The Comic Cave is a fortnightly feature where we spin the Wheel of Comics and see what graphic novel story it brings up for us to deep dive into! This week we take a look at Invincible: Family Matters, the first volume in the hugely popular Image Comics series Invincible.
Most people have heard of Marvel and DC, the two titans of the comics industry whose heroes are the most iconic and well known in the world. However, in the 1990s DC wasn’t in the top two, it was trailing at number three as a new company came into power, Image Comics. Founded in 1992 by Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, and Rob Liefeld, creators who had achieved huge success with Marvel and DC, but who felt that they weren’t getting the attention or accolades they deserved, and that by working on other people’s properties they wouldn’t make the kind of money they wanted.
Image was founded on the notion that creators would own their characters; the company would print the stories, but it was ultimately the people who made the stories who were the owners. This led to a number of big names, and up and coming talent, heading over to Image to try their hand at making their own big thing. And it worked. Image comics sold in huge numbers, and the darker, grittier, and more violent nature of Image Comics attracted an audience who weren’t getting those things at Marvel and DC. Characters like Spawn, Youngbloods, Savage Dragon, ShadowHawk, and Gen13 came out of nowhere and took the industry by storm, making a name for the company.
Whilst things eventually shifted over the years, and the Image bubble burst somewhat and DC once again became part of the ‘big 2’, Image continued to produce brand new projects. One creator who worked well with them was Robert Kirkman, who launched two hugely popular series with Image in 2003, one being the horror comic The Walking Dead, and the other being the superhero series Invincible.
Invincible tells the story of Marc Grayson, a seventeen-year-old boy in the US, who’s doing the best he can at school, flips burgers, and is a bit of a geek and the kind of guy who gets overlooked by the popular crowd. He’s perfectly average and normal; at least that’s how it appears. Marc is the son of Nolan, a popular writer who is also secretly the superhero Omni-Man, one of the strongest men on Earth. Marc has grown up watching his dad save the world, and has lived a life where his father can speed off at any moment to go save the world, never knowing if he and his mother will see him again.
Despite these pressures, the family seems to be doing well, and Marc hasn’t let his father’s power or fame go to his head. He’s also been patiently waiting for the day when his own powers might kick in. One day he’s taking out the trash at work, and as he throws the bag into the dumpster it instead shoots up into the sky. From here Marc’s powers quickly build, and soon he’s much like his father, and he can fly, move incredibly fast, has super strength, and is pretty invulnerable. And, like his father, he wants to do the right thing and becomes a hero, donning a homemade costume.
When his father takes him to see his special tailor, a man who creates everyone’s suits, he asks for something ‘iconic’, something that will make him stand out and be remembered. Looking for inspiration for the design, he finally comes upon his hero name, Invincible. Now, wearing a black, blue, and yellow suit that just so happens to resemble the Image Comics logo, Marc sets out to build a name for himself. He soon teams up with the Teen Team, a group of young heroes including the mechanical Robot, Dupli-Kate who can make multiple versions of herself, the destructive Rex Splode, and Atom Eve, who is able to change objects at an atomic level. He also learns that Eve, real name Samantha, goes to his school.
Marc begins to settle into his new role as a hero, working alongside the Teen Team, and becoming good friends with Samantha, but soon learns of a number of students going missing from his school, all of who later turn up in various shopping malls with explosive devices embedded in their chests. As Marc and Samantha set out to put a stop to this series of forced suicide bombings they learn that the culprit is much closer than they first thought.
Invincible: Family Matters is an okay introduction to the world of Invincible. I say okay, because the book only contains the first four issues, and not a huge amount really happens in those issues. Well, perhaps that’s not completely true, as Robert Kirkman has a habit of packing a lot of stuff into his comics; just look at how the very first issue of The Walking Dead told a story that most series would do over an entire six issue arc. The first four issues of Invincible give you a lot, you get to know Marc, you see him become a hero, he makes new friends, he gets his first real villain to try and stop, and we get a big backstory for his father in the second issue too. A lot happens here, but none of it really gives you much reason to keep going with the series.
There’s no hook in this first volume, it’s a set up for a new world and a new group of characters, but there’s nothing here to indicate that there’s a bigger narrative than just watching Marc be a hero. I’m sure, however, there’ll be some readers who know what’s coming with this series, even if your only knowledge is the TV series. This is because something happens just a couple of issues later that really should have been included in this first volume to get people invested. Spoilers for a twenty year old book: Omni-Man, Marc’s father, murders this world’s equivalent of the Justice League, and Marc learns that his father isn’t a benevolent alien protector here to guard the planet, but a conqueror for a race of warrior aliens who want to rule the galaxy.
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This revelation is the big hook for the series, and informs everything that comes after it and plays a huge part in things to come. The fact that it’s not included in the first graphic novel is frankly astonishing, and may be why some people ended up not really realising this was a series to pay attention to. That has changed, however, as the previously mentioned animated series has gotten a lot more people aware of Invincible, but the book really didn’t help itself with the division of the issues. As such, anyone thinking of picking up the series would be better avoiding Invincible: Family Matters and instead getting the first volumes of Invincible The Ultimate Collection Vol 1 which collects 13 issue, The Complete Invincible Library Vol. 1 which collects 26 issues, or Invincible Compendium Vol. 1 which collects 50 issues.
Outside of the problems with the main meat of the series not being included in the first book, Invincible: Family Matters is an enjoyable read. Even with only four issues we get a good idea of the kind of person Marc is, and a lot of the qualities that he has here will continue to be a big part of his character for most of the series. He’s a decent kid, and makes for a good protagonist for the story that Kirkman is telling. He has a fun, youthful energy that comes from being a teen hero, and those readers that enjoy the mix of personal life dramas and super heroics of something like Ultimate Spider-Man will find a lot here to like too.
The art for the book, by Cory Walker, with colours by Bill Crabtree, are simple and neat to look at. The book doesn’t get bogged down in tons of detail, nor does it drape everything in dark shades and heavy shadows. The book is fairly easy to look at, with art that’s brightly coloured with minimal shading involved. Because of that there’s not really a single panel that I’ve come across in the series (up to issue 35 at least) where I’ve found myself lost because of the art, or unsure of what I’m looking at. The character designs are all really good, and you can see where some characters are making small nods to existing comics from time to time. The art team work well together, and whilst Cory Walker does leave the series after issue #7, the style established here remains consistent for the series as a whole, and the title remains true to what’s established here.
With the second season of the animated series airing its first half this November, with the rest airing in 2024, now is a great time to jump into the comics that inspired the show. As with most adaptations, the show does things differently, and you’re not going to just be getting the same story again, but a different, enjoyable version of the same tale. So why not go out and pick up a copy of Invincible and get caught up in time for the new episodes?
Invincible was originally published for 144 issues by Image Comics from January 2003 to February 2018.
Next time on The Comic Cave: Batman vs Predator by Dave Gibbons, Andy Kubert, and Adam Kubert.