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Pity Mark Grayson. The 17-year-old son of Omni-Man and a regular-powered human woman, Mark has spent the bulk of his adolescent years being menaced by bullies, hearing about his best friend’s crush on his silver-fox dad and waiting for his superpowers to kick in. Mark’s known for years that his dad is a Viltrumite — one of an alien race of Superman-like world-savers — and that he’s affiliated with, but won’t officially join, the Justice League-esque Guardians of the Globe. Mark wants to be just like his father — which makes the most pitiable thing about him the fact that he doesn’t know the most important thing about his dad.
Adapted from Robert Kirkman’s comic-book series of the same name (with artist Cory Walker providing visual continuity in his role as the show’s lead designer), Amazon’s Invincible sounds generic on purpose. The animated program is a genre spoof, and part of the fun is supposed to be knockoff crime-fighters like growling gadget geek Dark Wing and headgeared Amazonian War Woman. Invincible’s satirical and ultraviolent take on superheroes will no doubt recall HBO Max’s Harley Quinn and Amazon’s own The Boys — two vastly superior shows that make this eight-part outing feel like a cheap imitation, no matter how many times it observers how groan-worthy Mark’s post-victory one-liners are.
AIR DATE Mar 27, 2021
Invincible is also notable for marking a reunion of sorts between Kirkman, who created The Walking Dead comic-book series and wrote several episodes of its TV adaptation, and TWD alum Steven Yeun, who delivers a pitch-perfect performance as the alternately wistful and puppy-dog-eager Mark. The voice cast is the easiest thing to praise about Invincible, which features J.K. Simmons as the gruff and irascible Omni-Man, Sandra Oh as Mark’s mom Debbie and Mark Hamill, Seth Rogen, Gillian Jacobs, Andrew Rannells, Zazie Beetz, Walton Goggins and Jason Mantzoukas in supporting roles. But their spirited turns can’t make up for the series’ fatally sluggish pacing — the result of stretching out what feels like a half-hour’s worth of material into 45 bloated minutes.
It’s not just superheroes that have become ascendant in the culture, but parodies thereof, too. That makes Invincible feel like a not particularly notable also-ran, despite Kirkman’s imprimatur and the relative novelty of an Asian-American superhero. (A painting in the Graysons’ home, along with Yeun and Oh’s casting, suggests that Mark and Debbie are specifically Korean-American. In the comics, their race is undefined but largely assumed by fans to be white.) But at least in the first three episodes, there’s a frustrating lack of connection between Mark’s biracialness and his half-alien heritage, which feels like a squandered narrative opportunity.
Yet in most other respects, the show is strongest when it leans away from parody and into character development. After he comes into his powers, Mark has to decide what kind of man he wants to be, especially when he’s tempted to knock his bully into next week or goes looking for a baddie because he “needs something to punch.” After a long night of flying lessons, Mark defies his mom when she tells him to go to bed, retorting, “Make me.” Debbie’s awareness that Mark worships his father and his strength make these more intimate moments between mother and son deeply resonant, especially when she has to remind him that she has intrinsic worth despite her mere humanity, and that people can and should be respected even if they lack the specific qualities one admires most.
Invincible is leavened by many a droll gag — some involving send-ups of superhero rescues and the way the superpowered can manipulate our regular old meat-sack bodies. (A favorite tactic is to hurl humans many feet into the air, juggling them like bowling pins and using the seconds before they plummet into the ground to throw an extra punch or two.) But both the jokes and the character beats that fuel Invincible are too sporadic to make the series feel anything more than sputtering. Unassailable, it is not.
Cast: Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, Zazie Beetz
Creators: Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, Ryan Ottley
Showrunner: Simon Racioppa
Premieres Friday, Mar. 27, on Amazon
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