The following review is based on the first four episodes of Invincible Season 2.
As Marvel TV shows struggle to maintain quality and DC movies try to maintain interest, Prime Video continues to go strong, following up Gen V with season 2 of Invincible. Funnier than the Snyder-verse, kinder-hearted than The Boys, but still fouler-mouthed and more violent than the MCU, the Image Comics adaptation continues to strike an impressive balance, borrowing many of the elements you like from other super-sagas without wasting time on those you don’t.
Invincible season 2 kicks off with its version of the Snyder-verse’s proposed future: Invincible (Steven Yeun) has seemingly turned heel, reduced major cities to rubble, and now stands beside his mass-murdering father Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), ready to subdue or massacre the human race in preparation for conquest by the Viltrumites, who are this show’s version of Kryptonians if their planet hadn’t blown up, and they were assholes.
Are we seeing a glimpse of the future? A dream? An alternate reality? A little of column A, some of column B? All that needs to be said for now is that for those who know their comics (and the adaptations of same), Invincible this season riffs on both the Multiverse saga and the Injustice universe…as well as the Aquaman movie, the Serpent Society, Martian Manhunter, and much more.
Yet it’s never just a reference-fest – the emotional arc this season is very much one of recovery. Omni-Man’s reveal as a villain, and subsequent leaving of the planet, has left son Mark/Invincible aimless and off his game, while Mark’s mother Debbie (Sandra Oh) spirals into deep depression upon realizing her 20-year marriage was mostly a fraud, with her super-husband seeing her as no more than a pet. If this notion makes you wonder if Omni-Man likes sex with pets in general, let’s just say you’ll learn more about his preferences this season than you may want to know.
Mark’s also starting college – all his friends are conveniently attending the same one – but so far, that just seems to be there so we don’t miss obvious metaphors. Now with no responsible parents, and an employer in the government who may not have his best interests in mind, Invincible must figure out who he really is and what he stands for. He can also have sex now, which doesn’t get too graphic, and continue to engage in fights that leave him bruised and spitting blood, which does. The particularly brutal superhero knock-down drag-outs play like a combination of Mortal Kombat and Peter Griffin versus the giant chicken on Family Guy. They’re kind of Invincible’s signature thing now.
This season’s new big bad looks to be Angstrom Levy (Sterling K. Brown), who’s basically the Invincible-verse version of Kang/Victor Timely. Ostensibly a pacifist who wants to share the best innovations of every multiversal dimension, he soon finds out that the grudges held by some of his variants are too strong to ignore. Meanwhile, the Viltrumites are far from finished with Mark and his father, and those amusingly goofy clone Mauler Twins (Kevin Michael Richardson) are still torn between working as henchmen and doing their own crimes.
The heroic Guardians find themselves under new leadership, while Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs) learns the hard way that being a freelance super do-gooder who cuts through all the bureaucratic red tape has its downsides. Indeed, Invincible season 2 may be the first action-based work of fiction in the modern era to suggest that governmental regulations, however slowing and frustrating, are actually a net good because they keep things safer.
Despite this animated show’s gallons of blood, it’s still a little jarring to hear the F-word uttered so often, especially in a show that pointedly cuts away from its own sex scenes to avoid cartoon nudity. Obviously, this isn’t The Boys, but it’s weirdly unclear what lines can and can’t be crossed. Sometimes, the swears feel natural, like someone really is at their rope’s end; others, when it comes across as just a line-reading, feel thrown in just to up the rating. One wonders if they can use it in a sexual context, and one suspects not. Hell, this is a show that gets leeway to show a date between two adult characters stuck in child bodies, and compromises probably had to be made to allow even the implications of what could ensue there.
The show takes a moment to specifically spell out that Debbie is the real hero for getting through this crazy world with no super-gifts. That’s adulthood. Mark’s path, however, is the journey to that – just when you think you’ve gotten new gifts and skills to better take on the world, the world (and in this case, the universe) finds harder, tougher things to throw back at you. The super-fights, in the moment, are often played for over-the-top-ridiculousness, but the pathos underlying the rest of the show is rooted in the notion that you may have to take constant beatings in life, and the way you react to them is what matters. Even Omni-Man can still change, as it appears he’s going to get the full Walking Dead/Negan antihero turn.
It’s the heart that will keep Invincible compulsive watching – too many superhero shows and movies forget to be actually about something relatable amid the madness. (Can anyone say for sure what the theme of Loki is this time around?) WandaVision had its “love persevering” – Invincible is just about persevering, period. For most of us viewers, that’s the heroism of everyday life.
Invincible Season 2 debuts Nov. 3 on Prime Video