Kirkman’s “Invincible,” which The Walking Dead creator adapts from his own same-named comic book that ran for 15 years, evokes the wham-bam, adventure-packed dynamism of Saturday morning cartoons while also pulling off a self-aware sense of humor and a staggering amount of animated gore. If that combination sounds familiar, it’s because it overlaps with Prime Video’s other big superhero show, “The Boys.” Similar to Eric Kripke’s adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s series, “Invincible” is also set in a version of Earth that looks quite like ours, except for the fact that superheroes, aliens, and all kinds of fantastical shenanigans are accepted by everyone. Costumed defenders and avengers—many of them deliberate spins on characters we already know, like Omni-Man on Superman, Darkwing on Batman, and even the titular Mark Grayson on Dick Grayson—are so commonplace that there are four main teams available to defend humans at any time. A government agency that is potentially shady seems to run things from the background, keeping an eye on whatever could attack Earth from inside our own planet or from the surrounding galaxy. And the characters of “Invincible,” as in “The Boys,” are used to killing baddies to protect the humans who trust them. They don’t necessarily like it—in fact, the hesitance felt by newly minted superhero Mark regarding the responsibility he now bears is a major component of the first three episodes of “Invincible” that were provided for review—but if they don’t do it, who will?
The voice cast here is deep (Steven Yeun, J. K. Simmons, and Sandra Oh lead the pack), the narrative is fast-paced, and premiere episode “It’s About Time” ends on an incredibly sharp turn. Before that cliffhanger, “Invincible” (which visually harkens back to the ‘90s classics “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Batman Beyond,” “Superman: The Animated Series,” and “X-Men: The Animated Series”) immerses us in the life of 17-year-old Mark Grayson (Yeun), whose father, Nathan Grayson (Simmons), also happens to be Omni-Man, the world’s most powerful superhero. He’s phenomenally strong and fast, he can fly, and his identity is a secret. Most of the time, he’s off saving the world, and so Mark grew up far closer to his human mother, realtor Debbie (Oh). Many years before, when Nathan had told his son that he was Omni-Man and an alien from the planet Viltrum, he had also told Mark that he would eventually develop powers. But puberty happened and nearly all of high school passed, and nothing.
Debbie and Nathan raised Mark to be brave and to do what is right: He stands up against bullies, like the one bothering his crush, Amber (Zazie Beetz), and he holds down a part-time job at the fast food joint Burger Mart. At Burger Mart’s dumpster is where Mark’s powers finally manifest, and he’s overjoyed to lob a bag of trash into space, share the news with his parents, and hear that his father will train him on how to fly, how to take a punch, and how to join the family business of defending Earth. But Nathan is wary: “Maybe our lives would be better if he hadn’t gotten them at all,” he tells Debbie of Mark’s powers. And Debbie, for her part, is disappointed by how quickly her son is changing: “It used to be you and me … and now it’s you and him,” she tells Mark after he shares with her his fears of being unable to live up to Nathan/Omni-Man, and his response is pure teen narcissism: “I’m more like you. I’m nothing special.” Not very nice, Mark!