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Amazon's Invincible embraces superheroics, but grounds them in realism

  • "What makes Invincible instantly stand out is the way it takes a familiar superhero story heavily inspired by the tone of early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man, while adding a penchant for gore and grim darkness that we've grown used to in modern superhero stories that challenge the notion that superheroes are only bright and colorful," says Rafael Motamayor of the Robert Kirkman animated series starring Steven Yeun. "(Zack Snyder's Justice League makes a similar recent case.) When Mark rushes in to fight the aliens, he quickly realizes that even if he can deflect laser beams because of his powers, innocent bystanders aren't so lucky, and they get instantly eviscerated by an alien warrior trying to kill Mark. Though the show can be interpreted as falling into the same hole as other superhero shows like The Boys or Harley Quinn in how they glorify the violence they're preaching against, Invincible mostly avoids this by staying focused on Mark's horrified reactions in discovering that his actions have consequences, and those consequences are far bloodier and permanent than he ever thought they'd be. Sure, heroes are glamorized and the idea of a superhero team sounds great, but the moment the fight begins, the show makes it clear that violence has repercussions. Punching a villain can give them a concussion, throwing a car against them will crush and kill them, and there is no going back.  Where The Boys tears down the idea of superheroes in general, and DC's animated Harley Quinn series makes fun of the entire concept and knocks its teeth out with a bat, Invincible embraces superheroics, but also grounds them in realism when it comes to the physical consequence of having powers. It's not too realistic that it takes the fun out of it, but just enough to make you think twice about cheering for The Hulk punching his way through a crowd."


    • After The Boys and Harley Quinn, Invincible feels like a cheap imitation: "Adapted from Robert Kirkman’s comic-book series of the same name (with artist Cory Walker providing visual continuity in his role as the show’s lead designer), Amazon’s Invincible sounds generic on purpose," says Inkoo Kang. "The animated program is a genre spoof, and part of the fun is supposed to be knockoff crime-fighters like growling gadget geek Dark Wing and headgeared Amazonian War Woman. Invincible’s satirical and ultraviolent take on superheroes will no doubt recall HBO Max’s Harley Quinn and Amazon’s own The Boys — two vastly superior shows that make this eight-part outing feel like a cheap imitation, no matter how many times it observers how groan-worthy Mark’s post-victory one-liners are. Invincible is also notable for marking a reunion of sorts between Kirkman, who created The Walking Dead comic-book series and wrote several episodes of its TV adaptation, and TWD alum Steven Yeun, who delivers a pitch-perfect performance as the alternately wistful and puppy-dog-eager Mark. The voice cast is the easiest thing to praise about Invincible, which features J.K. Simmons as the gruff and irascible Omni-Man, Sandra Oh as Mark’s mom Debbie and Mark Hamill, Seth Rogen, Gillian Jacobs, Andrew Rannells, Zazie Beetz, Walton Goggins and Jason Mantzoukas in supporting roles. But their spirited turns can’t make up for the series’ fatally sluggish pacing — the result of stretching out what feels like a half-hour’s worth of material into 45 bloated minutes. It’s not just superheroes that have become ascendant in the culture, but parodies thereof, too. That makes Invincible feel like a not particularly notable also-ran, despite Kirkman’s imprimatur and the relative novelty of an Asian-American superhero."
    • Invincible looks like a pristine, loving glow-up of the mid-’90s Saturday morning cartoon, but with so many characters: "Its overall look is a far cry from the super-sad coffee-stained darkness characteristic of the 'What If Superheroes, But Important' genre, thank goodness. Invincible looks like a pristine, loving glow-up of the mid-’90s Saturday morning cartoon, full of primary colors and big, stark motion," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "But it’s also a demonstration of just how much gore you can see with a bright color palette and bold lines. It turns out blood looks very bloody when it’s regularly splashed across the screen in vermillion gashes rather than the dripping dark pools of a Batman movie. As for budget, Invincible’s intended cultural heft is maybe most obvious in the impressive combined firepower of its voice cast, which is on full display over the first three episodes provided to critics. There are so many superheroes in this show, enough that I kept the show’s Wikipedia page open at all times while watching, just trying to keep track of who I was hearing."
    • Invincible manages to make something potentially fascinating out of what should be a disastrous recipe for whiplash: "The end result is bewildering, but also exhilarating, injecting energy into a simple power fantasy premise even as it carries the potential to alienate viewers looking for lighter fare," says William Hughes. "Which makes this a pretty great adaptation of Invincible, actually, a comic that happily oscillated between ultra-violence and Reginald VelJohnson jokes for the duration of its run. And those darker impulses are rarely used glibly, instead employed to highlight the increasing stakes of the world Mark has aspired to join for all his life, and the immaturity of his initial desire to throw himself into the fight. When the show lands its punches—metaphorical or otherwise—it does so with consideration for where the damage is going to land."
    • Invincible is difficult to love, but not difficult to watch: "Invincible has a languid quality that permeates the whole enterprise — its excellent voice cast, stacked with beloved actors like Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, and Jason Mantzoukas — must work through sleepy characterization, and its animation sits in an uncomfortable space between Young Justice-esque Saturday morning cartoon and elevated Flash web cartoon," says Joshua Rivera. "A well-choreographed fight is often followed by painfully static conversations and weightless movement, making it impossible to truly become enamored with the show’s overly efficient art style. Invincible is difficult to love, but not difficult to watch. The latter is largely due to its cast, but it’s also efficiently plotted snack-food television, just pleasant enough to binge and enjoy before moving on to something else."
    • Invincible has an expectation-shattering ethos that earns your attention: "Distractions are at least part of Invincible’s design," says Ben Travers. "This is an hourlong animated drama (which is rare unto itself) that’s popping holes in the benevolent depictions of those with unparalleled power (not unlike The Boys, though still a rebellious take) that can manage to find room for earnestness and pathos amid satire and snark. The sheer audacity of all that is enough to earn more than a little respect, and once the shock wears off, Invincible quickly builds anticipation for where this story goes next. While too early to tell exactly how it will stack up as a season, let alone a series, in an era where lots of 'ambitious' TV can feel all too predictable, Invincible should keep viewers on their toes — for the right reasons."
    • There are two audiences for Invincible: "On one side, you have the curious newcomers who might've been drawn to the animated comic book adaptation by any number of factors: Its pedigree as the other big, early series from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman (both comics started in 2003); the absolutely bonkers voice cast; or maybe just the trailer and pre-release hype was enough," says Adam Rosenberg. Then there's the other audience, the people who know. We know where this story starts. We know where it's going and how it ends. We know the twists, the turns, the ups and downs. We're tuned in to see the adventures of Mark Grayson brought to life, yes, but we're also watching with the hope that the show just gets things right. Change this story too much, and it's not Invincible anymore."
    • Robert Kirkman smartly plays with our collective geekdom from the start
    • Much of Invincible might look and feel like a ’90s Saturday morning cartoon, but it takes itself seriously
    • Robert Kirkman says animation helps Invincible stand out in a crowded superhero landscape: “I think that one way that we're able to stand apart is by being animated,” he explains. “I think that when people see the elements of violence and gore that are incorporated, that kind of stuff works really well in animation.” Kirkman says of the difference between Invincible and his previous shows The Walking Dead and Outcast: “For the most part, it’s just people in plainclothes in dark rooms talking to other people who are acting weird. Invincible is very much not like that. Invincible is a cast of thousands. Invincible is a massive world. Invincible has insane scope and scale.”
    • Kirkman wanted Invincible to feel like an hourlong cable drama that just happened to be animated
    • Why Kirkman moved up the Omni-Man mystery
    • Kirkman says there's enough material for Invincible to last seven seasons
    • Steven Yeun says Invincible is part of the superhero story's evolution: “I like that we’re moving past superheroes as a place to land for people to be saved by, but rather to actually talk about our reality through these characters,” he says. “In their world, they hold immense power. There are things about that power and how that’s used and the destruction and the things that come as a result of those things. I like that we’re in a time where we can talk about that and show that in this way.”

    TOPICS: Invincible, Amazon, Robert Kirkman, Steven Yeun

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