The small screen is already filled with crime-fighting capes and predictable high-flying capers. But in comes “Invincible,” Amazon’s forthcoming hourlong adult animated drama, aiming to give a much-needed shake-up to the oversaturated superhero genre.
Based on the prolific “Walking Dead” writer Robert Kirkman’s comics series, “Invincible” distorts the expected in both its plot devices and its production decisions.
“While all of these stories have similar tropes and traditions, Robert does a great job of meeting those expectations and then messing with those expectations too,” says J.K. Simmons, one of the show’s stars.
The eight-parter, debuting on Amazon Prime Video on March 26, revolves around Mark Grayson (voiced by Steven Yeun), an average 17-year-old who just happens to be the son of Omni-Man (Simmons), the most potent mustachioed superhero on Earth and beyond. Amid homework, bullies, girls and superhero duties, Mark discovers that Omni-Man may not be as benevolent as he’s led the world to believe — to put it mildly.
Superhero shows can be found on platforms from The CW to Disney Plus. Kirkman says that he needed to stand apart from the noise: “Structurally, I wanted this to feel like an hourlong cable drama that just happens to be animated. We have a myriad of subplots and different stories woven in a way that you would with a cable drama instead of a half-hour.” Kirkman also mentions that the decision to go with traditional 2D animation was partly due to making sure the television adaptation did not feel like a superhero show geared toward children and at the same time looked as faithful as possible to its source material.
“There’s a lot of destruction and violence in this show, and the story needs to explore the drama that comes from these events,” explains supervising director Jeff Allen, who admits that he read all 144 comics in the series before coming on board with the project. “Being able not to shy away from it and not worry about any content restrictions gives us a tremendous amount of freedom to go into some interesting places that are going to make us stand apart from everyone else.”
Albert Cheng, chief operating officer and co-head of television at Amazon Studios, explains that he wants to make sure that all of the streamer’s talent and creators have the tools to be the best architects to deliver their stories to their audience. As such, he neither limited Kirkman’s choice of hand-drawn animation nor constrained his desired run time.
Cheng states that although “Invincible” primarily skews toward a younger and male audience, several issues are presented throughout the show that he believes are inclusive of everyone. “We believe that often a story can transcend ‘target audience’ and bring in even more people across the entire customer base,” he says.
Along with “Walking Dead” alum and “Minari” Oscar-nominated actor Yeun and Simmons, the celeb-studded diverse cast includes the voice talents of Mahershala Ali, Zazie Beetz, Clancy Brown, Nicole Byer, Chris Diamantopolous, Michael Dorn, Walton Goggins, Grey Griffin, Jeffrey Donovan, Jonathan Groff, Mark Hamill, Jon Hamm, Djimon Hounsou, Gillian Jacobs, Jason Mantzoukas, Ezra Miller, Sandra Oh, Khary Payton, Zachary Quinto, Andrew Rannels, Kevin Michael Richardson and Seth Rogen.
“Most of the development process of the show (including storyboarding and recording) was done in, as Simmons put it, “blissfully pre-coronavirus” times. The “Spider-Man” mainstay recalled a few sessions in which he, Yeun and Oh played scenes together to root the “Invincible’s” narrative further in reality (or at least a version of our reality in which superpowered beings exist and occasionally go toe-to-toe with each other with murderous and malicious intent. “It is unusual in animation because usually, you’re kind of alone on an island recording all your stuff solo. But it was fun to get to play the scenes, almost like we were in a live-action show.”
Kirkman noted that the cast of the show is a “who’s-who” of actors that he’s worked with previously and wanted to work with again, as well as a “bucket list of actors that I’m just dying to work with at some point in my career.”
Amazon gave “Invincible” a straight-to-series order in June 2018, less than a year after Kirkman inked an overall deal with Amazon and Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment signed a first-look deal with the streamer. As part of the exclusive agreement, Kirkman and his banner have been developing television projects for Prime Video. In addition, Skybound Entertainment’s co-presidents of film and television, Bryan and Sean Furst, are overseeing the Amazon project slate along with Kirkman and Skybound co-founder David Alpert. “Teen Titans” screenwriter Simon Racioppa serves as showrunner and executive producer of “Invincible”; CEO of Skybound North Catherine Winder and Alpert executive produce in conjunction with Kirkman and Racioppa; Linda Lamontagne serves as casting director.
Cheng emphasized that Amazon isn’t in the business of getting in between the tribalism of Marvel and DC Comics fans. Rather, the streamer wants to provide an alternative instead of giving more than the same. “I think that’s what ‘The Boys’ have done,” Cheng said. “And I think ‘Invincible’ is going to do that as well. It’ll expand what superheroes are and can be, and I hope we can get fans from both universes, and it’s going to step up people’s expectations of the genre. You want to make sure that you’re breaking through the clutter by offering something that people haven’t seen before.”
“Invincible” premieres its first three episodes on March 26 on Amazon Prime Video and will debut a new episode on the platform each subsequent Friday up to and including April 30.