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How ‘Invincible’ Subverted the Superman Story

Here’s why ‘Invincible’ is going to be the biggest new superhero show.

Mark Grayson, the protagonist of the show.
The titular main character, voiced by Steven Yeun. Credit: Prime Video

Invincible, created by Robert Kirkman, renowned for The Walking Dead, and animated by Simon Racioppa, breaks through the often predictable narratives of the superhero genre.

It refreshes and subverts the traditional superhero story by infusing realism into its narrative – without ever compromising the belief in superheroes doing good. Invincible sets itself apart from the usual superhero tale, but at the same time is one of the best traditional ones out there.

The Thin Line Between Heroism and Consequence

Omni Man on an alien world.
Omni Man (J.K. Simmons) dismantles an alien planet. Credit: Prime Video

Unlike The Boys, where the superhero world is characterized by corruption and moral ambiguity, Invincible maintains the essence of heroism while acknowledging the realistic consequences of super-powered conflicts. The season 1 finale, featuring the brutal confrontation between Invincible (Steven Yeun) and his father Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), is a prime example of how the series challenges the traditional superhero narrative.

The showdown between father and son serves as a visceral and emotionally charged spectacle and highlights the collateral damage wrought by their god-like powers. Cities, typically depicted as indestructible backdrops in superhero battles, are revealed to be fragile constructs when confronted with the sheer force of these beings. The show masterfully portrays the vulnerability of urban environments, emphasizing the real-world implications of superhero clashes.

This is best expressed by Omni-Man, who tries to explain it to Mark and the audience through words. When that doesn’t work, he makes his point through the infamous train scene. Episode 2 showed the sheer destruction a Superman-like character could create if he only flew fast enough. Meanwhile, the train scene shows what happens if an invulnerable character stands in the wrong place at the wrong time. Omni Man doesn’t commit any direct violence, but just by holding Mark in place, he effectively kills an entire subway’s worth of people.

Cardboard Cities and Realistic Consequences

Omni-Man crushes Invincible without breaking a sweat.
Omni-Man beating Mark in the Season 1 finale. Credit: Prime Video

The climactic battle in the season finale exposes a fundamental truth about superhero narratives– the cities they protect are not impervious to their actions. Unlike the glossy façade presented in many superhero tales, Kirkman peels back the layers to reveal the vulnerability of the structures heroes strive to defend. Buildings crumble like cardboard, and the series unflinchingly confronts the aftermath of such destructive battles.

This realism in consequence adds depth to the narrative, forcing viewers to grapple with the idea that even the most well-intentioned heroes inadvertently contribute to the destruction they seek to prevent. In doing so, Invincible challenges the idealized image of superheroes and injects a dose of reality into the genre.

The Parallels to Man of Steel

The final battle of Man of Steel (2013).
Superman fights Zod in an abandoned city in Man of Steel (2013). Credit: Max

Man of Steel (2013) is simultaneously adored and criticized for its grim and realistic portrayal of Superman. Zack Snyder wanted to show the consequences of a fight between two godlike beings, where no force on Earth could match or withstand the destruction. The writers didn’t go all the way, as Metropolis was empty by the time Superman and Zod finally fought at full power.

Invincible captures a similar sense of “realism” without the baggage of being a direct adaptation of the Superman mythos. It can have its cake and eat it too. Omni-Man is an “evil Superman” archetype, and Mark Grayson is a gritty Clark Kent.

Kirkman’s Creative Freedom

The Viltrumites in Nolan's real flashback
The Viltrumites being sent out on missions. Credit: Prime Video

With the freedom of a blank canvas, Kirkman goes even further with the possibilities. Unlike Krypton, the planet Viltrum is perfectly fine and is the center of a galactic empire. Omni-Man even lies to his son and the audience by giving himself a typical Superman origin story.

Unlike Kryptonians, Viltrumites explicitly live for thousands of years. This gives Invincible the same comic book “immortality” as a typical superhero without needing a convoluted out-of-universe explanation.

The comic and the animated show display huge amounts of gore during fights. All the fights involving Viltrumites cemented themselves in fans’ minds because of their sheer brutality. They regularly tear each other to literal pieces, breaking bones and ripping guts out, but they’re able to heal from it all in a matter of weeks. Every time a Viltrumite is on screen, someone dying is a certainty.

Kirkman can take the best of all worlds. He combined the mass appeal of classic superhero stories with his flavor of gory action. The fight between Mark and Omni-Man made his story an immediate cultural phenomenon. Omni-Man exploded in popularity and even became a guest character in Mortal Kombat 1.

Judging by the comics, the show is going to get even more chaotic when Season 2 returns. As the Viltrumites return, Mark Grayson and his father will learn the same lessons Clark Kent did.

Written By

I'm a University of Southern California alumni. I have a Bachelor of Sciences in Business of Cinematic Arts and a minor in Cultural Diplomacy. I enjoy playing video games, reading comics and manga, and watching anime and movies. I love writing about topics surrounding the film and television industry, and the meanings behind many successful stories.

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