may leave newcomers confused by the lack of a clear antagonist — but that’s part of what makes Invincible so different from other superhero stories. There’s no one big bad villain, and as a result, the show approaches each conflict with much more nuance. Ultimately, “Invincible” is a well written, skillfully animated and excellently voiced show, and will help you realize that in the end, no one is truly invincible. 

“Invincible” has since been renewed for a second season, and the expected release date is sometime in 2022.