Invincible Volume 4: Head Of The Class. Written by Robert Kirkman, Art by Ryan Ottley, Colours by Bill Crabtree, Letters by Rus Wooton.
Last Volume, everything went really bad, really fast. Mark Grayson, AKA teenage superhero Invincible, discovered his Viltrumite father Nolan's dark secret. The Viltrumites were in fact NOT the benevolent race of spacefaring caretakers as he had been raised to believe. They were, in fact, a vast galaxy-spanning fascist empire, hell bent on taking over every planet they could, and destroying whatever remained.
And his father, his hero, Omni-man: Defender of Democracy, wasn't a hero at all. He was only on earth to weaken its defenses enough to allow the inevitable Viltrumite takeover to be as easy as possible. Needless to say, Mark had a few issues with this.
Issues that he debated clearly and eloquently with his father. Mostly through punching. Viltrumites don't seem to be big kickers.
After slapping the taste out of his son's mouth, and as he prepared to deliver the coup de grace, Omni-man instead opted to flee, leaving Earth far behind.
So, how exactly do you recover, from that? What do you do, when everything you've been raised to believe is proven to be a lie?
Lets find out.
Chapter one begins with everyone's favourite chronologically challenged aliens: The Flaxans! We first met these little green idiots in the very first volume, and now they're back!
And this time, with the aid of their hyper-advanced technology, they're not aging as fast as they did... And they're happy to tell you all about that. Which doesn't end well, for them.
The Flaxans are quickly repelled, in what I'm sure will be their final attempt at taking over. I'm totally sure they'll not try again... never.
Sadly, things aren't going quite as well, elsewhere.
It seems that a recording was made of Invincible and Omni-man's fateful conversation. The one where he ranted endlessly about how little Earth meant to him, how humans are no more than cattle, and how he never really loved Debbie, the woman he spent over two decades with.
So, naturally, the audio is leaked to the public, and "news" stations play it on loop, 24/7. Which is just a barrel of laughs for the people Nolan left behind. And no one takes the recording worse than the already grieving Debbie Grayson. Thankfully, she has good friends to keep her stable. Good friends like Jack Daniels and Jim Beam.
Things aren't exactly peachy keen for the new Guardians of the Globe, either. Their performance is getting better, but not fast enough. So, Cecil decides to draft two new players. Or rather, one new and one old. VERY old.
So, say hello to your two new Guardians. Bulletproof, who is fast, tough, and wearing that godawful yellow suit that they tried to get Invincible to wear...
And Immortal. Who has joined the team as a 'Consultant' and is absolutely not here to steal Robots job. I'm sure this will end REALLY well.
Chapter one ends with Mark and Debbie collapsed on the kitchen floor. Things are said. Things which will probably later be regretted. Maybe.
In Chapter 2, things get a little... fishy.
In a very strange chapter, Mark is taken deep underwater to Atlantis, because there always has to be an Atlantis. Where, due to ancient customs, as the son of the man who killed their last king, it is up to Mark to marry their queen and become the ruler of Aquaria. Just normal teenage hijinks.
Back on dry land, Debbie makes a new friend! After travelling to tie up some loose ends with Nolan's publisher, she befriends Claire. Who just happens to be the new wife of Super Patriot, another hero.
Chapter 3 is short, and sad. Mark grows ever more distant from his oft-forgotten girlfriend, Amber. Beats up a steampunk baddie called Furnace, and gets a talking to from his principal. The chapter ends with a fairly grim talk with his mother. Fun times.
Chapter 4 is somehow, even darker. Although in a different light. It opens on the flaming ruins of Time Square, where Invincible is addressing the people of the U.S. and basically telling them to obey or else. We then meet one of the more pivotal figures, in Invincible. Angstrom Levy. A veritable super-genius, he appears to be working with Robot and Immortal to stop Invincible and... Omni-man?
Yup. It seems Invincible has a multiverse! And in this world, Invincible took Omni-man's deal and they've taken over the world. Thankfully, a new Angstrom rescues this version, just before he gets splorted.
The Angstroms then return to a new world, it seems Rescuer Angstrom can't QUITE control his powers, and can never be sure which world he's jumping too. This one they're in now can't be HIS world. It's in ruins... right?
Oh, no. This IS his world. Which also happens to be the 'Main' Invincible universe. The only problem is that they're being invaded by aliens, who are wrecking the place. Gulp.
The Angstroms run and hide, while Invincible and the Guardians of the Globe fight off the invasion. They kinda win but at great cost. The whole city is in ruins, including Reginald Vel Johnson High, but everyone is safe. So that's a win, right?
Not if you're Cecil. Cecil is PISSED. So pissed, in fact, that he immediately fires Robot and makes Immortal the leader of the Guardians again. Hands up if you saw that coming a mile away?
But while all this is going on, while the heroes are distracted with their fighting and cleaning up, Angstrom Levy reveals his plans to, well, to himself.
Meet the Bevy of Levys.
That's a whole lot of Levy.
Chapter 5 begins with a time jump! Time has passed and the repairs are well underway. They're not done, yet, but they're close. We get a rare chance to see Mark relax, as we follow him on a date with Amber. Isn't this sweet? I wonder what's going to go wrong...
How about Levy the portal-creating nuisance recruiting the Mauler Twins? Yup, this is happening... the man with the portals has hired the big-brained giants for reasons which I'm sure are totally above board.
Meanwhile, Mark continues to superhero about. Knocks out some bad guys, saves some pretty ladies. All told, things are looking pretty good for the Mark right now. Not sure why, but that fills me with dread.
Chapter Six sees Mark boldly going where only a handful have gone before. After they narrowly stopped the invasion back in Chapter 4, the country got worried about threats from space. Omni-man being no small part of that. So, they put their heads together and decided what earth needed was a top notch space program. So now, they're flying to Mars!
Only one problem. We know, thanks to deceased Guardian Martian Man, that Mars is inhabited. What we DON'T know is how they'll react to a bunch of people walking about on their planet, collecting rocks. So, Cecil asks Mark to go along and protect them. But do it sneakily. Because it's more fun when you sneak.
While Invincible makes the week-long trip to Mars, things get a little complex on Earth.
Levy reveals his plan and it's a shockingly terrible idea. He is capable of jumping between dimensions, but he knows next to nothing about his destinations. So, he's collected as many Levys as he can, and is going to force all of their knowledge into his head, to give him the background he'll need, for each new universe he lands in. No way that could go wrong...
Next up, we meet Machinehead, who has a machine for a head. He's also the crime boss of America, with his surprisingly non-robotic fingers in just about every dirty pie in the continental United States. And he is not a happy man...
Finally, Invincible reaches Mars. Where everything goes wrong in RECORD time.
It seems there are two races that live on Mars. The shapeshifting Martians, that we've met before. And then the Sequids. Kept as a slave race by the Martians, the Sequids are powerful squid-like psychics. When they're attached to a solid host, they can work as an all-powerful hive mind, that would no doubt be able to overpower the Martians in seconds. Thankfully, due to their shapeshifting nature, the Martians are immune to the Sequids powers. So, as long as no one solid lands on Mars, everything is fine.
Enter, the human Astronauts.
Thankfully, they have Invincible with them. He's able to get everyone back onto the ship and out of the clutches of both the Martians and the Sequids before anything can go wrong. Yup. Totally successful mission. No chance that this could come back to bite us, in the future.
Chapter 7 begins with our friend the Martian Invader settling in to his new place, and his new life as Rus the NASA Guy. I'm sure he'll be fine...
While his private life gets ever more complex, his relationship with Amber circles the drain and his mother dives deeper into a bottle, Mark is just happy that at least when it comes to his heroics, things are starting to go well. After a fairly rocky patch, at the start, he's finally found his groove.
So, when he's asked to go on a fairly simple mission for Cecil, he immediately accepts.
It's seem Titan, a mid-level ne'er-do-well wants to talk to him. He's tired of Machinehead, and wants him out of the picture. The only problem is, Machinehead is well connected enough, and has enough fear and respect that no one is willing to give evidence against him. Until now.
The plan is simple: Titan and Invincible break into Machinehead's penthouse, breaking his machine head, then throw him in prison. Easy job, five minutes work.
There's only one small problem. Machinehead has hired some help.
And one of the people he hired, just happens to be the second most badass character in the whole Invincible run.
Sisters, Brothers and Others, meet the master of chaos, the beast with a blade:
He may look like the bastard offspring of He-man and Lion-o, but when it comes to throwing down, there are very few that do it better. Needless to say, his first meeting with Invincible doesn't go to well.
Thankfully, the Guardians of the Globe were close at hand, and are able to save the day, again. Machinehead is locked up and all's well that ends well.
For now, anyway...
Why this book is so good:
Oh man, that was a book and a half. After the insane events of Volume 3, you'd expect Kirkman to take it easy for a bit, but nope. There are no breaks on this train.
Volume 4 doesn't have the singular focus that we saw in volume 3, but instead we get a huge amount of groundwork laid, much of it hugely important for upcoming arcs.
So, let's start at the beginning, seems like the best place.
After the events of last volume, Mark is holding up fairly well. He has a girlfriend that cares, some good friends to keep him steady and a heroic cause to throw himself behind.
And then, there's Debbie.
She was only just about coping, with Nolan's betrayal before. But then seeing the tapes, hearing everything that was said, has pushed her over the edge. The first three volumes set her up as this pillar of quiet strength. Showing that despite being "just" a human, she had the courage and fortitude to live with a hero like Omni-man and all the uncertainty that entails. So, seeing her total collapse in this volume is just heartbreaking. You really feel for her, seeing her suffer like this; I've honestly never wanted to give a comic book character a hug so badly in my life.
Thankfully, things cheer up for her a little when she meets new friend and fellow Super-Wife, Claire. She acts as something of a release valve for Debbie, letting her vent some of the emotions inside her. Sadly, she's also spending a lot of time with her friend Jack. Something that will need to be addressed, down the line.
In the second chapter, Mark goes to Atlantis. I'll be honest... I really don't get this little arc. It just SCREAMS filler. In a book that is generally so tight, and has so little filler, this whole arc just seems out of place. Mark is taken to Atlantis to marry their queen, spends a bit of time standing around in a waiting room, and then comes up with a plan to fix everything in like 5 seconds and leaves. It all just seems so pointless. A lot of the time Invincible will throw a scene at you, and you'll be left wondering what the point of it all was. But then, a book or two down the line, suddenly it all falls into place and you understand everything.
But the Atlantis arc isn't that. It's honestly just a random one-shot story, that has almost no bearing on anything, going forward. I mean, it's a fun little story, but I really don't get why it was there.
Chapter 3 is short, but packed with emotion. It almost feels like Chapter 2 and 3 should have been rolled together. The emotion and impact of the third chapter would have given the events of the second a little weight, and the levity of the Atlantis arc would have balanced out the sadness of Chapter 3.
In Chapter 4, our world expands. Literally. We are introduced to the concept of an Invincible Multiverse, and the fact that in many of those alternate worlds, Mark is kind of an asshole. We also meet recurring character and one of my most hated characters, Angstrom Levy. A universe jumping genius, his plan to cram the knowledge of multiple versions of himself into his brain, to allow him to more accurately navigate the multiverse would be brilliant, if it wasn't so obviously flawed. I'll give you a hint: you can't pack multiple minds into one brain and expect it to end well.
We also get to see Robot get shouted at a lot, which is always fun. And we meet Titan, who is a low level bad guy with the ability to coat himself in rock. You might remember him from one of Invincible's first fights. He doesn't seem like a bad sort, all things considered, and quickly goes from robbing the ruins, to helping Invincible and Eve clean up.
Chapter 5 is a light one. We get to finally see Mark being just Mark for a change. He takes Amber on a date, goes to school, doesn't really pay attention. It's nice. It's a light moment between the horrors, and serves to remind us that Mark is still basically a child.
Chapter 6, things get spaced out a little. Invincible is tasked with a trip to Mars, and fails SPECTACULARLY, although he doesn't realise just how badly he's screwed up, yet.
The whole trip is a lot of fun. Meeting the Martians is cool, and learning about the Sequids is interesting. In a classic case of Kirkman fucking with us, it seems like they're just a nasty filler villain, that won't really have much impact on the story, as Invincible gets everyone back on the ship safely. But then we get the brilliant reveal that one of the spacemen is not like the others. The subtle shift in uniform alerting us that we have an infiltrator.
And then, we cut back to Mars and see the man left behind, now coated in Sequid. After having just read a whole issue about how bad the Sequids are, and the Martians really hammering home the point that if they united, they'd overthrow Mars in seconds, the last panel really hits home. The best part being that no one could possibly know there's a problem. Until it's far, far too late.
The final arc of the volume sees our friend Titan from earlier returning. Now, he's the one that needs Invincible's help, to overthrow Machinehead, the reigning Kingpin of Crime.
As they fly to their big showdown, Invincible and Titan discuss the possibility of Titan joining the Guardians. He declines, emphatically. And I have to say, he makes some solid points.
It seems like the life of a mid-tier bad guy in Invincible really isn't all that bad. As long as you don't do anything super-horrible, you can make a pretty good living.And with very little chance of getting your head popped. You can see why he'd rather not join the "good" guys, when it's put that way.
The book wraps up with Invincible proving once again how inaccurate his name is, as he's handed an EPIC beatdown by recurring character Battle Beast. And with Machinehead out of the way, a new Kingpin must claim his throne.
Overall, this was another very strong volume. While there wasn't a huge OMG moment like we got in Volume 3, there were some very important character introductions: You'll be seeing a lot of Levy and Battle Beast in the future. And a few balls were set rolling which will soon land right on top of Invincible, squashing him flat: Hello, Sequids!
As usual, Kirkman's writing is on fire. He gets the balance just right between the thrilling heroics of Invincible, the mourning and emotion of Mark's homelife, and the sometimes sigh-inducing humour of Mark's school friends. It's a hard act, get right, and it doesn't always work (see the Atlantis arc), but he nails it more often than not, leading to an incredibly satisfying volume which will take you on an emotional rollercoaster, you'll not want to get off!
Ottley's art continues to impress. From the varied settings, to the imaginative character designs, or the swift-paced action, there really isn't anything he can't do. Combine this with Crabtree's vibrant colour work, and you're left with a book that is as entertaining to just sit and look at, as it is to read. On more than one occasion, I found myself getting distracted from the story, because I was simply enjoying the art. This was particularly true in the Atlantis issue (yes, I'm going to mention it again) where the story didn't capture me, but Ottley's designs for the underwater city continued to impress.
So join me next week, for Invincible Volume 5: The Facts Of Life. Where Mark will be faced with one of his toughest challenges yet. Atom Eve: Single!
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!