It's one of those immortal questions to ponder - just what the hell was Nickelodeon expecting when they approached Jhonen Vasquez, of Johnny the Homocidal Maniac and Squee! fame, to do a children's animated series? Something cute and cheery for the children? Henry the Happiest Elf? Not! Instead, what they got was much funnier, much edgier and much darker, one of the best animated shows of the past few years - Invader Zim.
As the Irken empire prepares their second attempt at taking over the universe, Operation Impending Doom II, they are interupted by a small, stupid invader,
Invader Zim, the member of the alien race responsible for halting Impending Doom I when he started to blow up things before he left the home planet. To get rid of him as soon as possible, the Tallests (leaders of the Irken race, whose hierachy is dictated by height) give him a joke mission to separate him from the real invaders. With his faithful SIR-unit robot sidekick Gir (with a brain made entirely of garbage - "What's the G stand for?" "I DON'T know!") Zim is sent to conquer the harmless planet Earth, a world light years away populated mostly by idiots. (Just like in real life! Disagree? How'd Bush get in a second term, then?)
One of the few non-idiots is young Dib, a large-headed child obsessed with the paranormal, who comes to blows with Zim as he's the only one recognising that the green-skinned kid is actually an alien who wishes to enslave the human race. However, as his nonchalant, violent sister says, "He's so bad at it!" Most of Zim's plans involve the most idiotic, child-like usage of his amazing advanced technology. Plots range from Zim's awful schemes being thwarted by Dib and others, to less conventional plots involving mall zombies, gigantic Godzilla-like hamsters, and a room with a moose.
The set-up is fantastic and complete with a great sense of humor,
including an adoration for a variety of animals such as piggies and moose as well as that wonderful disregard for human life (see: Futurama, South Park). Jhonen's whacked-out style works perfectly for the edgy series, which has more appeal for adults than children, with its darker tones and occasional violence, plus reference upon reference to past science fiction stories/movies and plenty of jokes that'll fly over the heads of the younger viewers.
The fans' greatest wishes were granted last year when Media Blasters delivered the three-volume DVD set of Invader Zim, covering the entire series from pilot to halfway through the second season, where Nick cancelled the thing. Available in individual volumes or in an (overpriced) complete set including the Zim house display case (also available separately for a much more reasonable price) the series is now here to be watched and relived over and over!
Doom Doom Doom
Horrible Holiday Cheer
The Nightmare Begins
Parent Teacher Night
Walk of Doom
Attack of the Saucer Morons
Plague of Babies
Bloaty's Pizza Hog
Door To Door
FBI Warning of Doom
Game Slave 2
Battle of the Planets
Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom
Gir Goes Crazy And Stuff
Dib's Wonderful Life Of Doom
Tak: The Hideous New Girl
Backseat Drivers From Beyond The Stars
Mortos Der Soul Stealer
Zim Eats Waffles
The Girl Who Cried Gnome
Rise of the Zitboy
Invasion of the Idiot Dog Brain
Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy
A Room With A Moose
Walk For Your Lives
The Sad, Sad Tale of Chickenfoot
The Voting of the Doomed
Gaz, Taster of Pork
The Frycook What Came From All That Space
The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever
DVD presentation is excellent,
with nifty Zim-fitting menus with that awesome Jhonen-style font and pictures of the characters. Sadly, while the audio is delivered wonderfully with a clear 2.0 Dolby track (alongside a bunch of different commentaries and alternative audio tracks) the video transfer flails like the very worst of NTSC - there is terrible aliasing across the entire series, some of it cleared up by the third volume but still noticable. It's a shame that there's no alternative to the R1 of this set, as a PAL transfer would most likely fix these problems.
Across the entire set there's a variety of fantastic extras - for the best example, check out Volume One's fantastic "Interview with the Voice Cast," featuring the voice cast (duh) discussing the show and their work with Jhonen while trying to be funny, with varying degrees of success.
(Rikki Simmons, the voice of Gir, is GOD.) Most of the episodes have commentaries, sometimes more than one, featuring Jhonen and crew having a good old yak and a laugh at the show. At worst, it's just like watching the show with the cast and crew and having a chuckle; at best, they talk about some of the problems they had making the show and the numerous issues they had with Nickolodeon (by now, everyone knows the IGGINS! story, but it's still amusing to hear it from Jhonen itself). Also, something seems a bit off - considering Jhonen's supposedly so bitter over Zim now, he certainly has a great time on these commentaries.
There's also some gag offerings across the discs
- my personal favourite is the additional commentary track on "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy," in which a chorus of pigs joins you to watch the film, who all get excited with oinking and other pig noises whenever there are piggies onscreen. Genius! Each disc also includes Irken subtitles so you can watch the show with your favourite Invader, and a nice little booklet thingy with all the details inside the case.
The display box and Extras DVD are a set in themselves and are a very cool premise - one delivered with varying degrees of success. The displace case is a huge cardboard Zim house, which looks fantastic and is awesome for storing all three DVD volumes (plus the bonus disc, exclusive to this set). The box is exactly one foot tall, and ranges from 3" wide at the base to 5" across at the roof. The roof opens to reveal your very own Gir figure, a repaint of the Palisades Series 1 figure with red eyes/body/shoulders, essentially Gir in his duty mode. SIR Units have red eyes, too, but they also have a slightly different design. The box has lots of great little details printed on, and some tiny magnets hold it securely shut.
That's all very cool, but the Extras DVD itself isn't so crash hot; it includes a variety of audio samples, an interview with the composer (which is pretty much only interesting for film students like myself), the uncut X-Mas episode (barely different to the original, which is on Volume 3) and recorded audio from unfinished episodes. About the latter - this is not what the fans asked for. Some of the diehard fansites wanted this audio, yes, but the rest of us wanted something resembling the final form of the unfinished episodes. There's no music or opening and there's no animated storyboards, the latter of which was important for this to work. As it is, it's just part of the script read off without context or background, making it essentially worthless. Yes, the episodes had potential, but presented like this, they lack even the ambience of a radio play.
Overall, this is a must-own for Zim fans - the complete set is absolutely required of you for your pathetic human existence!
For a while, that box set was the only thing we had to display our Zim figures with - it was way too small, but we made do. Now we have something even bigger and even better. In Series 2 of its Zim figures, rather than giving the figures bases, Palisades included three pieces that assemble to form the front of Zim's house: the lawn with Gaz, the front door with Zim and the roof with Gir. Buy all three, and you've got yourself a building!
The DVD box set did a decent job of capturing the odd angles of Zim's house, but it was still hampered by the fact that it had to function as a box. Palisades' diorama has no such restrictions, so it's got all kinds of craziness - there's nary a set of parallel lines to be found anywhere. The lawn is foreshortened to help sell the illusion of the house's size, the walls and windows are crooked and the roof comes down to different lengths on both sides of the house. This definitely captures the feel of Jhonen Vasquez's artwork for the show.
One thing the house does have over the dvd box is that, unconfined by shelf space or ease of storage, it has six of the tubes that attached to Zim's neighbors' buildings - three thick, three thin - that share the same skewed perspective as the rest of the house.
Fully assembled, the house is 9 3/4" wide, 7" deep and 15 1/2" tall. The scale isn't quite right, but it's not so terrible that your figures won't look good on it. Yeah, Zim should only come up to about the doorknob, but then, Gir should only come up to Zim's shoulder - so it's not like we're not used to a few scale problems with this line.
Sadly, the house isn't complete. If you got both versions of Zim, then you have four lawn gnomes and an "I (heart) Earth" flag to decorate the lawn, but there are still pieces missing. Yes, we got the flag and the gnomes, but where's out flamingo? Where's our puffer fish? And most importantly, where's the satellite dish for the roof? We can assume that they'll be sprinkled about in Series 3, but that's pretty lame - one series, one base, one complete set. That's the way to do it.
ToyBiz proved the viability of a collect-and-build pack-in with their Marvel Legends line, and now other companies are jumping on the bandwagon. Even with a few missing pieces, Palisades gave us a great display piece with tons of detail. Now what do you want to bet Series 3 shows us more of the inside of Zim's base?
Do you know the Iggins story? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.