A Bloody Mess

Invincible: Season 2, Part 1

It has been quite some time since we saw anything from Invincible. The Amazon PrimeWhile Netflix might be the largest streaming seervice right now, other major contenders have come into the game. One of the biggest, and best funded, is Amazon Prime, the streaming-service add-on packing with free delivery and all kinds of other perks Amazon gives its members. And, with the backing of its corporate parent, this streaming service very well could become the market leader. series, based on the comic book series of the same name, premiered all the back in March of 2021, and after its initial run of eight episodes, it disappeared. COVID, of course, had some play in that, as did a long production schedule for the series. It was a long enough gap that when Amazon put out the teaser trailer for the second season, it was just a gag of two of the characters (Invincible himself and Allen and Alien) talking about how long a gap it had been since the previous season. Sure, Amazon did help to get people interested in the next season by putting out the “Atom Eve” special a few months earlier, but all things considered, March of 2021 to November of 2023 is nearly a three year gap and that’s a long time to expect any fanbase to stick around.

And then, when the show comes back, it’s only for half a season. Four episodes, with a cliffhanger, to tide us over until the next dump of episodes… whenever that is. So far the date stated is “Early 2024”, but we’re in early 2024 and still no word on the date. Again, that’s a lot to make fans wade through for the show. Make no mistake, the episodes are good and the series is still firing well, when it gets to fire. But if there’s any complaint to be had about Invincible it’s that the show isn’t giving us enough content to stay connected to the characters, the world, or the major storylines. Not with how few episodes we’ve received.

Well, okay, the other issue with the show is that it’s supremely over-the-top with its violence. I don’t dislike violence, and this show is a cartoon so some of the edge is taken out of the sloppy, goopy gore (and there’s a lot of sloppy, goopy gore on this show), but it is still a lot. It was a lot in the comics and the complaint here could certainly be applied there, too. The violence, though, highlights a weird disconnect with this show, and so many other programs put out by Hollywood year after year: violence is just fine but anything else mature (specifically sex) is verboten. You simply can’t have adults finding adult time together and depict it on screen.

Case in point, this season our lead, Mark Grayson (aka, Invincible), loses his virginity. In this episode, which has a lot of bloody, goopy, gory violence in it, we cut away from Mark and his girlfriend so they can do their thing, and it’s done as a joke. “Haha, we can’t show that so let’s go and have an adventure with Allen the Alien.” But then Allen the Alien gets together with his girlfriend, and they go off to have sex and we have to cut away from that. But just a couple of scenes later, Allen is beaten to a pulp, limbs torn off, eye bashed out, organs ripped from his body. I get that the comic did the same thing, with the publisher being unwilling to show sex (if the creators were even wanting it in there), but this is an Amazon show where anything could be depicted and we still have to cover our mouth, and eyes, and go “we can’t have sex in this mature show!” Really?

Allen’s (near) death (because, spoilers, in the comics he manages to come back from this brutal attack) is just one of the many, many, oh so many examples of over-the-top violence in this show. It’s with bright colors, and feels like a Silver Age show in many ways, but it, like the comic, is very violence and, at times, even seems to glorify this violence. It’s weird because I wouldn’t consider this show any more violent than, say, The Boys but that show has a message about the violence it’s depicting, the horror of what it’s showing. It goes edgy because that helps to enhance the story and it never feels like it’s glorifying it. Invincible feels glorified, like the violence it there to cover for a story that wouldn’t know how to exist without it. There’s no real message (none beyond “If Superman wanted to conquer us, we’d be conquered”), but it still goes hard on the gore and violence. It’s weird and gives me pause simply because I can’t really figure out why. The characters don’t really cuss, they can’t have on screen sex or nudity, so they have to exist like they’re following the rules of the Comics Code… and then blood and organs and flesh fly everywhere and there’s a tonal dissonance that can’t quite align itself.

Thing is, I actually like the story the show is trying to get to. The show (as with its first season) is cruising through a lot of the comic’s story very quickly (at an accelerated pace in comparison to the issues). Thus, we’re already deep into the storyline of the Viltrumites (the powerful alien race that also counts Omniman as one of their number) looking to conquer Earth. Omniman (J.K. Simmons) was supposed to be their envoy, but he then fled Earth after a battle with his son, Mark / Invincible (Steven Yeun), leaving Mark as the most powerful hero on Earth. After grieving the loss of his father, and the realization his father was actually a villain, Mark tries to go back to being a hero. But something is missing, something that makes him feel like he’s really doing the right thing, that he can make up for all that his father did.

He decides, eventually, to go work for the Pentagon, under the watchful eye of Cecil Stedman (Walton Goggins). Here he can report to someone and, unlike his father, actually have accountability for his actions. But then one mission after another keeps putting him at odds with Cecil, forcing him to decide between the mission and what feels right. It’s the same kind of conundrum his father used to have when Omniman coordinated with Cecil (something Cecil mentions time and again), and legitimately it might just be that Mark can’t be controlled any more than his father could. So the question is if he has his heart in the right place or if he could end up just like his father. And when the Viltrumites come back, can Mark stand against them or will he have to be their envoy, just like his father.

So along with the violence of the show (which we’ve already harped on), the other major flaw of the show is that anything outside of Mark’s storyline feels like a distraction. Because of how fast this show is moving, and the amount of plot it’s trying to cover from the comics, all the B-plots from the comics are breezed past quickly. There’s a running story about the Guardians of the Globe – The Immortal (Ross Marquand), Rudy / Robot (Ross Marquand and Zachary Quinto), Rex Splode (Jason Mantzoukas), Dupli-Kate (Malese Jow), Shrinking Rae (Grey Griffin), Monster Girl (Grey Griffin), and Black Samson (Khary Payton) – trying to come together and work as a team after the previous Guardians were all torn apart by Omniman. This would work better as a storyline if we got enough time with them. There’s the back-half of one episode, and then a couple of scenes, but for the most part I don’t feel like I know any more about these characters now than I did at the start of the season. The show doesn’t really build them up well in a way that works for the overall story. Where are they going? How do they time into the coming Viltrumite invasion? We don’t know because the show doesn’t give them enough time (or enough episodes in this half season) to show us.

Mark’s mom also has a storyline about her loss. She was the wife of Omniman and (at the end of the first season) he said she wasn’t really a wife to him. “More like a pet.” Between how he casually dismissed her, and the damage he did on his way out, she feels a lot of guilt. It’s understandable, and I like the character development given to her in this department. The problem here is that, again, because we only get half a season here, it’s hard to know how any of this will tie into the overarching story. It doesn’t resolve itself here (she’s only just deciding how she will move on at the end of the four episodes we do get), but she certainly doesn’t tie into the grand storyline. Not yet. It’s all table setting without follow up for this chunk of episodes.

I think that really illustrates the big issue here: Amazon wanted to get these episodes out so they could answer the calls of fans wondering where Invincible was. Three years (or nearly that) is a long time to go between seasons and there’s no doubt someone really dropped the ball here in getting this show produced and out the door. So to tide fans over and build buzz they dropped four of the episodes for fans. The four episodes you have to assume were done, just to sate everyone and keep the buzz going. But this chunk is only half the story, and barely that. It’s not enough to resolve anything, even in the B- or C-plots the show raises. They want to get us excited for the Viltrumite invasion. I get that. Four episodes barely even builds to that.

It would have been better to wait and get the whole season out. To give us a whole story without any waiting. At this point, by the time the next chunk of episodes comes out I’ll have forgotten a bunch of the details from this first half… like I did when I had to remember everything that took place three years prior during the first season. The pacing of these releases is bad, and Amazon really should have done better. As a fan, I think this series still works (even if its politics around sex and violence are really weird and immature) but for anyone that hasn’t already watched these episodes: don’t. Just wait until the rest of the season is out and then enjoy it all at once. I’m sure it’ll be a much better viewing experience.