Comic Review: Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume 1-6


These reviews were written between the July 2012 and June 2013 for the In the Mouth of Dorkness blog.  I recently reread Volume 6 to get things fresh in my mind, because I’m planning to finish the series in the near future.  I’ve edited and modified them a bit for this re-posting.

Volume 1

Like a lot of readers, I came to Robert Kirkman through The Walking Dead.  Somewhere around the release of the 4th or 5th trade paperback, I picked up volume 1 and began consuming it voraciously.  It’s a dark, brutal, sad, and relentless series, but well written. Over the years, I saw a few other Kirkman titles, read a couple random bits, but still knew him mostly through his zombie epic.  And honestly, Invincible never captured my interest.  How many caped crusaders and spandex clad heroes do we need?  The character himself reminded me of Spider-Man, who has never been a personal favorite.  However, I kept hearing good things.

I finally broke down and checked it out, and I’m glad of it.  There is a certain Spider-Man vibe about the series. A young guy deals with high school and college issues, while discovering his own skills and powers.  It’s clearly inspired by the 60s ‘Silver Age’ comics. Unlike most of those, it’s well written and well thought out. The villains and other heroes are interesting, and they have lives outside of their hero/villain roles.  The matter of fact way everyone lives in a world with superheroes is very charming.

It is striking how the comic feels fairly ‘all ages’ …until it doesn’t.  As I was reading it, I was thinking how it would make a great introductory series for younger readers…then a brutal, bloody, graphic murder happened, and I changed my mind.  Even with that, it’s not so extreme that teens couldn’t handle it, and the series really is quite good. There are plenty of interesting twists and turns and some surprise outcomes.

The art is quite good if often simplistic, and the switch from the first artist to the second is seamless.  The coloring by Bill Crabtree gives it that vibrant 60s look, too. The character design is great, with equal doses funny and cool.  And there are lots of nerd references. Obvious ones, like the Guardians of the Globe being the Justice League, and those aliens from the beginning of issue 9 being the Star Trek: Next Gen crew.  But there are also subtler ones, like the Science Dog poster that looks like Tom Strong.  And then there are gags like the trash bag landing in London or the thing about re-using comic panels to save time.  Gold.

While reading this, I feel like I’m enjoying some of the excitement and expectation that my older comic reading friends must have experienced in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s reading X-Men, Spider-Man, The Flash, or what have you.  I don’t have to be completely versed in decades of mythology to enjoy and understand it.  I’m seeing a new mythology built from the ground up, like those earlier readers.

Volume 2

The series is in full swing by the beginning of this volume, with Invincible in place as one of Guardians of the Globe and lots of threads being woven into the story.  Invincible’s mom is having some trouble; there’s a dimension hopper working on a crazy project; Robot’s got a secret; there’s trouble on Mars; Allen the Alien gets some lovin’…and a beating; and the Immortal is still an ass.

The thing that continues to impress me about this comic is its balance between old school Silver Age fun and excitement, and a more modern sense of grim danger and complex character interactions.  Our hero, Mark, is a typical awkward teenager heading off to college. As Invincible, however, he’s a godlike figure trying very hard to do what’s right. Unfortunately, sometimes things go very wrong.  Sure, there are comic misadventures like being betrothed to the fishy queen of the ocean and protecting astronauts from some shape-changers on Mars. But there’s also the looming thread of his father’s people, a whole race of Superman-like beings, bent on total domination.  And there’s that A-hole science major trying to make his Reanimen, killing machines that use parts of local student bodies.

The artwork is colorful and fresh, giving it the feeling of a light entertainment, which makes some of the horrible violence just that much more shocking when it happens.  I really love the look of the outer space and other planet parts. I can’t wait to see more of that, and there’s clearly more coming as problems outside of the Earth’s sphere are starting to heat up.  I’ve got a feeling some pretty big cosmic events are in the works.

Knowing that this series is still ongoing, and that just to catch up with where it’s at now, I’ve got five more of these weighty volumes, is kind of exciting.  I know I have lots of time with these characters and stories. Well, maybe not with the characters, as Kirkman likes to kill people off left and right. But with the stories, anyway.  If you’re any kind of fan of Superhero comics, you should check out Invincible.

Volume 3

Though shorter than the previous two volumes, this is still packed with Invincible goodness.  More crazy reveals, more returning villains (and one I don’t think is coming back), and big changes for Mark, his mom, his team, and more.

This volume has once again sparked my interest in Viltrumites and what kind of hell they’re going to bring when they eventually turn their eyes on Earth.  The cosmic stuff in this series has a lot of potential. And there’s more with dimension hopping, so I’ll be curious to see what they do with that.

The slow build of various subplots continues to impress.  Though it never goes away, the Reanimen take a back seat for this volume, but I get the idea that plot will be coming to a head soon.  Some of the weird things being hinted at about Robot are revealed (gross). And of course, everyone’s favorite blue, muscle-bound, super-genius clones are back for more bellicose science.  And Science Dog!!!

Long time comic fans should definitely be reading this.  Or, if you’re like me, and kept wanting to enjoy Silver Age comics, but just can’t get past how crappy they are (you don’t need to describe the action happening in the panel, Stan, that’s what the artist is there for!), this is the comic for you.  It’s like Spider-Man, The Flash, or Silver Surfer…but good.  It is, however, not for the young ones.  This volume features more of the ultra-bloody ultra-violence.  It remains a must read.

Volume 4

   Man, this series just keeps getting better.  Mark has been having a rough time of it. School isn’t going well, his girlfriend is drifting away, his dad is probably dead (and that may be a good thing), he keeps getting sent into space, and ultra-powerful forces keep threatening to kill him or the ones he loves.  And maybe I’m just reading into things, but I think Mark is starting to crack, to show more signs of his father’s side than just the superpowers. I think he’s building to a rage explosion, but we’ll have to wait for further volumes to find out.

I was very happy to see Allen the Alien get some more time in this issue.  I have a feeling he’ll be playing a bigger part in the days to come. Something crazy is going on with him, and he’s learning some deeper truths about the organization he works for.  Whatever is going on out in space is clearly building to something, with the Viltrumites and…other things. There’s also that pesky Martian parasite thing. And it will take key members of the Guardians of the Glob working together to stop their invasion.  And those idiots of the Lizard League are up to no good. And what about Mark’s new brother and his cute tutor? Trouble ahead, no doubt.

Each volume makes me feel more and more bad for Atom Eve.  She may have tremendous power (seriously, her superpowers are amazing), but she just can’t catch a break on the relationship side of things.  It seems like every time she shows up, she gets emotionally traumatized. Brutal. One of these days, she’ll find love. I have a bad feeling it might be with Invincible, and I have a bad feeling Invincible’s loved ones aren’t going to have a good time of it.

Ryan Ottley’s art has improved over the volumes.  He has a good handle on all the characters and along with Kirkman’s scripts seems to be reaching out creatively and exploring new ground, be that with people and environments, or with panel design.  And as always, there’s quite a bit of art in the back of the book, showing different takes on images, con sketches, etc. Now I kind of want to get an Ottley sketch.

Volume 5

  What is it I keep saying?  Oh, yeah. Invincible is the best superhero comic on the market.  That’s right. And the more I read, the more I think that’s true. This fifth volume in the Ultimate Collection sees some major changes in Mark’s life.  A falling out with a trusted friend, deepening romance, trouble with his brother, and oh, man, the Mauler Twins.  The Mauler Twins!!!…So much blood. So much gore. And like previous volumes, there’s plenty of foreground story, with hints of longer running threads woven in through the background.  What’s all this with Titan? Something has been building with that guy for a long time. What’s his deal? He seems like a pretty good dude, for an underworld boss. Why’s everybody messing with him?

The problem I keep running into with this series isn’t actually a problem really.  It’s that feeling you don’t get when reading Marvel or DC. It’s that feeling that nobody is safe, and things won’t be back to normal in an issue or two.  I’m pretty sure my favorite villains are dead. Like dead, dead. Not, gonna show up in another couple issues dead (as of volume 7, they are still dead). There have been a couple cases of characters that seemed dead coming back, but those are uncommon and connected to specific characters (not all that shocking when a guy called The Immortal turns out to be harder to keep dead than normal).  But while I don’t see Invincible himself getting killed, it’s not out of the question. And pretty much anyone else could go at any time. This volume carried me through issue 59. The monthly issues just passed 100. I want Invincible and his lady to be happy. But I’m guessing if I were reading issues hitting the newsstands today, I’d be seeing horror and sadness. I can’t wait, but I also dread it.  Unlike so many ongoing series, the unified voice brought by Kirkman as continuous writer has kept it more real. If this came out of Marvel or DC, it would have had six or eight different writers, each one wanting to kill off or resurrect their own pet characters, and each trying to take the series off in different directions, while never straying too far from the studio mandated status quo. Kirkman has the freedom to shape the story and make things count.  So, again, I fear for the life of every character I like. And I have good reason to think those fears are justified.

The sideline story with The Astounding Wolf-man felt a bit shameless pluggy.  But whatever. However, the Allan the Alien interlude was amazing. Are they building up to the greatest comic book character team-up ever?  (Yes). If what it looks like actually comes to pass (it does), I’ll have to put a little ‘power of 2’ sign next to my statement that this is the best superhero comic on the market.  (Also, keep an eye out for a cameo from Doctor Venture and Brock Samson, as well as another awesome dig on Aquaman). So, if you like the idea of Silver Age superheroes, but want something a bit more meaty, a bit more emotionally impacting, try Invincible.  This feels like all the potential of the Marvel Universe, without the status quo mandate demanded by their market position.  I believe I cautioned readers about this before, but remember it’s not an ‘all ages’ title. There is violence, and when that violence happens, it’s not pretty.  In fact, it’s some of the nastiest, bloodiest, freakiest violence I’ve seen in a comic book (Oliver punched that dude’s jawbone out the back of his head!). But for the adult reader, this is top shelf material.

Volume 6

Every time I pick up a trade of this book, I think ‘which one of my favorite characters is going to die this time?’  It’s stressful. Still, it means I’ve emotionally invested in the series and its cast, and that’s not true of a lot of comics.  And now I know how I’m going to feel when he eventually kills off one of my very favorite characters. Because I thought he did.  I stared at the panel where it appeared said character was snuffed out and felt resigned sadness. Like, ‘I knew this was coming, and here it is.’  But then it wasn’t. I’m sure it’ll be coming for real later. And the death of another long time core character does appear to be permanent.

There’s a lot of guest characters in this volume, not just Guardians of the Globe, but other Image personalities.  The whole pantheon has to be called up to face another world threatening foe. And dang. Not only is the threat ramped up, but the violence is beastly.  And every time it seems like there’s going to be a pause, it steps up another notch. So many people get punched to pieces. It’s horrifying. I like that these people with superpowers do super damage.  You always see Superman punching a normal person and they fall back a little. A guy who punches planets out of orbit and a human just falls over and looks dazed? When Invincible isn’t holding back, the turns people into puddles of lumpy red oatmeal.  In the middle of the volume, there is an extended story about Omni-Man and Allen the Alien. This strange relationship has been evolving for a long time, and has reached a pretty crazy, but awesome place. Omni-Man sleeping on Allen’s couch must be about the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.  Whatever it’s building to should be plenty cool. A few new characters, possible villains and allies make appearances. Universa, Dinosaurus, Space Racer, Conquest. Cool.

Of the things I’ve read from him so far, this is Kirkman’s best work.  And the series remains fun, grim, exciting, and cool. Ryan Ottley’s art improves by the issue, and his love of drawing excruciating gore is impressive and sick.  This volume also includes guest artwork from series co-creator and original artist Cory Walker. And as always, the back end of the book is loaded with sketches and commentary.

If you like what I do, you can buy me a coffee. Check out my Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.  And take a look at my Patreon page, where I’m working on a novel and developing a tabletop RPG setting. You can also read my fiction over on Amazon.

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