Monday, February 22, 2010

Superpowers, Violence, and Invincible

I don't normally talk much about Invincible. It's a perfectly good comic at doing what it does and that's great, but it only rarely blips on my radar. The book does have a reputation however as having an extreme amount of blood and gore when depicting superpowered battles, leading to the idea that Kirkman's being puerile or sensationalistic about it. However, it is my belief that the Invincible creative team understands full well the intersection of superpowers and violence and offers a subversive take on them.

First, let's consider the traditional Strong/Invulnerable superhero archtype. The question that is not often asked is "Wait, how do they know how to _____?" Particularly with invulnerability, that would require taking some rather extreme risks in what amounts to a personal test to destruction. Of yourself. In most superhero stories, the discovery of that power is via some accidental means - hit by a car or shot with bullets, etc. If that didn't happen, how would they know? Would they try running into traffic or shooting themselves? Lighting themselves on fire? Spending a night in a meat locker to see if they could resist the cold? You see where this is going. And the real bitch of invulnerability in a superhero universe is that it's a limited invulnerability; someone who is strong enough can hurt you, if they hit hard enough.

On the flip side, how would our hero know how hard to hit someone as to not kill them? How would you practice that skillset except to have some rather brave test subjects (whom one would hope, have Wolverine-level regenerative capabilities, just in case)? This is subject to almost all superpowers - learning how to use them for non-lethal combat would likely be a process of trial and error that the audience is thankfully asked to ignore. And when these superhumans face other superhuman opponents, how do they know to dial it up a knotch to deal with superhumanly durability or invulnerability without leading to lethal results?
Another interesting aspect of the level of violence in Invincible is the ramifications as depicted. Rarely if ever do you see the witty or hardass one-liners after an opponent is taken down the way you do with Wolverine and that ilk (The Viltrumites are the exception. They are also a race of ultraviolent sociopaths, so I think we can let that slide). More often, the characters who survive are badly beaten and require extensive recuperation. More interesting (and more rare for the realm of supercomics) are the psychological ramifications of having to deal with lost friends and family, and the hardening of the spirit that comes with the increasing level of violence. The current arc in has been indirectly implying that with all the violence Invincible has encountered, something like superhuman Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder would be an issue of some great concern for both him as well as those that could be hurt by him.
So there you have it - yes, Invincible is gorey, and it is brutal, but in a way that helps to enlighten the issue of violence, superhuman and otherwise.

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