28 November 2009

Invincible but Not Infallible

Invincible is a comic book launched in 2003, written by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley. It explores the life of a new teen-aged superhero. Special powers run in Mark’s family—his dad is also a costumed hero, though that turns out to be less pleasant and inspiring than one would think.

Kirkman’s interview at Newsarama on the occasion of the series’s fiftieth issue makes clear that his hero’s youth was what defined the series:

NRAMA: When you sat down and came up with something “different,” what was it about Invincible that fit that description and made you want to give him a chance?

RK: When I was growing up, they did a Robin series with the Tim [Drake] character, and I really enjoyed reading that. Some of the older Spider-Man comics when he was actually a teenager—I had read some of those. So I decided that I wanted to do a teen superhero.
And what surname did Kirkman choose for the teen-aged costumed hero who represents the experience of growing up in a superhero universe?


I’m just saying.

That name choice reflects how, although Kirkman is working with Image Comics rather than Marvel or DC, he plays off readers’ cultural knowledge of older superheroes. The best moments in the first issues show how teens with high-school classes, fast-food jobs, and supportive if occasionally embarrassing parents really would react to developing special powers. We see both fulfilled dreams and upended expectations. The panels are illustrated in a clean and bright style, and the pages are paced for emotion and comic timing.

The series has a lighter tone than Image’s other superhero titles, many of which still show their 1990s roots. Each story arc/paperback volume is named after a TV sitcom, mostly from the 1970s and 1980s. Volume 12 (due out next February) is Still Standing, which I had to look up to find it was a sitcom aired in this decade. Mark attends the Reginald Vel Johnson High School, and TV characters pop up in backgrounds. Starting after the 50th issue, Mark even has to deal with an annoying little tagalong named Oliver.

Invincible tales appear first in magazine form, then in paperback volumes that each contain four to six issues of the magazine, then in hardcover “Ultimate” volumes that contain the material in two to three paperbacks, and most recently in The Complete Invincible, vol. 1 (which challenges our understanding of the words “ultimate” and “complete”).

Once again, I find myself wishing that more editorial care went into such collections. Here’s a scan from the back of the first Ultimate hardcover, and Mark’s name is misspelled. Inside the book, the contents page credits both artists for half the issues and none for the other half. And this copy was from a third printing of the book, when such typos should have been caught and corrected.

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