Amazon Prime Video has been looking to position itself as the go-to streamer for mature comic book adaptations in recent times. The Boys’ critical reception has shown that there’s an audience for this kind of content on subscription services, and building on that success may be key for Amazon if it truly wants to compete with Netflix and Disney Plus.
Based on the works of Robert Kirkman - yep, he of The Walking Dead comics fame - Invincible is the latest graphic novel offering from the streamer. It may differ from The Boys in that it's an animated show, but don’t let that fool you. Amazon’s Invincible is a superb adaptation that simultaneously brings Kirkman’s comics to life while retaining the series’ core ideals that subverted a generation’s expectations of what a comic book could be.
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Nailing the narrative
Invincible tells the story of Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), a teenager who lives a normal life save for one minor detail - his dad, Nolan Grayson (J.K. Simmons), is Omni-Man, the world’s most powerful superhero. Soon after his 17th birthday, Mark develops powers of his own and, under the pseudonym Invincible, starts his journey to follow in Omni-Man’s footsteps. Under his father’s guidance, Mark begins to master his newfound abilities, and learn what it takes to be a superhero, all while navigating the awkwardness of teenage life.
Like The Boys, Invincible is set on an alternate Earth where superheroes and villains exist. World-ending events are a part of everyday life and, while Invincible’s exploration of the fallout from these regular occurrences isn’t new to the genre, its focus on the aftermath of such battles bestows a humanity on the series’ culpable superpowered beings. It’s a part of the job that Mark initially struggles with, and adds a poignancy to scenes that follow Invincible’s often gratuitously violent fight sequences (more on these later).
It isn’t long, however, before Mark realizes that his father’s legacy isn’t as heroic as he thought, and it’s here where Invincible is at its strongest storytelling-wise. The show flies through the usual superhero tropes - mastering your powers, dealing with public expectations, and trying to live a normal life - but it's the twists and turns that truly help Invincible to stand out. Most superhero comics, and similarly their TV or movie adaptations, wait a while before unleashing their most shocking moments, but Invincible is not like them.
No spoilers here, but there’s a moment early on in Amazon’s adaptation that completely confounds expectations of what this series is. It sets the show’s stall out without trying too hard to be different to other superhero stories, and is a welcome change of pace from sitting through multiple episodes of a show while you're waiting for something major to happen.
It does sometimes feels like it’s moving too fast with its early twists though. Invincible’s first episode packs a lot of information, characters, and plot into its 40-minute runtime, and some viewers may feel overwhelmed by all of its details. It’s a balance that the show's writers wrestle with early on, but they seem to iron out this flaw by episode 3. Stick with it through its early pacing problems, and this superhero show starts to pay off.
Of animation and actors
As for the series’ bloody spectacles, the decision to adapt Invincible as an animated show provides the opportunity to really lean into the comics’ graphic content. We’re not just talking about the odd blood splatter, either. Limb removals, heads being crushed, and broken bones are par for the course and add make the show almost shockingly visceral. If you’ve had the stomach for R-rated movies such as Deadpool and Logan, you’ll enjoy Invincible’s brutality.
Gratuitous violence aside, that’s where similarities between The Boys and Invincible end. Invincible’s animated format allows it to lean into the wackier side of its source material, with all manner of alien species, fictional planets, and otherworldly superpowers dotted throughout. Most of Invincible’s funniest instances are built around these sci-fi details, with one scene between a moon-bound Invincible and an alien called Allen - voiced by Seth Rogen - providing the biggest laugh in its first three installments.
Speaking of the cast, Invincible’s is as famous as they come. Naturally, some get more lines than others depending on who they voice, but those in more prominent roles embody their characters really well. Yeun captures both Mark’s exuberance and struggles with living up to his father’s legacy, while Simmons’ likeable-yet-sinister turn as Omni-Man compliments the character’s comic book persona. It’s a dichotomy that works on individual and relationship levels and lends an emotional gravitas to a father-son bond that’s at the very heart of the show.
Jason Mantzoukas and Zachary Quinto’s portrayals of Rex Splode and Robot seemed tailormade for their personalities too, so much so that it’s hard to see anyone else who would have been perfect for those roles. It’s a pity, though, that Mark Hamill’s Art Rosenbaum isn’t utilized much early on, such is the strength of his voiceover work, and that’s symptomatic of plenty of the show’s supporting cast. Picking out actors like Mahershala Ali among the voice cast is a fun game to play while you watch, but the lack of screen time for some is a bit disappointing when you consider the scale of this all-star cast.
Character animations themselves, and the show’s overall look, captures Invincible’s aesthetic mostly in the right manner. It can feel a little rough to begin with, and facial and mouth movements are a little janky throughout its first three episodes. The addition of 3D elements, particularly in episode 2, are also clunky and struggle to blend into the background with the quick camera pans and transitions on occasion.
The rest of the animation, however, feels smooth. Characters move like you’d expect in a comic book come to life, and the aerial sections for flight-based heroes and villains are as polished as you’d hope. Combat sequences flow naturally too, while the motion of characters’ hair and capes blowing in the wind has a weightlessness to it that’s pleasing on the eye. The greatest compliment you can pay to Invincible is that it sometimes resembles Batman: The Animated Series’ art style. It simultaneously feels like a throwback to classier animated superhero programs of yesteryear, while definitely looking like a show that was made in 2021.
What we think
Invincible is a stellar addition to Amazon Prime Video’s catalog of mature comic book adaptations. Its reframing of the source material offers something fresh to longtime fans of the graphic novel, while its subversive story from the outset will shock and delight newcomers in equal measure. Add in an on-form all-star cast, aesthetically pleasing animation, and a plot that thematically resonates with audiences, and Invincible is in line to be Amazon’s next big hit. If the rest of the series builds on its strong opening trio of episodes, even The Boys may be given a run for its money.
Invincible begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting March 26, with new episodes are available every Friday for five weeks after this date.
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