While catching up on Invincible the other day, I came across a certain page that straight-up bothered me. It was a scene depicting Mark Grayson's worst fears about the consequences of his Viltrumite enemies, which he had just finished fighting, making it to Earth before he did. Though it was only a dream sequence, it showed the heroes of the Image universe getting brutally butchered by the superhuman terrors. It illustrated an extreme case of the brutality we know that the villains were capable of.
While I'm no stranger to the horrors of the Internet (and have read Punisher: Max cover-to-cover) Invincible is still one of the few comics that can make me feel squeamish. The actual cause, however, eluded me until I took a good long look at myself and how these scenes are produced.== TEASER ==
Invincible is an extremely deceptive series. I took the first volume at face value: an homage to a number of superhero tropes that were updated for a new audience and included a number of original characters. Invincible (Mark Grayson) was a growing hero and had a number of support systems to ensure that he grew into his role "normally."
However, this changed in the second to third volume, where readers are treated to a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Mark and his dad, where blood, teeth and bone fly. Things are kicked up a notch.
As the series progresses, the fights get worse, and have higher tolls: Mark kills Angstrom Levy, Dupli-Kate's clones die in extremely gruesome fashion and Invincible meets Conquest, setting the bar high again. At the end of a recent volume, heads are ripped clean off bodies while heads get sandwiched between fists so hard that blood sprays from eye sockets. This is heavy stuff.
Each one of these fights does not shirk on the viscera; bones are exposed, teeth are lost and holes are ripped open in people. However, these things aren't what bugs me the most.
What gets me are the expressions.
Each one of the faces that are crying in anguish behind the smiley faces up there unsettle me beyond anything else.
Ryan Ottley's work is specifically done to make us feel for the character being maimed. While this shouldn't come as a surprise, consider this: when viewing a "typical" character death in super-hero comics, how often do we see them cry out in pain? Beg for mercy? Cry at hopelessness? Lose their confidence?
It's rare that we actually see that weakness in characters we're supposed to idolize, which I think is the whole point of presenting Invincible fights in this manner. Kirkman and Ottley wanted to show us that unlike stereotypical superhero books where fights can be inconsequential, characters in Invincible feel pain. They feel fear. They squish when hit by someone who has super-strength.
Titles like Punisher: Max and even The Walking Dead aren't strangers to this level of violence, yet they get a "pass" in my mind. Frank Castle can string a guy up by his intestines (and has) and it won't provoke a reaction; however, seeing someone in Invincible who's not quite dead with their arm ripped off, crying out in pain, shakes something inside me that doesn't feel right.
Ultimately, this can be attributed to another artistic style point. Invincible's style is very cartoony (again, it's an homage); this works tremendously in its favour because it looks like the story it's supposed to be portraying.
However, when panels like the above crop up, it almost shocks you out of the quaint superhero world you're enjoying, and reminds you that if the timing's right, any of the characters you've come to love could die in a horrible fashion. Each fight connects with you because you're sweating buckets, wondering if that next punch will go through the combatant.
Thankfully, Kirkman does not exploit this strategy. When used too often (like in Crossed), it becomes cheap and tired, which unfortunately detracts from the whole story.
Hopefully that won't be in Invincible's future any time soon. It would be a waste of a great title and great universe.