Definitely not for the very young, Invader Zim almost immediately rose to the level of cult classic. Zim has come to conquer Earth and he's serious about impressing his Irken leaders with his planet-conquering skills. Drawn in a very edgy, angular fashion, the animated cartoon show depicts the alien Irken race as fairly stupid, although the humans are even more so most of the time.
You can watch the shows in almost any order, although starting at the beginning will help you get a good idea of why he was sent to Earth, and why he is having so much trouble with his personal 'robot', Gir, and the human boy, Dib Membrane.
A typical Invader Zim show will consist of two 15-minute episodes, interrupted here and there by advert-hackers breaking in to push their wares. Each will normally consist of the lead protagonist and antagonist (hard to tell which is which) trying to outsmart each other, although a good number of the shows go in a different direction entirely.
Because Zim has determined that the best place to gather information about this planet that he intends to conquer is the local public 'Skool' (the name emblazoned on the front of the school), and because Zim is short enough to be a student, many of the episodes take place in or around the school and Zim is regularly forced to interact with the 'filthy, human ech...ugh...erk...scum!'
The Nightmare Begins...
Invader Zim is a clueless, green, eccentric alien soldier from the planet Irk. He's regularly given to evil, maniacal laughter and he's also short; this will be important later. Zim was banished for life from the Irken Empire after nearly destroying his home planet and for being the sole reason for the failure of Operation Impending Doom One.
After begging his superiors, the Almighty Tallest, for a chance at Operation Impending Doom Two, the leaders decide to get rid of him once and for all. They trick Zim into going on a 'secret mission' to an unidentified (and they assume, non-existent) planet represented only by a yellow sticky with a (?) at the edge of the map, in the hopes that he'll die along the way. But, as luck would have it, such a planet turns out to actually exist, with the unlikely name of Earth.
The Tallest's plans backfire when Zim safely reaches Earth and begins his conquest of it. He disguises himself as a normal, green, human boy with no ears ('It's a... skin condition!'), and now the only person who can stop him is one earth kid, Dib, a mildly insane, would-be paranormal researcher, who sees straight through Zim's disguise and is intent on stopping his reign of terror and doom.
Invader Zim is the brainchild of a scary human man, Johnen Vasquez, who first became famous with his comic-book series of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and even more so with his spin-off characters: Squee, JTHM's nextdoor neighbour1.
Zim was Johnen's first foray into cartoon animation at the express invitation of Nickelodeon, a move which has confused him ever since. He created Zim with the help of director Steve Ressel, co-writer Rob Hummel, Roman Dirge (Creator of the Lenore series of comics), Inkslinger Rosarik Rikki Simmons, Illustrator Tavisha Wolfgarth-Simons, Musician Kevin Manthei and... some other people. It first came to air on Nickelodeon's NickToon's channel, on 30 March, 2001.
Apart from the trailer and the unaired pilot, the episodes currently known are:
- The Nightmare Begins
- Parent Teacher Night
- Walk of Doom
- Dark Harvest
- Bestest Friend
- Attack of the Saucer Morons
- The Wettening
- Career Day
- A Room with a Moose
- Invasion of the Idiot Dog Brain
- Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy
- Planet Jackers
- Rise of the Zitboy
- Plague of Babies
- Bloaty's Pizza Hog
- Balognius Maximus
- Game Slave Two
- Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom
- Door to Door
- The Most Horrible Christmas Ever
- FBI Warning of Doom
- Mysterious Mysteries
- Future Dib
- Battle of the Planets
- The Sad, Sad Tale of Chickenfoot
- Mortos, der Soul Stealer
- Tak, the Hideous New Girl
- Zim Eats Waffles
- Gir Goes Crazy and Stuff
- Dib's Wonderful Life of Doom
- Hobo 13
- Walk For Your Lives
- The Frycook What Came From All That Space
- Backseat Drivers From Beyond The Stars
- The Girl Who Cried Gnome
- The Voting of the Doomed
- Dibship Rising
- Gaz, Taster of Pork
Apparently, after this point, Johnen Vasquez left the production team and a Korean man took over his position.
Zim was trained, soon after his hatching, as an Irken soldier on his home planet of Irk. His training was rigourous and disciplined, and he was taught to obey all Irkens taller than he - especially the Almighty Tallest. Apparently, another thing he took away from the training was to use and/or sacrifice anyone and anything for his own betterment.
After the complete failure of Operation Impending Doom One - entirely Zim's fault - Zim was banished to work as a food-slave on the planet of Foodcourtia for life. When he heard about Operation Impending Doom Two, he quit his 'slave' position (Tallest: 'You quit being banished!?') and returned to the planet Conventia, where the Great Assigning was taking place.
The Almighty Tallest, unable to placate Zim's desire for conquest with a sandwich, decided to send him to a mystery planet, Earth, and hopefully to his doom. Instead, Zim lands unscathed and, with the help of his robot companion Gir, begins his mission to conquer and enslave planet Earth.
Like all Irkens, Zim's skin is sensitive to raw meat, most liquids (including water and rain) and barbecue sauce.
Usually the most-loved character of the Invader Zim cast, Gir provides much of the off-beat humour of the show with his nonsensical asides. Instead of the classical SIR2 robot units used by the other invaders, Gir was created especially (and haphazardly) by the Almighty Tallest for use in Zim's Top Secret mission.
Gir: 'Gir, reporting for duty!'
Zim: 'Gir? What's the G stand for?'
Gir: (pause) 'I... don't... know.'
Gir is insane - which probably has something to do with the paper clips and half-eaten chewing gum he has for brains - but he likes monkeys, cheese, and drinking through straws. He especially likes watching the Scary Monkey Show and he loves singing. Frankly, any screen showing even static will often coax a 'That's my favourite show!' out of Gir.
Gir disguises himself as a dog when he might be seen in public with Zim, or if he goes to a disco. The dog suit, however, has such crudely-sewn seams that he tends to look more like an animated stuffed toy.
The Almighty Tallest
To the Irken mind, the taller an Irken is, the smarter and more powerful he is. Since the Almighty Tallest are the two joint-tallest Irkens in the universe, they are the most powerful rulers as well. They control the entire Spaceship Armada, known as the Irken Massive, and they like confectionery. In fact, they like all snacks. And puppets; they really like puppets. They seem unable to grasp the concept that any species' members can be tall and stupid at the same time. Likewise, they become embarrassed any time a short Irken distinguishes themselves. When this happens, they've taken to re-writing the history of events and/or renaming soldiers, to preserve the 'taller=superior' concept.
Dib is the only human3 that seems to notice that Zim has green skin, no nose, no ears (Zim: 'Of course I'm human! See my neck?') Later in the series he sees Zim without his human-boy toupee and human-boy contact lenses and sees Zim's antennae, and pink eyes. He is just so paranoid, and wants so bad to be a paranormal investigator, that he knows an alien when he sees one. Unfortunately for him, all the other kids in his class - and the possibly alien teacher, Miss Bitters - think he's crazy ('Remember that time he thought he saw bigfoot in his garage?!'), so they take no notice.
Dib's father. Professor Membrane is the world's leading scientist, and as such is very busy, so doesn't spend much time with his kids. But he's there in automata, if not in person. So that's okay ('He won't serve us dinner until you enter your acceptance code.') He loathes Santa Claus and loves toast.
Gaz is Dib's sister, and Professor Membrane's other child. She doesn't like Dib much, especially when he drinks the last soda or, worse, eats the last slice of pizza! She likes to play portable video games, going to extreme measures to ensure she has the latest one, as seen in the episode 'Game Slave Two'.
The teacher of the class in which Zim and Dib are fellow students. She is unable to survive for very long in sunlight. Miss Bitters prepares her students for life by clearly and unequivocally describing the futility of their efforts and likely futures. She will regularly treat her charges with absolutely no care for their safety, but seems no happier for it.
There are times, though, when she spares them some of the uglier details of life's dark secrets:
Dib: 'Miss Bitters, I've heard that people used to give each other flowers and candy for Valentine's Day; why did it change to exchanging meat?'
Miss Bitters: 'Just don't ask!'
Keef is a fellow classmate of Zim and Dib's who was temporarily elected through trials and tests to be Zim's bestest friend, long enough to allay any suspicions about Zim's humanness. Unfortunately, Keef couldn't understand the eventual rejection and Zim chose to change his perspective to believe that a squirrel was Zim.
Sizz-Lorr is the frylord responsible for Zim's containment in the fast-food store 'Shloogorgh's Flavor Monster', on the snacking planet of Foodcourtia, after Zim's banishment there. After Zim escaped, Sizz-Lorr was trapped without a serving assistant for the entirety of The Great Foodening - Foodcourtia's most horrible food rush. Due to the gravitational pull of all that snacking, it's impossible for anything to leave the planet for twenty years.
Zim : 'Twenty years?! But I haven't been gone that long!'
Sizz-Lorr: 'Uh... there's a time-warp thing involved... I dunno.'
He then hunted Zim down for recapture, as seen in the episode 'The Frycook What Came From All That Space.'
First introduced in the episode 'Tak - the hideous new girl', the new girl in Miss Bitters' class soon turns out to be an Irken invader as well. Her purpose in life was destroyed when Zim obliterated Operation Impending Doom, and to make matters worse he accidentally locked her in a training pod for ten years when he kicked over a snack-dispenser.
Along with her SIR unit, in its slick, cyber-cat-looking outfit, she takes on Zim, first torturing him by regularly covering him with meat or barbecue sauce (like acid to Irken skin), then - after revealing her true identity - by trying to destroy him and the planet Earth to prove her superiority.
Another Irken invader, Lurt was originally assigned to planet Blortch, home of the slaughtering rat people, for Operation Impending Doom Two, but because of a growth spurt was reassigned to planet Vort, home of the universe's most comfortable couch. He also had the misfortune to be assigned to the planet Hobo 13 for extra training at the same time Zim was.
A creature of pure headache, who was also assigned to Hobo 13 with Zim.
For Operation Impending Doom Two, was assigned to planet Blortch due to his height.
A repeating theme is a bee - plump, smiling, yellow and black-striped - that shows up from time to time, always endangering Zim and his plans. It is one thing about which Zim has become increasingly paranoid.