It’s the closing blows of the Viltrumite War, and after raging on for the best part of the year, Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley and company turn in an issue that’s for the most part a meditative change of pace following the wild bloodlust of the past few issues. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s still violence. Let’s review! We’ll be getting spoileriffic in this one dear readers, because whilst I could be quite satisfied that a review consisting of the phrase ‘Invincible rools pls buy it k? Thx‘ would whole-heartedly convey my feelings on this superheroic opus, this time round I’m going to go a bit further in-depth.
For the past seven issues teen-superhero Invincible has reunited with his estranged father, teamed up with a rag-tag band of space heroes and launched into battle with his father’s own race (the Viltrumites) in an effort to stop their world conquering ways. In this issue, after destroying his enemies’ home planet by flying straight through it, Invincible and his father race back to Earth, fearing that they remaining Viltrumites have headed there to destroy his home planet, and what destruction they wreak: I made the rookie mistake of letting Invincible #77 fall open eight pages in when I was waiting in the queue to buy it today, and was confronted with a horrific sight that actually caused my mouth to fall agape. There stood chief villain, and leader of the Viltrumites, Grand Regent Thragg with the decapitated head of Debbie Grayson, Invincible’s mother, in his hands. I stared at it for what felt like ages, so much so that I held the queue up, as I tried to second guess just exactly what was happening – Kirkman hadn’t really killed off Invincible’s mum, had he? I couldn’t quite decide, because I knew deep in my heart that it was quite possible that he could. I fear for the lives of the cast of Invincible more than I do for the cast of Kirkman’s other ongoing The Walking Dead – and they’re perpetually surrounded by zombies. In this instance, it turned out that it was just our protagonist’s imagination, which was a relief to me -in itself an indication of how much I’ve come to care about the characters of the Invincibleverse in its eight years of existence.
The fact that I couldn’t allow myself to figure out one way or the other if what was on the page was actually happening should give you an idea of the unpredictability of this comic. Kirkman zags where your expecations zig, and the reason for this is clear: he’s read comics all his life, knows the twists and turns we’ve all seen before and therefore works doubly hard to subvert them and build upon them. For examples of this, look no further than Angstrom Levy – the dimension hopping madman who was built up over seventeen issues – that’s a year and a half’s worth of comics – to be Invincible’s nemesis. Whereas Lex Luthor and Superman are fated to dance around each other until the end of time, Kirkman had no such obligations, traditions or trademarks to uphold: the first time Levy and Invincible came to blows, Kirkman’s hero beat the villain to death (well, not to death, he came back nearly twenty issues later, but at the time it looked like it was death and it was pretty shocking.). Invincible’s brother Oliver was introduced, cueing the rolling of fanboy eyes across the world as they feared Invincible falling prey to what has now been diagnosed as the Dawn Summers Paradigm – the introduction of a youthful and annoying sidekick that does nothing but devalue the property. He grew and we read as Oliver struggled with concepts of humanity and the basic superhero concept of non-killing of villains, and the internet and its brother shouted from the rooftops ‘he’s going to become evil and turn against Invincible!’ Except he didn’t – he learned, grew some more and became a valuable addition to Kirkman’s hundred-strong stable of characters, to the point where we mourned him when his face got punched right off in Invincible #75. Point being – as a writer Kirkman knows what you’re thinking, and he is all too happy to pull the rug from under your feet.
He does this again in this very issue by taking the Viltrumite War to a forcibly peaceful conclusion that works perfectly in the context of the story and ratchets up the threat of Viltrum more than ever before, but if you’d asked me last month how he was going to wrap it up, I would’ve had no idea. Now more than ever, the Viltrumite threat is real, and here on Earth. Not light years away in a war in space, not biding their time for a hundred years on a distant planet waiting to see how Invincible subjugates the population of his planet, they’re now living amongst us, and I can’t wait to see Grand Regent Thragg take up his rightful calling as the lead singer in a Queen tribute band.
Whilst Kirkman continues to knock the story out of the park, artist Ryan Ottley is on hand to match his achievements. Ottley must be, for my money, the most consistently brilliant artist working outside of Marvel and DC today, and this is plainly showcased in this issue – be it the wanton destruction in the opening splash pages, or his ability to illustrate a conversation between three characters in a fixed locale for half an issue and never make it seem anything less than riveting (and yes, of course an element of excitement is added when that conversation is held between three guys hovering in mid-air, but you get my drift). Ottley is backed up by the excellent FCO Plascenciea, whose colours started adding depth to Invincible’s world from issue #50 onwards, interestingly around the same time that the title character changed his costume and became slightly more morally ambiguous.
Invincible #77 is another thread in Kirkman, Ottley and co-creator Cory Walker‘s ever-growing superhero universe tapestry, and sets things up effortlessly for future stories to come. Month in, month out, Invincible is superhero comics done right – dynamic to read, laugh out loud funny (Tech Jacket wins One Liner of the Month for a comment that I can’t justifiably put up here – you’ll just have to but the issue), beautiful to behold and overall, engrossing. The comic has run with the banner ‘The Best Superhero Comic Book in the Universe‘ for some time now, and I really think it’s about time everyone else started trying to catch up.