Mark Grayson is Invincible, but what is he without his father? That’s a question Amazon Prime Video’s animated superhero series ponders as it returns for a second season.
Following on from the betrayal and sudden disappearance of Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons) at season 1’s end, Mark (Steven Yeun, who once again anchors the series with a remarkably grounded performance), his mother Debbie (Sandra Oh), girlfriend Amber (Zazie Beetz), and his groups of college friends and superhero allies alike must pick up the pieces.
After a disorienting opening scene that provides a killer hook for the episodes – and potentially seasons – to come, Invincible season 2 sticks close to Mark as he fumbles his way through a series of superhero escapades, all while simultaneously wrestling with the long, long shadow of his father’s actions.
As an elevator pitch, it’s a great entry point into the second season. It also helps that the Prime Video series never takes its foot off the gas. Unlike the more languidly paced first season, Invincible season 2 cuts through the noise, frontloading its episodes to deliver a series of fast-moving adventures for Mark to deal with alongside his personal family drama, including a riotous underwater excursion to Atlantis and a trip to (the Gotham-in-all-but-name) Midnight City.
Its one misstep in that regard is teasing aspects of the multiverse. What was once a less-well-trodden path upon the comic’s publication in the mid-2000s has now clearly lost its potency – no matter how hard Invincible tries to convince us otherwise.
The faster-than-a-speeding-bullet pacing is only interrupted by Mark’s new college life with Amber and William. While we’re spared the worst parts of season one’s overblown high school arcs, it does again come close to getting in the way of the more compelling parts of Invincible.
That’s because the Prime Video series, generally speaking, is a reliably stellar superhero piece that hews closely to The Boys’ gritty bar of high quality and even evokes some of the better prestige dramas around with some of its more emotionally-charged scenes.
Mark keeping his mother at arm’s length before reconciling, for example, is a moment that is played beautifully by top-tier talents in Yeun and Oh. The show lands those sorts of beats better this season because of the time it’s afforded by not having to race through multiple origin stories (though, ironically, one out-of-left field origin tale is among Part 1’s highlights).
Way back in 2019, I told Marvel and DC to take note because their new competition – The Boys – was here. Invincible is heading for a similar stratosphere, routinely overtaking the pair of comic book giants with the sort of nuanced character dramas that their cinematic universes could only dream of pulling off.
Well-realized plotting, writing, and characterization naturally makes Invincible stand out from the superhero pack, but it also serves to highlight its inconsistencies elsewhere, such as the show’s bafflingly poor choice of obvious needle drops that litter each episode.
A reflective montage set to Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’, which opens the season, works well enough; repeating the same trick four or five times is bordering on parody. In a show of mature, well-balanced storytelling, this smacks of being a producing note from up-high, a product of corner-cutting, or someone who should know better trying to smuggle in their Spotify Wrapped playlist.
Of course, we have to address the Omni-Man-shaped elephant in the room. There’s no two ways about it: Invincible misses J.K. Simmons’ terrifying Viltrumite.
That gnawing gap does mean the show plunges into untapped emotional depths, especially with Mark and Debbie, but Omni-Man so often felt like the main attraction that his absence is keenly felt from a storytelling perspective. Even so, some will be pleased that the hyper-violence remains. But much like with the use of music, intestines being unspooled and heads being popped like melons is too goofy and completely at odds with the storytelling wrapped around it.
It should also not go unnoticed that Invincible’s second season is split into two parts – and the show suffers slightly for it.
Some secondary plots have to be content with being underdeveloped and taking a back seat to Mark and the main action. The Immortal fronting up the Guardians of the Globe, Eve dealing with her own family issues, and even the main B-plot – Debbie dealing with her own grief – don’t feel satisfactory enough as arcs because of the truncated half-season. We’ll get answers in 2024, but with how stop-start Invincible’s releases have been (the first season aired in early 2021), it’s only a move that will frustrate viewers.
Invincible season 2, though, is a strong effort that builds capably on the first season, even if its four-episode Part 1 leaves some storylines feeling undercooked and some major players on the sidelines. In a world where The Boys continues to soar but interest in Marvel and DC wanes, Invincible grasps why (and how) superhero media should remain at the forefront of the pop culture conversation: as a character piece first, a superhero spectacle second.