Review: Amazon’s Invincible is the cure for superhero TV fatigue

With a great voice cast led by Oscar nominee Steven Yeun, this animated series does justice to Robert Kirkman's superhero comics.


INVINCIBLE (Simon Racioppa). First three episodes available Friday (March 26) on Amazon Prime Video Canada; subsequent episodes released weekly. Rating: NNNN


After their hyperviolent (and occasionally annoying) live-action takes on Garth Ennis’s cult properties Preacher and The Boys, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s latest run at a comics adaptation is an animated take on Robert Kirkman’s Image Comics series, which had fun up-ending traditional concepts of superhero team-ups while also building a rich and unpredictable cast of characters… and delivering the occasional shocking plot twist.

Created by Kirkman and artist Cory Walker almost 20 years ago, Invincible embraced the tropes of DC books like Teen Titans and Justice League – where the internal dynamics and personal stories of the heroes were given the same consideration as their super-battles – while also gently mocking the epic scale of the storytelling.

Their hero, 17-year-old Mark Grayson, is just an ordinary suburban teenager doing his best to master his powers and keep up with the veterans – one of whom is his dad, an extraterrestrial warrior known to the rest of humanity as Omni-Man.

It’s a pretty basic setup, but so was The Walking Dead – and as he did in that comic, Kirkman expanded the world of his story with unexpected, very human moments bursting through the often-brutal genre setting. But the nature of Invincible means this story can be playful and light, something Kirkman’s could never allow his zombie comic to be, and that let him show off an entirely different skill set. Even when coping with tragic turns, Mark is an essentially upbeat character, eager to participate and curious about the world around him.

Invincible might be a riff on DC properties, but there’s a lot of Peter Parker in its hero, and Steven Yeun – one of the earliest breakouts of the Walking Dead TV series – finds that energy in his voice performance as Mark. He’s excitable and awkward, often getting ahead of himself, but always meaning well. Readers of the comic know that’s going to be a liability, as Mark discovers the larger world of heroes and villains is much more complicated than his super-dad led him to believe.

Executive producer Simon Racioppa – who’s worked on everything from George Of The Jungle and Teen Titans to The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance – sticks close to Kirkman’s text. And Cory Walker’s uncomplicated yet vivid aesthetic uses a bright colour palette and familiar character designs to make newcomers to the material settle in for a simple, morally uncomplicated adventure show… and then whacks ’em with the big, brutal reveal of Kirkman’s true intentions. No spoilers, but Invincible gets very messy very quickly, both literally and metaphorically.

Rogen and Goldberg have assembled an amazing voice cast to bring the characters to life, from J.K. Simmons and Sandra Oh as Mark’s parents to a supporting crew that includes Walton Goggins, Zazie Beetz, Jason Mantzoukas, Jon Hamm, Zachary Quinto, Andrew Rannells, Mark Hamill, Rogen himself (as Allen the Alien) and Gillian Jacobs – who, it turns out, is absolutely perfect for Mark’s idealistic teammate Atom Eve.

Even if you’re experiencing superhero fatigue after a certain four-hour religious experience – and god knows I am – this one’s worth a look.

@normwilner

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