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Invincible’s Atom Eve special puts Green Lantern to shame

Prime Video’s one-hour special delivers what the show does best, and shows off creativity in superpowers

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A young Atom Eve holds her fist out in costume on a highway as pink orbs surround her in the Invincible: Atom Eve special. Image: Prime Video
Pete Volk (he/they) is Polygon’s curation editor for movies and TV, with a particular love for action and martial arts movies.

In comics, reality manipulation is an enticing device that can allow for all sorts of intoxicating visuals or unexpected ideas. And when adapted to the screen (especially in live action), those ideas can be held back by the limitations of the form (just like stretchy powers).

Scarlet Witch, the respective Doctors Strange and Manhattan, and Green Lantern are a few of the more famous examples, but the list of heroes and villains who can change the world before them with ease goes on. Invincible’s Atom Eve stakes her claim in that elite group, especially after the show’s stellar hourlong special that just dropped on Prime Video.

The special, “Invincible: Atom Eve,” is just under an hour long and co-written by Helen Leigh (Severance, Archive 81) and show creator Robert Kirkman (who also created the original comic). It takes a step back to tell the origin story of Atom Eve, voiced by Gillian Jacobs in the first season of the show and by Aria Kane and Jazlyn Ione in the special.

The special shows how Eve got her powers at the hands of a brutal science experiment and examines her troubled upbringing with parents who simply don’t understand her or what she’s capable of. “Invincible: Atom Eve” delivers what Invincible did best in its first season: compelling animation, slick action, and complicated family dynamics, all without the pacing problems that occasionally held the first season back.

But the real highlight is how the special makes the most of Atom Eve’s power set. Her ability to rearrange atoms at the molecular level allows her to change reality completely — transforming one object to another or creating objects out of thin air. The only thing she can’t change is living tissue (her attempt to change a squirrel into a puppy falls flat).

A young Atom Eve, wearing a pink hoodie and mask that covers her eyes, looks puzzled in Invincible: Atom Eve Image: Prime Video

Off the bat, “Atom Eve” leans into how this specific teenage girl would use these powers. Eve first encounters her powers while doing some homework, accidentally making her book glass. But her real eureka moment is when her mother drops off a cream cheese and olive sandwich outside her door. Eve turns it into a juicy burger (something she will do more than once in the special), and later changes a dress gifted to her by an aunt into something more fitting with her tastes.

Perhaps the concept is best demonstrated by the episode’s big fight scene, set on a highway (and clearly influenced by Akira) when Eve encounters four other victims of genetic experimentation from the same lab that created her. It’s a harrowing sequence, as it’s arguably the first time Eve has encountered real family, and they’re here to kill her. How the scene unfolds and how Eve uses her powers creatively has people rightly pointing out that it surpasses most depictions of the similarly powered Green Lantern.

First, Eve warms up by jogging in place, as pink light from her powers flashes under her boots, which she’ll use as impromptu rockets. She uses cars on the highway and beams of energy to create obstacles between her and her charging opponents, before a real stroke of brilliance: One of her opponents charges with a tire in his arm, and she changes it into a parachute to send him flying away safely. When pinned down and in what seems like an unwinnable situation, she makes an entire section of the highway disappear, catching her opponents off guard.

Atom Eve turns a tire into a parachute, sending her opponent backwards, in the Invincible special episode. Image: Prime Video

The whole affair is dynamic, with smooth, legible action and a consistent rhythm of events and responses. Eve came into this situation not expecting a fight, and it shows — she’s reacting to the stimuli as they happen and using her creativity to get out of it. That creativity comes through in the crisp animation — Invincible’s visual style lends itself to clearly read facial expressions, and seeing Eve think her way through the fight is as much of a highlight as the fight itself.

By contrast, many Green Lantern adaptations we’ve been subjected to lean on using his powers in only the biggest ways. He makes a big shield, or a big hammer, or a big gun, or big planes, or a big dragon (OK, admittedly, that one’s cool). By bringing Eve’s powers down to the ground level of her day-to-day teenage life in addition to quick, creative reactions to an onslaught of attackers, Invincible breaks outside the box of “going big” and instead makes the most of the potential of reality-manipulation powers.

As is the case with most action scenes in the show, there is plenty of blood and guts in the sequence. Invincible’s ultra-violence and gore has been one of the most buzzy parts of the show, and rightly so — it is quite shocking at times — but it also evokes a feeling of honesty when compared to other superhero media. People with this much power would cause extreme damage, and the ever-present threat of irreparable harm in the show’s action sequences only adds to the emotional intensity when tragedy approaches. That’s extra true in this scene, as Eve is forced to take down people who are essentially siblings that she just met.

In addition to the creative depictions of her powers, the one-hour special is also among the best the Invincible show has put out there. It’s a delicate coming-of-age story about a complicated family told with care that doubles as a strong origin story for one of the show’s most important characters.

“Invincible: Atom Eve” and the first season of Invincible are available to watch on Prime Video. The first part of the second season of Invincible premiers Nov. 3 on Prime Video.

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