If it seems like it has been a while between issues of Robert Kirkman’s signature superhero series, that’s only because it has. Issue #126 shipped back in December and the series has been in hiatus ever since. Yet one look at the credits behind the cover page should tell readers the reason; series co-creator Cory Walker has returned for another run on art! Such a thing is always a treat for the series, and this time around he seems to be focusing on Mark Grayson’s main story rather than on side-characters, as he usually has. Ryan Ottley, the series’ stalwart regular artist, is still working on covers and has taken a well deserved break. The return of Walker is apt as this issue focuses on Mark’s return to family life on another planet after being off the grid for five years.
After flirting with a “reboot” of the entire series’ continuity, the focus instead is on how life has changed in the blink of an eye for the series’ titular lead hero. Mark had promised Eve that he would put his superhero life behind him and focus on his life with her and their daughter, Terra, but one last mission from his friend Allen proved irresistible. It led to a cosmic journey through his own past timeline in which he ultimately chose his daughter over the lives of millions (if not billions) of people who had been casualties of his previous battles. Unfortunately, he’s lost five years of time with his family, and now Terra is a rambunctious toddler. In addition, Eve has become more familiar with life in space than he has, and has become emotionally distant towards him. His half brother Oliver has twins of his own, and has donned the traditional Viltrumite mustache. The battle against Thragg and his attempt to repopulate the Viltrumite race has continued in his stead, but Mark makes it very clear that this time he plans to take his retirement seriously and focus exclusively on his family. However, the war with Thragg may come to him regardless of his wishes once it is revealed that Oliver is secretly in league with him.
This series has been going on for roughly thirteen years, and as with any series which has lasted so long, it certainly has had its ups and downs. There have been periods of steady growth and progress, and other periods where it seemed clear that the creative team were sorting out what to do with the series and taking risks just for the sake of shaking things up and avoiding being repetitive. The “Dinosaurus arc” (where Mark Grayson flirted with becoming a super villain, or at least teaming up with one) stands as a clear example of this when looked at with hindsight. Some would argue that the series hit its prime with “The Viltrumite War” which had been built up throughout its existence up until that point. Yet for the past year and change, Robert Kirkman has reentered his stride with this series and sought to take it in new and interesting places. Robot successfully conquered the Earth and Mark has abandoned it to raise his family in space for some time now. The jump in time has allowed Terra to develop as a character unto herself quickly as well as allows Mark to act as a stand in for the reader who may still be a little awe struck at the alien setting and the weird cast members. Considering how many of Mark’s old supporting cast have been slaughtered over the years, a change in setting was all but inevitable. To a degree we see how Mark is unintentionally repeating some of the mistakes of his father Nolan (also known as “Omni-Man”), who frequently missed out on entire months of time due to his exploits, and who only grew to value the importance of family over adventuring (or the mission of his people) later in life. Readers also see that Thragg’s decision not to kill Mark and Nolan when he arguably had them at his mercy at the end of “The Viltrumite War” was part of his longer range plan to repopulate his race (who at that point were limited to only a few dozen). Terra, after all, is half-Viltrumite and may have inherited her mother’s molecular manipulation powers as well. Nolan retired with Mark’s mother Debbie, and who’s to know if they haven’t had a “change of life” baby by now as well. While he certainly will deal with them if he has to, Thragg cares more about re-population than revenge at this point, which is interesting. The look at the daily routine of Eve and Terra is quite fun, even if Eve’s revelation about how she’d spent the last five years is telegraphed a bit too bluntly to be surprising. Seeing Mark as an emotional wreck is quite something, but it certainly makes sense given the circumstances.
Cory Walker’s artwork is always great, and he seems to evolve as an artist with every appearance. His renders a strangely beautiful neighborhood in space with plenty of attention to detail (from architecture to the fashion to dolls Terra has) as well as crafting a new cast around them (such as Terra’s teacher, Miss Lukka). Considering how the success of “Saga” has made Image Comics quite fond of “space comics”, this angle certainly fits in line with what the rest of the company is doing. The color work by Nathan Fairburn is great as well. It is easy to see why Cory Walker’s appearances are always so grand and always take some time to arrange. It certainly will be fantastic to have him for a regular arc for the first time since the beginning of the series in 2003.
After some struggles to find itself, as well as times when the series seemed to become a loose mouthpiece for what Kirkman thought of the traditional superhero comic industry, it seems the ship has been righted. “Invincible” has always mixed the scale and tropes of mainstream superhero comics with the creativity and risk taking of indie comics, and the current set up for the series seems to be as strong and offer up as much potential for story-lines than many of the best ones of the past. While change is constant in this series, it looks like it may very well redefine its prime once again.
Below is an honorable mention from BOOM! Studios. It was quite fun, but doesn’t soar as high as “Invincible” this week!
Big Trouble in Little China #23: Jack Burton and Winona Chi continue their haphazard adventure at the dawn of the 20th century under writer Fred Van Lente, artist Victor Santos and colorist Gonzalo Duarte. Far less adoring of Jack than her father was, Winona often (rightly) dismisses him as an overconfident blowhard who never knows what he’s doing, but this time around she may have gotten in deep by ignoring his advice. Recognizing the younger form of David Lo Pan, he warned her not to get in deep with him. Winona dismissed him, in part because she saw the threat of racist tycoon Damien Whist as being more dangerous. Now, thanks to the aid of “technology from the future” (her iPhone), Lo Pan and his three storms are at the height of their power and set to take full advantage of the “great earthquake” of 1906 which virtually destroyed San Francisco. Meanwhile, Jack tries to talk a younger Egg Shen out of his opium fueled grief and Jack’s death seems to have worse luck than the live version, as it’s been shanghai’d to a boat in the middle of the ocean by pure circumstance. This marks Lo Pan’s first “full” appearance in all of his wizardly glory in roughly ten issues, which allows it to have more impact. Victor Santos draws great versions of the series’ iconic villains, and the bits involving Burton helping Shen through his grief are amazingly sincere considering both the series and Burton’s demeanor. It looks like David Lo Pan’s rise to power as a tycoon of “Little China” will be as a result of his time traveling enemies, which also suits Jack Burton’s crazy luck to a t. With only two issues, almost anything can happen, and it looks like Fred Van Lente is gearing up for another of his spectacular finales.