It’s hard losing a beloved show to the treacherous wiles of TV execs, but in this beautiful golden age of fandom revivals are possible like never before and one of the ways a series is most likely to achieve its dreams of new life is through comics. There are some dangers, however. How are fans to know if a revival comic will live up to their wildest dreams?
Well a twelve-year gap between the show’s cancellation and the launch of a comic isn’t itself a reason for optimism, but involvement from the original creative team is always a good sign. Well, almost always… unless that creator has publicly stated his frustration with the franchise, told the fans to move on, and stated that the main-character died a painful and meaningless death. Oh…
To hope, and hope I did, for the Jhonen Vasquez written Invader Zim #1 to live up to all of my cherished middle school memories, or at least not actively and intentionally punish me for that hope, seemed like more than one could ask for…
And yet Invader Zim is back!
Honestly I don’t even know where to begin talking about this issue so I’ll just start at the beginning, with one of the strangest and yet most effective elements of this book: there’s a cast list! Not credits, a cast list – a voice cast list! It’s really weird to see Richard Horvitz credited as Zim when, as you may know, there’s no sound in this comic, however it’s perfect because, whether because of this choice or not, it’s nearly impossible not to hear Horvitz’s dulcet tones. Loved and hated by various contingents, Invader Zim featured a remarkably specific way of speaking and Vasquez’s script positively smacks you upside the head with how much you remember it. A faint recollection is all it takes, as clever bolding and font sizes replicate the speech patterns of the characters admirably. There are even moments where you can practically hear the sound effects, a horrified trill signified by a star burst pattern or some motion blur.
Of course none of this would work if the characters didn’t feel like themselves, and they definitely do. The humor that you were almost convinced was just your adolescent love of the loud and the ‘random’ comes barreling back, as madcap and witty as you remember. In fact, while the existence of the show helps to fill in many gaps for this issue, the comic format is actually a great fit for Zim. Obviously Vasquez is finally free from Nickelodeon’s meddling, allowing the series to be darker, smarter, and less formulaic, but just as much, if not more, it’s the ability to indulge in wordiness and punctuate repeated images. Zim always seemed to coil, slowly tightening until it erupted in a burst of sudden movement, how perfect for the comic format!?
The incredible attention to pace is one of this comic’s greatest strengths and it really takes the entire creative team to bring it to fruition. Aaron Alexovich’s layouts play a particularly vital role in this, as he makes expert use of small and repeating panels to give the story its distinctive comedic timing. The letters are also a far more active participant than usual, not merely limited to their balloons but free to explore other avenues of extremity on their own, whether that be Dib’s desperate floating dialogue or the Harley Quinn-esque labels that pop up from time to time.
Jhonen Vasquez was famously opposed to the unnatural emphasis Nickelodeon placed on Zim’s Skool-adventures and, true to form, it’s nowhere to be found here. Indeed, free from those who would argue that children aren’t interested in space travel as much as ‘relatable’ school-day woes, Vasquez seems to be taking the franchise down some of the paths that the never realized Season 3 would have trod. It’s lovely to finally see Dib take the fight for Earth to space, but Vasquez wisely avoids giving us a dusted off script from 2002. In fact, the meta-commentary is some of the funniest stuff in this issue. Vasquez swiftly and naturally works Zim’s long hibernation into the plot while taking some good-natured swipes at the most overzealous fans. The plot doesn’t really go anywhere, with this issue being largely devoted to setting up the new situation before reverting back to the status quo, but there is some set up that should be enough to get readers intrigued. Besides, it’s a really fun way to get back to normal.
I also have to say that Zim’s humor has evolved a little bit since the show went off the air. The jokes still feel like Zim, but it’s clearly 2015’s Zim. And really, that’s the success of this comic. It’s easy to try to preserve the cult classics of our youth in amber, but Vasquez and co. go the extra mile and revitalize this property, like some strange, Irken Jurassic Park.
The art is a faithful replica of the show’s distinctive style. Clearly the creative team saw no reason to fix what wasn’t broken, though every here and there some new artistic flourishes zip in, to good effect. There’s an awareness of the audience that wasn’t necessarily there in the series, appropriate for the age of irony. The quality and detail of the images are naturally better than what was possible in animation and the colors looks unsurprisingly great, considering that there’s a three person color team, including original series colorist Rikki Simons.
People were going to be excited about more Invader Zim no matter what, that’s just a fact, but what we got is so much more than I expected. Invader Zim #1 has fun with the series’ long hibernation, but steps back into the thick of things as if an episode aired last week. Free from network constraints, with ten years of hindsight to guide him, and under pressure from the change of format, Jhonen Vasquez’s humor shines, delivering gags that can stand up against even the most rose-tinted memories of the original.
Obviously a comedy book will be subjective in quality and, without the original series to reference, many of the jokes won’t land quite so strongly, but it’s a worthy successor. With perfect comedic timing and a creative team that’s working together brilliantly, Invader Zim triumphantly takes flight once again, ready to rain doom down upon our miserable fleshy doomed heads.