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Invincible: Family Matters
Written by Robert Kirkman
Drawn by Cory Walker
Published by Image Comics; $12.95 USD

Family Matters collects the first four issues of Robert Kirkman’s ongoing series Invincible, the story of Mark Grayson, typical high-school senior, complete with not-so-great part time job at the local Burger Mart. But Mark is also the son of one of the world’s most powerful super-heroes, Omni-Man, and his life becomes more complicated by the fact the he’s beginning to inherit his Dad’s abilities.

Invincible is one of the most unique super-hero books to come along in quite awhile. Its blend of the old "normal teen gains superpowers" and the more recent "super-heroes in the real world" concepts presents an interesting and new twist on the genre of superhero comics. Kirkman has taken two pretty similar ideas and melded them together into one really great read.

Mark is very reminiscent of Peter Parker from the days of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, a kid who has suddenly gained great powers and abilities, but also has to worry about school, girls, his job and his family. Granted, his family isn't remotely similar to that of Peter Parker’s, but the characters feel as if they've been cut from the same mold. Then there’s the world around him, filled with fantastic dangers presented in a very realistic light. And, while there are super-villains, Kirkman bypasses the old standard of tying them into the origins of the hero. Instead they’re run-of-the-mill; mostly throw away villains, in the vein of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon, which is no coincidence since Kirkman has played in the Larsen sandbox a time or two.

The book deals heavily with the Grayson’s family life. The scenes at the dinner table are both sadly touching and hysterical. The nonchalant way the family treats the extraordinary is extremely interesting. A few days without seeing his father and Mark is making offhand remarks and assuring his mother that everything’s okay. When he does return, besides a brief mention of what exactly happened to him, it’s as though it never happened. Everything is status quo, but there are definitely underlying tensions there.

Mark’s mother is perhaps the most intriguing (not to mention under-utilized) character in the book. The way she reacts to her husband’s escapades is somewhat disturbing, yet feels very real. Kirkman writes the tension so well that you expect her to lose her cool at any moment and demand normalcy but she doesn’t. Instead she continues to make her nightly dinners and wait patiently for her gallivanting son and husband to return, and is made all the more unsettling by the fact that her name is never mentioned once outside of Kurt Busiek’s introduction.

Kirkman tackles many superhero standards throughout the book, and each one turns out to be a very original take on tired and clichéd ideas. Mark’s discovery of his power, rather than taking pages, or even issues, is all of one panel, and even his "training" takes up no more than a page or so. In fact, the origin of his father takes up more time. Again, with that subject, we're given a fresh spin on a story that’s been a part of comics for over fifty years, and the casual telling of it, as if it were no big deal, adds both humour and more of that underlying creepiness to the book.

The creation of Mark’s costume was very funny, and will feel very familiar to those who've seen Pixar’s The Incredibles. In fact very much of The Incredibles is reminiscent of Invincible. Mark’s team-up with other teen-aged heroes yields not only a supporting cast of interesting characters, but also a bit of romantic tension as well. By the end of the four-issue arc it feels much more like an ensemble cast than the story of a lone high school kid with amazing abilities.

Cory Walker’s pencils also play a large role in the enjoyment of the book, as does Bill Crabtree’s coloring. The costumes are rich with color without being over the top, and the characters are distinctive enough to recognize but not so much that you lose that sense of the mild-mannered, not one of them feels out of reach from every day life.

The extras are astounding, considering the sparse amount of issues contained within the collection. Kurt Busiek’s introduction will have you laughing out loud and eagerly anticipating the pages ahead, and the in-depth look at what went into creating the character’s look and tone is nothing short of fantastic, not to mention questioning the choice of the issue covers, a good majority of the unused ones are better than what was originally published. Even a few of the costume color variations feel better suited than the final choice.

The book has a very light feel to it, very fun, but as mentioned there seems to be something more crawling underneath all of it. Kirkman plays with some great superhero conventions and ends up with amazingly fresh results. This is definitely one of the best books of the genre to hit stands in recent memory. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Logan Polk



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