REVIEW: Invincible – Season 1 (2021)

"If you really want to do what I do, you have to be prepared for anything."

Invincible is an animated series from Amazon Prime and executive producers Seth Rogen and Robert Kirkman (who also created The Walking Dead comics). The show is based on Kirkman’s comics of the same name and follows teenager Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) as he explores his new superpowers. Naturally, Mark is elated when his powers show up. He wants to live up to his father’s expectations. His father just happens to be Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), the greatest superhero on Earth. Mark strives to balance his new responsibilities with school, his part-time job, and newly blooming love life. While Invincible has a pretty standard superhero origin setup, the first episode’s post-credits sequence takes a hard turn more in line with something like The Boys or Watchmen. I haven’t heard much about Invincible, either from reviewers I follow or just TV fans in general. I remember it felt like The Boys was all anyone talked about when it was airing; ditto The Mandalorian and WandaVision on Disney+. But when I saw an ad for the series on IMDb, the unique art style fascinated me, and I’ll watch just about anything with superheroes. Now that the season is over, I’d like to take a look at the aspects of Invincible that make it stand out, ways it could have been better, and how it all stacks up.

Invincible Season 1, Invincible

Mark leads a pretty normal life for a teenage boy. He has loving parents, a disappointing social life, and an afterschool job. When Mark first gains his superhuman abilities, he and his parents, Nolan and Debbie (Sandra Oh), are excited and seemingly ready to begin the next phase of his life. But things change quickly for Mark, and not only in good ways. Most of the world’s superheroes are killed in one fell swoop, leaving Omni-Man and some ragtag kids to protect the Earth. This puts more pressure on Mark, which soon adds strain to his interpersonal relationships and grades. Mark’s greatest trial comes when he learns that his father has been hiding a dark secret from him and everyone else.

I’ll start with the obvious: Invincible’s art style is unique for an animated series. I’ve never read the source material, but from what I’ve heard, the series’ visual scheme is very faithful to Cory Walker’s art from the comics. I will say that the ads for this reminded me of Star Wars: Resistance visually, and thankfully, the show looks nothing like that monstrosity. In all honesty, though, this is one aspect of Invincible that immediately rubbed me the wrong way. I definitely get a comic book vibe from the clean smoothness of the animation and even the movements of the characters and the diminished shading. While I can see what they’re going for, though, it’s not for me. I actually think the comic aesthetic has been mimicked to greater effect elsewhere in animation. Into the Spider-Verse comes to mind; that movie felt like comic panels come to life in addition to recreating the look masterfully. The frame rate in Invincible feels distractingly low, with the obvious exception of its action and fight sequences – those are lightning-fast and hard to follow at times. The character designs are okay, but the reduction of shading just doesn’t look good to me, and the movement feels too slow. It’s fluid, so I can’t exactly call it choppy, but it looks slowed down. I also feel like they could have pushed the characters’ facial expressions further, especially when they’re distraught. Animation is the art of exaggeration, and the exaggeration of facial features and expressions communicates a lot to the audience visually. In addition, I don’t think Invincible uses color very well. I feel strange saying this, and it’s actually quite varied in its use of color. Every superhero has their own color scheme, and there are lots of different locales explored in the show. But every color looks washed out to me. I think this actually ties back into the shading; because most things are only one color/shade, they lack dimension and look flat. This overlit look hurts my suspension of disbelief, and it hurts the show’s overall look. What could have been rich and vibrant looks like it’s been run through the wash too many times. I get the feeling that this show’s animation is going to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing for a lot of people. Unfortunately, I’m finding myself in the latter category. For what it’s worth, the show’s buildings and backgrounds tend to look pretty good. It’s a shame that the visual focus of the show, the characters, don’t. On the bright side, the series’ musical score by John Paesano is soaring and immensely emotional.

Invincible Season 1, Invincible

That being said, while film and TV are visual media, I don’t consider a property’s appearance to be the most important thing or even a deal-breaker. Invincible has an impressive cast, with J. K. Simmons and Steven Yeun leading the pack as Nolan/Omni-Man and Mark/Invincible. Sandra Oh really shines as Debbie, Nolan and Mark’s devoted wife and mother, whose life is turned upside down. Mark’s girlfriend Amber is voiced by Zazie Beetz, and his friends Eve and William are played by Gillian Jacobs and Andrew Rannells, respectively. Walton Goggins portrays Cecil Stedman, the head of a shady government corporation that supports superheroes… among other things. Zachary Quinto lends his voice to Robot, the leader of a group of underage do-gooders called the Teen Team. Jason Mantzoukas (Big Mouth, Close Enough) voices Rex Splode, Eve’s boyfriend and an early rival to Mark. I was thrilled to hear both Clancy Brown and Mark Hamill as a demon named Damien Darkblood and super-suit tailor Art. Not only are they among my favorite voice actors, but it’s kind of funny that they’ve both played DC comics characters. Khary Payton, Mahershala Ali, Grey Griffin, and Seth Rogen round out the supporting cast. Steven Yeun is fantastic as Mark/Invincible. I haven’t watched The Walking Dead, but I was a big fan of Yeun’s portrayal of Avatar Wan in Legend of Korra. Naturally, as the lead, Mark gives Yeun more opportunity to flex his dramatic muscles, and it’s great. J.K. Simmons is another Korra alum, having voiced Aang’s son and leader of the reformed Air Nation Tenzin. Simmons’ work speaks for itself; his performances are always top-notch regardless of the size of the part. Omni-Man goes through many difficult emotions and situations in Invincible, and I don’t think they could have found a better actor for the role.

Invincible Season 1, Invincible

The plot and characters of Invincible took a while to really invest me. I have only seen the show once, but episode one was very boring to me the first time around until the post-credits stinger. I think I get what the intention was; everything was very familiar, very stereotypical superhero story elements. I think episode 1 was supposed to lull the viewer into a false sense of security so the after-credits scene can pack the ultimate punch. This is highly effective, and I found myself more interested in the story with each episode. By the time I had caught up before episode 7 aired, I legitimately couldn’t wait to see what happened next. It was also quite cathartic to see so many early setups (some of which I had all but forgotten about) come back into play later. The same is true of the characters, albeit to a lesser extent. Mark and Debbie grew on me a lot, as well as side characters like Eve and William. I actually found Amber rather frustrating after a while despite initially enjoying her. Her lack of understanding for Mark’s situation made me mad. Even after he tells her about his secret identity, she’s cold and distant to him and dumps him. She also turns nasty so fast when she doesn’t get her way. Thankfully, she turns around at the end. Cecil, Darkblood, and Art are elevated significantly by virtue of the performances behind them. I still think Mark could be a little more interesting and likable as a protagonist. Early on, they employ the tactic of making everyone mistreat him so you sympathize with him. And that is, surprisingly, pretty effective. Eve’s subplot with Rex and her parents was a pleasant surprise. I was afraid that she would just take Rex back after his dalliance with fellow Teen Team member Dupli-Kate, and Eve’s father’s terrible advice made it seem even more likely. Rex is a selfish jerk, but Eve’s parents are so much worse for telling her she can’t do the superhero thing on her own and needs a man to protect her. It’s like they want to destroy their only kid’s self-esteem. At the end of the season, all I can say is, “Good for her.”

Overall, I liked Invincible. It got better as it went along, even if the show’s overall look isn’t for me. An amazing cast, impressive music, and an increasingly engaging story elevate what could have been a standard, generic superhero origin story. I think The Boys is vastly superior, especially season 2, but Invincible distinguishes itself enough to justify its existence.

Invincible Season 1 (2021)

Plot - 7.5
Acting - 10
Progression - 8
Production Design - 6
Animation/Action - 6

7.5

Good

An amazing cast, impressive music, and an increasingly engaging story elevate what could have been a standard, generic superhero origin story.

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