“Invincible” wrapped its 144 issue run last Wednesday after running continuously monthly for a decade and a half. Created by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker, with the bulk of the art duty for the series coming later from Ryan Ottley, “Invincible” has been a staple of Image Comics and helped to cement Kirkman as a mainstay at the publisher. Today we are looking back at the first volume and going back to the hip, young year of 2003 as part of our evergreen reviews!
Written by Robert Kirkman
Illustrated by Cory Walker
Colored by Bill Crabtree
Collects issues #1-4!Mark Grayson is just like most everyone else his age. He’s a senior at a normal American high School. He has a crappy part time job after school and on weekends. He likes girls quite a bit… but doesn’t quite understand them. He enjoys hanging out with his friends, and sleeping late on Saturdays… at least until the good cartoons come on. The only difference between Mark and everyone else is that his father is the most powerful superhero on the planet, and as of late, he seems to be inheriting his father’s powers. Which sounds okay at first, but how do you follow in your father’s footsteps when you know you will never live up to his standards?
The concept for “Invincible” is not a new one at this time. Teenager gets powers, struggles with getting used to them while trying to establish his identity. What this comic does differently is the way it combines a number of other different strands of superhero stories. Mark Grayson is Peter Parker by way of having Superman as a father. He’s really in the same mold as the newest Superboy Jon Kent. Omni-Man is Clark Kent, if Kent was an award-winning novelist, who thought writing was easy (which is so false). Omni-Man heralds from a Krypton-esque planet of “peacemakers” out to share their knowledge with the world. The Teen Team that Mark meets up with is full of caricatures with a genius character literally named Robot, and Starfire-lite Atom Eve who it’s strongly hinted at will leave her Johnny Storm-like boyfriend for Mark one day. There are seeds here of a larger universe. Although these first four issues are centered around Mark and the beginning of his journey, there are hints of larger things to come in names that are dropped like the Guardians of the Globe. These issues, in many ways, parallel the first arc of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s “Ultimate Spider-Man.” I forget sometimes that Kirkman has done other work outside of Image, and perhaps his work in the Ultimate Universe around the same time as these issues were symbiotic on one another.
The first issue of this collection begins with a full page of Mark Grayson already in full costume and regalia flying a body with a bomb strapped to it away from, presumably, civilians. Mark gets the man away in just nick of time, with little excitement as this is to be just another normal day. We then get a full flashback to four months prior as May gets his powers, learns his father is the hero Omni-Man, gets a costume, joins the Teen Team, and takes on the name Invincible. It is definitely a fun take on the superhero trope, and offers plenty of subversions as if all of this is, again, normal. For example, when Mark announces he has finally obtained his powers, he announces it at the dinner table with little fanfare in what is presumably supposed to be a funny sequence. When he first goes to fight crime he wears his own makeshift costume that his father makes fun of. He has his own Edna (No capes!). He accidentally beats up a kid at his high school, and so on. Almost every comic book trope you can think of, Kirkman and Walker insert here and blow over for laughs.
Walker’s art has a very interesting sort of scarcity to it. Many panels have very little background details, going instead with solid colors of oranges, yellows, and blues. Panels with multiple characters showcase people with very unrefined facial features such as little dot eyes. It’s as if we are watching a cartoon. He inked himself too and the ink work is very light and there are very few shadows and shadowing throughout the entire four issues. This level of lightness and brevity certainly adds to the comical and dry humor that him and Kirkman seem to be going for. In an age where Image was still publishing a lot of superhero comics, in some ways, this debut could have been the debut for any hero. Walker sells that concept here in this sort of nondescript, sparse art.Continued below
In making the comparisons above to “Ultimate Spider-Man,” I mean that in almost every way. These four issues are as decompressed as all get out. There is so much exposition from every character. There is so much back and forth dialogue and repeat silent panels for emphasis in every issue. The biggest offender of this is the way that the “villain” of the four issues just up and surrenders and spouts just an insane amount of jargon as Mark and Eve arrive at his house to bust him. Again, it is used as a way to highlight the stereotypical nature of most comic book villains, but it rings as filler. I could very easily have seen these entire four issues shrunk together into one or two issues having told the same story with room to spare.
It is hard to review this first volume knowing what is to come. This comic comes to be known as one of the “bloodiest” and “violence porn,” ridden series in the modern age of comics. There are no hints of that here. It’ll be a few more issues before the first of the big twists of the series, and there is no gore in sight. Much of the gore is sold primarily by Ryan Ottley’s art and he won’t join the series for a few more issues. Now I read this in the first “Invincible” compendium which contains like the first 50-issues, so it’s easy to see how quickly the tone and mindset of this comic changes. I can’t imagine how this must have felt reading this monthly as it came out in 2003, or also what reading just the first trade is like. I can’t help but think the experience might be a little lacking. I was thankfully helped by having the Netflix of comics version of the series.
There are hints of the story that is to come here. This comic series ran for another 140 issues after this, and spawned multiple spinoffs and one-shots for a reason. There is much here to like, and the ways in which this series plays with comic archetypes, subverts expectations, and acts in some ways as an “in-story” history of the superhero genre is why it garnered Eisner-nominations and is soon getting a movie adaptation. In many ways these first few issues are the dryness of the Golden Age on a modern canvas. I can’t help but wonder what the experience must have been like reading in 2003 though. What we see now as slow and dragged out, perhaps 15 years prior, readers would have seen as witty, new and innovative. I will never know, and can never return to the land of pagers, pre-iPhone. Nonetheless, this series has promise of the world that is to come, and several more issues of build up to the true status quo that has very recently come to an end.