Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Microreview: Invincible: Atom Eve

How do you get enough of a show like Invincible? That’s the neat thing. You don’t.

I figure that Amazon Studios has realized that Invincible is good, given that it can get away with releasing but one single episode of the show to whet our appetites for the second season. Had that one hour-long special been forgettable, or worse, bad, we would have pilloried them. We never would have let the showrunners, the writers, Amazon Studios, and the actors ever forget it, and some of us would have been really obnoxious about it on Twitter (I will not call it X).

But, as fortune would have it, Invincible: Atom Eve is worth watching, and builds skillfully on the original show. It focuses, as you might expect, on Atom Eve, one of the major characters of the first season. The episode ends up feeling like a big-budget superhero movie condensed to half the time, which is actually to its benefit as it doesn’t feel the need to pad. It focuses razor-sharp on its own story, a deconstruction of one of superheroes’ greatest myths: What if the Kents were horribly dysfunctional when they found Clark in those Kansas fields (also, what if Clark were a girl)?

It can be a hard hour to watch, doubly so for those of us who have lived through the pain that these families cause. I have, and it was excruciating in the best way (unlike The Mitchells vs. the Machines, which was excruciating in the worst way). Eve, God bless her, has such incredible gifts, as superheroes do, but she is around nobody who can, or will, appreciate them. Her supernatural knowledge of chemistry is nurtured by her babysitter before her parents, who otherwise just find her strange and incomprehensible.

Her parents enraged me. To use the terminology I learned in /r/raisedbynarcissists to cope with my own trauma, her father is a narcissist extraordinaire, with hair-trigger temper and militant incuriosity. He is aggravatingly, obviously cruel. Her mother is what we survivors would call an enabler. Sure, she’s less obviously mean, but she never cares enough about her daughter to ever make her husband stop. She is the velvet glove that surrounds her husband’s iron fist, slightly softening a blow that is still incredibly painful. This is one of the most heart-rendingly accurate depictions of this sort of abuse I have seen in media, up there with Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, and I was stunned.

The violence here, like in the first season of Invincible, is bloody in a way that most superhero media is either prevented from showing, or shies away from; it’s like the Deadpool movies without the wry commentary. The blood, as disturbing as it is, takes aim at a key part of the superhero fantasy: that saving the world, or the city, or even yourself, would be clean, would be neat. There’s nothing clean about the violence here, and there’s nothing neat about Eve’s upbringing.

Beyond just her parents, Eve’s story is about breaking out of what others have dictated for you. Her origins are a tangled web of government deceit and dissent, each wanting something different from her, none recognizing her as a human being with agency. In that regard, the episode is a coming-of-age story, albeit with more graphic violence. The episode knows when to let the runtime breathe a bit, to let you feel Eve's pain, and when to overwhelm you with the power that she, and others, have. It is paced perfectly.

This episode floored me. I got both intense action and a very meaningful examination of trauma, parental and otherwise, one that was so painful in such a real way. If you have to have superheroes with tragic backstories, let them be truly tragic in a human way, like this. It is bloody, it is violent, it is heart-rending, and it is morally aware.

Highlights: sensitive look at abusive families, also graphic violence.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10.

POSTED BY: Alex Wallace, alternate history buff who reads more than is healthy.