Invincible Volume 12: Still Standing. Script by Robert Kirkman. Art by Ryan Ottley. Inks by Cliff Rathburn. Colors by FCO Plascencia.
Last Volume, Mark had a fairly calm time of it. Dealt with a few wannabe superheroes, solved some crimes, started a new business with his lady love. It was all rather nice, really. This volume, will very much NOT be that. This time around, Mark's old buddy Angstrom Levy is back, and he's brought friends.
And just when things look their worst, for Invincible, a new threat emerges...
Okay, so there's no real plot arc this week. There's no deep story, filled with intricate twists and turns. What there is, however, is one of the greatest battles in comic book history. I hope you're ready for some GORE.
Chapter one begins with a flashback. To the fateful day when Invincible "killed" notorious noodle, Angry Levy. Turns out, that the whole dying thing wasn't on his to-do list, so he decided not to. Getting assistance from the best surgeons in the multiverse, Levy patched himself back up, and set about planning his revenge.
Now, some time later, he's ready to strike.
What follows are four of the darkest days in the InvinciVerse: as an army of alternate reality Invincibles descend on Earth and basically murder everyone. So many big names join the fight. The Guardians of the Globe, Savage Dragon, Spawn, Witchblade and even Atom Eve join the fight.
Yup, they all join, and one by one, they all get their asses absolutely stomped. They manage to defeat a number of the Evil Invincibles, but a terrible price is paid. Lots of heroes are seriously injured, and many pay the ultimate price. Including annoyance turned hero, Rex-Splode, who rexplodes himself, to take out his target, and save the other Guardians.
By the third day, the world is pretty much done, and Levy assembles the last of this troops over Invincible's house.
Obviously, Invincible is not best pleased by this and tries to get his revenge. Sadly, it doesn't quite work out how he hoped.
Chapter two finds the rebuilding well underway, but Mark doesn't care, he's too busy at the hospital, looking after Eve, who got utterly ruined by one of the Evil Invincibles.
Eventually a guilt riddled Invincible goes to join the recovery efforts, only to get shouted at and attacked by PowerPlex, enraged at the further loss of life, caused by Invincible. Which, as you can imagine, does wonders for the guilt that is already almost overwhelming.
Yup, at this point it would be impossible for Mark to feel any worse. There is nothing that could happen, that would make this week any more horrific that it has already been. He's lost friends, the love of his life is in a coma. Things really couldn't get any worse.
Chapter three, four and five are one long fight. Because Invincible Vs Conquest is so epic, they can't contain it in a single issue. It's one of the most brutal, gory, amazing fight scenes in comic history.
As an angry, endlessly weary Invincible tries to overcome a threat like nothing he's faced before. Conquest has been dispatched to Earth for one reason: To destroy everything that stands in his way. And guess what? He's never failed to break a planet before.
So, over the course of three full issues, Mark throws everything he has at Conquest, including his baby brother, and his fresh out of the hospital girlfriend.
But Conquest is a Viltrumite at the peak of his powers. He is everything the Empire stands for, and he is VERY good at his job.
But Invincible just doesn't know how to quit, and when pushed to the limits, he'll discover strengths he never knew he had.
And, it's never wise to count out Atom Eve. She has secrets too, you know!
Chapter 6 begins with a reversal of earlier chapters. With Mark waking up in a hospital bed, and a worried Eve sitting by his side. Sadly, he's not in for a restful day, and after a worrying visit from his mother, and checking in with Cecil to make sure that Conquest is REALLY dead, he heads off to Rex's funeral.
Sadly, it seems Mark will never learn. Because, while he's away mourning his lost friend, we find out that of course Cecil lied, and the body he showed Mark was a fake. Conquest is still very much alive, locked up in a special containment facility, so that he can be interrogated at a late date, regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the Viltrumite Empire. Because there's no way that can go wrong. Gods, Cecil is such a tool.
Why this book is so good:
There are certain defining moments, in this series: Invincible Vs Conquest is one of the biggest. We've seen Invincible fight before this. But in most cases, he's either wrecking whole gangs of minions with laughable ease, or getting curbstomped by vastly superior foes, like in his battle against his father.
But this fight is different. Invincible Vs Conquest is the first time we see Invincible fight a foe that is strong enough to give him a real challenge, but not SO much stronger that the fight is over in a couple of panels. Invincible has been in fights, before. This is his first true BATTLE. And it's glorious to see.
The way Conquest's mocking and derision slowly give way to a grudging respect as the fight goes on, the mad scramble in the background as Cecil tries to find any way to tip the scales in Invincible's favour, it all adds together with the horrors we see in the fight, to really bring you right to the edge of your seat and KEEP you there, for three whole issues.
I honestly don't know how anyone read this an issue at a time, months apart. I would have been bouncing off the walls in anticipation for each new installment.
But of course, Invincible's strength isn't just in his arms, and legs. He has some powerful allies, who are always willing to lend a hand. So, when the fight looks its bleakest, Oliver arrives. And very quickly, gets utterly destroyed, because Oliver sucks.
Thankfully, Mark has some other, more powerful allies. Allies that are far more powerful than anyone might be aware of, right now.
Yup, Atom Eve joins the fight. She doesn't do amazingly well, in fact, she gets kebabed fairly quickly. For the second time this volume, she finds herself near death. Then, something interesting happens. She goes Super Saiyan! Yup, it turns out when the doctors were cooking her up, they got worried about just how powerful she really was, so installed some mental blocks to prevent her from unleashing her full powers.
Thankfully, "nearly dying" is a big enough trigger that she's allowed to temporarily remove those limiters, and alter her own matter. This allows her to heal herself, and char-broil Conquest, giving Mark the edge he needs. Then she passes out. Because this is Mark's fight.
I have to say, I'm really not a fan of this little twist. Eve is already a fantastically strong character. She has one of the most versatile abilities in the whole series, I'm not sure she really needed a Phoenix-style "Get out of death free" card. It does slightly remove the jeopardy from the series, knowing that she can basically attack anyone, die, get a power amp and then come back "better" than she was before (not entirely sure why she needed a boob job at the same time, Kirkman...)
And believe it or not, there are more powers for her to reveal, in time.
And so, with a little help from his friends, and his all powerful forehead, Invincible vanquishes Conquest, huzzah!
But, of course, there IS another plot line, this volume. My least favourite pot noodle is back, and this time, he's brought allies.
I've got to say: this was a pretty solid arc, for Levy. He still annoys me, but at least now he's doing something a bit interesting! He's stepped out of the cliche cave, into the blinding lights of Multi-versal nonsense.
The Invincible War is a pretty savage arc. The world has been threatened many times before in the series, but we've never seen it fall so hard, or so fast. It's great to see all the other ImageVerse characters making an appearance. Especially as it's now canon that Invincible could beat Spawn ;).
But, this fight is about more than simple fan service, although whenever Witchblade is around, you know there will be a little.
This arc sees many of the biggest hitters in the series take hard losses. And no one loses harder than our boy Rex-Splode. Rex has been an odd character, so far. Starting off as something of a jerk, the typical "dirtbag that's dating the main characters crush" type. But, much like with so many of Kirkman's characters, you can't let your initial impression stick. Since their breakup, we've seen Rex get some real growth, and he was just about to turn into a decent character, when he ended up sacrificing himself for his team/ Proving once and for all, that you can never tell who is going to be the real hero.
This journey is capped off, when we see Robot delivering a surprisingly emotional eulogy in the closing chapter of this volume, which actually hit pretty hard. Damn you, Kirkman.
But of course, the fallout from the arc is more than simple body count. What we're starting to see now, is a general shift of public opinion away from out titular hero. People were already questioning Invincible's loyalty, some people just couldn't help but wonder: Is he really on our side, or is he a turncoat, like his father? And now, those whispers have become full on shouts, as an army that look just like Invincible tear across the globe, killing millions and destroying many major cities.
(insert obligatory picture of Big Ben on fire. We have other landmarks, people!)
And if you hang around a little, pubic opinion of Invincible isn't quite finished taking a beating, just yet.
Speaking of taking a beating, Angstrom Levy, who caused all of this, escapes capture, AGAIN. I'm sure we'll see him again, in the future, but maybe not how we expect too...
This brings us to the final part that I wanted to discuss: Mark's waning humanity.
I've mentioned it a few times, but while Invincible is getting stronger, his "Mark" side seems to be slowly dying off. Between his slow loss of connections to the non-hero people in his life, his fights with his mother, dropping out of college, slowly but surely, Mark is ceasing to exist.
So, when confronted by Levy, a person that Mark thought he'd killed, he reaches something of a crossroads.
At this point, Levy has decimated the planet, and is responsible for the deaths of millions. Deaths brought about by people that look an awful lot like Mark.
So, that guilt he's been carrying? when he thought he'd killed Levy the first time... Was that really justified? HAS Oliver been right this whole time? If Levy really had died in that ruined dimension, how many lives would be better right now, for losing him?
But Mark hesitates. While he understands what has to be done, he still has a small flicker of humanity left inside him, and Levy escapes into a portal.
Then Conquest arrives. Injures Oliver, "kills" Eve. It's a brutal shock to Mark's very core and he understands there's only one way to deal with him. Death.
So, the light is snuffed out, and Invincible lives on. It's really heart-wrenching to see the change in Mark. From the funny, eager young hero of the first few volumes, seeing his gradual slide from idealist to pragmatist, to a person now fully capable of murder for the right cause. It's an arc we don't often see. Usually, the light heroes stay light, and the grittier heroes start off that way. This is like seeing Spider-Man get tired of webbing enemies, and strangle Green Goblin with his webbing.
It does, however, raise an interesting point. Mark has long seen himself as some kind of moral arbiter. His strong sense of what is allowed and what isn't has lead to him clashing with Cecil on many occasions, most notably on the subject of one young vigilante by the name of Darkwing. A hero who snapped under extreme pressure, and killed some villains. Invincible has long been unable to forgive him for this "terrible" crime, often going so far as to attack Darkwing on sight.
So, now that Invincible realises that sometimes, you just have to cross that line, and kill people for the greater good, will he be making up with our Dark Knight?
Well, that might be tricky. Because Darkwing is one of the many casualities of The Invincible War. The war that Invincible started by NOT killing Levy when he had the chance.
Darkwing sacrificed himself, to take down one of the evil Invincibles.
Don't you just love the irony, there? Invincible, who has now accepted that sometimes you have to kill people, for the greater good, unable to apologise to another hero he's been pretty unfair too, because that hero is now dead, killed in a war that never would have happened, if Invincible had killed a threat when he had the chance.
It's this kind of brutal complexity that makes Invincible such a compelling series, and makes it so hard to really pin down who is "good" and who is "bad" in this series.
Oh, and those dead Invincibles? the multiverse hopping army of destruction that nearly ended life as we know it?
Yeah, we've not seen the last of them:
Because there are characters that seem like good guys, but turn out to be bad. There are characters that seem like they're evil, but turn out to be good. And then there's D.A. Sinclair, who is just the freakin WORST.
Overall, Volume 12 of Invincible was a real landmark, for the series. Doubling down on everything that makes Invincible such a fan favourite series.
Brutal, unrelenting fights, in Ottley's signature style: clean, sharp artwork, that captures how lightning fast and savage the fights are. Coupled with Kirkman's trademark complexity, that takes the horror of the combat, and shows us that sometimes, the real enemies are the people we might least expect.
And space squids. SO many space squids.
So join me next week, for Invincible Volume 13: Growing Pains. After the battle with Conquest, Earth and Mark's life are in ruins. Mark is faced with some difficult questions, that he may not be able to answer... and deep in space, Nolan and Allen prepare, because the Viltrumite War is coming!
If you want to read along with me, you can find every issue of Kirkman's Invincible on Comixology, collected volumes on Amazon, or better yet, at your local comic store!