Arts, Television

‘Invincible’ Returns With an Engaging Story About Grief


After its first season successfully paired intense themes with classic comic book animation and writing, season two of Invincible had a lot to live up to. The second season rose to the challenge, taking a deeper look at how the characters handle grief, continuing the show’s coming-of-age story in a logical and masterful way. 

The new batch of episodes follows teenager Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) and his mother Debbie (Sandra Oh) as they deal with the loss—or betrayal—of his father, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). Mark needs to figure out how to continue being a superhero after his father nearly destroyed Earth, and Debbie is working on coming to terms with her husband’s abrupt change of heart. 

In season one, Omni-Man revealed that an alien race called the Viltrumites sent him to take over Earth, and the family he had was just collateral. Debbie was his “pet” and Mark was given the choice of joining Omni-Man or death. It’s safe to say that Debbie and Mark were baffled and devastated after he wasn’t the loving father and husband that they knew.

Mark and his mother both struggle to manage their feelings about the betrayal, but the ways that the two express their grief are strikingly different.

Mark is at a monumental turning point in his life, which many teenage viewers can relate to. He’s heading off to college and in his first serious relationship. These are formative years of Mark’s life, but he can’t just sit back and enjoy them when he has the responsibilities of a superhero. 

Comics often show the balance between a character’s personal life and superhero life, which has become a trope of superhero stories. Mark takes this trope to the extreme. 

Omni-Man may have turned out to be Earth’s greatest enemy, but he was once Earth’s greatest hero. In Mark’s head, he has to be a better hero than his father without also becoming a villain like him. 

Mark often internalizes his grief—with the absence of his father, he tries to fill the void himself. As his mentor, Omni-Man was supposed to teach Mark how to be a superhero, but he was also supposed to teach Mark how to be a good person as his father. With Omni-Man failing at both tasks, Mark struggles to find a path forward. 

To cope, he puts his job as a superhero above all else. He skips classes, ditches his girlfriend, and puts his personal life on the back burner to help as many people as he can. Mark’s sense of responsibility to make up for his father’s shortcomings is well intentioned, but ends up haunting him.

Debbie has the opposite reaction from her son. Rather than overextending herself and feeling a need to make up for her husband’s mistakes, she retracts and hides herself from the world. Any time she ventures back out, she’s reminded of the pain her husband caused. 

As much as Mark tries to help his coping mother, Debbie refuses to involve her son. She tries bearing the weight of Omni-Man’s betrayal on her own, which distances her from family and friends. 

Mark thinks of Omni-Man in a sad, nostalgic way. Debbie thinks of Omni-Man with a fiery anger and shame, and it affects her way of coping with grief. 

Upon returning to work, Debbie finds herself arguing with two married customers. The couple reminds Debbie of her relationship with Omni-Man, and she can’t resist the angry outburst.

When Debbie finally tries to seek help to cope with her emotional damage, she joins an anonymous superhero-spouse support group. Debbie doesn’t take the “anonymous” part of the group seriously, however, and when the group finds out she’s Omni-Man’s ex-spouse, she is kicked out.

In one scene, she breaks down in front of Mark, as he returns to their house nearly dead after an encounter with the villain of the day. The moment they share is short, but sentimental, as the two can finally share their grief together. 

The central plot feels incredibly heavy and emotional, which gives a strong sense of purpose to Invincible. Not a single moment in the show feels like a waste of time. Invincible uses every second to push the plot forward and develop its characters, giving them satisfying arcs. 

When Invincible featured an episode starring Allen the Alien (Seth Rogen), it seemed unclear how this appearance connected to the main plot. The start of the episode seemed to lead into a disappointing filler chapter, but this was misleading. 

Not only is Allen’s episode a fantastic way to revisit a favorite side character and complete his arc, but it sets the stage for the eventual return of Omni-Man, which could have major repercussions for Mark and Debbie. 

Invincible uses its inherently emotional story to develop its characters just as well as any live-action show, and the themes of the series are complex enough to take a concept like grief and explore it from parallel lenses. 

December 4, 2023