The thing that I think has impressed me most about Oni Press’ Invader Zim is how much they cram into an issue. The density of ideas, of comedy, is actually rather staggering. Whether it’s the result of the smaller panel size or intelligent writing or the particular cadence of Invader Zim you’re definitely getting more of what you want out of an Invader Zim story from this comic than what you’d want from an X-Men story in a typical issue of Uncanny. This feature is especially present in a single issue story like this one.
After handling the first issue himself, Jhonen Vasquez has slowly pulled back, leaving him credited on this issue as contributing “additional dialogue”. That’s at once comforting and worrisome, or at least it would be if the man taking the reins weren’t Eric Trueheart. Yes, we have another classic Zim writer at the helm and his connection to the series is clearly no worse for wear.
As last month, GIR is used sparingly and, though Tak and Dib made a fierce double act, this show belongs to Zim. Trueheart and Vasquez imbue the tiny alien with all the force of Richard Horvitz’s distinctive performance. The story is appropriately loud, especially for text, but some of the best moments are the quieter ones, where the mundane and the bizarre overlap. On the other hand, an unusually energetic Gaz gets one of the more unique bits of this month. While Zim and Gaz lead Dib through the story, this issue leans most on the moronic masses that surround all of them.
The creators of Zim were famously tired of Nickelodeon’s insistence on pushing the Skool setting, but while last month finally allowed fans a canonical glimpse of a spacefaring Dib, issue #3 proves that there’s plenty of potential closer to home. Strange as it may sound, it’s the art world that hosts this latest adventure. Indeed, Zim has discovered a method to summon an eldritch ungulate to do his bidding and has determined to pass the altar off as an art installation. The jabs at the pomposity of modern art are not especially topical, probably skewering a thirty+ year old stereotype as much as any modern reality, but they are funny and wholly in keeping with the world that Zim has always inhabited.
Zim’s adoring public are delightful, woefully stupid but just real enough to avoid feeling like an easy laugh. While they often don’t get names you usually know their voice and far more of who they are than the average crowd filler. Even better are Zim’s attempts to live up to his own myth, equal parts near exposures and sincere small talk.
The jokes are fired at a rapid pace. Often a page will end with a trio of small panels tucked into the bottom and these are almost universally fun. The speed with which the writers will duck away for a strange tangent and back almost recalls the snapping animation of the television series.
The issue does have something of a brick joke in the form of Zim’s artiste-isms, but a couple of them will make you smile. We also get a couple of lines that are trying just a little too hard, but there are a lot of winning jokes in here and only a couple fizzle.
Aaron Alexovich continues to deliver a fantastically faithful rendering of Zim’s distinctive art style without giving up the ability to put his own spin on it. The new designs for Zim are huge successes. Simple as it is, the cloaked Zim captures the spirit of mystery and wonder that the story is looking for. Zim’s new disguise is oddly effective as well, at once more and less human than his standard skool costume. It’s a shame that it’s so closely tied to this scheme, as I’d be happy to see it again. Speaking of Zim, his head is looking a little stretched out in several of Alexovich’s panels, but while it can feel off at first, the effect is actually rather quite nice.
Even more impressive than his work with the Invader Zim art style is Alexovich’s storytelling. Page designs are varied and smart, shifting with the needs of the plot or the gag. Just on a level of syntax, Invader Zim doesn’t read like your average comic. The panels aren’t afraid to be small or similar or irregular in shape. Looking at these images in a purely visual sense, I admit that some of them are a little too similar, but while I can’t completely deny that criticism, Alexovich has a strong handle of pace and timing that transforms the minor tweaks of one panel to the next into effective comedic storytelling. I could spend more time trying to put it perfectly into words, but, like much humor, you really need to be there. It reads like a dream, if a fevered one.
Little touches like the pixelation on GIR’s eyes as he translates or the peculiar beauty of the Star Donkey round out another strong issue.
With this third issue, Invader Zim proves that its triumphant opening was no fluke and that there is much greatness and much strangeness yet to come. Eric Trueheart gives us a great, simple plot that allows the story to grow all manner of hilarious tangents. Between he and Aaron Alexovich, the comedic timing is brilliant. If you get tired of Zim’s artist schtick or are generally immune to the series’ charms, this issue could get tiresome, but I expect that the vast majority of readers will find a side-splitting and sharply crafted new story within these pages.