We’ve seen plenty of superhero shows, many of them cartoons, but few can boast a star-studded cast with the likes of Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh and J.K. Simmons — just to note our plucky protagonist and his parents — other talents include Mark Hamill, Zazie Beetz and Seth Rogen. Based on the 15-year-running comic-book series by Robert Kirkman, Simon Racioppa and David Alpert, Invincible’s first season has eight episodes on the way with its ‘adult-orientated’ twist, i.e. blood spraying everywhere, dismembered heads and popping eyeballs (ironically not a situation I wanted to see Steven Yeun in again).
Seventeen-year-old Mark Grayson (Yeun) is the son of the most powerful superhero on the planet (Simmons). Anxiously waiting for his own powers to manifest, his life might seem like any other guy’s his age: facing the school bully, trying to get the number of the girl he likes (Beetz), and having deep talks with his mum (Oh). But as Mark’s abilities finally start to reveal themselves and he begins to step into the business of defending the planet, he learns that being a hero isn’t just about how hard you can punch an alien; and that perhaps some of the heroes he looks up to aren’t quite as heroic as they seem.
With a pretty familiar set up — though sadly with surprisingly stagnant animation for such a dynamic script — the voice-acting performances carry the story. Many might know Steven Yeun from his roles in The Walking Dead, Burning, or recent indie favourite Minari. But Yeun also has a significant voice acting career behind him, with credits in Voltron: Legendary Defender, Trollhunters and a feature in cult favourite Avatar: The Legend of Korra as the very first Avatar. Invincible gives him a well-deserved lead role, and it’s undoubtedly the domestic scenes that light up the screen as a result, if for nothing other than the sparks between Yeun, Oh and Simmons.
While the first part of the pilot opens relatively plainly, the show expands out through its gradually darkening plot line that dips into the fictional politics, cultural impact and realistic details of a world with people of superhuman abilities. There are plenty of ‘cartoons for adults’ out there (Cowboy Bebop, Bojack Horseman, Archer), but Invincible uses its mature audience to investigate the more realistic violence of the superhero genre — because it hurts to get punched in the stomach, as Mark finds out in the very first episode as his father starts training him (perhaps a little too hard).
At the heart of the show is the relationship between Mark and his ultimate-superhero father Omni-Man. Being the kid of a highly-idolised superhero (well, alien from another planet – Superman style) is going to be tough on anyone, let alone a seventeen-year-old boy literally promised he would be able to fly when he was a child. Kirkman’s fondness for father-son dynamics was a key theme in The Walking Dead, and Invincible continues that conundrum. Even in the early stages of the series, Mark and his father are challenged by the conflict between living up to a legacy placed before them and consolidating that each person is an individual in their own right.
The first three episodes offer enough thrills, teenage angst and latex supersuits – and bloody violence — to satisfy anyone’s expectations, but it’s hard not to appreciate the great moments by remembering how they’ve been done better in other things (the rite-of-passage first flight is barely as triumphant as Spiderverse, and cynicism around just how great superheroes are was more relatable in Jessica Jones). Invincible is waiting for its ultimate twist, the ‘hero moment,’ and with the rest of the series promising a darker turn, that just might give it what it needs to stand out from the crowd.
Invincible will be available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime from March 26th
by Daisy Leigh-Phippard
Daisy (she/her) studied film production at Arts University Bournemouth and freelances in the industry with the aspiration of becoming a director and screenwriter. A lover of independent and foreign film with female perspectives, her favourites include Pan’s Labyrinth, The Handmaiden, Frida and anything that has ever come out of Hayao Miyazaki’s brain. You can see her work on her website and follow her on Twitter, Letterboxd and Instagram.