You're In For a Wild Ride: a Review of "Invincible" Season One
On March 26, 2021, Invincible premiered worldwide on Amazon Prime, and its first season of eight episodes wrapped April 30. As someone who has previously read issues of the comics and enjoyed them years ago, I was looking forward to seeing Invincible finally make it to the screen, and animated, no less! I was counting down the days for it to come, hoping and praying it would make it to Japan so I could watch it.
It did. But as I suspected, it was only available in Japanese. I watched it anyway. There were some changes from the comics, but it followed them closely enough I could still understand the gist of what was happening despite the language barrier for me.
Then over the weekend, something magical happened. I went to rewatch the season finale again (it was so amazing!) and suddenly the whole series flipped over to the English. I didn't hit any buttons or mess with settings. It just happened!
Out of fear it would revert back to the Japanese on its own, I rewatched Invincible all over again in its entirety with the original English cast and decided I had to write a review of this season or else I'd explode.
WATCH OUT! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Seventeen-year-old Mark Grayson is just like every guy his age, except that his father is Omni-Man, the most powerful superhero on the planet. As Mark develops powers of his own, he discovers his father's legacy may not be as heroic as it seems.
Story: I love that with Invincible we get a coming-of-age story with Mark (played by Steven Yeun) finding his way as a teenager and a brand-new superhero, while at the same time we have your standard plots that secure this series in the superhero story pantheon, with heroic teams fighting off superpowered villains, aliens, and everyday criminals. But the heart of this series lies with the characters and relationships with each other. Mark grapples with his identity as a regular teen, a student, a boyfriend, and hero, and tries to balance each identity with the people he cares about. Who he is is very much tied to his purpose, and he's trying to figure out both. Then you've got his father, Nolan (aka Omni-Man, played by J.K. Simmons), who's the greatest superhero on Earth. There's this similar current there. Mark thinks it's the same for his dad. His identity is tied to his purpose: Omni-man is a hero, therefore he is good and saves people. Omni-man is his father, and therefore his father loves him. It all seems crystal clear that people are what they do, and yet we learn through this show that it's just not that simple. There are many harsh lessons throughout this series, and they are learned in painful ways that tug at your heart and even fill you with horror. This is one of the most emotionally engaging superhero series I've encountered in a while.
Characters: Here's an official clip from Amazon that gives you a peek at the type of relationship that Mark has with his dad.
I love the dynamic of the Grayson family. Mark and Nolan's relationship overall as father and son is touching, and I love that Debbie (Mark's mother, played by Sandra Oh) and Nolan have an active, romantic love life. I love that Debbie isn't afraid to call out her teenage son when he's being a jerk, yet can turn around and say "I love my asshole son" and still make it sweet. That's why when this family broke apart, it was so devastating to see.
I like that the series gave both Debbie and Amber (played by Zazie Beetz) more agency and made them more active heroines. In the comics, Debbie doesn't actually get into real estate until much later, but here she's already into it and is very good at it. In the comics, she doesn't take an active role investigating the deaths of the Guardians of the Globe. She's very much a reactionary character in the books, but here, she is continually suspecting something is wrong and is trying to do something about it.
And Amber was really just a pretty face in the comics, and later took on a victim role, whereas here in the series she has more fire to her and seems like a genuinely interesting person. Plus, they decided to make the character resemble her voice actress more, which added even more diversity to the characters, which is always good. (As a sidenote, they made Mark seem far more obviously Asian here than in the comics, which is also good!!).
Atom Eve (played by Gillian Jacobs) is largely the same, but I like that they toned down a lot of the pining/unrequited feelings she had for Mark in the comics. You can tell that something is brewing, but it seems a little less...annoying? She also seems to have a lot more agency this time around, though I would say she was pretty powerful in the comics, though, too.
William, Mark's best friend (played by Andrew Rannells), has also been improved. They skipped over the delay in William's coming out and pairing up with Rick, and made William openly gay immediately, his infatuation and relationship with Rick clear from the get-go. I liked how they handled this much better than in the original comics. And I like that they cut out the offensive gay jokes with William's love of flying. Those did not age well in the comics.
When it comes to favorite characters, though, I have to go with the entire Grayson family. I truly loved their relationship, how they interacted with each other, their care for each other, and how all of that evolved over time, despite the painful surprises in Episodes 7 ("We Need to Talk") and 8 ("Where I Really Came From").
Animation: I like the look of the characters. They are more streamlined than what's in the comics (which usually happens when you switch to the animated medium) and their straightforward, colorful designs are a good contrast to the lovingly detailed backgrounds throughout the series (the universe, planets, cityscapes -- all are rendered with great care).
I think one of the most incredible things the series pulls off is facial expressions and character tics. You can see Omni-Man at war with himself through the changes in his eyes. You can see Mark's hesitancy when he has a habit of looking downward and placing his hand on the back of his neck. These little details enrich the characterization quite a bit.
The action sequences are also top-notch. For an example, take a look at this clip of Omni-Man taking out the Flaxans on their home planet:
There's a lot to enjoy in terms of animation, and yes, the series does get incredibly violent, but even that is rendered beautifully. You may disagree with me, though, and that's fine -- I'm somebody who likes horror so this aspect of the show satisfied that for me. There are plenty of horrific moments in the series, to be sure, and that's not everyone's cup of tea.
Voice Acting: The reason why I was so overjoyed my Amazon Prime switched over to English magically was because as soon as I heard who was cast in this series, I knew I had to see it. Even supporting characters are voiced by a knockout group of actors, from Mark Hamill to Jon Hamm to Jonathon Goff to Seth Rogen to Djimon Hounsou...there are so many stars voicing characters in this cast and I knew I was going to love their work.
Again, I have to give a shout-out to the cast of the Graysons, consisting of Steven Yeun as Mark, J.K. Simmons as Nolan, and Sandra Oh as Debbie, for rendering full and emotional performances. Zachary Quinto, who also plays Robot, gets a mention, too, for his excellent job voice acting.
This was really a dream cast and I can't wait to see who else they bring into the fold in future seasons.
Low Points of the Season: I had a hard time thinking of low points this season because this series is off to such an excellent start. But, to me, there's no such thing as perfect, so if I was going to choose something that would be considered a "low" point, it would be that some of the villains are annoying, like D.A. Sinclair. Of course, I'm pretty sure they are supposed to be, so...well done, I guess?
High Points of the Season: Guys. Guys. Guys. Episodes 7 and 8. Oh my God.
These are the episodes where everything changes. I knew what was coming, but the series added much more than what was in the comics, and so everything still shocked me to my core, especially the season finale. The first part of Episode 8 is the fight between Mark and Omni-Man, and the second half is the aftermath of that battle and a glimpse of the future.
The battle between Invincible and Omni-Man had to be one of the most emotionally devastating, and violent animated sequences I've ever seen. There was true horror and pain there and I literally shouted at my TV the first time I watched it, "HOLY SHIT!"
I have never seen a season closer like that before. I've watched the episode twice now in two different languages and I'm still thinking about it days later. What a way to end the season and what a great way to get us excited for Seasons 2 and 3!
Final Thoughts: As soon as I finished the first season of Invincible, I went ahead and purchased all three compendiums of the comics, so now I own the story in its complete iteration. Again, I read a couple issues back in the day (but never continued when I saw how many freaking issues there were), and I enjoyed what I saw. I know what's going to come but there is still much I don't know (as of writing this, I just started the third compendium and am on issue #97, but I know what's coming in issue #110 thanks to a spoilery internet). I don't know how things are going to end. Part of me wants to stop reading so as not to spoil my experience of the series, but now that I see how the show improves on the source material, I know no matter what, I'll be in store for some surprises.
If you like stories that go deeper into what it means to be a hero, full of surprises and twists and turns, with a solid emotional core, then I highly recommend Invincible. This series made me laugh, tugged at my heartstrings, put me on an emotional rollercoaster, appealed to my taste in horror, and it isn't afraid to go to dark places, which I definitely love. A powerhouse cast, vivid animation, and a brilliant soundtrack rounds this out for a memorable viewing experience.