(NOTE: I only keep making this note because I get so many angry letters when I don't: This is a critique of the issue, not a preview or promotional tool. There will be SPOILERS.)
Yep. This comic is as violent as the cover intimates. Let's get that out of the way straight off. Invincible gets absolutely demolished by the recently introduced (and pretty aptly named) Conquest. It's certainly not the most "Hey, Kids! Comics!" image to have on a cover, but it is a fair warning and approximation of the issue's contents. There is blood, and bones, and copious swelling.
The third installment of a pretty much non-stop fight sequence between Invincible and Conquest, this issue is brutal and uncompromising in its (one can only imagine) realistic portrayal of two superhuman men beating each other to death. Robert Kirkman, in his two longform creator owned titles, "Invincible" and "The Walking Dead," writes a very particularly paced story. They're rarely told in 20 page episodes, but rather a 90 or 120 page story that each individual issue just happens to run out of space for until the next one picks up where it left off. Thus, it's a little tough to evaluate an individual issue of these two books. They're clearly part of a larger whole, and anyone coming to them en media res will be inevitably a bit lost. Subtle callbacks to previous storylines are made with little fanfare or contributing detail. Longtime readers simply know, for example, who Mark's father was and why Eve might have confused him with Conquest. Little consideration is given to the new reader, to be sure, but honestly I've never been the kind of comics reader who calls for such a thing. This is issue 63 of an ongoing series and all of its collections are in print. If you're interested and find yourself lost, you are not without your options.
And even if you've never read an issue of this book, there's certainly a lot to hold your interest, and most of this is due to the incredible artwork of Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, and colorist FCO Plascencia. The three work together phenomenally, creating a bold and vivid visual style to the book, that makes the brutal contents of the book really come to life. Whether or not that's what you wanted to happen is kind of up to you, but their style and skill is undeniable. There are probably literally hundreds of superhero comics published every month, and not a single one looks like "Invincible" does.
And that acumen is put to vivid use. Not only does Mark end up exactly as you see him on the cover by the end of the issue, but Kirkman puts probably his own life on the line as far as his long time readers go and has Conquest brutally (and I do mean brutally) murder Incincible's long time girlfriend Eve. (Like "face punched off" brutal. No kidding.) Obviously this act, and that of the many issues that preceded it in which his world is completely and literally demolished in a series of large scale battles, is meant to illustrate exactly what the stakes are, realistically, for a superhero, and exactly how much collateral damage is inevitable. Is it sudden? Yep. Is it necessary? Well, we'll have to see. But one thing it doesn't come across as is arbitrary. Undoubtedly, fans will be up in arms at this development (and it goes a long way towards fulfilling the promise of Kirkman's recent hucksterism regarding this issue's "collectability"), but as this storyline and the one that preceded it have shown, when hugely powerful people start slugging each other, everything is just something in their way.
So, "Invincible" #63 is not a brash new direction for the book, nor do its events come as an enormous shock. In a book where entire cities are pummeled and razed to the ground, it's a little silly to think that the same thing couldn't or wouldn't happen to the people flying around over them, no matter how much we may have grown to like them.
(Check out the five page preview for this issue to see how it all starts. . .)