Invincible review: Amazon Prime Video animated adult superhero series is as feel-good as outrageously subversive
Invincible may not have the spectacle of a grand, VFX-embellished live-action entertainer to show off, but this little show does manage to hold its own nonetheless.
As far as comic book superhero adaptations go, Amazon Prime’s adult animated series Invincible (based on the Image Comics character of the same name) seems to lie somewhere between the feel-good humankind-is-worth-saving formula of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the dark, outrageous subversiveness of Amazon Prime’s own The Boys.
Make no mistake though, with all of its animated goodness, Invincible is a bloodier, gorier show than The Boys. You’ll notice this more and more at the show title reveal of each subsequent episode, which has a splatter of blood on it that gets larger and more prominent as the series goes along. And by focusing on its teen protagonist Mark Grayson and him coming to terms with his superpowers, it also does a more wholesome job of breaking down the inner workings of a hero’s head and heart.
The world of the show is one where superheroes and supervillains are a matter of routine. Earth is protected by the Guardians of the Globe, members of which will remind you of some of your favourite Marvel and DC Characters. (The Batman-inspired fellow Darkwing seems too cool to be true.) There’s also Omni-Man, a Superman-like character from a planet named Viltrum, now settled on Earth with a wife and a son, choosing to do his superhero-ing alone.
Mark Grayson is Omni-Man’s son, and when we’re introduced to him, his powers are just beginning to show. Yet, he’s also a typical American teen, so he also has high school issues to deal with (like his crush Amber). There is a plethora of superhero content on streaming platforms to choose from right now, but Invincible’s comforting animation and wide-eyed superhero-coming-of-age theme makes it an easy universe to get into. What really sucks you in, though, is that violent shock ending to the show’s very first episode, which sets up a great intrigue for the remainder of the show.
There are little strands of story and a multitude of characters that show looks at – some would feel perhaps too many. But most characters do add their little something to the larger plot; either in terms of teaching Mark a thing or two about the superhero life; or for setting things up for future seasons. One of the most fun aspects of the show is the gamut of imaginative, almost charming supervillains that keep appearing.
An alien race known as the Flaxans, for instance, comes from a world that has a time dilation difference with Earth. Meaning that if they attack and are beaten back to where they came from, they take years to plan their next attack, with even more advanced technology; but by the time they show up again, only a few days have passed on Earth. So obviously, they’re relentless. Or take the Mauler twins – two brutes who are clones of each other, but who can’t ever agree on who is the original.
But despite all the big bang stuff that happens regularly through all the episodes, the heart of the show is Mark Grayson’s complex relationship with his father – the most powerful being on Earth, and his mother, a regular American mom whose only superpower is probably just that – being his mom, knowing him and caring for him better than anyone else can. Sandra Oh and JK Simmons voice Mark’s parents Debbie Grayson and Nolan Grayson / Omni-Man, and together with Steven Yeun as the voice of Mark Grayson, they’re the ones who do most of the heavy-lifting on the show.
A host of other familiar names provide voices for the supporting cast – Mahershala Ali’s supervillain Titan, who can shield his body with rock at will, has one of the most nuanced tracks on the show, and you can’t help but feel for Art Rosenbaum – the tailor who designs and stitches outfits for all those superheroes out there, voiced by Mark Hammill. And wait till you see the full-on bonkers Allen the Alien, voiced by Seth Rogen (who is also incidentally working on a separate live action adaptation of Invincible).
Despite running off in too many directions often, Invincible does stay faithful to its central conceit, leaving us to discover the many ways in which Mark has to grow up as he eases into his superhero avatar. The reason it is referred to as an adult animated series despite the child-friendly feel it tends to give, is because it is genuinely a show that could be considered too nuanced and too bloody for children, its overall good-natured vibe notwithstanding. The humour in the show (some of it organic, some of it in the form of gags, because why not) isn’t as dark as The Boys, but it still has a mature tone to it.
With eight episodes, each about 45 minutes long, there’s a lot happening over the first season, and most of it has the ability to hold your attention. It may not have the spectacle of a grand, vfx-embellished live-action entertainer to show off, but this little show does manage to hold its own nonetheless.
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