Depending on your view of The Walking Dead and its sister show Fear The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman’s comic books are either the best or worst thing to happen to telly this decade. One thing’s for sure though, there’s plenty more where that came from – like Invincible, the latest of Kirkman’s many titles to get the small-screen treatment.
Rendered in simple, slick animation – reminiscent of Studio Ghibli‘s soothing style – this Amazon Prime Video eight-parter mixes high-school angst with wicked dark humour in a fantasy world that feels familiar yet wildly unique. It centres on teenager Mark Grayson (voiced by Oscar nominee Steven Yeun) as he learns to master the superpowers passed on to him by his father/Earth’s alien protector Omni-Man (J. K. Simmons). But just when you think some conventional beats might shrink its chances of becoming a hit, the series morphs into a Quentin Tarantino-esque, ultraviolent gore-fest. With decapitations and innards pouring out of midriffs, one particularly gruesome scene could prove the turning point for many viewers; you’re either in or you’re out from this point.
Part Avengers, part Kick-Ass, Invincible wears its innumerable influences on its sleeve via a rich pool of characters, including the “Guardians of the Globe” – no prizes for guessing who they’re based on – and ideas cribbed straight from X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Hellboy, Batman and Watchmen. A deep reverence for superhero mythology is evident, yet many of the well-trodden tropes are reframed in a fresh and exciting way, which should come as no surprise to fans of Kirkman’s other work (neo-Western zombie drama, anyone?)
Don’t be expecting an animated version of The Boys though – Prime Video’s other comic book title where superheroes let their hair down behind closed doors – because despite this being very much an adult-aimed project (The Boys’ Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen are down as executive producers here too), Invincible also packs plenty of tender moments.
Elsewhere, the star-packed voice cast provides strength in numbers. We have The Walking Dead hall-of-famers Lennie James, Lauren Cohan, Sonequa Martin-Green, Michael Cudlitz and Ross Marquand alongside Yeun, while Killing Eve’s Sandra Oh, Star Wars royalty Mark Hamill, Jon Hamm, Ezra Miller, Zazie Beetz (continuing her flirtation with the genre after Deadpool 2), Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto and Mahershala Ali flit in and out of the storyline in varying capacities. This is testament to just how rich Invincible is. Longevity seems highly likely considering the comic series published 144 issues, yet perhaps even more tantalising is the prospect of Justin Roiland (Rick and Morty) turning up later in the series for a quick cameo. No longer can Netflix’s Big Mouth claim to have the coolest cats in the recording booth.
Invincible is also wildly unpredictable, its ruthless narrative and handbrake turn plot twists belying the show’s conventional superhero setup. In fact, the series is so willing to off key characters that it makes Game Of Thrones’ ‘Red Wedding’ look like a summer tea party in a country garden. That shows guts and a willingness to stand apart, something that’s rare in a Marvel and DC-dominated comic book universe. If all of Kirkman’s upcoming shows are like this – we can’t wait.