Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

02 March 2012

Invincible: Ultimate Collection, v. 6

Collects: Invincible #60-70, Invincible Returns #1 (2009-10)

Released: March 2011 (Image)

Format: 336 pages / color / $34.99 / ISBN: 9781607063605

What is this?: The hero Invincible battles alternate versions of himself, a powerful alien, and Martian parasites while dating Atom Eve and exploring his moral limits.

The culprits: Writer Robert Kirkman and artists Ryan Ottley and Cory Walker

I like reading Invincible, although not enough to buy the hardcovers or trade paperbacks. Instead, I have been catching up on the series by using interlibrary loan. There’s a fee involved at my local library — typically about $3 — so I’ve passed up the trades and requested the “Ultimate Collection” hardcovers instead, to get more story per loan.

Invincible: Ultimate Collection, v. 6 coverIn Invincible: Ultimate Collection, v. 6, writer Robert Kirkman promises a lot of story featuring his half-alien superhero, Mark “Invincible” Grayson: a war against alternate versions of himself, further conflict with his archenemy, conflict with the Viltrumites (his father’s alien race), and the plotting of the Martian parasites known as Sequids … if there’s one thing Kirkman knows how to do, it’s keep subplots moving forward until he’s ready to make one of them the main plot. He even manages to fake out readers by briefly hinting that the Sequid invasion, which has a definite ending in v. 6, will continue as a subplot instead. Not all of these subplots are gold — I’m mystified why I need to care about crime boss Titan’s battles for control of the underworld — but the number of them means there is a lot of treasure in them thar pages. By the end of v. 6, several subplots are ready to be brought to the fore: the Viltrumite War, the Reanimators, and main plots from v. 6 that Kirkman shuffled back the background without tying off. He’s a bit like Chris Claremont, except he’s not so good with female characters, and he has more control over loose ends.

Volume 6 is all about loose ends, actually, with many of his villains repeating in this book. In the twelve issues in this collection, Invincible battles only two villains who have not been used before, and one of those is a throwaway villain named Dinosaurus, whose main purpose is to show Invincible’s state of mind. To be fair, that's not counting the alternate reality Invincibles, who were teased in the previous collection, as new. But they are weapons of Invincible’s archenemy, Angstrom Levy, and they are variants of the title character — there’s not much innovation there. Kirkman has an entire universe to himself, if he wants it. Six years is too soon to keep recycling old villains.

Not having to share a universe illustrates what’s wrong with the “Invincible War” (#60), which at times seems more concerned with showing other Image heroes battling alternate versions of Invincible than anything else. It feels like product placement for other Image houses; with a lot of space to fill, since the original Invincible was out of the fight, Kirkman and Ottley skipped creating their own off-brand heroes for the name-brand stuff. (Well, the RC of heroes, I suppose.) It might have been too much design work to create unique looks for a bunch of throwaway characters, but they could have been developed more fully later. (One Invincible’s comment to Spawn, “I've killed you before, and I’ll do it again!,” would have immediately given weight to whatever character it was addressed to.)

There’s a lot of fighting to this book — four of the first five issues are nearly non-stop slugfests — but Kirkman manages to pack in a lot of the soap-opera elements key to a story about a teenage hero. Mark as to deal with the difficulties of a relationship with fellow superhero Atom Eve, including her horrible father; his relationship with his own father and brother; the loss of a fellow hero; making a living; and learning his moral boundaries. This territory has been explored before, but Kirkman’s breathless plotting and Mark’s personality make Invincible’s journey interesting. I’m still not convinced by Invincible’s money-making plans (not without more help, either from his brother or Atom Eve), but there’s still time to convince me. Many of the quiet moments between Mark and Eve feel picture perfect, thanks in no small part to artists Ryan Ottley and Cory Walker, and the direction of the main characters’ relationship at the end of v. 6 is a relatively unexplored area, especially since Eve isn’t a throwaway character. Invincible changes his stance on killing a couple of times during v. 6, which feels abrupt, but I can believe the rapid turnaround for someone still developing their personality.

After all the fighting and death, Kirkman probably felt he needed a breather for #66. I agree, but two issues with Invincible’s father, Omni-Man, and Allen the Alien seems a bad choice, at least in the collected form. Issue #68 is the decompression story needed after all the sturm und drang — Mark having dinner with Eve and her parents — but two issues in deep space, with few appearances by the book’s hero, stops the book’s momentum in its tracks, and it doesn’t really get going again before the book ends.

Ottley, who has penciled Invincible since #8, drew #60-5, 68-70, and the main story in Invincible Returns. Kirkman calls for a lot of blood and fighting in v. 6, and Ottley gives Kirkman what he wants. Unlike most superhero books, you never get the feeling with Ottley that superhero fights are graceful, sanitized affairs. The combatants hit hard and leave marks — not necessarily permanent marks, since the toughest characters are usually fast healers — that show they’ve been through combat like pork goes through industrial meat grinders. The images in #60-4 are somewhere between horrifying and sickening, appropriate for the level of violence the characters visit upon each other and the landscape. But Ottley can still do the quieter moments — many of the scenes between Eve and Mark seem spot on, and he does a good job with Mark’s teenage-ish, slacker-y brother.

Walker, the series co-creator and original penciler, returned for #66-7 and the backup story in Invincible Returns. The former is a good choice for Walker’s return; the two-issue story prevents comparisons between the current and former artists by restricting the setting and characters to deep space. It also features Omni-Man and Allen the Alien, two characters Walker co-created. Deep space gives Walker a chance to draw all sorts of outlandish creatures and alien landscapes; I’m not sure I’d buy an 8x10 print of his work or air brush it on the side of my van, but it’s pretty good. His work on Invincible Returns, however, suffers in comparison to Ottley. His thick line and posing of characters makes his art look blockier, less fluid than Ottley’s, and Eve’s inexplicable hairstyle is distracting.

The less said of the supplementary material, in which Kirkman, Walker, and Ottley discuss the art process for the book, the better.

Volume 6 was somewhat disappointing compared to other Invincible: Ultimate Collection volumes; its plot is bloody and straightforward, with a heavy death toll for a relatively lighthearted book. Invincible himself is in danger of being a bit too grim. Still, the subplots, characters, and art lift this volume above the average comic collection.

Rating: Image symbol Image symbol Image symbol (3 of 5)

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Blogger Marc said...

I've never heard of a library charging for interlibrary loans. If I'd had to pay for all the loan requests I've made over the years, I think I would be much more under-read (or perhaps just much poorer) than I already am!

I also don't think I've ever heard someone mention how poor the supplementary materials in these Ultimate Collections are, so I'm glad you did. Honestly, they're pretty horrible, and for as much as people have raved about the quality of these hardcovers since they started producing them, I think the production values are pretty awful. The first one is especially bad, with multiple typographical errors on the dust jacket and what is probably the worst-written introduction to a book I've ever read.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Raoul said...

Some libraries do, some don't. When I was a kid, using a library in the county seat (population 3,000), ILL was a lifeline, and I was lucky it was free. The first university library I used charged for the first couple of years I was there, although they stopped before I left. I haven't had to pay since then, but I've worked in libraries, and I know ILL is an expensive proposition. Libraries budget for it, and they are thrilled to have people using their services, but it's not as cheap and easy as it could be.

On the supplementary materials: Convention sketches. I don't need to see convention sketches. I'm sure they're wonderful, and they might be good as samples for your Web site. But I don't need to see them in a big hardcover.

3:03 AM  

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