'Conquest' is Here: Robert Kirkman on Invincible

Robert Kirkman on Invincible

Invincible #62

Arguably the flagship title for Image Comics, Invincible has proven to be a successful modern interpretation of superhero comics. A teenage superhero growing up in a four-color world of villains, team-ups, aliens and a villainous father has proved to be a critical and sales success. For series co-creator Robert Kirkman, it has been (along with Walking Dead) a career-defining book for him – paving the way to several other series creatively as well as becoming a partner in the Image Comics publishing company he was a fan of as a teenager.

A creator-owned series breaking the five year mark is a rare thing, but Invincible sixtieth issue showed a vibrant future with an epic crossover with virtually every Image superhero in one issue tested the limits of how much one comic book could hold. In recent months, Invincible has become a well-oiled machine; the “done-in-one” Image crossover that was Invincible #60 was widely talked about, and Kirkman and artist Ryan Ottley and relatively new colorist FCO Plascencia have become a tight-knit group putting the book back on a monthly schedule as part of Kirkman’s “On Time in ‘09” promise.

In the recent 61st issue, Invincible is trying to recover from recent events -- dealing with the recent Invincible War as well as his girlfriend Atom Eve’s hospitalization due to that, leaving her at death’s door. If that wasn’t enough – and for Mark Grayson it seems it never is – a new threat has appeared named Conquest. Teased over the course of several promo images released prior to this issue, the final pages revealed Conquest to be a Viltrumite coming to test him for his readiness for his perceived destiny of conquering the planet.

With Invincible #62 scheduled to be released on May 20th, we caught up with the ever-busy and ever-industrious Robert Kirkman to talk about the series – what’s going on now, what’s coming next – and the wild ride that got us here.

Newsarama: Invincible #60 really changed the status quo for everything and everyone. And in the recently released #61, things don’t seem to be looking up – we’re dealing with the aftermath of the Invincible War and then something – or someone – called Conquest comes a’knocking. Robert, how would you describe this storyarc?

Robert Kirkman: Well, as you've seen in issue #61, Conquest is in fact a someone... and he's someone who's going to be causing all kinds of trouble. The upcoming issues of Invincible are probably the coolest chunk of issues since this series began... or at least, that's what I'm going for. Issue 60 wrecked things, issues 61-64 really wreck things a bit more--and we've got the cool Allen/Nolan arc coming up with Cory Walker on art--it's going to be a good time to be reading Invincible--and if you're not, there's a readily available set of Trade Paperbacks or Hardcovers--so what are you waiting for! The Ultimate Collection Volume 4 finally came out (sorry about that) so check it out!

NRAMA: Issue #61’s final pages gave us our first look at Conquest. At face value – and boy what a face – he’s got some story. What is this guy’s story?

RK: I want to keep the guy kind of mysterious. I will say there is no blood relation to Mark or Nolan... which seems to be the first thing people assume when we introduce a new Viltrumite character. BUT, everything about Conquest is significant... his scar, his cybernetic arm... these things all point to plot points that will be explored in coming issues. Why would a Viltrumite NEED a cybernetic arm? How would he get scarred up? These questions will be answered. Another thing about Conquest is that Ryan draws him perfectly... he's a thousand times better than I pictured him and I just love what he's done with the guy--Conquest is kind of quirky, as we'll see starting in issue 62... and Ryan is really showing what he can do with these issues--he's amazing.

NRAMA: See Invincible #60 for any doubters of artist Ryan Ottley’s ability.

Broadening the scope here, I wanted to ask about Atom Eve. Invincible’s main squeeze was left badly hurt in Invincible #60, something that was touched on in #61. Will that also be followed up on in these upcoming issues?

Invincible #63

RK: Definitely. Atom Eve takes center stage in these upcoming issues in a big, big way... just in time to take a final bow.

NRAMA: You’re killing me with those words, Robert. Instead of trying to prod you for more info, I’ll read the book like everyone else to find out what you meant by that.

Moving on to brighter subjects, Invincible #60 was a real herculean effort by you and the entire creative team. Now that it’s behind you, how do you think it the actual issue shaped up to your initial plans for it? And would you do it again?

RK: Do it again? No... I've done it, I don't see the point of repeating myself. I mean, I'll do crossovers and big world-shattering things in Invincible but the done-in-one crossover... nah. Ryan would kill me. I had a lot of fun doing it. Some people love it, some people hate it... and a lot of people didn't get it. I've heard a lot of "this story was big enough to be a stand alone 8 issue series!" Well, not really. The plot is "some guys attacked--and our heroes fought them and won." Stretching something like that out of eight issues would be kind of boring and pointless, I think. By doing it all in one issue, I glossed over the repetitive fighting and just focused on the important changes brought on by the story. My only regret is that the guest-stars really didn't get a chance to shine. They were there, lending the story a huge degree of scope--but I wish I could have done more with all of them. The Image guys have some great characters.

NRAMA: Which people can you see you writing more of with the upcoming Image United.

Before I swerve off track here, let’s talk about Invincible witty naming of trades. Each one of the Invincible trades carries a name taken from an 80s television show. I got to ask – how deep does it go before you have to use some clunkers. Will we see Invincible, Vol. 27: Mr. Belvedere?

RK: Did you just call Mr. Belvedere a clunker? This interview is OVER! No, I don't know... in the beginning, I just decided that I really hated coming up with titles for a collection... so I took the easy way out and decided to use those titles. I'm constantly finding titles I haven't used and I'm shocked... Ryan suggested Happy Days for Volume 11 and I couldn't believe we hadn't used that one... and it totally applies to that block of issues as it deals with Mark and Eve's budding relationship. I hope we never run out... but when we do, I'll just switch over to soap operas or something... no big deal.

NRAMA: And here’s a stray question for you. In a previous issue of Invincible, you had Mark consult his father’s fiction books for information on his Viltrumite past; turns out, they weren’t fiction but stories from Nolan’s own life before earth. This might be a bit “inside baseball”, but have you had any thoughts about publishing one of Nolan Grayson’s books?

RK: Someone would have to write it... and that wouldn't be me. It would be neat. I always liked that Iris West Flash book that Mark Waid did... that was a cool experiment... but I don't have the time or ambition to do something like that. Seems like too much work. I'd rather just keep working on moving the series forward.

NRAMA: I think the readers would agree.

Coming up in several issues time, a familiar face is returning to the pages of Invincible -- co-creator and original series artist artist Cory Walker. You briefly touched on it earlier, but I (and others) want to know more – how’d his return come about?

RK: Lord, I think it was about two years ago when we first talked about it... we were just going to do inventory issues and slot them in when the story caught up to them. Ever since Cory left I'd been wanting to have him come back for just a little story here or there. I'd thought about doing an Allen The Alien mini-series but some of the side-characters stories are so important I prefer to keep them inside the series proper. I always knew it would be this stand alone story about Nolan and Allen... leading up to the big Viltrumite War, but I didn't know when in the series they would need to be slotted in. I had so much stuff going on in the series the big Viltrumite conflict kept getting pushed back because I didn't have room to put all the pieces I needed in place. So Cory and I did two issues of Irredeemable Ant-Man... and he did that issue of Punisher: War Journal--and then Destroyer MAX came up... and we kept putting it off. But now it's time. It's going to be some pretty cool stuff.

NRAMA: That’s some real history.

Over the course of the 60-some issues of Invincible, it’s really carved a place for you in the comics industry – with other works like The Walking Dead and your Marvel work. But going back – did you think it’d go this far when you put out that first issue?

RK: It was my biggest desire in comics for Invincible to last even half this long... so no, I desperately WANTED it to happen, but I didn't think it would. We almost ended the book at issue 13 before sales really took off. To have Invincible and Walking Dead lasting as long as they have... and to have the recent issues being the highest selling issues (sales are still going up) is just crazy. I've been very lucky and I owe each and every person who's read my books a great deal. That's one of the reasons this whole "On Time in '09" thing is important to me. I really want to make the statement "I appreciate everything you guys have done for me--the least I can do is get the things out on a strict regimented schedule." For one year though... only for one year... this is killing me. Eh... I'm mostly joking.

NRAMA: It’s both a sprint and a marathon. But readers are cheering for you on the sidelines.

For readers, Invincible is known for it’s spectacular twists – if there’s a status quo, it doesn’t last for long. From Mark’s dad going evil, to Invincible splitting off from the government, and these latest events in the “Conquest” storyarc. That’s definitely a good thing, but something most superhero comics can’t – or won’t – do. As the writer, how does it work for you?

Invincible #64

RK: The whole point of a story, any story is to watch the character or characters grow and change as they overcome a conflict. Is your character different at the end? That's how things should be. Sitcoms and Superhero comics are the only place where the status quo is preserved at all costs. Modern superhero comics are a little more fast and loose--but it's a formula. You change things to get a sales bump--and then you fix them to get a sales bump--and then you do it over and over again to keep numbers at a certain level. On Invincible, and my other titles, I have the freedom to do whatever I want... and so I'm using that freedom to try and do something corporate comics can't... real change. I'm not trying to dig on corporate comics, lord knows I read and enjoy plenty of them. I'm just trying to do something different... I'm trying to provide an alternative.

NRAMA: One of the most gripping things I’ve noticed about Invincible is the pattern --- Mark’s life is getting pretty good and then it falls off the proverbial cliff and gets put through some of the most wrenching and painful experiences I’ve read in awhile. Is this a conscious thing for you – or just the natural ups and downs of plotting out the book?

RK: Well, it's really just a natural story progression. You can't be crazy all the time or you're not crazy, you're normal. The exciting moments have less impact if things are exciting all the time... so yeah, I suppose there are natural downtimes in the story. I try to keep things always compelling but if the world was ending in every issue... things would get a bit dull, right?

NRAMA: If I were Mark I’d like dull, but I’m reading so .. pile it on. [laughs]

Over your career, Mark is probably the character you’ve written the most – do you feel like you know him the best?

RK: I'd say so. Rick Grimes is only an issue behind... so they're kind of neck and neck... but at this point, both of those guys seem like old friends, and it's fun to screw with them and watch them change in big and small ways as time goes on.

NRAMA: Some writers try to get in the mind of their characters – do you ever try to think like Mark to get something down?

RK: The whole process of writing for me is just thinking "how would this guy react in this situation" and you do your best to make sure that as often as possible it's not exactly how YOU would react... because everyone is different. As long as I've been working with young Mark Grayson... it's gotten to be second nature to get into his head and figure out how he'd do things. We're old friends now, despite him being kinda, well... fake. You know how it is. [laughs]

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