The last few years have been great for viewers who enjoy standard-issue CW teen dramas (Gossip Girl forever!) but want a little something extra mixed in. Bridgerton blends in period piece flair and a Cinemax “Skinemax” pulse, while The End of the Fucking World merges dark comedy and a post-apocalyptic world. And don’t forget how Anna and the Apocalypse manages to weave together teen drama, Christmas stories, zombies, and musicals (albeit in a film).
But no show has playfully leveraged genres with a teen narrative at its core as creatively as Invincible, Amazon Prime’s new animated series based on the Robert Kirkman comics. The story follows ho-hum high school nobody Mark Grayson doing all the usual stuff: trying relationships, considering his post-graduation future, and dealing with overarching family drama. But all that noise only gets more complicated because Mark happens to be the son of the most powerful being in the galaxy, a Superman-like figure known as Omni-Man to the world (and Nolan to his family). Teen drama meets a superhero story, meaning the guy coming of age happens to be coming into his powers, too.
Invincible wraps its first season this weekend, and Variety reported Amazon has renewed the show for two more seasons already. That’s great news, because it means people who love superheroes now have time to catch up. This show may not have “Marvel’s” in the title, but after these eight episodes, I’m extremely confused why you’d get your new caped crusader kicks anywhere else.
Way better than that Wahlberg movie
Invincible is far from the first show or film to blend teen drama and superheroes; see everything from last year’s X-Men: New Mutants to the entire existence of Spider-Man. And of course merely alluding to, referring to, or borrowing from a multitude of genres and archetypes does not make successful entertainment (sorry, Ready Player One). Instead, what makes Invincible’s initial eight episodes stand out is that the show juggles so many different influences in such a natural way.
Invincible starts as a teen drama, then a superhero element gets quickly introduced. But season one also has the systemic-driven crime drama of The Wire when Invincible (aka Mark’s costumed identity) is getting his hero feet wet in episode 5. That’s when he wants to help Titan, a Hulk-like henchman he took down earlier in the season. Titan is in debt to a bigger (equally superhuman) bad pushing drugs named Machine Head, and the former says he just wants out of the game to be a better husband and father. Perfect case for a burgeoning hero, right?
When Invincible gets called upon by this world’s version of S.H.I.E.L.D. (called the GDA, Global Defense Agency) to shadow Earth’s first crewed mission to Mars in Episode 4, the show introduces the familiar frights of parasitic alien horror. The season’s first half has a noir detective storyline playing out in the background of Mark’s growing pains. There’s an ancient, reawakened spirit straight out of archaeological adventure films lurking, too. The beginning of the season finale functions as a grim disaster film. And, without giving away the big season one reveal, Invincible ultimately offers a third major genre pillar to stand on equal footing with the teen and superhero stuff moving forward. (It’ll make you look back on the preceding episodes thinking, “Of course. How on [and off] Earth did I not see that?”).
If that description sounds too convoluted for your taste, Invincible has a few structural advantages to keep things manageable when compared to your average TV series. First, the show’s choice to embrace its comic roots literally and opt for animation goes a long way toward preventing everything from feeling over the top. If this was a genuine CW show—the kind starring some overly handsome to-be-discovered actor alongside a cast of hyperattractive 20-somethings posing as teens—it would be very, very easy to dismiss as too soapy or campy. Instead, consciously or not, I gave everything more leeway because the show’s anime-ish aesthetic already indicates things will get surreal.
An unparalleled voice-acting ensemble doesn’t hurt, either, as it’s hard not to buy in to these relationships when they’re given life by Steven Yuen (Minari, Walking Dead), JK Simmons (Counterpart), Sandra Oh (Killing Eve), Zazie Beetz (Atlanta), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, True Detective), Gillian Jacobs (Community), Walton Goggins (Justified), Jason Mantzoukas (The League, The Good Place), and Mark freakin’ Hamill.
Invincible also balances all of its plot points by blending its storytelling styles—this is both an episodic and serialized series. As Mark battles big bads of the week, the show can try on different genres as the season long story arcs stay focused on the teen and superhero stories. It’s a hybrid approach that a show like Justified used to great effect, and it makes Invincible feel different even if a lot of its plot elements are familiar.
And with those big bads in particular, Invincible manages to deliver some spectacular fight sequences week in and week out. Remember this is a Robert Kirkman creation (both the comic and TV series), so the action does veer into ultraviolence. But the set pieces overall are varied both in their logistical makeup (a bad guy army, a bad guy super team, some feuding super heroes, etc.) and their visual flourishes, concisely giving viewers some breathtaking time away from the show’s more YA story elements.
Really, the only hesitation I’ve had when recommending S1 to others has nothing to do with the show itself—instead, it’s the Kirkman of it all. As a writer/creator, he’s most famous for the most unkillable show on television, The Walking Dead. That project proved to be historic for its reach but notorious for its unflinching and never-ending nihilism. Early seasons felt riveting, but ultimately Rick Grimes and his gang of survivors would fall victim to the same tough-hang cycle over and over again (Oh, new humans! Are they nice? Seems like it!), to the point I dropped out after season four. And given how Invincible wrapped this inaugural season, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where this show could also be infinitely extended with unlucky outcome after unlucky outcome befalling our hero. Who has the emotional bandwidth for that these days?
Yet these eight episodes were so much fun, I had to know if Dead déjà vu lies ahead; spoiler risks be damned. Did Invincible the comic have a genuine ending? For anyone who also fell off from The Walking Dead (or survived Season 8 in Westeros), rest easy. This story is absolutely headed somewhere, details TBD. The fact Kirkman announced an ending for Invincibleeven made news back in 2016. That’s enough to settle any commitment anxiety for now. So sit back and relax knowing Mark has at least two more seasons ahead to clean up this mess, and prepare to get the itch to dive back into comics again. With apologies to Disney+, these days the most fun superhero shows on television have clearly landed on Amazon Prime.
All eight episodes of Invincible S1 are available now on Amazon Prime.
Listing image by Amazon