After waiting months upon months for the release of this hardcover, it finally came out and I frankly devoured it in one sitting one night during the work week, of all times. That should give an indication to anyone who might be thinking about getting into the Invincible universe for the first time, of the level of investment Kirkman has managed to prompt from readers, with his fresh, inventive and charming take on some well worn superhero clichés. I'll get back to that in a bit but for now, this is a great volume full of great characters and wonderful stories.
Invincible is the story of a teenage superhero with immense power, trying to cope with the awesome responsibility of preventing a looming alien invasion, while also trying to deal with the skewed morality of his alien half brother, between dates with his lovely, caring super-powered girlfriend and fights with his sneaky, bastard boss... It's more fun than you can shake a stick at or pay for illegally, and it's quite simply one of the absolute best things being published in comics right now or just about ever.
This volume is about two main problems in Mark's life; namely his shocking discovery that his boss, CIA sneak Cecil Steadman is a right bastard, who has been collecting Invincible's enemies unbeknownst to him, to help with shady or questionable research among other things. The other relates to Mark's indoctrination of his younger, half, and half alien brother, into the world of super-heroing, with some unexpected and tragic results. Mark discovers that his younger brother's moral views may not be quite on point with his own, and that leads them into an inevitably uncomfortable discussion with no easy resolution. As usual, there are lots of other things going on but these are the two major through-lines for this volume. All of them though are entertaining and make for great reading.
The art by Ryan Ottley, who has been drawing the series ever since about issue 8 or so, is incredibly beautiful, detailed, expressive, and increasingly confident, while the colors on the book continue to be amazing. On the surface, the style of the series is evocative of a high quality animated series or even Pixar film, and to an extent, Invincible reads like the comic version of an involving, animated series that's been on television for several years. But that's merely an opinion on the general visual sensibility of the book, because frankly, the detail of the art, the complexity of the world and the characters in it, as well as the interconnectedness and long running nature of the various plots and themes, is irrefutable proof that no other medium could do what comics does.
If there's one concern, it is that the violence in the book does occasionally get a little too graphic even for me, and Kirkman sometimes allows it to be gratuitous. In this volume there are some incidents where the violence does get to be a bit much. Ironically, although the visual sensibility of the book might suggest a youth friendly series, that fact alone means that Invincible is not for kids, at least young kids, and is very much an adult book. In fact, the bright attractive art makes the violence even more shocking. This isn't so much a criticism as it is an observation, and a warning for potential buyers who may be mislead by bits of art they may see from time to time in various reviews or websites, etc.
With Invincible, Kirkman really is producing something special here. Unlike an entire generation of comic creators currently working in the field, Kirkman gets that comics are far more than movie pitches in storyboard form, and because he isn't a frustrated novelist or screenwriter lurking in comics until he makes it big in the movies, he's able to exploit the medium to its fullest, and is currently providing the medium with two of the most vital, essential, and unabashedly entertaining comics to ever be produced; Invincible being one of them with the Walking Dead being the other. (A usually good measure of a competent writer is that he can produce interesting stories of radically different types, and the contrast between Invincible and Walking Dead couldn't be greater.)
But Invincible is also really important because it represents the future of comics. Since it began some 7 or more years ago, Invincible has been written by the same writer, and with the exception of the first seven or eight issues, has also been drawn by the same artist. Even then, the art styles were wonderfully consistent to the point of being almost indistinguishable. Monthly issues are printed on the same if not higher paper quality than the average Marvel or DC comic and cost about a dollar less, and the character and his world are as recognizable some 73 plus issues and specials on, as they were when the first issue was released.
As a creator owned work, there's a purity to the vision guiding Invincible that isn't periodically sacrificed at the corporate altar of short-term-thinking. While events will occur, characters may change allegiances or die, etc, the core of the series will never change, be watered down, be "retconned," or "rebooted," to the point where it is no longer recognizable from its original premise. That's fairly rare of most comics being pubished today by the "big two." These days, depending on who's writing it that particular month, most fans might be hard pressed to identify the Spiderman they knew growing up with the version that's currently being published, (and that probably includes his creator, Stan Lee himself though he may never admit it.) Coupled with the exponentially increasing prices of monthly comics, the lack of creative faithfulness to most characters' original premises, is like a slow working poison in the blood stream of the American comic book industry. In the future, the most satisfying, innovative, and consistently high quality comic series won't come from Marvel or DC; it will be all creator owned; it will maintain a high level of quality for several years, be written and drawn by the same people more or less every month, and will be published at prices that bear some relationship to reality. In other words, it will be just like Invincible.
Until earlier this year, when the long promised "Viltrumite War" began in earnest, I never collected the monthly installments of Invincible, and my primary experience of reading these adventures has been through these collected Ultimate Collection HCs, which are fantastic value for money and high quality volumes that look brilliant on a shelf. They are also frankly far superior to all the other collections available, including the trade paperbacks and larger omnibuses. Kirkman literally almost killed me then with the wait for this volume, which came out in April/May, while it had been promised for release since January. For that reason, I was tempted to give this volume one star less. I don't know why the delay took place, and as a financial supporter of Kirkman's work, I thought at least some explanation was owed to fans as to why this volume was so delayed. None has been provided that I am aware of. But that problem aside, the quality of the material here, as well as of the physical volume containing them, is really excellent and deserves my highest recommendation.
I think every lover of the medium should own collections of Invincible. It highlights the medium at its very best, because no other medium could produce a series of such high quality stories, over such a long period of time, with that kind of complexity and faithfulness to its original premise. This is worth owning and I highly recommend it!