(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Series: Invincible

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video

The Pitch: Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) is just like any 17-year-old kid: he deals with school bullies and school crushes, and he worships superheroes. Except that his father is actually one: the strongest superhero on Earth, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). After years of waiting, Mark finally gets the powers he was supposed to inherit — super strength, power of flight, and super speed — and can begin his training to be a superhero with his dad. But after Omni-Man is found near-death alongside the bodies of the Guardians of the Globe, Mark has to step up to become a superhero outside of his father’s shadow.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: Let’s face it: brutal, hyperviolent superhero re-imaginings are a dime a dozen. Comics have been doing it since the ’80s, movies have been doing it since adapting those self-same comics from the ’80s, and it’s all the rage on TV now with notoriously bloody shows like The Boys and Preacher. Now Invincible, based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series of the same name, is here to fill the gap on the animation side.

I’ll admit being a little skeptical of Invincible going into it. Despite receiving plenty of critical praise when it first premiered, I’ve been wary of any hyper-violent shows or movies that seem too “edgelord” to me: falling prey to being shocking for shock’s sake. And while the gore comes as a surprise in Invincible — tacked on after the credits of the first episode — it’s no more gruesome than what you’ll find in many an adult animated show, or even an anime. Rather, it’s more interesting how it lays the groundwork for how Invincible grapples with the current superhero landscape.

Set in a world where superheroes are increasingly common and privacy is a thing of the past, Invincible is balancing precariously on the edge of a totalitarian dystopia that many past subversive superhero titles have tackled before (think Watchmen, The Boys, even the Crime Syndicate of the Crisis on Infinite Earths). But there’s a thread of optimism running through the show, embodied by our titular hero. Awkward, insecure, and just the right amount of reckless, Mark Grayson is almost frustratingly naive when it comes to the horrors that we know are waiting for him around the corner. It’s like a cheery Peter Parker-type got thrown into the world of Watchmen.

“That’s…optimistic,” every character says when he tells them his code name. Mark knows, but he’s just likable enough that you hope that his idealistic vision of the world of superheroes stays as shiny and clean as it is at the beginning. It explains the simple animation style, which feels inspired by the beloved superhero animated shows of the 2000s. Coupled with the obvious riffs on familiar DC and Marvel heroes, Invincible is enjoyable as a surprisingly straightforward superhero coming-of-age story — until the shocks of blood and gore arrive. From then on, the show starts to have an intriguing dialogue with itself, between the optimistic roots of the superhero genre and the creeping nihilism of today’s comic book flicks.

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