With this latest batch of issues of INVINCIBLE Robert Kirkman eases off the gas pedal, and I just lied to you right now. INVINCIBLE Vol. 16: FAMILY TIES collects issues #85-90 and features a 16-paged sketchbook with commentary by Kirkman, Ottley, and Walker. In this volume Robert Kirkman does what he's always done. He serves up some nice character moments. He kickstarts your adrenalin with game-changing plot swerves and a series of by now obligatory sensational action sequences. Ryan Ottley and co-creator and original artist Cory Walker deliver the dynamic visuals.
***Warning: A plot SPOILER here and there***
When we last left off, Mark Grayson (a.k.a. Invincible) and his dad, Nolan (once known as Omniman, Earth's greatest superhero) faced an impossible situation. The last surviving pocket of Viltrumites - that cruel alien race once bent on subjugating the universe - is now holing up on Earth. The Viltrumites present Mark and Nolan with a bargain: that for one thousand years they'll curb their appetite for conquest and maintain a low profile on the planet. Within this span of time, they intend to breed with humans and, in so doing, repopulate their dying race. Confronted with the alternative - an all-out war with the Viltrumites and the destruction of Earth as a possible fallout - Mark and Nolan reluctantly agree to a truce.
The first two issues in this trade catch us up to what's been going on with the Coalition of Planets, where Mark's half-alien younger brother, Oliver, is recuperating nicely from his recent skirmish, where Nolan and Mark's mom are having a, er, vigorous reconciliation, and where the mantle of leadership rests uneasily on Allen the Alien's brow. The pressure is on Allen to hunt down the remaining Viltrumites and put a permanent end to their reign of terror. When he learns of the Viltrumites' pact with Mark and Nolan, well, things get even more interesting. If you're expecting the same old, happy-go-lucky Allen the Alien, that dude's not here. On one hand, Allen's recent character arc is gratifying. On the other hand, what Allen does next not only ruins a tight friendship but seems out of character. I guess you never know how one reacts to incredible pressure. Moral quandaries, all over the place.
Back home on Earth, the superhero community still reels from Invincible's shocking break-out of Dinosaurus, a reptilian supervillain whose fierce intellect is even more formidable than his fangs and claws and imposing mass. Invincible is trying a more oblique approach to better the world, never mind that it involves an alliance with Dinosaurus. Now labeled as an enemy of the state, Mark Grayson's to-do list expands when his brother Oliver and Allen enter Earth's orbit with a truly messed-up agenda. By the way, Oliver's actions shouldn't really surprise anyone. Kirkman was never coy in presenting Oliver's antipathy towards humanity. Anyway, Invincible refuses to fall in line with Allen's plan. And so fly the fisticuffs as we soak in another round of brutal and grotesque fighty fights.
Kirkman's other super-title may be getting more pub, but I prefer INVINCIBLE. Within sniffing distance of that landmark 100th issue, this series' evolution has been remarkable, having started out as a fun homage to Silver Age sensibilities and now become a sweeping and much darker superhero saga. To balance the grandiose cosmic hullabaloo, Kirkman never neglects to key in on those quiet personal moments. Mark's supporting cast is so solid and diverse that when Kirkman assigns other characters to carry the narrative or advance the plot, here I am still furiously flipping the pages. Note that Dinosaurus, in these issues, becomes an absolutely compelling figure.
Maybe someday Robert Kirkman will write an Invincible story arc in which nothing of consequence happens, in which there are no shocking plot reveals or limbs getting ripped off or skulls stoved in. But that's not this story arc. I haven't even gone into the new Invincible's making his debut.