Invincible Volume 14: The Viltrumite War (collecting Invincible #71-78). Written by Robert Kirkman, Art by Ryan Ottley, Colours by FCO Plascencia.
Last Volume saw the introduction of one of the greatest villains in comics history: Grand Regent Thragg. A bunch of other stuff happened too, most of it really cool. But it wasn't as cool as Thragg. This week, you'll get a taste of just why Thragg is so respected, both in his universe and ours.
Chapter one begins, as so many have before it, with Invincible and the Guardians of the Globe facing off against The Flaxxans! Yup, the old bugs are back, and once again they don't last too long. They go down easy, once the heroes work out how they're blocking the rapid aging which is always their downfall (this time, it's in the tanks!).
But that's when things get a bit...interesting. Because it seems Robot is as bored of fighting them as the rest of us are of reading about it. So, he opts to take the fight to their homeworld. Charging through one of their portals, alongside Monster Girl. I'm sure they'll be fine, though...
More important, though: preparations for the Viltrumite War are all but complete. The last thing they need to do, is go and say goodbye to Debbie. Which also includes Nolan saying hello, for the first time since he went all evil and tried to murder the planet, and said that he hadn't ever really loved her. So, yeah. Not the easiest of meetings.
All that out of the way, the Coalition heads off into space, to take the war to the Viltrumites! The journey comes to an unexpected end, though. When an old friend decides to crash the party:
Chapter two goes pretty much how you think it will. Conquest (and a few friends) pick a fight with the Coalition, and what follows are 20 of the goriest pages in Invincible. Which, if you've read up to this point, you'll understand is really saying something.
But, filled with righteous rage, and leaking more than a few fluid and organs, Invincible eventually puts Conquest down, once and for all. But his victory comes at a great cost.
Chapter three finds Mark, Nolan, and Oliver alone on a deserted planet. Mark is in a coma, trying to heal up from the brutal wounds he received taking down Conquest, while Nolan and Oliver make up for lost time, and get to know each other a little better.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the universe, the Viltrumite War begins. And without their heaviest hitters, the Coalition finds themselves winning battles, but losing the war.
Chapter four finds Great Thaedus desperately trying to keep the Coalition together, and keep spirits up, as the war slowly turns against them.
And when the Viltrumites launch a daring strike directly at Talescria, it looks like things might just be over, for the anti-Viltrumite cause. But the return of the Flying Graysons might just mean there's hope yet!
Chapter five is the big one! The Coalition forces are finally all assembled, and it's time for their counter-attack. And, there's one one target in mind: the Viltrumite homeworld! Now a mausoleum, a monument to those lost to the Scourge Virus, there's no better location for the climactic final battle. But this is a fight that Invincible just isn't prepared for. Will everyone really make it back from this alive?
Chapter six picks up right where five leaves off. The planet Viltrum has been destroyed and Thragg is ANGRY. As Invincible and Omni-man do their best to fight the Grand Regent, one thing becomes clear: This is a fight they simply cannot win. Thragg is the greatest warrior Viltrum has ever created, and he's just too much for them. But before he can land the final blow... fate takes an unusual turn.
Mark wakes up, weeks later, on Talescria to find that peace has been restored. A worrying peace, with no signs of the Viltrumites anywhere. But Mark knows just where to find them!
Chapter seven begins with Mark, Nolan, and the vaguely pointless Tech Jacket
hurrying back to Earth. While Mark's mind dwells on the darkest possibilities, Nolan does everything he can to convince his son that things will be okay. Arriving home everything seems fine... until Mark is forced to make a choice that could well effect the future of the entire galaxy!
The final chapter of the volume sees everything returning to something closely resembling normal. As Mark goes to make sure Eve is okay, Nolan tries to patch things up with Debbie, and on distant Talescria, new leader of the Coalition of Planets, Allen the Alien, is gifted the most dangerous weapon in the galaxy.
I mean, just... damn. That was quite a volume, wasn't it? I would attempt to break it down into separate arcs, and discuss them individually, but this volume really just has the one plot: Total, utter, galaxy-spanning, all-encompassing war.
So, this volume kicks off with the Graysons united for the first time. Off to fight in a great war against a terrible foe! The tension is almost too much. It seems Conquest agrees, because long before the coalition is ready, he and two other familiar faces bring the fight to us, a little earlier than expected.
And I've got to say... if you thought Invincible vs Conquest round 1 was savage, wait until you see round two! It's not quite as long as their previous encounter, but wow, they go HARD to make up for that. In general superhero terms, Invincible is very much mid-tier. He's not the strongest, he's not the fastest. He's CLEARLY not the smartest... But there is one place where Invincible can definitely stand with the best heroes.
There is literally not a single gram of 'quit' anywhere in his body. We've seen hints of this before, but his fight with Conquest is where it really becomes clear. As we saw during round one; Conquest is stronger, faster, and tougher. He has every edge. On paper, this should be his fight. However, it doesn't matter how hard Conquest hits or what terrible damage he's able to inflict; Invincible just keeps coming. Honestly, it's probably my favourite thing about the character: His absolute refusal to give up, when it counts. Even though, by the end of this fight, his guts are literally in a pool on the floor, and he's moments from dying, it doesn't matter to him. He keeps fighting, keeps pushing forward, until he wins.
And when you really think about it, isn't that what heroes do? Isn't that what separates the great, from the good?
The war continues, with the Graysons taking a back seat. Nolan and Oliver are stuck on a nearby planet, caring for Mark as he clings to life after his brutal showdown with Conquest.
The next sequence is very well done. We see the juxtaposition of Nolan and Oliver: training, chatting, and getting to know each other on a desolate planet, while their friends fight and die, in the war they started. It kind of sums up everything this series is about, really. The balance of quaint, comedic family life, balanced against brutal fights and utter chaos. It's an aspect that has been missing in the series, of late. As Mark has slowly been discarding his human side, the family end of the series has slipped away from the limelight. However, with Papa Nolan back, and looking after his boys, we find that great aspect returning to the story. Albeit, not in quite the same manner that it used to...
But, believe it or not, Invincible vs Conquest is not the biggest fight, this volume. Or the most important. Once the Graysons are back in fighting form, there's a far larger fight waiting for them.
In a last ditch effort to win the war, the Viltrumite forces attack Talescria, home of the Coalition. It almost looks like they've got a chance to win, but the Graysons show up and quickly defeat the forces set against them. In so doing, they not only embarass the Viltrumites, but highlight to the universe just how few of them are left. When this happens, the Viltrumite's "allies", kept in place by fear, quickly begin to swap sides, and join the coalition.
But, as we all know, a bully is at their most dangerous, when they're on the back foot. So Thaedus assembles his finest warriors, and decides to take the fight to Viltrum. Literally.
What follows, is another example of Kirkman's amazing character work, coupled with Ottley's flawless art.
It could, nay, should have been a fairly simple fight. The coalition forces go against the remaining Viltrumites, winner takes all. But life is never that simple. While fan favourites Battle Beast and Allen the Alien do well to take on the forces arrayed against them, and Thaedus shows us once and for all that Viltrumite's don't get older, they just get better, the real fight happens to one side. As Nolan, Oliver and Mark face off against the bastard love-child of Freddy Mercury and Tetsuo Shima: Grand Regent Thragg.
It is an unimaginably savage battle. Spurred on by the destruction of his home world, Thragg tears his foes apart. Killing Thaedus and snapping Oliver in half like a dry stick, his rage and hurt is clear in every panel.
We start to learn a little bit about our new favourite enemy, this volume. He's not just some power mad despot, whose only goal is to rule to universe. All he wants, really, is to see that his people continue. We are also introduced to a name that we'll be hearing a LOT of, in the coming volumes: Lord Argall. Now, just a broken skull, Argall was once the King of Viltrum, before he died... At the hands of Thaedus! It's clear from the little scraps that we hear, that there is far more to this tale, but this will all have to wait for another day.
I love that Kirkman takes the time this volume, to expand on the Viltrumites. It seems with each passing volume, we learn a little more about our primary villains, and with each new piece of information, they seem less like an unstoppable, all-conquering force of nature, and more like a sad old fighter; well passed their prime, desperately trying to hold onto their former glory.
It adds a new light, to their actions. Yes, once they fought solely for the love of combat, and to prove that they were the best. Now? There is more desperation to their actions, and it leaves me feeling a little more sad, than angry towards them.
Then, we see Thragg rip Thaedus' head off, pulverise Oliver's jaw with a single backhand, and run his hand clear through Nolan's body... and the anger returns.
But when he has a chance to deliver the coup de grace, Thragg holds back. Sparing Nolan and Mark, for reasons that are entirely his own.
It's only weeks later, after Mark has woken up and run back to Earth as fast as he can, that the reason for Thragg holding back becomes clear:
Viltrum has taken Earth. No one on the planet knows it, yet, but it's happened. The last remnants of the empire, the 37 remaining pure blood Viltrumites are all now settled, on Earth. There, they have no intention of attacking, and instead plan to lay low, regain their strength, and breed with the natives.
In truth... it's an utterly genius plan. I remember reading this for the first time and I was floored. Thragg understands that he can't win the war, as he is. He knows that the Coalition can't either, but they're going to try as hard as they can.
So, he has two options: Stand and fight, probably dying in the process. Which goes against everything he's ever fought for.
Run, and hide. But where? Wherever they go, the Coalition will follow, until there are no Viltrumites left. So, they go to the one planet they know the Coalition will NEVER attack: Earth. Home of the only two people capable of putting up something close to a fight. Knowing full well that Invincible and Nolan will never try to start anything, with so many innocents in the way.
And, for once, Mark actually makes the smart call! Yup, it can actually happen, Mark decides to let Thragg settle on Earth, and let everyone rest up, to fight again another day.
But soon, he may regret his choice.
Because Thaedus has left a gift, for his successor. The improved Scourge Virus! This time, there will be no resisting it, even for those that survived its effects before. And now, Allen knows where every remaining Viltrumite in the universe is...
Overall, The Viltrumite War was everything I could have hoped for, and so much more. Brutal action, some great twists, and some really fun character interactions. All brought to life by Ottley's brilliantly clear and concise art, making it all the easier to see every broken bone, and drop of blood. I couldn't ask for more.
I only have one small complaint.
What is the point of Tech Jacket?
We've heard a lot about this guy, leading up to now. Hell, he even has his own spin-off series! He's the reason that Nolan and Allen stayed on Earth as long as they did, and he got almost as much screen time this volume as series mainstays like Allen, or the Graysons.
And he's utterly pathetic. Literally every fight he gets into featured him making a quip, and then immediately getting utterly bodied. He was of no use to anyone, and seemed to only have been brought along for comic relief. In a series that is built around amazingly well rounded characters, and deep, complex relationships, I don't understand why so much screen time is given to such a forgettable character, who had almost no interactions with the rest of the cast, and played such a pointless role in the war. A rare miss, for a great writer.
Tech Junk aside, this volume had everything I could ask for, from this series. Amazing, brutal fights. Invincible Vs Conquest round 2 was as crazy as you could expect from this series, and then somehow they topped it, for the final showdown of the Viltrumite War.
Great character development, especially for Oliver and Nolan, who we've not seen really work together until now. It was good to see Oliver coming out of his shell, and to see Nolan as something other than a hero/villain. It feels like until now, Nolan has been a Viltrumite first, and a father second. All his interactions with Mark have heavily revolved around getting him ready for one fight or another. It was refreshing to get a chance to see Nolan the man, spending some quality time with his son, even if the son in question isn't Mark.
And even more amazing Lore. The further backstory for the Viltrum Empire, and it's terrifying leader Thragg was definitely needed. The best, most effective villains are the ones that we really feel like we know, and deep down, understand. And there's no motive more understandable than survival...
So join me next week, for Invincible Volume 15: Get Smart! Mark finally realises that not all fights can be won, with just his fist. Is it time to stop punching, and start thinking? Is it time, to Get Smart?
If you want to read Issues #71-78 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!