It’s only been two years, but it feels like ages since Amazon Studios’ animated adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible comic series first dazzled viewers with its gory subversion of the Superman myth and truly brutal depictions of costumed ubermen beating the absolute hell out of each other. After being away for so long, it’d be easy to see Invincible feeling — and this is a little weird to say — behind the times given how closely the show has tended to stick to its 2003 source material and how Hollywood’s gone all in on superhero multiverses.
Surprisingly, though, it’s because Invincible continues to take so many cues from Image’s comics that the show’s second season feels surprisingly of our current moment.
Whereas the Invincible comic series waited to surprise readers with the alarming revelation of Omni-Man’s (J.K. Simmons) true nature, Amazon’s series spelled it out explicitly in its very first episode, and in doing so, made it that much more fascinating to watch his son Mark’s (Steven Yeun) journey to becoming one of the few people capable of facing him in combat. Though season 1 was about more than setting the stage for a big father / son Viltrumite showdown, it definitely felt like the series was really just beginning to gain momentum by getting all of its characters on the same page that viewers had been on from the get-go.
Coming after the season 1 finale and the astonishingly punchy Invincible: Atom Eve special from earlier this year, Invincible definitely feels like it’s pumped the brakes just a bit as its second season opens on Mark and the rest of the world still trying to make sense of how to recover from Omni-Man’s betrayal. Weeks after battling his father, Mark’s physical wounds have healed, and the city of Chicago is well on its way to piecing itself back together after almost being leveled.
Much to the relief of Global Defense Agency head Cecil Stedman (Walton Goggins), the public’s more inclined to get back to their everyday lives in the aftermath of Chicago instead of descending into a full-on panic over the world’s most powerful hero going berserk. But everyone can sense that whatever new kind of “normal” they’re building toward is an uncertain, tenuous one because of how deeply rattled the planet’s remaining heroes like Rex Splode (Jason Mantzoukas), Dupli-Kate (Malese Jow), and Robot (Zachary Quinto) seem to be.
After spending so much of its first season in Mark’s head, Invincible’s second chapter switches things up to a certain extent by giving you much more insight into the fears keeping the Immortal (Ross Marquand) and the new Guardians of the Globe up at night. Similar to the way that Avengers: Endgame took care to front-load its story with emotional devastation to make you feel the loss Marvel’s heroes were fighting back from, Invincible season 2 uses characters like Mark’s mother Deborah (Sandra Oh) and girlfriend Amber (Zazie Beetz) to verbalize some of the deeper disillusionment regular civilians just haven’t quite gotten to yet.
Refreshingly, it’s Deborah through whom Invincible starts to unpack many of its ideas about grappling with profound trauma, and the show smartly frames her turn to group therapy as being analogous to Mark’s insistence on getting back to his secret hero work, even with the public still thinking he’s just a regular high schooler mourning his supposedly dead father.
Similar to Deborah, Invincible’s second season follows Mark into a darkly contemplative space that speaks to Kirkman’s desire to “embrace everything” about classic superhero comic book storytelling. Often, this season feels like a comic as its focus shifts between Mark dealing with the pressures of hiding a secret identity and getting ready for college to his brawls with criminals and inner turmoil about the fact that his father is a genocidal maniac from a planet of racists.
But as large as Invincible’s biggest bad is always looming in the background, this season also makes a point of having a substantial amount of fun by building out a much larger world around its core players with stories pulled more or less from the books. As much of a left turn as it feels when Allen the Alien (executive producer Seth Rogen) pops up, his return both injects some much-needed humor into the story and provides insight into how the events on
Urath Earth reverberate throughout the galaxy.
Like Allen, the arrival of newcomer Angstrom Levy (Sterling K. Brown) at first seems like Invincible’s way of giving you an unexpected respite from the compelling but heavy melodrama of Mark’s life. But there’s a deeper interconnectedness to each of this season’s larger plotlines. And while that sometimes makes it feel comparatively more straightforward and predictable than the last, that isn’t really a bad thing.
Rather than trying to surprise you with huge, unexpected twists, this season really tries to let you sit with the weight of things before piling more on and highlighting how much heavier things have gotten. The show’s still a little shocking — particularly in some of its gorier fight scenes in which folk’s guts are ripped out — but that’s just Invincible being Invincible.
Invincible also stars Andrew Rannells, Chris Diamantopoulos, Grey Griffin, Kevin Michael Richardson, and Khary Payton. The show hits Amazon on November 3rd.