Amazon’s Invincible: How family drama and super-violence make it something special

Amazon Studios is no stranger to pushing the boundaries with superhero shows, having already found success with critically acclaimed adaptations of The Boys and The Tick, two shows that offering unconventional spins on comic-book heroes and villains. The studio’s next foray into that genre is the animated series Invincible, based on the comic of the same name by The Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman and illustrator Cory Walker, and it’s another saga that defies traditional superhero fare.

Premiering March 26 on Amazon Prime Video, Invincible follows teenager Mark Grayson, whose father is secretly the most powerful hero on Earth, as he finally finds himself developing the superhuman abilities he hoped to inherit and learns how to be humanity’s newest protector.

The series features an A-list cast of voice actors, including Steven Yeun as Mark Grayson (a.k.a. Invincible) and J. K. Simmons as his father, Nolan Grayson (a.k.a. Omni-Man). They’re joined by Sandra Oh, Gillian Jacobs, Zazie Beetz, Walton Goggins, and Jason Mantzoukas, among other cast members in supporting roles.

While Invincible might seem like a standard, generational superhero story on the surface, anyone familiar with the comic can attest that it’s anything but predictable — whether it’s the shocking narrative twists and turns the saga takes or its willingness to mix intense, moments of graphic violence in with its bright, more traditional color palette.

And Kirkman promises that the animated series will continue to hold some surprises, whether you’re already a fan of the comic or coming into the show new.

“We’re changing the order of different events. We’re expanding different events. We’re contracting different events. And while a lot of the same things will be taking place, they’ll be happening in a much different way,” Kirkman told Digital Trends. “So you’ll be surprised that we did something so soon or surprised that something hasn’t happened yet. … Being able to play with all that stuff and add a new energy to this story that I’ve spent many, many years working on in comic book form just makes the project infinitely more exciting for me.”

For the cast, the combination of being able to explore the relationship of parents and their children, as well as the drama of our awkward teenage years for everyone involved — all against the backdrop of over-the-top superhero and supervillain action — ended up being a powerful foundation for their performances.

“Going back to a 17-year-old’s mindset is not fun sometimes, but it can be very real,” explained Yeun. “And in some ways, it’s fun to play, because there’s a lot of things that I wanted to talk to my father about. So, getting to play that out in this way, with someone as incredible as J.K., that’s the cool part. It’s like a simulated reality of that relationship, and it’s fascinating.”

While the series carries over the powerful exploration of Mark’s relationship to his father and mother from its source material, it doesn’t shy away from doing the same with the brutal violence that often hammered home the (frequently literal) impact of superhuman heroes and villains’ actions. Whether it’s sinister criminals eviscerating innocent bystanders without a second thought or heroes dealing with the heart-wrenching side effects of using their powerful abilities, Invincible doesn’t pull any punches.

That raw intensity is on full display in the series’ first episode, which delivers one particularly gruesome scene that sets the tone for the saga to come.

“When they told me about the intensity of the violence and all that, I was like, ‘Sure, whatever,'” recalled Simmons. “But I really wasn’t prepared for it. It is intense. And what I found surprising and unusual was that there’s a real sense of the stakes and the consequences of that violence [in the series].”

“There are certain scenes where it’s more palpable and more horrible and heartbreaking,” he continued, “and I found that really, really intriguing and impactful.”

Amazon’s series also takes a lesson from its source material by surrounding Mark with plenty of strong female characters, from his mother Debbie (played by Oh) to his love interest, Amber (Beetz), and super-powered teammate, Eve (Jacobs).

With Amber in particular, the series gives the character more depth than she initially received in the comic — a change that made her even more appealing to Beetz, who has a prominent superhero role in her past after playing the lucky mercenary Domino in Deadpool 2, but was happy to portray a non-powered character this time around.

“Without being a superhero, Amber is a really strong and confident character, and I think that’s important,” she explained to Digital Trends. “You don’t have to be a superhero to be a good influence in the world and to also have confidence and be sure of yourself. We look up to Wonder Woman and we look up to these characters like her, but it’s also okay to not be that, and to just be yourself — which is what Amber is.”

For much of the cast, that authenticity that exists at the heart of Invincible — even amid all of the capes and colors and super-powered battles — is one of the show’s most important qualities, and one it shares with the comic that inspired it.

The Invincible comic book series encompassed 144 issues and concluded in 2018 after a critically praised, 15-year run that included countless spinoff projects and tie-in stories in various media. Kirkman, who serves as an executive producer on the show, hopes the Amazon series experiences a similarly long run.

For Yeun, the Oscar-nominated actor whose portrayal of the show’s titular protagonist is a linchpin of the project, the universal appeal of Mark’s story is clear.

“Coming out of the shadow of someone who helps form you, that journey is always interesting,” said Yeun. “Realizing yourself is a universal journey for all people.”

Amazon Studios’ Invincible premieres March 26 on Amazon Prime Video.

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