The Art of Reinvention: A Tribute To Kirkman, Ottley and Walker’s Invincible
On November 20th, 2002, Image Comics released the first issue of a new comic called Invincible by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker, about a teenage superhero whose father was one of the most popular heroes on the planet. Over a decade later, Invincible himself became something of a phenomenon, as the series became one of the most popular creator-owned superheroes of all time in a run of comics that refused to settle for status quo.
Invincible’s hook was as simple as it was compelling, and has often been described as, “What if Spider-Man was Superman”? Mark Grayson was a teenage hero who developed the standard power set of super-strength, flight, etc., but with the added twist that his father was Omni-Man, one of the most powerful heroes in the world.
Invincible seemed like it was going to be an enjoyable coming-of-age teen superhero story, until about a dozen issues in, when Mark discovered his father was an alien spy sent to prepare the Earth for conquest, and got into a massive and bloody fight with his dad.
It only took a year for Invincible to find its core mode, which is to keep moving, keep reinventing, and keep surprising its readers. Cory Walker stepped away from the title early on and was replaced by Ryan Ottley, and over the course of the entire run they have been the primary creative team alongside Kirkman, helping to turn Invincible from another trope-filled title to a sci-fi epic with its own shared universe rivaling anything from Marvel or DC.
While epic in scale, Invincible was also a very personal and intimate comic. Over the course of its run, Mark Grayson went from confused teenager to a confident man, a husband, and a father. Fans grew alongside Mark, and saw him make mistakes and learn from them. Invincible is the kind of longform storytelling not often seen in superhero comics.
As Invincible’s popularity grew, so too did his universe. Characters like Rex Splode, the Guardians of the Globe, and Brit were given spin-offs, and new characters such as The Astonishing Wolf-Man were introduced in their own titles --- but still remained part of Invincible’s world. Kirkman and company had a knack for creating characters you wanted to see more of, like Battle Beast, Dinosaurus, and Allen the Alien, and the mythology of Invincible continued to grow.
For a time, it seemed Invincible would continue forever, and Kirkman himself said that his ultimate goal was to be succeeded by a new writer who would take the character in new directions --- but to many fans’ surprise, the ending of the series was announced in 2016, with a planned big blow-out year long storyline titled “The End of All Things” that would wrap up every dangling loose thread and reach out to all corners of the expansive shared universe.
Invincible will be remembered for a lot of things; its bloody fights, its shocking twists, and its colorful characters; but ultimately Invincible will be remembered for being refreshingly new and exciting with every story. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Invincible, but its uncompromising dedication to reinvention should be something all superhero comics should take to heart.
Disclaimer: Several of the Invincible spin-offs mentioned here were written by ComicsAlliance contributor Benito Cereno. Cereno had no involvement with the writing of this piece.