Coming-of-age in the Kirkmanverse
• “Invincible” Vol. 1-3 – The first 13 issues of the series lay the groundwork with a fresh take on a classic story, then pull the rug out from under you.
• “Invincible Universe” – Set after major events surrounding Invincible’s 100th issue, this series focuses on characters like the Guardians of the Globe, Tech Jacket and the Astounding Wolf-Man.
• “Marvel Team-Up” (Vol. 2) #14 – Invincible joins forces with Spider-Man in that rare inter-company crossover that actually takes place in-continuity.
Nearly a year before the first issue of “The Walking Dead” was published by Image Comics, writer Robert Kirkman debuted another series that would run for more than a decade.
“Invincible” was Kirkman’s take on classic teen superhero coming-of-age stories and an animated adaptation is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Kirkman spent time working for Marvel, writing titles like “Ultimate X-Men,” “Marvel Team-Up” and “Irredeemable Ant-Man” (featuring rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Eric O’Grady instead of Hank Pym or Scott Lang), but he’s best known for his creator-owned output with Image Comics. In 2008, he was made a partner in the company and issued a video “manifesto” in which he urged creators to concentrate on their own work rather than properties owned by big publishers like Marvel and DC.
“Invincible” tells the story of Mark Grayson, the son of Omni-Man, basically the Superman of Image’s shared universe. Mark inherits his dad’s super-strength, speed, invulnerability and flight and begins to find his way in a world of superheroics.
The characters and concepts he faces are familiar, but Kirkman puts his own spin on them, giving the story a flavor somewhere between traditional superhero fare and deconstructionist approaches like “Watchmen” or (shudder) “The Boys.”
But just as readers are starting to get comfortable in this world, Kirkman throws a major curveball that dramatically changes the trajectory of the story (and the violence level; “Invincible” is naot for kids). Mark is forced to step out of his father’s shadow and determine for himself how he will use his powers.
And with that, “Invincible” probably could have been a classic 12-issue series. But Kirkman kept the story going for 145 issues, as Mark and his allies grew and changed. They populated a segment of Image’s more informal continuity known as the Kirkmanverse, which technically started a few months before “Invincible” with “Tech Jacket,” about a high school student who receives an advanced piece of technology from a dying alien.
Invincible early on allied himself with a group of young heroes known as the Teen Team — the matter-altering Atom Eve (a future love interest), the self-replicating Dupli-Kate, ex-government agent Rex-Splode and a brilliant mechanoid named Robot. Some of them graduated to the Guardians of the Globe, the Kirkmanverse’s answer to the Avengers or Justice League after most of the original members were killed.
New iterations of the Guardians appeared in spinoff series “Guarding the Globe” and “Invincible Universe.”
Other characters in the Kirkmanverse include the Wolf-Man, a family man-turned-werewolf who tries to harness his curse and become a superhero; Brit, an invulnerable and elderly government agent; and Haunt, a priest who’s lost his faith and is merged with the ghost of his secret agent brother.
Invincible has teamed up with other Image characters in his title and theirs, including the Savage Dragon, Spawn, Shadowhawk and Witchblade.
He even popped up alongside Spider-Man in an issue of “Marvel Team-Up” while Kirkman was at the helm. Unlike many intercompany crossovers, this one was in-continuity for both characters.
Evan Bevins can be reached at email@example.com.