Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artists: Ryan Ottley
Release Date: January 30, 2013
Throughout its 100 issues, Invincible has read like a mainstream superhero title working in perpetual overtime. More happens in one story arc of Image’s flagship brawler (the man’s costume is the publisher’s logo, if you hadn’t noticed) than in a year for any one of the big two’s various mascots. Most of this momentum comes from its unified voice and consistent production; Robert Kirkman has remained the title’s sole author and, save for the introductory issues and a few fillers, Ryan Ottley its only penciller. So when Kirkman introduces such game-changing concepts as insectoid half brothers, Aryan alien invasions, and time travel conundrums as frequently and successfully as he does, Invincible truly feels like a four course meal of capes and cliffhangers. There’s long-term vision and continuity hosted at a break-neck pace in these pages.
So if Kirkman, who also runs the zombiepocalypse circus The Walking Dead, also wants to open up his centennial episode with a giant red dinosaur squashing its title character’s head like a viscous balloon, there’s probably a decent reason for it outside of exploitive pandering. (Check out the blur effect on the foreground eyeball; aqueous humour moves, baby). There’s also probably good reason for the follow-up panel featuring that same dinosaur ripping the headless remains of Invincible’s body in twain, a frozen tidal wave of brains, blood and rib cage hurled at the reader. Hyperviolent milestones invite fan ire like few things can, but it’s hard to interpret any of these extreme beats as anything other than premeditated building blocks in the coming-of-age epic that Kirkman has so lovingly built upon since the character’s inception in 2002. And that’s exactly what they are, but that still doesn’t mean that this issue is an absolute success.
In the climax of “The Death of Everyone” storyline, super-powered teen Mark Grayson, the face behind Invincible, discovers that recent collaborator and reformed super-villain genius Dinosaurus has relapsed into his old genocidal ways. Instead of helping devise wide-screen solutions to humanity’s biggest problems, the big red reptile takes a page from Ozymandias’ murder-with-good-intentions playbook and kills 800,000 people to stave off an incoming global-warming event. Hopefully the survivors buy Hybrids. Kirkman and penciller Ryan Ottley keep the plot brisk, using issue #99 as a brief window into the global destruction before launching into some big changes in #100, the least of which is Grayson’s deflating air mattress impersonation.
In a clever twist and giant SPOILER ALERT, Invincible doesn’t lose his head in this milestone, but his confidence; a much more devastating casualty. Dinosaurus switches out Grayson for an unconscious clone and broadcasts Invincible’s faux death so the character can continue to work alongside the misguided baddie, free of heroic obligation. Invincible realizes that despite hundreds of interstellar battles and melodramatic twist endings, he may have superhuman strength and flight, but his judgment is still very human. And he made a huge mistake in partnering with a sociopathic Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Though organic to the plot, one has to ask if knocking a character down a peg is the best way to punctuate ten years of a cult hero’s rise to painstaking altruism. Kirkman took a similar approach in The Walking Dead when protagonist Rick lost his leadership mojo after watching another villain beat the grey matter out of a friend. Gory twists like these sell comics and set up future arcs, but they’re not grand statements within themselves. They’re compelling pretense for future growth at best, and self-aware humility doesn’t scream for a next-issue follow up. As Invincible choreographs the evolution of a superhero in training, doubt is sure to be a prominent theme as it was in the early days of Superboy and Spider-Man, but doesn’t embody the forward thrust that’s propelled this book so well. Kirkman does throw in a last-panel curveball, though it’s one of the most common teasers in mainstream storytelling.
On the art front, Ryan Ottley’s pencils continue to delight. His fluid style borrows more from Disney 2-D animation than any other veteran comic artist, marrying expressive body language with perfect anatomy and versatile layouts. A double-page spread consisting solely of characters reacting to Invincible’s death showcases the sheer range of emotion the artist can convey. Kirkman’s approachable dialogue benefits from this added layer of visual depth, and as long as both continue to work as well as they have for the past decade, Invincible will continue to be a monthly necessity, even with the occasional stumbling block.
Preview image courtesy PopMatters