Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Volume 5 Hardcover – Apr 27 2010
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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!
The Doc Seismic storyline is weak and really serves as a way to introduce other characters from other books -- it's too forced. There is a Wolf-man story that is wedged in, and that doesn't fit well either (although it flows much better than the Doc Seismic arc).
There is an interesting story where Invincible goes into the future to confront a former ally.
The best part of this trade is the same as the best part of the 4th collection, which is the ongoing story of Omni-Man's imprisonment by the Viltrumites and the training of Mark's younger brother. The readers are faced with an ethical dilemna, as Mark's younger brother kills a pair of villains and is not remorseful about it. All of this is setting up future storylines and major events, and Kirkman's writing is at its best when covering Mark's family.
INVINCIBLE: ULTIMATE COLLECTION Volume 5 collects issues #48-59 of the ongoing series, as well as ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN #11, meaning that if you already have the trades INVINCIBLE Vol. 10: WHO'S THE BOSS? and INVINCIBLE Vol. 11: HAPPY DAYS, then you've already peeped this bunch of goodies. What's striking about this particular run is that it doesn't seem to feature a consistent thru thread, unless you count the arc which develops Invincible's younger half-brother, Oliver, whose own powers manifest in early, astronomical fashion. We follow Oliver's acclimation as a fledgling superhero under Invincible's wing, and it's interesting that the kid means to redeem the reputation of his hero-turned-villain father. And so he assumes the codename "Kid Omni-Man.' The most fascinating theme in these issues, for me anyway, is the clash between Oliver's pragmatic worldview and Mark's more humane principles. This is one of the things Robert Kirkman, a dynamite writer, really excels at. He raises morality issues but offers no pat resolutions, although the characters do engage in meaningful conversations about them. Kirkman always sets a torrid pace. He throws in oodles of other story arcs. Except that, in this particular stretch of issues, those story arcs don't feel epic.
Friendly warning: The following may be fraught with SPOILERS and, also, with words like "fraught."
Kirkman, possibly comic books' premier dabbler in the realm of pure superhero escapism, keeps on cavorting in his personal playground, guest-starring plenty of his other created characters as well as other established characters from Image Comics. The first arc here deals with Mark Grayson's falling out with Cecil Stedman and the Global Defense Agency, as Mark leans that Stedman is even more underhanded than first suspected. Also, Dr. Seismic launches his big power play, utilizing his legions of Underearths to capture most of the world's superheroes. This gives us a chance to feast our eyeballs on the likes of the Dynamo 5, Savage Dragon, the Capes, the Guardians of the Globe, and the Astounding Wolf-Man rubbing elbows in shared captivity. Invincible and Atom Eve dramatically fly in to save the day. Except that they don't.
I don't know exactly what it is about Atom Eve that I like so much. Maybe it's her awesome power set, or maybe it's that she's simply this hot babe, and yet she acts like that down-to-earth girl next door. Anyway, there's solid progression in her relationship with Mark, although Mark's ex-girlfriend manages to briefly pop up.
Ryan Ottley's artwork is clean and crisp and dynamic and so dang perfect for this comic book. And Robert Kirkman keeps you guessing. You just never know in which direction this dude is gonna swerve. Predictably, he peppers in a few shocking moments in these pages, again reminding readers that the contents here aren't suited for the younger kids. As always, Kirkman ushers in new plotlines even as he closes off existing ones. Somewhere in this trade we get sucked into a gang turf war and there's a catch-up interlude with Allen the Alien, still imprisoned in a space vessel, and with Omni-Man, Mark and Oliver's dad, who is still scheduled for execution. There's a nifty crossover with Gary Hampton, a.k.a. the Astounding Wolf-Man. Gary is a fugitive wanted for his wife's murder, and Mark gets roped into bringing him in. Later, Mark and Eve, looking ahead financially, venture into freelance superheroing. Mark responds to a plea for help from the future and runs into an old friend. At the hind end of the volume, we get wind of Kirkman's next epic arc as the demented genius Angstrom Levy, after months of discreetly spying on Mark, finally launches his revenge scheme against Invincible. But, in issue #59, we don't have to wait to see how supervillain Powerplex's revenge play turns out.
To commemorate having achieved the 50th issue landmark, Mark Grayson gets new superhero threads (even though he didn't ask for a makeover). Oliver also gets outfitted, and his costume is actually cooler looking than Mark's. And because absolutely no one asked for it, there's also Cecil Stedman's secret origin revealed.
As ever with these terrific Ultimate editions, there's a ton of extra goodies in the form of Ryan Ottley's sketches and cover art with behind-the-scenes commentary from Kirkman and Ottley. The script for issue #50 is also reproduced (in very, very small print). As fun as they are to read, I do get the sense that most of the stories in ULTIMATE INVINCIBLE Volume 5 are of the tread-the-water variety, filler stuff while Kirkman preps for the massive events about to go down. I collect the individual issues, so I know what I'm talking about. Devastating, earth-shaking stuff is about to go down! ULTIMATE INVINCIBLE Volume 6 can't come soon enough. Still, this Volume 5 is still very much worth the get, even if its sense of epic isn't as "epic" as in the previous editions. But no one blends those personal little moments and those large scale, world-hanging-in-the-balance moments quite as exquisitely as Kirkman. And no one draws his stuff as invigoratingly as Ryan Ottley. This applies to Volume 5.
Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume 5 is here now, and it was absolutely worth the wait. This is probably the only series in recent memory that is so consistently good. Remember that really lousy Invincible issue? No, because there isn't one. I imagine this is what it must have felt like to go to the newsstand in the 60's and read new Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four or Lee/Ditko Spider-Man issues.
The main focus of the issues in Volume 5 is the split between Mark and his government employers, but there are some highly interesting developments with his half-brother Oliver (that I didn't see coming) and his relationship with Atom Eve (that I had been hoping to see), plus various battles, time traveling adventures, an interlude with Allen and Nolan and an Astounding Wolf-Man crossover. You also get a ton of extras, including cover art, sketches, and the like.
Kirkman is in top form here. He's not as edgy as Bendis or Millar, but he has really become the best writer in the business one exceptional issue at a time. The dialogue, the action, the characters (major and minor) - Invincible is always perfect. It doesn't hurt that he has a stellar artistic counterpart in Ryan Ottley, who can draw dynamic fight scenes and everyday situations with astonishing style. The eye-popping colors are the icing on the cake.
At this point, do I even need to recommend a new Invincible hardcover collection? If you're already a fan of the series, you know you need to buy this, and if you're new to Invincible you need to go get the Invincible: The Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 collection pronto. Trust me, you'll be a raving fan in no time.