In the 20-plus years since Alan Moore introduced us to, superhero comics have tried to incorporate gritty realism to wildly varying rates of success. Inherent in the genre is the fact that these people are anything but real. Their very existence would alter the landscape of the entire world, from the waging of wars to space exploration to issues of poverty and world hunger. Adding to the storytelling problem is the idea that, just as some readers are clamoring for more realism, others are looking for the fun and exciting superheroics they love, the kind that centers around costumes and masks, superhuman exploits, explosive fisticuffs, and things getting blown up a lot.
All of which leads us to Invincible, a little comics series that, for the past few years, has built up a steady following without great fanfare or hoopla. Sure, it’s standard superhero fare to a large extent --- and if you hate the superhero genre, there’s probably not a whole lot here for you --- but it also shows just how much joy can be found in a comic book that is proud to celebrate being a comic book.
The title character is a teenager named Mark Grayson, son of the most powerful superhero on the planet. His father is an alien with remarkable abilities (flight, speed, strength --- think Superman without the X-ray vision) who is married to an average Earth-born woman. Mark’s been waiting for his power’s to kick in for some time, and they do just in time for him to witness the brutal mass-murder of most of the world’s other superheroes. Turns out dear old dad has been waiting to lead an invasion to Earth and has been playing the hero all along. Their epic battle (with father pleading son to join him, and son vowing he’ll never join the side of evil) ends with the father heading back into space, but only for the time being.
Despite the heaviness of this setup to the series, Invincible has a knack for not taking itself too seriously, which is why it works so well. It doesn’t break new ground so much as it takes its timeenjoying the ground it’s on --- a refreshing change of pace from some of today’s way-too-serious, brooding comics. Mark is allowed to grow up, finish high school, go to college, and fall in love, all with a colorful cast of supporting characters backing him up.
Mark’s father may have left the galaxy, but the threat of a superpowered planet of aliens somewhere out there, lurking, biding their time, is a nice element of suspense throughout this series. Writer Robert Kirkman is taking his time building up to this crescendo, giving us, in the meantime, an assorted mixture of evil scientists and oddly powered villains, as well as sweetly touching teenage romance and angst. Throw in some interplanetary travel, a covert government operation that “employs” Mark/Invincible to keep a watch on the planet, and a happy-go-lucky alien named Allen who monitors the galaxy for possible threats, and you get a pretty good idea of what Invincible is like. You may also see the potential for unbridled enthusiasm and sheer delight this offers too. It’s the kind of superhero book that had been sorely missing from the genre for far too long.
Reviewed by John Hogan on June 17, 2008