Invincible Volume 16: Family Ties (collecting Invincible #85-90).
Script by Robert Kirkman, Pencils by Cory Walker (Chapter 1-2) Ryan Ottley (Chapters 3-6), Colours by FCO Plascencia (Chapter 1-2) and John Rauch (Chapters 3-6)
Last volume, Mark made some seemingly crazy choices. Mostly notably, signing on to work with psychopathic, genius dinosaur Dinosaurus in his quest to save the world by blowing large chunks of it up. This time around, Mark makes some fairly sensible choices, and it's everyone else's turn to act like crazy people. Fun times ahead!
Chapter one picks up with Nolan and Debbie, soaring through the wild, untamed beauty of the cosmos, passing by wonders no being has ever seen. And they're missing all of it, because all they're interested in is constantly doing it. Sadly, others in the universe aren't haveing anywhere near as much fun. On Talescria, Allen is desperately trying to live up to his new position, forced to make a terrible decision. One that may well destroy his bromance with Nolan.
Chapter two sees Nolan and Allen throw down, with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance. Sadly, Allen doesn't just talk a good game, and is easily able to overpower Nolan. Leaving Allen and Oliver (who continues his unbroken streak of being the fucking worst) free to continue their mission to wipe out the Viltrumites hiding on Earth... and possibly every human on the planet.
Chapter three has us returning to the now potentially doomed Earth. Where Dinosaurus and Invincible continue their quest to save the world, by annoying and confusing everyone to the point that they just sort of... give up. Invincible's reunion with Eve is interrupted by Cecil, who is then himself also interrupted by Allen and Oliver the Turncoat arriving in Earth's atmosphere. Needless to say, Invincible isn't exactly thrilled about Allen's plan and tries to stop him, which goes about as well as you'd imagine. Things look grim for our plucky young hero, until an unexpected ally swoops to his rescue.
Chapter four, sees everything we thought we knew about these characters, flip. Except Oliver, who is still a tool. An INCREDIBLY tense standoff between Thragg and Allen leads to something vaguely resembling a truce. It's not set in stone, but it looks like there may be SOME chance at peace, between the Coalition and the Viltrumite remnants... then the Guardians of the Globe show up, to start some shit, because Robot is a freakin' moron. Not to be outdone, Oliver decides to use the fight as a distraction, steal the Scourge virus and release it into Earth's atmosphere.
Chapter five sees a temporary truce fall, as everyone waits to see if Mark will survive his exposure to the virus. Everything gets super tense as the Coalition, Guardians, Viltrumites, and Dinosaraus try to not kill each other for 30 seconds. Then, when a routine DNA scan reveals a shocking truth about Mark, things go from bad to worse. On Earth, Bulletproof tries his hand at replacing Mark. In all his duties...
Chapter six seen Thragg monologuing, like a real pantomime villain. This leads to him attempting to kill Mark and Dinosaurus trying to stop him. We all know how that ends. Thankfully, despite taking a savage beating, Dino is able to escape the Viltrumite moon base with Mark and crash lands back on Earth, bringing this volume to its vaguely confusing end.
Honestly, I don't know what to make of this volume.
It's not bad, at all. it's actually pretty damn good. It's just all a little... redundant?
I mean, the book starts with Allen as an ally, Thragg as an enemy, Dinosaurus as something between and Oliver as a tool. Along the way, Allen becomes an enemy, Thragg becomes an ally, Dinosaurus is both and Oliver is a tool. By the time the book ends... Allen is back to being an ally, Thragg is back to being an enemy, Dinosaurus is still a question mark, and Oliver is still a giant wobbling phallus.
We get some important information on the way, and Mark's next big arc begins... but it feels like the content of this volume is 10% vital information and 90% flip flipping filler.
But in an odd way, that's kind of the point of the volume and probably of the series as a whole. You can never be sure, on any given page, who are your allies and who are your enemies. In a series which starts out by making the lead's father one of the big enemies, and then slowly transitions him back to being a staunch ally, the one thing you can be sure of, is that you cannot really be sure of anything.
It makes for a fun, unpredictable ride. The problem comes when all the twists and turns are located in a single book. It doesn't leave you with enough time to really process anything, and you're left feeling a little, cheated. After seeing their bromance grow, it's upsetting to see Allen and Nolan fight. It's GREAT seeing Thragg come in to fight alongside Mark, and seeing him negotiate with Allen is a lot of fun. It also perfectly illustrates why Thragg is so feared. He's not just a brutal, almost undefeatable fighter (although his many clashes in this volume prove time and again that is most assuredly is just that strong), he's also a cunning diplomat, who is just as useful at the negotiating table as he is in a scrap.
And then, a couple of pages later, he's ranting like a bad manga villain, and trying to choke Mark as he sleeps.
It feels like we should have had SLIGHTLY more time, to get used to the idea of cool, calm Thragg, before he went bad to full WWAARRGGG.
Then we get to the core of the book: The Scourge Virus. Allen plans to release a virus into Earth's atmosphere, which will kill every Viltrumite who contracts it. But, might also kill the entire human race, at the same time. He sees it as an acceptable sacrifice, to rid the universe of one of it's gravest threat. Mark sees it as too large a sacrifice, for too little gain.
Which raises a very interesting parallel.
You see, while all this is going on, Invincible is trying to convince the rest of the hero community that he's not crazy for working with Dinosaurus. He says that although Dino's plans are usually fairly horrifying, and can sometimes result in lots of deaths, they always end up saving more lives than they cost. He thinks that working with Dino, he can curtail his more sociopathic tendencies, and potentially come up with a plan that has all the saving, and almost none of the murder.
Do you see what I'm getting at?
Mark is simultaneously trying to convince Earth that he's right to work with a madman, because the ends justify the means... while fighting with Allen, who is doing the EXACT same thing, just on a larger scale.
It's further evidence of Mark's biggest flaw. He demands for leeway from others, that he doesn't give back to them. Reciprocity is key, people. Now, personally, in this instance I think he's in the right. They have a shaky truce with the Viltrumites, they're not working to any kind of strict deadline here. They have MORE than enough time to test the Scourge virus, and make sure that it won't effect humanity before they deploy it. But, as Thragg so quickly points out, Allen's fears of being seen as a weak leader are driving him to actions that he hasn't fully thought through, and honestly doesn't want to go through with.
It part of what makes their negotiation such a strong scene, in the volume. Thragg: ready for war, but willing to give peace a chance, trying to talk down Allen, who is committed to peace, but believes that he can only get it through genocide.
And then, stuck in the middle, we have Oliver. Who is basically just an asshole and doesn't really care about anyone that he doesn't directly know and like.
Remind me again why we had to save him?
This volume wasn't just about the ever-shifting, ever-confusing alliances of Invincible, though. There were also a few threads laid in place, that are going to lead to big things, in the future!
First: Robot is a tool. This is just a small one, but will pay of in a huge way, soon. After the successful negotiations, but before Oliver ruined everything, the Guardians of the Globe arrive. Invincible tried to talk them down and get them to not be dicks for once, but shockingly, Robot declined this fine opportunity. This just adds to our stack of evidence that there is something seriously wrong with Robot. It's been teased for a while, but has been increasingly more evident since his return from the Flaxxan's dimension. Right now, it mostly manifests as a lack of trust for Invincible. But how long before he goes from not trusting him, to not trusting ANYONE? And how badly will it go, when he crosses that line?
Second: Mark is a King?! Yup, while doing some cool alien medicine type stuff, Thragg found out that Mark (and thus, his father Nolan) are descendants of their dead ruler, the mysterious Lord Argall. Since losing their only connection to their history, you have to wonder what the last remnants of the once proud Viltrumite Empire would do, if they found out that Nolan and Mark were their one remaining connection to their former glory...
Last: Mark Got Scourged. So, when attempting to set a new world record for douchebaggery, Oliver accidentally infected Mark with the new and improved Scourge Virus. This leads to him being out of commission for the back half of this volume, only regaining consciousness on the final panel. However, we already knew that he would survive, thanks to his royal DNA... But this raises one huge question: The first version of the Scourge Virus was so dangerous, because even if the host survived, their strength and toughness would be greatly reduced. So, given how this is a new, stronger strain, just what state is Mark going to be in, when he wakes up?
I don't know about you, but I can't wait to find out!
If you can't wait either, join me next week for Invincible Volume 17: What's Happening? With the full effects of the Scourge Virus reveal, Mark needs a replacement as Invincible... but he's not totally happy with his pick.
If you want to read Issues #91-96 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!