BATTLE BEAST! I don’t know how, but Robert Kirkman has taken a fairly standard trope (the all-powerful warrior thirsting for ever-greater combat challenges) and, while not straying one iota from the formula, crafted a great, eminently likable and somehow unique character. I can’t quite put my finger on what I love about him so much, but every time he shows up in the pages of Invincible, I get a giant grin. Beast actually plays a fairly small role, bookending the issue nicely, in what is a very mellow issue of Invincible revealing to his mother than Atom Eve is pregnant before arm-wrestling his father to see which of them is stronger. It’s a very light-hearted, ponderous issue that does a nice job of showing us how the characters have grown over the past months (and even years, if we’re talking real-time) and it’s a great issue for catching one’s breath on.
Ryan Ottley’s art is, as always, absolutely top-notch straddling the cartoon/realism line perfectly and giving the characters expressions that are simultaneously larger-than-life but subtle enough to convey a lot of subtext (and there’s a LOT to convey). Cliff Rathburn’s inks are similarly stellar with sharp, distinct lines that never veer into being too jagged or actually standing out as "outlines." They frame the panel layout amazingly and add a great deal of verve and flavor to John Rauch's colors, which are outstanding. There's a particular scene that takes place on an alien world and the palette used is gorgeous and distinct, lending it an air and atmosphere that comes through despite only having a few pages in the issue.
There's very little to complain about in this issue. There are a few different plot threads and mysteries introduced and, if I know Kirkman, they may not pay off for quite some time (or they may pay off next issue) and with the focus jumping around so much, we don't get a great deal of time with any one group of characters.
This issue is a really great balancing act. There's just enough action that it never drags, there's a lot of character interactions and developments, there are plenty of teases to keep the reader intrigued, and there's Battle Beast. It's got EVERYTHING! I’ve always admired Robert Kirkman’s ability in this book to never forget a single plot thread that he introduces, or to make references that only pay off to eagle-eyed readers (one of the first monsters we see Omni-Man fighting all the way back in issue 1 turns out to be the head of a major crime syndicate, for instance), and while he sometimes takes a LITTLE too long to pay them off, it’s always a great result. He also strikes an amazing balancing act between cheerful whimsy and brutal violence, which is what makes the artists’ jobs even more of an achievement. By having such a cartoonish look, the violence becomes even more sudden and shocking. This issue is definitely a jumping on/jumping off point issue that will likely set up the next arc or two, so it’s a great place to get on or get BACK on if you’ve fallen behind.