Some comics are too big, hypeworthy or insane for one reviewer to cover. Which is why we have Real Talk, an outlet for a group of reviewers to tackle a comic together and either come to a consensus or verbally arm wrestle until there's nothing left to say.
Shawn Hill: I got the Invincible #100 cover by Arthur Adams, where the Grim Reaper decides Mark Grayson's number is up. Which it has been time and time before. But we should know by now, that trick never works. Robert Kirkman's already done the horrible carnage of the Viltrumite War. He's less interested in revisiting that approach, so the grossest thing that happens this issue is "Mark's" eyeball popping towards the camera as Dinosaurus squishes his head. This is the very next frame from last issue's cliffhanger, where he starts to apply pressure.
The next splash page is one of those spreads of thousands of faces and their shocked reactions (since Dinosaurus is purposefully playing to the cameras). I was looking for some of Mark's foes at least to be gleefully happy, but no, we even get a certain very concerned-looking Daily Planet reporter.
The first of the three-parter was about endangering Los Angeles, the second was about flooding many major world coastal cities (does Paris really qualify, by the way? It's pretty far from the beach — it's just cool to see the Eiffel Tower submerged I guess); the finale is about fixing the damage, which isn't as bad as the title implies. As Kirkman says in the letters page, he's been playing with fan expectations purposefully since killing Zandale's parents in #97; I think he's doing it again here in the opposite way, by holding back on the promised destruction.
Jason Sacks: Yeah, you're absolutely right, Shawn. This issue is all about Robert Kirkman going against fan expectations, zigging again and again when we expect a zag. From the results of Dinosaurus squishing "Mark's" head to the ultimate confrontation between hero and villain; from the resolution of the flooding plotline to the new final-page cliffhanger, Kirkman seems to deliberately playing against reader expectations.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure that Kirkman wasn't too clever for his own good.
His story goes so far out of its way to defy expectations that at times it feels abrupt, too convinced of its own cleverness and oddly small world view. In the most frustrating way possible, this story felt comic-booky, like a mid-'70s Marvel comic full of clones and quickly-dismissed destruction and a sense that no matter how things change, the status quo for any superhero strip never really changes in a major way.
That gives this anniversary issue a strange sort of retro-feel to it. I know that seems strange to say about a comic that starts with a character's skull literally crushed by an evil arch-villain, blood spattered everywhere, but in a way that's the point: it feels like Robert Kirkman is treating Invincible as a place to indulge his retro-storytelling passions. And while there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, it's hard for me to escape the feeling that the results of those passions is somehow less satisfying than what Kirkman was aspiring to create.
Or am I kind of missing the point, Shawn?
Shawn: Not missing the point so much as … wanting something else? I agree with you that this is a book where Kirkman indulges himself completely. There's definitely a (slightly immature) tone of "It's my book, I can do what I want." Invincible indulges his "retro-storytelling passions" just like Savage Dragon does for Larsen.
But I liked most of what he did this issue.
Mark has tried defying Cecil. He's tried going his own way. He's tried running his super hero career as a business. The most he's accomplished is turning Las Vegas into a sheet of glass. He's not as wise as Cecil. But he's become a lot smarter than he was, and that's due to his failures. So though it may seem everything's back to a reset status again with this issue. Mark's back in the employ of the government (but now as an alternative to incarceration). There will be no remaking of the world (except that's already happened, with Robot's two artificial moons now controlling our tides; Ottley earned his pay with their designs alone this issue) a la the apocalyptic plans of Dinosaurus.
Was it too easy, the way Dinosaurus just finally at long last saw how much of a god complex he had? Mark had been trying to bash that point into his head since the beginning. We didn't see the execution, but we certainly saw gallons of blood pouring over a very defeated and guilty Invincible. Does Dinosaurus really deserve any sort of more noble demise?
Mark is still a Viltrumite, no matter what, but he's one that's capable of learning and growing and not acting for only his own interests (as the rest of them do). And now he's on the road of becoming a family man himself.
We may have an old word order in place again, but this Invincible is a changed man. And he's going to keep evolving. So are we interested in permanent change as its own reward, or change as an evolution on a spectrum of possibilities? I read my ongoing series not hoping for an ending, but I'm ready to enjoy the changed playing field.
Jason: Of course, Kirkman has done this sort of thing before, with the conclusion of the Villtrumite War storyline resulting in a kind of anticlimax that felt both to me both satisfying and unsatisfying at the same time, if that makes any sort of sense. The conclusion of that story succeeded in subverting user expectations, of taking the high road of the intellectually pleasing resolution over the lower road of the more action-oriented conclusion. I think the history of this series has shown that Kirkman made the right choice by having the Viltrumite invaders come to an epiphany about their plans.
That sort of conclusion is also on display here, where we essentially see Mark win a long philosophical argument with Dinosaurus, an argument that ends in the most conclusive way possible with Mark leaving Dinosaurus' lair, blood trailing behind our hero. As you say, Shawn, Mark has Viltrumite blood in his veins, but he's capable of learning and growing and fighting the need to always have a battle provide the resolution for a conflict.
I get that, and I really like that.
But that doesn't make this issue any less frustr
ating for me. Unlike the end of the Viltrumite War storyline (which I have to admit I kind of hated at the time), there's no sense of consequences for any of the characters here. I expected to see Mark tortured a bit by his decisions and the world having trouble recovering from the deaths of a million people. Instead, we get a reset to the status quo — or so it seems to me.
You ask, "Are we interested in permanent change as its own reward, or change as an evolution on a spectrum of possibilities?" This makes me question my biases here: as a reader more of graphic novels than single issues, am I expecting too much from this resolution?
Hill: Well, I'm a reader of the issues. So I dunno. I just realized while writing this that he often gives the trades titles from old sitcoms. But the world is only recovering from the deaths of thousands of people. Basically, Katrina happened to several major cities (or maybe it was more like Sandy in some cases), and the heroes were there to mop up and save lives. Dinosaurus' global view was the wrong approach. Mark's maybe is not as dramatic, but isn't a good outcome geared towards public safety more realistic in a world with global peacekeepers who see themselves more like the JLA than the Authority?
Compared to the Viltrumite War, what we ended up with were sleeper cells of aliens on earth who will obviously activate at some later point in Kirkman's plans. For issue #100, we've got Mark back on a Global Defense team. For an ongoing title, I find those kinds of twists to signify continued invention, not delays or anticlimaxes. It's not whether you cycle around to a reset sometimes that matters, it's how you get there.
Sacks: I'm stuck with what may be an irrational feeling in my gut that Invincible #100 is an anticlimax, that the most important scenes happen off stage or feel anti-climactic or just basically feel like a mismatch for the intensity of the events that are depicted in this issue. Am I being short-sighted? Am I selling Kirkman short? Maybe so.
Let the debate continue in the comments!
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.