Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Invincible is an American comic series published by Image Comics and written by the creator of The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman. Although the comics are a wildly popular addition to superhero genre, I never heard of Invincible until the animated series of the same name began airing on Amazon Prime. With no knowledge of how violent or gritty the comic series was, I watched the pilot, mostly unimpressed by the “Justice League” feel the episode was giving me. All of this changed as I reached the episode’s climax, due in large part to the subject of this deep dive. The Viltrumite warlord Nolan Grayson, better known by his hero name Omni-Man.
Nolan was born some 2,000+ years before the start of the series on the planet Viltrum. The people of his home world took the phrase “survival of the fittest” and pushed it to its absolute limit. This darwinist ideology lead the Viltrumites to engaged in a bloody civil war that saw about 50 percent of their population perish. The result of this warfare was the accelerated evolution of a race of nigh invincible super-beings capable of colonizing the galaxy. After countless years of leading men to war, Nolan was assigned as the agent of Earth tasked with its eventual takeover, arriving on the planet in the 1980’s. With the help of government agent Cecil Stedman and the Guardians of the Globe, Nolan became Omni-Man, beloved hero of Earth. Over time, Earth began to change Nolan from a unfeeling conquerer to a devoted family man. This change is encouraged by the strong bonds Nolan shares with his wife Debbie and more importantly his son Mark. They appeal to the human emotions within Nolan that he didn't know existed. Sadly, his loyalty to the Viltrumite Empire was reignited when his son, Mark Grayson, developed his superpowers.
The fabricated life Nolan built begins to crack at the seams after his actions in the climax of episode one. To weaken the Earth’s defenses Nolan lured the Guardians of the Globe, the planet’s strongest superhero team, to their hideout in Utah where he murders them all with no remorse. These heroes were Nolan’s comrades, they trusted him, yet he was able to end their lives on a whim. I think the aspect of this incredibly shocking scene that still sits with me to this day is the calculated savagery of it all. In moments, the strongest heroes of Earth were reduced to piles of meat by a single viltrumite. Nolan’s plan was foolproof, he knew he couldn't fail. For much of the season, the audience is purposely withheld information on the reasons for Nolan’s actions, but we are given subtle hints to his true intentions and his true nature.With each new episode we see more and more of Nolan the Viltrumite as the walls begin closing around him. The charming and caring father slowly vanishes as the aggressive and temperamental warlord emerges. Like when he vanquished an entire alien civilization for attempting to conquer Earth in his place. The true extent of Nolan’s power was on full display as he made blazing light speed runs across the planet, razing entire cities to the ground in seconds. Thats when I realized what Nolan truly was and what his plans for Earth likely entailed.
The dynamic of Nolan’s marriage was the first change I noticed as he began his descent into antagonism. The marriage of Nolan and Debbie seemed perfect, almost to the point of being nauseating. A sexually active middle aged couple that communicate effectively and travel the world on a whim is almost unheard of. Despite having the power to burn down planets, Nolan never lorded his strength over Debbie or threatened her with force. Although, as the season progresses, we see Nolan show his true feelings to his wife as she begins to suspect him of the murders. We learn that despite his love for her, Nolan sees Debbie as expendable. Nolan even said, “I do love your mother, but she's more like a pet to me”
Despite his love for her, Debbie has been important to Nolan for a fraction of his existence, 99% of which has been spent killing in the name of his brutal home world with other like-minded warmongers. You can see Debbie’s heart break in two as Nolan says these harsh truths.
Nolan’s most important and formative relationship is the one of father and son he shares with Mark Grayson. The titular character, Invincible. For most of his life, Mark’s dad wasn't the all powerful Omni-Man, but the loving father and and travel writer Nolan Grayson. I assume that is still the way Mark primarily views his father. He loves his father a great deal and admires the man he thinks Nolan is, by his own words he wants to be just like him, a selfless hero who puts the wellbeing of others before his own. A man who uses his strength to make a difference. This sense of love is mutual and its safe to say there is nothing in the universe that Nolan loves more than his son Mark. Even when weighed against his loyalty to Viltrum, Mark wins out. This is displayed in the season finale “Where I really come from” where Nolan tells his son the truth about who he his and why he's here in the hopes that Mark will join him in the conquest of Earth. A 17 year old boy who loves his dad more than anything resolves himself to take on the unbeatable Omni-Man for the sake of his people. It is not Mark’s body that is Invincible, its his human spirit. The titanic clash between father and son leaves thousands dead as Nolan tries and fails to “beat some sense” into mark before he resolves to killing his own son for the sake of Viltrum. Just before Nolan is about to deal the killing blow, we are given a flashback to a mundane moment of Mark’s childhood. A little league baseball game that the planet conquering alien could not be more bored with. Its not until Debbie delivers a heartwarming speech about parenthood and the joy felt seeing the smile on your child’s face that Nolan finally melts. The genocidal maniac is seen smiling and cheering for his son running all the way to home plate. Such a touching seen is then cut to Marks broken body, struggling to stay conscious after being beaten within an inch of his life. All the memes aside, this one scene tells you everything you need to know abound Nolan Grayson. Nolan shouts,
“You will live to watch this world crumble to dust and blow away! Everything and everyone you know will be gone. What will you have after 500 years?”
Mark responds with tears in his eyes, “You Dad, I’d still have you.”
In this moment Nolan just breaks, looking down on the hands soaked with the blood of his only son. Guilt- ridden and ashamed Nolan leaves the Earth, tears streaming down his cheeks, defeated not by his son’s strength but by his words.
I do not think I have ever come across a character quite like Nolan Grayson, a deeply flawed man at the mercy of his violent upbringing. A genocidal warmonger who justifies his actions with the phrase the ends justify the means. Yet despite all of his flaws, despite his unwavering loyalty to his home of thousands of years, Nolan Grayson could not kill his only son. William Faulkner once said, “the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with its self.”
I know of no better quote to describe the internal conflict swirling inside the Omni-Man. I believe Nolan is poised to have a truly remarkable redemption arc despite all of the horror he has wrought and I for one can't wait to see how it all unfolds. If you haven't already, I really cannot recommend Invincible enough. Thanks for reading :)