While it might seem like the dark superhero trend is overdone, 'Invincible' is exciting, beautifully animated, and buoyed by a killer voice cast led by Steven Yeun.
- 💛 Tells an interesting, nuanced, and engaging story.
- 💛 The final act of episode one is an all-timer.
- 💛 Gorgeous animation makes this a pleasure to watch.
- 💛 Incredible voice cast led by the wonderful Steven Yuen.
- 💛 Sandra Oh is just as talented and incredible when she's playing a cartoon character.
- 💛 By the end of episode three Invincible will make a fan out of you.
- 💛 The first episode has a bland and pedestrian start which would have likely made this reviewer turn off if not watching for editorial consideration. But if you can get past that and stick around 'till the end of the pilot then you'll likely have a new favorite superhero series.
This is a spoiler-free review of Invincible episodes 1-3.
Animated superheroes have long been the near exclusive territory of Warner Bros. and their prolific and lauded DC Animation dept. That's not to say that Marvel doesn't make cartoons, they do and some of them are very beloved in that "I used to watch them on Saturday mornings" kind of way. But for years DC has had a chokehold on the cape cartoons market, with their massive animated film franchise and shows like Teen Titans, Young Justice, and Harley Quinn. But with Invincible, Amazon is staking a claim for the non-Big Two superhero cartoon, adapting Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Cory Walker's Image Comics series with just as much style, voice talent, humor, and heart as DC Animation's best offerings.
In case you never checked out the cult comic, the setup is simple: teenager Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) is the son of the world's most famous superhero, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). When his superhero powers begin to show, Mark starts training with his alien father to become America's next great caped crusader. We can't really say more without spoiling the secrets of the series,but the title hero's family is rounded out by the wonderful Sandra Oh as Mark's mother, Debbie Grayson. It's a stellar leading trio who bring much of the heart, humanity, and conflict to the first three episodes, delivering with their performances at every turn.
Invincible begins slowly. Almost criminally so. Establishing the world of the series doesn't take too long, but it's not a particularly interesting world. Which is the point, of course. This is our world... almost. It's a place where everything is exactly as you expect it to be except for the existence of superheroes, who are an accepted and normalized part of society. Once we hit the final moments of the first episode, the slow start is revealed as a smart juxtaposition for what's to come, but it did almost make this reviewer want to switch it off at first. We've seen plenty of "what if our world but superheroes," so until the final act Invincible doesn't seem to be offering much new. But when it hits its stride, it creates an intrigue and pace that will keep you tuned in.
There's also the fact that Yeun is an incredibly talented voice actor. Mark feels like a real teenager; his school friends sound and act authentically young. This isn't a Riverdale-style universe where teens are all actually hot and 25. This is very much a Young Justice-influenced story about the complexities of growing up with powers and what that means. Mark is also likeable. He's a little goofy, awkward, and occasionally pretty cool. There's no edgy incel lead here. This is just a sweet boy who longs to live up to the legacy of his father. In that way, it works as a nice reflection of the Superman story it takes so much from. But here we see an Earth-born son trying to make good under the watchful eye of his alien father, an inversion of Clark Kent.
At its heart, Invincible is very much a coming of age story about Mark and his peers finding their way. But it also reveals itself to be a smart meta-text on superheroes and if you're a fan of Marvel and DC comics then you'll definitely be able to see the obvious influences that shaped the cult comic and the series that's adapting it. But have no fear as Invincible isn't a WandaVision-esque Easter egg hunt. In fact, if you've never read a comic or watched a superhero show before you won't lose anything. Its influences are so woven into the series that you can enjoy the episodes without any extra knowledge. But if you do know your Teen Titans from your Young Avengers, you'll probably be able to see just which characters are aping whom.
Over the first three episodes we get an excitingly drawn world filled with heroes you care about and villains that feel like a legitimate threat. There's also a central mystery which will keep you hooked and ended up with this writer watching all three near-hour long episodes in a row. The writing team does a great job utilizing our role as active viewers to make the conflict at the heart of the show both engaging and enjoyably frustrating as we always feel a couple of steps ahead of Mark and his friends. Basically, don't be surprised if you find yourself shouting at the screen more than once as you watch the opening episodes... the power of dramatic irony.
For fans of the comic it will surely be wonderful to see the world and characters brought to life in such a dynamic fashion. This is top tier animation. Original Invincible creator Cory Walker was brought in to create character designs for the show and that level of care is demonstrable throughout the trio of episodes we were given for review. You can pause Invincible at any moment and be looking at a full on work of art. Gorgeous backgrounds, awesome renderings of fan favorite heroes, and slick animation gives Invincible the feel of something truly special. It's rare to get an adult animation series that has the same feel and production value as an animated film, but Invincible does just that. And its style, feeling so reminiscent of the best of DC offerings, only works to its advantage once the show properly reveals its hand.
It'll be very interesting to see if Invincible can deliver on the promise of its opening episodes. From what we've seen so far, it's looking good. And if the series manages to keep up this level of quality, heart, and well-placed brutality, it has the potential to be spoken about in the same breath as the iconic '90s HBO Spawn cartoon and even the beloved Batman: The Animated Series.
The first three episodes of Invincible hit Amazon Prime Video on March 26th.
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