Amazon’s adaptation of Invincible — the Image comic from writer Robert Kirkman and artists Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley — did a surprisingly solid job of weaving plots from the original series into a new and distinct animated story. The show’s season one finale centered on a pivotal moment from the comic but left it generally untouched in a way that highlighted how the source material’s message resonates particularly well today.
After getting off to an uneasy start mired in the tropes of comic book adaptations past, Amazon’s Invincible hit its stride about a third of the way into its first season as it followed Mark Grayson’s (Steven Yeun) early days as a fledgling superhero. For most teenagers living in a world full of extraordinary people, coming into powers would mean having the chance to become something greater, but for Mark, the new development was complicated from the jump by who his parents are. Invincible established early on that the unique weight resting on Mark’s shoulders was matched only by the discomfiting concern looming in Nolan’s (J.K. Simmons) mind about his son’s future.
Though Omni-Man was an indestructible constant in the minds of Earth’s citizens who looked up to him as the planet’s protector, Nolan raised Mark the way any father would, and the story played his unease around Mark as uncertainty whether his son — being half-human — would come into the whole of his Viltrumites powers. For Mark, the tension at home was wrapped up in a similar set of concerns about whether he could ever possibly live up to his father’s legacy, find a space for himself within the world of superheroing, and manage to stay on top of his normal life as a high schooler. As Invincible’s season progressed and the show began to lay out the larger lay of the land, the odd energy humming in the Grayson household took on a new significance that came to a major head in last week’s finale that put everything on the table.
For most of the season, Nolan’s wife Debbie (Sandra Oh) suspected that he was responsible for single-handedly murdering the Guardians of the Globe, Invincible’s answer to the Justice League or Avengers (and Omni-Man did, in fact, kill them early in the season) — and the show made a point of showing you the depths of Nolan’s monstrousness long before Debbie had a proper reason to suspect him. When Omni-Man travelled to the home planet of the Flaxon race and murdered their entire population following a failed invasion of Earth, it was all treated matter-of-factly; Omni-Man simply being a killer was never really the shock the series was going for. Back on Earth, other humans like Global Defence Agency director Cecil Stedman (Walton Goggins), and the demonic detective Damian Darkblood (Clancy Brown) also suspected Omni-Man of secret villainy, but like Debbie, they were utterly unsure of what to do with their suspicions considering Omni-Man’s might. Mark being completely clueless about his family’s drama worked as teenage characterisation up to a point, but “Where I Really Come From” brought him up to speed in a moment ripped right from the comics that saw the young Invincible at odds with the man he once looked up to.
After unceremoniously murdering the Immortal (again), only in broad daylight for everyone to see, Omni-Man finally decides to tell Mark the truth about their people — specifically, how Viltrumites are known throughout the galaxy for their conquering ways. After deciding through a bloody war that intergalactic imperialism enforced with their bare hands would be the Viltrumites way, Nolan, along with a number of other beings of their race, were sent to posts throughout the galaxy to colonise and ultimately bring them into the empire. As Nolan explains all of this, Mark instinctively assumes that his father’s being mind-controlled, but Invincible lays out in no uncertain terms just who and what Omni-Man is in a way that’s worth paying attention to.
Much like DC’s Krypton, Viltrum only featured into Invincible’s story as a part of Omni-Man’s mythic lore — one that only existed in his past up until the season finale. Along with Nolan’s verbal explanation, though, the series showed you scenes from the planet itself that illustrate what it’s trying to say with the Viltrumites, lest people misinterpret it. Even though there are a variety of them with different skin tones, their uniform hooded white robes that they wear to gatherings read very much like Klan regalia, as does Nolan’s explanation that it’s their right to enslave other races. Though it disgusted Mark to hear his father speak that way, it wasn’t until Nolan let slip that he truly only loved Debbie the way one does a pet that the boy seemed to be at his breaking point, mirroring the comics.
Although Mark was ill-equipped to battle his father, he made clear that would do everything in his power to fight him. It truly cannot be overstated how much of an arse-whooping Nolan delivered upon his child, and as gratuitous as the finale’s episode’s violence was, one could argue that there was an important point to it all. It would have been easy enough for Nolan, who’s far stronger and more experienced than Mark, to just kill him there on sight, but throughout the season, Nolan displayed a penchant for sadism that was put on full display as he forced Mark’s nearly-invincible head directly into an oncoming train, making him watch the civilians being crushed by the impact. In some twisted way, Nolan might have thought of the beating as another one of his lessons for Mark, but it was generally unclear how much of it the young man was able to process due to being flung around.
What was very easy to take away from the fight, though, was Mark’s decision to oppose his father, a man who had just tried to explain to him that racism, xenophobia, and mass-murder were all perfectly fine for “pure-bloods” like them. Because the most recent presidential and Congressional news cycles have come and gone, it’s very nice to think of the “difficult conversations” people often need to have with friends and family members as a thing of the past, but they aren’t. While most actual Klan members have sense enough to not wear their bedsheets out in public, the U.S. has a very well-documented white supremacy problem — particularly within law enforcement — that can be seen and felt throughout society in ways that have always been plain to anyone paying attention. Comic books and their adaptations are not reality, but in the moment that Nolan revealed his truth to Mark and invited him to partake in the Vitrumte way, he was presenting his son with a rather simple pair of choices: Viltrum or humanity. Mark chose Earth.
One could wax poetic about the agony of being made to choose between one’s parent and one’s people, but the simple fact of the matter is that Omni-Man’s a racist murderer, and even though Mark couldn’t beat him, he also didn’t have to join him. Having one’s arse handed to them is never a good look, but being complicit in genocide is worse, as is just being a garden-variety racist. The brief moment of hesitation that leads to Omni-Man sparing Mark’s life is Invincible’s way of foreshadowing what’s to come next in the show’s upcoming seasons, but Mark’s showdown with his father brings this chapter of the show to a close on a note that’s worth sitting with.