Multiverses are everywhere, from the Oscars to The Flash; they’ve defined Rick and Morty for years, and of course they’re all that’s left of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the return of Invincible for its second season, yet another superhero story has ventured into alternate realities — but this time around, the series is actually doing it right. After just the first episode of season 2, which premiered on Friday, Invincible is already using its multiverse to teach us new things about the characters we already care about.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for Invincible season 2 episode 1.]
The opening of Invincible season 2 starts with a shocking display of Omni-Man and Invincible destroying a major city together and killing dozens of people as the new rulers of Earth. It’s quite a shock after the season 1 finale, but it’s all quickly resolved when the show reveals that Angstrom Levy, a new character introduced this season, is actually a super genius who’s gathering all the versions of himself from every universe to work together and save the world from the versions of Mark and Nolan that take over Earth.
Invincible’s writing is often clever, but its best moments say more with what the characters leave out than what they actually say. And it’s the same here, with the implication of Angstrom’s plan: The fact that almost every other version of Mark joined his father and helped take over Earth means that our Mark is extra special, and that our Nolan is more complicated too. They’re not just another pair of Marks and Nolans in the infinite universe; they’re different, specifically in a way that we couldn’t really know about without the multiverse coming into play.
This is a fascinating departure for the kind of multiverse stories we’ve seen in other superhero arenas — specifically Marvel’s, which has left the entire franchise stretched too thin. Movies like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and shows like Loki are hyper-focused on showing us different variations of the same person, attempting to flesh each one out and make them their own character, all without actually justifying why any of them are special or matter much (let alone what makes our protagonist or antagonist unique). Meeting four different versions of Loki doesn’t make Tom Hiddleston’s more special, it just dilutes him into a few noteworthy characteristics.
Like any other plot device or storyline, multiverses can be tremendously strong supplemental material, but they have to remain in service to the characters and the overall story of the series. Multiverses get boring when the plot becomes about the universes themselves, rather than the people who inhabit them. And while it remains to be seen how the rest of Invincible’s second season will go, the first episode already seems like a more promising version of the multiverse than anything Marvel has put on screen recently.