COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: Everything goes wonderfully wrong in Invincible Volume 8: My Favourite Martian
Invincible Volume 8: My Favourite Martian. Writen by Robert Kirkman. Art by Ryan Ottley. Colours by Bill Crabtree.
Last volume we saw Mark face off once more against blame-averse super-villain Angstrom Levy. Things were going pretty badly for our hero, until he got his hands on Levy, beat him to death and wound up stranded in an alternate, ruined universe. Then Robot confessed his actually not-that-evil plan, and cloned himself a new body.
And all of that is going to seem like small potatoes, after the chaos and pain in store for young master Grayson, this volume.
Chapter one starts off pretty nicely, for the InvinciVerse. The Guardians of the Globe overcome Doc Seismic, again, with the help of new hero Shapesmith (who we know better as that Martian guy, from a few books back). And Mark teams up with his best friend Will, to FINALLY track down their good friend Rick Sheridan. All they need to do is have William pose as a homeless person, and then Mark can follow as the evil minions lead him directly to their base. Such a simple plan, right? Almost foolproof. Almost.
The only slight X-factor that Mark and Co. haven't been able to account for, is the fact that the very minion sent to bring them in, just happens to be the same person they're trying to rescue.
So, while Mark tries to beat the stuffing out of the very person he's there to rescue, everyone's favourite mad scientist/student gets his grubby paws on William. And to think, this is the HAPPY arc this volume.
Chapter two begins with William strapped to a table, paralysed by a cocktail of unknown horrors pumped into him by Sinclair. Meanwhile, Mark is doing his best not to get beaten to death by three Reanimen.
Thankfully, William and Mark receive some unexpected aid from the last place they could have imagined, and are able to subdue the Reanimen, and their unstable creator.
Cecil and his cronies show up once the coast is clear to help everyone get back on their feet and make sure that Sinclair can't hurt anyone again, and Chapter two comes to as nice a conclusion as we can expect from this series.
Chapter three opens its single eye on Talescria, where Allen the Alien has finally finished healing... and has somehow become ridiculously swole, during his convalescence. It seems he's now as powerful as a Viltrumite, and with training, may even be stronger. And it seems our good friend Thadeus, leader of the Rebel Alliance, might just be more invested in defeating the Viltrumites than we could have imagined. Which is why he has a new mission for Allen: one that will take him straight to Earth!
Chapter three continues on a fairly low key note, we stop in with Amber, whose friends continue to vocally hate Mark, and try to convince Amber to cheat. We swing by Mark's old house, to catch up with Debbie and Oliver, who it seems is a genius in the making, and then we check up on the large spaceship, which is headed to earth loaded with an unstoppable army of Sequids, and their One-Mind ruler, who is now supreme overlord of Mars. Yup. It's a nice calm chapter.
Also, this happens:
Chapter four, everything goes to hell. New member of the Guardians "Shapesmith" fills his friends in on his real backstory, and lets them know what manner of unholy chaos is headed their way. Needless to say, they're not best pleased with him. But the time for retribution isn't here yet. For now, they have to stop the uncountable horde of super-strong, mind-controlling, alien squid headed to Earth.
So, they pack their toughest heroes into a spaceship and blast them off on an intercept course.
And, at this exact moment, the Lizard League take over a nuclear missile silo, in the American heartland. And who is left to save them? Rex-Splode, Shrinking Ray, and Dupli-Kate, AKA, the team I wouldn't trust to save me a seat.
The chapter ends, back in space, with the Guardians' ship exploding... such a great start to the mission!
Chapter 5 and 6 are heavily linked, dealing with the setup and conclusion of all three major arcs from this volume, so I'll summerise them together: Thankfully, Atom Eve came out of retirement for this mission, and was able to hastily construct a bubble to save everyone, and Invincible punches a doorway into the wall, and gets them onto the ship.
Of course, this is only the start of their problems, as now they have a brain-stealing army of alien cephalopods to deal with.
Back on Earth, things aren't exactly going swimmingly for the B-team, either. As in this case, the B stands for "Beaten" as in, these guys are getting their asses BEATEN, by the Lizard League.
What follows can only be described as utter chaos on three fronts:
The Guardians are pushed to their limits trying to defeat the Sequids. Requiring some hasty rebuilding of Robot's suit, Eve pushing her powers way beyond where they're intended to go, and some posturing from both Immortal and Invincible.
The B-Team are pushed beyond the limits to overcome the Lizard League. And a high price is paid by all three members, in order to save the world. But secrecy must be upheld...
And Amber faces her toughest opponent yet: a college senior with a dodgy beard.
And while they all emerge victorious from their trials, a steep price is paid and nothing will be the same afterwards.
Back on Earth, and doing as well as they can after everything that's happened, the heroes all recover from the last few days.
Mark, however, still has one last trial to overcome. So, as the chapter and the volume comes to a close, the inevitable break-up finally breaks. No one really seems that upset. I blame the beard.
But, of course, there's one last sting in the tale. As our Astronaught friend, now freed of the grip of the Sequids returns home, free to live a life of happiness and contentment... and vomiting space squids, who immediately take over his brain again, heralding the doom of all we hold dear.
Why this book is so good:
Man, this volume has some ups and downs, doesn't it?
First, the Reanimen arc comes to its conclusion... more or less. After months of putting it off and being distracted by world-ending catastrophes, and his family being attacked, Mark finally teams up with William, to track down their friend Rick.
Of course, nothing in Invincible is ever simple, so he ends up fighting Rick, while William very nearly gets turned into a Reaniman himself.
One of the recurring elements of this series seems to be Invincible biting off more than he can chew. Doesn't matter if it's the Reanimen, the Mauler Twins, or pretty much any Viltrumite, a good portion of Invincible's fights seem to end in him laying on the floor in a bloody pile. And it looked like this was going to be no different. So, having Rick, the very person they were there to save, being the one to end up saving the day was a strong twist. This becomes all the more poignant and intriguing when you know how Rick and William's arc ends. I guess we can call this foreshadowing? There's a lot of that, at the moment.
Another recurring element of this series, ifs the fact that Cecil is SHADY AS F***. So, it comes as no surprise when he pops up at the end to offer Sinclair a job. It's not really surprisingly that Mark has trust issues, when you consider how many of his supposed friends have betrayed him...
But, while Cecil is pretty terrible, he IS a man of his word, and fixes up Rick. Fixes him up so well, you'd never even know he was a robo-zombie mere days before.
Of course, while his body is fixed, mentally he's still in a real state. Which leads to one of the best, most surprising scenes of the whole volume. The conversation between Rick and Donald Ferguson is very well handled, and although it's a fairly short scene, in the midst of all the chaos this volume it was a nice, heartwarming reprieve.
Next up, we have the Guardians B-Team versus the Lizard League.
Wow, this arc is just... brutal. When most of the good heroes left for the Sequid Assault, I assumed we'd just be focusing on them for the rest of the volume and the others would just relax for a bit. As usual, I was so, so wrong. The Lizard League are one of the recurring, usually easily defeated villain groups in the series, so when they kicked off, I was expecting them to be defeated with fair ease. Once again, very wrong.
The fight between the B-team and the League is almost unnecessarily savage, even for Invincible. Shrinking Ray is swallowed whole, Rex blows a few lizards up, before getting his hand bitten off, and is then shot in the head, and Kirkman takes full advantage of Repli-Kate's abilities... to show many and varied ways in which she can be killed. It's an absolute massacre and something of a pyrrhic victory for the Guardians, as they defeat the league but all three members are either killed or seriously injured in the process. Honestly, I'm really not seeing what the point of this arc was. I'm sitting here trying to find some kind of reason for it and I just can't.
Invincible is an incredibly gory, brutal comic. This is one of its selling points. They've never shied away from extreme violence in the past, and it's only going to get worse in the future.
But B-Team vs the Lizard League is one of the few times when it honestly feels a little gratuitous. The plot is incredibly low impact: killing off a character that most people don't even remember, and murdering Dupli-Kate, only to have her return later stating that only her clones were ever killed. The "fight" isn't even well drawn. Which feels odd, seeing as we KNOW how amazing Ryan Ottley is, at drawing dynamic combat scenes.
In the ends, the whole fight just seems like it's there to keep us on our toes, and to provide cheap shocks. Probably due to the main arc of the volume, the Guardian's A-Team vs the Sequids having zero casualties, despite being a far darker situation.
Speaking of, let's discuss the big event this volume!
The Sequids have returned, and BOY are they pissed. So, the Guardians who are tough enough to resist their attacks are sent to head them off before they can reach Earth. This assault begins with their ship being blown up before they can even land, and only gets worse from them on.
As good as B-Team vs Lizard League is underwhelming, this arc has everything you expect from Invincible. A team of heroes pushed to their absolute limits, doing whatever they can to prevail against impossible odds. It's funny, they basically start this arc by saying "We're going to pick the people that are strong enough to resist the Sequid attacks. You'll all be fine!" and yet somehow, they managed to build up the tension to almost unbearable levels.
Eve uses her incredible versatility to assist, Robot uses his overwhelming intellect to plan, and Invincible punches everything that moves. It's the Guardians working in perfect harmony. But still, they just can't win.
A few years back, a film came out that upended what we think of, from Zombie movies. It was called Train To Busan. If you've not seen it, do so ASAP.
What made that movie stand out to me, was the way they animated the zombies; they don't move as individuals, they surge along, like a wave. It made them all the more terrifying for me, because it removed the idea of individual threats and made them feel like something far greater. One zombie isn't too dangerous. They're slow, weak and stupid. what's to be worried about there? But 10 zombies? 50? 100? Suddenly, you're not dealing with a single, easily overcome threat. You'd dealing with a rampaging horde so much more formidable than the sum of its parts.
The sequids in this fight have a very similar feel to them. Despite the fact they're tiny and as we've covered already, aren't strong enough to really hurt the Guardians, as the fight continues and more and more of them arrive, it begins to feel like they're not fighting singular beings, they're fighting an otherwordly force of nature. The Sequid crash around them like waves, as they bravely try to hold back the tide. The way Ottley manages to convey the mindless fury of the Sequids, and the sheer force and numbers of their assault is stunning. And it really makes this fight terrifying, when it so easily could have been the comic equivalent of a Dynasty Warriors level, where our heroes mow through hordes of peons, yawning all the time.
Eventually, as the situation begins to feel all but hopeless, the combination of Shapesmith's ingenuity, Robot's tech skills, and Invincible's bravery snatches them a narrow victory and they're able to flee, leaving the Sequids without a Solid to unite their mind.
Or, so they think...
This volume comes to a close with the sad end of MarkXAmber. I've got to say, I wasn't a big fan of this. I mean, yeah, we're all meant to want Mark and Eve together, and they DO make a strong couple... but I can't help but feel like Amber deserved a bit better. Seeing Mark break up with her, and in such a lame way, really feels like the death of Mark Grayson. Amber was the last link to his normal life; between him breaking up with her, and getting dangerously close to flunking out of school, it feels like with every issue the happy-go-lucky teen we first met all the way back in volume one is vanishing before our eyes. Replaced by the Jaded, broken hero with the vaguely ironic name 'Invincible'...
So join me next week, for Invincible Volume 9: Out of This world! Allen the Alien returns to Earth, to gather information on Omni-man. But he's not the planet's only visitor.
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!