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  • Writer's pictureSusannah Powers Stengel

Why Invincible Slaps Harder


Spoilers For: Daddy and Lady Drama.

Fathoms-Deep Trauma Fells Fake Tension!

Women Empower Their Own Autonomy!

Super Stakes Save the Day!

I was never much of a comic book kid growing up. If I'm being honest, the '90s always made the world of comics (however untrue it may be today) feel like a boys' club.

Unfortunately, today, filmic representations of the superheroic feminine continue to alienate me. I'm talking about the infantilizing of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman asked her to lap up Chris Pine's cultural knowledge and eschew her literal superiority for our rom com hook (perhaps made worse by the toxic climate director Joss Whedon created for Gadot). Or, I'm talking about the hiding-in-plain-sight erasure of Scarlett Johansson in every MCU/Avengers film ever for over 10 years. They gave her about as much agency and unique identity as crown moulding. (Yes, yes, we're all very happy about Black Widow coming out soon. Bout freaking time.)

Marvel and D.C. continue to frustrate me also with high stakes that never really hit. My breath is always baited, but the storyline's payout is never sated. Worlds are in disarray, epic feuds rip superhero alliances apart, bodies dissolve into dust . . . and yet . . . I don't give a shit. Why should I? Nothing sticks.

Civil wars will end, bodies will reform anew, a father's manic rejection is just one stop on a bus route of endless antics--ready to take us to the next merch and/or mashup opportunity. Invincible tries something different.

Amazon Prime wrapped a true gem of a show this April 30th--the conclusion of the first season of their ambitious, trope-annihilating, violent, emotional, and fun adult superhero show, Invincible. Invincible is based on the Image Comic of the same name created by Robert Kirkman. Kirkman developed the series for Amazon--a smooth move and perhaps an indicator of why the show moves with the glib, layered ferocity and zany splash of a real comic.

Let's talk about why it slaps so much harder imo than your standard comic book adaptation.

1. It's bold and corny. Moody and goofy.

Instead of compartmentalizing its moments of intensity separately from its moments of levity, Invincible blends moment to moment to great success. So your best friend's boyfriend gets turned into a robotic tool of evil on a college road trip. It happens. The car ride back is a long beat of distended discomfort that actually makes me laugh. The satisfyingly painful corniness comes from the real motives and baggage of the characters. Mark Grayson, our titular Invincible, comes into his powers just as his father, Nolan/Omni-Man, the all powerful alien with a heart of gold (right?), loses all of his superhero friends in a vicious struggle to the death. We are relieved that Nolan lives. We are relieved there's still something to hope for. That desperate through line of hope powers a reaching, coping mechanism-based comedy that slaps on this show, a comedy you may recognize from your own unspectacular attempts to get through life. Delicious.

2. It offers unique and compelling portraits of female identity inside of and outside of romantic relationships.

I am so over being a forgotten heaving set of bosoms sitting on the sidelines. Invincible releases ladies from such a lot, and crafts a unique retinue of female power. Sandra Oh plays an epically conflicted Debbie Grayson with grit, tenacity, and intrigue. Gillian Jacobs plays Eve, or, in her super state, Atom Eve, to layered perfection. At first I assume I'm just looking at a hottie in the sky here to catch Mark Grayson's eye. Nah, Eve's here to ditch her cheating boyfriend and to leave her abusive childhood home to strike out on own for the betterment of the world. Yasss. And I haven't even mentioned Amber. Amber is played by Zazie Beetz, who I already adore from Atlanta, with frank honesty and knows-her-worth-clarity. Instead of whining for Mark (her love interest) she works at community centers and shows her backbone. Now we're talking. I want a little more from Dupli-Kate or Kate Cha (see gif below), but hopefully season 2 will serve me just that.

3. It's VIOLENT AF and earns every second of it.

I think this is the most violent cartoon I have watched in recent memory. Perhaps ever. I know all you anime stans may come for me. I get that it can be topped. I've seen the pilot of Devilman Crybaby. Here's the difference. This goes super far--teeth being spit out of faces, bodies ripped straight in half before our eyes, necks being revolved around spinal cords before falling limp and lifeless to the floor--because it needs to go that far to complete its mission. The mission? Show us the moral depravity of being super. The manner in which life and death can be recalibrated when you live an inter-dimensional life spanning millennia. Bodies must crumble. Your gbf's bf needs to have his brain extracted. We need to see just how far the violence can go because . . .

4. Invincible actually addresses the moral rift between man and super in an ethically complicated way that offers no release escape valve for consequence. The pain sticks.

Compared to supers, humanity doesn't really matter. We do not exist inside of the same moral framework. Nolan/Omni-Man, played adroitly by J.K. Simmons, sees his wife of almost two decades as a "pet." This line stings but also implies everything we need to know. When real power comes to play, human life is collateral or at best, an ancillary consideration. This is a reality I think is largely evaded in the MCU and in D.C. work by the idea: "These guys are good and want to help us!" What if we tried this on for size instead--"These guys want power and will utilize their special abilities to obtain it--no matter what?" Feels much more believable to me, but properly sells less McDonald's action figures. A much less friendly and much more innovative model for superheroic exploration. And as Daddy reveals the monster within more and more to his son Mark, being Invincible never felt less human. The emotions that come are new, yicky, interesting, and spectacular. Dive in. And don't worry. The show still makes that discomfort fun.

If you still need more reasons to watch?

J.K. Simmons, Sandra Oh, Jason Mantzoukas, Grey DeLisle, Seth Rogen. And more homies you'll love.

Come on. Get into it already!

Trust me, it's better than re-watching Iron Man 2. What????? Fight me.

What's your favorite superhero show or franchise?

Comment below!



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