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Invincible [Season One] (2021)


The current boom in super hero media has led to a flood of movies and series as studios and producers rush to get their slice of the pie. But with all the most recognisable supers tied up by Disney, Warner Bros and Sony, other studios have to look elsewhere in search of a potential hit. Invincible is a series with more name recognition than most, among comic aficionados if not so much among wider audiences. Created by Robert Kirkman, creator of the original Walking Dead comic series, alongside illustrators Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, the original comic was published by Image Comics between 2003 and 2018, running for a total of 144 issues.

The first eight-episode season of Invincible's animated adaptation began streaming its initial three episodes on Amazon Prime on March 25, 2021, with episodes released weekly thereafter. Kirkman himself is credited with the screenplay for all eight episodes, alongside Ottley, with several episodes also having another writer credited. Kirkman also produced, alongside Seth Rogan, Evan Goldberg and several others. The series was produced by Kirkman's Skybound, with animation production by Vancouver based Wind Sun Sky Entertainment with support from studios in LA, Japan and South Korea.

Invincible is set in a Marvel or DC-like universe where super heroes and villains are commonplace. One day 17-year-old Mark Grayson discovers that his father is Earth's most powerful hero, the Superman-like Omni-Man. Not only that, but he soon starts to develop powers of his own. Determined to follow in his father's footsteps, he takes on the super hero identity Invincible. When tragedy befalls the super team Guardians Of The Globe, Mark has to step up- all the while dealing with the everyday challenges of being a teenager growing up.

 



The popularity of mainstream super hero movies and TV has inspired several subversive and more adult takes on the material in live-action- such as Kick-Ass, Super and Brightburn. In a way, it's surprising it has taken as long as it has for something like Invincible to happen in animation.

Invincible arrived on a wave of buzz generated by readers of the original comics, hyping it up as an original and fresh take on the genre. Kirkman's direct hands-on involvement and a voice-cast stacked with top talent, there was plenty of reason to believe that this was going to be something pretty special.

Given such high expectations, the debut episode turned out to be something of an anticlimax. The majority of the first episode plays out pretty much as super hero storytelling by the numbers. Mark's journey from an average bullied kid at school, pining for his longtime crush, to a super hero bad-ass is something we have seen done so many times before. The hero versus villain fights are pretty run-of-the-mill too. Frankly, most of the time you could be watching any standard kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoon. This is very much by design though, as it's designed to make the turn it takes in the climactic scene all the more shocking. The problem is that the stuff that comes before it is not impressive enough in its animation or well written enough to be particularly engaging. In truth, it's off to a pretty weak start.

 


In this pivotal scene, the series indulges in an extended scene of extreme, bloody violence of the sort Kirkman seems to be so fond of. Its gleeful embrace of gore is hardly surprising considering the kind of fate he subjects characters to in The Walking Dead. But that series is at least horror, so it's more to be expected. Here it does have some important relevance to the plot, but it feels somewhat excessive. Unfortunately, Invincible falls into the same trap that so much western adult animation succumbs to, mistaking excessive swearing. tasteless jokes or in this case hyper violence for 'maturity'. This over the top violence is used throughout the series. To its credit though, it doesn't overdo it, smartly realising that it has more impact when it is infrequent.

The visuals of the series are more or less comic accurate, but your mileage may vary on how much of a plus that is. It's technically well-drawn, but in my book, it reflects the slightly bland look favoured by much of western mainstream comics. Personal taste aside, it's pretty solid. There's excellent background work too, so it's not a bad-looking series by any means. The animation quality on the other hand is something of a mixed bag. At times it is somewhat lacking and there's some poorly integrated CG. There is some pretty flashy looking action though (anime fans keep an eye out for a nod to Akira) so it's not hard to guess where the bulk of the budget has gone. 


The most obvious comparison point to this would have to be to DC's animated DTV movies, which are similar in both tone and content. Visually, DC's adaptations look quite a lot better, and not only during the action sequences. However, given that these are movies (although not with cinema-style budgets) and Invincible is a series, the comparison may not be entirely fair.

As far as worldbuilding goes, Kirkman has built an impressively well drawn universe. It's populated by a varied selection of heroes and villains. Some are completely original ideas but many are spins on existing Marvel or (mainly) DC characters, so as well as Superman (Omni-Man) and the Justice League (Guardians Of The Globe), Invincible also has analogues for Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Ironman, The Hulk, Constantine/Hellboy, Teen Titans and more.

Some of the original ideas here are a lot of fun too. Such as the female hero who transforms into a Hulk-type monster but gets younger every time she uses her powers. Or the invading alien race from another dimension where time runs differently to our own.  Or the cyborg reanimated corpses of soldiers resurrected "to serve their country one last time."


 

Comparisons are inevitable with The Boys, Amazon's other adult comic-based series, although Invincible's original source material actual predates that of the earlier live-action show. Although there are some superficial similarities (like exploring what happens if a hero is actually evil) they are actually very different shows. Invincible lacks The Boys' satirical edge, instead acting more of a love letter to the comics the creators clearly grew up loving, just with an adult twist.

As well as the heroics, these comics also often feature a more soap-opera, character-based element. They're present here too, so expect teenage romances, breakups, domestic disputes and high-school hijinx as Mark and others attempt to juggle being a hero and everyday life. It's not exactly original (Spider-Man was doing it more than five decades ago) or really all that engaging, bit does help give the characters a bit extra relatability.

The unusual choice for episodes to run around twice as long as a typical animated series episode, between 42-and 49 minutes (or 'a TV hour') works well enough and allows stories to take their time and not feel rushed. 

It takes a while to decide what kind of series it wants to be, but it finds its footing around the third episode or so. From then on it's pretty consistently entertaining stuff, even if it's not exactly the groundbreaking gamechanger that some hype made it out to be. It may be a drama but it doesn't take itself too seriously and allows itself to have fun.  The sequence where Mark encounters the character of Allan The Alien (featuring a cameo appearance by producer Seth Rogen) is genuinely pretty funny. 


One of the show's strongest elements is its excellent voice-cast. Let's be honest, actors who are best known for their on-camera work don't always make the best voice actors. In this case, though, there's not a weak link among them, and everyone brings their A-game. Kudos must be given not only to the actors, but also the casting and voice direction- all of which did a wonderful job.

Steven Yeun (as Mark/Invincible) and JK Simmons (as Nolan/Grayson) are both experienced as voice actors and their performances are both a big part of why their characters work as well as they do. The rest of the cast including Sandra Oh, Mark Hamill, Zazie Beets, Justin Roiland and Gillian Jacobs are also excellent.

Although far from perfect and a disappointment in several areas, season one of Invincible is overall a success. The show has already been picked up for a further two seasons so there is a lot of potential for improvement here- and the series finale will surely make you keen to see more. If you are somebody who is suffering from super hero fatigue, Invincible isn't going to be for you. If you're a super-fan of the original comics though, you can probably whack on an extra star (or two).

 



 FORMAT: SERIES/ AVAILABLE ON: STREAMING  FROM: AMAZON PRIME RATING: /TV-MA [US] 18[UK]  RUNNING TIME: 8 X 42-49min

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IN A NUTSHELL: Some inspired ideas and a phenomenal voice-cast help lift an otherwise fairly run-of-the-mill superhero saga with an adult edge.




★★★☆☆


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