Spoilers are down below for the already released episodes of Amazon's new superhero series Invincible, so be warned!
It's somehow been over 18 years since Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker first delivered Invincible to an unsuspecting and superhero-filled world. While it didn't revolutionize the genre in the way that The Walking Dead helped spark a zombie boom, Invincible remained a consistently fun, engaging and brutal series throughout its 144 issues. Thankfully, Amazon's adult-animation adaptation is a worthy, bloody and star-studded counterpart to the source material, and Kirkman talked with CinemaBlend about that head-exploding premiere twist, as well as how bringing Invincible to TV compared to the Walking Dead process.
Though there had long been talks about various ways in which Invincible could expand beyond its comic origins, the animated Amazon series is the first of the projects to come to fruition, while the live-action take from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is very much still in the pipeline. And it sounds like the wait didn't exactly hurt the development process. On top of being older and having more informed hindsight than he had while co-creating AMC's The Walking Dead with Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman noted that working from a completed storyline was an advantage he had with Invincible that wasn't possible with TWD. When I spoke with him during the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) aTVFest in February, he told me:
When it came to Invincible, I've been around long enough that I'm a little bit more keyed into the fact that there is some value to the comic book work that I did and it should probably be used. And so I guess you could say Invincible is adhering a little bit closer to the comics [than The Walking Dead], although I do consider it a second draft of what the comic was. Working closely with Simon Racioppa on the show, and Jeff Allen, our supervising director, to kind of key in to different things that we can heighten and accentuate and expand upon. Also, you know, having the 144 issues to where you can just kind of sit back and go, 'Okay, we know that this character is going to go here, here, and here and end up here.' We know that with every single character. And being able to set up stories a little bit better than I did in the comics – because I maybe didn't know exactly where everything was going – I think led to a better process. Even on The Walking Dead, we were on Issue 72 when the show started, and so there was a lot that hadn't been written yet that we didn't actually know was coming when we were doing the show. So yeah, it's a much different process.
It may seem silly to point out that building a house from a blueprint is a lot more effective than coming up with designs as one works, but sometimes that kind of wisdom can only be learned through experience. It's not like Robert Kirkman would have put off the creation of the Walking Dead TV series for another nine years just so he could conclude the comic book first. But in having adapted TWD for TV before that comic was even half-over, Kirkman learned many of the ups and downs that come with balancing straightforward adaptations with completely new storylines and characters. And it sounds like he was able to put those lessons into practice with Invincible.
However, even though Invincible might be a more generally faithful iteration of its comic form than Walking Dead has been over time, that doesn't mean Robert Kirkman and his creative team are laying things out exactly as they went on the page. As the series premiere's final showdown between Omin-Man and the Guardians of the Globe proved, there are more surprises than meets the plopped-out eyeball.
Just ahead of Season 1's three-episode premiere on Amazon Prime, Robert Kirkman and Invincible's stars spoke with press, at which point I asked the creator about the premiere's ending revealing Omni-Man, Mark Grayson's dad, to actually be a villain. More specifically, I asked if having Red Rush's eyeball pop out of his head was a nod to Steven Yeun's infamous death scene on The Walking Dead. Here's how he answered:
Steven and I have a rule that there's no more popping his eyeballs out. And that's fine. I can live with that. Once is enough. But yeah, I think that moment at the end of the pilot is meant to be a little eye-opening and – ooh, I didn't mean to do a pun there – it definitely sets the stage for the show. I think that at the end of the episode, you really know what you're in for, you know what kind of show we are. You know what to expect, to a certain extent, even though the beauty of this show is that you can never expect what's coming next, because things are going to be so varied and so different. But I'm really happy with how that sequence turned out. I have a version of it on my phone, and I watch it over and over on a loop. It's very cool.
Given that U.S. animated series rarely get as violent and bloody as their anime cousins, it was a disturbing breath of fresh air to watch that final fight in the premiere, as well as some of the bone-crunching fight scenes in later episodes. In some cases, those scenes are even more vicious to watch than Walking Dead's horror-driven moments, though obviously not completely, since Greg Nicotero's special effects and makeup on TWD are endlessly gross.
During our SCAD aTVFest conversation, I asked Robert Kirkman about Invincible's high levels of orifice-gouging violence, and whether or not anyone at Amazon had any advice about such things. Here's how he answered:
I mean, [it gets] as adult as the comics did. You know, we're not pulling any punches, and we haven't had any [pushback]. I mean, the team at Amazon – Andy Greene, who we worked closely with – has never really given us any kind of content notes. It's always about crafting story and, 'Ohh, maybe dig in on this character arc, and this thing and that thing.' None of their notes have been, 'I think this is too much. You can't go here.' And so we haven't had any limitations as far as adapting the content from the comics into the show. So, you know, when we say this is adult animation, I think that I'm letting my kids watch it, but I'm probably a bad parent, I guess, is what I would say. So yeah it definitely goes there. If anything, some of the aspects of the story that we're adapting from the comics, we didn't have motion and sound, so you couldn't hear the bones breaking and see the entrails flying, and so some of it is a little bit more intense than the comics at times. But I have to say, it is all based on story, and it is all to the purpose of serving the story and making the story as realistic as possible and getting to the drama of the aftermath of these events.
To be sure, had Invincible's first episode ended with Omni-Man killing the Guardians of the Globe in a car accident, or by injecting them with a slow-acting poison, it would not have made the same kind of mental dent that one gets from watching J.K. Simmons' character utterly decimate the team of superheroes. Viewers need to see him become a murderous monster to truly understand that yes, he is a murderous monster. But he'd never hurt Mark, right? RIGHT?
New episodes of Invincible drop on Amazon Prime Video every Friday, so make sure to keep your eyes on the prize before Red Rush starts putting his eyes on everything.