Welcome to Thanks, I Love It, our series highlighting something onscreen we’re obsessed with this week.
Invincible is building toward something.
That much was clear almost right off the bat when, in a shocking and gore-spattered twist, Earth’s mightiest hero, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), murdered the Guardians of the Globe super-team in cold blood. In the episodes that have followed so far, the question of “Why?!” continues to loom large.
Answers are coming, and Season 1’s eight episodes are building up to some big ones. The comic books created by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker that serve as the source for Amazon’s new animated series contain the blueprint already. But even if you don’t know a thing about them, Invincible has been steadily telegraphing the dark days that lie ahead in its increasingly bloody title cards.
For Simon Racioppa, Invincible‘s showrunner, the idea for these brief introductions were originally born out of necessity. His own general view on show opening sequences and how they ought to fit in boils down to an either/or proposition.
“Either it should be detailed and interesting and able to stand up to multiple repeated viewings, or it should be very short. Simply because it’s one part of your show that repeats, that people see every single episode,” Racioppa said in a phone interview with Mashable. Kirkman has been closely involved with the show all the way through, and he fell in roughly the same place.
After talking it over, the two agreed that their interests in this particular case would be better served by something short. “We were pretty rushed and busy on the main show, so the idea of constructing a whole other title sequence— if we were going to do that, we wanted to make sure we had the time and resources to do it right.”
“Either it should be able to stand up to multiple repeated viewings, or it should be very short.”
They felt that a longer title sequence simply wouldn’t work for Invincible. “This was not really your standard kind of superhero television show. So we decided to do something short and fun and punchy. We called it a billboard, basically. A title card that just comes up and shows the title of the show.”
It was Kirkman who came up with the idea of weaving the cards into the dialogue. As it was originally mapped out, title cards would appear right where a character would’ve said “Invincible” for the first time. It doesn’t exactly work out like that in every episode — as in, at times it isn’t the first mention — but on the whole the show’s debut season sticks to that title card concept from beginning to end.
It’s not an idea specifically drawn from the comics, nor would such an approach even have worked in that format. As they appear in the show, the title cards have the feel of interjections. And the growing volume of blood, for whatever other purpose it serves, is also a constant reminder that “Invincible” may not be the most accurate name for our titular hero given the many painful trials he faces.
It even works at the meta level. Again and again, the show robs Invincible of his agency. It’s a subtle reminder that he’s really just a pawn among other pawns in the creator’s story. Spider-Man, Superman, and plenty of other heroes tend to announce themselves in context, leaving the fourth wall fully intact. But Invincible has never played that game. That’s the whole point of its existence.
The blood stuff came later in the process. “As the show developed we started talking about what else we could do,” Racioppa said. “I’d always wanted to do a title card that changed a little bit every episode, to give you a reason not to skip it. So that was a philosophy too: What can we do to make it worthwhile even though it’s only seven or eight seconds long?”
That’s how they landed on blood spatters. At the most basic level, it fits with a show that skips sanitized, all-ages friendly action in favor of a more gruesome approach. It’s also immediately eye-catching, since that blood actually splashes into the frame, and it raise questions in the mind of the viewer. Perhaps most importantly, though, it was something that would be easy to do within the production’s resource constraints.
With a rough idea firmly established, Racioppa and Kirkman turned to Walker. While Ryan Ottley — who is also credited on every title card — handled art for the bulk of the comic series, it was Walker who established the overall look of Invincible and its world in the opening stretch of issues. He also handled the title card here.
“We had lots of discussions about the blue behind [the logo]. Do we add a little bit of texture to that? Do we not? Do we keep it a pure blue? We ended up adding some texture after many rounds of revisions. And then we were really busy finishing the show at the time so we actually used an outside company called The Sequence Group up in Vancouver [to finish the title cards].”
Again and again during our conversation, Racioppa stressed the team effort aspect of Invincible. The story and style may originate with Kirkman and Walker, but the streaming production that sprung out of their ideas involves hundreds of people. For the title cards process alone, Racioppa estimates that around 20 or 30 people had a hand in the process — including the show’s composer, John Paesano.
“He did Daredevil [on Netflix] and the majority of the latest Spider-Man games for the PS4 and PS5. One of the things we talked with him about was [doing] a different variation on the Invincible theme for each title card that is reflective of the content of the episode,” Racioppa said.
“How we did the music for the show was, he composed a suite for us early on which was like 20 minutes of music, just exploratory music in the world of Invincible. Within that we found the Invincible theme, a sort of repeating theme that we use multiple times obviously throughout the series.”
Once they had a theme in hand, bringing it to the title cards — and coming up with an idea that meshed with the concept of subtly changing title cards across the season — was the natural next step. “So episode three starts with a funeral and it’s a more somber episode, so it’s a more somber version of that theme. Episode one is the big heroic version, episode two [which takes Mark Grayson into space for the first time] is a little more sci-fi-y.”
Those who know Invincible well will readily tell you that eight one-hour episodes isn’t nearly enough to cover the full story. And while there’s no Season 2 guarantee at this point — come on, Amazon, make it happen — Racioppa knows that any theoretical continuation of the series beyond these first eight episodes will necessitate a different approach for the title cards.
“We’ve talked a little bit about it. I don’t want to spoil anything but we do have idea for how to modify or continue the theme going forward. But also to maybe change it up to represent what Mark’s journey is in the second season, if we get a second season,” Racciopa said.
“Obviously we can’t just keep on going bloodier and bloodier and bloodier. I don’t think we would want to repeat that trope across the second season. But I would expect that we want something similar, something that evolves over those eight episodes, something that gives you a reason to watch those titles even though they’re very short, and something that also speaks to the events of that season.”