In 1992, seven comic writers and illustrators, tired of being ripped off by the comic industry and robbed of their intellectual property by DC and Marvel, formed the Image Comics label under the ideology that any work made by an artist would be that creator’s inherent property. Led by Todd McFarlane and Jim Valentino, Image has produced some of the most popular comics to float just below the mainstream, such as Spawn, WildC.a.t.s., The Walking Dead, Wanted, Chew, The Maxx, Savage Dragon, East of West and Saga just to name some of the most popular. But one of the most lauded and critically acclaimed comic under the Image brand is one of it’s only direct superhero lines: Robert Kirkman’s Invincible.
Centered around the eponymous teenage hero, Invincible began in 2003 and only ended in early 2018. In that 15-year run, it became known as one of the best superhero comics of the modern era, an acclaim based on its brutal grounding, unflinchingly graphic content, and hauntingly good character progression. The series finally, issue #144, is considered one of the best send-offs of a comic line in the history of the medium. However, Invincible is apparently destined to stay in the pop culture consciousness as Amazon recently announced that it will be partnering with Kirkman to make an animated series based on the comic. While we all collectively wait for the premier, here’s a quick list of 25 things that the uninitiated should know before delving into the cartoon. Warning though, there will be spoilers.
25 HE'S BASICALLY SUPERBOY
The fundamental concept behind Invincible is that he’s a somewhat more realistic Superboy (or maybe the comparison to Jon Kent is more accurate these days). Not only are both half-alien, half-human teenage hybrids, but they share most of the exact same abilities as well. Both can fly, have super speed and strength, and have a weirdly specific weakness: namely kryptonite and sonic attacks respectively.
Additionally, both have to live in the shadows of their more famous in-universe mentors/adult counterparts. Honestly, the biggest difference between the two was in how they developed. Superboy learned to accept his unique position while Invincible found his own path in his world.
24 HIS DAD IS AN EVIL/REFORMED SUPERMAN
Invincible is the half-human son of the alien Omni-Man, aka Nolan Grayson. As a Viltrumite, a near-extinct, genetically gifted, and hyper-aggressive humanoid race, Nolan was raised as a scout, prepared to be sent alone to remote alien world to test them for conquest.
Though he acclimated well to Earth and even became a legendary superhero, Nolan was always secretly loyal to the Viltrumites. It was only after being confronted by his son that Nolan started to question his ways. This led him down a path that eventually put him on the Viltrumite throne and redeemed him with a martyr’s passing.
23 HIS LOVE INTEREST IS ATOM EVE
Though not his only significant other in the series, Invincible’s one true love is the only hero who might be more powerful than even he himself, Atom Eve. Nee Samantha Wilkins, Atom Eve can restructure matter at the molecular level, letting her make light constructs, transmute anything, fly, and regenerate instantly.
The two heroes went to the same high school but were only friends for a good long while. But the romantic tension was palpable from the beginning and it was only a matter of time before they got together, got married, and had a kid, not necessarily in that order.
22 HE'S NOT AFRAID TO USE FORCE
Though Invincible himself has a strong sense of morality, one of the major themes of the series as a whole is that good and evil exist from moment to moment. As such, Invincible has often had to confront hard truths about his world, which has more than once led him to the conclusion that brutal tactics and even going over the line are necessary to keep innocent people safe.
He’s got a fairly sizable count under his belt, both in terms of people he’s ended directly or through his notoriously poor judgement, including arch enemies, low-level minions, and the country of Greenland.
21 HE'S GOT A HALF-BROTHER NAMED OLIVER
After it was revealed that Omni-Man was secretly preparing Earth for invasion, he left the planet in shame and found refuge on Thraxa, a planet of short-living giant insects who made him their leader based on him being thousands of years older than anyone else on the planet.
During his relatively brief reign on the planet, Nolan found out that the Thraxans were genetically compatible with Viltrumians and ended up having a child with one of them. That baby, named Oliver, was raised by Invincible and eventually became the hero called Kid Omni-Man and an agent of the Coalition of Planets.
20 HE FIRST APPEARED IN SAVAGE DRAGON
Though Invincible as a character debuted in his own comic line, he first appeared to the viewing public in a preview page in issue number 102 of Savage Dragon, another popular series under the Image Comics label. Though some believe that his first appearance was actually in the pages of Tech Jacket #1, Savage Dragon #102 came out a full two months previous.
We know that most of you are thinking that this may not seem like a big deal, but the first appearance of this now-iconic character has made Savage Dragon #102 a hot commodity among comic book collectors.
19 HE LIVES IN THE SAME UNIVERSE AS SPAWN
Like its Marvel and DC predecessors, Image Comics also has its own main-universe continuity. Because of his popularity, this universe is often referred to as the Invincible Universe, but he is by no means the only comic character to live in it. Among his fellows are the popular characters Savage Dragon, Brit, the Guardians of the Globe, and the Astounding Wolf-Man.
There’s even connective tissue to suggest that he lives in the same universe as Image Comics’s mainstay character, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. The two even teamed up in the "Invincible War" storyline, proving that it pays to have unity in a comic line.
18 HE HAS MULTIPLE ARCH NEMESES
A hero is only as good as their villain. Superman has Lex Luthor, Batman has the Joker, and Invincible has… like 15 different arch nemeses who have all had major impacts on him in one way or another. Between the dimension-hopping Angstrom Levy, the hyper-intelligent were-dinosaur Dinosaurus, the vindictive Viltruvian leader Thragg, the level-headed crime boss Titan, and the alien traumatizer Anissa, Invincible has his hands full more often than not.
But perhaps no villain is more personal to Invincible than his friend Robot, who took control of the world by force to ensure world peace and order. Sounds like a good deal but trust us when we say it isn't.
17 HE HAS A WEIRD HISTORY WITH ALTERNATE DIMENSIONS
Alternate dimensions are practically a rite of passage for superheroes. Going from one alternate universe to another and meeting different versions of themselves is nothing new and Invincible is no exception. For starters, one of his biggest threats is Angstrom Levy, a dimension hopper who went mad after trying to combine his intellect with the minds of all his alternate selves.
During his time, Levy has trapped Invincible in alternate worlds, have brought evil versions of Invincible to attack him, and, even when he tried to redeem himself with a sacrifice, his DNA was used by Robot to trap Invincible during his takeover of Earth.
16 HE'S BEEN A TEAM PLAYER AND A FREE AGENT
Superhero teams are about as baked into the genre as a concept can be. The Marvel Universe has the X-Men and the Avengers, and DC has the Titans and the Justice League As a hero, Invincible has been a part of or worked for various teams, including the Teen Team, the Pact, the Guardians of the Globe, the Coalition of Planets, and the US government.
When not a part of a larger picture, Invincible started the first superhero business, Invincible Inc., which allowed him to profit off his work by selling his protective services to private prisons and other dangerous institutions.
15 HE HAS A WEIRD HISTORY WITH TIME TRAVEL
Time travel can be a great story-telling mechanic to allow heroes to self-reflect on both their history and legacy. But for Invincible, time travel is the worst thing in the world. For starters, there’s the alternate dimension of the Flaxans which has a distinct temporal difference.
Invincible’s father and friends have been caught there for centuries apiece but only seemed to disappear for a few months. Then there was the time when Invincible was seemingly sent back in time. After refusing to cement that timeline, he was brought back to reality five years after leaving it, missing his daughter’s childhood.
14 SURPRISE TWISTS
Most comics have a defined and linear story that develops in various arcs and leaves their characters a bit more developed at the end of each plot line. Kirkman had a similar idea for how to handle Invincible, but after the bombshell that was issue #7, where Nolan was revealed as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the series became almost Shyamalan-esque in its dependence on surprise twists and shocking revelations.
These would range from the alien attacker Omni-Man’s fought annually for 15 years being a low-level space cop to the leader of the Coalition of Planets being a Viltrumian defector.
13 THE IN-UNIVERSE COMIC IS A FAILED KIRKMAN PITCH
Invincible isn’t just a hero, he’s also a huge comic nerd and his book of choice is Science Dog, a classic pulp-style sci-fi series about a talking canine scientist (and with a description like that, we can see why he loves it so much). The actual Science Dog actually makes a few sporadic appearances in the series but isn’t all too important to the story itself.
It turns out, however, that Science Dog was a Robert Kirkman project that he’d previously pitched to Image Comics. When it was rejected, he was told that talking animal stories didn’t sell anymore and to focus on superheroes. Thus, Invincible was born.
12 THE COMICS WERE INSPIRED BY SPIELBERG AND TARANTINO
Kirkman has never been shy about talking about his work in interviews and, when asked about how he was inspired to write Invincible, he named super successful film directors Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino as his key influencers, which may leave those who are not familiar with the character scratching their heads.
So while that may be jarring for anyone that looks at Invincible for the first time, this is all too evident in his work as the character's family drama and interpersonal relationships are almost directly taken from Spielberg’s general-audience-pleasing narrative style and the graphic violence, language, and adult themes the series features are notorious, quintessential staples of Tarantino’s work.
11 HE'S A COLLEGE DROPOUT
One of the most important aspects of a superhero is how they live as their secret identities. Invincible started his story as a model high schooler but getting his powers changed his life’s trajectory. He attempted to have a regular life, but his superhero drama made that impossible.
So, he decided to drop out of college to focus on his more important heroic exploits. His subsequent argument with his mother made his decision seem reasonable. After all, he was already making a huge salary working for the government and who needs a diploma when you can bench press a planet?
10 HE HAS A WEIRD HISTORY WITH SPACE TRAVEL
As a half-alien, Invincible has had a bizarre history of living and working out in space. His physiology allows him to hold his breath and fly through space without a suit or ship, so he can and has fought entire wars while in space. As part of the Viltrumite War, he’s blown up entire worlds and he visited multiple celestial bodies as part of the coalition of planets.
When he and Nolan started to rebuild the Viltrumite Empire, they started with a small colony on the moon and expanded outwards, eventually becoming the biggest force of order in the galaxy.
9 KIRKMAN DECIDED TO END THE SERIES ON A WHIM
Kirkman never really intended for Invincible to end it's almost two decade run. He had always been very clear that he wanted to retire one day and pass the story down to a new generation of comic writers to take over the character and the whole Invincible Universe as a whole.
However, about two-thirds of the way towards the eventual end of the series, Kirkman realized that he was subconsciously writing his way into a finale despite his best efforts to do the opposite. Arbitrarily, he decided to let his instincts take over and wrapped up the series only forty-four short issues later.
8 THERE'S A MOVIE IN THE WORKS
It doesn’t matter how many episodes of Preacher they make, the comedic one-two punch that is the writing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg still haven’t fully redeemed themselves for that disastrous Green Hornet movie from a couple years back.
But if anything can put them back in in comic book fans’ good graces it’s the planned Invincible movie that the two have on the table right now. The writing duo have had a challenge trying to condense a 15-year comic run into a single film but have stated that they’re staying true to the core character and story. Good luck to ‘em.
7 KIRKMAN WANTS AN INVINCIBLE FIGHTING GAME
Comics and video games have a weird history together in that some comic book games have been legendarily good whereas others have been notoriously bad and the ratio between the two seems to be fairly even. Kirkman has more than once tried to throw his hat in the ring by suggesting that he’d be interested in teaming up with a development studio for a Marvel vs. Capcom-style fighting game based on Invincible.
Given the success of superhero fighting games like Injustice and MvC, this is a potentially lucrative idea that could bring Invincible to a more mainstream audience, pleasing both comic fans and gamers everywhere.
6 HE HAS HIS OWN VILLAINS GALLERY
For superhero comics, having a lot of villains is just as important as having good villains and Invincible has never been all too short in supply for antagonists. Apart from Invincible’s more personal villains, his enemies include the insane earthquake generator Doc Seismic, the mad reanimator scientist D.A. Sinclair, and the alien-tech armed thug Tether.
In addition to that, he frequently takes on the AI crime boss Machine Head, the blood-lusting alien lion Battle Beast, and, of course, the iconic clone due of the Mauler Twins, whose constant bickering over who is the original and who is the replicant provides one of the longest running jokes in comics.
5 HIS SUPPORTING CAST
One of the most underappreciated but crucial elements to a superhero is who he surrounds himself with. Who is Superman really without Jimmy Olsen to look up to him, for example. In Invincible’s case, he has his endlessly patient mother Deborah, his hero allies Rex Splode, Monster Girl, Bulletproof, Dupli-Kate and her twin Multi-Paul, his government contact Cecil Stedman, and his one-eyed extra-terrestrial friend Allen the Alien.
Most intriguing is his sort-of mentor the Immortal, a seemingly completely invincible superhero who has taken on many roles in his long life and was once known as Abraham Lincoln (no, for real).
4 HIS POWERS GROW BY WORKING OUT
One of the things that comic book readers have always taken for granted about their superheroes is that they just sort of have their powers. Superman can fly because of the color of the sun, Iron Man can fly because he has the technology, and Wonder Woman can fly because she just can.
Not Invincible though. Although his powers are based on his genetics, they do have a base level, meaning that if he wants to keep up with his fellow heroes, and more importantly his enemies, he has to work out and exercise to increase and maintain his abilities.
3 HE'S MET BATMAN AND THE AVENGERS
Image Comics almost never interacts with characters outside its direct ownership except to criticize them, so crossovers with other companies’ IPs are considered big deals (especially in the days of what seems like a war between Marvel and DC). Invincible has had two such crossovers and they both happened at pretty much the same time.
When Angstrom Levy sent him on a cross-dimensional journey, Invincible ended up in the Marvel universe where he traded barbs with Spider-Man and met with the Avengers before moving to the next world. At some point in the same adventure, he briefly encountered Batman, who he accused of having a lazy name.
2 THE SERIES CRITIQUES SUPERHERO TROPES
As one of his only direct superhero platforms, Kirkman actively used Invincible to work out some of his opinions on the classic superhero tropes. For example, Invincible makes a point of not wearing a cape because capes are stupid, superfluous accessories that only get in the way, especially in the dangerous world of super heroics.
Morality being more complex than good-vs-evil, anti-heroes being pouty brats, and government oversight being unquestionably necessary for superhero antics are also all major themes that the series plays around with which break superhero tradition, literally making Invincible a comic unlike anything else you'll find on the shelves.
1 ENDED THE SERIES WITH LOOSE ENDS
The ending of Invincible sees Invincible living in peace with Eve and their daughter Terra as the rulers of the new Viltrumite Empire. Though things generally seem fine, there are still plenty of unresolved issues left to be explained.
Terra is concerned that her parents may be more war-prone than they’d like to believe, Invincible’s son Markus is having trouble being a hero on Earth, and civil strife is brewing among the Viltrumites. But Kirkman left these plot threads loose for a reason, namely in case he or another writer wants to return to Invincible sometime in the future. Here’s hoping!