Mark Grayson is no stranger to warfare. After all, he led the charge against a hostile army of alternate versions of himself not too long ago, but his upcoming battle may be his greatest yet. If nothing else, it will be one heck of a built-up release for Robert Kirkman and fans of his long-running Image Comics series.
Beginning with this month's "Invincible Returns" #1 and kicking into full gear in "Invincible" #71, Kirkman and artist Ryan Ottley are finally delving into "The Viltrumite War," an eight-issue story-arc with roots going back to the very first issue of the superhero series. In an exclusive interview with CBR News, Kirkman revealed that while he's excited to tackle this crucial chapter in the "Invincible" saga, there's an equally great amount of stress that comes with the storytelling.
"It's really just a tremendous amount of pressure," Kirkman said with a laugh. "It seems like a fun thing to build up a story over seventy issues, but when it comes time to actually doing some kind of a pay off from that, expectations are running pretty high. About a year ago, I sat down and said, 'Okay, I really have to plan this out, map out exactly what's going to happen and make sure that it's cool enough.' I think that Ryan and I are going to blow the door off of this thing. We have some pretty insane things planned. It's going to be the biggest storyline that's been in 'Invincible' so far."
It certainly should be, given the fact that the Viltrumites have populated "Invincible" since the very beginning. Mark himself is half Viltrumite thanks to the lineage of his father Nolan, also known as Omni-Man, the world's greatest superhero turned supervillain turned hero again. While the number of pureblooded Viltrumites in the universe has dwindled to a nearly negligible figure, the fierce alien race nonetheless has the resources of an intergalactic empire at its disposal - and the warmongering race is hungering for even more power, presenting a threat that Mark can't abide.
"We're going to be away from Earth and not seeing the main cast from 'Invincible' for quite some time," Kirkman said. "It's a big intergalactic war. Invincible has a lot to go up against with the Viltrumite threat. Even though their numbers are somewhat diminished, they do have an empire with a lot of different alien races working for them, so the scale will be no less grand. But the main reason that Invincible is throwing himself headfirst into this effort is to make sure that [the conflict] doesn't reach Earth. That's the key plot point for him."
Luckily for him, Mark won't be alone in his war against the Viltrumites. Kirkman identified Omni-Man and Allen the Alien as two of the story-arc's most actively involved characters, though there's another old Kirkman favorite joining the battle as well. "I'm bringing back Tech Jacket from my first creator-owned Image Comics series," he revealed. "He's showed up in the 'Invincible' universe from time to time, so he'll be somewhat of a key player in the war."
On the villains' side of things, Kirkman promised both new and old faces will appear to present a threat to Mark and his allies. "Pretty much everyone that we've seen in association with the Viltrumites is going to return," he said. "There have been a few different Viltrumites that have appeared over the course of the series, and we're going to finally learn a lot more about them and who they are. We haven't even seen who the leader of the Viltrumites is, and that's going to be revealed soon. Be on the lookout for that."
When both sides of the "Viltrumite War" finally collide, Kirkman assures fans that the action won't disappoint. "This has the biggest fight scenes we've ever had in 'Invincible,' believe it or not," said the writer. "Some of the stuff that I'm throwing at Ryan during this story-arc is going to take his full attention. There are issues that will take more than a full month to complete because they're so complex. In order to keep up with the schedule, he'll have to focus his effort solely on this book."
With the promise of grand battles, it's virtually guaranteed that certain characters won't make it out of "The Viltrumite War" alive, a theory that Kirkman confirmed. "There will be some deaths along the way. I hope people aren't too fond of Allen the Alien," Kirkman laughed. "Oh, he might live, don't get your panties in a bunch. Remember that stuff about Atom Eve? I would definitely think that Allen is not going to die because I said that! Or maybe I'm saying that to throw you off the trail. Who knows, man? Who knows what's going to happen? Invincible is probably going to die and we'll get a new series called 'Debbie Grayson, Invincible Mom.'"
Even if Invincible does die, at least he'll have comfortable clothes to wear at his own funeral. In "Invincible Returns" #1, the preamble to "The Viltrumite War," Mark returns to his original yellow-and-black costume. Additionally, the one-shot sets the stage for the following issues of the main series. "It's kind of the 'Let's take a breath and see where all of the pieces are before the war starts' type of issue," said Kirkman. "If you're a new reader wanting to get up to speed without reading seventy issues, 'Invincible Returns' is a good place to start. There isn't a boring text recap or anything, but a lot of things are discussed and done in the issue that will bring a new reader up to speed without spoiling too much, so if they want to go back and buy the 75 different trade paperbacks from this series, they can do that and still enjoy it. But for people who have been reading the 75 plus trade paperbacks in this long running series, 'Invincible Returns' is a definite shining moment. It's very important with a lot of cool stuff going on, like the return of Invincible to his original costume, among other things."
"Invincible Returns" also brings some of the series' last earthbound moments before embarking upon "The Viltrumite War's" space setting. "This is by far the biggest arc we've ever done," said Kirkman of the eight-issue arc. "We've had things last for six issues, but other things have been going on. This is the first [arc] with a truly dedicated beginning, middle and an end where this is the story that we're focusing on. The 'Conquest' story was only four issues, for instance, so this is twice as long as that arc."
The Viltrumites have played such an integral role throughout the events of "Invincible," it's lead many fans to identify the upcoming arc as the climax of the series. As a result, some readers are understandably curious about where "Invincible" goes next. "Anyone that's concerned that the whole crux of the series has been leading up to this event and once it's over, the series will be kind of directionless...that happens to long running [books], and I've experienced it as a reader myself, so I'm very mindful of that," Kirkman said. "The Viltrumite War will end and there will be plenty of other stuff for Invincible to deal with, and that may or may not involve other Viltrumites. We'll have to see. This may be the be-all end-all of the conflict, and it could also be the beginning and the set-up for something even bigger."
Whatever the future holds, Kirkman promises readers one thing - "Invincible" will never be the same after "The Viltrumite War" concludes. "There will be multiple characters within the 'Invincible' series that will be radically changed by the events of this story-arc," he teased. "There will be lasting changes coming out of this. When we're talking about 'Invincible,' we mean it when we say that kind of stuff. I hope that people realize that when I say something is going to happen that will affect the series long term, you can take that to the bank. You can put that in your savings account."
"Invincible Returns" #1, the special one-shot where Mark Grayson returns to his original costume, hits comic book stores on February 17, 2010. "The Viltrumite War" begins in "Invincible" #71 on March 17, 2010.