Invincible review – far and away the best superhero show on TV

There’s no shortage of Lycra-clad heroes on screens looking to save the world, and their triumph over evil is all but guaranteed. But in the case of Invincible’s titular teenage superhero Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), there are so many world-ending events simultaneously set in motion that he enters this second season seeming royally screwed.

When the critically adored first series wrapped up in 2021 (and Amazon wisely renewed it for two more seasons), we ended on a montage of potentially apocalyptic loose ends. Pink tentacled parasitic squids had overthrown Mars; the dastardly Mauler twins (Kevin Michael Richardson) were preparing to escape prison; the dimension-hopping Flaxans were plotting to attack Earth; Doc Seismic (Chris Diamantopoulos) was breeding large fanged abominations beneath a volcano; Battle Beast (Michael Dorn) was preparing for a rematch with our eponymous hero; Titan (Mahershala Ali) had become a top crime lord and was hellbent on using dragon spirits to expand his territory; DA Sinclair (Ezra Miller) and morally slippery Global Defense Agency head Cecil (Walton Goggins) were creating an army of cybernetically resurrected soldiers. On top of all this, Mark’s once beloved dad/Omni-Man (JK Simmons) beat him nearly to death after revealing that he was leading a fascist empire called Viltrum who had Earth in their sights.

We pick up with the world and Mark still reeling from Omni-Man’s betrayal and his near-destruction of Chicago. Mark’s mother, Debbie (Sandra Oh), is grieving the end of a marriage to a man who turned out to be spectacularly evil, and the planet’s remaining heroes face existential nightmares about their true purpose. There are already a plethora of threats to humanity, but further villains amass, with Sterling K Brown’s dimension-crossing Angstrom Levy popping up as Invincible’s new arch-nemesis. But our dear young superhero is also attempting to have some semblance of a life outside his planet-saving duties, and is leaving home to start university and taking things to the next level with his no-nonsense girlfriend Amber (Zazie Beetz).

With that many plot threads, character arcs and potential catastrophes, if anyone now fancies getting into Invincible, you absolutely cannot start with this latest batch of episodes. For those who enjoyed the unhinged chaos of Invincible’s first outing, a rewatch isn’t strictly necessary, and a vague recollection of events will see you through the four new episodes released on Prime Video this week, with the second half due in the new year.

Giving ample space to characters coming-of-age, grieving and tentatively falling in love is just one of the reasons that Invincible is far and away the best superhero show on television. As a person who has moved past Marvel fatigue into a Marvel coma, it is easy to understand why those in search of a binge-watch may want to give anything with superpowers a wide berth. But Invincible works as a satire of the good v bad narratives we’ve been force-fed by the MCU and an exceptional application of its tropes. When it comes to the central relationship of Mark and Nolan, it’s the most roided-up version of superhero daddy issues imaginable. Sure, Odin wasn’t the best father to Thor and Loki, but he didn’t use his only child’s head to massacre the passengers of a subway train.

While the last season ended with Nolan leaving the planet and his family behind, the show does not squander Simmons’ talents, and he reappears. But it’s also more playful with its form and gives more screen time to supporting players. Gillian Jacobs’ Atom Eve struggles with what being a hero really means, Jason Mantzoukas’s incorrigible Rex Splode’s insecurities get the best of him, and Seth Rogen’s delightful alien Allen is afforded an entire episode.

Even for those who struggle to invest in the stakes of whether a group of alien fascists will add Earth to their roster of conquered territories (Turn on the news! Would we actually notice?) Invincible’s second season is an absolute triumph. It’s gorgeously animated, deliciously performed and overflowing with witty one-liners and gnarly action. The world undoubtedly needs fewer caped crusaders and infantilising narratives about goodies v baddies. Martin Scorsese was correct when he pointed out that formulaic franchises are “doing damage to our culture”, and I’d celebrate a Viltrumite-style culling of the entire Marvel/DC universes. But Invincible is grand, ambitious and morally complex at every turn. While many of our characters are violently pummelled and disembowelled on screen, it’s nearly as painful to think that we’ll have to wait until 2024 to see more of it.

  • Invincible is on Prime Video now.