While Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman missed the mark in numerous ways, one thing that the film did deliver was great one-liners. For example, in the third act, Jessie Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor bends Superman’s knee while telling the man of steel: “If God is all-powerful, he cannot be all good. And if he is all good, he cannot be all-powerful.”
If Superman is the god who is all good and, therefore, not all-powerful, then Omni Man is the god who is all-powerful and not all good. If he were facing Luthor, Omni Man would have snapped his neck without hesitation. And thus encapsulates Invincible, the animated Amazon Prime Video series that, in part, focuses on a Superman-like figure that feels anchored in a more realistic world than most other comics. To that same degree, the unraveling of Omni Man’s character is also the backdrop for the coming-of-age story of Mark Grayson—a.k.a Invincible, first son of Viltrum—just a kid trying to be a hero and graduate high school. [Ed note: Spoilers for Invincible Season 1 lie ahead.]
Even while being all-powerful, Omni-Man, real name Nolan Grayson, isn’t invincible. The parallels that writers Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) and Corey Walkers make between him and Superman are purposeful, but Nolan still bleeds. Based on their Invincible comic book series, which debuted in 2003 and ran for 12 issues, the similarities that Invincible and DC characters share juxtapose how their worlds are vastly different. The Amazon Original was able to cover so much ground in only eight episodes because we already understand the importance of its characters like Guardians of the Globe, given that they are based on the Justice League. To that end, when Omni-Man slaughters them early into the series, we understand the implications that moment has on the world because we can equate it to Superman killing the Justice League. These homages begin to vanish once the show starts to dive into who Omni-Man is, what he cares about, and what his motives are.
Because Omni-Man literally lacks humanity, he makes up for it by unknowingly adopting human characteristics and traits. He can feel empathy, as seen in acts of genuine care towards his family, even if they were cosmetic the whole time. Similarly, his deep capacity for apathy is the driving force for his character. Omni-Man went from murdering an entire civilization in Episode 2 to having dinner with Mark and his wife, Debbie. Interestingly, before he slaughtered them, he said, “Earth is not ‘yours’ to conquer,” foreshadowing that it was his property instead. In his final monologue to Mark, Nolan is trying to convince himself that it’s pointless to have emotions towards humans; he would know because he now understands them.
The dichotomy of Omni-Man’s buried empathy for his family and apathy for the human race is another reason why Invincible is so engaging. Comics have trained us to think that our superheroes have to be protectors in every sense of the word, caring about the people they save. Every time Omni-Man is in a scene, he doesn’t exude the feeling of safety that other heroes are framed to have, but instead a sense of foreboding. It is because he’s all-powerful that Invincible has an added layer of suspense and anxiety that most comic book-based shows don’t. Omni-Man is an unstoppable force that looks and feels like a nuclear warhead. He doesn’t radiate comfort like Superman, and J.K. Simmons’ remarkable voice acting job adds to that. The tension is then multiplied with the fact that he deadass doesn’t care about human life. Things that would be fatal to people in the real world are still deadly in the world of Invincible. This isn’t Marvel. If Omni-Man crashes through a building during a fight, you’ll see regular people dying in collateral damage. Omni-Man cares about the Earth, not earthlings, as evident in the Season 1 finale. That’s why it always felt like he saved lives begrudgingly throughout the season: He protected Earth because it was his property, not out of nobility like most superheroes do.
As the Invincible title screen gets bloodier with every episode, so does the show’s descent into who Omni-Man really is, and Mark’s journey of self-discovery. Invincible works hard to make its audience care about every character, even the randoms who die during superhero combat. It makes sense why Mark rejects his father’s claim that humans are too frail to care about; we spend the entire season watching Mark juggle being a superhero with having a regular life. This happens often in comic book stories, but it’s refreshing to see a type of expression and honesty that age restriction ratings would usually limit. Even the side characters like Cecil, Adam Eve, and others play an integral role in Mark’s character development. His gift of empathy is what makes him more human than Viltrumite. The tyrannical agenda that Omni-Man tries to force onto him doesn’t work because they aren’t wired the same. It helps that he’s a rebellious teen.
Aside from being another example of the dope, edgy adult animation that Amazon Prime Video has been producing, Invincible worked because it was consistent. Omni-Man never once acts out of character; he’s always been a homicidal maniac. From the very beginning, it’s evident that he doesn’t care about anyone except himself and Mark. Omni-Man never liked the Guardians; he merely tolerated them until Mark’s powers blossomed. He never cared about humans, which we see in Episode 5 when he tries to deter Mark from helping Titan and his family because he had “bigger issues” to deal with, and when he slaughters thousands in the season finale all for the sake of teaching his son a lesson. But it’s still hard for me to believe that he was really acting and didn’t love the time he spent with his family.
Invincible feels more anchored in reality than any other comic-based content on the market right now. It takes seemingly two-dimensional parody characters and gives them depth, demanding that the audience take them seriously. The series also has a knack for creating fight scenes that are brutal, raw, and authentic. Similar to Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, the characters who display the best commentary on the human experience in Invincible are those who are far from it. Omni-Man is a monster, yes, but he also doesn’t live in a paradigm. He only spares Mark’s life and abandons his post on Earth because he loved him, a fact he can’t accept himself. That’s why he cried when he left.
It will be interesting to see what direction Invincible will go in the future since Amazon announced that the series has been renewed for two more seasons. All of the subplots throughout the season look to have significant pay-offs, including Cecil’s army of cyborgs that were introduced in Episode 6, Battle Beast still lurking in the shadows after he spared the new Guardians of the Globe’s lives in Episode 5, and the larger looming question of whether Omni-Man will return, or worse, other Viltrumites. Regardless of what storylines are explored going forward, Mark’s positioning as the strongest hero in the world will surely be the focal point. Will he be able to protect the planet and grow into the hero they need, or will the pressures of his lineage and high school fold him? It’s too early to tell, but regardless of what path he takes, he’ll always remain Invincible.