Invincible Volume 20: Friends, collecting Invincible #109-114.
Script by Robert Kirkman. Pencils by Cory Walker. Inks by Cliff Rathburn. Colours by John Rauch. Letters by Russ Wooton.
Last volume, things went a little crazy. Mark ran into old enemy Angstrom Levy, and once more got sent to an alternate dimension. He came home just in time to save his intended, and sent Levy off with a murderous Invincible from another dimension. This wasn't good enough for Mark, though. Who had to be SURE that Levy was dead, and despite it angering Eve, he worked with Robot to track Levy down and make sure that his madness was ended once and for all. Which he kinda did... but was then incapacitated by Robot, who revealed his evil intentions to take over the world! *shocked gasp* whoever could have seen that coming. Except for anyone and everyone that has listened to Robot blathering on about how amazing he is. So, shall we see what happens, when he tries to put his nefarious plans into action?
Chapter one opens exactly where last volume left off. Mark is stranded in a hostile dimenison, with the corpse of Levy and the evil Emperor Invincible, with enemies all around him. His only hope of escaping: Blend in long enough to find a way back to his own reality. His only way to do that? Seek out the LAST person you'd expect...
Chapter two sees Mark return to his dimension, only to find things looking... normal. Worryingly normal. His first step, naturally, is to return home and check up on Eve and his nearly baby. After that, his day goes from bad to worse, as he runs into perpetual aggravation, Anissa the angry Viltrumite.
Chapter three sees Robot begins his attempt to take over the world. We bid a sad farewell to some beloved characters, and curse the day we ever let that walking tin can leave his pod. I warned you, I warned you all. But no one listened...
Chapter four finds Robots attempted takeover in full force. As his new enhanced drones fly all around the globe, killing any hero that Robot believes won't side with him. Up in space, Robot has a quick chat with Monster Girl, to see whose side she's really on.
Chapter five sees a few heroes beginning to fight back, and finds a broken and exhausted Mark greeting a new arrival. Then, like that scene in Rocky, a weary Mark get's the pep talk he needs from a bedbound Eve, and suits up, ready to put Robot in his place, once and for all! On the Moon, the Viltrumite has surrounded Robot; could it all be over so soon?
Chapter six wraps up the volume, with the last of the resistance squashed, and the Viltrumite's staying out of the fight, Mark only has one option: Go and confront Robot, alone. But can Mark's all-muscles-no-brains approach work against the smartest person on the planet?
Well, that just happened.
There are certain moments that people talk about, the moment Invincible is mentioned.
Omni-Man's betrayal. Invincible Vs Conquest. The Destruction of Viltrum. So many huge and amazing moments, that people happily discuss and bask in the warm glow of their happy memories.
But, there's one moment that is spoken about in a very different tone. While the other moments may be shocking, brutal or terrifying, they're safe because they're mostly fantastical moments featuring battles between grand titans, slugging it out with the fate of the world in the balance.
But what about when the series gets a little too real. What happens when we're taken out of the fantasy and forced to face something that we'd rather not think about?
What happens, when Mark Grayson, the superhero known as Invincible, who we've seen overcome so many terrible things, is held down and raped by a Anissa, in her sadistic and twisted attempt to further the Viltrumite's new breeding program?
Yeah. It's a tough subject to talk about. And honestly, I don't think this is the best platform to discuss a topic as sensitive as this, and I'm certainly not the person to do it. However, it would feel wrong to let such an important topic as this slide, without at least mentioning it.
While this isn't the first time this subject has been covered in comics, this is certainly one of the most explicit depictions. And while I'd love to say that Kirkman goes on to handle the subject with his usual deftness and nuance, I'm afraid I can't.
This is one of the plot arcs that defines this series. Not because of the way that it handles a tricky subject, but because of the way it very much doesn't. After this issue was first released, a lot of people speculated how this event would come to a head, only to find that it basically doesn't. It's mentioned a few times after this, and you can see Mark struggling to deal with what he went through, but the subject is never truly confronted. And even when Mark's father Nolan, current leader of the Viltrumites, is told what happened, his response amounts to "Ok, cool. She's a different person now, though. So can we just forget it?" Needless to say, people were not happy with this response.
I feel like this is a huge mistake, and Kirkman really should have at least tried to address what he'd put into the comic. In an interview given after issue 110 was released, Kirkman said this was his attempt to "push the boundaries and explore what can happen in superhero comics." Sadly, there is zero exploration, and it comes off as exploitation for shock value, and pretty badly done, at that.
It feels a little wrong, to go from discussing such a serious subject, to something as frivolous as comic plots, but that's what I'm here to do, so we'll give it a try. I'll end this troubling section by saying if anything like this has happened to you, there are people who will support you out there. You're not alone, you will be helped.
Invincible Volume 20 is basically all about one subject: Robot's rise to power, and eventual take over of the planet.
The volume starts with Mark stranded in an alternate dimension, where he does the only thing he can do: Seek out Robot's help. If one Robot stranded him here, it's safe to assume that another one can get him back home. It takes a little bit of time, and some promises he'll probably grow to regret, but eventually Mark returns, unsure of what he'll find in this scary new, Robot controlled world.
Mark's first stop is, of course, his home. He wants to make sure his loving, very pregnant fiancee is still safe. Only problem is, Eve is currently furious with him, for leaving her alone again.
I'm not going to lie, this scene really annoyed me. I'm not exactly Eve's biggest fan, but she just comes across as so unreasonable here, and Mark comes across as such a pushover, it annoys me every time I read it.
It's one of those annoying moments, where if both sides just communicated properly, there wouldn't be an argument. Eve is annoyed that Mark left her, upset that he apparently died, and furious that it took him so long to get back. What Mark never even tries to say, is that he only spent so long away from her because he was betrayed by Robot. At no point in the scene are the words "Robot" or "betrayal" said. I can't help but feel if Mark had even TRIED to tell his side of the story, things would have ended very differently. Much like so many of the events of this volume, it feels like Kirkman is just piling shit on Mark in an effort to depress him, and us, to see how far he can push it. So, yeah. Really fun read.
Then, once Mark's engagement is cancelled, and he's thrown out of his own house, he goes to see Cecil and that's when Robot decides to spring his trap.
Sadly, the first person to fall in Robot's coup is our good 'friend' Cecil. I know he's been something of an unreliable ally, over the years, but it's still sad to see him go and in such brutal fashion. Sadly, he's not the only person we lose.
In Invincible's usual over the top fashion, Robot and his drones murder their way across the world, and we see a number of old friends and work mates mowed down by these new Robot Super Drones. It's a pretty savage sequence, and coming so soon after all the horrific scenes we've already seen this volume it all gets a little too much.
Of course, Mark tries to fight back. He's Invincible, it's what he does! No matter the odds, he throws himself into the fight and doesn't stop until he's victorious. One slight problem, though; It's that time again! Viltrumite Inner Ear time! YAY!
You see, there's one problem with fighting a guy that used to be your smartest ally. He knows all about you, your strengths and your weaknesses. So, while Mark was trying to get back from where Robot had stranded him, Robot was working hard to build an army of new drones. An army who have specially built shells, that when struck, produce the exact tone that causes pain to Viltrumite ears. And, they're build in such a way, that the harder they're struck, the louder the tone they produce. Meaning, if Mark hits them too hard, he might just kill himself in the process.
Yup, he went there again. Much like every petty crook in Metropolis somehow having access to a limitless supply of Kryptonite, it seems that Invincible's inner ear weakness is a pretty well known "secret" weakness. I'm not going to lie, I'm getting pretty bored of this being brought out by every major villain for the past, what, three arcs?
It's mostly annoying, because Mark isn't that strong. There are plenty of people in the series who can take him down, and have repeatedly. He's been shown, time and again, losing in a variety of different ways. So, I really don't understand why this inner ear weakness KEEPS coming up. The first time, with Cecil, it was a fun reveal, that helped a non-powered villain overcome our hero. Then it came back with Dinosaurus, who had already proven he was both mentally and physically Invincible's superior, so I wasn't really sure why it was necessary. Now, we have the smartest person on the planet, working for six months to get ready for Invincible... and the best he can do is to reuse an old plot point. It feels like he really could have come up with something far more unique, to handle him. It makes Robot seem a little unimaginative, it makes the readers bored, and makes Mark seem weak. I've come to expect a lot better from Kirkman, honestly.
Lastly, we have the one tiny ray of hope, in an otherwise crushingly grim volume. Despite losing her leg in a fight with Robot, and needing to use her powers twice in rapid succession, Eve reaches the Viltrumite moon base, and successfully gives birth to her and Mark's first child. A healthy baby girl! yay.
Seeing Mark first meeting his child is like a balm for the soul, in an otherwise horrific sequence of events. Bringing some much needed light and humour to lift you up and remind you that even when things seem at their darkest, there is still always a chance to bring a little light into the universe.
Of course, that light doesn't last long. As Robot tightens his grip on the planet, and is basically handed total control, the Viltrumites decide their best course of action is simply to stand aside, and the few remaining heroes are either killed or captured, things start to look pretty grim for Earth.
And the worst part is, Robot isn't exactly WRONG. He's not trying to become the unchallenged ruler of the world. In fact, he's basically just expanding on what he did before, and combining that with what Cecil was doing. On paper, he just wants to keep the world safe, and given how he quickly start making some very positive changes in the realm of law enforcement, it becomes quite hard to argue with him.
Of course, there is that saying about Absolute Power, and what it does to a person...
Overall, Invincible Volume 20 is a rough ride. It's not just that it's incredibly dark, probably the darkest volume yet in a series that often goes out of its way to shock and upset, it's that it feels like such a huge missed opportunity.
Kirkman had multiple chance this volume to really make a statement. To send a message and do something new and important. However, he failed to deliver, pretty much across the board, and we're left in the closing pages feeling pretty hopeless. Something that we're not used to feeling, in a series that always manages to temper its darkness with enough light to keep you going, until things eventually get better.
So, if you're not totally, emotionally crushed after this volume join me next week for Invincible Volume 21: Modern Family. Robot's control over Earth is complete. So, how can the remaining shreds of the hero community live in a world that is so familiar, yet so alien?
If you want to read Volume 21, collecting issues #115-120 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!