The Big Picture
- ‘Invincible’ and ‘Gen V’ offer a realistic and horrifying exploration of growing up and realizing that the world you believed in is a lie.
- Both shows stand out by representing diverse young audiences, creating a more horrifying experience for viewers who can finally see themselves onscreen.
- ‘Gen V’ and ‘Invincible’ delve into the deep anxiety of disillusionment, as young characters discover the flawed nature of their parents and realize they must navigate a fractured world inherited from previous generations.
Superpowers and the dynamics of a super-powered society are common settings to discuss issues being faced in the real, non-super world. While DC and Marvel have decades of projects under their belt that use superhumans as conduits for social commentary, it was Eric Kripke’s The Boys on Amazon Prime that showed audiences just how realistic a story featuring superpowers could be. Its combination of intense gore and social criticism presented a world comparable to the one we currently live in while still featuring the fantastical flair that any story of its kind entails. This show’s popularity was momentous, and it paved the way for similarly violent superhero shows Gen V (a spin-off of The Boys created by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters) and Invincible (created by Robert Kirkman) to become the cultural mainstays they have already established themselves to be. But while all of these shows have horrific elements, these two carry an unnerving atmosphere that — while enthralling — creates a sense of dread that isn’t just due to the graphic imagery onscreen. What is it about these series, which notably focus on the younger members of a super-powered generation, that causes them to be so unnerving? It’s because they deal with a terrifying topic that, while commonplace for many, is rarely focused on: growing up and realizing that the world you were led to believe in does not actually exist.
This is not the first time a gritty veneer has been applied to narratives about young people with powers discovering dark truths about their world. From found-footage Chronicle to failed super-horror The New Mutants, there have been many attempts at merging supernatural abilities with the visceral discomfort of growing pains. And while these attempts have their merits, they failed to capture attention in the ways that Invincible and Gen V have. An easy reason as to why this may be is that these shows make a marked effort to represent the young audiences that they know are watching. Both feature primary casts of color with different sexualities, backgrounds, and skin tones, a level of diversity previous attempts at this kind of plot have been unable (or unwilling) to touch. And while this representation is a necessity for horror to become a medium that tells all kinds of stories, it also creates a more horrifying experience for those who can finally see themselves onscreen.
In ‘Gen V,’ You’re More Than A Superhero
Gen V especially thrives in this aspect as its main protagonist, Marie Moreau (played to bloody perfection by Jaz Sinclair), is an LGBTQ+ woman of color whose core circle consists of others from marginalized backgrounds. The show doesn’t shy from showcasing how each character’s identities intersect with their attempts to gain acclaim through their powers, and it’s this ability to discuss social issues that casts a sense of foreboding over each episode. Watching it, you understand that Marie doesn’t only have to worry about the insidious experiments going on in secret at her school. She is also constantly in fear of being judged and targeted for the way she looks, always being one step behind others because her impoverished background makes her an easy scapegoat for her privileged classmates to use. By creating representative shows, both series offer characters that viewers can easily insert themselves into. They can truly understand the stress and terror of these situations, making it even more discomforting to watch.
Even if a person’s specific identity isn’t represented onscreen, both shows speak to a deep anxiety that for many is a rite of passage in growing up: disillusionment with the world around you. Or rather, for those with a more optimistic outlook, the realization that the society you thought you knew is not the one you actually reside in. Gen V and Invincible are set in worlds where superheroes are lauded as saviors, effortlessly good people who are always ready to put their lives on the line for those less powerful. Each one’s main character is firm in this belief when the series begins and aspires to become one of those universal helpers with their own unique power set. Yet as the story goes on, these hopes steadily degrade into astonished horror as they begin to truly understand that their world can be a nasty and ominous place. They lose their childhood sense of wonder and understand that not only is their society dangerous, but that by following its rules, they’ll be helping make it a worse place for all.
‘Invincible’s Dad Is Not Who He Appears to Be
Invincible details this disillusionment extremely well by showcasing one of the first realizations that leads people to lose their youthful view of the world: the fact that their parents are flawed, fallible people, just like everyone else. Lead character Mark Grayson (voiced by the always-exceptional Steven Yeun) grows up knowing that his father Nolan (voiced by acting veteran J.K. Simmons) is the unbeatable Omni-Man, a world-saving alien who, for many, is the definition of a hero. Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, Mark experiences the ultimate form of realizing his father is not who he thought he was throughout the season. He begins to understand that the man he loves, whose image he’s always worshiped, has not only been lying to the entire world but also has an exceedingly dangerous and volatile dark side. While extremely dramatized, the devastation Mark experiences is a sense of dread that often accompanies recognizing that the image you’ve built up of your parents is not the truth. That they can make mistakes, that they can suffer, that they can cause suffering. That realization is horrifyingly painful, yet it is a guttural truth that almost every young adult must suffer through as they grow up and begin to understand the realities of the world (and the people) around them.
Further than understanding that your parents may not be who you thought they were, both series nail the disappointment with the world around you that has become inevitable for many modern youths. One of the major gripes of Gen Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) is that they are inheriting a world that has been deeply damaged by hands other than their own. Previous generations have made countless decisions that many believe have left the world on an uneasy precipice in terms of interpersonal issues, societal upheaval, and ecological disaster. As they grow, Gen Z begins to understand that the responsibility to solve these issues is on them – despite bearing no direct responsibility for actually causing them. It is no coincidence that the main casts of Invincible and Gen V would fall into this age range, and a major plot point in each is these young adults beginning to understand the worlds they are meant to inherit were fractured by the adults they’ve been taught to trust. Especially in Gen V, where orphaned Marie is led to believe that the superhero industry is the only way to escape a destitute future – only to learn that this magical world is, in fact, a horrific industrial complex. One that creates deranged wielders of immense power and often ruins the lives of the innocent people she’s sworn to protect.
This is where the gore of both shows comes through and truly cements them as astounding fusions of the horror and superhero genres. It is as infuriating as it is overwhelming to understand that the world you’ve been promised has been a lie and that the burden of fixing it has been placed on you as the next generation. Through unflinchingly showing the fights of these young people against the elders who ruined their dreams, these series present an allegory for the frustration felt by real young adults against those who use their power to cause chaos. The rampant violence and horror on display gives this generation of viewers a chance to see their inherited trauma take form. To feel truly understood by these characters who use their abilities to fight back against their oppressors and try to fix a world they did not break.
Of course, the experience of watching these nuanced situations differs wildly for each viewer. Whether belonging to Gen Z or not, audience members may enjoy the shows but not relate to the strife experienced by the characters or see what they go through as allegorical to any aspect of their own lives. Those experiences are valid and the lack of this connection does not detract from a person’s enjoyment of the programs. But, through the storylines and characters each show puts forth, it’s clear there is a distinct effort to tell a story that echoes the experiences of real young adults today. To represent the horrors of maturing and grappling with a world different from the one you were sold – and the natural anger that comes with that realization. While this can be faced and overcome in a variety of ways, for almost all, it is a deeply scary, aggravating, and unsettling experience. In painting those emotions in an array of bloody hues and nauseatingly frightening situations, Gen V and Invincible successfully showcase the horror that is growing up in this modern age.
Invincible is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S.
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Khushi Patel is a science fiction author who lives in Austin, Texas. She has published three novels, and her work has been praised for its originality and imagination. Khushi is a graduate of Rice University, and she has worked as a software engineer. She is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and her books have been nominated for several awards.