Invincible S1E1: “It’s About Time” and It’s About Fathers

Invincible admires his new suit.

The following contains spoilers for both Invincible S1E1 and the Invincible comic book.

Almost 20 years after its debut, the blood-spattered superhero comic Invincible by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), Corey Walker, and Ryan Ottley is getting a worthy adaptation on Amazon Prime. To quote the title of S1E1, exclaimed by the the eponymous Invincible Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), “it’s about time!”

S1E1 starts off with the Guardians of the Globe staving off an attack on the White House by the Mauler Twins, two hulking geniuses who can’t remember which one of them is the original and which is a clone. We’re also introduced to a new character original to the show named Steve (Jon Hamm), a security guard with a previously troubled stepson. The Guardians are joined by a Superman-esque character named Omni-man (J.K. Simmons), who is not formally part of the group but helps out when he’s needed. The group repels the Mauler Twins’ attack fairly easily, with little property damage and few civilian injuries.

It feels like an odd choice to start with a brand new character and the Guardians of the Globe. The action in the scene is good, and while Omni-man is a major character, he isn’t the show’s protagonist and this version of the Guardians don’t play a major role in either the comic or the show (as we’ll talk about later). According to IMDb at the time of writing, Jon Hamm’s Steve is only in the first and second episodes, so he might not play a much bigger role in the show either. I suspect that much like the episode’s closing scene, which happens earlier than it does in the comics, the opening scene is meant to hook in the audience so it doesn’t get bored by starting out with a powerless teenager sitting on the toilet. That said, I’m not sure that starting S1E1 with a lengthy scene (about nine minutes) without your protagonist and with very few characters that will play large parts is the right choice either.

Including the Guardians of the Globe at the beginning does provide us with a little more time with the thinly-veiled Justice League parody, which essentially only shows up to be murdered in the comic. This may be a meta-complaint, since I knew from the start that the Guardians’ days were numbered—the writers could have expected that the opening scene would set up expectations for someone that wasn’t familiar with the comics that would be subverted by the ending of the episode.

Mark Grayson as Invincible flies through the air. Behind him is a city skyline. He is wearing his iconic yellow and blue costume.

While Mark doesn’t appear in the opening scene, many of the themes that will be integral to the show do, including the relationships between fathers and their children. Steve is the stepfather to Matt, who used to have trouble with stealing and drugs. The comic features many instances of complicated father-child, step-family, and father figure dynamics. Steve reflects these themes, lamenting that he wasn’t able to teach Matt to ride a bike or throw a ball, but that when Matt graduates it’ll be as his son.

After the threat to the White House is averted, we’re finally introduced to Mark Grayson, the soon-to-be titular Invincible. Mark is a high schooler and Omni-man’s son. Even though he likely should have gotten them already, Mark is still waiting to develop his powers. The audience is treated to the first real instance of Mark living in his father’s shadow, with Mark’s friend William telling him “I’m not Omni-man, and neither are you” when Mark steps in to confront a fellow student named Todd that is harassing a classmate named Amber. We’re also treated to the first of what is likely many instances where Mark gets the crap kicked out of him, but he is able to distract Todd enough for Amber to send Todd running.

Later that night, Mark discovers that his powers have kicked in when he sends a trash bag into orbit instead of the dumpster while at work. His dad initially doesn’t seem happy that Mark is getting his powers for reasons that will become more clear as the series goes on, but at the prodding of Mark’s mom Debbie (Sandra Oh), he pretends to be enthusiastic and promises to start training him the following day. Instead of simply learning to ride a bike or throw a ball—activities that Steve lamented missing out on with his stepson—Nolan/Omni-man teaches Mark to fly and has him throw a ball around the circumference of the world.

That night, Mark is restless. We get a flashback to an iconic and oft-echoed scene from the comic where Nolan tells Mark about the planet Viltrum, itself echoing “the talk” that is a staple of early puberty. The show tones down some of the comic’s more obvious subtext of cultural imperialism that is present even in this idealized version of Viltrum’s history, leaving out passages like “Council members argued that rather than revel in our newfound perfection, we should take it upon ourselves to ensure that other races, lesser developed than our own, should be allowed to develop to our level of advancement.”

Through the course of Mark’s training with his father, we begin to see some inconsistencies in his father’s demeanor, including more of a temper than he has shown to this juncture. At one point when he demonstrates punching, he hits Mark harder than he intended. Later, when the pair arrive home and Mark is clearly upset with his father, Nolan snaps at Debbie when she asks if he pushed Mark too far. As he did when he hit Mark, Nolan apologizes, explaining that “Mark got his powers so late, I wasn’t prepared for this. It changes things. I can’t help but think, maybe our lives would be better if he hadn’t gotten them at all.”

Mark Grayson stands/flies in front of his father. His dad is holding a baseball and wearing a baseball glove. The ball is smoking, having been thrown around the Earth.

Later, in an attempt to blow off steam, Mark puts together a makeshift costume and foils a getaway following a bank heist. Despite stopping the robbers, his dad is critical of Mark’s handling of the situation, telling him he doesn’t think he’s ready yet. The training sequence from the day before comes full circle with Mark begging Nolan to hit him, telling his father “I’m strong enough, and I can do this. It’s all that I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember. I want to do what you do. I want to be just like you.”

These sequences, along with the opening scene where Steve talks about his stepson, set up the dominant theme of both the comic and the show: Mark’s relationship to Nolan, and by extension, the relationship between all fathers and their children. I feel like it’s an important distinction that it isn’t exclusively the relationship between fathers and sons; at various parts of the comic, daughters, stepchildren, and other forms of extended and blended families play a large role. The characters often have to deal with living in their parents’ shadow, for better or for worse, while still finding their own place in the world. More often than not, they also struggle to reconcile the relationships they want with their father with the sometimes terrible things that their father has done. 

The theme is further expanded upon in a lovely scene between Mark and Debbie later in the episode. After practicing his flying and landing (resulting in several craters in the backyard), Debbie confronts Mark and tells him to go inside and go to sleep. Knowing that there’s little she can do to stop him, Mark very darkly tells her to make him, to which a stunned Debbie replies “Does that make you feel strong? To know I can’t physically make you do something, is that what you need?” After Mark replies by saying how important he feels what he’s doing is, Debbie deftly navigates the situation. But the conversation still comes back around to Omni-man, and how Mark doesn’t feel like he can live up to the great things that his father has done. While Debbie makes feel better about himself (despite him repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth by saying things like “I’m more like you, I’m nothing special”), the scene still isn’t really about her, but rather the same father/child dynamic that we’ve been discussing. That said, I do hope that we get more strong Debbie scenes. In the comic, she also has trouble at times escaping from Nolan’s shadow. While this particular scene may have fallen a bit short of being about her, it was still a nice showcase of her strength, wit, and compassion.

Of course, one of the biggest questions going into the series was when the Big Reveal would happen, and it ends up being in an extended mid-credit scene in the pilot episode: Omni-man ambushes and brutally kills the Guardians of the Globe. The reveal happens almost identically to the way it does in the comic, with the exception that in the show the Guardians at least put up a fight, whereas in the comic Omni-man dispatches them within a few frames with little effort. In a note at the end of the Invincible Compendium Vol. 3, Kirkman says that he had to move the reveal up from Issue 25 to Issue 7 to hook the audience’s interest and stave off cancellation, and I’m sure similar considerations were made with moving the reveal to the end of S1E1.

Invincible flies close to a skyscraper.

While I understand the reasoning for putting the reveal in S1E1, I think I would have liked it more if they would have waited a little longer. When the killer is revealed in Twin Peaks or the audience learns what’s happening in WandaVision, the audience is able to return to the shows with a new appreciation, spotting the subtle clues and taking away a new understanding in the characters’ actions that mean something different in their new context. Moving the reveal forward doesn’t eliminate those opportunities, but it definitely limits them. While the writers likely felt that they didn’t have that option, I think it would have added a lot to the show.

While we don’t get the answer to The Immortal’s dying question of “why” in this episode, the answer is likely obvious at this point of this article: the cultural imperialism of the Viltrum Empire is actual imperialism. The comics explain that Nolan wasn’t sent to Earth to improve and protect it, he was sent there to prepare it to be conquered. The development of Mark’s powers accelerated the timetable, hence his thought that their lives would have been better if Mark had never gotten his powers. This revelation and its aftermath drive almost everything that follows in the comic, and likely will drive the show as well.

For a comic that writer Kurt Busiek describes in his introduction to Volume 1 as “a superhero book that loves being a superhero book, one that isn’t out to deconstruct or expose or undermine or scathingly satirize,” the comic actually regularly subverts superhero conventions. The protagonist’s two parents are very much alive (and one is actually very much the problem), Invincible regularly gets beaten up, everyone within the diegesis is aware of how terrible the one-liners are, and a lot of battles are resolved by just talking about them instead of punching. The tension between these subversions and an unabashed love of superheroes, action, and what can only be described as awesomeness was what made the comic book feel fresh and unexpected. S1E1 showed a similar deft balance between action, camp, and weighty themes, and I’m excited to see where the show goes from here.

Written by Nick Luciano

Nick Luciano received a Master’s in Music Theory from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. An avid film fan, Nick loves Tarkovsky, Tartakovsky, Tchaikovsky, and everything in between (stylistically that is, not alphabetically).

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