Invader blood marches through Judge Mac McEntire's veins, like giant radioactive rubber pants. The pants command him!
The Earth is doomed.
Ladies and gentlemen of the world, I would like to introduce you to Jhonen Vasquez. In August 1995, his independent comic book Johnny the Homicidal Maniac (JTHM) debuted, to the delight of some and the shock of others. The title character spent equal time slaughtering and philosophizing, making the comic as smart as it was horrific. That, combined with the gritty and intense visuals, quickly gave Vasquez a cult following.
Although JTHM would be far too gruesome to turn into a children's television series, someone in Hollywood saw potential in Vasquez's work, especially in some of the dark sci-fi aspects of his other comics, Squee and I Am Sick. Thus, Invader Zim was born. With Vasquez as executive producer, the series premiered in March 2001 on Nickelodeon. The network clearly did not know what to make of such a bizarre series, and never gave it real chance. Its time slot was sporadic, there was little advertising for it, and it ended up cancelled with several episodes unaired. But thanks to DVD, Zim has risen again.
Facts of the Case
The Irkens are the most feared race in the galaxy. With their seemingly endless armada, the unstoppable Irkens have conquered planet after planet, leaving oppression and destruction in their wake. What is the secret to their success? The invaders. These advance scouts land on an enemy planet, blend in with the locals, and learn their weaknesses. In some cases, the invaders single-handedly wipe out the world themselves.
That brings us to Zim, who longs to be an invader. Unfortunately, he had previously made a mess of Operation Impending Doom One. The Irken leaders, the Almighty Tallest, have to get rid of Zim before he does something stupid and wrecks Operation Impending Doom Two. To get rid of him, the Tallest assign Zim to an unimportant, non-threatening planet out in the middle of nowhere—Earth.
With his robot helper Gir in tow, Zim arrives and disguises himself as an elementary school student, or as he calls it, a "human worm-baby." Do not be so quick to count Zim out, though, despite his glaring incompetence. He has a gigantic lab filled with unimaginable technological terrors underneath his pink suburban home, where he and Gir secretly plot the downfall of all humanity.
But hope is not lost. Just down the street, an exceptionally large-headed boy named Dib has made it his quest to find proof of alien life. He is the only one who knows Zim's secret, and he'll stop at nothing to expose the alien to the media. Dib's only ally is his sister Gaz, a video game-addicted Goth girl who wants nothing to do with him. Fortunately for him, Dib's father is the heroic TV scientist Dr. Membrane, so there's always some high-tech doodad sitting around the house to help save the day. And so the battle for Earth begins.
This two-disc set contains the first 17 episodes, most of which were doubled up to make nine episodes during the series' original run. Bring forth the episode list!
• "The Nightmare Begins"
• "Bestest Friend"
• "Parent Teacher Night"
• "Walk of Doom"
• "Dark Harvest"
• "Attack of the Saucer Morons"
• "The Wettening"
• "Career Day"
• "Planet Jackers"
• "Rise of the Zitboy"
• "Invasion of the Idiot Dog Brain"
• "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy"
• "A Room with a Moose"
Bringing Jhonen Vasquez's work to life on TV must have been a daunting task. Visually, his art is specifically stylized, with thin line work and meticulous attention to detail. Thematically, it contains extreme violence and biting satire. These concepts do not appear to be favored by children's TV programmers. But somehow, the show's creators found a way. The visuals in Invader Zim don't quite have the in-your-face intensity of JHTM, but one look at the characters and the backgrounds reveals them to be suitably Vasquezian. Zim's spindly arms and legs, Gaz's angry squint, and Dib's unimaginably large head are all hallmarks of Vasquez's designs. This extends to the overall world of Invader Zim, too. The backgrounds, vehicles, and props are almost over-designed. Gigantic pipes and massive iron doors fill the hallways at the elementary school. Ordinary police officers wear battle armor, and their patrol cars are high-tech mini-tanks. In those rare cases when the action moves into outer space, everything becomes even more detailed. From the oppressive claw-like Irken ships to the many snack foods enjoyed by the Tallest, creative thought has gone into every visual element of the series.
But there is more to the series than adapting Vasquez's style from the printed page into animation. What really makes the series stand out is how the creators are not afraid to take risks. For example, during the high speed chase in "Attack of the Saucer Morons," there is a moment when Zim discovers he is driving straight for a toddler innocently playing in a sandbox. Instead of swerving out of the way, Zim just smiles and stays his course. The child is pulled out of the way in the nick of time by a teary-eyed adult. This is some frightening stuff played for laughs. There are many more examples, such as the way Zim dispatches his admirer in "Bestest Friend," or the several nightmarish acts inflicted on Dib in "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy." One does not expect to find this level of horrific violence in a children's cartoon. But it's not just for shock. The writers' risks pay off, creating some fine dark comedy.
Another risk is the way in which the characters' roles are switched around. In some episodes, Dib is the hero, struggling to save the Earth from destruction. But other times, Zim becomes the protagonist, and viewers finds themselves rooting for him to succeed in ruling this little stink-ball planet. The writers also go to great lengths for a laugh, stretching continuity and reality for comedic effect. For example, see the long set-up and the use of expensive looking 3-D animation just for an over-the-top gag in "The Wettening," or Zim's impossible patience in "Invasion of the Idiot Dog Brain." These are gags that would be too much for other shows, but the writers and animators here make it work. The writing staff, by the way, was an eclectic group, including Roman Dirge, creator of the comic book Lenore, Danielle Koenig, daughter of Star Trek actor Walter Koenig, and Frank Conniff, better known as "TV's Frank" from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The highly expressive voice acting adds to Invader Zim's success. Richard Steven Horvitz brings a seemingly unending energy to Zim. He gives it his all here, whether he's screaming in terror, cackling over evil plans, or saying normal lines like "I'm going to have some punch" with overly elaborate drama. Andy Berman as Dib, Melissa Fahn as Gaz, and Rikki Simons as Gir are also at their best, creating some of the most expressive voice acting you're likely to find in a cartoon. Also worth praising is Kevin Manthei's bombastic music, which adds even more character and intensity to the series.
Picture quality here is pristine, with the show's signature green and purple color scheme looking appropriately vivid and atmospheric. The 2.0 sound is excellent as well, with the acting, sound effects and great music all sounding just as they should. Leading off the extras are 12 commentary tracks with Vasquez, joined by series writers, actors and animators. Although they are light on behind-the-scenes tidbits, they're very funny, and they point out many small details in the animation that viewers might otherwise miss. A collection of interviews with the voice actors is also comedic, but there is some genuine information about the series here too. The show's original pilot, with Billy West (Futurama) as the voice of Zim, has been included. It's not quite up to the standard of the regular episodes—the creators admit as much on its commentary—but for fans, it's great to see this alternative take on the characters. Also, 12 episodes can be watched in their original animatic form, offering a glimpse at some original artwork. The only subtitles are in the Irken language created for the series, which is amusing; but many viewers might have preferred genuine subtitles.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Invader Zim might be too strange for some viewers. There's a lot of weirdness for weirdness' sake here. The creators' odd fascination with pigs and squirrels is never explained. When the Tallest show up, you never know just what they'll say or do next. Most will find these scenes humorous and clever, but a few could walk away frustrated.
The original pilot episode's commentary reveals that Mark Hamill (Star Wars) recorded Zim's voice at an even earlier stage of production. Was there no way for this material to be included on the DVD, for both his fans and Zim's?
Invader Zim is an absolutely insane series. It has risky scripts, great acting, and terrific animation. To quote Gir, "I love this show."
Not guilty. Now shut your noise tube, taco human!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
• Commentary on 12 Episodes
Review content copyright © 2005 Mac McEntire; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.