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‘Invincible’ Season 1 review: Man and superman

The Season 1 finale of "Invincible", "Where I Really Come From", is incredibly brutal, but one that truly elevates this critically acclaimed adult animated superhero series streaming on Prime Video. Image credit: IMDb
Image credit: IMDb

The Season 1 finale of “Invincible”, “Where I Really Come From”, is incredibly brutal, but one that truly elevates this critically acclaimed adult animated superhero series streaming on Prime Video. Based on the Image Comics series of the same name by The Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman, “Invincible” is a provocative and often painfully realistic examination of superheroes that subverts expectations and comic book tropes.

Fittingly, it features a powerhouse cast that includes J.K. Simmons (Nolan Grayson a.k.a. the Earth’s most powerful superhero, Omni-Man), Sandra Oh (Nolan’s human wife Debbie Grayson), and Steven Yeun (Nolan and Debbie’s son Mark Grayson a.k.a. the titular character Invincible). The great Mark Hamill even voices one of the recurring characters. At first, this eight-episode Amazon Original series seems like a typical coming-of-age tale. High school student Mark gains his powers at age 17. Ever since he was a kid, he has dreamed of this moment, because he wants to become a superhero like his father Omni-Man, who belongs to a superpowered alien race known as the Viltrumites. But illusions are quickly shattered from the very first episode. Spoilers ahead.

Why can’t I be you?

Knowing the truth that lies ahead, the first episode of “Invincible” becomes even more poignant. It’s easy to relate to the literal hero worship that Mark has for his father. Because he and his father were expecting Mark’s superpowers to manifest at a much younger age, Mark has already been doubting whether he would gain them at all. He’s afraid that he would turn out to be only human, after all. Then, once he gains his powers, his joy turns to even more self-doubt, because he’s afraid that he won’t be able to learn how to use his powers properly and become a great superhero like his father.

The first episode does an excellent job of showing how much Nolan, Debbie, and Mark love each other. Being the wife of the world’s greatest superhero has been particularly difficult for Debbie, but we also learn how it was her love that made the alien Nolan want to stay on Earth and start a family. That it was Debbie who taught Nolan how to become human and care for the people of this planet, which is why he became Omni-Man, Earth’s greatest protector. And while he is not a member of any superhero team, including the mightiest one, the Guardians of the Globe, Nolan assists them in the neverending battle against evil.

In fact, the episode starts with the Guardians of the Globe battling their longtime adversaries, the Mauler Twins (Kevin Michael Richardson), who have attacked the White House, and Omni-Man joining the fray to help his fellow superheroes

You’ve got a friend in me

Invincible and Atom Eve. Image credit: IMDb
Invincible and Atom Eve. Image credit: IMDb

The first episode also introduces us to Mark’s best friend William Clockwell (Andrew Rannells) and their high school classmates. We see Mark in typical comic book superhero fashion standing up to the school bully, while being too shy to talk to his crush, who of course has to be the most popular girl in school, Amber Bennett (Zazie Beetz).

So far, so familiar.

Which is why it’s so shocking when Episode 1 ends with Omni-Man killing all the Guardians.

What makes the carnage even more unbelievable is that the episode had built up the Guardians of the Globe, who are obviously modeled after DC Comics’ the Justice League in both superhero names and superpowers, as a seemingly unstoppable force.

Sure, they put up a fight, but Omni-Man kills the whole team in brutal fashion, without showing any signs of remorse.

Like the Guardians when Omni-Man first attacks them, we think that some supervillain must be mind-controlling Omni-Man. It has to be the only explanation, right?

How can we reconcile the loving husband and father, and noble superhero, with this vicious killing machine?

As the series unfolds, it becomes clear that Omni-Man wanted to kill the Guardians of the Globe. Particularly as demon detective Damien Darkblood (Clancy Brown) pursues his investigation of the murders. But episode after episode passes, and the series still doesn’t explain why.

Meanwhile, we get to know more superheroes, including the Teen Team, led by the robot named, well, Robot (Zachary Quinto). One of its members, Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs), who manipulates matter and energy, turns out to be a classmate of Mark, Samantha Eve Wilkins. Eve becomes Mark’s first superhero friend, who helps him learn how to control his powers.

I’m only human

Amber and Mark's first date. Image credit: Screenshot of episode on Prime Video
Amber and Mark’s first date. Image credit: Screenshot of episode on Prime Video

One of the things I really like about “Invincible” is that it’s a very character-driven series. We get to know the Graysons and care about this little family. I love the friendship between Mark and William, and between Mark and Eve.

And when Amber becomes the girlfriend of Mark, it’s great to see Eve and Amber becoming friends as well, even though Amber started out being jealous of Eve.

Of course, I also have to mention that wonderful first date that Amber planned, where she takes Mark to a place based on one of the many Filipinotowns in the US and makes him try the Filipino dessert halo-halo.

It was also in this scene that we learned that Amber is more than just the popular girl, as she went to the Philippines as a volunteer to help build schools.

“It felt so good, and it just made me realize that we’re in a total bubble that keeps us from seeing what the world’s actually like.”

It’s an example of how “Invincible” doesn’t shy away from examining social issues, including the gap between the rich and poor, and between superheroes saving the world and making a difference at the street level.

As one of the characters, Titan (Mahershala Ali), tells Invincible:

“Of course you haven’t heard of him. You’re a rich kid from the suburbs.”

And for a series that can be brutal and unflinching, “Invincible” doesn’t settle for the grim and gritty route. In fact, the series is also filled with witty dialogue and humor. Even the villains can be witty and humorous, including the Mauler Twins and Doc Seismic (Chris Diamantopoulos).

Who wants to live forever?

Debbie and Nolan Grayson. Image credit: IMDb
Debbie and Nolan Grayson. Image credit: IMDb

Episode 8, however, is a stunning season finale that finally explains why Omni-Man killed the Guardians of the Globe. With the reveal of perhaps the most unapologetically villainous comic book character.

How do you react when you find out that everything was a lie?

That the hero you worshipped all your life was really a monster?

The “Invincible” Season 1 finale is so difficult to watch not only because of the insane amount of destruction and deaths, but also because it’s a battle between father and son. A son who loves his father so much, and a father who is more than willing to kill his son.

And everyone on this planet, if he has to.

It is a heartbreaking yet awe-inspiring finale that shows what heights comic book stories are able to reach in the hands of a master. The nihilism of Omni-Man, who wants to force his son to see how insignificant the lives of humans are, is in stark contrast to the heroism of Invincible.

What makes us human? What makes someone a hero? If you watch the “Invincible” Season 1 finale, you’ll find out the answers.

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