Invincible at 50: Robert Kirkman, Part II

For those just joining us, CBR News is hosting a weeklong celebration to commemorate the 50th issue of Image Comics' "Invincible," on sale this week. Created in 2002 by Robert Kirkman and artist Cory Walker -- and drawn since issue #8 by Ryan Ottley with colorist Bill Crabtree sticking in for every installment -- "Invincible" has earned fan acclaim, multiple trade paperback editions and a dizzying level of twists and turns on the traditional superhero comic. Over six years and 50 issues, the series has remained one of the most popular new comics of the new millennium and shows no signs of slowing down soon.

We kicked off yesterday with Part I of an extensive interview with series co-creator and writer Robert Kirkman in which the scribe explained the history of the long-running superhero series and its surprise success. Now in Part II of CBR's in-depth interview with Kirkman, we get into the nitty gritty of where he will be taking the book over the next 50 issues, including the fate of the war with the Viltrumites, the possibility of more miniseries, and exactly what's going on with that movie deal. Plus, be sure to check back later this week for exclusive preview pages from "Invincible" #51 and interviews with the series art team of Ryan Ottley and Bill Crabtree.

CBR: You've been working with other creators to produce "Invincible" miniseries and solo stories in the anniversary issues. Has it been easy for you to share the toys with other writers?

Robert Kirkman: Well, I mean...not really. [laughs] Benito Cereno, who wrote the Atom Eve series, did back-ups in "Invincible" in the early days, and he's done a few comics on his own that are wildly entertaining. He also has a better memory than me, so sometimes I'll call him up and go, "Have I mentioned Rex's little brother before? Is there some obscure line of dialogue you can remember that I seem to have forgotten?" So he's my go-to guy for that stuff. I don't want to spread it around too much because I don't really like the thought of having other writers establishing different aspects of characters in the universe. That guy pretty much knows what going on, and he's a guy I feel like I can trust. But I'm pretty protective.

Do you keep notebooks in which you flesh out all this back-story for your own benefit?

I'm not quite as responsible as all that. I keep most everything in my head. I do have documents on my computer where I scrawl down notes because I think I'm going to forget stuff, but for the most part I've been able to keep character's back stories in my head. I'm sure it's probably changing constantly, and I don't notice. I figure as long as it's not printed in the book, I can change it, and it's not very important.

Looking back on all the stories you've done in the book and the spin-offs and handbooks and what not, what are the defining moments of "Invincible" where you say, "This is always what I wanted to do with this book"?

I don't remember any of these issues. What are you asking me these questions for? [Laughs] I think the initial Omni-Man story is a pretty big part of the series because it's something I set out to do when I started the series, and I didn't know if the book was going to last long enough for me to get to it. So having that there and having it happen exactly the way I wanted to. I did initially want it to happen much later, but the gist of it is exactly how I wanted it to go, and I think it turned out pretty good.

The quirky stuff for me is what I like the most. Issue #23 with the focus on Allen -- that issue is a favorite of mine. Being able to do the series long enough that I can have one-off issues where I can go, "Screw you! I'm going to focus on this guy now!" That's a fun thing about comics for me. It was cool being able to do that for an issue, and I'm going to be doing it again in issue #55. And then the story where Omni-Man came back starting in #25 and going to issue #30 where we introduced Mark's little brother and caught up with Omni-Man -- everything involving Omni-Man is the heart of the series for me.

And then issues #51, #52 and #53 are going to be a pretty big deal, so I'm excited to get those out. I'm not going to say exactly what's going on in those, but there are a lot of twists and turns in store for the character, and I'm excited that those issues should be coming out in pretty rapid succession to make up for the [lateness] of issue #50.

With the last few issues, you've been on a strange slow boil. From #45 on, you've had some relatively standalone issues but they've developed this subtle plotline of Mark's government handler Cecil turning on him at the end of #49. You introduced Cecil way back in the first year, and since then he's been a pretty helpful role player in Invincible's career. At what point did you know he was going to be turning with Mark and the U.S. government coming to odds over the Viltrumite threat?

Well, the arc from issue #1 to issue #50 has kind of been trying to watch Mark mature as a person and start being less naïve. When he first started working with Cecil in issue #13, it was very much, "What do you need me to do?" He had just lost his father, and Cecil came in as kind of a replacement authority figure. Mark was working for the government, and it was, "Go fight this. Go fight that. I need you to stop this thing in space." It was all Mark as the subordinate figure. As time has gone one, we've seen him argue with Cecil more. "I can't do this now. This isn't as important as this." We've seen him revolt a little bit, and going forward, I want t show that Mark has become more of an adult. He's not a naïve child that needs to be told what to do. He's starting to find that he disagrees with Cecil on a fundamental level about the kind of organization Cecil is running.

Issue #50 is about Mark and his persona as Invincible finally becoming a real adult superhero who knows his mission and knows what he's doing and isn't going to be taking his orders from a guy who he doesn't necessarily trust. It's finally him stepping out from under anyone's shadow and being his own man. Going forward, I'm really excited to see what he does now that he's actually kind of an adult.

And #50 is not just a larger issue. There are back-ups and side stories, right?

Well, issue #50 has a 24-page main story, so it's a little bit longer than a normal issue, and that's going to deal with the present day Invincible versus Cecil thing set up in #49. Then we've got a 12-page back-up penciled by Ryan [Ottley] and inked by Cliff Rathburn, and we've got Kelsey Shannon coming in to color it, who's a fantastic artist on his own. That's a 12-page Cecil story that's going to tell his origin. So you're going to see Mark and Cecil's confrontation, and after that we'll show you why Cecil is the man he is, and you'll find out how he got that scar on his mouth and how he came to lead the Global Defense Agency.

And then to round out the issue in a more light-hearted manner, we get to continue the Science Dog backup from "Invincible" #25 here in issue #50. Cory Walker, the original artist on "Invincible" and co-creator of Science Dog and myself are doing a kick-ass Science Dog back-up. It makes me laugh to do a 12-page story every #25 issues that continues from one to the other. [Laughs] I don't know. I think that's funny, and that's why we're doing it. So if you're wonder what happened to Science Dog after issue #25 about three years ago, now you're going to find out. And this one ends on a cliffhanger too that will be followed up in issue #75.

You're changing the costume in issue #51, and in superhero comics, sometimes costume changes come from character moments like when Spider-Man got the black costume in space and sometimes it's just, "Screw it! Daredevil wears armor now!" What precipitates Invincible's change? Is this fallout from #50?

I think in comics it's a little bit silly to go, "I'm sad now so my costumes going to be a little bit black." That's a little funny and definitely not what we're doing. I don't want to give it away, but there's a much simpler reason he's wearing a new costume in issue #51. It all makes sense inside the series, and it's got a lot to do with his little brother becoming his kind of sidekick. It's more of a partner, but if you want to use the term "sidekick" that's fine. But as far as the actual reason we did it outside of the series, I was just thinking, "We made it to issue #50, and we've never done a costume change."

As a comics fan and a superhero fan especially, I got to the point where I was thinking about it and beginning in issue #50 I wanted to start to do some of the stuff that they do in long-running superhero books. I was looking at it thinking, "If this is everything I like about superhero comics rolled into one book, we might as well give the costume change a shot." It's just a fun thing that we can do because we've been around for so long, and like all costume changes, it's probably not going to be permanent. I can say it won't last for 50 issues, but I can't say it won't last for 49. We'll see.

What can you tell us about what your plan is in terms of the Viltrumite conflict? Obviously, the larger series has revolved around that plot to a certain degree, but do you have an end result or end point in mind? Can you say, "I know what happens when the Viltrumites come to earth?" or do you want to keep complicating and adding characters like the Viltrumite at the head of the Coalition of Planets to the story until it resolves itself?

Those characters like Anissa who was introduced in #44 -- the female Viltrumite -- are all being introduced with a mind towards getting to the end game of that story. It's all pieces of a puzzle that are getting put together, and the puzzle will be completed and that storyline wrapped up a lot sooner than people think. I'm pretty excited about that. It's definitely coming up, and I know exactly what happens after that storyline is resolved, and I'm pretty excited to get to that point. I don't want to keep that thing looming over the series itself forever. I'm not going to wrap it up in a way that will disrupt the fundamental core of the series, but it's definitely something that I have an ending in mind for that. A lot more pieces will fall into place with issue #55, where we're going to focus on Allen and Omni-Man exclusively trying to break out of the Viltrumite prison they've been staying in. It's going to lead to big sci-fi stuff, and we'll have a lot of cool Viltrumite action coming up in the series pretty soon.

At this point, you've been working with Ryan Ottley and colorist Bill Crabtree -- who's leaving with issue #50-- for a very long time. What has it been like to develop that long-term collaboration, and how are you hoping to move forward with that or change things up with issue #50?

Well, if Ryan were to try and quit at this point, I would have to kill him. Hopefully that won't have to happen because I don't want to go to jail. I have a very young son, and I would hate for him to have to live with that. But it's great being able to work with people for that long, and unfortunately Bill Crabtree is wrapping up his 50-issue run on the series, but he's an artist in his own right and wants to do his own stuff. I think he wants to do a comic on his own that he writes and draws and colors and everything. I don't want to hinder that, and he was just saying that staying on "Invincible" was keeping him happy and not needing to do that stuff, so if he left the series, he would finally get around to fulfilling his dream in comics, and I'm behind him 100% on that. So I'm sorry to see him go, but we'll be fine.

I think Ryan is very happy on the book, and I do everything I can to keep him happy. Hopefully, we'll still be together for issue #100. I've kind of gotten a bit lazy with him because we've developed a shorthand over 40-odd issues together. In the scripts, I can just refer back to scenes -- "I want a shot kind of like this one but cooler" -- and he knows just what I need. Having to break in another artist on this series would kill me. Having to replace Bill as a colorist and the sheer task of having to get a new colorist color reference for every character on the book is such a pain in the ass that I don't ever want to have to go through that with an artist. Ryan's got a pretty big bargaining chip as far as wanting to stay. He could rake me over the coals and get what he wanted. So hopefully he won't be reading this interview. [Laughs]

To wrap up, why don't we ask the annoying question that can never have a clear answer because of Hollywood -- how has it been lately trying to take "Invincible" out into other media from movies to TV to whatever?

Well, Paramount had the option for three years, and I got to do a couple drafts of the screenplay. That was a lot of fun, but the rights reverted back from them at some point, and so nothing's really moving on that front with Paramount. But other people are doing something very cool that I can't talk about, but that will be announced in July at Comic-Con, and if you read "Invincible" #51, they're letting me talk about it a little early to the comic fans. So you'll see something in "Invincible" #51 about that. I'm very excited about this. It's going to be a cool thing. So be on the lookout for that soon.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Image Comics forum.

Tags: image comics, robert kirkman, invincible, cory walker, ryan ottley

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