"Probably the best superhero comic book in the universe!"
Or at least, that's the tagline that appears above the logo of the comic starting with #18. That might seem like a bold claim to make, but depending on what you're looking for it just might be your favourite superhero comic book in the universe, at least.
There's a lot to like here, especially in this massive compendium format where effectively the first third of the series is collected. It's fun to think of Invincible in that grand, three act structure, and how distinct and interesting those three phases of the series are.
Right off the bat, if you've ever enjoyed Ultimate Spider-Man, you need to try Invincible. With that comparison I feel like it's important to clarify early on that for all their positives, neither series are free from elements that haven't aged particularly well. Now of course I'll save talking about Ultimate Spider-Man for my review of the first omnibus of that, but in the case of Invincible I'm glad they... cleaned up those some of those more outdated elements for the show. There's a running gag involving the phrase "This is so gay" in that derogatory sense that we've thankfully moved past, along with some other examples I can't remember off the top of my head. I just wanted to mention it as something to be aware of, and I completely understand if that puts you off from reading the series.
Moving on, I've mentioned in various reviews by now how much I absolutely adore when superhero comics contain slice of life elements. It grounds the story, humanises the characters, and generally makes the book more interesting, and makes it so much easier for me to get invested in it. I've seen briefly before some say that the first half dozen issues of the series are some of the weakest, before it really gets going, but I absolutely loved those as well for the reasons I mentioned above. You get a feel for the book's tone and dynamic, the voices of the characters, their personalities and relationships... before Kirkman completely turns it all on it's head. And then again. And again. And probably more times for good measure in this collection, let alone the rest of the series.
If you've read Walking Dead, also written by Kirkman (of which I've read the first compendium of only so far), then that might be less shocking for you to hear than someone who hasn't. He seems to have a habit for that, at least across Invincible and Walking Dead, and notably instead of feeling tired and lame it feels gripping and exciting. The first dozen issues of this series I've read twice, once in the first Ultimate Collection hardcover (which I got for a good deal on Ebay and then sold off on there in turn when I decided to collect these compendiums instead) and then second of course in this format, and I thought those were great enough. So having so many issues here to dive into, and across all three compendiums in general, was such a fun experience.
Like the decompressed nature of some comics both back in the 2000s (Ultimate Spider-Man once again comes to mind) and all the comics of that kind since then, this series must have been tough to wait month to month at times, because some of the issues here go so quickly. Invincible has a reputation (at least from what I've heard over the years) for being incredibly bingeable, and not only is that absolutely true, it only gets more bingeable as the series goes on. It's fascinating seeing this as both a time capsule, and timelapse of the series's run, where one moment you're reading a "great jumping on point for new readers" and before you know it you're reading another one.
This is hard to talk too much about specifically without spoilers, and is something that becomes much more prominent as the series goes on, but there's such a great and importance balance here between having those jumping on points, whilst also allowing the characters to grow, change, mature and have emotionally meaningful journeys, relationships, break-ups, conflicts etc. Apart from being so bingeable, that's also one of the other major points I see this series get praised for, and it absolutely deserves it.
Now, I can't conclude this review without talking about the artwork, as I haven't had a chance to already.
First of all, the artwork. The first seven issues are drawn by Cory Walker, and then the rest of the compendium (and most of the rest of the series) is drawn by Ryan Ottley, with colors on the issues collected here by Bill Crabtree. In my previous review of the first Ultimate Collection back in late 2020, I described it as "a Saturday morning cartoon that's not afraid to suddenly get extremely violent" and I still love that idea and description. No disrespect to Walker as a person of course, but his art in those initial issues is fine. I like it, I don't dislike it, but I also don't love it like I love Ottley's art. Especially when FCO starts coloring him in the next compendium.
That said, Walker's art definitely fits the initial small scale of the series nicely. It has that "indie" feel, which might not mean anything to you but I can't think of how else to describe it. I guess I mean it feels raw and grounded, as opposed to the slick cinematic aesthetic of the house styles of the big two, and the art later in the series I just mentioned. Crabtree's flat colors definitely help with that, and that's not a criticism but just a statement. They're good, but like with the transition from Walker to Ottley, the transition from Crabtree to FCO on colors shortly after this compendium concludes brings the whole series up a few notches, and really gives it that pzazz that carries on throughout the rest of the whole run.
Also finally it was cool to see Kirkman lettered the first dozen issues of this himself, as he also did the same with the early issues of Walking Dead. I don't have anything specific to say about the lettering, but Kirkman and then Rus Wooton do a great job here, and I just wanted to mention that before I wrapped this review up.
As always I really appreciate it if you read all the way to the end here, and I highly recommend checking this series out if you're comfortable with some of the outdated elements I mentioned. It's such a fun, entertaining, thrilling ride with awesome artwork that only gets better from here!
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