I’ve been reviewing individual issues of Oni Press’s Invader Zim revival comic over the past few months and I’ve loved every issue I’ve read. This trade paperback is a collection of the first 5 issues of the series. So, putting on your thinking caps, can YOU predict what I think about this book?
While I’m sure you can all noodle that one out on your own, I’m paid by the word so let’s dig in a little deeper.
Invader Zim Vol. 1 (Oni Press)
With the book being overseen (and co-written) by Zim creator Jhonen Vasquez, it should come as little to no surprise that the comic reproduces the humor, storytelling and voice of the cartoon with almost uncanny results. Co-writer Eric Trueheart has the characters and feel of the universe as down pat as Vazquez-himself and there’s never any sort of tonal shift when they pass the baton back and forth. And tying it all together, you have Aaron Alexovich on art, channeling the aesthetic of the cartoon so fluidly you’re one audio track away from just watching new episodes of the show.
I’ve already reviewed the first three issues of the series individually: Invader Zim #1, Invader Zim #2 and Invader Zim #3. Alas, I missed out on issues 4 and 5, so this trade has come to the rescue in my darkest hour.
To recap, issues 1-2 reestablish the characters and setting from the Nickelodeon cartoon: Zim is an alien out to conquer the Earth for the Irkan Empire, Dib is a paranoid human child dedicated to foiling him, and there are also a bunch of other guys like Professor Membrane, Gir and Gaz, but you don’t need me to tell you about them. Chances are, if you’re interested in picking up this Invader Zim comic, then you’re already intimately acquainted with the cartoon series. Incidentally, I also reviewed that in a little piece called Invader Zim: How Does it Hold Up? on the off-chance you aren’t!
Issue 3 is a one-shot adventure that sees Zim try to conquer the Earth by tricking humanity into releasing a celestial equine that will mule-kick everyone off the planet. Everyone dies at the end, but it’s okay because they all get better by issue #4.
And that’s where the book reached the material I hadn’t read yet, so that’s where I’m going to get a bit more thorough.
In issue 4 (by Trueheart and Alexovich), the Tallest teleport some garbage to Zim, telling him that it’s a secret weapon he must keep safe. Zim grows increasingly paranoid as he imagines enemies invading his base, hellbent on stealing his “secret weapon”.
This story cast a fun spotlight on the Tallest, as they first insist that Zim must charge the “weapon” by enduring increasingly embarrassing and painful actions (throttling old ladies, jumping off balconies, boiling himself in grease, etc.). The Tallest are characters you sort of love to hate, as they’re the “greater evil” of the show, but they’re also really funny. As usual, Trueheart captures their voice and dynamic really well as they lazily and immaturely pursue their selfish goals. The story also ends with them receiving their comeuppance which they weren’t served as often as they deserved in the cartoon.
This issue has some relentless coloring mistakes in it, though. The colorist can’t seem to keep track of Tallest Red and Tallest Purple and they’re constantly switch sides of the page or receiving the wrong dialogue. The colorist also fails to make Gir red when he’s in duty mode. Nearly every issue of the series uses a different colorist and the one for issue 4 is probably the worst; I think one improvement the book could make is to hire a dedicated colorist to create consistency.
In issue 5 (by Vazquez and Alexovich), Gaz finally snaps when Dib ruins her latest MMORPG campaign. To get revenge, she drags him to an alternate reality where non-gamers are brutally tormented by being turned into avatars for terrible gamers within a VR simulator. Dib is then put through a gauntlet of pain and suffering as he’s controlled through numerous game scenarios.
Gaz was my least favorite character of the cartoon for reasons I articulated in that review I linked to five or six paragraphs ago. But to summarize: Her hatred of Dib never felt justified and she instead came off like a spoiled brat who valued her frivolous pastimes over Dib’s not-so-frivolous-but-certainly-annoying crusade. She received very little depth or development and I just couldn’t bring myself to like her.
Vazquez’s script for this issue is the Gaz/Dib episode we should’ve gotten in the first season of the cartoon to better establish their dynamic. In the cartoon, Dib’s pestering of Gaz came off like him trying to share his interests with her whilst remaining oblivious that she just didn’t care; it felt more good-natured than I think the writers intended. But here we see that Dib’s irritating prattle shows a selfishness on his part as he fails to respect her boundaries and appreciate her interests (or lack of interest in his interests). For once, Dib comes across as the bad guy in their relationship and his suffering at her hands at last feels justified.
Gaz gets a bit of a softening at the end of the story (a BIT), as she’s genuinely pleased when Dib asks to play video games with her, taking an interest in her hobby for a change (of course, she still throws him through a wall when he wins a round because this is not a sappy, happy-end sort of universe). It actually makes me realize that maybe Gaz HAD been trying throughout the cartoon more than I gave her credit for; she often joined Dib on his missions to thwart Zim whilst Dib never reciprocated the gesture by joining her in video games. Huh. Maybe Gaz wasn’t so awful. Maybe.
Of course, all that melodrama is wrapped up in a story packed to the brim with video game parodies both new and old and spanning every genre you can think of. Dib endures obvious thrashings in satires of Call of Duty, Minecraft or Mario Party, but there’s also weirder fare like Animal Crossing and Portal.
And of course, everyone’s favorite: Angry Turds.
And quite frankly, I’m just relieved to see a video game parody that isn’t stuck in 19fucking87; nothing but Pac-Man and Space Invader and Super Mario Bros. spoofs like the medium never made it past 8 stupid bits. There’s a good sampling of modern and classic gaming in this story and it’s refreshing. Alexovich nails the look of each parody, too, rendering the likenesses of the games through the prism of the Zim house style; they all look distinctly of another universe while still meshing with the aesthetic of the comic.
So yeah, there you go. If you’re a Zim fan but you don’t hit the comic shop on a monthly basis, then you’ll definitely want to snag this first volume. A few coloring hiccups aside, it’s pretty much perfect.