COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: There are FAR more than 50 shades of grey. In Invincible Volume 15: Get Smart.
Invincible Volume 15: Get Smart (collecting Invincible #79-84).
Script by Robert Kirkman, Pencils by Ryan Ottley, Inks by Cliff Rathburn, Colours by Niko Koutsis (Chapters 1-3), John Rauch (Chapters 4-6).
Last Volume was an epic one. Chronicling the events of the legendary Viltrumite War. Vast battles were fought, Conquest once more got his ass thoroughly kicked, and Oliver once more learnt that he's really not cut out to be a superhero. Now, the war is over and Mark has returned home. But he's a changed man, he's had a chance to really think about what he's been doing, and he's come to a decision that just might have some major consequences...
Chapter 1 begins with Invincible, and so many others, trying to return to something resembling normal life, now that the war is over. They catch up with family, fight supervillains, attend dinner parties, stop superpowered dinosaur monsters from breaking out of prison, get brunch. It's all really pretty normal. But, Eve's secret, that she's been holding onto since before Mark left for the war, can only stay hidden for so long.
Chapter two begins with everyone settling back into their lives. Nolan and Debbie head off into space, to give their relationship another shot, and Eve moves into the big house, with Mark. Invincible also has a fairly interesting run-in with a new villain on the scene. Then the chapter comes to a close as an old foe returns! Dinosaurus continues his maniacal campaign to, err, save the world, by blowing Las Vegas up. The strangest part is, his plan actually makes a lot of sense...
Chapter three begins, with the country in shock after the events of Las Vegas. As Invincible begins to reconsider some of his past choices and ponders if there might not be a better way, to really save the world. Then a run-in with old-enemy-turned-hero PowerPlex sees mMark right old wrongs, and start off on a new course.
Chapter four sees the return of Rex (the hero formerly known as Robot) and Monster Girl! It seems while it's been a little over a year since they jumped through that portal (In Volume 14, Chapter 1), for them it's been over 12 years. An older, more weary Robot returns to the superhero business, but Cecil has a new role in mind for him. One somewhat more suited to a man of Rex's particular talents. In other business, a more pragmatic Invincible makes a few interesting choices, as he tries to find a new, better way to fight the evils that assail this world. It actually turns out better than you'd think...
Chapter five sees Rex and Monster Girl formally reintroduce themselves to the hero world. As Rex cries in a corner and every man in a 100ft radius flirts with the now adult Monster Girl. On the other side of the coin, old friends and hopeless villains Magmaniac and Tether Tyrant attempt to return to Titan's good graces, by pulling off a mission they are far, far too weak to complete.
Chapter six brings the volume to its conclusion, as Mark attempts a bold and seemingly foolhardy mission. After seeing the fallout from Dinosaurus' attack on Las Vegas, Mark realises that maybe there WAS some merit to the tyrant T-Rex's plans... and so Invincible once more tries to save the world, but in a way that could get him in a LOT of trouble.
Volume 15 is an interesting one. There isn't really an ongoing plot, but there are some recurring themes, woven in different ways through the various arcs.
Mark has always been a very moral man. In his world, there were heroes, there were villains, and there was very little crossover, in between. But this volume we start to see those iron morals soften, and bend. Starting with the unlike tale of Gravitator! a supervillain in training, who clearly slept through "picking a cool name" class.
Gravitator has invented a pair of boots to let him walk along any surface, even the roof! and a gun that uses blasts of gravity to knock people around. He uses these tools to rob a bank and then flee. Where he runs right into Invincible.
At this point, you'd expect a lot of punching, some crying, and a quick trip to prison. But that's not what happens. Invincible talks to the guy, realises he's not exactly a threat to the world, and lets him go. Even a short time later, when the guy sells his tech to a different villain who robs another bank with them... the old Invincible probably would have snapped, and beat them both to a pulp. Hell, go back a couple of chapters and angry Invincible probably would have killed at least one of them. But post-war Invincible is a pragmatist. Instead, he does something that would have seemed impossible a few volumes back.
He takes the guy to Cecil.
Yup. Mr "Criminals should be dead or in jail" takes a guy that broke the law... and finds him a nice job working with Cecil and his team of reprobates.
Things get a little harder, after that. Mark once more encounters evil genius dinosaur-man Dinosaurus. But this time, he's not just trying to stop the heroes from clearing up a disaster, he's trying to cause one!
It seems that Dinosaurus has taken issue with Las Vegas, and decided the only way to fix is, it to level the whole city. So he's planted a bunch of bombs, powerful enough to turn the whole desert to glass. Don't worry, though; Invincible will save the day and find those bombs!
But here's the thing. For all his... incendiary plans, Dino is not just out here to cause some chaos. In fact, when Invincible comes crashing in and starts kicking his ass, he's attempted to evacuate the area. The only thing he wants to do is destroy Vegas; he's not trying to kill innocent people.
In fact, his plan makes a LOT of sense. Once Vegas (which is a huge drain on resources) is destroyed, the area can be converted into a huge solar farm, bringing in thousands of jobs for local residents, and generate enough clean energy to provide cheap power for millions.
I mean, in many ways, the plan is horrific and there are far better ways to achieve what he's trying to... but you can see a kind of inhumane logic to his actions.
But here's where things get even more complex.
Remember Gravitator? Turns out he's not just a down on his luck schlub, who turned to crime because he had no other option. He's actually a tech genius, who just never had a lucky break. Until he met Invincible, who introduced him to Cecil.
And now? He just created a new, double-sided solar panel, that was installed all over the glassy ruins of Las Vegas. Exactly as Dinosaurus said, it created jobs and power for many people, vastly increasing the quality of life they'll now have.
So, really... was he wrong to do it?
It's an interesting question, because there IS no right answer. I mean, if we imagine that Invincible had never intruded, would Dino have been able to evacuate the whole town? Would he have been able to level Vegas with zero innocent casualties? Could he create all that power, and all those jobs, at no cost?
And while he created thousands of jobs, what about all the jobs he destroyed? Vegas is a HUGE industry, employing thousands of people. I can't imagine that all of them got jobs at the new solar farm, so what of them?
It's a conundrum. Sadly, Mark didn't see it that way, and only focused on the surface questions. Because while his new plan of thinking through his battles, instead of charging in with fists swinging does hold merit, he forgot to account for the fact that he's a freakin' idiot.
This leads to him breaking Dino out of jail, pissing off Cecil who he had only JUST gotten cool with again, and turning himself into public enemy #1. This will end well, I bet...
It's plotlines like this that make me love Invincible. Mark is, in many ways, the quintessential young hero. He's brave, strong, always does what's right, and will fight to the death for what he believes in. In short, he could so easily be a dumb, dull, dud. Thankfully, Kirkman decided to take this paragon of heroism and make him a borderline disaster.
Mark's journey is FILLED with cases of him making the absolute worst possible decision at any given moment. He's arrogant, hot headed, and demands leeway from his peers, while also refusing to bend an inch, on others' transgressions. Even when they're ones he's guilty of himself.
Again, this SHOULD make him an unbearable douche-lord, but the way Kirkman balances this duality leaves us with a character who seems like an unknowable god., but also has all the trappings and failings of a very real person. It allows you to revel in his successes, but also understand his failures, and leave you with a character that, once you've met him, will stay with you forever.
Of course, Mark doesn't ONLY make bad choices, this volume. There's actually one issue where not only does he do the right thing, but it also resolves one of the issues from a previous, weaker issue, and makes the whole arc the stronger for it.
Remember PowerPlex? Well, he's back. And sadly, he's still kinda pissed at Invincible. The fact that his first news of Invincible's return is that our fledgling hero tried and failed to save a whole city fully of people does nothing for PowerPlex's whole "Invincible doesn't save people, he just makes things worse" crusade. So, he decided to do what he always does... attack Invincible and see what happens next. However, he's in for a surprise, as are all of us. Invincible doesn't attack him, barely tries to defend himself. Instead, he does the one thing that 'Plex isn't ready for. He accepts the guilt for almost all of 'Plex's accusations, and says he's sorry. However, there's one crime, that Invincible WON'T take the blame for...
Forced to confront what he did, PowerPlex collapses. And Invincible, with a little help from Cecil and his team, are able to calm him down and get him some help.
I've spoken before, about both PowerPlex and Levy, and my dislike for the "enemy incorrectly blames the hero for their problems" trope. And when he first appeared, I was NOT kind to Plex about it. But, thankfully, Kirkman was just laying some groundwork and now, many volumes later, we see that tragic tale reach its sad but oddly heartwarming conclusion. It's just another case of the grey morality that fills this volume, and showing us once more than it's better to be kind, and think things through, before you judge people.
Last, we have a short run-in with Magmaniac and Tether Tyrant. Last time we saw this two, they were trying to go legit, and failing horribly. So, they fell back into a life of crime. And somehow, failing at that, too. So now they're back with Titan, and in an attempt to get into his good graces, they have to finish one mission. Kill Machinehead, former boss of all the crime in this fair city.
Needless to say, it does not go well...
And therein lies my problem. I said it, during their last misadventure, and I'll say it again now: There was a lot of potential in this plotline, but it was too rushed to have any impact. I feel like if they'd slow-played the whole story, it would have been a hundred times more impactful. Show little clips of them, here and there, trying and failing to get clean. No need for full stories, just a page or two, here and then, showing short clips of them struggling and eventually failing to stay legit. Then, move the plot on, to them trying to be their own bosses, and working low-level crime. Eventually, you get to this volume, they try to rejoin Titan, fail against Machinehead and get toasted... and it would have been BRUTAL. Sadly, there just wasn't enough space, between close-ups of Atom Eve's ass, to fit in this little tale. So I guess I'll just lament what could have been!
Overall, Volume 15 was a solid entry in the series. While not as gory and action-packed as the proceeding volume, it told a great story and asked some very interesting questions, and ones with no real "correct" answer. Combine this with some great character development, and some truly awe-inspiring art from Ottley, and you can't really ask for more!
So join me next week, for Invincible Volume 16: Family Ties. Allen the Alien returns, and he's brought Oliver with him. Sadly, this reunion will be anything but sweet. Prepare yourselves for another classic Invincible clash!
If you want to read Issues #79-84 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!