Okay, I’ll admit it. I saw the meme first.
If you’ve seen the “Think, Mark, Think” meme and now you’re debating whether or not to see Invincible, the animated superhero series available on Amazon Prime Video, I’m here to offer a relatively (but not entirely) spoiler-free summary and review.
If you know nothing about Invincible, then don’t worry; it follows a standard plot. Mark Grayson is a normal teenager, aside from the fact that his father is Omni-Man, the most powerful superhero on the planet. Shortly after his seventeenth birthday, Mark begins to develop powers of his own. With his father guiding him, he struggles to learn to control his powers, conceal his identity, and become: “Invincible.”
Cue title card.
So what makes this superhero show different from any other superhero show?
Let’s start with the technical aspects. The animation is extremely good. It uses a lot of bold primary colors reminiscent of Saturday Morning Cartoons, which gives it an instant feeling of nostalgia that will take you back to your days of getting up early for X-Men or Justice League. The casting is likewise superb, with some well-known actors including Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, Mark Hamill, and J.K. Simmons. (Simmons, in particular, is exquisite.)
The scoring was lovingly chosen and includes some easily recognized artists, including Cage the Elephant and Run the Jewels. Put all together, the production is high quality, and that’s not surprising when you consider that the author and executive producer, Robert Kirkman, was also the mastermind behind The Walking Dead.
One of the major points that distinguishes Invincible as a “mature” or “adult” show is the extreme gore and violence. It’s aggressively, unapologetically violent, sometimes in hyper-realistic ways that will make more sensitive audiences squirm. But it’s not violence for the sake of violence. Its violence is designed to be contrasted against the cheery, primary color, high school world occupied by Mark Grayson. We, the viewers, can’t help but see the violence as something uncomfortably out of place in this seemingly ideal superhero world, and it plants some heavy foreshadowing for the final episode, which culminates in a major payout. The violence justifies itself as being necessary; when the hero finally experiences it firsthand, it is in a way that is appropriately traumatic, and wrenches him out of his justice-will-prevail, comic-booky narrative.
The series is wonderfully self-aware in that sense. It uses superhero tropes to its advantage, often subverting expectations but also occasionally leaning into them. In both cases, it does so in a way to highlight to the audience the blind spot so often ignored by most superhero franchises: the inevitable fallout and trauma suffered by bystanders and heroes alike. While many franchises sanitize the violence (looking at you, Marvel Cinematic Universe) and others try to exploit it (looking at you, DCEU), Invincible distinguishes itself by giving the violence a very raw, emotional edge that is rare to find in most animated series, let alone superhero ones. The tone of the show is a razor’s edge balance between escapist levity and introspective anguish at the loss of childhood innocence, and it maintains that balance in a way that few shows can. (A tip of the hat to Bojack Horseman for navigating that particular minefield with finesse.)
Invincible was first published in 2003, and the series is a relatively faithful adaptation to the comics. Considering the fairly saturated superhero media market, it’s easy to dismiss Invincible as just another attempt to make comic book heroes relevant, “edgy” or appealing to adult audiences. But it never could have been made earlier. It stands on the shoulders of giants like The Boys and Harley Quinn, which mainstreamed extreme/realistic violence in superhero media.
What’s more, it capitalizes on the audience’s desensitized attitude, integrating the violence in a way that initially feels gratuitous and cheesy, but later forces the viewer to experience it in an uncomfortably real way. The audience ends up feeling very similar to Mark at the end, and it’s an emotionally vulnerable place to be: at the cusp of adulthood, looking forward into a world that isn’t quite as nice as you once thought it was, at the edge of precipice that you have no choice but to drop off of.
The overall tone of both the series and the main character is one of innocent earnestness that is always moments from becoming corrupted (and, watching it, you can’t help but root for Mark to remain innocent). It’s guileless, and sincere, and for any new show, especially one with as much gore as this, that’s a big chance to take. But it pays off in the end, with the cheesiness providing the perfect backdrop to ponder sticky ethical gray areas.
Speaking of pay-offs, if you decide to watch it for the meme, the meme itself doesn’t appear until the final episode, which fits the show’s pacing. It’s a slow build. Watching this series is like watching a teenage boy learn to fly; it’s at times a little awkward and clunky, but it eventually gets there, and when it does, it soars.
One thing you should be aware of: much like the oft-misquoted “I am your father” scene in Star Wars, everyone seems to misremember what Omni-Man actually says, which is simply: “Think, Mark!” (In the show, anyway.)
If you’re on the fence about watching Invincible, I can neatly summarize three good reasons you should:
- The vibe is so fiercely nostalgic for Justice League that you’ll feel like a kid again, one whose favorite childhood show matured with you.
- There’s a fresh engagement with the theme of violence as a comic book trope, one that invites the audience to consider how they consume it and how it makes them feel.
- Amazon Video has already renewed Invincible for a second and third season. Do you really want to wait until the next season comes out, and then try to play catch-up with all of your friends who have already seen it? Think, Mark, think!