Invincible Volume 1: Family Matters, containing Invincible #1-4.
Written by Robert Kirkman. Art by Cory Walker. Colour by Bill Crabtree.
Okay folks, let's do this! Time to start a whole new Retrospective series. This time I'll be guiding you through the increasingly bleak world of Robert Kirkman's landmark superhero series, Invincible, which began in 2003.
Before we dive in and meet our new best friends, a word of warning.
Here at POP, we try to keep our reviews as spoiler-free as possible. There's nothing better than reading a mind-blowing twist and feeling your brain leak out of your ears at the sheer audacity on display.
However... that's just not going to work, with Invincible. There are certain events that are just too huge, to world altering to avoid mentioning. SO, with that in mind, consider this a permanent spoiler warning, for this Retrospective series:
There are GOING to be huge spoilers. They will be discussed. In detail. If you've not read Invincible before, I strongly recommend that you read each book before reading my articles. Because from here on in, things are going to get crazy.
Okay, warning out of the way, let's get down to business.
Mark Grayson is just an ordinary teen. By day he attends Reginald Vel Johnson High (overseen by Principal B.N. Winslow. You're not slick, Kirkman. We all see what you're doing there). By night he flips burgers to make a little scratch.
And at the end of the day he returns home, to his mother Debbie and his father Nolan. Dad is better known to the world as the Superhero, Omni-man!
Our first issue begins with Mark throwing a bomb-filled figure into the sky, where it quickly explodes... and then we're sent back in time four months, for the obligatory Origin Story. Yay.
One day, while taking out the trash at his day job, Mark goes to throw the bag in the dumpster and accidentally launches it into the sky, landing in places unknown.
And with that small act, his world is changed forever.
From there, we see Mark's fledgling attempts at superheroics. He punches some bad guys, flies around a little, and does it all while wearing a suit which makes Spider-man's get-up in Homecoming look advanced.
Thankfully, being the premiere hero of this universe, his father has connections. And that's how we're introduced to one of the recurring characters of the franchise: Art the Tailor, prom dresses by day, super suits by night! It's quite a gig. And trust me, with how often Mark gets his ass kicked, he's going to be keeping Art in business, making suits.
That small issue handled, he returns to fighting crime, now with a fancy new suit and a name inspired by his Principal.
World, meet the newest hero on the block: Invincible!
Issue two begins with a flashback, within the still ongoing origin story flashback.
Nolan Grayson tell his infant son, Mark, all about his race: The Viltrumites. A noble, hyper-advanced race who live in a near-utopian society. But, not content with living in paradise themselves, they've decided to spread that happiness all over the world. So, they created "The World Betterment Committee". A group whose sole purpose was to seek out planets on the verge of greatness and help them go the extra step.
And that is how Nolan, in his work as a member of the committee, found his way to Earth.
Sounds pretty awesome, doesn't it?
We then return to newly-christened Invincible as he engages in some daring heroics.
This is how we meet recurring antagonist, and big fan of cloning: The Mauler Twins. They're in the process of stealing some game consoles, for unknown but no doubt nefarious reasons. Invincible swoops in to save them, and receives some help from an unexpected source.
This is how we meet: The Teen Team! Awful name...
The Teen Titans, I mean, Teen Team are:
Rex Splode: An arrogant tool with the power to make things explode.
Atom Eve: A fearsome lady with the power of subatomic manipulation.
Dupli-Kate: The best/worst named hero ever, with the power to duplicate herself.
And their glorious leader! Robot: A robot.
While he declines to join them, for some reason, Mark does seem to hang around with the Teen Team a lot. He also attends school with Eve, and now that she's his confidant and mentor in the ways of the teen hero, they start to hang out a LOT. This of course leads to lots of hilarious misunderstandings, where everyone thinks they're dating.
Meanwhile, a young man wakes up in a mall, lost and disoriented.
Then, he explodes.
Issue three begins with a totally unrelated assembly, which has nothing to do with the guy from the previous issue, who looked about Mark's age, and got himself 'Sploded. Nothing at all.
Meanwhile, Mark is off on patrol, and his father Omni-man decides to join him. See how the kid is shaping up!
This all goes pretty well, and the two share a touching moment, bonding as super-father and super-son.
Then, an army of aliens opens a portal into our realm, and things get a little hairy, for a while.
The pair eventually win, though. Because that's what heroes do. Things look calm for all of five seconds, before Omni-man speeds away, leaving Invincible in his dust, to rescue a young man, in a mall.
A young man, with a bomb in his chest.
A young man, who Mark recognises.
Then, just when things can't look worse, a portal opens and one of the aliens from early grabs Omni-man, dragging him through to places unknown.
Issue four brings the first volume full circle! As rocket works out just who has been planting the bombs, and sends Invincible and Atom Eve to apprehend the suspect: Their Physics teacher!
After giving his evil mastermind monologue, he rips his shirt open to reveal another bomb. Mark has just enough time to fly him to Antarctica before he can explode, in the scene we saw at the start of issue 1. Bringing us back to the present, so to speak!
Origins story, complete. Whew.
Mark returns home, followed shortly by his father. They share the stories of their harrowing adventures over dinner, much to Debbie's relief, and the first volume of Invincible ends on a happy note.
Isn't life grand?
Why this book is so good:
It seems silly, to try and explain why Kirkman's work is great. This is the guy that created and wrote one of the most successful comic series of all time (The Walking Dead), and is famous for subverting stories in unexpected ways. What more could you ask for?
How about some amazing art? That would be nice, too!
As we all know, comics are a visual media. As many series have been sunk by bad art, as they have by bad plot. Thankfully, Invincible doesn't just have a superstar writer, it also has an amazing artist. Cory Walker's clean lines and simple designs bely the skill with which he brings Kirkman's world to life. Even though this is the first time you've seen him, Invincible's suit has a, dare I say it, iconic look. And while he didn't stick around for the full run, (more on that next week!) the work he does in this first volume ensures that his addition to this series will be remembered, for years to come.
In the same way that Kirkman took The Walking Dead from a tale of surviving the zombie apocalypse, and turned it into a story of what it means to really be human, Invincible takes everything that we THINK we know and want from a superhero comic, and flips it around.
But every great story has to start somewhere, and this is where Invincible begins.
While things are going to get real dark very soon, the first volume of Invincible is as light and fluffy as one of those Japanese pancakes that keep cropping up on Instagram.
Mark lives an idyllic life in the suburbs with his loving mum and superhero father.
And now, he's got powers, too! How cool is that?
But already, there are whispers that things aren't quite right. From kidnapped kids being turned into human bombs, to alien armies invading from mysterious other universes. It's clear that Mark's life is not going to be an easy one.
So let's take a moment to talk about the main arc of the volume. It seems an angry teacher was finally pushed too far, and started turning the "cool kids" into living bombs. A fairly simple plot, one we've seen variations off many times before. But I must admit, I DID feel for Mr Hiles. His story of losing his son to suicide, caused by the very "cool kids" he now punished, and the domino effect that had on his life. It's a very real story, one that no doubt resonates with many of the readers.
It's this humanity which makes Invincible so great to read. It's not just the story of a young teen becoming a powerful hero. Every aspect of this universe is fleshed out, and even a relatively throw-away villain like Mr Hiles comes across as a real person. One you can't help but sympathise with, once you know his story.
The other aspect of the series that I love, is how matter of fact his family are about the superheroic side of their lives.
The first time you meet Mark's parents, his mother is worrying about where his father is.
Mark calmly switches on the news to see Omni-man, Defender of Democracy battling a dragon on tv. There he is, Ma! He should be back for dinner!
It's an absurd scene, but the fact they're so blasé about the whole situation feels natural, when you realise that they've lived with this for Mark's whole life.
So, when Mark returns with the news that his father has been dragged into a scary looking portal by an alien, and this news merits no more reaction than "Well, I guess that means more pork chops for us!" it seems normal.
But then, you see more of that darkness, that I spoke of before. As time ticks by and Omni-man doesn't return, you see the facade start to slip. And then, when his return is met with smiles, and a single tear shed in solitude, you realise just how much pressure Debbie lives under, day in and day out, in silence.
It's a single panel, with no text. But it says everything that it needs to.
Once again, Kirkman's ability to add humanity and really make you FEEL for these characters stands centre stage. And this is only Volume 1!
So join me next week, when we meet The Guardians of the Globe, and the world of Invincible is changed FOREVER! In Invincible Vol 2: Eight is Enough!
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!