SPOILER ALERT: This interview covers major plot points revealed in this week’s “Invincible” #110 by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley.
“Invincible” #110 was a big issue in more ways than one. Not only did Mark Grayson’s longtime love interest — and mother of his unborn child — Atom Eve show him the door, but in the aftermath, Mark was subsequently beaten and raped by Anissa, one of the Viltrumites attempting to integrate into Earth’s society, in the name of procreating new Viltrumites.
In order to grant further context to the events of Image Comics/Skybound’s “Invincible” #110, CBR News spoke with series creator Robert Kirkman, who discussed the challenge of portraying rape in a comic, the motivation behind the decision, the difficulty of writing a rape scene for the character and the discussion with artist Ryan Ottley that went into planning the execution of the issue.
CBR News: Robert, “Invincible” #110 was a pretty intense issue. Before getting deep into the book’s plot, what was the motivation behind that decision, especially given the challenge of portraying rape in a comic?
Robert Kirkman: The events of this issue have been roughly planned since the Viltrumites set up shop on Earth. This was going to be the track that I went on with the character Anissa, and it’s been in the planning stages for a while.
The biggest and most shocking event in the book is undoubtedly Anissa raping Mark. How did you decide this was the right direction in which to take the story?
It’s definitely a hectic time in Mark’s life, there’s definitely a lot going on with Robot trying to take over the world, and I’m just trying to throw Mark Grayson — the main character of this book — into the worst possible situation he’s ever been in so we can see where he comes out on the other side and whether he manages to retain his sanity in the process. We’re really putting Mark through his paces.
Also, it’s just another attempt to bring something that’s a bad part of real life into a superhero world and analyze the ramifications of something like this happening to someone in superhero comics. It’s a great medium to be able to deal with real-world issues against a fantastic backdrop that is completely unreal and see how those differences in the situation change how characters behave. It’s really all about exploring Mark’s character, and I can say it’s a very hard scene to read, and it’s meant to be that way. There will be far-reaching ramifications coming from this moment that will extend throughout the life of the book for years and years and years. It’s definitely a huge turning point in Mark’s life and it’s something that’s going to temper almost every scene with that guy moving forward. Issue #110 was a monumental issue as far as the run of the book goes.
It was definitely a tough scene to read; was it also a tough scene to write?
Yeah, definitely. It’s sort of walking the razor’s edge to a certain extent. These kind of scenes can always come off too sensational or not respectful enough. It’s very hard to write things like this in a respectful way. It’s definitely hard to — Ryan Ottley and I are very fond of Mark Grayson, believe it or not, and it is sometimes for the story to do things like this, but it’s never really fun. It can be difficult at times to do things like this.
Female on male rape has been depicted in comics before — Starman, Nightwing, Green Arrow all were victims of it, among others — but never in a scene as graphic as the one in “Invincible” #110. What was the discussion like between you and Ryan Ottley when determining how to most appropriately depict the scene?
It was really just a matter of making sure the emotions are very present and the gravity of the scene is portrayed and the violence of the scene is accurately portrayed. We didn’t want it to seem like your average superhero fight, we wanted it to seem a little more brutal than that. There were a lot of layers that had to be covered and there were definitely more than a few discussions between Ryan and me about exactly how to handle that scene. But I do need to say that this scene having more gravity, being a little more graphic and having a little more weight than you would necessarily get from a superhero comic is just a testament to the freedom you get when working at Image Comics. I think it’s just important to note that when you sit down to read an Image Comic, you have to recognize that these are the creators in the driver’s seat, really able to push the boundaries as little or as much as they want to. I really wholeheartedly feel that it leads to better stories when creative teams know that they have that freedom and that they can push those boundaries and they can get to the heart of things in an emotional, mature way if they wish.
When building the story, did you ever consider the possibility that readers might misinterpret its intent? This being the age of the Internet, there have already been a number of comments that Mark couldn’t have been raped because he was — to put it delicately — ‘able to perform.’ How do you react to those types of comments?
I think that’s — I hate to say it, but it’s just an ignorance about what the actual situation is. This is a thing that does happen in real life, and I think for that to be brought up is very unfortunate and very insensitive to the real situation that we’re trying to depict here. But, you know, the Internet is the Internet and people are going to say things like that. I honestly don’t pay attention.
In a broader sense, was there any concern about a scene like this being a trigger for readers that may have experienced a similar situation in their lives?
Sure, you always run the risk of doing that any time you depict any kind of heavy emotional [event]. People have bad breakups with their girlfriends and then they read that kind of stuff in comics. People lose family members and then they read a comic where someone loses a family member and everyone’s always dealing with some kind of traumatic event. We basically live in the spaces between traumatic events, when it gets down to it. As long as you handle things tastefully and really do your research and try to make sure you’re aware of certain situations and how people handle them and you do things as tastefully as possible, I think it could possibly help someone that’s going through an event to see these kind of things. But I would never shy away from a story because I thought I might offend somebody or something like that. Then, I would never tell any story.
“Invincible” has always had a pretty high violence level, but it seems the tone of the book has gotten far more mature and dark in recent issues — the series even dropped the f-bomb recently, which you addressed in this month’s letters page. What does an event like this mean to the book as a whole in terms of tone?
Well, tone-wise — and I think the question of tone is very important in every medium — when you’re doing a movie, “What’s the tone of this movie?” and you can’t break the tone of the movie. With a television show, it’s the same thing. I think comics is a medium where you have the freedom — and it may be the only medium where you can drastically alter the tone of your story on a whim. I think “Invincible” has been doing that from the beginning. It has, at times, been an all-ages book and then very early on in the run, there started being very violent deaths. Being able to do that juxtaposition of “Wait a minute, I didn’t expect to see this,” there are cliffhangers and then there are moments where you shouldn’t be allowed to see certain scenes in the context of certain series. I think that feeling and that disruption to the readers’ comfort zone really is something unique to comics, and I really like the fact that you can push boundaries like that. If you were sitting on the couch watching a television show that had never gone into an area story-wise and then it broke a rating or did something you couldn’t see on television, I think that’s a storytelling tool that’s not available in other mediums, and I think it’s a very valuable storytelling tool.
While this is an extremely dark period in Invincible’s life, I’m not going to say that it’s always going to be like this and I definitely don’t think that it’s changing the tone of the book for good. It’s really just me trying to explore the imagined boundaries of this medium, push them as far as I can and see what happens.
Anissa’s parting words to Mark indicate that this won’t be the last time she tries this with Mark. For the next few issues and beyond, how will Mark deal not just with the psychological implications of the rape, but with the knowledge that it will happen again?
That’s something that’s going to be hanging over his head quite a bit in issues moving forward. I will say that there’s a lot going on in the “Invincible” universe right now and he’s not going to have a lot of time to make any preparations to prevent this in the future or really deal with it in any significant way. The fact that he is experiencing this barrage of very traumatic, very horrific things is by design, and I think where he comes out on the other side of this is going to be a very interesting place because this period of “Invincible’s” history, more than any other group of issues in the book is really the most important to who this character is and what he’s going to be moving forward. I think it’s a really exciting time to be an “Invincible” reader and hopefully people are anticipating and looking forward to what we’re going to do next. It’s entirely possible that what we do may get a little worse from here. We’ll see. I don’t know if people are paying attention to the upcoming covers, but Mark is in for the toughest time of his life, so hold on to your hats.
Eve and Mark’s relationship has always been a big part of “Invincible,” but it seems as though Eve was deathly serious about putting a stop to it during “Invincible” #110. With Eve out of Invincible’s life, will she still be a part of the series?
Well, yeah. She’s carrying his child, so there’s no chance of her not being a part of his life in some way, shape or form, and she’s definitely a huge part of the series. We haven’t seen the last of her by any stretch of the definition. She’s definitely going to be a huge part of the series moving forward, and I think the events with Anissa in this issue are definitely going to — in very real ways — affect his relationship with Eve and how we deal with the events of his rape will certainly play into what his continuing relationship with Eve is.
All of this is in addition to the machinations Robot has in place and that will kick off in “Invincible” #111 — and as the solicit notes, that’s three #1s for the price of 1.
[Laughs] We have been leading up to it with some pretty monumental issues. It may not end up being as jarring as some people might have thought it would be.
How is #111 a new start for the series, if at all?
It’s definitely Mark entering into a new and dangerous world. We have had quite a heavy lead-in with issues #108, #109 and #110, but starting with #111, it’s definitely an all-bets-are-off, much more dangerous world than he’s seen thus far in the series. It is a new beginning for the series in a lot of different ways. I’m not really going to go into it because I don’t want to spoil things, but it’s definitely a huge transition for the life of the series that will lead to some very different, very cool, very engaging stories with the characters.
Winding down, “Invincible” has been around for 10 years and changed quite a bit in its time on the stands. As the series has developed, how has your vision for “Invincible” changed?
Honestly, the vision hasn’t changed at all. It’s really every single thing I’ve ever liked about every superhero comic boiled down into a one-stop shop version of a superhero universe. The fact that superhero comics over the many decades that they’ve been published have covered so many different stories and so many different sub-genres really shows the range of different stories you can tell with a superhero comic. “Invincible” has always been an attempt to put all that kind of stuff into one series. I think that’s why it’s such an evolving series. I am kind of doing what I do with “The Walking Dead” in a superhero comic. “The Walking Dead” is about characters living through traumatic experiences and being changed by those experiences, seeing that evolution in their character over a long period of time as they live their lives, and you could say the same of “Invincible.” It’s a very bizarre superhero world as opposed to a very bizarre zombie-infested world.
Seeing characters change over time really appeals to me. Growing up a comic book fan and watching these character grow and evolve over decades and decades has really led to me being energized by the fact that in comics, you start a series with character A, and by the end of the series it’s still character A, but he’s completely unrecognizable. Being able to tell long-form stories over that period of time and really get to have the readers go on that journey with those characters and have their lives evolve and change as people’s lives do over long periods of time as they’re experiencing this fictional world is really just a magical form of entertainment, if I can sound corny for a little bit. It’s just a lot of fun to do.
“Invincible” #110 is on sale now from Image Comics/Skybound.