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COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: The "calm" before the storm, in Invincible Volume 23: Full House.

Invincible Volume 23, Cover 1. Published by Image Comics.

Invincible Volume 23: Full House, collecting Invincible #127-132.

Script: Robert Kirkman, Artist: Cory Walker,

Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn, Letterer: Rus Wooton.

Last volume was... fun. If you find immense frustration to be fun, that is. We had a couple of story arcs play out, either of which could have been a really great arc itself, had they been given the time to play out to their fullest potential. Sadly, they didn't. So, we were left playing "Oh, what could have been." Thankfully, this volume is a marked improvement, and works as a great set-up for the epic conclusion of the Invincible saga, which begins in volume 24. So, shall we begin?

Every child's reaction to any gift.

Chapter one picks up right where the last volume dropped us. Mark is standing face to face with little baby Terra, his daughter he just sacrificed an ideal world to return to. Only one teeny problem. Little baby Terra isn't so little anymore... It seems the magic lamps are kinda mean, and have returned mark FIVE YEARS after the point he left. Can Mark cope with this lost time? And does he really want to know everything that's changed in his absence?

Speaking of things Mark didn't want to know...

Chapter two finds Thragg continuing his unstoppable conquest of the universe. As more planets fall, dissent reaches its peak in the coalition, and finally, some of the braver/stupider members decide to bring up their grievances directly with Grand Allen. It doesn't go as well as they'd hoped. Meanwhile, on their remote holiday planet, Mark, Eve, and Terra relax and try to make up for lost time.

Obviously, I'm Team Allen... but that is a pretty sick burn.

Chapter three returns us to Earth, where Rex has just put down another invasion, with the assistance of his awesome monologuing skills, and his new best friend, Nolan Grayson. Mark and Eve soon arrive and Mark is faced with a rather uncomfortable truth... Robot might not be all THAT bad. In the wider universe, yet another planet falls before the unstoppable juggernaut that is Thragg. Assisted, as ever, by his evil bug brood.

I know which one of these two scare me more. Spoiler warning, it's not the angry guy.

Chapter four sees Mark and Robot finally meet face to face, for the first time in many years. Needless to say, Robot is rather vocal, and Mark is still pretty suspicious. Which comes as a surprise to absolutely no one. Shortly after, Mark and Eve decide that Earth maybe isn't their home anymore, and it's best for everyone if they hide out on their little holiday planet, and just ignore the rest of the universe. Sadly, the rest of the universe doesn't want to play that game.

Thragg doesn't care what you want.

Chapter five starts, with everything going super wrong. Mark and Terra are playing nicely in the garden, when the Thragglettes drop down and start trying their darndest to murder everyone. But, even after a while out of the game, Mark and Eve aren't easy targets... especially when they also have a small child to look after. A small child who, despite having incredibly powerful parents, has not yet shown any powers of her own.

Apparently, kids don't like being dropped from a great height. I'm not a parent though, so I can't confirm.

Chapter six sees a frantic Mark trying to defeat his enemy, and rescue his falling child, who quickly saves herself. But when Viltrumite reinforcements show up, the situation goes from 'Tough, but we can do it!' to 'Oh god, oh god, we're all going to die.' Can Mark and Eve survive this almost impossible battle? And how will the universe cope, if they can't?

Mark: I am INVINCIBLE! Thragg: Are you, though?

Ooooh boy, that went from calm, to calamitous SO QUICKLY. I don't even know where to start...

Okay, I'm going to start with the easy part: Volume 23 sees the return of OG artist and co-creator of the series Cory Walker. And I've got to say, if you don't see any of his other work, this volume would be enough to make you understand why Walker is considered one of the best Character Designers in the business. The way he updates the various players on this stage, to account for the 5 year time jump is excellent. Everyone is instantly recognisable still, but there are clear signs of progress across the board. Personally, my favourite change is Nolan's trucker 'stache, which I honestly wish I was cool enough to grow.

It's not all good, though. While Walker is the king of character design, his work with action scenes falls a little short. Volume 23 contains another epic Invincible showdown, and while it was great, I can't help but feel like Ottley's lighter, faster work could have taken this fight to the next level. The way he conveys the speed and brutality of combat is, in my opinion, unmatched. And while Walker did a fine job, it lacked the vibrancy and clarity of Ottley's fight scenes.

Okay, I think I've had time to get my thoughts in order, now.

They say a picture is worth 1000 words. When I see an image like this, it's hard to argue.

So, Mark has returned from his short trip away, to find out that it was only a short trip for HIM. To everyone else, he's been gone for five freakin years. Wow, not going to lie, this intro HURT. Seeing how devastated Mark is, how much time he's missed with Terra. It just cuts deep. My complaints from last volume still stand, I do think they could have made the reboot storyline last a little longer. But Kirkman knows what he's doing, and he knows how to make us feel some serious pain. It seems, that much has changed, since Mark left, here are a couple of the main points: Eve is now FAR more relaxed on Talescria, and in fact, now rather enjoys her life here. This is a big plus, as I wasn't a huge fan of the "Eve hates Talescria" stuff. So, skipping the part when she gets settled in, and jumping right to her feeling at home is a big plus, in my books. She also seems to have made up with Haluma. I'm hoping this is due to Haluma apologising, and learning how to cook, but I doubt it. However, Haluma has competition in the "Worst Friend of Eve's" race! Yup, The Great Allen is great at everything, except picking girlfriends. It seems, while Mark was away, Eve found some solace in the arms of Telia's brother, which Telia was super stoked about. Sadly, when this douche decided that Eve's child was getting in the way, he made her choose between them. Naturally, she didn't choose him. Neither him, nor Telia took this well.

He didn't take that punch too well, either.

Honestly, I'm not really sure why they bothered with this plot. Mark gets over it pretty quickly, Eve has no feelings to complicate issues, and Terra doesn't seem to care either way. In fact, the only person that seems to really care about the failed union is Telia, and no one cares what she thinks, so... Yeah. Let's make like Eve, and move on.

Yup, he's still a tool.

Oliver continues to be the worst. Five years have passed and he no longer looks like AstroBoy. Nope, now he's the guy at the party that everyone avoids, because he only wants to talk about his homemade wine.

Sadly, it's not just that he LOOKS like a tool. He acts like one, too. It seems, that in the fairly short span that Mark has been gone, Oliver has switched sides! Yup, he's now a spy for Thragg, because of course he is. He's the fucking WORST. We don't know the extent of his crimes, but he sucks off to Thragg a lot, and has clearly been passing sensitive materials over, otherwise why would Thragg bother with him? So, it's safe to say, yes, Oliver is actually the worst.

Now, of course, there IS a chance that he was just doing this to get into Thragg's inner circle, so that he could eventually betray Thragg and bring him down. In fact, there is evidence for this, as Oliver tries to force a meeting between them.

However, the meeting never happens, because when Thragg tells Oliver to stay out of the way while he murders Mark, Oliver decides that maybe he's done with Thragg. Of course, Thragg is FAR from done with him.

Okay, NOW Thragg is done with him. As is everyone else.

I mean, I could try to pretend I'm upset about this, but I'm just not. Sorry, I know I should mourn the loss of Oliver, if just because I know Mark will be upset about it (for some reason...), but he's been a consistently terrible character, who has always made the worst possible choice at any given moment. So, yeah. The fact that he ends up getting murder by Thragg, who he has been working with for years, just feels like his chickens coming home to roost. Kinda reminds me of Snape, from Harry Potter. Everyone says that his bravery in spying makes up for his being a grade A tool to everyone the rest of the time, but I just don't see it.

At this point, I feel inclined to add that if Oliver WAS actually a spy, then when he found out that Mark was in danger, he would/should have run straight to his handler, and informed them of the danger. The fact that he didn't do this, makes me more inclined to think that he was a legitimate turncoat, as alerting the proper authorities to the danger Mark was in, would have meant explaining how he knew about said danger, which would have meant explaining that he was in contact with Thragg, and WHY...

All this evidence, for me, points to one clear fact: Oliver was a traitor, and he died a traitor's death. I can't bring myself to mourn someone, who died as a result of his own incredibly poor choices. Does this make me a bad person?

So, having caught up with Eve and Oliver, and having left the coalition behind, Mark returns to Earth to see his family!

Behold, the glory of Nolan.

Earth is in a bit of a state. Which is a shame, really, because apparently it's quite nice, the rest of the time. It seems Rex has actually been doing a pretty good job of things, all told. Mark still doesn't trust him, though. I don't trust him either really, but that's less impactful on the story. Rex has done his best to turn Earth into as close to a utopia as is possible, and seems to be succeeding. He also won the presidency in a landslide, and turned it down. On the surface he's doing everything right and everyone believes him: So, why can't Mark trust him?

It's an interesting little plot point, really. It was a major factor in the middle volumes of this arc: Mark holds everyone to a brutally high standard, and is incredibly unforgiving when they don't meet up to it. Is he doing that now? Do Rex's action ends, really justify his means?

Or, is the smartest man in the universe just playing the long game? We know that his plans on the Flaxxan homeworld spanned millennia; is he playing a similar game on Earth?

I don't know why, but I just can't bring myself to trust Rex. He's done amazing things for Earth, but he killed SO many people, to make that happen. What if he decides that he needs to kill more, next time? How many people is he willing to sacrifice, to sustain his utopia.

And the more pressing question: If he runs the calculations, and all the evidence says that he should: Would he betray the Coalition, and side with Thragg?

My money says, absolutely yes.

But none of this matters, because Mark is on the moon, with Nolan, Debbie and... erm, Anissa. Yeah. Seems she's calmed down a little, in the past few years. Settled down, met a nice guy. She's really not the horrible murderous rapist she was, five years back. Naturally, Eve and Mark don't give a fuck about her supposed rehabilitation, so the moment Eve runs into her, she crushes her under one of her constructs. The odd and slightly annoying part is, Mark calls Eve off, tells Nolan it's nothing, and refuses to talk about it more. He says it's not the time... but seeing as they're in a relative calm at this point, now seems like EXACTLY the time. But hey, that's just me. I guess there aren't going to be any repercussions to what she did...

well, maybe ONE.

Naturally, between running into Anissa, and seeing Robot, Mark and Eve are quickly done with Earth and return to the peace and quiet of their hidden planet. Which stays calm, for all of five seconds, and then ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.

Yup, Thragg tracks down Mark, and seeing that he's isolated with only his wife and child to assist, he sends his two strongest children to bring them down.

So begins another epic Invincible fight!

It's not going to appear in any lists, it's very rarely mentioned, but I do really enjoy Team Grayson Vs Team BugThragg. While it's not as long or gory as some of the other mainstay fights in the series, I think it has the best tone of any fight we've seen so far.

Mark is, without doubt, a beast when it comes to throwing hands. However, he's always allowed his morality, and his fear of his Viltrumite heritage to hold him back. Quick, think back to almost every fight Mark has ever had. How many of them follow this basic outline:

Mark fights someone stronger than him, but still holds back.

Mark gets wrecked.

Mark loses his temper.

Mark brutally beats them to death.

It's basically every fight, right? Mark NEVER goes all out, from the get-go, because no one ever does, in comic books.

Until now.

The fight begins, and Mark is clearly superior to his opponent, Onaan (The angry boy from earlier). The only problem is that Mark is also trying to keep Terra safe, while he fights. This is your standard "got to protect the weakling" situation, we've seen it a thousand times before. Eventually, Terra is knocked out of Mark's hands and is falling to her death. Everyone is VERY worried, until we all collectively remember that Terra is half Viltrumite, and thus is able to fly. Woo!

Only problem is, she flies right into Thragg's hands... At this point, Mark realises that he's basically boned. So, he tries to make a deal with Thragg. They each have a child, why not swap? Everyone wins.

One final problem, Thragg doesn't feel the need to trade, because he knows that Mark is a "Hero" and thus, would never harm a child, even one as clearly dangerous as Onaan.

I mean, he's not wrong.

Seems Thragg's super abilities don't extend to seeing the future... This was the moment I realised that we were not dealing with the old, moral Mark anymore. This is not Invincible: hero of the people, this is Mark Grayson: Husband, Father, and Viltrumite. We've already seen him doom a whole world, because he wanted to get back to his child. How could we think he wouldn't trade one more life for her?

And honestly, this Mark is WAY better. Invincible's moral compass has always been a little wobbly, prone to swinging in whichever may Mark wanted it to go at any given time. Seeing him finally embrace that, and just do whatever is necessary to protect his family feels like a very human conclusion for him to come to. He's not the 'perfect' hero. He's not the hotheaded young guy that thought he always knew what was best. He's now an adult, with a lot to lose, and a LOT to fight for. I think this is a Mark that a lot of people will be able to get behind, and is the exact right person he needs to be, for the trials to come...

Sadly, this also means he has to fight Thragg. Who quickly makes short work of both him and Eve, because he's Grand Regent THRAGG. Ruining people's day is kind of what he does...

She's trying to say 'Get out of jail free card!'

Yup, Thragg absolutely ruins them both, and then takes his one surviving child and leaves. Wanting Mark and Eve to suffer a long painful death and wanting Terra to watch it happen. Because Thragg... Thragg has issues.

But, of course, there's one thing Thragg hasn't accounted for: Deus Ex Machineve!

Just like last time, sensing that she's about to die, her powers kick into overdrive! She's brought back to life, fully healed, even regrows her lost leg... and that's not all!

Not satisfied with reviving herself, she also fully heals Mark, and actually makes him a little bit stronger! Isn't that just so cool!

Well, actually, no. Not really.

Look, don't get me wrong: I'm glad that Mark and Eve both survived, and are now stronger than ever before. If this fight showed us one things, it's that they're REALLY going to need that boost, going into the final showdown with Thragg.

But it does kind of take the jeopardy out of the series, knowing that Eve can just pop everything back together, should she desire. I mean, I know that Oliver is RIGHT there, and didn't get saved, but honestly I think that was 50% Eve's power not being enough, and 50% Eve not really caring enough to bring him back. The explanation was that it was too late and he'd already died, while she and Mark were both on the EDGE of death, but I can't help but think that if that was Mark that had died, she'd have found a way to bring him back.

So, yeah, it's cool that she's brought everyone back, and that Mark is now stronger, but it just feels like Kirkman didn't know how to wrap things up. So he fudged it all, and brought back Eve's super awesome power of awesomeness, to fix the leftovers from Thragg's fight, and make Mark capable of actually holding his own, next time.

On the plus side: seeing his brother get skewered, and nearly dying himself, has given Mark the kick in the pants he needed. So now, he and Eve are ready to rejoin the fight, and end this thing, once and for all!

Overall, Volume 23 was a really solid book, that handles the fallout from the slightly irritating Volume 22 very well, and brilliantly sets up the final arc of this legendary series!

So, if you want to see how Kirkman even starts to end a series as epic as Invincible, join me next week for Invincible Volume 24: The End of All Things, Part One. Mark must accept that Thragg can’t be defeated without him, and for the good of the universe, he’s going to have to risk his life to stop him!

If you want to read Volume 24, collecting issues #133-138 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!

Clearly, Terra has never played Dynasty Warriors! That's edutainment at its finest!

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