One of the things I love about comics is their unexplained but intuited rules. Panels, gutters, speech bubbles, captions, sound effects — we don’t always think about the rules that they operate under, but we understand those rules because it is the nature of comics to explain themselves visually. Three panels in a row show us the progression of motion and time. A speech bubble shows a person talking in a specific time and place, where a caption gives the sensation of narration over the action. Speed lines tell us how quick something is moving, solrads show us how bright something is shining. There’s an unspoken but intuitive set of rules that comics readers quickly learn and come to understand.
Now… what happens when you break all the rules? In a nutshell, that’s Mister Incredible, recently published by Magnetic Press in July 2020. Published as a part of Magnetic Press’ middle-grade line of comics, the first collected volume was originally published as Imbattable 1 – Justice et légumes frais and Imbattable 2 – Super-héros de proximité by Dupuis in 2018. Mister Invincible takes an average shlubby looking guy in wrestler’s tights, a bright yellow shirt, and a Zorro mask, and allows him to cross the thresholds of space and time in ways that are at first glance paradoxical and mind-blowing. On the first page, Mister Invincible is introduced as “The One And Only True Comic Book Superhero!,” and the source of his powers becomes immediately obvious, as he spies bad guys causing problems in the row below him and jumps into action to save the day. Mister Invincible can use the rules of comics to his advantage and frequently saves the day.
What Pascal Jousselin has created with Mister Invincible is a comic that takes the conventions of comics and cracks them in half like a ripe coconut. How do you save a cat that’s stuck in a tree? Why, simple – just bend down and pull the cat out of the panel underneath your feet. Whether it’s saving cats, stopping petty theft, saving the world from an incompetent mad scientist, or dumping cream pies on a loathsome politician, Mister Invincible uses his comics powers in continuously surprising ways.
Jousselin doesn’t stop with Mister Invincible’s panel-crossing escapades. He introduces readers to a variety of characters who are able to affect the world through mechanisms of comics, such as being able to throw a piece of candy far away and have it break through a wall now the size of a mini-van (messing with the reader’s concept of perspective), or through word balloons that poke, prod, and smash listeners.
The effect of all these formal experiments could be overwhelming if done poorly, but Jousselin creates comics in ways that make the reader feel in on the joke. There’s a raw cleverness to the work, absolutely, but Mister Invincible is joyful and goofy rather than thumbing its nose at you. Watching how Mister Invincible will use his paradoxical superpowers to vanquish a horde of killer robots is both a funny and cerebral delight.
Jousselin’s illustration is likewise a delight, bouncy and springy in a way that evokes Bill Watterson and André Franquin in equal measures. Laurence Croix’s colors serve the work well, especially in one of the longer arcs of the book where Mister Invincible teams up with a couple of other comics superheroes in order to defeat a “villain” who can manipulate comic book colors. Jousselin even gets to take a few jabs at the US government, which, in these times, I’ll take, even if it is a little superficial.
If I have any complaints about Mister Invincible it’s that the single-page comics often hold up much better than the longer story arcs. Seeing what Jousselin can do on a single page while breaking all the rules keeps the goofiness contained, and makes those individual pages much more delightful. Longer arcs where Jousselin has to build up a stronger narrative to deliver the “punch line” of Mister Invincible’s incredible powers dilute the work’s comedic timing. It’s in these longer passages where the comics’ charm starts to lose a little luster.
That small quibble aside, I adore Mister Invincible. These comics are fun, smart, and great for young readers and readers young-at-heart. If you’re looking for something that is going to tickle your funny bone, entertain you and the young people in your life, or even make you feel smart, look no further.