Invincible Volume 22: Reboot? collecting Invincible #121-126.
Script by Robert Kirkman. Pencils by Ryan Ottley. Inks by Cliff Rathburn And Ryan Ottley. Colours by John-Francois Beaulieu. Letters by Russ Wooton.
Last volume saw some much needed fluff, to help us recover from the unmitigated horror of the preceeding volumes. Mark/Invincible and Family moved to Talescria, and other than some issues with the regional cuisine, and Oliver being a tool, things seemed to be going quite well. Then, on the other side of the galaxy, one of the greatest fights in history went down. It was, all things considered, a pretty fun volume. This time around, things get really weird. But in a good way. Mostly.
Chapter one opens with Robot cleaning house. Taking down Immortal and Repli-Kate, and bringing Immortal to prison... Which is just where he wants to be. But when the heroes gather, Robot decides to fight with words, not fists. And an offer is made that might just be too good to pass up.
Chapter two jumps to Talescria, where the Invincibles are fitting in nicely. Except for the small fact that Terra seems to hate everything on the planet, and everything on the planet seems to hate Eve. But, on the plus side, the Coalition has finally located Thragg. So now Mark, Oliver, and the combined armies of the Coalition can journey across the universe to once more attempt to defeat the guy that always kicks their ass. Don't worry, I'm sure it'll be different this time.
Chapter three finds Mark spending some precious time with his family, before the army departs, and Eve shares her feelings about their new home. Arriving at Thragg's last known location, they have trouble tracking him... but just because Thragg isn't there, doesn't mean that Mark is totally unable to find some danger to rush headfirst into. And after for some reason that only makes sense to him, Mark decides to randomly touch an unknown, glowing alien, he ends up in the LAST place he ever would have expected!
Chapter four finds us right back at the start of it all. Mark is just... normal human Mark. Nolan is still Omni-Man, his mother is happy, and best of all, Oliver hasn't been born yet! Wooooo! But, armed with the knowledge of all the chaos and tragedy that has befallen him up to this point, can Mark change things for the better?
Chapter five picks up right where four left off, and goes about as well as you'd expect. Mark confronts his father, and asks him in a very measured and polite way to please consider NOT going berserk and attempt to enslave Earth for the glory of the Viltrumite Empire. Thankfully, while this version of Mark is still a squishy little hero noob, he's armed with something he's always lacked: Knowledge. But will his big throbbing brain be enough to overpower his unstoppable father?
Chapter six brings the volume to a close, with Mark, Nolan and all their friends working together to save the world, and put everything on the right track. But when the glowing spaghetti monster returns, to give Mark an impossible choice, they're less than thrilled with his answer.
That was... a very strange volume. If I had to compare this volume to an item of food, it would be a hot dog. Because there's no real meat to it, it's just a collection of odds and ends, scraps of plots all smashed together, and put in a big case. But, somehow, even though it's just a random assortment of stuff, it still kinda works. It's not as wholesome as Volume 21, or as horrific as Volume 20, but it has its share of sweet moments, and a really brutal ending. Plus, as we've all come to expect from Invincible, it has some great character moments, all tied together with fantastic art. So, while it does lack a certain element of cohesion, it's still an enjoyable ride.
The first major arc we need to discuss: The fall of the resistance!
See, here's the thing. Robot is a megalomanic, a heartless bastard, and a very sly and subtle dictator. On balance, though, he's also probably the best thing that could happen to the world of Invincible. It pains me to admit it, because I really don't like his character, but as of this moment, it's best just to let him run things. And this is exactly what we see, in the opening chapters of this volume. The last few heroes that continue to fight against his regime are trying, but robot deploys one final weapon, and it's one that they simply can't fight against.
Cold, hard, logic.
Robot is an ass and did a number of terrible things to seize power. He killed Cecil, who was everyone's favourite creepy grandpa, he killed a number of well loved heroes, and locked up many more. But to the man on the street? to the average citizen of the world? He's only helped. Hell, most of them don't even know that he's secretly running the world now. All they know is that suddenly crime is down, unemployment is down, and there are far, far fewer random acts of superpower related destruction. In the face of this unwavering truth, most of the heroes make the tough call. They bow out. Give in. Sign up. They leave the resistance and decide to join Robot and toe the company line. Because at the end of the day, their main responsibility is to protect the populace, and the best way to do that, is by helping Robot.
So, we have to ask ourselves: Is it REALLY a bad thing, that he's taken over? Do the ends, sometimes, justify the means?
No. They never do.
I can't quite explain why, right now, but give me and bit and I'm sure I'll come up with something. After all, even the most benevolent dictator is still, at the end of the day, a dictator. And just because things are going well now, doesn't mean they always will.
The second major arc, this volume: Talescria sucks, and if you like it, you suck too.
So, after leaving Earth, because it's pretty lame now, the Graysons have settled on Talescria. Which is great for Mark because he has a cool job killing endangered species with his dick brother, and generally trying super hard not to be a hero.
Meanwhile, Eve spends all her time at home, slowly going crazy as she looks after their child. Because, it turns out that while Talescria is a super advanced alien world where you can be or do anything... there's no TV and no internet. So, basically, it's the worst.
Mark's plan to remedy this is about as shortsighted as every other plan he's ever come up with: A night out at a 'Sonic play' with Oliver and Haluma. Yup, he thought going to a sonic play with a baby, his inlaws that hate him, and his wife was a great way to cheer her up.
You'd note, Haluma is still being fairly cold towards Mark and Eve. This is because she's upset that Mark blamed Terra's issues on her cooking, which upset her.
You'll note, this is the same cooking that nearly killed their child.
In my opinion, this incredibly important fact is never addressed, and it kind of annoys me. Haluma acts really mean and snotty to Eve and Mark, even though she nearly killed their newborn. This all happens at a time when Eve really needs a friend more than anything, and it all just feels like the deck is being unfairly stacked against her. Drama for drama's sake. Which is my least favourite kind of drama.
Then we have the third and final arc of the volume: Re-e-e-wind!
Mark sets off on a dangerous mission to track down and defeat the baddest MoFo in the series. And somehow, manages to accidentally stumble onto something even more dangerous. Because... I mean, it's Mark.
While exploring the planet, he finds the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who decides that Mark is the only one who can get this timeline back on track. To do so, it sends him right back to the start of his whole adventure, armed with the knowledge required to make sure things take a better path.
I've got to say, I feel like this is one of the arcs that had the most potential in the series. Sadly, the execution leaves a little to be desired. As I have joked about many times, at least twice in this very retrospective, Mark is a dumbass. He makes bad plans, and then executes them poorly. It's fine, he usually finds a way to fix things in the end, but bad things often happen along the way.
But now, things are different. I mean, they're not THAT different, Mark is still a dumbass, but now he's a forewarned dumbass. So even he can't mess up the plans, when he already knows exactly how things are going to play out.
Sadly, we don't really get enough time to actually see how things works. Mark returns to Earth, immediately going to see Eve, gets recruited into the Teen Team, and fixes a few of his early mistakes. Sadly, things get faster and faster from then on. We see montages of all the great things the Teen Team were able to achieve, with Mark's help. All the tragedies they were able to avert.
We see suspiciously little from Angstrom Levy, though. Given how pivotal a villain he is in Mark's life, I was really expecting to see Mark try to fix their first fateful encounter. The closest we get is seeing Mark take out the Mauler Twins, which might stop Levy, by depriving him of his ability to build the big machine that caused all the problems in the first place, I guess?
But underneath it all, there's a steady hum of discord. Sure, Mark is fixing the world, he has a chance to save a lot of people that he's lost. He has a chance to live his best possible life...
But it's not HIS life. He's not together with Eve, they don't have a child, he IS still a child. In one fell swoop he went from being a major player in galactic events, with a wife he loved and a child he would do anything for... to nothing. He's just another high school student that fights crime when he's not studying.
And that's got to be a REAL headfuck. Sure, Mark's life is anything but perfect. If recent events have shown anything, it's actually pretty harsh. But it's HIS life.
I don't know about you, reader, but for me? I wouldn't take that deal, if offered. Is my life perfect? No. Are there things I regret? HUNDREDS.
But am I willing to sacrifice the good parts, in exchange for maybe changing the bad ones? Not a chance.
Why? It's simple.
We just don't know what would happen.
It's like the Robot situation, above. Yes, everything SEEMS better. Yes, on the surface, rebooted InvinciVerse is a far better place than the one he left behind.. But how do we know that won't lead to a whole different world of hurt?
Let's say, that armed with everything he knows, Mark tells Robot NOT to take his thousand year sabbatical with the Flaxxans. That's good, right? By not going to Flaxxia, Robot never gets the idea to rule Earth, and all those lives we were mourning before are saved. Wonderful... But then, because that never happened, the Flaxxans never stop trying to invade. And let us not forget, that each time they came back, they did a little better. How long would it be before they succeeded? Or before drastic and potentially cataclysmic action was required, to stop them for good?
But sadly, we never really get a chance to dig into those possibilities. Because, shortly after he's dropped into Reboot world, the flying spaghetti monster comes back and gives Mark the chance to return to his world. They see Mark as the perfect warrior, willing to sacrifice anything for the greater good, and can't understand why he's so upset in his new reality. What they hadn't accounted for is that Mark is a superhero, but he's also a human and a father. And that will always come first, for him.
So, he dumps his "perfect" new world and is returned to his real, slightly rubbish reality. Where he rushes home to meet his adoring, but probably slightly worried wife, and the baby he gave up the world for...
Not cool, Kirkman. So, SO not cool.
Overall, Volume 22 is a little bit frustrating. There are some little gems in there, and conceptually it's one of the strongest volumes, but the whole thing feels so rushed, that you never really get a chance to enjoy anything.
I feel like the potential of the Reboot arc was huge and really deserved a lot more time to grow, and it would have made that final panel FAR more impactful. If we'd really been able to explore just how much Mark missed his family, just how much they mean to him when he's away from them, then it would have made it all the worse when you realise what he's lost, by missing his child's first few years.
We get one panel of Mark having a wonderful day with his baby, and then a short monologue from Mark about how he'd do anything to be back with Terra, but we don't really FEEL his heartache, we don't really understand just how much he's missing her, when they're only separated for maybe a chapter.
Then, on the flipside, it's great to see some of our lost characters again, but we barely get a chance to meet them, before Mark is gone again. I mean, we see Rex again, the REAL Rex, the loveable douche Rex, and Mark barely bats an eyelid. They never even get a single panel talking to each other.
it feels like it would have meant a lot more for Mark to sacrifice the "perfect" rebooted world if we'd had a chance to actually see what he was giving up. Let us see him fix Levy. Let us see Mark undo the terrible things he did with Dinosaurus (another notable absence in this arc). If we really see just how good Mark is able to make the rebooted world, then it will hit all the harder when he willingly sacrifices it all so that he can be with his baby again. And it'll make the reveal that he's lost that time hit all the harder, when we realise that his baby is all grown up now.
It all just felt a little flat, to me. And what could have been one of the most emotionally devastating reveals in this comic ends up being a shock, sure, but not as BIG as a shock as it could, or maybe should, have been.
I guess we'll have to wait and see where he goes, from here.
If you want to see where that is, join me next week for Invincible Volume 23: Full House. Mark has returned from the past, to a very different future. Now he has to pick up the pieces of his life and try to put them back together.
If you want to read Volume 23, collecting issues #127-132 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!