A Dash Of Conquest And Comedy (And Then Cancellation): Invader Zim

Copyright © 2001 by Jhonen Vasquez.

Alien invasion has got to be one of the oldest sci-fi conventions ever. It’s been played straight, exaggerated, analyzed, deconstructed, and parodied beyond measure.  Even so, one of the best parodies of alien invasion has to be the Nickelodeon cartoon series Invader Zim, created by Jhonen Vasquez.

The Cast

Zim is one of the funniest, most melodramatic aliens ever written.  Despite his access to mind-boggling technologies and scientific skills, he’s proved utterly inept at actually conquering Earth on his own.  Hampering his efforts–or more likely just wasting his time–is his robot assistant, GIR, whose child-like mentality only infuriates the already bitter Zim.  Yet in spite of his painfully obvious alien nature, Zim in his human disguise seems to pass quite easily among the human race, even while loudly and comically declaring his coming lordship over their world.

The only human being who realizes the “threat” Zim poses is Dib, his classmate-turned-paranormal investigator.  Dib has access to a lot of high-tech gadgets thanks to his mad scientist father, Professor Membrane, yet for all his antagonism of Zim, he finds himself utterly alone in appreciating the alien among his fellow human beings, who remain comically oblivious to even the most fantastic spaceship crashes and alien weapon attacks.

The dialogue is what makes this show so wonderful, whether it’s Zim’s over-dramatic speeches or Dib’s skeptic lines against the mundane insanity of his fellow man or GIR… being GIR  (seriously, he has the best robotic laugh ever).  It’s so off-the-wall and creatively random, much like the dialogue was in an older Nickelodeon show, The Angry Beavers.

For example, here are my favorite out-of-context lines:

Zim: Prepare yourself, filthy beast of meat and hair.  Your magical love adventure begins NOW!

Dib: Chickenfoot, come back!  You’re not a freak, you’re just stupid!

GIR: But I need tacos!  I need them or I will explode.  That happens to me sometimes…

The Story

For all its comedy, the show does an interesting take on character types like alien invaders and paranormal experts.  As the protagonist, Zim’s agenda is world domination, yet he’s so ineffectual and obvious that he’s doomed to fail from the start–a fact that his Irken superiors are aware of, yet they continue to humor Zim so long as he stays far away from his home planet Irk, where he can do no harm.  Then there’s Dib, who, for all his concern about exposing the truth and saving the world, takes a disturbing glee in opposing Zim, even to the point of describing how government agents will eventually dissect Zim to learn more about his race.

Final Verdict

Regardless, the show is really about failures, as there is hardly a major character who’s genuinely happy (except for GIR) or genuinely successful (except for Professor Membrane).  Even the show itself ultimately failed, as it was cancelled in 2002, with reruns airing on Nicktoons in 2006.  But still, it was a great show and its following is still strong.  I can only hope that it’ll inspire more successful comedies in the same spirit.

Bibliography: Invader Zim.  Created by Jhonen Vasquez.  Written by Frank Conniff, Roman Dirge, Rob Hummel, Danielle Koenig, Courtney Lilly, Eric Trueheart, and Jhonen Vasquez.  Directed by Steve Ressel.  Nickelodeon (2001 – 2002).  Nicktoons (2006).  March 30, 2001 – December 10, 2002 (Nickelodeon).  June 10, 2006 – August 19, 2006 (Nicktoons).