by Robert Kirkman (writer), Ryan Ottley (pencils), Cliff Rathburn (inker), FCO Plascencia (colors), and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Invincible’s battle with Conquest continues with devastating consequences.

What’s Good:  This is a brutal, brutal issue; it’s actually difficult to read at points.  This is clearly the “Walking Dead” Kirkman at work here.  Everything is just so damned visceral as Kirkman holds nothing back on the violence front.  This is one of the nastiest superpowered beatdowns that I have ever read, with every hit Mark sustains being cringe-worthy.  Of course, this brutality isn’t limited to Invincible; Oliver’s beating is very hard to watch.  Bones break, teeth fly, and faces are turned into hamburger.

That said, let’s cut to the chase: someone dies in this issue.  It comes almost out of nowhere and again, regardless of the character and his/her popularity, Kirkman has no mercy.  The character dies in blood-splattered, crushing fashion.  Again, it’s not only hard to watch, but frankly hard to believe that Kirkman would actually have the balls to have one of his characters go out like that, face destroyed beyond recognition, Conquest’s fist bursting through his/her torso.  It’s a shocker.

I can’t overemphasize how much of a gut-punch this death was.  Not only is it a shocker strong enough to make even the most cynical reader’s jaw drop, but it also is a kick to the emotional stomach.  It is such a surprise and the manner in which it happens is unbelievable.  This is the closest thing Invincible has ever had to the infamous “prison massacre” issue of Walking Dead-fame.

The end result legitimizes Conquest as a scary, scary dude.  Comics often try for the “can anyone stop him?!” reaction that it has become so clichéd, so impossible to achieve, and yet through the gut-punch mentioned above (pun unfortunately intended), Kirkman manages to pull it off.  Conquest is just an utter psychopath, perhaps the most intimidating figure to ever inhabit a Kirkman comic.  He’s a  hard-nosed, almost instructive Viltrumite elder and yet he’s also a homicidal sadist.   The double page spread of Conquest, covered in blood, speaking to Mark after killing the above mentioned character will forever haunt me.

The art for this comic is unreal.  The gore is amazing, the level of destruction awe-inspiring, and the emotion present in the characters’ faces well-done.  This issue was clearly a real challenge to draw, and Ottley was definitely up to it.  I also can’t get over what an asset colorist FCO Plascencia has been to Invincible.  Since joining the team, it’s as though Invincible has “gone HD.”  Plascencia manages to make this issue feel like a high-budget blockbuster.

What’s Not So Good: The death in this issue was so indescribably devastating, that I almost wish it didn’t happen.  Do I think Kirkman made the wrong decision?  No, I don’t, but I’m definitely not without regret.  As you can probably tell, this isn’t really criticism on my part.  Really, it just shows how effective the death really was.  It wasn’t a misstep by Kirkman, but it was just so heart-rending.

Conclusion: One of the best single issues of Invincible, this is without a doubt the biggest shocker/development since Omni-Man revealed his true nature.  The series seems to be ready to take a darker turn, and I’m all for it.  I’m just not sure if I’m emotionally prepared for what’s to come.

Grade: A

-Alex Evans