Invincible Volume 17: What's Happening (Collecting Invincible #91-96).
Script by Robert Kirkman. Pencils by Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley. Inks by Cliff Rathburn and Cory Walker. Colours by John Rauch.
Last volume saw the collected cast of Invincible take it in turns to betray Mark, and then patch him up again, ready for the next betrayal. This culminated in his brother Oliver infecting him with a supercharged virus designed to kill all Viltrumites, and his sworn nemesis Thragg helping him get through it. And then trying to choke him. it was a real rollercoaster. This volume, Mark can finally rest and spend some time getting better, I'm sure he'll be thrilled...
Chapter one picks up right where last volume left off, with Mark missing and everyone desperately trying to find him. Thankfully, Eve working on a tip from Thragg knows to search in the secret lair of the evil, but in kind of a good way, Dinosaurus. So a whole load of heroes crash Dino's base, intent on rescuing someone that doesn't need rescuing, from the guy that actually rescued him. But, the rescue mission has one final shock in store, as the true effects of the Scourge Virus make themselves known!
Chapter two begins, with out of friend Squid Boss (I can't remember, does he have an actual name?) attacking once more, mostly seeming as an excuse to practice his English. A brief scrap between the heroes leads to a huge reveal: The truth behind Rex and Monster Girl's time in the Flaxxan homeworld! And so begins one of the best side-arcs in Invincible history!
Chapter three continues the Flaxxan Saga, telling us of Rex and Amanda's first few centuries, and of the grand rebellion they incited. Back on Earth, things look grim as a giant invasion force that absolutely aren't Flaxxans burst forth from sufficiently Flaxxan-looking portals, and quickly take over most of London (and without a single shot of a wrecked Big Ben, thank the lord). But when the invaders leader appears, Rex finds him oddly familiar...
Chapter four sees the Flaxxan Saga continue, as Rex becomes leader of the Flaxxan empire, with his new love, Amanda. Only took them like 400 years to get it together. However, things clearly don't stay so happy, as back on Earth the invader is revealed to have a very personal connection to our Monster Girl...
Chapter five sees the Flaxxan Saga rage ever onwards, but there's trouble in paradise, as a growing sense of isolation, and a few fairly interesting choices by Rex lead to a growing rift between our two heroes. Back on Earth, the tide is turning and Guardians are ready to do what they do best. Wreck EVERYTHING.
The final chapter of this volume sees the Flaxxan Saga reaching its sad end. Rex realises his shortcomings as both a husband and monarch, names a successor, and takes himself and Amanda home. But, while he thought he was leaving the Flaxxans in an era of unending peace, it seems this was one calculation he got VERY wrong. Back on Earth, his error comes back to bite him, as his stepson's army is finally beaten back, and life returns to something close to normal. Meanwhile, after spending most of the volume sulking on the sofa, Mark gets a visit from Allen and Oliver, who are preparing to leave Earth and return to Talescria.
Volume 17 is almost all character development, and almost no plot development. This could have made it feel massively out of place and made the whole series grind to a snarling halt. Thankfully, the backstory is SO good that you really don't mind that there's very little advancement in the current day plot.
This volume reminds me a lot of Wizard and Glass. For those that don't know: Wizard and Glass is the fourth novel in Steven King's epic post apocalyptic series The Dark Tower. While the first three volumes in the series are set alternately between the ruined world of main character Roland of Gilead, and the present day Earth, the fourth volume suddenly jumped back decades, and told a story of Roland's first mission as a Gunslinger. It's a classic western romance and it left a lot of people very, very confused. But here's the thing: It was freakin' awesome, and most people agree it's one of the strongest books in the whole series.
Volume 17 of Invincible is very similar. Coming on the back on the Viltrumite War, and it's fallout, suddenly we find outrselves spending 700 years on the Flaxxan homeworld, where we're treated to a classic tale of rebellion, rulership, romance, and the corrupting influence of power. There is some attempt to tie it into the current day, via the revelation that the leader of the Invasion is Monster Girl's son, conceived while in her monster form with a Flaxxan female, but honestly that feels vaguely unnecessary.
The current day battle parts are pretty basic Invincible fare. An enemy turns up, smashes everything, it looks pretty grim, then the heroes rally and save the day. We've seen it a thousand times before and will see it at least a few more times, before the series ends. It's well done, as always, but I find it a little hard to care about, when the Flaxxan Saga is so much more interesting.
In many ways, I kind of wish they'd given more time to Rex and Amanda's tale. Maybe even taking a volume or two out of the run to focus solely on this arc, or giving the story its own side series. But in the end, I think Kirkman made the right choice, only dropping us into this epic tale at the important moments, often jumping decades, or even centuries at a time. This technique will come into play one more time, later on in the series, and is used to great effect then too.
And while most of the book was given over to the Flaxxan Saga, and its present day fallout, there were a few little side arcs too. One that is worth mentioning is Bulletproof, currently filling in for Invincible and his strange and confusing homelife.
You see, when he's not off superheroing, Bulletproof is really Zandale, Artist. Living in a rather nice loft with his partner Carla, who it seems like he doesn't treat particularly well...
But things aren't quite as clear as they might seem. Because it seems Zandale is living a TRIPLE life. When his disapproving parents come to visit, they constantly compare Zandale to his brother Tyrone. The scientist who is also... the super hero Bulletproof?
Judging from a few hints dropped during a furious whispered exchange with long suffering Carla, it seems Zandale's brother, and apple of his parents' eye, Tyrone is the good son. An accomplished Scientist and superhero. However, something dire seems to have happened to him and now Zandale is filling in.
This whole plot is... a little insane and hard to read. Reading between the lines, it seems that the 'Good' brother, Tyrone, is dead. However, as his horrible parents always favoured him over his more carefree, artistic sibling, and not wishing to crush their hopes, Zandale is pretending that Tyrone is still alive, and a superhero, while he is 'just' an artist. However, as this volume ends with Zandale walking in injured, after having just helped save the world from the Flaxxans, I'm guessing the game is up, and we'll get the truth pretty soon.
Last, there is one short scene worth mentioning: While the Flaxxans lay waste to most of London, a most unusual defender is seen, helping to fight them back: Kregg! Also known as "That Viltrumite with the creepy robot eye".
It would seem that Nolan's plan is working far better than he ever could have hoped. despite not having been on the planet for very long, it seems Kregg, once a model Viltrumite, is start to catch feelings for his new "breeding stock". While this is only a very small scene, the ramifications are pretty epic. If a warrior as brutal and belligerent as Kregg can so quickly fall into line with Nolan's ideals, is there hope yet, for the Viltrumites? Combine this with last volume's reveal about Nolan and Mark's royal blood, and things could well be changing, for the Viltrumites!
Overall, Volume 17 is a very strong addition to the Invincible library. While the modern day story leaves a little to be desired, and Mark is barely in attendance, the backstory for Amanda and Rex absolutely CARRIES the volume.
A sweeping epic by any measure, Kirkman shows once more why he's so well respected amongst today's comic writers. In one volume, he casually throws together a grand tale, that could easily have been a standalone story. filled with romance, action, intrigue and heartbreak, this tale takes what could have been a really bizarre and slightly boring arc and makes it one of my favourite parts of the whole story.
And, of course, none of this would have been possible without the amazing art from Ottley and Walker. Seeing the way the Flaxxan Empire evolves, through the architecture, the clothes, and the technology tells just as much of the story as the words do. It's an incredibly impressive feat, given the limited time they had to work with.
And, speaking of limited time, Mark needs to get back on his feet really soon, because his time just might be running out...
join me next week for Invincible Volume 18: The Death of Everyone. Mark's journey reaches a brutal climax, and he's faced with a nearly impossible choice.
If you want to read Issues #97-102 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!