Or – “The Calm Before The Storm Before The Even Bigger Storm…”
After yesterday’s apocalyptic epic tale of destruction, conflict, death, (Contrary to my inital report, Marvel says that 53 people died during the course of the battle, including 6 costumed superheroes. I fear for Nighthawk.) and crying Captain Americas, I feel the need to purge, to cleanse the palate with a nice fruity sorbet, as Wayne Campbell might put it. And nothing’s better to get the taste of ashes and broken friendships out of your mind than some nice, straightforward storytelling. When I want a breath of fresh air, I pick up Invincible, whose cover blurb of “Probably The Best Super-Hero Comic In The Universe” is, in my opinion, wholly true and incontrovertible. This issue is one of Kirkman’s periodic “take a deep breath and regather the strands of plot, because the roller coaster is about to hit the drops” issues, and as such, there’s a ton going on here.
Recapping the whole of Invincible would be difficult, but the basic drill is this: Mark Grayson is a relatively normal teenager, until he suddenly gains superpowers. Turns out his dad is NOT a boring novelist with a bad moustache, he’s actually Omni-Man, strange visitor from another world! O-Man, for his part, is thrilled that the boy is following in his footsteps, and helps Mark work out his costume and persona. But all is not well, as Daddy reveals his true colors… He’s a Viltrumite, and was sent to Earth to protect it, but as an asset of the ever-expanding empire of Viltrum. Omni-Man beats holy bajeezus out of his little boy before his emotions take over and he flees the planet, unable to deal with having hurt his son. This leaves Mark as one of the premiere superhumans on the planet, while also trying to go to college. Cliff’s Notes version, obviously, but it tells you whatcha need to know… But why’s there an astronaut covered in octopus/brain hybrids on the cover? Read on, Macduff.
Our first port of call on this, essentially a “State of The Invincible Universe” address, is the planet Talescria, center of the Coalition of Planets, where we meet/revisit one Allen The Alien. Allen’s first appearance is one of the funniest issues ever, and I recommend grabbing the first Invincible trade from your local library or comic shop, but recent events left Allen on the brink of death, having been beaten nearly to death by several Viltrumites. Ironically, that raiding party was looking for Omni-Man, but may have unintentionally created a bigger threat in Allen. His eye opens, and he sees the hospitacl equipment holding his shattered bones in place. Allen flexes his muscles, and…
Heh. I’d buy an Allen The Alien series in about five seconds flat. Noting that he’s awake (the smashed hospital room was a clue), the head of the Coalition, a man called Great Thaedus, finds him. He tells Allen that his newfound powers will be a great weapon for the Coalition, noting that his strength and invulnerability are comparable to a Viltrumites, and that he can help them to repel the inevitable Viltrum invasion. But wait, says Allen, how do you know I’m that strong? Nobody has any real information about Viltrumite power levels, do they? Thaedus responds, “I know the specific strength levels of a Viltrumite, Allen…”
Dum dum DAAAAH! The funniest part of Viltrumites is the fact that they all have that same awful moustache. Where’s the joke, you ask? Viltrum sounds like “philtrum,” which Webster’s defines as “the vertical groove on the surface of the upper lip, below the septum of the nose.” They’re named after their moustaches, though it does beg the question of what they’re covering up. If I didn’t know they could mate with humans, I’d suspect the reproductive organs… In any case, it looks like Invincible might end up in space soon. Back on Earth, Mark’s friend Rick is recovering from being captured and turned into
Locutus of Borg a cyborg monster called a Reaniman. A recurring minor character called Donald Ferguson tells him that it might help if he talks about it, and William snots that NOBODY can know how it feels to be turned into a mechanical monster, so teenage angst and sturm und drang, emo emo emo! Donald says he’s been there, but that doesn’t help calm Teenage Frankenstein either.
Oh, my… This is weird, as Ferguson has appeared multiple times as a minor backup character with absolutely NO indication that he’s anything but another government dork, and in these few panels Kirkman has imbued him with humanity, pathos and feelings, as well as an interesting backstory. I’m frankly jealous of how easy he made it look here. Rick agrees that talking might help. This is interesting, as I have no idea where this plot is going.
Back at college, Mark’s girlfriend Amber is talking with her friends about her new beau. None of the friends like him, pointing out how he’s always ditching her (to save the world), how he’s never tried to talk with them, her best friends (being busy saving the world), and how he just disappeared for weeks on end (off saving ANOTHER world). Of course, Amber can’t tell them any of this, and sounds like every dumb girl we knew in college with her ineffectual “You guys just don’t know how SWEET he really IS!” Mark/Invincible, king of bad timing that he is, arrives to take Amber out in the midst of the verbal beat-down and gets several glares for his trouble. Amber mentions his “image problems” with the pals, and Mark uses his superhero training to avoid a crisis.
I’d rather fight a horde of Viltrumites than face down a group of college women. At least the Viltrumites have some mercy in their hearts. Kidding! I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and find my bedroom filled with twenty-something women… Wait, what? It’s best that we end this thought process here, I think. As Mark, Amber, and the third wheels go off on their group date, we’re suddenly transported halfway across the country, to a swamp in Florida.
It’s nice to see a Cobra terrordrome, which could explain how they financed their new street-cred to get the Commander in the White House. The Lizard League has been a recurring joke, a scaley pantsed bunch of fools, but one thing I’ve learned from Invincible, nobody is too much of a fool to be a threat. I’m looking forward to seeing the League as a credible and dangerous organization, and greatly enjoyed the bullet in the head of the faux-Serpentor. My fourteen year old self still has a grudge from G.I. Joe: The Movie, but I do have one question. Which one is Destro?
After a brief check-in with Mark’s mom (currently raising an alien child fathered by her estranged husband Omni-Man), we return to space, this time explaining the Neil Armstrong slash Squidboy cover. Months ago, an American expedition landed on Mars, and one of their own was replaced bya Martian shapeshifter, more on whom later. The astronaut was left behind, but was possessed by the Sequids, longtime slaves of the Martians. The Sequids have turned the tables, and are using the Martians as THEIR slaves, heading for Earth to take over that planet as well. But all is not well…
Yeesh… This bodes badly. After the bowling party, Mark’s “charm the girlfriend’s friends” spell works, and all the girls miss their saving throws. It’s a cute moment, and Kirkman writes very realistic college kid dialogue. We then throw over to Washington, and the Guardians of the Globe, where the approaching spaceship has raised an eyebrow or two. Oh, and remember that missing Martian shapeshifter? The Guardians newest member, The Shapesmith, might be a good place to start looking. Cecil, liaison to both the Guardians and invincible, tells them that something big is approaching Earth…
Never let ‘em see you sweat, Shapesmith. It’s just makes you look like a Martian agent who left an American National in the hands of alien overlords so he could enjoy Big Macs and Victoria’s Secret Lingerie Catalogs. As for Invincible, he’s flown to Africa (one of the perks of being a superhuman) to visit his high school pal and former super-buddy, Atom Eve. In a recent issue, a future version of Eve (best not to dwell on this) told him that she had been in love with him for years, and that he had to do something to keep her from spending her whole life pining. Mark greets her with pleasantries, pauses for a moment, then…
When I was in college, a friend of mine said hello to a girl that way, and it ended very well. She married his roommate, they had a kid, and they’re still together. (Hi, Bruce!) Looks like the girlfriends were right, by the way, Mark is a very bad boyfriend. But I’m not sure I blame him, entirely. Eve understands his double life, and when you’re that age, everything feels like a life-long deep soulful connection…
Invincible is consistently a wonderful comic, fun and fast, with moments of heavy drama that also work perfectly. It can go from slapstick to tragedy and back in the blink of an eye, and manages to do something few comics do: integrate super-technology with the “real world” in a way that makes an impact. The people of Invincible’s world have been affected by all the heroes (it does take place in the Image superhero-verse, but only tangentially) and alien invasions and spacecraft, and it’s affected the level of technology in subtle ways like landing on Mars. Kirkman also manages to use superhero archetypes (like the shape-shifter from Mars, or the “strange visitor from another planet” backstory of Omni-Man) to give us a context most new comic books can’t. Everything that ever happened in any comic book could easily be referenced within the cast, and the characters are brilliantly inventive. One supporting cast member, The Immortal, is reputed to have been Abraham Lincoln, but was forced fake his death, being bulletproof. That is seven shades of wonderful and also totally nuts, and I’m jealous of the seeming ease with which Robert Kirkman keeps creating this kind of stuff. There’s a real joy in Invincible, and it comes through in the art and story every month, making it always feel like a labor of love. This issue was basically a catch-up, yet it still had tons of plot developments, drama, and story. Invincible #38 rates a well-above-average four stars, and is definitely worth your time.