Sunday, October 12, 2014

Invincible is one of the best comic books of the 21st century. Created by writer Robert Kirkman and penciller Cory Walker, the character first appeared in the comic Tech Jacket #1 in November 2002. The character proved immensely popular right from the beginning, and got his own comic. Invincible #1 debuted in January 2003.

In some ways, Invincible stands comics on their head. Mark Grayson is the teenage son of the world's greatest superhero, Omni-Man. His father, now greying and in late middle age, suddenly "comes out of the closet" and reveals that he's not a human being endowed with great powers but is instead an alien, a Viltrumite. This makes Mark half-human, half-alien. Like a sort of Superman, Mark has super-strength, super-speed, super-durability, super-endurance, the power of flight, super-healing, and an extended lifespan.

What if Superman married early, not "never"? What if he kept his Kryptonian heritage a secret for most of his life? What if the Kryptonians were on their way to destroy Earth, and Superman was supposed to be an advanced guard?

That's exactly what happens. Omni-Man kills every member of the super-hero team he's joined, the Guardians of the Globe. He tries to kill his son as well, but cannot do so. He leaves Earth. Mark, who has taken the name "Invincible" after a chance remark from his high school principal, declines to join the new Guardians, and attempts to live his life. This includes dating a fellow superhero, Atom Eve. Mark learns that the Viltrumites are world-conquerors, and will commit genocide on any planet which declines to join their empire. When asked by an alien to help save his planet, Mark agrees -- and discovers his dad living on that planet. Mark now discovers that he has a half-alien, half-Viltrumite brother named Oliver. His guilt-ridden father says Mark will be sent back to Earth with Oliver to prepare Earth for invasion. But he also oddly tells Mark to read the science fiction books he left behind... It turns out that these books, written under a pseudonym, provide a blueprint for defeating the Viltrumites.

Oliver insists on being called Kid Omni-Man, and Oliver has no problem killing supervillains he deems too dangerous to allow to live. Mark and Oliver have an odd relationship. Mark is still just a teenager, and his immaturity and need to "live my own life" leaves him unable to foster Oliver the way his own father parents him. Oliver is nearly killed when a full-blooded Viltrumite named Conquest comes to take over Earth in the wake of Omni-Man and Mark's "failure" to do so. Oliver and Mark are both nearly killed, with Eve saving them only at the last moment. (She drives off, but is unable to kill, Conquest). They discover that there are only 50 Viltrumites left in the entire universe. A rebellious planet managed to discover a virus that killed Viltrumites. Human beings, however, are not only genetically compatible with Viltrumites but also immune to the virus -- which is why the Viltrumites want to conquer Earth.

Mark realizes he must kill supervillains to save the Earth, and that Oliver was right all along. Oliver now adopts the name Young Omni-Man, as his alien DNA is causing him to age somewhat rapidly.

The Viltrumites finally attack Earth, and Conquest nearly disembowels Mark. Oliver is also badly injured. The comic is not gentle about this. Mark's arm is ripped from his body, and his jaw shattered and only bits of flesh and teeth dangling from what's left of his skull. When we finally see Mark, his intestines lie dangled across the dead body of Conquest.

In one of the more surprising twists in comics, Mark ends up not participating in the Vultrumite War. He gets out of the hospital just in time to learn that his father has brokered a truce: The Vitrumites will live on Earth, rather than conquer it. They will breed for 1,000 years, rebuilding their species, before attempting any further galactic conquest. Although Mark and Oliver realize this is a devil's bargain, they have no choice. They accept it.

Deeply affected by his near-death, Mark begins to realize that giving supervillains what they want might be a better option. Supervillain Dinosaurus attacks Las Vegas with the intent of destroying the water-guzzling, energy-hogging city. Mark is unable to stop him, and Las Vegas is destroyed in an atomic explosion so powerful it leaves behind nothing but a sheet of glass. The U.S. federal government then decides to use the sheet of glass as a vast solar energy electrical generator. Mark realizes that although some villains may be murderers, they may also not be any worse than those people destroying the environment incrementally.

Oliver, meanwhile, has bonded with his human foster-mother. He finds the virus that wiped out the Viltrumites, and attempts to introduce it into Earth's atmosphere. He nearly kills Mark in doing so, and Mark is saved by Regent Thragg -- the Viltrumite ruler. Mark learns that Thragg is a usurper, and that Omni-Man is a direct descendant of the last king of the Viltrumites. Thragg will kill Omni-Man, Mark, and Oliver, if he can, in order to prevent them from ever retaking the throne or their descendants from being used as "pretenders" to the throne.

Most recently, Mark's lost his powers (temporarily) due to the virus' effect, leaving Oliver as Earth's top defender.

If Invincible reminds you of Perry Moore's 2007 novel Hero, I think you can see where Moore got his source material. Only, Invincible is about 10,000 times better.

And I like Oliver. He's brash, he's got plenty of emotion, he's not arrogant or a prick. And he's hot.

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