The mid-2000s, before I craved fresh reading at every turn, were my dark ages. I hadn’t yet trained myself to try new comics, that weren’t Marvel or DC, just for the hell of it. Partially to blame must have been the deep, disastrous fall from excellence of The Authority. Money’s always a factor, too.
Around this time, I was ignoring the renaissance happening at Image. Writer Robert Kirkman, now a publishing partner, had created The Walking Dead (securing his place in history) and the sprightly, generic-seeming Invincible. I came to know his writing in Ultimate X-Men and Marvel Team-Up. The former I read out of inertia, and found the creation of a ditzy new character, around whom the rest of the X-Men orbited, seriously off-putting. The latter comic had me as long as Scott Kolins drew it, but that wouldn’t be for long.
Which brings us to the savory present. For the most part, writing about comics is fun. I’ve noticed though, the warping effect that occurs when showcasing a continuity-heavy title. The larger the payload of context, the sillier the post gets. I’ve come to love the simple beginnings of characters and worlds, which usually give me extra lyrical leeway. Invincible, then.
Image has been releasing grand omnibus editions, and the first volume has issues 1-13, plus an extensive, entertaining sketchbook of artist Cory Walker’s designs. But the caroming life of young Mark Grayson sells itself, as we’ll see. Open the giant-sized omnibus (or trade paperback, if you’re frugal), and his first words while zooming toward us are, “Y’know, you really ruined my afternoon.”
He’s speaking to the man he carries, who’s got a bomb imbedded in his chest. They’re somewhere in the arctic, and after this rudest of men explodes, Mark dusts himself off and heads back to the suburbs. “If I keep this up I’m going to give myself a heart attack.”
This sequence, the first slurp of Invincible sweetness, does many things. To novice and experienced comic readers alike, the clean paneling puts a come-hither finger under your chin. Once inside, you find that Cory Walker, and later Ryan Ottley, have a style as versatile as it is deceptively innocent. The bold Saturday Morning colors of Ben Crabtree, meanwhile, dash through the park, breathing stronger with every page.
Teenaged Mark, you might guess, can’t really be hurt. He’s also capable of flight and super strength (which he learns while taking out the trash at his fast food job). These powers come from his dad, the secretly alien Omni-Man. At the dinner table, as we meet the family, he and his mom patiently listen to caped exploits. “So,” she eventually asks, “how was your day, Mark?” He answers: “Fine. I think I’m finally getting superpowers.”
Her reply, “That’s nice. Can you pass the potatoes?” is the kind of breeziness that Kirkman maintains throughout the first half of this collection. Mark and his dad also play catch by throwing a ball back and forth around the Earth. Street level heroes the Teen Team welcome him, and the athletic redhead Atom Eve is a fellow high school student (natch!). This is essentially Peter Parker, Spider-Man’s early years, with Superman’s cosmic technicolor mixed in.
Invincible is exceptionally shiny, too, like it’s the comic Image should have started with back in 1992. And like another flagship title, Ultimate Spider-Man, the all-ages issues try hard to balance fun, depth, and action. When it succeeds, Kirkman’s tale is irresistible; occasionally, however, the sight of one character speaking five paragraphs worth of dialogue is exhausting.
If, like me, you’ve gone years without exploring Invincible, I won’t reveal any more. There’s a TON of nifty surprises within, and some intense streaks of darkness that have me clawing for the next volume. In his introduction, writer Brian Bendis says, “We need 200 hundred more issues of it.”