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STUDIO: Nickelodeon Films
RUNNING TIME: 179 Minutes
Children flavored nihilism with a dash of Cronenbergian body horror and a sprinkle of Lynchian absurdity.
Created by Jhonen Vasquez.
Acted by Richard Steven Horvitz as ZIM, Andy Berman as Dib, Rikki Simons as Gir and Melissa Fahn as Gaz.
ZIM is a short, green alien from the Irken race with a giant head and big red eyes and, since your class is based on your height on Planet Irk, he’s also kind of a loser. When the Irken Empire initially decided to invade the Universe in Operation Impending Doom, ZIM accidentally destroyed the entire Irken Armada and got banished to the massive cafeteria planet, Foodcourtia. When the Almighty Tallest, the leaders of the Irken Empire due to their tallest-ness, hold The Great Assigning (a convention to determine which invaders will go invade which planets) for Operation Impending Doom 2, ZIM quits his banishment and begs to be given a planet to invade. Thinking that it will get him as far away from the operation as possible, the Almighty Tallest send ZIM to a planet on the furthest frontier of Irken space…Earth.
Each invader is given a SIR (a standard information retrieval) unit, which basically serve as a little robot personal assistant to the invaders. As a cruel joke, the Tallest give ZIM a SIR unit they found in the space trash, with the brains of random shit they found in their pockets. After activating, the SIR names itself GIR and hops on the ship with ZIM and heads to earth. GIR’s only form of camoflage from humans that might be suspicious is a green zip-up dog costume that it constantly forgets to wear.
Once ZIM and GIR get settled on Earth (by building their house, complete with giant underground lair, using Irken tech), ZIM decides the best way to blend in as one of the “perfectly normal human worm babies” of Earth is to go to school (or “Skool” as it’s spelled on Invader Zim.) On his first day he is instantly recognized as an alien by Dib, a junior paranormal investigator, but because everyone else in school is basically illiterate and dangerously stupid, nobody believes Dib and he is instantly outcast and ridiculed. That’s basically the show. ZIM tries a different tactic to take over the world with the help of his mentally ill robot slave dog, while Dib attempts to foil him. Rinse, repeat.
I’ve been collecting comic books since 1986, but the only comics I was ever into were superhero books like Batman, X-Men, X-Force, Spawn, Savage Dragon and The Punisher. In 1998, I discovered Robert Crumb and the idea that every issue of a comic book didn’t need to end with someone in spandex getting face punched. Right around this time, I discovered Johnny The Homicidal Maniac from Jhonen Vasquez and Slave Labor Press, and the type of comics I consumed changed forever. JTHM has some of the wittiest and most twisted writing and framing of any comic book of all time but since it is also the grandfather of skinny jeans and emo kids, it’s had to deal with a bit of a backlash.
Johnny is all about Johnny C. , a serial killer who feeds the blood of his victims to a wall in his house to keep whatever is behind it from escaping. The black and white art of Jhonen Vasquez reminded me of an incredibly fractured blend of Edward Gorey, Neil Gaiman, old Tim Burton and Dadaism filtered through the eye of Hieronymus Bosch, high on crystal meth (or whatever the 15th and 16th century equivalent would have been). After two spin-off comics, I Feel Sick and Squee, Nickelodeon decided “Hey, this guy writes about mental illness, murder and suffering, let’s have him do a cartoon!” Thusly, Invader Zim was born (although, I kind of more imagine it chewing it’s way out of the womb with filed teeth and straight razors).
The show ran from March 2001 to December of 2002 and has a dedicated cult following made up of mostly Hot Topic kids and thirty year old nerds like me. In the interest of full disclosure, I have an Invader Zim hoodie that I wear everywhere, regardless of the weather, and I have a JTHM shirt that I’ve had for ten years that is now literally flaking away like a vampire in the sun. I won’t get rid of it, though, because it’s lucky and smells like 2001. I also have a Squee shirt that’s two sizes too small, but I wear it anyway because every time I do someone tells me how awesome it is and I crave validation like Tea Party members crave fear. Oh, and an ex-girlfriend named my penis GIR many years ago and that was cool. In other words, me and Jhonen Vasquez go back a long way, so my views on ZIM are biased as shit.
I love this cartoon deeply. I think it’s hands down the most original animated creation since Ren and Stimpy (I’ve never watched SpongeBob, so I can’t make that comparison) and probably would have become something even more incredible had it been given the time to expand it’s already massive scope even more. As it stands, the show is a blistering satire of Ugly Americans and a sad commentary on the state of the country as a large chunk of it’s population grows lazier, crueler and more ignorant each day. I thought after Invader Zim was cancelled we’d be getting a lot more new work from Jhonen, but everything he’s done since then have been collaborations with other writers, compilations of older work and a couple music videos. I’m glad that he’s working, but I’d love to see another original series that’s not filtered through anyone else’s artistic vision. I don’t want him to share.
Invader Zim: Operation Doom is a compilation of the highest rated episodes of the series original run on Nickelodeon. As we’ve all learned from Two and a Half Men, Glenn Beck and American Idol, high ratings don’t necessarily mean high quality but most of the episodes on this release are classics that deserve to be put out there again. Internet scuttlebutt tells me that Nickelodeon has apparently just noticed that, for a show that lasted two seasons a decade ago, there are still a shit load of fans of ZIM who are clambering for more. This disc is basically a greatest hits album whose sole purpose is to see if there’s enough interest in ZIM to make it worthwhile for Nickelodeon to bring it back. Over on Jhonen’s blog (Questionsleep.com) he makes a mention of Nick possibly being interested but, even though he would have loved to do more, he didn’t think it was going to come to fruition. However, he hasn’t posted anything since the release of Operation Doom. In other words, I have no fucking idea whether purchasing this disc could help ZIM and GIR scoot back onto your televisions.
Here are the episodes listed in the order they play on the disc (as well as my hopes and dreams for what the perfect Greatest Hits of ZIM should have encapsulated):
The Fry Cook What Came From All Space: ZIM gets pulled from class by Sizz-Lorr (the fry cook ZIM escaped from in order to participate in Operation Impending Doom 2) and is taken back to Foodcourtia just in time for the Foodening, an incredibly slammed, twenty year long shift without a break. It’s a classic episode late in the show’s run that really shows how far an animated “children’s” show could go.
Career Day: ZIM and Dib take an aptitude test at school to see what their future careers will be. For me this episode is best remembered for the classic line uttered by their serpentine teacher Ms. Bitters- “The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.”
Battle Dib: Dib needs his father (the world famous super-scientist Professor Membrane) to sign a permission slip so he can give a demonstration to the Swollen Eyeballs (a secret society whose sole purpose is tracking down UFO’s and whatnot) about ZIM and his nefarious plans to rule the world. Due to the fact that his father is so busy shooting his television show, Dib has to overcome a series of trials to become an audience member just to gain access to him. This is one of the more action oriented episodes that shows you how creative the writers could be. It’s also a terribly sad fable about the isolation of children in the information age. I could be reading waaaay too deep into these episodes, though.
The Nightmare Begins: The pilot episode. It sets up the world and characters perfectly and is one of the most memorable of the series. I am a little confused as to why it’s the fourth episode on the disc, but I guess Nickelodeon knows what they’re doing.
Gaz, Taster of Pork: Dib discovers he has an electronic spell drive with two of the same spells left on it. He decides it would be much safer to use one of the spells on his sister, Gaz, before using the remaining one on himself. When Gaz wakes up the next morning, the only difference is that (much to Gaz’s extreme fucking anger) now everything tastes like pork. So, obviously, Gaz and Dib have to go to another dimension to get the spell reversed. This one was my least favorite until I realized it was basically Akira in Bizarro world and then I loved it.
Vindicated!: Dib tries to prove to his impressively unintelligent guidance counselor that ZIM is actually an Invader. The big deal of this episode is that Dib finally gets footage of Zim without his human disguise on and it doesn’t get destroyed or anything. This is a fairly forgettable episode that should have been replaced by either Dark Harvest or Rise of the Zitboy, both classic episodes that evoke Vasquez’s sensibilities much better than Vindicated! does.
The Voting of Doom: ZIM runs for student body president and Dib becomes the manager of his opponent. This episode cuts to the heart of what Invader ZIM specializes in, which is showing us an outsiders view of our world. Incredibly bleak and depressing, this episode finds Vasquez at his most… pessimistic. A classic.
Hobo13: ZIM wants battle tanks to help in his conquest of Earth and the Tallest (humoring him) send him to Hobo13, a boot camp planet, in order to prove himself worthy of the new weapons. In the most obvious and clichéd choice the show makes in it’s entire run, R. Lee Ermey voices the drill sergeant. This episode is decent but should have been replaced by the similarly action driven episode The Battle of the Planets.
Walk For Your Lives: ZIM accidentally causes a slow motion explosion that will take quite awhile to detonate fully. It’s a really clever idea that seems aimed more at the kids who watch the show than the grown ups. Which is fine, I guess. If I ruled the world, this episode would be replaced by Hamstergeddon, which also deals with something small getting bigger and fucking up the city.
Mysterious Mystery: Dib is invited on his favorite show, Mysterious Mysteries of Strange Mystery, to expose ZIM by showing off the footage he got in Vindicated! The only problem is ZIM, Gaz and GIR are all invited on, as well, and they all have a different version of how things went down. This Is ZIM‘s take on the Rashomon effect or that episode of The X-Files called Bad Blood. This is Invader Zim at it’s most random.
Future Dib: Professor Membrane builds a Perpetual Energy Generator (PEG) that will either create free energy for all or “send out a wave of doom that will destroy all life on Earth.” ZIM builds a robotic twin Dib to gain access to PEG and cause it to destroy the world. Hi-jinx most definitely ensue. One of my favorites on the disc. It really illustrates how tight the show is with plotting and how inspired some of the jokes could be. The big conclusion has Dib getting in a slapfight with an angry monkey and it’s kind of amazing.
Plague of Babies: My favorite episode of the set. ZIM lands his spaceship in the attic of his house (like ya do) but sees a baby from across the street watching him. After disguising himself as a “neighborhood baby inspector” he goes over to interrogate the little one. I’m not giving away any more than that other than to say if you have little kids who like the show, you might not want to show them this one. Nothing about this screams Nickelodeon. Or healthy, non-diseased entertainment. This one is fucked.
Bloaty’s Pizza Hog: Another classic. It’s the annual family night out and it’s Gaz’s turn to choose where they go. Due to their subliminal advertising, Gaz chooses Bloaty’s Pizza Hog, only Dib has been captured by ZIM while trying to infiltrate his lair and beamed to his space station far out in orbit. Normally Gaz wouldn’t give a shit, but Professor Membrane refuses to go to Bloaty’s without Dib and they’ll just have to wait until next year if he doesn’t show up. Seeing as Gaz is desperate for some Bloaty, she goes on a mission to space to save him. This was the perfect episode to end on as it somewhat deepens the character of Gaz AND has an awesome space battle.
Since the disc is bereft of even one special feature, it sort of feels like a money grab from Nickelodeon, but I think that’s the point. If you’re a fan of Invader ZIM you probably already have the complete series on DVD, which has commentaries and featurettes and better episodes (like A Room With a Moose). Maybe Nick wants to see if you’ll buy this anyway, or if a whole new generation will get into it. All I know is Invader ZIM is genius and if Jhonen Vasquez and his crew of writers (and the incredible Steve Ressel who directed just about every episode) want to do more episodes then goddammit, let’s throw some money at these guys and get this shit back on the air.
There isn’t one. Just the episodes and 10 minutes of the credits for all the episodes mashed up into one stream of words with names on them. The content is excellent, though. So there’s that.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars