Invincible Volume 21: Modern Family, collecting Invincible #115-120.
Script by Robert Kirkman. Pencils by Ryan Ottley. Inks by Cliff Rathburn And Ryan Ottley. Colours by John-Francois Beaulieu. Letters by Russ Wooton.
Yeesh, last volume was a dark one, not going to lie. It was as hard to write as I'm assuming it was to read. But we got through it, yay us! This volume, thankfully, is just about as large a tonal shift as you're likely to find in Invincible. So, sit back, relax and enjoy some lighthearted fun. And one, super-brutal, battle to the death, between two of the greatest titans in the (comic) universe. Fun times!
Chapter one begins, orbiting a distant but familiar planet. We find everyone's second-favourite homicidal psycho jungle cat (a million nerd points if you get that reference) engaged in amourous activities with his new significant other, shark lady. But this is all a prelude to the big game, as he drops to the surface to find his real prey: Grand Regent Thragg!
Let battle commence!
Chapter two returns to Earth where things are... actually pretty damn good. Rex Robot has taken over the world, and is currently controlling it from his secret base beneath the Pentagon. And, as much as it pains the superhero community to admit, he's doing a damn fine job. But not everyone is so blissfully happy. Mark/Invincible still can't get over the fact that Rex is a humongous tool, and while attending an unending chain of funerals for the heroes that died in Rex's coup, he comes to a sad but logical decision.
Chapter three is a sad one. Not, like, Volume 20 sad, but as sad as this volume gets. With Mark and Eve set on leaving the planet, they say a few final goodbyes, and have one final horrifically awkward dinner. But things aren't quite as utopic as they seem, and rebellion is already brewing beneath the surface of Rex's perfect world.
Chapter four finds Mark, Eve and freshly named baby girl Terra arriving on their new home, Talescria. Things start off well, with a fancy new alien dinner party. Which, to the surprise of no one, gets kind of awkward. Then, when Mark tries to talk to Eve about why he's been so distant, they're interrupted by disaster.
Chapter five finds a terrified Mark and Eve, rushing baby Terra to hospital. Mark falls out with the in-laws, accepts a new job in the Coalition, and Eve attempts to find food that won't kill them all, on a totally alien planet. It's like a slice of life comedy, but with aliens.
Oliver's out here looking like Astro Boy, if Astro Boy was a douchebag.
Chapter six brings us the conclusion of the volume, and the conclusion of the volume-long battle between Thragg and Battle Beast. Mark and Baby Terra also get to share some precious father-daughter bonding time, and all around, everything seems happy. So, naturally, the volume concludes by showing us Thragg and his new army of fast-growing Viltrumite-Bug hybrids. Ooooh crap.
I know you're not really meant to like him, but I can't help but love Thragg. He's such a badass.
Volume 21 feels like a cool drink of water, after the hellfire and damnation of last volume. If Volume 20 was Kirkman's attempt to see how far he could push his readers, Volume 21 is clearly meant to be his attempt at an apology.
And, I'll gladly accept! Volume 21 is as cheesy happy, borderline saccharin as Invincible will ever get. And while I would usually be a little put off by this, it feels like necessary counter-balance to the last volume.
There's only really one arc, this volume: Unsure they can continue to live on Rex's Earth, and knowing there's very little they can do to change things, Mark and Eve decide they only have one choice: When the going gets tough, the tough move to a different galaxy!
William's opening monologue is a fantastic way to kick off the arc. Seeing him talk about how everything is so great now, against a backdrop of Robot and his drones killing villains and standing ominously in congress is the perfect way to show how clueless the average person is, while also explaining just how Robot managed to get away with everything he's done. People, deep down, probably understand that something isn't quite right. Hell, even William, who isn't the sharpest crayon in the box, seems to almost get it. But, while they're distracted by non-existent crime and free universal healthcare and education, they're not going to press to hard, for fear of ruining everything.
I mean, hell, would you dig into things, in their situation? Pretty sure I wouldn't.
And it wouldn't be Invincible without a dinner party going badly. In their final dinner with Eve's parents before leaving, things go fairly well, by their standards. Eve's dad only storms off once, and only says about three or four overtly horribly sexist things. Believe it or not, this is an improvement.
Then, he does something rather unpredictable and utterly unforgivable...
And actually ends things on a really sweet and heartfelt note. Bastard.
It's this kind of bait-and-switch that Kirkman is best known for, and one of the main reasons why I and so many others love his work.
Having Eve's father, who is usually a one-stop-shop for horrific nonsense, suddenly drop all his usual bluster and say something so heartfelt about the daughter he's usually an utter bastard to, is the perfect way to end their streak of terrible dinner parties. After spending last volume showing us that even the nicest people, those we consider friends, can do terrible things when they feel like it, seeing someone who is usually just the freakin' worst actually show some compassion just reminds you that no one is all bad, or all good. It's a much needed message, just when it's needed most.
But eventually, Mark et al have to leave Earth for their new home! And of course, their arrival there is totally, utterly uneventful. After having dinner with Oliver and his new girlfriend, Haluma, Mark has some... morning after regrets. And while this leads to snuggling, and then fighting with Eve, things get a little sidetracked as their new child has apparently stopped breathing.
Thankfully, one of the benefits to being a superhero is extreme speed and flight, so Terra is quickly at the hospital and feeling better. Of course, this ALSO leads to a fight with Oliver and Haluma, who Mark accuses of hurting his child by feeding them bad food. Haluma is obviously quite upset at the accusation and calls Mark a jerk. It's later revealed that not only was to food to blame for Terra's trouble, but it was also the poor preparation that lead to Mark's earlier distress. Because apparently Oliver is as bad at picking a mate as he is at literally everything else. Seriously, why does Oliver suck so hard? It's like every time I think he can't be any more annoying, he does something else. Yeesh...
But, all's well that ends well, and baby Terra survives. Leading to an adorable chapter where Mark spends the morning playing and looking after his little girl, while Eve gets some much needed rest.
Here's the thing. Basically everything that happens after the family arrives on Talescria is the definition of filler. It's the episode of your favourite show that you skip, because nothing of note happens. But that's EXACTLY what this series needed, at this point. We're coming off the back of about ten volumes of unrelenting horror, drama, and bloody violence. Things have been getting steadily more upsetting since about volume 10, and it was starting to get a little bit too much.
But then, volume 21 drops, and we can all breath again. It's great to see Mark relaxing, spending time with his family, clearly SO in love with his life. The great thing about Invincible was always the way it balanced the trials and tribulations of a young superhero just starting on his journey, with the family drama that we all go through. As the volumes continued, the human side of the series started to get shoved a side a little, as the stakes got higher and higher, and simple human life started to slip away. So, seeing that more civilian side start to return to the series is a huge step in the right direction. Even if it's quite clear that it won't be lasting all that long.
Under it all, there is still the trauma of what Anissa did, and her taunting before Mark left Earth didn't help. But after he comes clean with Eve and she helps him to begin healing, even that starts to seem like a manageable trauma. I still think Kirkman dropped the ball a little, but at least he's not totally forgotten that he made this happen.
I feel like I'm forgetting something. Something major, that happened in this volume...
Aaaah, yeah. That's right! While Mark was doing his best to pretend he's a family man, in his nice new place, in the depths of space one of the greatest battles in the comic was happening.
The whole first chapter of this volume is dedicated to the showdown between Thragg and Battle Beast and it's EPIC. Honestly, if we don't get AT LEAST a whole episode devoted to this fight in the upcoming Invincible TV series, then they have failed.
The fight is everything we could have asked for, when these two absolute titans go at it. It's brutal, bloody, packed with epic zingers. Honestly, it's easily in my top three fights in the whole series, and makes a damn fine case for being the number 1. Ottley's art has always leant itself to fast-paced action, and never is that more clear than now. The whole fight in a masterclass in comic book action scenes. The fact that it's SO epic, it takes up the whole chapter, and continues in splash panels for the rest of the volume, before finally coming to its grand conclusion in the final chapter should tell you just how immense this fight was. I'm not sure we've ever had a fight last this long in the series, and I don't think we'll see one going forward.
RIP Battle Beast, you absolute legend.
Overall, Volume 21 was a bright light in the ever darkening world of Invincible. A fun, lighthearted volume that arrives at just the right time to buoy the spirits, before we enter the real endgame of the series and things start to get dark again. Kirkman's masterful character work combines with Ottley's vibrant art work so well, whether it's the mundane day to day walks in the park of Mark and Terra, or the blood and guts of Thragg and Battle Beast's final showdown. It's all brilliant, unstoppable fare, at just the time when we needed it.
So, if you want to see more of Mark and Eve's fun times on Talescria, and maybe just a little more from Grand Regent Thragg, join me next time for Invincible Volume 22: Reboot. While Mark, Eve, and Terra make the best of their life on Talescria, Thragg has eluded capture. In this volume, loose ends are tied up, conflicts are brought to a resolution, and a door is closed... so that a new one can open.
If you want to read Volume 22, collecting issues #121-126 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!