Does Mark Grayson really want to be a superhero after almost getting pummeled to death? Yeah, there’s that whole power and responsibility thing, but maybe there’s another option for him. Other people go to college, Mark can do that instead. He can go to Upstate University with Will and Amber and not have his insides smeared on the face of a lion barbarian from outer space. “You Look Pretty Dead” is a cooldown episode after last week’s brutal superhero beatdown, and while the injured Guardians of the Globe recover, Mark explores an alternative to the Invincible life. But even in the world of higher education, Mark can’t escape the blue and yellow costume.
Upstate University has a world-class pre-med program, and one of its students, D.A. Sinclair (Ezra Miller) is a mad scientist abducting his classmates and turning them into cyborgs, his engineering solution to presumed failings in mankind’s construction. Mark’s best friend, Will (Andrew Rannells), has been in the background for most of Invincible’s first five episodes, but he takes on a much bigger role in “You Look Pretty Dead,” driving Mark and Amber to Upstate U so he can see his new beau, Rick (Jonathan Groff), a hunky alpha male with a great ass. That alpha male quality puts Rick in Sinclair’s crosshairs, and Mark has to choose between helping Will or repairing his relationship with Amber.
I’ve watched a lot of superhero cartoons in my lifetime, and gay representation is not a priority for many of those shows, especially ones based on established IP. Will spends the entirety of the car ride gushing about his feelings for Rick, and there’s nothing remotely othered about his sexuality. When we meet Rick, the animation zooms in on his butt as he’s carrying luggage, and its refreshing to see a superhero explicitly engage with gay desire. Will comes to Rick’s rescue when he’s attacked, and when Rick becomes a cyborg himself, Will uses the memory of their summer sex by the lake to activate Rick’s emotions and turn the tide of the fight. Andrew Rannells’ voice work captures the intensity of Will’s emotions for his crush, as well as his excitement when he finds out his best friend is a superhero, a development that significantly deepens Will’s importance in the narrative.
There’s also considerable queer subtext in Eve’s storyline this week, which has her taking the first steps to an independent future separate from both her parents and her superhero colleagues. Eve’s time at the community center opened her eyes to what she can really do for the world beyond stop aliens and criminals. She’s going to save people by helping them: irrigate deserts, stop national disasters, bring food to the starving. She has the power to really make a difference, and she doesn’t need college to do it. The queer subtext is strongest in the scene where Eve leaves her parents’ home. Her father wants her to live a “normal” life, and worries that being a superhero is going to get her killed. The day she got her powers was the worst day of his life, and much of this will sound familiar to queer viewers with unsupportive parents.
Once Eve leaves home, she’s able to tap into her full potential. She creates a very cool treehouse for herself, and flies around the world doing all the things she told Mark she would do with her powers. The montage of Eve in action is very peppy and bright, but I’ve learned not to trust that feeling when it comes to this show. I’m very curious to see how Eve’s story will develop, and whether there’s a negative consequence to her godlike power. She’s interfering with nature on an atomic level, and I feel like there are going to be consequences for that.
Eve is proactively finding new ways to help the world with her powers while Mark is looking for a way out, and Amber is a big part of that exit strategy. Amber is willing to give Mark another chance after finding out he was “hit by a bus,” and the start of their campus trip is perfect couple stuff, giving Mark a taste of the life he could have if he was just an ordinary student. But paradise is interrupted by killer cyborgs, forcing Mark to disappear in the middle of the action so he can show up as Invincible and save the day. The action in this episode underwhelms after the creatively choreographed fight scenes last week, and even though the cyborgs don’t have a spectacular power set, the hand-to-hand combat could be more exciting.
Because Amber doesn’t know that Mark is a superhero, she just sees a coward who once again is nowhere to be found when she needs him. Mark loses Amber because he’s not willing to share his superhero identity, and that should be a dealbreaker. The trope of superheroes hiding their identities from their romantic partners is outdated and tired, and fans of the genre have seen many variations on the Mark/Amber drama through the years. There’s so much more drama to be mined from the complications being a superhero creates when both parties know about it, and removes the element of distrust from the relationship, giving it a stronger foundation.
We see those complications in Nolan and Debbie, who have a different kind of distrust poisoning their marriage. An empty nest is a big test for parents, who no longer have their child around to unify them. Nolan and Debbie’s relationship doesn’t even last past Mark’s college tour, and while her son’s away, Debbie has her worst fears confirmed when she takes the Omni-Man costume to its tailor. I don’t understand why Nolan held onto a costume covered in evidence, but getting rid of it would have also driven suspicion. Basically, Nolan sucks at covering up mass murder, and his half-assed attempt to blame Damien Darkblood isn’t fooling anyone. His wife knows the truth, and she’s beyond disgusted with him. Their marriage is most likely done at the end of this episode, and there’s a great shot of Nolan framed in the hole he just punched in the wall, emphasizing how his decisions have destroyed the domestic life he had and left him alone. He looks pretty sad, but will his emotions keep him from taking over the planet? Probably not.
The new Guardians of the Globe are in recovery mode this week, so there’s not much happening there. The injured team members both pull through: Monster Girl survives because of Robot’s devotion to her, and Black Samson is mysteriously revived by some sort of energy when he’s on the brink of death. Robot is still working with the Mauler twins to grow a superhero clone, and they want to know more about what he’s planning. The mid-credits scene has the Mauler twins sneaking up on two teenagers digging up the Immortal’s grave, and if the twins are gathering up superhero tissue, they just struck gold. The addition this week of another character experimenting with human bodies leads me to believe that all of these threads are going to converge in a big way down the line. It’s unlikely that Cecil and the GDA will let an asset like D.A. Sinclair waste away in a jail cell when they can be using his mind to create biomechanical soldiers that could potentially take out a Viltrumite if there are enough of them. Omni-Man isn’t going to stay under the radar for much longer, and Earth needs to be prepared.