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Talk about daddy issues.
These issues are relatively new, to be honest. Mark Grayson has always gotten along pretty well with his pops, Nolan. And, like most kids, he always wanted to grow up to be just like his dad.
But ever since he was 7 years old, Mark knew that he’d have bigger shoes to fill than most. While Nolan may simply look like a heavily muscled, mustachioed, middle-aged father, he’s actually the alien Omni-Man, Earth’s sworn protector. In a world filled with superheroes, Omni-Man is its most super—incredibly strong, really fast and nigh invulnerable. Oh, and of course, he can fly.
As 17-year-old Mark’s just beginning to develop and learn about his own matching powers, his famous father is acting pretty … weird. Like, murderously weird.
Seems like they’re overdue for a father-son chat.
It’s not as if Mark doesn’t have enough on his teenage plate already. He’s in high school, after all, studying algebra, crushing on girls and trying to figure out how to stop bullies without actually killing them.
Mark’s also a bit of a late bloomer. According to Nolan, most Viltrumites (the alien race his dad belongs to) develop their super powers around puberty. But Mark was 17 before he was able to throw a trash bag into outer space, which would be enough to give any good Viltrumite a complex. He could sure use some good old-fashioned coaching from his father to make the best use of his abilities.
In the meantime, Mark flexes his considerable muscles by occasionally fighting evildoers and joining forces with a bevy of other fledgling superheroes. They include his schoolmate Samantha, aka Atom Eve, who specializes in manipulating matter and energy. He tries to keep his on-again, off-again relationship with Amber on track—not easy when you’re constantly breaking dates to save the city from demons or cyborgs or whatnot. And he hangs out with his boring ol’ mom, Debbie, too. Mark may have his dad’s superpowers, but he’s always been a mama’s boy at heart.
Maybe it’s just as well. Turns out,
Nolan has been following his own Viltrumite agenda for a long, long time. Earth’s protector? No, he’s an invader, and he murdered most of his superhero friends, the Guardians of the Globe, in order to clear the way for his fellow Viltrumites to arrive unchallenged. It’s only a matter of time before his secrets spill … along with barrels of blood.
We live in an age besotted with superheroes, so perhaps it’s no surprise that we might have more revisionist superhero stories than straightforward good-doers on the telly these days. From HBO’s Watchmen to Amazon Prime’s own The Boys, television has plenty of dark, satirical, incredibly problematic superhero stories to choose from.
Invincible resides in an interesting cubbyhole in the classroom of superhero revisionism. As an animated show, it can feel lighter and more true to the genre at times. (Emphasize the words at times in that sentence, if you will.). It can feel even a bit ludicrously whimsical, even—like The Tick, perhaps. When Omni-Man took Mark to pick out his very first super suit, I immediately thought of Edna from The Incredibles.
And from what I know of Invincible’s source material (a series of comics created by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker from Image Comics Universe), the story has more on its mind than just dissecting the genre; it may seek to tell its own gritty and even aspirational tale of fall and redemption, infused with some of the dynamics of Greek tragedy.
But, yowza, does this show go dark. And red.
The carnage here is pretty extreme. Heads are crushed. Guts are strewn. Blood is shed by the bucket. You might think that the show’s animated imagery would lessen the impact of all that gore. But for me, at least, it actually made it worse. Ink can still give more detail than even the best CGI can, if not the same realism.
Sexual content is inescapable, too, from tight, almost nude-appearing costumes to characters talking about behind-the-bedroom-door exploits. Language can be quite colored, as well. Though I’ve not heard any f-words yet, everything else is pretty much on the table. And remember, I’ve not watched every single episode.
Invincible sports a pretty amazing cast of voices behind the characters, from Oscar-winners (J.K. Simmons as Omni-Man) and A-list comedians (Seth Rogen) to the great voice actor Mark Hamill himself (yes, that Mark Hamill).
This story seems to be heading toward some interesting places. But to get there, you’ll have to stomach some pretty grotesque content. That’s a journey I’m not willing to take. And for many, Invincible might be—or perhaps should be—unwatchable.
Mark and his superpals, now members of the new Guardians of the Globe, are dealing with the aftermath of their battle with Thokk from the last episode. Invincible, Beast Girl and Black Sampson are all whisked into the hospital, unconscious, and the latter two spend most of the episode in treatment. Mark recovers more quickly, though, and goes off on a college scouting trip with his girlfriend, Amber, and his best friend, William.
Naturally, they run into a mad scientist there who’s turning students into superpowered cyborgs. Meanwhile, Eve leaves her parents to use her superpowers to help humanity in ways that don’t involve beating up bad guys: growing crops, putting out forest fires, that sort of thing. And Mark’s mom, Debbie, discovers Omni-Man’s dark secret.
As Mark, Amber and William are set to drive off for the college visit, Debbie tells them, “No drinking, no drugs and no sex!” The three teens seem to make good on two of those three things, but sex seems only avoided by circumstance. William spends most of the road trip talking about his college boyfriend’s physical attributes, and he later talks about how the two of them had sex earlier in their relationship. Mark and Amber kiss several times, and they’d apparently planned to share a dorm room. A drunken college student propositions three female students (in very short shorts) for sex. Superhero outfits hug both male and female curves.
The mad scientist’s lab is truly disgusting, filled with plenty of body parts and Frankensteinian experiments. One terrified subject finds he has a metal arm, then suffers another operation to remove his vocal chords. The resulting cyborgs seep blood from various wounds and orifices, and they sometimes seem to have some residual consciousness of their previous selves. When his one-eyed mask is ripped off, one cyborg sees himself in a reflection, peels a bit of skin off his face and, in despair, kills himself by throwing himself on a huge, pointy sundial.
Blood covers many people, both alive and dead. We see many gaping wounds and bruises. A disembodied bunch of organs floats in some sort of fluid. An injured person coughs up blood. Someone’s nearly choked to death and has his arm nearly severed, too. Heroes and villains beat each other up, resulting in lots and lots of flying blood. A suit bears plenty of signs of battle. Someone crushes a wine bottle in his bare hand. To explain his injuries, Mark and others tell Amber that Mark was hit by a bus.
Eve argues with her dad in a parody of a typical teen-parent conflict. (“You get your feet back on the ground now!” her father blusters.) The evil scientist says he’s just “fixing humanity’s weaknesses.” Omni-Man and his tailor drink beer together. Amber goes to a party and drinks beer there, too. Debbie drinks quite a bit of a bottle of wine by herself, and her husband tells her that she’s drunk.
We hear the f-word four times (once with “mother”), the s-word 17 times and plenty of other profanities, including “a–,” “b–ch,” “crap,” “d–n,” “h—” and “p-ss.” God’s name is misused three times, and Jesus’ name is abused once.
After waiting for most of his life, Mark begins to develop superpowers—just like his father, Omni-Man. But even as he discovers his super-strength and his ability to fly, Mark worries that he might not measure up. His mother, Debbie, reassures him. “You don’t have to be the greatest Omni-Man ever,” she says. “You just have to be the greatest you.” Also, Omni-Man aids his fellow Guardians of the Globe in fending off an attack on the White House by two giant blue clones called the Mauler Twins.
A man has his head crushed, and we watch as blood seeps from his nose and mouth and one of his eyes pops out of its socket before the crushing is complete. (Blood naturally showers the crusher.) Someone dies after being punched/skewered through the gut. A head gets knocked clean off someone’s body; another head is twisted all the way around, thus killing that person, too. Living bodies are mangled in other ways. Someone has an eye shot out. In training, Omni-Man hits his son really hard in the chest—knocking the breath out of him despite his superpowers. Someone is beaten viciously and eventually falls unconscious.
Mark, pre-superpowers, gets into a fight with a bully at school. The bully punches him in the face (sending blood flying) and hits him in the gut (knocking him to the ground) before a classmate slugs the bully in the crotch. Later, Mark and the bully confront each other again; Mark tells the guy to hit him, repeatedly, and he shows no effect after each blow lands with a thud. Mark struggles with flying, crashing to the ground (and causing pretty large craters) several times. Innocent mortals escape from extreme peril thanks to several superheroes. Omni-Man says he’s late for dinner, because, “Honest to God, a dragon was attacking Hong Kong.” A bad guy gets thrown into space (after threatening the future of Denver). We see a handful of fights elsewhere.
Debbie walks in on Mark as he’s using the restroom, and we see Mark’s exposed hip and thigh. In front of their son, Debbie and Omni-Man talk about having sex. Mark’s best friend, William, is gay (and drools over Omni-Man, not knowing that he’s Mark’s father). A bully harasses a female student; when that student rejects him, he asks her if she’s a lesbian. (A few more comments in the same vein ensue.) Omni-Man has a version of “the talk” with Mark, discussing how his body will change when he enters puberty. Elsewhere, several people vomit.
We hear about how a kid turned his life around after wasting much of his life stealing things and doing drugs. Characters say the s-word once. We also hear “a–,” “crap,” “d–n,” “h—” and four misuses of God’s name (once with the word “d–n”).
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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