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Josh Reviews Invincible Season One

May 24th, 2021
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Invincible is a new Amazon animated series, adapting the comic book series written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Cory Walker & Ryan Ottley.  The series focuses on Mark Grayson, whose father Nolan is the Superman-like super-hero called Omni-Man.  When Mark turns 17, he discovers that he too has super-powers, and he steps into the world of super-heroes and super-villains.  I’m a big fan of the comic book series, and I was blown away by how great the Amazon adaptation was!

The series is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the first few years’ run of the comic book series.  Watching the show, I was delighted by how accurate the show was to the comic; from the look of the characters down to the recreation of scene after scene from the comics.  The show felt to me like basically a word-for-word adaptation of the comic.  I’d never seen anything like it.

After watching the show, I went back and re-read the first several Invincible trade paperbacks, and at that point I was even more impressed with the skill in this adaptation.  I discovered that actually the show had made a ton of changes to the comic.  They moved sequences around, they expanded scenes here and reordered scenes there.  It’s not a word-for-word adaptation after all.  But it FEELS like a word-for-word adaptation.  And time and again, as I discovered places where the show had changed things from the comics, I felt those changes strengthened the show.  Clearly, the show’s creators understood that comic books and TV/movies are different mediums.  While fans (myself included) often think that what they want is for a TV or movie to adapt a comic book story exactly, that’s not actually the best approach.  Here’s an example: I really liked Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City movie (based on Frank Miller’s comic book series), which was very unusual in that it was basically an exact duplication of the comic book source material.  But as much fun as that movie was, and as cool as it was to see the panels of the comic book duplicated almost exactly on screen, I didn’t think the stories were nearly as effective on screen as they were on the page.  The pacing was off — things moved too fast, the story and characters didn’t feel to me like they had time to breathe.  This is because it took a lot longer to read a 24-page comic book; so what felt carefully paced on the page came off as far too breakneck on the screen.  Characters who felt fully-realized in the comics came off as one-dimensional on screen.  It was cool and fun, but it din’t altogether work.

And so I am incredibly impressed by what the team behind the Invincible show has done here.  They have recreated everything I loved about the comic book, but they’ve tweaked things enough to allow us to get to know the characters properly and to get sucked into this world so that all of the twists and turns land with the force they should have.

And, wow, do those twists and turns land!!  Fans of the comic book series know that my description in the first paragraph isn’t really what Invincible is about.  There are some huge turns early on that transformed the comic book into something far more interesting than that original description might make it sound.  I’m impressed that (to my knowledge), Amazon was able to resist spoiling those surprises in their marketing of the show.  And the storytellers found a perfect way to shuffle the order of events from the comic book to make the punches land with the force that they should have.  It’s perfect to me that they chose to let the audience in on one big secret right at the end of the first episode, and that they then moved Mark’s confrontation with you-know-who to the final episodes.  (In the comic, many of the events in the second half of this season happened after that confrontation.  But in the show, it works much better this way.)

I’m pleased that they turned Amber from a blonde into a young woman of color on the show, and that they made Mark’s friend William gay.  Both moves brought some welcome diversity onto the show.  (Though I didn’t love how show occasionally fell into the cliche trap of the gay best friend in the early episodes; there were a few moments that had me rolling my eyes.  This was one of the few off notes in the season for me.)

The voice cast for this series is unbelievable.  Truly unbelievable.  Not only have they assembled a staggering array of talent, but voice after voice after voice was absolutely perfect to bring these memorable characters to life.  I couldn’t believe how perfect the casting was.  Take a gander at this collection of stars: Steven Yeun as Mark; J.K. Simmons as Mark’s dad Nolan; Sandra Oh as Mark’s mom Debbie; Gillian Jacobs as Eve; Andrew Rannells as William, Zazie Beets as Amber, Walton Goggins as Cecil; Jason Mantzoukas as Rex Splode; Zachary Quinto as Robot, Seth Rogen as Allen the Alien; Chris Diamantopoulos as Donald; Mark Hamill as Art; Clancy Brown as Damien Darkblood; Jon Hamm as secret service agent Steve; Kevin Michael Richardson as the Mauler twins; Mahershala Ali as Titan; Ezra Miller as mad scientist D.A. Sinclair… and I’ve barely scratched the surface!  I haven’t even mentioned all of the great voices for the Guardians of the Globe… or how they actually got Reginald VelJohnson to play the principal of Mark’s school (which was cheekily named Reginald VelJohnson High School in the comics)!!

(Of all those great voices, my very favorite was the casting of Jason Mantzoukas as Rex Splode.  When reading the original comics, I didn’t care too much about Rex one way or the other, but on the show Rex became my favorite supporting character!!  Mr. Mantzoukas was able to play up Rex’s asshole nature while also making him funny enough to be likable despite his bad behavior.)

The series’ description and its bright, crisp animation might make it seem like Invincible is an all-ages show, but this is definitely a series aimed at adults.  There’s some shocking violence that really packs a wallop.  Again, I’m impressed with how perfectly the series captured that aspect of the comic.  The violence feels so shocking when it enters this brightly-colored world!!

I was also impressed that Amazon had the guts to make Invincible an hour-long animated show.  I can’t remember the last hour-long American animated series.  Traditionally, American animated shows are always a half-hour.  But Invincible is a show that needed to be an hour-long.  That extra run-time gives the stories and the characters the breathing room that they need; and it also marks this as not just a kids show.

The animation on the show is terrific.  I didn’t spot any skipped corners or moments when the animation felt cheap or ineffective.  This is a big, epic show.  There are some incredible action sequences, but the show also does great work with all of the quiet dialogue scenes.  It’s very impressive.  And as I’d noted above, the character designs are absolutely perfect.  Each and every character looks and feels like they stepped right out of the comic book pages.  It’s incredible.

I’m sure a lot of this faithfulness is due to how involved Invincible’s creator Robert Kirkman was in the show.  But that’s not always an indicator of success!  So bravo to Mr. Kirkman and the Invincible team, which includes producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, as well as Simon Racioppa, David Alpert, and Catherine Winder, as well as credited writers Chris Black, Ryan Ridley, and Christine Lavaf, and directors Robert Valley, Paul Furminger, and Jeff Allen.

Now, how many long months am I going to have to wait until season two…???

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