Season 1 of the animated adaptation of Invincible — the superhero comic written by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley — made a big splash when it landed on Prime Video in March 2021. The show’s big twists, unexpected depth, and shockingly graphic violence caught the attention of jaded superhero fans, who mined its big emotional moments for memes and buzzed about where the show might go next. (At least, if they hadn’t read the comic, which the show adapts faithfully in many respects.)
Amazon quickly renewed the series for seasons 2 and 3, and the first half of season 2 will arrive on the service in November. An initial trailer for the season teases new plot arcs around super-strong, super-fast alien hybrid teenager Mark Grayson, aka Invincible (voiced by Nope’s Steven Yeun), and his alien father Nolan, aka Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), and the huge cast of returning characters, including superheroes Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs), Rex Splode (Jason Mantzoukas), and Robot (Zachary Quinto). But it also promises new characters voiced by an entire library of familiar names: Peter Cullen (the longtime voice of Optimus Prime, representing a huge personal moment for Kirkman), Paul F. Tompkins, Ben Schwartz, Phil LaMarr, Tatiana Maslany, Sterling K. Brown, Daveed Diggs, Jay Pharoah, and many more.
Understanding that Kirkman wouldn’t be able to talk specifics about who these people play or what they’re up to on the show, Polygon sat down with the Invincible creator for a broad, spoiler-free conversation about what season 2 will look like, the challenge of assembling the voice cast, and what it was like getting I Think You Should Leave star Tim Robinson into the voice studio.
This interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
Polygon: In the Invincible comics, there are long periods where Omni-Man isn’t part of the story. But as of the end of season 1, it seems like Mark’s relationship with his father is the focal point of fans’ attention. With season 2, are you still following the comics’ progression? Are you honing in on that relationship more?
Robert Kirkman: I know there are a lot of memes around Omni-Man, but I don’t think the fan base is only there for Omni-Man. I think this is very much Invincible’s story. Season 1 had a lot of Omni-Man in it, and a lot of the stuff we did with him was important. Coming out of the season with him as the character people want to know the most about, what’s going on with him, that’s by design. The challenge of season 2 — we know what you want, and we’re going to give it to you, but we also have a story to tell.
So I love having the comic as a roadmap, and being able to sit back and say, “OK, people are expecting this, but they don’t know they’re getting this, because they haven’t read the comic. And people who have read the comic might be expecting this, but we’re going to be giving them this.” So they’re going to be surprised, too. It’s great to be able to sit back and play with those expectations. So without altering the story in any way, I think fans who are dying for more Omni-Man are going to be happy, and fans who are just invested in seeing the comic book story told are going to be happy. I’m very bullish on season 2 of Invincible. I’m anxious to see what people think of it.
I read that part of the delay with season 2 is that you eliminated CG completely from this season. What was the thinking behind that?
I think that’s an assumption that’s being made based on some comments that were said at the [San Diego Comic-Con] panel, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a delay. With COVID, there was a longer break in production than we wanted there to be. It took some time to rebuild the team. And frankly, I like a lot of the CG elements in season 1, but I feel like at certain points, they stand out. So doing less CG in seasons 2 and 3 is a creative decision. The delays were really just COVID. Making a cartoon is like assembling a factory and letting it run. And because of COVID, we had to shut the factory down. So to get into season 2 and 3, we had to rebuild the factory and get it up and running again, and that took a lot of time.
Season 1’s theme seems to be Mark figuring out who he is on his own — what it means to be a hero who isn’t just ancillary to his dad. Do you think of season 2 as having a single unifying theme?
In some sense, season 1 is Mark wanting to be his dad, and season 2 is Mark being terrified that he might be his dad. But to take your analogy, if season 1 is him trying to become a superhero in his own right, season 2 is him getting there, and maybe regretting the speed with which he thrust himself into this position. It’s definitely a “be careful what you wish for” situation, because now he’s that guy he strived to be, and it’s nothing but problems and this tremendous burden.
There were plot arcs from the comic that you blitzed by or cut in season 1, seemingly for pacing and focus. Are you doing that with season 2 as well? Are you filling in any of that backstory now that you’ve got an established fandom?
There’s certainly an adaptation process, so there are things we’re going to be truncating and things we’re going to be expanding. I think there are things that are cool, and pieces of the mythology, but they’re not necessarily important. And there are things that are great, but we’re not going to give them an entire episode. What I’m excited about is, there are episodes in season 2 that are absolutely crazy. A problem is going to present itself at the beginning and be resolved very early on, and another problem is going to present itself. And you’re going to get a really, really dense story that goes in places you could never have anticipated. There are a few episodes that way. And it’s fun for me, because I think people are going to be really shocked with just how many locations and settings and characters we’re able to put in one hourlong dramatic episode.
One of the big focuses of the first season 2 trailer is all the new voices involved. Can we talk about some of the new characters or some of the people that are coming in to play new characters?
I can talk about the actors, but we’re keeping a tight lid on who exactly they’re playing, even though some people might have guessed.
I’m most curious about Tim Robinson.
I can hint that Tim Robinson is definitely playing a character who appears in the comic, and it’s a character that I’m super excited for people to see. Tim did an absolutely amazing job.
Are you a fan of I Think You Should Leave?
Oh, 100%! But I was a fan of Tim Robinson when he was at SNL. I was like, Oh my god, this guy is brilliant, like every skit that he would show up in. SNL does that thing where the last half-hour is just weird sometimes, and he would have some of those skits, and they were just spectacular. With his recording sessions, I feel like I was taking advantage of him a couple of times, because I’d be like, ‘Can you do it again? Because I’m having a good time.’ He was a lot of fun to work with.
How long do we have to wait to see him?
That would be telling!
What about Tatiana Maslany? Even if we can’t talk about her character, how long do we have to wait to hear her on the show?
She’s in the first half.
Did your own fandoms affect who you recruited for roles? Were any of the new voices from people you especially wanted to see involved in the show?
Oh, yeah, in a lot of cases. When you cast a show, you’re always fan-casting to a certain extent when you’re writing the script, like, Oh my gosh, if I could just get this person, that would be amazing. Sometimes it’ll happen where the person you’re absolutely dying to get doesn’t work in animation, or is on vacation the week you’re recording. That happened a few times.
But you work with a casting director — Linda Lamontagne would sometimes come in with these crazy lists, like, “I read the script, and I was thinking about this group of people who seem to be in the ballpark. And I’d be like, “Oh, that is way more exciting than the person I had in mind.” Obviously I’m not gonna name names. It’s a collaborative process — [showrunner/producer] Simon Racioppa, [co-creator/artist] Cory Walker, [co-creator/artist] Ryan Ottley will come in, [supervising director] Dan Duncan, [artist/storyboarder] Shaun O’Neil, everybody has a say in who we’re going after. And it’s fun to be able to just sit around with a bunch of cool people and say, “You think we could get Lea Thompson for this? That’d be amazing!” I mean, I love Breaking Bad, so Rhea Seehorn is in the show, you know?
Who else were you especially excited about?
I [wrote and produced on] the Renfield movie with Ben Schwartz, and on set with Ben, getting to know him and hanging out — the character he plays [in Invincible], we hadn’t necessarily had anybody in mind for. And then I thought, Oh my gosh, Ben will be absolutely amazing for this. So that was fun, being able to take advantage of that friendship and utilize it to my benefit.
The character he plays was cast while we were still writing scripts. So because he was cast fairly early on in the recording process, his character got so much better and so much cooler because of us deciding to write for him, because once we saw what he was able to do, and had his first recording sessions, it was like, Oh man, this is really going to be great. It’s always fun to see the actors come in and show you what a character can be.
Apart from Mark and his dad, whose arc are you most excited about this season?
You’re asking me to play favorites, and I refuse! It’s tough. If I’m writing a scene with Monster Girl, Monster Girl is my favorite. If I’m writing a scene with Robot, Rex Splode, Atom Eve — there’s a lot of stuff going on with Atom Eve this season. There’s a lot of stuff going on with Debbie. So those characters, I’m very excited about stuff coming up in season 2 for them. Gillian Jacobs and Sandra Oh have come in and embodied the characters and opened my eyes to new facets of them that I never knew existed. That’s really gratifying and amazing. So I’ll say Atom Eve and Debbie if I have to answer.
But it’s tough — there are a lot of new characters coming in that I unfortunately can’t talk about yet. I love the tandem Robot from Zachary Quinto and Ross Marquand. Having two actors play the same character has been really exciting and interesting, and we’ve been able to do some cool stuff with that. And both of those actors are spectacular. Ross is doing double, triple duty playing young Robot and The Immortal. That’s been pretty cool. I think Khary Payton’s Black Samson gets a lot of great stuff in season 2. It’s just great to be able to work with a lot of these Walking Dead actors again.
Looking back at season 1, you could probably point to a couple of general ideas that you knew fans were going to lose their minds over. Is there anything you can talk about in terms of what fandom should be excited about for this season?
There’s cool and unexpected stuff in every episode. Not necessarily “Mark and Omni-Man fighting”-level stuff in every single episode, but close. Season 2 is going to have a bigger punch than season 1. I hate being so vague! Also, with the way we’re splitting the season, episode 4 is huge, and it very much feels like a finale. And that ends up giving us a second finale for episode 8. Those two episodes are particularly big and climactic and exciting. I’m really excited for people to finally get to see it. We’re only a few short months away. And it’s not just violent stuff. There are a lot of big character moments and big reveals and dramatic turns as well. Season 2 is jam-packed.
What’s your ideal big picture, ultimately, for this series? Do you have a sense at this point, based on the pacing you’re going at, how many seasons you’d need to do the whole comic, or at least tell the story you want to tell?
I’m trying not to pin it down to a number, because it is somewhat of a moving target. I think in the seven-to-eight-season range seems like it would be enough. But there could be some things we move through a little faster, some things we expand. If we’re fortunate enough to go for a good long time, I think that would be enough to cover the entire comic. And there are some things along the way that didn’t get into the comic that I’d like to do. I think it’d be cool to have some episodes here and there that are completely original. So that’s part of the plan moving forward.
Part 1 of Invincible season 2 will debut on Prime Video on Nov. 3, with part 2 coming in early 2024.