East of Gotham

Week one on East of Gotham I reviewed Blue Beetle and called it one of the best spiritual successor’s to Spider-man’s coming of age story using the superpowers as a metaphor for growing up. This week it’s a review of the other solo title that best picks up the mantle Spidey left behind when he grew up, Invincible: Family Matters. Come see all the details on the first trade of one of Kirkman’s best works.

Invincible: Family Matter – The first book of this series is pure set up and almost entirely cliché, but it’s so sure of itself and nails the voices of all of the characters so perfectly that it can’t help but be lovable and suck you in to following the rest of the series. The main concept of the story is that the son of the world’s greatest superhero discovers that he has superpowers and learns to deal with being a superhero in a rather mundane, go about your business manner. Coping with them isn’t easy, but the book doesn’t do angst and even the horrible situations are played fairly lightly so that we can grasp that they’re really metaphors for growing pains… and set up for book two.

The first issue sees Mark, that’d be the future Invincible, discover he has powers. The set up of his job, family life, and, of course, personality are all handled well. Everything is kept simple and mundane. The understated tone of the book, that this is ordinary to these people and they are living a regular life amidst all the powers is really a refreshing change of pace. The book comes off as charming and Mark, who debuts the name Invincible to end the first issue, is immediately likable and charming because of how he’s handled.

Issue two gives us the “secret origin” of Invincible’s dad, Omni-man and a meeting with the, well, the Teen Titans of his universe. Naturally, this being a comic, he’s in class with the hot redhead of the group. A team up ensues and we get some more personality as Mark fits in better than he would have thought with his new surroundings. Invincible not being an outcast is a refreshing change for stories of this type. He’s basically got Spider-man’s set up with Superman’s powers so the coming of age style is straight from Marvel’s icon, but the escapism of his powers require a bit more than just geeky Peter Parker, so he gets to be a cooler version of the same archetype. The issue ends with a random student exploding, leading into a later issue, but first…

Issue three of the trade is a team up with dad! Omni-man is nearly the perfect hero and father. He offers for his son to quit his job just as Mark actually quits and leads his son in a team-up. The issue ends in a cliffhanger as Omni-man is pulled through an alien portal and Invincible is left to handle the exploding student’s case alone. All of this is rather dramatic, until Invincible tells his mother, whose reply is “more pork chops for us.” Ah, no sense blowing the problems of youth out of proportion, is there?

The concluding issue of the first trade paperback wraps up the outstanding plots. Mark and the hot red head, Eve, discuss dealing with problems with intelligence and finesse instead of force, and Mark and Eve’s attraction is once more played against her boyfriend Rex. None of this is overdone or ham-fisted. The characters mention it casually and the reactions are appropriate, with some stammering and then moving on. Remember, these aren’t mal-adjusted kids here. They’re inexperienced, but shared experiences and shared friends override any awkwardness. This is a nice, true to life, touch. Naturally, the science teacher is responsible for the human bombs, in an unsurprising bit of cliché, but the lack of resistance that follows, Invincible merely throwing the teacher, who was himself a bomb, to a safe distance again keeps the tone light and avoids the overt drama of him being a nuclear weapon or giant death machine at the last moment. While over acceptance of coincidence is necessary, it fits thematically. Who hasn’t had to deal with a teacher and other students assuming your new girlfriend is the one you regularly talk to in class? Ultimately, it all blows over, or in this case, the teacher blows up, and the cast puts the ugly affair and awkwardness behind them. Over dinner, Omni-man returns and he and Invincible share their stories with Invincible’s mother, whose reaction is again, understated.

This book is mostly set up of the cast and setting for the series, but the setting is quaint, the cast is charming, and the characters, despite their outlandish attributes, feel realistic and all react to each other in proper ways. The art is simple and conveys the proper emotion without adding gravity to the situation, since in the books terms, no gravity is needed for anything that occurs. There’s nothing eerie here and nothing earth shattering occurring. Mark is dealing with allegorically appropriate issues in good, level headed fashion while being an interesting character interacting with other interesting, if less developed characters.

While I’d love to push the score through the roof because the book is so likable, I’d be remiss if I didn’t restate and consider that this is an entire trade worth of set up. It’s only $13 so it’s hardly an onerous price for such quality, but still, none of this is anything but initial situation. We don’t get the actual conflict of the series until book two. It’s not a huge problem for a patient reader, but is absolutely worth noting. Final Score: B+