Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Comic Review: Invincible, by Robert Kirkman

A superhero universe by the guy who wrote The Walking Dead.


Image Comics, 144 issues

Invincible was a comic book series published by Image Comics that ran for fifteen years. In addition to the Invincible series itself, there were many spin-offs and miniseries and one-shots, all set in the same universe. It's now an animated feature on Amazon Prime. (I have not yet watched any of it.)

The series is collected in a variety of trade paperbacks and omnibuses, also available digitally. If you want to read the entire series, then other than reading all 144 issues individually, there are several types of collections. I'll describe them below, but tldr: get the Compendiums as the simplest way to read everything.

Trade Paperbacks

There are 25 of these. Each Volume collects 4-6 issues.

Invincible Volume 1: Family Matters

Ultimate Collections

There are 12 of these. Each Ultimate Collections contains 11 to 13 issues of the series.

Ultimate Collection 1
Ultimate Collection 2
Ultimate Collection 3
Ultimate Collection 4
Ultimate Collection 5
Ultimate Collection 6

Ultimate Collection 7
Ultimate Collection 8
Ultimate Collection 9
Ultimate Collection 10
Ultimate Collection 11
Ultimate Collection 12


Lastly, there are the Compendiums. The entire series collected in three big volumes.

Ultimate Compendium 1
Ultimate Compendium 2
Ultimate Compendium 3

Below will be a review of the original comic series, including huge spoilers below the cut.

Invincible is an unabashed four-color superhero comic book. The main thing that sets it apart, and won it so many accolades, is that having been steered from beginning to end by a single creator, it is able to preserve a consistent narrative without too many continuity glitches across its entire fifteen-year span. While Marvel and DC characters have accumulated the cruft of 60-80 years of history, having been written by literally hundreds of different writers, further complicated by endless reboots, Invincible has always been written by one man: Robert Kirkman. It shows. You can see things in the final few issues that were set up at the beginning of the series. Recurring characters really feel like recurring characters whose reappearance was intended all along. It's not perfect: there are a few silly tangents and a lot of plot holes, some characters who seemed to have no real purpose other than a single scene, and a few early plot threads never resolve, but for the most part, it feels like a very long saga that the writer was able to bring to a conclusion the way he wanted to.

One of the other features of Invincible, though, is that it is graphically violent. When superheroes punch each other, there is blood, sometimes a lot of it, and there are entire issues painted with buckets of blood and gore. Kirkman really likes to show what happens when Superman punches a normie.

Omni-Man and Allen
When Kryptonians punch each other.

Oliver kills the Maulers
You thought the little brother was introduced as a cute sidekick...

The story starts out as the amazing adventures of Mark Grayson, an ordinary teenager whose dad is Omni-Man, basically this world's Superman, but with a pornstache.


Mark is a senior in high school, trying to juggle girls, an afterschool job, homework, and college applications like any other teenager, and then his powers kick in. He's delighted to take up the cape (not literally, he goes for a more modern, capeless costume) and become a superhero like his old man.


They have Adventures, Invincible joins the Teen Team, there is relationship drama, and the Graysons are adorable, with Mark's mom being so blase about her husband and son running off to save the world on a regular basis, and occasionally disappearing for a week or two while being captured by extradimensional aliens or master villains.

The first volume alone was just plain fun, and enough to keep me reading, though I was starting to get bored with the Adventures of Superboy.

Then, everything changes.

In volume two, there's a twist. Kirkman introduces the Guardians of the Globe, a very obvious, almost one-for-one parody of the Justice League.

And then he kills them off.

And we learn that everything Mark's father told him was a lie.

Nolan Grayson, aka Omni-Man, really is a Viltrumite, a race of supermen from the planet Viltrum. But contrary to the story he initially told his wife and son, the Viltrumites did not send him to Earth to protect the planet and help advance its civilization. They sent him to prepare Earth for conquest.

When Mark gets his powers, Nolan has proof that Viltrumites and humans can interbreed and create more supermen, which solves a problem for the Viltrumites, whose numbers are dwindling for reasons that emerge later. Which means Nolan can proceed with the next steps of his plan, the first of which was killing off Earth's most powerful superheroes.

Dad tells Mark the truth, but Mark is not on board with the whole "conquering Earth" thing, and they proceed to have a fight which wrecks a city and kills thousands. Despite beating his son almost to death, Omni-Man holds back at the last moment, and then flies away. Leaving Earth to deal with the knowledge that there is an army of supermen out there that's on its way to conquer Earth, and now they're down one superhero team.

That's all in the first few volumes, but the series goes on. And on. And on. There are world-changing events. Multiple alien invasions. Cities destroyed. Villains become heroes, heroes become villains.


Mark has an on-again, off-again working relationship with the government, run by a man named Cecil Steadman, who is the ultimate cold-blooded utilitarian, willing to recruit mad scientist serial killers if he thinks they'll help him protect the Earth.

Invincible and Cecil

There are heel-face turns. Major new characters are added. Major characters die, and since it's a superhero comic book, sometimes "dead" characters come back, but not always. Invincible goes to alternate dimensions, or off into space. Sometimes years pass in a single issue. We get enormous revelations about minor characters. Occasionally the minor characters get epic subplots of their own.

Parallel universe Invincibles.jpg

There are also a lot of moral conundrums. I won't say that superheroes and supervillains make particularly deep or compelling philosophical arguments, but seeing Mark wrestle with the morality of, for example, trolley problems on a global scale, the utilitarian ethics of both his allies and his enemies, lets Kirkman play out a lot of "Why doesn't the Batman just kill the !*%&##! Joker?" debates.

Mark and Oliver
One of several Code Versus Killing debates.

Join the dark side, help me destroy the world in order to save it.

Viltrumite debate
Oliver has always been kind of a dick.

As much as I enjoyed the series generally, there were certainly some weaknesses. This is very much a four-color superhero story; it's not "gritty" or "realistic" despite the graphic violence and the R-rated situations and the poop jokes. Time and distance are fungible, and superhero scale is essentially "what can fit on one panel," so whether flying across the country or (literally) across the galaxy, sometimes it takes a long time, sometimes it happens in moments. Characters who in one battle are unbeatable, in the next get beaten bloody because I guess Invincible leveled up. There are some silly plot devices, like vulnerabilities introduced that only ever get used when convenient. And a lot of characters make extreme personality changes with little justification given. The tone ranges from Silver Age to grimdark. Just as in the Marvel and DC universes, the Earth gets invaded and stomped on multiple times, but all of Invincible's friends in suburbia seem to continue with their lives pretty much untouched.

But overall, this was a great read for any superhero fans. I particularly appreciated the ending, an "epilogue" that stretches across multiple issues. Mark Grayson gets to ride off into the sunset with his space family, many years in the future, and it didn't feel like the writer had to bring everything to an abrupt closure because the series was suddenly cancelled.

Terra, growing up

I don't know how closely the Amazon Prime series will follow the original script, and I doubt it will have the longevity of the comic series, but if you watch it and like it, I really recommend reading the series.

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Tags: books, graphic novels, reviews, superheroes

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