Animated superhero shows have been around for decades. From the earliest Superman short films, we were always shown the noble hero who could do no wrong and was truly invincible. He might have the occasional setback, but both his physical strength and his strength of character would see him through. Those animated features have evolved to give us much more complex heroes, especially in the myriad of Batman animated shows. Now Amazon has given us something that runs counter to everything we might have seen before.
Mark Grayson is just your average teenager. He’s in high school and has an after-school job. He also gets beaten up. There is nothing special about him until one day he tries to throw the garbage out and instead throws it into orbit. How does he get this way? His father is from the planet Viltrum and is known on Earth as probably its mightiest superhero, Omni-Man. Now, Mark seems to have powers, so after a little bit of training, he gets a costume of his own and calls himself Invincible. However, not is all as it seems.
The superhero team Guardians Of The Globe have been brutally murdered and it was done by someone very close to Mark. As Mark tries to be a superhero there are a variety of mishaps including one that saw him savagely beaten to a bloodied mess. Can Mark learn to be the kind of superhero the world needs and still have a relatively normal high-school life?
I first saw a clip for this series that showed Omni-Man and his son Mark playing a game of catch while hovering thousands of feet in the air. The first two things that hit me were the quality of the animation and the nature of the conversation Mark was having with his dad. The animation has a style that very closely resembles some of the features, shorts, and even series that Warner Bros. puts out for their DC Comics line. I felt as if I was watching a blend of Superman and Young Justice, the latter being a show of which I am a tremendous fan. Having animation this good was the hook that my eye needed, but what impressed me was the conversation Mark and his father were having. There was something very genuine and touching about it. I made it a point to watch this, but what I ended up seeing was something significantly different. For starters, this is at the least a PG-13 series, possibly bordering on rated R. There is strong language, but what shocked me was the violence. For an animated series, the violence is pretty severe. The final scene where the Guardians Of The Globe were massacred was shocking. I never imagined that I would see that level of brutality, yet there it was. It isn’t even limited to that for later Omni-Man journeys to another dimension and destroys their world without showing any signs of mercy, and we get to see it. That is the single most important element of this show that distinguishes itself from any other superhero animated series that has come before. It is unapologetic at times with its violence, and it’s not just limited to Omni-Man. Even when Mark as Invincible is nearly killed we see every blow as his body is practically broken with blood everywhere. And yet, I cannot stop watching it.
At the heart of this series is a mystery regarding Nolan aka Omni-Man. His motivations and actions are questionable all of the time. Even the tension builds up when the mysterious death of the Guardians comes too close to Nolan’s doorstep. Other elements are more sedate, especially with Mark trying to have a normal dating life and not have his superhero responsibilities get in the way. One nice added twist is with Mark’s best friend named William. He’s gay and he doesn’t hide it. Having a secondary character like this was rather fun for me for I freely admit to wishing I had a super-powered best friend at times. Having William on the show has become a form of representation that I’ve come to greatly enjoy.
The voice cast for this series is perfect, starting with Steven Yeun as Mark. He gets all of the perfect inflection that a teenager like Mark would have. Between the quality of the animation and Yeun’s voice-acting, I sometimes tend to forget that Mark isn’t real. Another smaller role is that of Art, the superhero costume maker, and he’s played by none other than Mark Hamill. He shows once again how strong a voice actor he is because I didn’t recognize him at all, except at times I heard something in the tone that was vaguely familiar, but it never sounded like Hamill to me. Other strong actors are Zachary Quinto as the mechanical character Robot, Sandra Oh as Mark’s mother Debbie, but the biggest treat is J.K. Simmons as Mark’s father Omni-Man. Many roles show Simmons as being very hard and loud, and while there is plenty of that in this show, he also projects wonderful moments of tenderness and understanding, which only adds to the complexity of his character. Simmons is doing more than just voice acting here. He is acting.
This has become one of the most compelling shows I’ve watched in a long time. It is adapted from a comic put out by Skybound/Image so I’m sure some comic book geeks are more familiar with this than I am, so I can’t speak to how well it translates from the page to the screen. What I can say is that after three episodes I find myself desperately needing to know the mystery behind Omni-Man and how it might affect the relationship he has with his wife and with Mark. The animation is solid with characters that are wonderfully drawn. As for the story, this is a mystery that has me hanging on from week to week. I hope it sticks around because I feel that Amazon has delivered a hit with Invincible.
New episodes of Invincible appear on Amazon Prime on Fridays.