If The Boys is the Best Running Live-Action Superhero Show, then Invincible is the Best Animated One

I’ve been on something of a superhero bender recently, even by my own standards. Admittedly, the entertainment spectrum has never been so saturated with movies and TV shows, to the point that the newly released Thor: Love and Thunder is being widely criticised as a symbol of the increasingly apparent aimlessness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4. We are, after all, over twenty years into the renaissance of the cinematic superhero genre kicked off by the likes of X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002), which was reshaped again by Marvel’s groundbreaking cinematic universe from the release of 2008’s Iron Man onwards. A lot has happened in this time, including the weaving of these aforementioned movies into the MCU through multiversal plotting, so it’s only natural if audiences experience a sense of fatigue, to put it mildly. 

However worn down you might feel at times, though, it doesn’t mean that there still isn’t great superhero fare out there and there is no better place to look at the moment than television. I’ve written extensively about my love for Amazon’s The Boys, on which Canadian creative power couple Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg serve as producers. And as it happens, they also serve as producers for what is arguably the best animated superhero show on television, Invincible.

Invincible is yet another Amazon production, this time adapted from the comic series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, who is best known for creating The Walking Dead comics. The series centres on Mark Grayson (Steven Yuen), the son of earth’s most powerful superhero, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), who is himself an alien from the planet Viltrum. Mark gains his powers at the age of 17 and his father begins teaching him how to harness them, while also trying to balance his teenage life with that of his superhero persona – you guessed it! – Invincible.

In case the name-drops of an Oscar nominee (Yeun) and Oscar winner (Simmons) wasn’t indicative enough, the show features an all-star cast that also includes Sandra Oh, Gillian Jacobs, Zazie Beetz, Zachary Quinto, Mark Hamill, and Mahershala Ali, amongst others. Such a venerable voice cast helps solidify what is one of the most accomplished seasons of storytelling in any superhero show I have ever seen. It is truly a wonder how the show’s writers consistently find ways to keep audiences on their toes by defying instincts that were shaped by countless generic movies and TV shows. It’s clear that they’re keenly aware of such expectations, and actively subvert them without ever truly overreaching. 

A significant reason for the show’s narrative success is the way in which each episode is structured. Even plotlines that initially seem self-contained are likely much more significant in the grand scheme of the season than you realise. Invincible is constantly steaming ahead in meaningful ways, whether it be slowly revealing the multiple mysteries at play, showing Mark taking on all forms of foes, or developing his relationships with his friends and, most notably, his charismatic girlfriend Amber (Beetz).

However, it’s impossible to bring up Invincible without discussing its surprising amount of gore and violence. It’s visceral, to say the least, but Invincible plays into its violence with a grace rarely seen in “R-Rated” superhero media, with a brief but deceptively nuanced title sequence that emphasises as much! I won’t spoil anything, but what I can say is that the show seems pretty tame until a pivotal moment early in the season that caught me so off guard that I rewound numerous moments in shock at the detailed viscera flying about. These scenes are oftentimes the pinnacle of Invincible’s undeniably excellent animation, which leaves no gut unflung in much of its intense action sequences.

Invincible might not possess the same biting wit and satire of The Boys (despite certainly having its devilish moments), but who says it needs to. These shows are presented in different visual mediums, albeit through the same TV lens, but they own their respective tones with a gusto you don’t find often enough today. At times, obligations can feel contractual rather than creative in the superhero TV genre, yet Amazon is quietly shifting the latter in their favour, opting for quality over quantity, and the material is of course the better for it. Where many studios look to Marvel for their trailblazing in cinema, perhaps Marvel should look to Amazon when it comes to television.

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