Review by Frank Plowright
Aired for two seasons beginning in 2002, Invader Zim originated as an animated series starring an alien would-be conqueror of Earth and his idiot robot assistant. The joke on Zim is that he’s so disliked on his home planet of Irken that to keep him away he was given the task of invading a vastly distant planet no-one cares about. Zim’s tactic is to infiltrate himself to study the population before determining the best way to take over, so due to his small stature he attends school. Despite his rather poor disguise, only his classmate Dib realises the truth.
Zim’s creator Jhonen Vasquez and show writer Eric Trueheart alternate the writing over six chapters, and if anyone knows how to transfer the frenzied energy and likeable idiocy of the animation to comics it’s them. Aaron Alexovich was responsible for the original character designs and brings his talent for manic exaggeration to the comics as well. The short review is that anyone who loved the cartoons can be confident this first graphic novel is true to the show.
The book’s opening sequence explains the gap between the final animated episode and the present day, and the stories then follow the pattern of the series. Zim never quite gets to grip with properly invading the Earth, indolence being a primary factor holding him back, while his very existence provides Dib with a purpose in life: saving the Earth. Dib’s a great self-promoter, and has some success, but never entirely enough. A yin and yang is at the heart of the best comedy animation, and the balance never permanently shifts here either.
Before creating a child-friendly animation Vasquez was known for some dark comics, such as Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and part of what makes Invader Zim an interesting series is the darkness occasionally slipping through. An example is in the second chapter where Dib believes Zim has acquired the codes to an ancient secret that will enable him to destroy Earth. The truth is something else entirely, and a great, bleak joke. There are several others, some of them even engaging sympathy for the generally obnoxious Zim, such when he’s pranked.
So what else do you get over five episodes? Some disguised commentary on art, and on video gaming, much insanity and the giant space donkey, which should be more than enough for anyone.