Invader ZIM is a franchise with a long history. Rehashing it here would take up a lot of time, and has been done by better writers than me, so the short version is this: Jhonen Vasquez tried to write a science-fiction cartoon for Nickelodeon, who didn’t realize when they hired him that he was responsible for adult-oriented comics like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Creative differences abounded, Jhonen was pretty honest about how difficult working with Nick could be, and all the ZIM fans watched helplessly as the struggles with the network turned into cancellation. The fans subsisted upon brief glimmers of hope when Zim and GIR occasionally showed up in Nicktoon-themed games or when finished-but-unreleased episodes of the show turned up on DVD box sets.
Then, there was silence.
But then came the usual rumors that ZIM was coming back, that our junior high and high school daydreams were finally coming true! This repeated numerous times between 2003 and July of 2015, but at very very long last, putting to an end both the rumors and my own recap I said I wouldn’t do and then ended up doing anyway, Invader ZIM finally returned.
As a comic book.
It makes sense, really. Comics as a medium have always had different creative constraints than television or film. You can tell entirely different stories. Comics are the medium, after all, where a character can go missing after being shot with a time-traveling bullet and have adventures with cavemen, pirates, cowboys, and the witches of Salem before making it back to the present and resuming his traditional superheroics. It’s the perfect medium for a comic like ZIM, which was often hamstrung by the financial limitations the studio placed on the animators or the inexplicable censorship decisions. (One of the very first episodes of ZIM to air was the one where Zim steals the internal organs of numerous children at School in order to appear more human. That got permitted where things like implied character death – a mainstay of cartoons when writing characters out – were vetoed. I’ll never understand that.)
So, how does Invader ZIM fare as a comic compared to a television show? Issue one had a “We’re getting the band back together” feel, where we were reminded who the characters were and what the plot was about, and then as the new storyline kicked off the comic was over. It was a good first issue for introducing new readers to the premise and congratulating all the die-hard fans for not having given up over a decade later, but it was easy to see that it was merely the warmup act. Now we’re looking at issue #2, which is where things truly begin.Zim as a character, and Invader ZIM as a franchise, have very specific voices. The Zim character is myopic in his pursuit of global domination and completely obsessed with his own genius and talent. To hear Zim tell it, he’s the most intelligent and capable member of his race, an intellect beyond the ken of any human – especially his mortal enemy, Dib. In the television show, Zim and Dib were voice acted by Richard Horvitz and Andy Berman, who I imagine blew out their vocal cords every recording session based on all the screaming they did on the show. We don’t have the benefit of their voice acting during the comic, but if you’ve seen the show then every line of dialogue sounds like one of these as you read it. If you know how Dib talks, the way Zim screeches one second and then pauses for “eh? uh, oh! aha!” sounds every few minutes, or the modulations in GIR’s voice as he malfunctions and causes problems, all those familiar sounds are here. You know these characters and you know what they ought to sound like – and they sound just like they’re supposed to. With Jhonen Vasquez and Eric Trueheart writing again (Eric also wrote for the show, and Jhonen is responsible for this whole mess) the characters and narrative voices are just like they used to be.
To a newcomer, it may take time to acclimate to the fast-paced nature of the ZIM plot lines and dialogue. If someone isn’t screaming, they’re about to, and when they aren’t gesturing madly as they outline their greatest invention ever they’re usually recovering from an explosion or a should-be-fatal injury.
I wonder what reading these comics is like from the perspective of someone who wasn’t a fan of the show when it aired, or maybe hasn’t heard of the show at all. I’m used to the story beats – Zim’s leaders are still alternately disgusted by his existence and shocked he’s managed to live this long, Dib is the lone sane human on a planet full of unobservant civilians, Zim himself will stop at nothing to take over the earth on behalf of his species – but they might take a while for the uninitiated to get used to.
The story itself is an intergalactic chase, which I always appreciate. Episodes of the show where characters went into space were woefully uncommon, probably due to budgetary concerns, but they were always my favorites. While issue #2 doesn’t reach the same heights as Backseat Drivers from Beyond the Stars, which is still my favorite episode, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Dib pursues Zim in the ship he salvaged when Invader Tak, the fan favorite and subject of way too much fanfiction I don’t want to know about, crashed on Earth during the original series run. The art is a strong point here too: the aliens are suitably gross-looking when they need to be, the artists experiment with panels and layouts in ways I’m sure the show’s animators wished they could have, and the colors and shading are top-notch. I was going to say “this looks just like an episode of the show, only condensed into pages and panels” but that’s exactly what a comic book is.
I for one am glad to have Invader ZIM back. The comic book medium feels like a great fit for the franchise, the writing and art are just as good as fans of the show have come to expect, and the story never has time to get boring. The fact that the writing and plot are so fast-paced means issue #2 feels like it ends too soon, and makes me curious about how the subsequent issues will be paced: issue one and two are a complete story to themselves, almost an episode of the show, and I wonder if the series as a whole will be episodic or if there will be some kind of overarching plot. I know from interviews there were things Jhonen wanted to do with the story he never got to pursue, some of which were storylines involving new characters and world building ideas. Now is his chance to try them out, I’d assume, and maybe he will! Maybe he’ll go in an entirely different direction.
Ten years is a long time for both creator and fan to wait, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see something never even hinted at come out of this series. There’s endless possibilities for a series like ZIM, which has always played a little fast and loose with its canon and internal logic. It’s a sign of good writing that after what feels like a very short comic, my thought is “Where do we go next?” instead of “what, that’s it?” It makes me excited to see more of ZIM in the future and hopeful that the next issues keep up the momentum issue two builds up. I’m definitely going to be along for the ride.
The pacing is a little fast, and both the plot and narrative voice may take some time for newcomers to acclimate to, but this is a very good second issue. Invader ZIM was sorely missed, and I’m hoping for great things from the franchise now that it’s back in action and making its move right for the nostalgia center of my brain. Bring me more! Er, please.
Story: Jhonen Vasquez and Eric Trueheart Art: Aaron Alexovitch
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy
Oni Press provided Graphic Policy with a free review copy of Invader ZIM #2. I totally forgot about that and bought my own. Whoops.