Invincible Volume 3: Perfect Strangers. Written by Robert Kirkman, Art by Ryan Ottley, Colours by Bill Crabtree.
Last time, in Invincible Volume 2, Omni-man, defender of democracy, most powerful hero on the planet, murdered the Guardians of the Globe, the premiere superhero team on Planet Earth. We thought he couldn't do anything more shocking and brutal.
We were wrong.
Chapter one begins with the kind of simple family life that we've come to expect, from the charmed existence of the Grayson family. It's Mark's birthday, and he's celebrating how most teenagers do. With friends, zombie movies, pizza and drinks. What a sweet, charming scene. Could it get any more adorable?
Of course it can! His friends leave, after an evening of simple fun. Mark sits down with his father Nolan, to watch one last film, with his favourite person on earth.
Aww, ain't it sweet? For now...
In other news, Robot is picked to join the Guardians of the Galax... The Guardians of the Globe! And he's not just joining them, he's going to be leading the new team, a team he'll be hand-picking for the government.
This is how we meet recurring character, Cecil Steadmen. Head of Guard, a shadowy government organisation that outranks just about everyone, it's Cecil's job to find trouble, wherever it may happen, and make sure that a suitable hero gets there ASAP.
If things go well, we'll never see him again.
So expect to see him, a LOT.
The big recruitment drive begins, for the new Guardians. Needless to say, despite being invited, Mark graciously declines, preferring to act as a lone hero, teaming up with the Guardians when things get really dire.
Thankfully, there are plenty of people who DO want to join, and a new team is assembled in short order.
Joining Robot, and the always popular Rex Splode in the new line up are:
Monster Girl, who you can see above teaching Rex some manners!
Returning hero Black Sampson, now with his shiny supersuit.
Teen Team graduate Repli-Kate.
And finally, relative unknown Shrinking Ray... but I think we can guess his powers.
Yup! All told, things are going pretty well for the world of Invincible. I'm sure no huge shocking news will come out, that threatens to overturn everything.
Well, guess not!
Chapter two starts off with some top shelf heroics! As Invincible squares off against a surprisingly resilient foe: the dreaded Doc Seismic, a recurring villain with the power of Geokinesis. But, he can move all the earth he wants, he's not stopping Invincible! So, ears filled with the cries of his adoring fans, Invincible heads off.
But that's where his happy feelings will end. Probably for quite a while.
Because, after an uneventful day at school, a simple trip to the comic store has a dire end.
You see, the new Guardians of the Globe aren't quite working out. They've not outright failed yet, but they're close. And someone has to pick up that slack, and that someone is Omni-man.
And while out on a routine mission, saving some beach going civilians from the predations of a giant squid monster, Omni-man has a surprising guest.
And he is FURIOUS.
So begins an epic brawl, of legendary proportions. As two of the strongest heroes on the planet duke it out.
Immortal, furious, just wants answers. How could Omni-Man betray his friends? Why did he kill the Guardians? What the hell is going on!
Omni-man, wanted to keep the civilians, and the secret that he killed the Guardians safe, flies the high up into the skies, where no one can follow.
Surely, this will be a battle for the ages, spanning hours, or maybe even DAYS.
Or, maybe not?
Omni-man shows once again why he is the greatest hero–and maybe villain–this world has ever known, effortlessly dispatching Immortal, again.
And once again, his secret is safe, as no one was there to see the fight.
Well... Almost no one.
You see, while in line at the comic book store, Mark happened to catch a glimpse of a news broadcast. Seeing his father attacked and being the heroic soul that he is, he immediately flew to his defense.
Just in time to see his father chop Immortal in half like in overripe tomato.
The chapter comes to a close, with the hilariously understated "Son, we need to talk" from Omni-man.
The phrase "No shit, Sherlock" springs to mind.
Chapter three begins, with the truth, finally.
You see, Nolan lied. He lied to everyone, for YEARS.
That cool story we heard before? Of the World Betterment Council, of well meaning Viltrumites that just want to save the universe?
But now, we get the REAL story. The Viltrumites are a brutal, war belligerent race. They fought and killed each other for years, until only the strongest and most savage of them remained. They then formed the World Conquering Committee, an organisation whose sole purpose was to hunt out worlds that were advanced enough to be of benefit to the Empire, but not so advanced as to put up a fight. The Committee would then swoop in and take over. Those worlds that acquiesced would be given technology and be welcomed into the ever expanding empire. The worlds that DIDN'T accept Viltrumite rule, fared far worse.
Thus, Viltrum formed the galaxy's largest empire. TOO large. Their forces were stretched thin, but they still wanted to conquer more. So, they hit upon a plan. Send a single, elite agent to a planet. Have them stay there for a while, learn about the world, and weaken it from the inside. So, once 500 years had passed, they'd be ready for Viltrumite rule.
And that's where Nolan comes in. He was sent to Earth, to prepare it.
And while he was happy, more or less, once Mark was born and had begun to show his powers, he knew that time had come to begin the takeover.
So, the question is posed: Will Mark join his father, join the Empire, and try to take over Earth?
Of course not!
Chapter four begins, with Mark forced to make the hardest decision he's faced in his life so far. His father, or his planet? His people, or his home?
The battle is long, and brutal. From the wide expanse of the skies, to deep underground, their battle rages. But, while Mark is almost pure Viltrumite, he is still too young. Viltrumite's grow stronger, and harder as they age. And the gap is just too much for Mark to overcome. Savagely beaten, almost to the point of death, he sinks to the floor.
But, when time comes, to deliver the final blow... Nolan turns, and leaves. Flying off into space, and away from everything.
Chapter five is the recovery. The world saw Omni-man and Invincible's battle, and they were aware that the pair are father and son, but no one, as yet, knows why they fought.
Mark has been recovering in hospital for nearly two weeks, and as far as the world is concerned, famous author Nolan Grayson was killed in a car crash.
And this is how Mark meets, and begins to work for, Cecil. You see, every time the beeper went off, to call Omni-man to some crisis that needed his attention, every dire midnight call, that was Cecil. And now, with Omni-man gone, potentially never to return, Cecil needs a new hero to step up.
So, in exchange for a full scholarship to the college of his choice, and the assurance that his mother will be looked after, Mark agrees to sign on the dotted line, and become his father's replacement.
While touring the facility, we're introduced to another concept, that will recur a lot as the series goes on. Mark enters a white room, alongside Cecil. He can neither see no hear anything that happens within said room. Once the "lights" are switched off, everything becomes visible. Albeit briefly. It seems that Cecil and his people have drugged the American populace through their water supply, in order to make their eyes unable to register light in certain spectrums. They use this to hide all manner of things from the unaware public.
I'm sure there's no way this will ever be used for nefarious ends... not a chance.
And so, fully healed and on the government's dime, Mark returns home to try and live something resembling a normal life.
But nothing is normal, not anymore. The quiet calm and happiness that filled Mark's home life is gone, now. And there can be no peace, when you're the top hero on your planet.
Almost as soon as Mark returns home, he beeper goes off... It seems Earth has a visitor. One we've met before!
Allen the Alien is back! It seems once he returned to his base, to clear up the whole Earth/Urath mix up, they informed him of something terrible!
Earth was off limits to them! It had been claimed by the evil Viltrumite Empire and they weren't forbidden to interfere.
Thanks for that info, Allen. We could have used that a while back.
But it's not all doom and gloom. The Viltrumites may be an almost unstoppable force, but that doesn't mean people aren't trying to fight them! And it just so happens, the news that Mark, a Viltrumite who doesn't side with the Empire, would make a lot of people very happy.
So, that's nice, right? That kinda takes away the sting of being beaten near death by your father, after he betrayed your whole planet and abandoned you... right?
Why this book is so good:
Yeesh, what a twist!
I remember, when I first started reading Invincible, I enjoyed the first two volumes, but didn't really get what all the fuss was about. It seemed like a solid comic, but fairly standard superhero fair. Nothing worthy of the excessive praise I'd seen for it.
Then, I hit volume three. It's not JUST that Omni-man reveals himself to be a villain, it's not just that when he does it, he also beats Mark so badly it takes him two weeks to recover. It's not just that Omni-man is bad. His whole EMPIRE is evil. The grand story they fed us, of the World Betterment Committee, of the noble Viltrumites journeying the universe to make it a better place... all of it was a lie.
To hit us with so many shocking and brutal twists, one after another. It's almost too much. Kirkman takes us right to the edge of what we can handle, and just slips the tip of his toe over the line.
After the big fight, you're left stunned, exhausted and a little unsure of what just happened. And REALLY unsure about how anyone can recover from this. But it doesn't put you off. It's not an annoying twist, that makes you feel cheated. It blows the whole world wide open, and leaves you desperate to learn more.
And honestly, what more could you ask for?
As always, Kirkman's writing is top notch. Obviously, the big reveal and the ensuing fight and fallout make up the majority of this book, and the fallout from this clash will continue for volumes to come...
But what makes this book such a joy to read is the contrasts. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that can go from warm-hearted slice of life comedy, where we follow the lives of the adorable Grayson family and their zombie movie birthday parties. Where the worst thing you can expect is Omni-man's supersuit accidentally getting washed on Warm/Cold instead of Cold/Cold and ending up shrunk.
And then, with no warning, turn into a brutal, gory tale of betrayal and conquest, faster than you can say "Viltrum Sucks." Where that same happy family can suddenly throw each other through buildings and try as hard as they can to kill one another.
How Kirkman manages to balance such a severe tonal shift I'll never know. But it's a testament to his skills that he pulled it off so perfect. And will again, in the volumes to come...
But of course, the script is only half the book. The art is a huge part of making this all so visceral.
Ottley's art this volume is simply stellar. The feeling of speed in the action sequences genuinely makes you feel like you're watching animation, not a flat image. The panels flow into one another so perfectly, the blows land with such brutal impact, you can almost feel them.
Then, the use of shadowing, and the thicker linework during the more sombre scenes, slows everything down, and gives the scenes a feeling of weight and gravitas, when they're needed.
Lastly, I want to mention Crabtree's colour. Colourist is a role that is often forgotten, when discussing comic art, but I want to draw some attention to it now. The contrast of palettes between scenes is inspired. Going from the cool, calming blue during the more domestic scenes, to the deep, burning oranges during the fights, subconsciously excites the brain, letting you know that things are really going down. Then, to end the fight on a page of mostly white, as Mark collapses after this fight. Classic.
Overall, Volume 3 is where Invincible really hits its stride. The big reveal shocks us all awake, the action flows perfectly and interwoven between it all some really great character moments. William subtly asking out Eve, and Mark's new relationship with Amber being strong additions, that keep the comic feeling grounded, once the rug is pulled from under us, and the soothing "home life" sections of the comic are forever destroyed.
And of course, this volume introduces a number of key players, who we'll be seeing a lot of in the coming pages. The intriguing Cecil Steadmen, G-man supreme, and the new roster for the Guardians of the Globe, who have big shoes to fill, and don't quite measure up.
Volume 1 and 2 very much feel like and intro. A prologue, if you will. Volume 3 is where Invincible finds its feet, even as ours are knocked out from under us.
So join me next week, for Invincible Volume 4: Head of the Class. When we all try to recover, from what just happened. And Mark tries to balance school and his new role as a hero!
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!