These days, there’s plenty of superhero greatness soaring through TV programs. Robert Kirkman is the latest to enter the discussion, bringing another of his beloved comic book serials to television with Invincible, debuting on Amazon Prime later this week. A coming-of-age story meets a classic superhero tale, this new animated adventure brings all the twists, turns, and frenzy we’ve come to expect from Kirkman’s episodic programs.
During a press junket earlier this month, Kirkman—along with cast members Steven Yeun, J.K. Simmons, Zazie Beetz, and Gillian Jacobs—spoke with journalists about the upcoming series, what it’s like revisiting your teen years, father-son dynamics, and more.
Invincible follows Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), a seemingly dull 17-year-old kid. That is, until he finally inherits larger-than-life superpowers from his mega-cool dad Nolan (J.K. Simmons), also known by his hero name, Omni Man. Once he discovers his powers, the series becomes (a more brutal) Finding Nemo meets Iron Man, as the father and son learn how to grow from one another and coexist as heroes. And it’s not just these two bouncing into flight and sinking punches; two entire associations battle villains in the series, one of which is completely made up of sassy teenagers. The more heroes the better, right?
Kirkman’s no stranger to adapting his own comics. For over 10 years now, he’s been tailoring his post-apocalyptic Walking Dead book series into a hit zombie show on AMC (Invincible also features more than a few crossover cast members). He’s learned from the experience of giving life to his comic characters, and has brought that to this new series. “While a lot of the same things will be taking place, they’ll be happening in a much different way,” Kirkman said. “You’ll be surprised that we’ll do something so soon, or be surprised that something hasn’t happened yet, because it had happened at that point in the comic book series. Being able to play with all that stuff and add an energy of new to this story that I’ve told before and have spent many, many years working on in comic book form just makes the project infinitely more exciting for me.”
And excite Invincible does. Even though it’s animated (which it was always supposed to be, says Kirkman, though he’s working with Universal to develop a live-action feature film), there’s plenty of violence and action to entertain both fans of the comic and those unfamiliar with the characters alike. “I wasn’t fully prepared for it,” J.K. Simmons said, discussing all of the brutal action in the show. “It is intense. To me, one of the aspects of that—that is maybe not completely unique to Invincible, but that I found surprising and unusual—was the real sense of the stakes and the consequences of violence.”
Invincible balances wild fight sequences with the actual logistics of these highly dangerous, orchestrated circumstances: these heroes wield their powers aggressively, of course, but they also have complex systems to evacuate areas and do damage control. Not only that, they reckon with their status as icons in society, and grasp what it means to “save” people. It’s a topic that recent superhero series and films (thinking especially of WandaVision) have tackled: what happens when we can’t really trust those with superhuman abilities, who have been superheroes in the past?
“I like that we’re moving past superheroes as a place to land for people to be saved by, but rather to actually talk about our reality through these characters,” Steven Yeun explained. “In their world, they hold immense power. There are things about that power and how that’s used and the destruction and the things that come as a result of those things. I like that we’re in a time where we can talk about that and show that in this way.”
That aspect is especially prescient in the father-son dynamic portrayed between Nolan and Mark. Our parents can be our harshest critics, but they can also lie to us, manipulate us, completely reverse our entire concept of the world. Simmons—whose children were both teens while he was filming—told us, “the father-son thing was definitely a part of what appealed to me about doing this in the first place. That aspect of it, and the fact that it was really well written, made it just really accessible to me and something I felt a connection to.” So, he signed on to play Omni Man, an incredibly complex father figure of both Mark and the society in Invincible. No spoilers, of course—but keep your eye on this guy.
Yeun became a father recently, an aspect that’s helped him understand both sides of the equation in Invincible. “Sometimes the journey of a father-son relationship is: you’ve got to try to pin your father down one time,” Yeun said. “Or you’ve got to beat him in an arm-wrestling contest. Whatever it is, I think that journey is always interesting; coming out of the shadow of someone that helps form you. Just knowing what it’s like to be a son, and now, knowing what it’s like to be a father, the dynamics and the feelings that are all intertwined in that space—that was really fun to rely on.”
The father-son duo had the chance to record their sequences in-person together, collaborating with matriarch of the bunch Debbie (Sandra Oh). Those three, Kirkman explains, are the core of Invincible, a key family dynamic helming the rest of the super series. “Having those two guys interacting and having them working together, they’ve gotten to be pretty good buddies and stuff too,” Kirkman revealed of Simmons and Yeun. “Anytime you can see actors at their level working together it’s a lot of fun. Steven, as an actor, he’s somebody I’ve gotten to know over the last few years, who just puts every ounce of himself into every performance. You can see it in roles like his character in Minari, all the different things that he’s done. I’ll always be wanting to work with Steven Yeun.”
Most of the actors lending their voices to the story had to de-age themselves for the show, and Yeun is one of those folks. He’s no teenager, and neither are his two co-stars, Zazie Beetz and Gillian Jacobs, who play two feminine foils to Mark’s dorky dude energy. “Going back to a 17-year-old is not fun,” Yeun says. “But also, it’s very real. In some ways it’s fun to play, because there’s a lot of things that perhaps I also wanted to talk to my father about. Getting to play that out in this way with someone as incredible as J.K. That’s the cool part: a simulated reality of that relationship is fascinating. It was really fun. And painful.” Keyword: painful. It’s a little difficult to watch these teens battle through their awkward years, especially as they’re also battling demons and monsters outside of high school.
But again, Mark’s not alone. Atom Eve, an incredibly talented hero with the ability to bend atoms, still suffers from the day-to-day struggles of being a teenager. “I too went to high school, but I didn’t have superpowers,” Jacobs said. “I feel like as you finish high school, those questions feel omnipresent: Who am I going to be as an adult? What am I going to do with my life? I certainly felt that, and this character deals with it as well. But I didn’t have to worry about trying to save the Earth on a regular basis in high school.” Being a teenager is a core aspect of the show: Invincible is a coming-of-age story as much as it is an action show, following a handful of younger heroes like Eve and Mark on rag-tag journeys into adulthood and saving the world.
“It’s interesting how it’s been a decade since I was a teenager; so quickly, you can lose touch with what that is and what that means,” said Beetz, who plays Amber, Mark’s romantic interest and one of the only teens in the series who doesn’t have any powers. “My brother is 14, and watching him transition into adulthood has been really special. We often are like, ‘Teenagers are bad and mean.’ Really, they’re not. A lot of them are just confused, and are actually quite wonderful people. I think it’s lovely.”
Invincible rides the wave of self-doubt, skepticism towards the future, and misunderstood nature of being a teenager. Pair that with some hearty, violently fun fight sequences, plenty of drama, and a father-son dynamic like none other, and you’ve got a pretty damn fun animated superhero series. “I’ve become a little bit calmer in my old age, to where I’m not trying to push the boundary constantly,” Kirkman said, relating Invincible back to the original source material. “I still want to pay tribute to the fans that have supported this comic book for many many years, by bringing them what they expect—while also twisting it to keep it as exciting as it needs to be.”
The first three episodes of Invincible will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video on March 26. New episodes will be released weekly on Fridays.
Fletcher Peters is a New York-based journalist whose writing has appeared in Decider, Jezebel, and Film School Rejects, among other spots. You can follow her on Twitter @fietcherpeters gossiping about rom-coms, TV, and the latest celebrity drama.
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