Photo: ‘Invincible’/Amazon Prime
Inseparable creative partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, originally known for co-writing (and later co-directing) comedy films like ‘Superbad’, ‘Pineapple Express’, and ‘This Is the End’, have been active in recent years as executive producers for adult-oriented graphic novel adaptations.
First, they produced and developed AMC’s ‘Preacher’, based on the comic created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon–then, they produced Prime Video’s ‘The Boys’, developed by Eric Kripke and based on the comic again written by Garth Ennis and co-created by Darick Robertson. Their latest is Prime Video’s ‘Invincible’, an adult animation series based on the Image superhero created by artist Cory Walker and writer Robert Kirkman, the latter of whom also co-created ‘The Walking Dead’.
‘The Walking Dead’ Justice League
This might explain the myriad of ‘Walking Dead’ alumni who lend their voices here, including Steven Yeun as the titular protagonist himself–others are Khary Payton (Black Samson), Lauren Cohan (War Woman), Sonequa Martin-Green (Green Ghost), Chad L. Coleman (Martian Man), Michael Cudlitz (Red Rush), Lennie James (Darkwing), and Ross Marquand (Aquarus) as members of the Guardians of the Globe, otherwise known as the knock-off Justice League (just look at their names).
In most other circumstances, to call it a knock-off would be a criticism–here, it’s merely part of a rich tradition of alternate company equivalents in comic books. For instance, ‘The Boys’ has “The Seven,” a corrupt analog of the Justice League featuring twisted versions of Superman (Homelander), Wonder Woman (Queen Maeve), Batman (Black Noir), the Flash (A-Train), and Aquaman (The Deep)–it’s no different here. Of course, Invincible is a knock-off Superboy, son of the knock-off Superman himself, Omni-Man (voiced by the inimitable J.K. Simmons)–but is he more like Captain America or Homelander?
A Quick Recap of Episode One
Episode one begins with a disarmingly intimate Jon Hamm cameo as Steve, a White House guard who monologues about having grown closer to his troubled stepson–he’s abruptly interrupted by the supervillainous Mauller Twins (voiced by the prolific Kevin Michael Richardson), intent on killing the President. Before any lives are lost, however, Omni-Man and the Guardians of the Globe arrive and save the day.
We’re then introduced to our protagonist, Yeun’s 17-year-old Invincible (otherwise known as Mark Grayson). Reading a comic book on the toilet, he’s barged in on by his mother, Debbie Grayson (Sandra Oh). We learn that, despite his superhero heritage, his powers haven’t manifested yet–but that quickly changes.
Animated in the bright, primary color-filled style of cartoons like ‘Justice League’, ‘Invincible’ might initially strike you as a mild parody that largely plays it straight–Mark not only suffers from some of the same familiar origin story growing pains as Peter Parker / Spider-Man (like being beaten up by a bully at school before his powers manifest), but also doubts his ability to live up to his father’s legacy.
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Definitely Not a Kids’ Show
In this regard, the show succeeds–the combination of quality writing, animation, and phenomenal voice acting allow its more intimate scenes to be surprisingly affecting. Still, as the first episode drew to a close, I was slightly underwhelmed–that is, until an unexpected massacre establishes the greater plot and underlying tone of the series.
While the opening attack on the White House was, beat for beat, a classic superhero fight scene in which little blood is drawn and innocent civilians are saved by the skin of their teeth, the first episode’s conclusion is as gruesome as anything from ‘The Boys’. Grayson’s growing pains stop being whimsical as actual superheroism proves to be more difficult, violent, and traumatizing than initially expected–the animation doesn’t shy away from the gruesome realities of collateral human damage.
That said, ‘Invincible’ lacks ‘The Boys’’ abject cynicism–at its core is an earnest, optimistic story about a young hero struggling to come to terms with the price of heroism. Whereas The Seven are more like celebrities who combat manufactured crime, the heroes in ‘Invincible’ are genuinely dedicated to combating a never-ending cavalcade of superpowered adversaries–in this way, ‘Invincible’ works as both clever parody and good ole’ superhero action, thanks also in part to the punchy, fast-paced animation.
A Stellar Voice Cast
It’s also surprisingly funny and charming, largely thanks to the stellar voice cast. Of course, star Steven Yeun just earned the Oscar nomination for Best Actor with ‘Minari’, historically being the first actor of Asian heritage to do so (alongside Riz Ahmed with ‘Sound of Metal’). To the role of Omni-Man, J.K. Simmons lends his trademark blend of congeniality and menace (See: ‘Whiplash’, ‘Oz’) that’s perfect for the character’s alternating roles of father figure, beacon of hope, and all-powerful terror.
In addition, the star-studded supporting cast helps flesh out the universe–Seth Rogen, for instance, cameos as a menacing alien invader who’s actually just a friendly, confused bureaucrat. Jason Mantzoukas, known for playing “crazy, funny weirdos”, brings his distinct voice to Rex Splode, a cocky hero with powers like Gambit who’s initially a member of Teen Team.
Each of these roles is cast to perfection, and star power never supersedes the role itself–the universe of ‘Invincible’ feels truly alive, with a rich pantheon of heroes and villains alike that offer fresh takes on familiar characters.
One minor gripe I have with the show is Invincible’s suit–I’m not too fond of the color scheme, and the goggles are a little geeky (which fits the character). That’s obviously just a personal opinion–’Invincible’ is a great superhero show. Funny, violent, and dramatically effective, ‘Invincible’ is a welcome new addition to Prime Video’s growing library of alt-superhero content.
With the first three episodes available to watch now on Prime Video, new episodes will air every Friday, concluding with the eighth episode on April 30–CLICK HERE TO WATCH.
J.K. Simmons stars in the upcoming military science fiction action film ‘The Tomorrow War’, currently scheduled for release on July 23, 2021, and Jon Hamm star in the upcoming action sequel ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, scheduled for theatrical release on July 2, 2021.
Producer: Maude Lewis
By Daniel Choi
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Daniel Choi is a writer who’s currently pursuing a BA in Film & Television from New York University. With a background in amateur film production, Daniel is fascinated by how artists’ cultural backgrounds inform their work, subconsciously or not, and how that work is then perceived by different audiences across time and space. He joined Hollywood Insider to promote its mission statement of substantive entertainment journalism, and hopes to enrich readers’ understandings of cinema through insightful analysis.