Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
How Robert Kirkman made the <i>Invincible </i>finale an emotional heavy hitter

How Robert Kirkman made the Invincible finale an emotional heavy hitter

Graphic: Natalie Peeples, Photo: Amazon Studios

Amazon Prime Video’s star-studded, animated superhero drama Invincible wrapped season one with a heartbreaking and frenzied fight between its two lead superheroes: the father-son duo of Nolan Grayson, a.k.a Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons) and Mark Grayson, a.k.a. Invincible (Steven Yeun). The finale, titled “Where I Really Come From,” upends a season-long arc: Omni-Man has been this world’s Superman-like hero, but not after he publicly battles his son and causes worldwide destruction.

It’s an emotional twist that’s been building from the beginning, changing the game for all the protagonists while setting up the next season. The final episode also tears Nolan’s marriage apart, readies the new Guardians Of The Globe for war, and leads Cecil Steadman (Walton Goggins) to ask Invincible to be the next big hero the world needs. But is Mark up for the task? Robert Kirkman, who created the series and is also the co-author of the Invincible comics on which the show is based, hopes to explore that in future seasons—and will get the chance as the series’ recent renewal for seasons two and three has just been announced.

Ahead of the finale, The A.V. Club spoke to Kirkman about how he chose to adapt the vast universe of the comics for the show, whether or not there’s any hope left for Nolan, and how long he thinks Invincible can go on for (hint: a long, long time).

A.V. Club: The fight between Mark and Nolan in the finale is brutal, but it makes a strong case for why the show is animated and not live-action like another one of your adaptations from the comics world, The Walking Dead.

Robert Kirkman: Every episode was constructed with the knowledge that this would be an animated show and we can use that to the best of our ability. The whole series was conceived in the first place because of it being an animation. You’re right, that sequence from the finale between Mark and Omni-Man would be almost impossible to do even in a $200 million blockbuster, to go from fighter jets to collapsing buildings in the city to snow-capped mountains and avalanches to fighting under the ocean. I’m glad we were able to do it in animation, it shows the strength of the genre, because it utilizes the best of what comics are able to do with storytelling.

AVC: How did you approach writing the dialogue of Mark and Nolan’s fight scene? It was such a gut punch when he revealed the truth of his origins to his son.

RK: A lot of people talk about the violence in Invincible, which is important to show the stakes and consequences of this world. It serves the dramatic punch we are trying to pull. I do hope the dialogue between Mark and Nolan is as brutal. It was important for us to achieve that balance. Every scene of season one between them, if you go back and watch, hints at what is coming so that you know these characters and you expect certain things to happen. This scene factors in those emotions because we took the time over the season to build the characters up.

AVC: Mark tells Nolan that even though he came to Earth with a mission, he isn’t as villainous anymore. Do you think it’s just Mark holding out hope for his dad? What was the message there? Because Nolan does leave the planet.

RK: I’m hoping people ask those questions while watching the finale. We spent a lot of time to show the hesitation and humanity in Nolan. He is saying that his life with Debbie and Mark was an act, but I hope the audience can see a confidence in Mark when he says, ‘There’s no way you could have faked that; you were that person.” It’s what leads to Nolan to leave and not kill Mark or complete his mission. It shows there is a huge conflict within him.

Having watched the finale, if you go back and watch from episode one, you’ll see that in the first episode, Nolan is upset when Mark gets his powers. He didn’t want that to happen and wanted him to continue his normal life. Now he has to fulfill his Viltrumite duty and that’s something Nolan isn’t initially happy about. There’s a lot of layers to the character.

AVC: That emotion comes out even in the memory Nolan has from Mark’s childhood with his baseball game, and in what Debbie says to him about humanity.

RK: Yeah, that baseball flashback does go a long way. It’s there to show a Nolan that is recognizable in terms of the father we’ve seen him be over the course of the show. And it gives you the idea that Debbie did bring him into her human life and she had an influence on a powerful character. She’s inspired him and allowed him to nurture his humanity.

AVC: How did you decide what to include from the comics in this season—mainly, where to end with this finale and how it sets up a potential season two?

RK: When sitting down with Simon Racioppa, the head writer of the show, we mapped out what we were going to cover in these eight episode. I knew I wanted to bookend it with the two sequences: Nolan vs. The Guardians Of The Globe and then Nolan vs. Mark. The fun started when we started filling out the six episodes in between. In order to do that, we had to bring in some of the stuff from the comics that happens after the big Nolan and Mark fight.

By bringing those forward, like the confrontation with Machine Head or the encounter on Mars or the scenes with Reanimen, it gives you more time to get to know Mark’s sense of humanity, his responsibility, and how he is going to behave as a superhero. It sets him up for the finale confrontation in a nuanced way. We know who Mark and Nolan are as characters and as a father-son duo. We’ve also gotten to know Debbie a lot more to see her perspective. It was a chance to heighten everything from the comic book and make it more solid and together as a story for TV.

AVC: Bringing those arcs earlier in season one also helps comic book readers familiar with the story. It keeps them guessing and it’s not what they expected.

RK: I’m always acutely aware of the fact that one of the appeals of this comic is how frequently unexpected things happen. I want to try and maintain that as much as I can for the audience that has read the comic and is now watching the show. By changing and rearranging things, even if you have read the comics, you still get the sense of, “Oh, I didn’t expect this already” or “Oh, I thought this character would be like this or do this but isn’t.” It brings a little of that excitement from the comics into the show.

AVC: The ending montage kind of answers Allen The Alien’s (Seth Rogen) question to Mark about how he’ll prepare for whatever is coming next with the Coalition Of The Planets and the Viltrumites. How did you plan that montage out for all the other characters and what it sets up?  

RK: Even before that montage actually, all the dialogues with Allen The Alien sets up the scope for the coming years with Invincible. With the montage, I really wanted to remind the audience of the many threads we had and wanted to reveal to them that anything and everything that happened in season one matters. Even the small details will come into play in a big way in the future. I wanted to work in way more of those pops but it was becoming ridiculous.

It also gives the sense that Nolan is off the table for now so Mark doesn’t have a mentor anymore but all the problems are still there. Now we’ll have to see a very different Invincible moving forward who has to figure things out on his own. It sets the stage for season two and beyond to be a different story, which is where you want to be with a show like this one. You want every season to have a different kind of flavor and feel and exploration of the main character.

AVC: Do you have a goal in mind as to how long you’d want this show to go on? The possibilities are endless.

RK: Nothing is set in stone just yet, but we do have plans for many, many seasons. I would love to adapt all the 144 issues of the comic book series. Hopefully we can accomplish that. I could see this going between five to 100 different seasons. The plans are malleable as we go on, but I want this to run for many seasons.

Staff Writer (TV)