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Critics praise voice cast for Amazon's animated 'Invincible' series, but question show's tonal choices
It's been nearly 20 years since Invincible debuted as an Image Comics series from writer Robert Kirkman and artist Cory Walker, and while it may not have felt like an inevitable media franchise back then, it certainly does now. Kirkman has since gone on to build a TV empire with The Walking Dead, so it was only a matter of time before something like Invincible — with its superheroic deconstructions and brutal storytelling — would also find a TV home. Now, after a few years of development, the result is finally here in the form of an Amazon Prime original animated series with all the TV-MA violence longtime fans could ask for.
The series follows Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), a teenager who's also the son of the greatest superhero in the world, Omni-Man. As he begins to come into superpowers of his own, Mark gets himself a costume and a cool superhero name — "Invincible" — and heads out to follow in his Dad's footsteps. But all is not what it appears to be. Mark's family has a secret, something that will shatter his worldview forever, and...well, if you've read the comic, you know what's coming. If you haven't, it's probably better just to watch and see for yourself.
With a week to go until the show's Amazon Prime premiere, reviews for the first episodes of Invincible have begun to make their way out into the world. So, is it the next great mature superhero show? That depends on who you ask. For some reviewers, the show worked wonderfully, striking the right balance of extreme violence and emotional drama and putting the talents of an exceptional voice cast that also includes Sandra Oh and J.K. Simmons front and center.
"Delightfully, Invincible is every bit as gory as the source material is, and seeing some of the bloodiest scenes from the books recreated in motion adds significantly to their dramatic impact," Bernard Boo of Den of Geek wrote. "It’s difficult to delve into without revealing spoilers, but whenever there’s an explosion of blood and guts on the show, it’s done with purpose and in support of the story."
"One of the best things about Invincible, though, is its stellar voice performances. While a lot of major characters get a chance to shine in the first three episodes, Steven Yeun's turn as Mark Grayson is particularly noteworthy," Liam Nolan of CBR wrote. "Yeun brings a lot of charm to the nerdy Mark. At every turn, Mark's story is one about having to balance different demands and the costs of failing to do so. Mark is a human, but also a Viltrumite; a highschool student, but also a full-time superhero; invincible, but also deeply vulnerable. Yeun captures these dichotomies with a subtle performance supported by attentive, clean animation, making Mark an incredibly compelling hero in the process."
Other critics weren't quite as sold on the early episodes, as some commented that the show's forays into brutality and darkness felt a little dated in the era of The Boys and Harley Quinn, and others worried that the show wouldn't be able to grow beyond its premise.
"It isn’t until Mark puts on his first proto-costume and begins to call himself 'Invincible' — after a few sessions trying out his powers have him confident that his invulnerability is limitless — that the adaptation properly settles into what sort of show it wants to be," Charles Pulliam-Moore of io9 wrote. "That’s also the point when Invincible’s many inspirations all come together to emphasize how much of this story feels very old hat in 2021 when we’ve already been through multiple cycles of fans debating about the rise of grimdarkness in cape media."
"With its straight-faced take on a satirical comic, the first three episodes of Invincible make for a grim introduction," Siddhant Adlakha of IGN wrote. "The show insists on framing its absurd ultra-violence completely seriously, and its characters aren’t developed enough to fill the enormous gap between approach and appearance. However, its central mystery offers enough questions, and enough promise, to keep viewers watching — at least for a week or two."
"Invincible often seems derivative; perhaps its ideas were more ground-breaking in the original early-2000s comics," Louis Chilton of The Independent wrote. "Some of its characters are unapologetic parodies (the Batman facsimile 'Darkwing' for example), and you could easily go through picking out elements or story ideas that have cropped up in Watchmen, or The Incredibles, or Sky High, or Misfits. But there are still some good bones to its premise, and just enough subversiveness to let you ignore the fact this is a story you’ve seen a hundred times before."
"Invincible looks and feels very much like it's stuck in the early 2000s — the comic debuted in 2003 — with animation that is very much a cross between mid-to-late 1990s superhero cartoons and anime," Nicole Drum of Comicbook wrote. "It's not bad, but it definitely has a slightly low-budget and almost nostalgic feel. By itself, that wouldn't be much of an issue, but the series also leans in hard to some rather dated and cliche dialogue. The voice cast here is outstanding — Sandra Oh as Debbie Grayson is fantastic, in particular, as is Simmons — but they aren't given much to work with here at all."
So, is Invincible the show you're hoping it'll be? Find out for yourself when the series premieres March 26 on Amazon Prime.