Invincible is a strange beast. The comic book series started when superhero movies and shows were routinely lambasted – indeed, the critically-panned Daredevil arrived just three weeks after the first issue hit shelves in 2003 – and the all-conquering MCU was barely a glint in Kevin Feige’s eye.
Invincible’s subversive parodying of everything from Batman, to Superman, and even Watchmen felt revolutionary back then. But now, Amazon’s television adaptation is stepping into a different world; there’s a real risk that the comic’s once razor-sharp edges have dulled over the years. It’s a challenge, though, that the animated show is eager to face.
"To have an audience that is really well-versed in superheroes makes you experience the Invincible story in a heightened way," creator Robert Kirkman – also the mastermind behind The Walking Dead comic books – tells a roundtable attended by GamesRadar+. "If this had happened 10 or 15 years ago, there wouldn’t have been enough movies and TV shows to hit that critical mass where the audience is primed for something like Invincible."
A cast like no other
That ‘critical mass’ is put to good use in the show’s setup – with more than a wink and a nod to how simple, almost trite, the premise seems at first glance. Invincible centres on Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), the son of Deborah Grayson and Omni-Man and the show’s answer to Superman. As he approaches 18, Mark gets the first taste of his fledgling superpowers and must juggle personal relationships and schoolwork, all while finding his feet among the clouds.
His character arc – Mark stumbles and falters while being mentored by his father – sounds predictable. However, it soon becomes apparent that it’s anything but. No spoilers here, but Invincible’s first episode introduces an all-timer of a rug pull that’ll have you busily bingeing the remaining two episodes available on launch day – with future episodes to follow weekly.
Invincible is ultimately anchored by the Grayson father-son relationship – but is surrounded by an extraordinary cast. Yeun, recently nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, and J.K. Simmons provide real gravitas as Mark and Nathan Grayson, and are flanked by the considerable talents of Zazie Beetz (Atlanta) and Gillian Jacobs (Community) across the opening stretch of episodes. The rest of the cast reads like something that wouldn’t feel out of place on an Academy Awards shortlist: Mahershala Ali, Jon Hamm, Sandra Oh, Mark Hamill, Walton Goggins, Jason Mantzoukas, and Seth Rogen all feature in some capacity.
No guts, no glory
Of course, there’s also your traditional superhero fare in Invincible, with superhero squads Guardians of the Globe (voiced by cast members of The Walking Dead) and the Teen Team doing battle against a litany of villains. There’s also the fact that the show’s animated style lends itself to a greater scope and scale – one rarely seen in the genre.
"I also think for people who are fans of the comic – to see these big sequences come to life in an animated form will be really exciting," says Gillian Jacobs, who plays Teen Team member Atom Eve on Invincible. "Because Robert [Kirkman] is so involved in the show that it will, hopefully, feel like the comic that they loved."
Where Amazon’s other superhero show, The Boys, held back its big showdowns and bloody fights, Invincible goes all-out from the get-go. Maybe a little too much. This is certainly not for children – and makes other superhero shows look like a spa day by comparison. Guts are spilled, necks are twisted, and eyeballs are gouged. Many will love it, though others may be put off by the more extreme aspects of the action.
Beetz, who plays Mark’s classmate Amber in the show – no super powers here, sorry – says it’s the personal touch between father and son, not the large-scale battles, that stands out most."“I’m into the family drama stuff of the show," she says. "It’s really interesting to see how Omni-Man and Invincible have to square their relationship with each other and how that arc is throughout the whole season. I think it’s a really interesting collision of the ‘super world’ and a basic father-son story. It encapsulates to me where their relationship goes, a lot of what the show is about and the energy of the show."
Another of Invincible’s biggest strengths is that things actually matter. The elastic band logic of comics and comic adaptations – where the status quo rebounds back by a story’s end – isn’t a factor here. Relationships get severed, feelings get hurt and, crucially, there’s an end point in mind. It stands out in a crowded marketplace of superheroes and cinematic universes with no fixed finale.
"This is a superhero story that has a beginning, middle, and an end," Kirkman says. "It’s a story of Mark Grayson’s life as a superhero and you get to see him change, and grow, and evolve over time. It’s in a way you’ll never see Spider-Man or Batman or anybody like that [change]."
That’s an approach that Beetz, similarly, admires. "I think what’s sort of new about is it feels, to me, like real people dealing with these heightened circumstances. So, if you took this superpower things and crazy things can attack the world and really put it into our world, I feel like Invincible would be a reflection of that," she says. "I see that in how they represent consequences. If something happens in an episode, it carries over into the following episode. I don’t think that is totally present in a lot of comic series."
It’s worth noting that the series won’t simply follow Invincible’s comic story panel-by-panel and page-by-page, but will maintain the creator’s spirit. Kirkman was "in the booth at every recording session, talking to us as much as the director was, if not more!" according to Beetz. "He was very involved. That made me think the show is going to honor what’s important about the comic."
Kirkman himself also hints at the Amazon version of Invincible becoming something more, essentially becoming a director’s cut of the original story. “There are certainly some things I would like to expand upon and some things I’d like to change,” he admits. "Largely, the main chunk of things that exist in the comic will get adapted very closely."
Kirkman continues: "There are different stories that I think could be improved upon or tightened up a little bit and don’t meander. So, there might be some things like that which change. In a perfect world, after a number of seasons, you’ll have a very similar version to the story that was told over 144 issues… whether we reach the same end point or not is to be determined."
Eighteen years may have passed, but Invincible is intent on showing that it can hang with Marvel and DC’s big boys once more. Amazon might have another Boys-style hit on their hands.
Invincible launches its first three episodes on Amazon Prime Video on March 26. In the meantime, check out some of the best shows on Amazon Prime.