Pitiful human! You recognize the obvious greatness of ZIM, but are too intimidated to approach, knowing you are unworthy? Or perhaps you are already familiar with the greatness that is ZIM, and wish only to bathe your primitive human brain in the superiority of the most glorious invader ever to hail from the mighty Irken Empire! Or maybe, like that hideous Dib-creature, you think knowledge is the key to defeating your inevitable alien overlords…?
Whatever your reasoning, Earth monkey, the time has come to feast your eyes on the history of Invader ZIM!
The Nightmare Begins
“The Nightmare Begins,” the pilot for the Invader ZIM animated series, first aired on March 30, 2001. (The original unaired pilot, which starred Billy West as ZIM, was eventually aired on the Nicktoons channel in 2011, as well as included in the first volume of the DVD release in 2004).
The series starred Richard Steven Horvitz as the titular Invader, an overzealous alien whose incompetence personally ruined the Irken Empire’s previous attempt at galactic conquest. In order to ensure he doesn’t unintentionally sabotage Operation Impending Doom 2, the rulers of the Irkens, the Almighty Tallest (voiced by Wally Wingert and Kevin McDonald) banish the unsuspecting ZIM to the furthest corner of the universe: a crumby little planet called Earth.
With the support of his defective robot ally, a malfunctioning SIR unit who calls himself GIR (voiced by Rikki Simons), ZIM begins his quest to conquer Earth, which he believes to be an integral element in the Irken’s galactic machinations. Fortunately, Earth has a defender worthy of the insidious ZIM: a 12-year old paranormal enthusiast named Dib Membrane (Andy Berman). Rounding out the cast is Dib’s surly sister Gaz (Melissa Fahn), who would rather be playing video games than dealing with her brother’s supernatural nonsense, and Professor Membrane (Rodger Bumpass), the patriarch of the Membrane family who could probably single-handedly rebuff the Irken invasion (if he could be convinced it was actually taking place).
The series had a dark tone and a cynical take on human society, with episodes that satirized working in the fast-food industry, the public school system, and humanity’s ability to unquestioningly accept propaganda in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Depending on the episode, the perspective would shift from ZIM to Dib (and occasionally to Gaz, GIR, or Mysterious Mysteries). The characters alternate between the roles of protagonist, antagonist, and supporting cast, depending on the story, and in some episodes, Dib or ZIM might not appear at all, or only appear in a brief cameo.
The final episode of the original run of Invader ZIM, “The Most Horrible Xmas Ever,” aired on December 10, 2002. The invasion had ended, and humanity could go back to shoving themselves full of Deelishus Weenies without fear of being conquered by the far superior Irken… Or could they?
Before the Nightmare
Invader ZIM was the brainchild of Jhonen Vasquez, whose prior work included the cult classic Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, published in seven issues by Slave Labor Graphics from 1995 through 1997. The limited series followed the adventures of Johnny (or “Nny”), a serial killer who believes that he must keep a wall in his basement coated with wet blood to prevent it from allowing a monster from another dimension to enter our world.
The comic shares some key features with Invader ZIM: in addition to Vasquez’s singular perspective and distinctive artistic style, JTHM featured an unconventional narrative that develops continuity as the series progresses. While the earlier issues were more of a collection of more loosely related short comics, as the issues progressed, a more serialized story overtook the comic.
The connections to Invader ZIM don’t end there. The comic also included the first appearance of incompetent aliens from the Invader ZIM episode “Abducted!” And, in the episode “Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom,” the shadowy profile of Nny can be glimpsed among the Nightmare Bitters’ minions.
Vasquez continued to explore the concepts introduced by JTHM in 1999’s I Feel Sick. This time, the protagonist is Devi D., who originally appeared in the panels of JTHM. While not so much a direct sequel as a standalone story set in the same universe (Nny appears, but only as a cameo), I Feel Sick included one major departure from JTHM: unlike the black and white art in JTHM, I Feel Sick was presented in full-color thanks to color artist Rikki Simons, who would go on to provide the voice for GIR.
The Nightmare Continues
In the wake of the cancellation of Invader ZIM, rumors swirled. Why did it end? What would have happened if it had continued, particularly now that Dib had captured Tak’s ship?
The show maintained a devoted following. The shelves at Hot Topic continued to stock Invader ZIM merchandise in the years that followed the show’s cancellation. The cast performed unfinished scripts at conventions to thunderous applause.
Then, in July 2015, the invasion continued with the release of Oni Press’s Invader ZIM ongoing comic series. The first issue reveals that ZIM has mysteriously vanished, and Dib has sequestered himself in his room, watching video monitors in anticipation of his inevitable, eventual return. The series featured issues that were written by Vasquez (he is the sole writer credited on issues five and twenty, and he co-wrote several other issues, including #1). Many other issues are written and co-written by Eric Trueheart, another writer on the original animated show, and Simons serves as color artist on many issues of the comic, as well.
In addition to stories that closely follow the tone and design of the original animated show, the comic also includes several one-shots and back-up comics that allow creators to put their own stylistic spin on the world of ZIM, with contributors like KC Green and Kyle Starks providing memorable entries. And thanks to the borderline-coherent screaming of the aptly named Recap Kid, who appears on the inside cover of each comic, readers can be assured that no matter what issue of ZIM they pick up, they’ll be able to follow the story.
But ZIM cannot be confined to mere panels printed on paper! Even with an ongoing comic, the Irken thirst to conquer all cannot be sated…
The Nightmare Continues (Some More)
Enter Invader ZIM: Enter the Florpus. After a somewhat fraught pre-release period – the movie was originally meant to air on Nickelodeon – Enter the Florpus was released on Netflix on August 16, 2019. The movie features breathtaking animation and color, with incredibly detailed shadows, reflections, and weather.
The story highlights one of the greatest thematic strengths of the original series: the fact that ZIM and Dib served as such excellent foils for one another. While ZIM is hellbent on getting validation from the Almighty Tallest, Dib is desperate for validation from his father, and the plot provides the opportunity relationship between Dib and his father Professor Membrane to be explored in more depth than it was in the original series.
While the movie wasn’t a direct adaption of the comic, there are some serious similarities between the first few issues and Enter the Florpus. The opening scenes of Enter the Florpus, including mealtime with Foodio 3000 (voiced by Justin Roiland onscreen) and the workout montage, are almost entirely identical to the scenes that open issue one of the Invader ZIM comic (right down to the dialogue).
There are plenty of other similarities, including the new outfit Gaz wears and the anger Tak’s ship displays about the fact that she’s forced to come into contact with human butts. However, the conclusion of ZIM’s return plays out very differently in Enter the Florpus than it does in issue two of the Invader ZIM comic. Plus, in the comic, Gaz is still playing her Game Slave 2, while onscreen, she’s upgraded to the Game Slave 4… I hear the updated vampire piggy graphics are incredible.
The Nightmare … Concludes?
Now that we’ve all watched Enter the Florpus until our eyeballs are nearly turned to jelly, it seems that the invasion has finally come to a conclusion, and Vasquez has likely returned to his secret hibernation facility beyond the outskirts of town. But with Netflix striking a deal with Nickelodeon to produce more streaming content, perhaps ZIM’s hopes for total conquest of the planet may still come to pass!
The original run of the Invader ZIM animated series is currently streaming on Hulu. Invader ZIM: Enter the Florpus is available for streaming on Netflix. And you can find individual issues and trade paperbacks of the Invader ZIM comic from Oni Press at your local comic book shop.
Disclaimer: The Beat is owned by Polarity, which also owns Oni Press.