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Invincible season 2 part 1 review (2023) - vulnerable where it counts

Invincible season 2 has Mark Grayson trying to prove he's not Omni-Man, pushing one of the best animated series of recent years to yet new heights as he goes.

Invincible season 2 review

Our Verdict

Invincible returns with an introspective second season that's full of heartfelt scenes and stirring visuals, delivered in top class animation and voice work.

Amid the deluge of superhero adaptations, Invincible season 2 manages to stand out by refusing to fall on easy answers for difficult questions. Existential concepts and leaps in quantum physics punctuate the first four episodes (which compose part 1 of the season), but they’re used to weave together profound character work from protagonist Mark Grayson and his close-knit circle.

The second season of Invincible picks up mere moments after the first, with Mark recovering from a savage beating by his father, Nolan, who’d been revealed as a fascist invader from a race called the Viltrumites. When Mark wouldn’t join the Viltrum Empire, Nolan flew off to parts of the universe unknown, leaving his son and wife, Debbie, to deal with the fallout in the animated series.

They handle the situation in different ways: Mark yearns to prove he can be the hero his father wasn’t, whereas Debbie struggles with the grief of living a lie for so long. Their development over the four episodes is only one strand of a surprisingly effective tapestry that weaves together oppression, redemption, the multiverse, and some awesome fight scenes to solidify Invincible as one of the best TV series on Amazon Prime.

There are big swings right off the bat, with alternate timelines being introduced through one where Mark decides to help his dad instead of fighting him. Together, they reduce Earth to rubble, now looking to quash the remaining pockets of resistance. Atom Eve and the Guardians remain steadfast, even when Invincible and Omni-Man easily take the upper hand.

A mysterious portal opens during one of the fights, saving a hero, but the father-son oppressors shrug it off in favor of the mission at hand. Invincible, created by Robert Kirkman, who authored the original comic, makes no bones about what the Viltrumites represent, with rolling propaganda on the alternate Earth proclaiming that the Viltrum Empire would save us and people only dying because we won’t bow down.

Shapesmith in Invincible season 2

The language and immediacy would be poignant at any point, but it seems especially pertinent now amid global conflict and renewed interest in nationalism. Over the proceeding episodes, Invincible seeks to find some modicum of hope worth clinging onto about civilization and our base instincts.

In fact, it’s outright stated that the Invincible timeline we’re following is one of the few where Mark defies Nolan emphatically. We’re already part of the anomaly, and there being even a single outlier gives space to the notion things can be different. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself because the more engrossing storytelling is happening on a personal level.

Mark convinces the Global Defense Agency to let him tackle some missions here and there, helping the struggling Guardians of the Globe. The young team gets a new leader, Immortal, who introduces a far more disciplined training regiment. While everyone’s sweating that out, a dimension-hopping hero enlists the Mauler Twins to help converge knowledge across multiple timelines to defeat Omni-Man.

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That’s quite a lot to balance, and yet Invincible makes it almost seem easy by honing in on meaningful beats. Mark is desperate to provide evidence his moral core is stronger than his dad’s, but that clashes with his other desire to prove he can act within the remit of the GDA. He saves Atlantis from destruction but disobeys a direct order by doing so, creating a crisis of conscience.

For the Guardians, the struggle is more about growing pains as the team evolves. Rex-Splode doesn’t enjoy answering to Immortal, and Robot, who obtained a young human body last season, becomes paralyzed by fear for the first time. Echoing the problems of his cohorts in pushing through their teenage years, he develops confidence by asking Monster-Girl, otherwise known as Amanda, out.

They share a cute date, where he scoffs all the French fries from dinner. These scenes are made charming by their slower pace and voice work, with the actors all finding the exact tone to suit the mood. Kirkman continually pushes common humanity to the forefront, looking for the small joys that encapsulate existence. The most grueling fight of season 2 part 1, a straight-nosed space brawl mostly set against eternal blackness, is juxtaposed by another adorable meal between two lovers just before.

Allen in Invincible season 2

The violence of Invincible comes at a very pronounced cost. If not because of anyone’s suffering, it’s what’s being interrupted – the relationships, the attempts at normality, the chance to move forward. Right after Mark and his partner, the regular human Amber, solidify their relationship after moving to college; he decides to answer an apparent distress call from galaxies away, separating them for weeks.

If the MCU represents a clear-cut version of heroism that’s clean, family-friendly, and optimistic to a fault, and The Boys represents a deep nihilism and fundamental disgust at corporatized entertainment, Invincible straddles a line between both. Blood and guts are plentiful, as are sudden plot twists where someone gets killed or grievously injured without recourse, but Invincible refuses to make like Billy the Butcher and becomes cynical of the whole concept of heroes.

Atom Eve and Mark both find out that there’s rarely a solution that pleases everyone, but that doesn’t deter them from trying, even when it’s unpopular or alienating. The world is complicated, and so our moral lens needs to be as well, but complicated is not an excuse for apathy or small-mindedness.

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Even Debbie, who’s forced to grieve alone over Nolan’s lies and deceit when Mark goes to college, comes to understand her own autonomy, gradually taking ownership of their family and her life. Watching her move toward acceptance creates a well-rounded portrait of what it is to live in the aftermath of something tectonic.

And really, that’s what Invincible season 2 comes down to – what comes next. Kirkman goes beyond the tawdry concept of an evil Superman to look at what happens to those who are left when the evil Superman goes away. Perhaps more importantly, Invincible goes on to ask, “What could convince evil Superman to be good instead?”

I won’t spoil the answer, but I will say seeing where this goes gave me chills. The one flaw of Invincible season 2 is the release schedule, leaving us with some dangling threads that don’t feel developed enough for a lengthy break.

Mark Grayson in Invincible season 2

Invincible resists the mean-spirited nature of The Boys and the slightly sterile atmosphere of Marvel Studios to relish in the grey, still erring towards collective goodness without believing it’ll ever be straightforward.

The Viltrum Empire could stand as an analog for many leaders and military forces over time, but everything that was once considered unstoppable eventually became dust and memories. Those that exist now will do the same. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next year, but someday. Partly because that’s what time does to us all, but also because being an oppressor makes anyone weak.

True strength lies in resistance, saving each other, and fighting back regardless of the cost. Like any good hero, Invincible brightened up my day, but like a great hero, Invincible inspired me to keep making my days before for myself and those around me.

Invincible season 2 part 1 is available on Amazon Prime Video on November 3. Part 2 will arrive sometime in 2024. In the meantime, check out our lists of the best Amazon Prime movies and best Amazon Prime shows.