What if [insert classic DC or Marvel comic book hero here] was evil? What if those superhero comics were more realistic, and showed a little more blood?
Turning the classic comic book superhero formula on its head has always been an interesting idea, and we’ve seen plenty of big and small screen takes on this subversive concept throughout the years. There was Watchmen, The Punisher, Kick-Ass, and more recently The Boys and Jupiter’s Legacy. They’ve each got their own thing going on, but they all fall under the subgenre of “superheroes, but humanized.”
Invincible is yet another comic book-turned-TV series that falls into this category, and anyone who isn’t familiar with the comics might write off the animated series as being “just another one of those ‘subversive’ superhero shows” if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s an Amazon Original Series. If it’s from the people that gave us The Tick and The Boys, this comic book adaptation is bound to be good.
For the purposes of this review, I went ahead and read Invincible up until issue #15, which covers most of the story arcs of the animated series’ first season. If you’re wondering how faithful the animated series is to its source material, and if the show is worth a watch, then read on for our spoiler-free review of Prime Video’s latest subversive superhero offering, Invincible.
Invincible tells the story of Mark Grayson and his titular alter ego as he navigates his way through his last year in high school and his first year as a superhero. The clincher of the whole thing is that Mark’s powers are inherited from his dad, who just so happens to be Earth’s strongest hero, Omni-Man, and Omni-Man isn’t quite the picture of justice that everyone thinks he is.
Initially, both the comic and the show already feel quite “humanized” as they follow Mark’s coming of age like a piece of young adult fiction. It’s a much more relatable way to make a superhero story feel “real”, but Invincible also takes the usual path of superhero story subversion by way of violence. The story’s grittier, more violent parts come from when Mark finally experiences the realities of being a superhero: civilian casualties are sometimes inevitable, and it’s often kill or be killed when facing supervillains.
The 2003 comic placed such an importance on its characters feeling “real” that reading it today can make it feel dated—high school stereotypes like the jocks, the nerds, and the popular girls were still present, and there wasn’t much representation of minorities as there would be if the comic were created today. The animated series, with the help of Robert Kirkman (author of Invincible and executive producer of the show) did a fantastic job at not only diversifying the comic’s characters for the show, but also fleshing each character out respectfully.
Mark’s best friend William is gay from the get-go, while the comic starts him off as someone still in the closet, sometimes being the subject of mildly homophobic jokes. Amber, who follows the dumb blonde trope in the comic is now an African-American with multiple advocacies for women and the black community. Mark himself is half-Asian, with his mother Debbie being a Korean-American.
You could write these changes off as simply diversity casts, but a more diverse cast only serves to make the show feel more grounded. Moreover, the characters feel as if they were designed with their voice actors in mind: Steven Yeun (Walking Dead, Minari) is a perfect fit with Mark, as is Sandra Oh (Killing Eve, Grey’s Anatomy) with Debbie, Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2, Joker) with Amber, and Andrew Rannells (The Book of Mormon, Hamilton) with William. The animated series simply updated the comic’s characters to more closely depict what a typical series cast would be today: diverse.
Character changes aside, the animated series also reframes the events of the comic in order to better suit its format. The comic follows Robert Kirkman’s signature style—it’s meticulous, expository, and wordy (and I say this as someone who’s read all of Hunter x Hunter). It’s not at all a bad thing that the comic takes its time to develop its story and characters through text, but it wouldn’t translate well as a TV show.
The animated series takes advantage of how its characters can express themselves in more ways than they could in a comic. Body language, tone of voice, and complex facial expressions take the place of the comic’s large, cascading speech bubbles. Since the animated series is able to more efficiently depict its characters’ personalities and motivations, each episode leaves plenty of room for action sequences and world-building scenes.
Putting Mark’s story aside, what you’ll see in the animated series is the Invincible universe being built potentially to open up more story arcs in the following seasons. Villain origin stories, key recurring locations and characters, and a subplot with a character named Robot help to flesh out the world that Mark will eventually have to fight to protect against a certain planet of superbeings.
From Mark’s daily life to his superhero exploits, and scenes from the world around him, Invincible’s first season takes only a few story arcs from the comic’s early issues and refocuses them to highlight the story’s more emotional, and action-packed moments. You’d be surprised at how few issues of the comic are actually adapted in the first season, but I’d argue that this is what makes the animated series a successful adaptation: its small, manageable, but focused scope.
Invincible’s first season is all about how Mark eventually has to confront the story’s main antagonist (who makes himself known in the post-credits scene of episode 1, though you probably know who he is at this point). The animated series takes its time in establishing Mark’s relationships with the show’s characters in order to better highlight key events. From Mark’s first botched encounter with alien supervillains to his short arc of saving a community from a superpowered ganglord, and finally the season’s climactic ending, the show’s violent moments aren’t played for shock, but as culminations of Mark’s emotional growth.
Invincible subdues its action and violence in order to make room for the story’s more YA-adjacent elements, but it’s those YA moments that lend the most impact to the parts where Mark has to fight and find his motivations as a superhero. When Mark bleeds, it isn’t for the same cheap reason as the ultraviolence found in Kick-Ass or The Boys. There’s always a proper reason or motivation at the root of the show’s violence, and even its main antagonist has his own reasons for shedding blood.
What the comic book does relatively poorly in its early issues is its handling of Mark’s non-superhero life. Sure, there are scenes of him just hanging out with William and living his high school life, but the comic thrusts readers into his superhero arcs right away. It’s hard to feel the weight or stakes at hand when Invincible has to confront the main villain. By reframing, retelling, and giving a little more attention to the comic’s earlier issues, the animated series succeeds in being an adaptation that in certain parts even surpasses its source material. It’s an adaptation that takes all the best parts from the comic while making tasteful tweaks and changes to better suit its 8-episode run.
Have you finished binge-watching all 8 episodes of Invincible on Prime Video? What’re your thoughts on this adaptation? Share your thoughts with us in the comments! And for more news, updates, and reviews on the latest superhero shows to grace our big and small screens, be sure to stay tuned to our website and social media.
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