When I first encountered the world of super heroes it was through the older 1960s episodes of Batman with Adam West (RIP). They drew me in with the colorful comic book graphics and zany villain outfits (look at the Riddler and Joker during that period). It was colorful, bold, and wholesome; it would also lead me to my lifelong love affair with one of the world’s most popular superheroes, Batman (literally my childhood room was called the Batcave). Then a couple of years later it led me to the exciting tv episodes of the Super Friends. It blew my mind that there was a TV show based on all of my superheroes and their headquarters, The Hall of Justice, where they would capture villains and give them to the proper authorities. Fast forward to 2000 and I would find an ad in the now defunct comic book magazine Wizard with a menacing superhero by the name of Spawn. Spawn was the opposite of Batman and the Super Friends. Where they were wholesome, he was menacing,literally forged in the depths of hell. This was one of the major catalysts that helped spawn (pun intended) the anti- hero trend. An anti- hero is defined as a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes. These principles can be seen through two recent, incredible superhero shows, Amazon Prime’s Invincible and Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy.
Jupiter’s Legacy is based around a ruggedly good looking superhero who is likened to Superman named The Utopian, whose real name is Sheldon Sampson. He has extraordinary strength and is a great husband to his superhero wife, Grace Sampson (aka Lady Liberty) and mentors his superhero son, Brandon Sampson (aka Paragon). But he is blinded by his own self righteousness at times, a theme that can also be seen in the show Invincible, through another heavily Superman- inspired character, Omniman (aka Nolan Grayson). Omniman plays a central role in the “Invincible’s” (aka Mark Grayson), the show’s protagonist, as his superhero and world renowned father. The father-son relationship is put out in full display and plays a central role in both shows. Omniman mentors Mark Grayson as he goes through the ups and downs of being a teenager while in high school and whether he will even start to develop powers. But as he does, we start to see the fast maturation that has to occur within Mark’s life and how he wants to proceed with being a superhero. Omniman explains this all to him in memorable father/ son moments, talking about how their needs are put to the side once he is in the business of saving lives and being a protector of Earth. Both shows constantly stress the theme of increasing responsibility and accepting the good and bad of adult responsibility.
Both of these shows revel in the idea of pulling the proverbial superhero cape from their characters’ lives and injecting a certain amount of reality that could be found in The Sopranos or Six Feet Under. Themes that are not usually seen in superhero TV shows nowadays including drug use, depression and suicide are all on display in full force. A perfect scene that encapsulates this is in Jupiter’s Legacy, during a 1920s flashback including Sheldon Sampson and his father. Sampson’s father, a CEO of a steel company, gives a heart wrenching speech while on a rooftop explaining how everything he had built with his steel company had been financially ruined by the beginning of the Great Depression, specifically on Black Tuesday. As Sheldon leaves and believes the conversation is over, his father jumps off the rooftop to his death. But on Invincible we get to see an up to that point, pristine and upstanding Omniman commit a shocking betrayal against the Guardians of the Globe and murder them in a particularly gruesome fashion. This gruesome scene would put the Red Wedding episode from Game of Thrones to shame. The violence on both shows is based in reality and does not shy away from dismemberment and hundreds of gallons of blood. One particularly gruesome climax in Invincible (which I will not give away) will test your mental fortitude not only because of the violence but how the violence is masterfully weaved into the dialogue between two characters.
Both shows also shine when it comes to how they portray women and updating the auxiliary characters to reflect our current culture. The auxiliary characters of Invincible exhibit this diversity in characters perfectly. Their auxiliary characters span the gamut, whether it be Mark Grayson’s best friend, William, being gay or his high school crush, Amber Bennett, being a black woman (originally a white woman in the comic book). Then there are the strong women highlighted on both shows who have multiple layers and complexity that are usually not seen in spouses and love interests on typical superhero shows. They are not passive women who allow their superhero husbands and boyfriends to walk over them. Rather, they have a controlling stake in their lives and are not just damsels in distress. In Invincible, Deborah Grayson pushes back on certain explanations Omniman gives her about the death of the Guardians of the Globe and she also begins to investigate him without his knowledge once she realizes everything about their death and his status as the sole survivor does not particularly add up. In Jupiter’s Legacy, Grace Sampson constantly challenges Sheldon about how he needs to update his superhero principles to current day society and the threats that come along with it. Then on the polar opposite end you have Chloe Sampson, the daughter of The Utopian and Lady Liberty who has given up the responsibility and duty of being a superhero for the excess and perils of celebrity stardom. She even parlays her dysfunctional celebrity into literally posing nude for a magazine.
As humans we tend to look at superheroes as a source of envy. They are able to fly and leap in a single bound, have super strength, and endless notoriety. But no one really considers how a superhero deals with a mid-life crisis or how they might handle the death of 100 victims in a building that they could have saved. Both Jupiter’s Legacy and Invincible give us a window into that side and make us realize we have a lot more in common with the anti-hero than the super hero.