An issue which bridges two areas of main character Invincible’s life, the story starts by reuniting him with his wife – who thinks he died six months ago during a previous storyline, and is heavily pregnant – and then pitting him against another woman, who forcibly attempts to have sex with him.
It’s a jarring transition between the two sequences, and the final scene is off-putting and on display – they don’t throw it to one side or allude to things: we actively watch the woman (whose name isn’t mentioned in the issue, but must have been set up in prior issues) fight Invincible, throw him to the ground, and rape him.
This is a well made scene, on the technical level. Artist Ryan Ottley is exceptional at storytelling, and his panel transitions are notably sharp here. The fight scene plays fluidly, with a sense of momentum completely in-sync with Robert Kirkman’s dialogue. Together, this creative team have been working on the series for an incredibly long time, and you can see their ability to work together is completely symbiotic at this point. The actual rape scene is depicted over a 21-panel spread page, which get smaller and smaller in focus and size as the page descends. The idea is to have the reader get a broad, sensationalised look at the horror of what’s happening, before pinpointing specific parts of the characters and scene to imply the full emotional extent of the trauma on display.
It’s a horrible sequence, one which doesn’t feel realistic or necessary – but which happens anyway, and is artistically very well done indeed from Ottley. Kirkman’s dialogue is somewhat melodramatic and over-the-top, but seems to have been carefully chosen to annoy the readers. Phrases like “man up” are thrown at Invincible during the sequence, emphasising the idea that this is an unusual event, a female-on-male rape sequence rather than a male-on-female rape. Throughout, the comic seems unusually aware of what the reader will be thinking, and at several points actively throws those thoughts back at them. I felt like the woman’s dialogue was more often aimed at me, as a reader, than it was at the character she was ostensibly talking to.
The issue, which I didn’t enjoy, and wasn’t particularly meant to be enjoyed, feels a little like a writer’s bet. It feels like the creators trying to pass commentary on the use of rape in fiction – particularly as it’s been in the headlines recently, perhaps – and doing so in the most gratuitous way possible. I’m not a fan of rape sequences in comics as a whole, but as you read this issue it feels as though every page is daring you to say “rape sequences shouldn’t ever happen in comics”, so Kirkman can then leap in and say “it happens in real life, so I have the right to have it happen here, too”.
That’s how it feels to read this issue of Invincible. I understand this is a series which intermittently attempts to push specific buttons, as it started out a relatively all-ages book before suddenly becoming incredibly violent and nasty in tone. In those terms, the idea of a rape sequence isn’t out of the unexpected for the book. But over the course of this issue – which is very carefully structured, and paced – it feels less and less like an organic story and more like a specific message the creative team wanted readers to have to deal with.
It’s subjecting the reader to a real-life horror through the prism of a superhero fight sequence, and it’s alternately a clever and far too sly beat to hit.
The fact it comes after an opening sequence which rings false in terms of both dialogue and art – the characters are over-exaggerated in emotion throughout, diluting the narrative we’re meant to be following, which in turn doesn’t feel like a natural evolution for either character’s perspective of events – makes the subsequent rape sequence all the more disturbing. We’ve just left a ridiculous melodrama, and now we’re in the middle of this political story point.
Ottley’s artwork is stellar during the fight/rape sequence – but the issue doesn’t do enough to make this feel like a new storyline for Invincible. Instead it feels like somebody dared the creative team to see if they could put a convincing female-male rape sequence to paper, and they’ve done their best to do just that.
It feels too cruelly deliberate to make for an immersive reading experience. The issue chooses to push some very sensitive buttons, and I felt that took me out of the comic early on, and kept me isolated from the actual character and storylines right through until the end. For that, I wouldn’t recommend reading it.