Superheroes and war have always been intertwined. World War II started shortly after Superman popularized the superhero genre, and costumed crusaders were enlisted to join the fight against Axis forces on the page. Superheroes and villains are often tied to the military-industrial complex in some way, and the MCU has had massive success leaning into the militarization of these characters. These stories want to make superheroes look like saviors on the battlefield, and because they’re engineered to have maximum popular appeal, they don’t show the carnage of what superpowered war would really look like. The Boys is an exception that actively engages with the frightening prospect of superhero soldiers, and Invincible once again follows in the footsteps of its Amazon predecessor.
Invincible already proved that it’s not afraid to alienate viewers with graphic violence, so the show doesn’t pull punches when it puts Mark Grayson in the middle of his first alien invasion. There are echoes of Saving Private Ryan in the chaos Invincible witnesses on the ground, where laser beams cut through human flesh and splash him with waves of blood. The heightened violence immediately gets the point across that this is deeply traumatic, but Mark has to push through his overwhelmed mental state so he can take action. And this is all happening shortly after Mark learned that his father is in a coma after surviving an attack that left the world’s preeminent superhero team dead. Nobody said being a superhero was going to be easy, and Mark quickly learns the many difficulties of his new life.
Second episodes do a lot to define the structure of a show, and now that the fundamental exposition of the pilot is out of the way, we see how Invincible will juggle Mark’s superhero and civilian lives along with the bubbling plotline of his father’s villainy. The world of this series is rapidly expanding, and after wiping out one superhero team in the pilot, “Here Goes Nothing” introduces a new one along with the S.H.I.E.L.D.-esque Global Defense Agency. The Teen Team is a group of younger heroes that includes Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs), her boyfriend Rex Splode (Jason Mantzoukas), Dupli-Kate (Malese Jow), and Robot (Zachary Quinto), and they step up to fill the Guardians of the Globe’s absence when the Flaxons invade.
In between the three separate Flaxon battles, Mark’s school life is complicated by his new crush on Eve and a new suitor in Amber (Zazie Beetz), the girl who kicked Mark’s bully in the balls. It’s a very Peter Parker predicament, and Mark now has his own Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane pulling him in different directions. There are some really fun dynamics here. Mark wants the taken Eve, a person his age who understands both sides of having a superhero identity. He can open up to her about his trauma, and she can comfort him from the perspective of someone who’s actually been there. Mark doesn’t have that kind of relationship with Amber, who aggressively pursues Mark after hearing about how he took a beating for her.
While Mark is dealing with the Flaxon invasion and his developing love triangle, the Global Defense Agency is investigating the attack on the Guardians of the Globe. Cecil Stedman (Walton Goggins) is tasked with solving the mystery of who is responsible, and he brings Damien Darkblood (Clancy Brown), the demon detective, on board to piece together events using his supernatural abilities. There’s also a subplot involving Allen the Alien (Seth Rogen, also an executive producer on the series), an evaluation officer for the Coalition of Planets who periodically checks in to make sure there’s someone equipped to protect Earth. Allen shows up when Omni-Man is recovering, so he suggests that Mark take his place, sending his son to take a beating in space.
As a longtime superhero comics fan, I’m always excited by the prospect of a new superhero universe and creators trying to tap into the magic that has made Marvel and DC pop-culture mainstays. I was a teenager just getting into superhero comics when Invincible came out, and was immediately hooked by the clever names and cool designs of these characters. I’m getting that same thrill seeing this world adapted for TV, and with two superhero teams plus oddballs like Damien Dark and Allen the Alien, these first two episodes are a feast for superhero lovers. It’s exciting to get dropped in the middle of a superhero universe already in progress instead of watching it develop like the Marvel and DC cinematic universes, and Simon Racioppa’s script indicates the depth of this world’s history without relying on heavy exposition.
It helps that there’s such an outstanding voice cast delivering the lines. This episode we have one of the all-time great voice actors, Clancy Brown, joining the cast as a demon in a trench coat, and Seth Rogen bringing his goofy charm to an alien heavy hitter. The playful assuredness of Zazie Beetz’s voice makes Amber a very charismatic romantic lead, and even if she doesn’t have Eve’s superpowers, you know she would have no problem keeping up with Mark (much like the dynamic between Mark’s human mother and alien father). The casting for Eve and Rex is especially fun considering the actors’ previous roles. Gillian Jacobs’s Community character, Britta, had a severe hero complex without the competence to achieve even minor victories, and she gets to flip those dynamics with Eve, who is extremely skilled but considerably more emotionally detached. And after making a career for himself playing hotheads, Mantzoukas voices a blowhard whose entire schtick is making things explode, a physical manifestation of the actor’s bombastic energy.
I’m used to superhero cartoons being 22 minutes, maybe a half hour, and while Invincible justifies its extended running time by filling the episode with plot, it’s overstuffed to a point where the pacing takes a hit. The Flaxon invasion is repetitive, and while there’s a clear distinction between each of the phases — Marks meets the Teen Team, Mark fights with the Teen Team, Omni-Man saves the day — you get all of that plus the Guardians’ murder investigation plus Mark at school plus the Teen Team intro plus Allen the Alien plus one more Omni-Man rampage. This episode is bloated in a way the first, which moves more swiftly by keeping the focus on the Grayson family and Mark’s solo experience discovering his powers, is not.
With Omni-Man unconscious for most of the episode, Mark and Debbie get a lot of emotional moments together. Debbie’s first scene is a highlight, showing her drifting through her morning routine in silence without her husband. It pulls the viewer back into a recognizable domestic atmosphere after the opening sets up a superhero murder non-mystery, and as more fantastic elements are brought into the series, the more I appreciate Debbie’s presence as an emotional anchor. You can really feel Nolan’s absence in this scene, which establishes how much energy and enthusiasm Debbie gets from her husband. There’s an extra layer of sadness here because we know that Nolan is a remorseless murderer, and this scene shows a scenario where Debbie’s perfect super-hubbie doesn’t exist. Because in reality, he doesn’t.
Debbie has always been in the support role for her husband, and she’s ready to be that for her son, especially when his father is out of commission. And Mark needs it after feeling an old woman’s bones crush in his arms after a high-impact crash landing. The over-the-shoulder shot of Mark hurtling through the air captures the disorientation and panic he’s experiencing in that moment, and the reveal of the woman’s mangled body at the bottom of a crater accentuates the horrifying imprint this image leaves on Mark’s psyche. Steven Yeun plays that shock and sorrow with deep sensitivity, and Sandra Oh responds with the warmth and affection he needs. We also get to see some more fire from Oh this week as Debbie argues with GDA agents who get between her and her husband, and even though she’s in a supportive role, it’s not a passive one. That’s a big reason Lois Lane is such a compelling superhero partner, and Invincible carries that quality over to its Lois analog.
As for the show’s superhero analog? Well … he wakes up from his coma and destroys an alien planet. After saving Invincible and the Teen Team from the Flaxons, Omni-Man travels through one of their portals so he can make things very clear: “Earth isn’t yours to conquer.” He then goes nuclear in a sequence that ups his already high threat level, showing what happens when he sets his sights on a bigger target than seven measly superheroes. The monochromatic red palette adds a sense of bloodthirstiness to the destruction, and the scope gets bigger and bigger over the course of the attack, eventually reaching a zoomed-out view from space revealing how quickly Omni-Man takes out entire cities and an orbiting satellite. The people of Earth are completely screwed if Omni-Man decides that he wants them to bow to his will, and if he’s murdering the planet’s protectors, he’s taking out any potential opposition to his plan, whatever that may be.