Fans of Amazon’s animated superhero bloodbath Invincible got a series of shocks in the season 1 finale, which lets Earth’s most powerful superhero, Omni-Man, finally explain why he slaughtered the show’s Justice League equivalent in the season premiere. Omni-Man, aka suburban dad and travel writer Nolan Grayson, explains the whole business to his teenage son Mark, aka newly minted superhero Invincible, and the conversation doesn’t go well.
But while viewers finally got the explanation they’ve waited for since the pilot, it doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense. That’s because while the show so far has been a very close adaptation of the Invincible comics series, apart from switching chronologies around and eliding over some subplots, the TV script left out key details that better explain Nolan’s motivations — and where he left the plan behind.
[Ed. note: Spoilers follow both for the season finale of Invincible and for the comics.]
In the show, Nolan explains in brief that his planet, Viltrum, sent him to Earth, but that he’s been lying about his motives: He wasn’t sent by a benevolent advanced society to aid and protect Earth. He was sent by a galactic empire to prepare the planet for conquest: “Our most trusted officers were each given a planet to weaken, by themselves. I was one of those lucky few.” And that’s about all he says about his plan before he starts brutalizing Mark (and pulverizing Chicago) in a pretty clumsy attempt to convince Mark that human lives are pointless.
Which leaves a lot of questions open: What was Omni-Man’s actual plan? How did posing as an altruistic, upright hero for years on end, protecting Earth from endless threats, weaken the world and prepare it for Viltrumite rule? Why did Nolan bother marrying a human woman (who he describes to Mark as a “pet”) and raising a son? Given his immense and endless power, why didn’t he just show up and start taking out Earth’s defenses?
Robert Kirkman and Ryan Otley’s comics fill in a lot of those blanks. For one thing, in the comics, Omni-Man’s big reveal speech is longer and more detailed, particularly about his initial intentions. As he explains it, he was part of a pilot program, assigned to infiltrate and survey Earth. The “weakening” process he mentions in the show was never meant to be immediate or abrupt, but was part of a long-term plan.
As Omni-Man explains to Mark in the books, he found Earth unpleasant at first, particularly its utterly alien focus on individuality. “At first I hated it… and regretted accepting the mission. It was a strange planet full of strange people. But it was mine.” As time went on, he says, he realized the assignment would be harder than he realized:
“Had the World Conquering Committee known Earth was such a volatile environment, they may not have chosen it. It seemed its people were almost always in some kind of danger. Every time I turned around there was a new threat out to conquer the planet before Viltrum even had a chance. We had laid claim to this planet. I was not about to let it fall to another invader. After only a few months, my life had settled into a routine that involved little more than ending threat after threat to the human race.”
To some degree, that’s a meta-joke about the sheer amount of action in Invincible — the comics do feature the title hero facing world-ending threats just about every day, when he isn’t in the hospital recovering from the last battle. But it also explains how Omni-Man was able to fall into an unplanned routine of life as an Earth hero. And that life, he says, distracted him from his intended mission.
Omni-Man says the way he slipped into the habit of living comfortably among humans worried him considerably, and the problem became worse when Mark was born. Because the Viltrumite infiltration gambit was a new one for their planners, Nolan didn’t necessarily know he was capable of reproducing with a human woman, and Mark wasn’t part of his plan. He says Mark’s arrival made him reconsider his duty to Viltrum, and he pondered whether he should leave with Mark and train him privately as a Viltrumite. But he did care for Mark’s mother Debbie enough that he didn’t want to abandon her.
That explains Nolan’s plan considerably better than the show does, and it makes clear where he deviated from it. As he tells Mark, once Mark’s superpowers began to manifest, he knew he didn’t have much time left. Even in the comics, it’s unclear at this point why that’s true, since he was given 500 years to use however he wanted on Earth. But it’s implied by his focus on Mark’s training that he already felt he’d gone too long without exposing Mark to the Viltrumite codes and way of life — which proves critical as the series continues, since Mark’s attachment to Earth and loathing for Viltrum’s philosophy keeps causing problems for everyone.
There are a couple more massive considerations at work here that haven’t come out in the show yet. One, concerning Nolan’s character, what he values, and how his time on Earth affected him, could potentially come up in the recently announced season 2 or 3. Another doesn’t get revealed until deep into the run of the comics, and it has to do with what’s going on with Viltrum’s present and future. At the rate the TV series is going, that may not even come up by season 3, so best to leave it for later — it’s a fun shocker.
In the meantime, here’s another big question from the finale that the comics help clear up just a little: Why doesn’t Atom Eve get involved in the battle between Mark and Nolan? Thematically, obviously, she needs to stay back and let the father and son have their big, agonizing super-dad coming-of-age story, but that shouldn’t be a concern for the actual character. Atom Eve’s powers on the show are pretty loosely defined — in a moment of frustration, she explains she can rearrange molecules at the atomic level, which is how she makes an entire treehouse lair out of air in seconds flat. She’s basically Invincible’s version of Watchmen’s all-powerful Doctor Manhattan. Why can’t she just fly in and turn Omni-Man to steam, or lead, or butterflies?
The comics series makes that question a lot clearer too: As the miniseries Invincible Presents: Atom Eve explains, her powers work on organic material, but her creator instilled mental blocks to prevent her from using them on living beings, specifically because he felt she’d be too powerful otherwise. Maybe more importantly, at a couple of different points in the main Invincible series, she goes up against Viltrumite-level powers, and it goes really poorly for her — villains capable of moving at super-speed can tear her apart before she activates her powers. In a series this bloody, and this dedicated to tearing humanoid bodies into wet wads of goo, that’s a pretty serious reason to stay clear of god-tier fights.