Brief Thoughts On ‘Invincible’ Episodes 1-3
by Erik Amaya
Invincible, as an animated series, opens with a great surprise.
At first blush, it appears to be a colorful teen-focused superhero series reminiscent of Young Justice or even The Legend of Korra. Then the twist happens. For readers of the series by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley, that twist will be known, but even still, the level of violence on display is stunning.
And that’s a good thing. The series begins as an admirable remix of the early part of the comic book run. In fact, Kirkman even referred to the program as a “second draft” in the hopes of layering some of its more brutal and complex ideas earlier into the run. On screen, it results in an animated series almost as compelling as the comic book. Although, we freely admit we’d probably feel the show was also compulsive viewing if more episodes were available.
Not that we disagree with Amazon’s model of debuting with three episodes and running the rest of the season weekly. In fact, it is inspired.
Beyond the remix of the comic book’s plot, though, is the surprise of an hour-long (er, 50ish minutes) animated program. Traditionally, animation clocks in around 25 minutes. Even complex shows like Korra, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power stayed within the half-hour stricture. For Invincible, the added time means a new sort of pace for animation. Admittedly, an episodic feel every ten minutes or so is still there within the available episodes. But that is to be expected as they are drawing from specific sequences — like Invincible’s (Steven Yeun) fight with Dr. Seismic — but it will be interesting to see how the timing of the hour-long format evolves across this first season. Will it continue to feel like various vignettes stitched together or will it become something more unified?
Although, there is something to be said for having the freedom to build a stylistically different vignette within an episode. In fact, one issue of Invincible practically screams for that sort of treatment in the middle of an episode.
But beyond the concerns of format, there is the story itself. As readers of the comic book, we appreciate the way the animated series reworks the initial twist into something which still offers us tension. We know, roughly, how things will play out, but we’re still left with a when — which is tremendous. Then there are things like Robot’s (Zachary Quinto) part in the release of the Mauler Twins. It suggests a very specific development, which occurs a good way into the comic book, may be a season one finale shock while also suggesting the show may move Angstrom Levy’s appearance to another point in the show. That’s a great way to keep the readers invested while also working out the best pace for a television show — to say nothing of the way the story’s turns will grab viewers fresh to the concept. And considering how often the comic would introduce ideas to be used years down the line, laying these foundations in a way pleasing to readers and new viewers is critical.
Luckily, the series has the bandwidth to work with that as the characters, mostly translated 1-for-1 from the book, remains as solid as ever. Mark is a surprisingly relatable protagonist while we expect J.K. Simmons will bring all of Nolan’s layers and complexity to life before too long. Similarly, we’re glad voices like Quinto, Jason Mantzoukas, and Gillian Jacobs gave immediate life to the Teen Team. As much as we’ve loved Robot in the book, Quinto brings just a little bit extra to him. Also, we have to say, Amber (Zazie Beetz) is an immediate improvement over her comic book counterpart by being just a little bit tougher when we first meet her. It’s definitely a good thing as her character, especially in the early parts of the book, came off too passive.
It will be interesting to see how these characters coalesce in the weeks ahead. And since Invincible is an experiment in its own odd way, we look forward to keeping track of how well it succeeds.
Invincible streams Fridays on Amazon Prime Video.