Welcome to The Longbox of Darkness’ latest exploration, fear fans. This time around, we’re stepping out of the shadowy corners of typical horror and into a realm you thought we wouldn’t dare visit – the brightly colored, high-flying world of… can we even say it? Superheroes! Yes, you heard that right, we’re delving into the realm of caped crusaders and big blue boy scouts. But don’t worry, we’re not straying too far from our comfort zone, as we’re about to look at a show that elegantly fuses the muscular spectacle of super-heroics with the spine-chilling elements of our beloved horror genre. I’m referring to none other than the Amazon Prime series ‘Invincible,’ based on the Image comic book by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley.
So far there’s only been a single season that premiered in 2021 which ran for 8 episodes, with a second season expected to drop sometime at the tail end of 2023. At first glance, ‘Invincible’ is a saga that showcases superhuman feats and cataclysmic battles, but beneath its colorful veneer, there’s a profound layer of horror that we’re going to attempt to dissect. So if this intrigues you, read on!
Setting Up ‘Invincible’
‘Invincible‘ does a marvelous job at first glance, deceiving the viewer into thinking they’re about to witness just another superhero adventure. At the heart of our story is Mark Grayson, an average teenager, apart from the fact that his dad is Omni-Man, the most powerful superhero on Earth. When Mark’s own powers kick in, he embarks on his journey of becoming ‘Invincible,’ an homage to his father’s legacy. He fights his first bad guy, gets his own costume, and joins a team of teenage superheroes; he does basically everything you’d expect from a hero new to the scene.
Now, you might be wondering, ‘Where does horror factor into this sunny story of super-powered adolescents? Well, it’s all due to the original creators’ knack for storytelling. Robert Kirkman, a name synonymous with a different kind of horror thanks to ‘The Walking Dead,’ cleverly applies his understanding of terror and suspense to a genre that usually thrives on hope and heroism. Alongside Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, Kirkman subtly introduces hints of the horrifying narrative that is about to unfold right under the viewer’s unsuspecting eyes. The horror sneaks in so quietly that by the time you realize it, you’re already in its chilling grip, a captive audience to the unsettling spectacle that is ‘Invincible.’
Now be warned, readers, if you haven’t seen the show yet, spoilers lie in wait below. For those of you who are planning to see it but don’t want to stop reading, skip to the ‘final thoughts’ segment below.
Unveiling the Horror
The tonal shift in ‘Invincible’ can’t be missed. It seeps in slowly, then suddenly engulfs you, knocking you off your feet, much like how our protagonist Mark must have felt when his whole world started crashing around him. Initially, we see the typical superhero fare – dazzling displays of power, sensational aerial combat, and, of course, the would-be world-conquering villains. But as the first episode comes to a close, a distinct layer of horror unfurls itself.
This shift becomes palpable with a ferocious fight between Mark’s dad Omni-Man and what is essentially the Justice League of this universe – The Guardians of the Globe. One by one, Omni-Man slaughters them in gruesomely creative ways. We’re talking holes punched in chests, heads severed, necks snapped, brain matter splattered all over the place, eyeballs popping out of sockets, the works! You immediately realize that this isn’t your standard comic book skirmish. From here on out, there is nothing but bloody brutality left. Somehow, as the episodes roll on, the series manages to outdo itself, and subsequent battles are even more gore-filled than that first one. Oh yes, there’s a lot of blood in this, buckets of it! As Alan Moore once put it in his classic Saga of the Swamp Thing #21: “Blood… in extraordinary quantities.”
So, in a strikingly unnerving turn of events, Omni-Man, the paragon of virtue and emblem of heroism, is revealed to be the harbinger of this horror. The dreadful truth of his alien heritage and his heinous acts make you question every standard set by the superhero genre. It’s a shocking and horrifyingly sublime pivot that positions ‘Invincible’ as something more than just another superhero story. But it’s not all just blood and guts, you know.
The Psychological Horror of it all
Much like the greatest horror narratives, ‘Invincible’ uses its outward brutality to mirror the internal terrors endured by its characters. At the forefront is Mark Grayson, our budding hero. He is caught in a web of identity crisis, familial deception, and the shattering reality of his father’s true nature. The horror Mark experiences is not just physical but deep-seated and psychological, a common thread he shares with others on the show.
Take Atom Eve, for instance, a fellow superhero and Mark’s schoolmate. She faces her own kind of horror as she grapples with her disintegrating family life and her changing perspective on her superhero duties. And then there’s Debbie Grayson, Mark’s mother and Omni-Man’s wife. Her horror is steeped in betrayal as she discovers the dreadful truth about her husband. In ‘Invincible,’ each character is thrown into a whirlpool of psychological horror, adding a profound depth to the narrative and painting the entire spectrum of horror – from the explicit to the internal.
The narrative of ‘Invincible’ consistently does the unexpected, taking the story down grim, untraveled paths rather than following the predictable superhero highway. Every episode presents a new subversion of the genre that jolts the viewers, much like a jump scare in a classic horror movie. One memorable twist is the above-mentioned brutal execution of the Guardians of the Globe at the hands of Omni-Man, their supposed friend and honorary member. This shocking act, hidden under a veil of mystery, primes your nerves and sets the stage for a narrative that constantly keeps you on your toes.
Later episodes are rife with such jarring surprises, and the finale is nothing short of a terrifying crescendo. Omni-Man’s apocalyptic rampage through Chicago, painting the city red with innocent lives while beating his only son to a pulp, is a chilling scene that leaves a mark on the psyche. These shocking narrative turns are horror at its finest, laced within the superhero backdrop, making ‘Invincible’ a masterclass in genre-blending.
A Wealth of Horror Archetypes
Now maybe you’re thinking “Sure, we’ve all seen David Yarovesky’s ‘Brightburn’ or Amazon Prime’s The Boys. It’s a Superman gone bad story! Been there, done that.”
Well, I’m here to tell you “Nah!” You see, it’s not only Nolan Grayson, aka Omni-Man, who is the harbinger of horror here. There are a ton of other horror archetypes in this series too. Even before Omni-Man reveals himself to the world, Mark realizes that his superheroing is not quite like they tell you it should be in the comics.
Firstly, a series of alien invasions by the Flaxans results in a bloodbath and countless innocent lives lost. So Mark experiences the horrors of war for the first time, and he is psychologically mangled because of it.
Secondly, the death of the Guardians of the Globe is being investigated by one Damian Darkblood, a demon detective that’s like a cross between Hellboy, Etrigan the Demon, and John Constantine. As Nolan Grayson’s story unravels, we slowly come to realize the full extent of the horrors he has in store for humanity; all this via the investigations of Darkblood.
Next, alien body snatchers called Sequids are set loose on Mars, and boy are they gross. Trust me, if you have octophobia, you might not make it through this episode. At its core, it is sci-fi horror at its finest. The implications of the Sequids’ ascent are even more dire when we realize that they’ll soon be heading to Earth…
Next, Mark nearly loses his life taking on Machine Head and his criminal organization. His body torn open and his organs ruptured, Mark must come to grips with the fact that even though he is nigh-invulnerable, that doesn’t mean that he can’t be killed; or in this case, horrifically maimed and injured.
After recovering, Mark visits a University campus with his girlfriend Amber when a zombie-cyborg starts running amok. When the cyborg commits suicide by impaling itself on a massive sundial (don’t ask), Mark investigates and discovers a Reanimator/Frankenstein wannabe called D.A. Sinclair living in the campus sewers, kidnapping freshmen and doing horrific experiments on them. The show does not shy away from showing every detail of the gruesome surgery in the least. In fact, it revels in it.
There are other horror archetypes that show up too. We have a girl with a Jekyl-and-Hyde dilemma, a malformed vat-dwelling grotesquerie that uses robots as avatars, a monstrous Cthulhu-like entity that is probably the only thing Omni-Man fears, and Cecil Steadman, a scarred Nick Fury-type individual who looks like he would be more at home in a body horror series than a superhero one.
So ultimately it’s not just superhero horror that we’re playing with here, folks. There’s also a hefty helping of my favorite kind – monster horror.
The Art of Horror in Animation
Now let’s talk about the animation for a bit, which is after all the means of conveying the horror visually to the viewers. The medium, often associated with more benign and lighter content, becomes a canvas for some of the most brutal scenes you’ll witness in animation. The vivid colors, usually a mark of cheerfulness and light, are instead utilized to underscore the shocking violence that unfolds. Scenes of urban destruction, bloodthirsty battles, and Omni-Man’s terrifying rampage are visually arresting, leaving viewers gasping in horror.
Also, the show doesn’t shy away from insanely detailed depictions of violence. Bodies are torn apart, buildings crumble, and blood paints the scenery in an uncomfortably graphic fashion. It’s a stark contrast to the sanitized violence often seen in superhero narratives. The fusion of an animated format with explicit horror elements creates an uncanny, disconcerting effect and cements ‘Invincible’ as a revolutionary example of the horror genre. And as for the purely superhero elements? I’d say they make up about… oh, maybe 15% of the entire season. The rest is viscera and gore and psychological terror and… well, you catch my drift.
So there you have it. At the heart of ‘Invincible,’ we find a raw, genre-defying series that refuses to be boxed into the standard superhero tropes. It boldly (and gleefully) ventures into the eerie territories of horror, making it a thrilling ride for fans of both genres. Its masterful blending of superheroic spectacle and horror elements transforms it into a viewing experience that leaves you unsettled yet utterly captivated.
I urge every one of you to try out or revisit this series to witness the stunning spectacle that ‘Invincible’ offers. It’s an experience that will leave you questioning what you know about the superhero genre and will undoubtedly open your eyes to the brilliant fusion of horror and super-heroics.
And, as always, my fellow fans of the dark and gruesome, I’m eager to hear your thoughts. What do you think about ‘Invincible’ and its unique spin on the horror genre? Do you find the blend of horror and superheroes to be as thrilling as I do? Do you prefer the comic book to the show? Comment below and let’s get a conversation going!
Also, if you enjoyed this deep dive into the terror-filled world of ‘Invincible,’ don’t forget to subscribe to the blog for more. I assure you, there are plenty of dark nooks we’ve yet to explore. Mentioning ‘Brightburn’ and ‘The Boys’ earlier got me thinking “I should do a post about those two…”
So, sign up and join me as we uncover more tales where horror lurks in the most unexpected places. Till then, keep the lights off but your eyes open. ‘Till next time, this is The Longbox of Darkness, signing off.
* If you would like to watch Invincible Season 1, you can do so by signing up for a 30-day free Amazon Prime Video trial.
* The Longbox of Darkness also heartily recommends the Invincible comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley. It’s comic books at their absolute best!
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