Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Robert Kirkman's Invincible is a show that resembles in a lot of ways the America that I truly know.

This last weekend, I finished watching the first season of the Amazon series called Invincible. Before I talk about it, I want to give a spoiler alert for any people who may be reading, and who want to watch it before learning anything about the show.

Invincible was good, and that gave me hope, because I heard that Netflix's Jupiter's Legacy got canceled. Even though these two things aren't related, I did like Jupiter's Legacy enough that I wanted a second season if (for anything) just to get answers. If you've seen the show, it is anything but finished with huge dangling threads that will now have no resolution unless I want to go and read the comics (which I won't). I also liked that there were other superhero stories to tell out there that had nothing to do with DC or Marvel. As far as Jupiter's Legacy goes, the way the heroes got their powers was actually a decent story.

Sitting down to watch Invincible for the first time, I knew very little about it. In fact, the only thing I did know was that Robert Kirkman had created it. I like Robert Kirkman's stuff, his other property being mainly The Walking Dead. But even though I stopped watching TWD years ago does not mean that I didn't love the show for the world it created. Robert Kirkman has always been someone who seems to have real strength in putting together worlds and making them accessible to others. He doesn't ask too much from his audience. He gives you something that you are used to, and then puts a little spin on it to make it his own. The Wachowski's he is not, but that's totally okay. The guy isn't here to give us a brand new way of doing things.

Now to the nitty gritty of what I liked about Invincible. The first episode was benign enough all the way up to the surprise ending. It established a world that felt similar to ones I see in Marvel and DC. The Earth of Invincible is one where other supes are common enough that everyone sees them. There are space aliens, dimensional conquerors, and kaiju (yes, I said "kaiju"). That last one was really fun to find out, because kaiju look like they'd be a great add-in for any superhero show. There's also an Avengers-type club called the Guardians of the Globe stocked with this universe's equivalent of the Flash and Wonder Woman. Well at the end of the first episode, Omni-Man (who is a Superman-level powerhouse) kills every last one of the Guardians of the Globe in graphic bloody detail. We only find out later that Omni-Man was sent to Earth to conquer it by the Viltrumite Empire. It makes sense that to conquer a planet, he'd need to deal with its most powerful defenders.

Omni-Man is also voiced perfectly by J.K. Simmons, who plays J. Jonah Jamison in Spider-Man movies. Omni-Man is even drawn to resemble J. Jonah Jamison in many ways, so it seemed a natural and eerie fit to have this voice actor saying his lines. But what Invincible manages to do really well is take an 80's era aesthetic of animation, play on that nostalgia, and then cover it in gore and violence. There are tons of action-packed sequences with supervillains who do not pull their punches. And it's also the story of a teen superhero (kinda like Spider-Man) who ends up going through a hell of a lot more trauma in the telling of his stories.

My friend, James, who has read the comic books tells me that it gets even worse than what we saw in the first season (where Mark Grayson who is the teen "Invincible") gets beaten to within an inch of his life by his father "Omni-Man" who only has a change of heart at the very last moment of breath from his son. It makes me ask (at this remarkable scene) since when have we ever seen that level of violence from a show about superheroes?

And it's to the credit of the show to highlight a thing that we've known for years: adults do in fact beat up their sons, their daughters, and their spouses in many households. My own father beat my brother with a tennis racket and my brother still has that racket all these years later (don't feel sorry for me as violence was commonplace in my household growing up and it's like crying over spilt milk) covered in his own blood. These are things people don't talk about with dysfunctional families. But I've come to recognize that adults are in fact genuinely awful to one another and their children in numbers that should shock the civilized world. But no one talks about it! They are skeletons in the closet! Robert Kirkman dares to air all the dirty laundry by making superhero families no different than the Americans they are drawn from, which are (for lack of better words) awful people. And to be clear I'm not slamming Americans. I'm American too, which means I'm awful. I just know better than to pretend that I'm not.

Anyway, so Invincible almost gets slaughtered by his father. Well my friend James says that in the comics, he's got a brutal rape coming as well from a female Viltrimite. As I've grown older, I've come to understand that rape is pretty commonplace, and it's mostly perpetrated by men. I was literally at a breakfast thing with my friend Meg and her twenty friends at her home when all the women and the non-binaries started talking about their rapes they've endured for years. I was transfixed by all of these stories, and that they were talking about them.

Since that day, I've noticed that there's so much rape...rape everywhere...and trauma from it in our society. Sexual assault seems to be as common as navel oranges at the supermarket. one talks about it. I think it's good that people are starting to talk about all the oranges lying around, instead of ignoring them. Once we can all agree that it is a systemic problem, maybe things will change (that's my hope at least). But going back to Invincible and the rape of the main character by a female sounds interesting. Why? Because you don't hear a lot of female on male crime. Yet, it does happen. I have three male friends who have been raped by women. They have extreme difficulty talking about it, and other guys usually laugh at them about it (I don't...I listen with empathy). They are afraid to come forward to cops, because they feel that the system will just ignore them. And then they wonder if it was something that they did, and whether or not they are misinterpreting the situation or the experience. People have this idea that "men can't be raped" because you "can't rape the willing." That is categorically untrue and insensitive to say the least.

I got to hand it to Robert Kirkman who dares to rip the sheets back on society and use what he finds there as the foundation for his stories. The Walking Dead was always a story about the survivors, and how the people who had the cajones to survive an apocalypse would be filled with psychopathy. Invincible is the same way, showing that many superheroes would try to do the right thing, but that bad parenting, psychopathy, and the human propensity for abuse would also be visible in these characters. And even though the female superheroes were powerful, they would still be browbeat by the scourge of Christian patriarchy.

Kirkman's not trying to visualize a better world made so by the Justice League of America. He's trying to visualize a world in its natural state were these gods to actually walk among us, breed with us, and raise families. He's giving us the world where the fascist and racist person actually has the power to level a city with his own fists and isn't held in check by anyone. How do you deal with that? Where it differs from Amazon's The Boys is its scale. Invincible is galactic, pulling in Viltrimites from an empire that has conquered thousands of worlds to Martians to invaders from other dimensions. Every day of the show there was some kind of world-shaking catastrophe that needed to be dealt with by the Guardians of Earth. But even as these monsters appeared, the true monster that represented the greatest threat was always one that looked frighteningly human.


  1. I could have done without some of the violence and gore but mostly it was good and I hope there's a season 2.

  2. Thanks for the heads up. This might be a bit more violent than I care for. (I'm incredibly squeamish, but I've come to the point in my life where I no longer am trying to push against this or desensitize myself.) We live in a dystopia, and I think we don't really pay attention to this most of the time. I'm glad you're enjoying this.