Back when I did a retrospective on the Invader Zim cartoon I didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about Gaz. She wasn’t very nuanced in the show and always rubbed off as a spoiled brat clad in plot armor. The idea seemed that she was supposed to be some force of evil incarnate and she frequently showed no interest in whether her own brother, Dib, lived or died. Hell, in some episodes she seemed to encourage his untimely end.
Oni’s Invader Zim comic, on the other hand, has been making great strides in fleshing out Gaz into something of a likeable character with flaws and the faintest whisper of a beating heart. Issue #14 is the latest Gaz-centric story and does the best job of it yet.
Invader Zim #14 (Oni Press)
In this adventure, Zim breaks both of his legs and has to sit the plot out. In his absence, we have Gaz and Dib. Dib is going to explode and Gaz… kinda doesn’t want him to. The only way to keep the nano-machines in his head from killing him instantaneously is for Gaz to keep Dib happy for 11 hours. Gaz’s meagerly altruistic endeavor will inevitably lead to the most feared cryptid of them all: Squishquatch. And, like, a hundred other types of Squatches.
Eric Trueheart works a great balancing act on Gaz with this issue that’s been absent in most of her other appearances. She wants to go to Bloaty’s Pizza Hog for family dinner with Professor Membrane, but it’s Dib’s turn to choose the restaurant and she needs to get him to pick the place she wants. So there’s that element of selfishness that was at the core of her character in the cartoon. But then there’s the plot about Dib having accidentally imbibed nano-machines that will make him explode if he gets sad (which Gaz inadvertently fed to him). Gaz’s desire to keep Dib from exploding is portrayed as equal parts selfishness and an actual honest-to-gosh desire not to see her brother die in flames. It’s the closest she’s ever come to displaying even a smidgen of humanity, but it’s better than nothing. I mean, Zim is a very cynical universe that doesn’t lower itself to anything saccharine, I get that, so this is about as sweet as it gets. “When forced to make a choice, Gaz will reluctantly keep her brother from dying”. It’s so beautiful it might make you weep.
What we get is the improbable circumstance where Gaz has to be nice to Dib throughout the story by going on one of his idiotic paranormal investigations. So you get a scenario where Gaz has to act out of character and a good helping of humor is derived from Wucinich’s visuals, as he draws Gaz physically tormented with every syllable of encouragement she’s forced to utter in Dib’s defense. It’s fun to see a character so frequently portrayed as untouchable have to undergo a series of misfortunes, kind of like those occasional Bugs Bunny cartoons where he didn’t come out on top for a change.
While the plot is an almost stock idea on the surface, helping it along is the string of Squatch-related creatures Dib and Gaz pursue through the woods, each more baffling than the last. Ultimately, we a get a peek at Crotchsquatch and that’s a cryptid I don’t think anyone’s ever gonna top. So yeah, while “extenuating circumstances forces a character to be nice to someone they hate” is a bit of a cliché, it’s still done in that Zim-style that makes it utterly bonkers and hilarious. I’ll take it.
We get another back-up story in this one, “Ghost Aggressors” by Megan Lawton. It features Dib trying to stir up spooks in an old mansion, and although it leads into a dry punchline, the art style is cute. While I’m glad the main story sticks to a faithful Vasquez-based aesthetic, it’s been neat seeing the characters rendered in more unusual styles for these guest back-ups.
Anyhow, I’ve found the Gaz-centric issues of Oni’s Zim book to be some of their best stories, really turning me around on a character I disliked from the cartoon. Yes, she’s more vulnerable than her animated incarnation, but giving her flaws and an even rudimentary moral compass has made her leagues more tolerable.