Running Time: 225 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR, but let's say PG
Format: Standard 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Languages: English
Subtitles: Irken
Region: 1
MSRP: $24.95

Own It!
Invader Zim Vol. 1:
Doom Doom Doom (2001)

The Nickelodeon cable network has a bit of a reputation for hosting edgy animation series which summarily get tampered out of existence. The first firestorm was over taking the gross but ridiculously entertaining Ren and Stimpy from creator John Kricfalusi; it's more than a little odd, then, that Invader Zim ever saw the light of day, created as it is by Jhonen Vasquez, a comic artist whose biggest success was a little thing called Johnny the Homicidal Maniac (and the Eisner-winning Squee, but Vasquez seems more or less synonomous with Johnny).

The setup is Mork and Mindy seen through a cracked glass: the Irken Empire, engaged in its usual galactic conquest, has a problem, and it's named Zim. Zim is not only rather stupid, he is also incredibly enthusiastic - in his last assignment, he couldn't wait to start his giant robot rampaging, and trashed half his home world. In an effort to get rid of him, the Almighty Tallest send him and a defective robot servant to a faraway planet on a hastily improvised spy mission. That planet ( ---wait for it!---) is Earth.

This is, needless to say, a formula for hilarity. What seemed to surprise Nick was the very dark nature of the resulting hilarity. Zim disguises himself - poorly - as an Earth kid to better learn about our ways. His chief nemesis is Dib, a young Art Bell wannabe and the son of a mad scientist. One of the many things the series gets right is the amount of scorn and sheer hatred loaded on Dib for simply being different - perhaps hitting too close to home for some viewers.

In any case, perhaps due to this darkness - and the fact that the series simply puzzled a whole lot of kids - led Nick to limit its show times, often simply vanishing from the schedule altogether. This only served to harden its status as a cult item.

This initial volume in a series from Media Blaster's Anime Works label presents the first nine half-hour episodes, a total of seventeen toons (The first episode, The Nightmare Begins, is the only half-hour story). The collection offers some classics and fanboy favorites:

  • Dark Harvest actually enters the realm of scary as Zim starts harvesting organs from his classmates in order to better pass as human. ("What a nice boy! And such plentiful organs!")
  • Planet Jackers casts Zim in the role of action hero, as the planet Earth is stolen by another alien race to drop into their dying sun as a sort of stellar kindling. There is some impressive 3-D work on display here, identified in the commentary as "chewing up our 3-D budget for six episodes."
  • Rise of the Zit Boy bears a writing credit by Mystery Science Theater 3000's Frank Coniff, and involves Zim developing an enormous pimple with hypnotic powers.
  • Hamstergeddon tells how Zim plans to take over Earth utilizing the inherent cuteness of the class pet, a hamster named Peepi. Naturally, this involves growing Peepi to a gigantic size, complete with Godzilla back spikes and radioactive breath.

Volume 2 is due to be released in late August of this year.

Licensing the original elements from Nickelodeon results in a lovely transfer. Since Zim made use of quite a bit of 3-D animation, chances are good the end product never left the digital realm, anyway. Many thanks to Media Blasters for resisting the temptation for cutesy clips or sound bites in the menus.

Man, I never thought I would thank a publisher for not doing extra work.

Any complaints I have after those two compliments seem merely grouchy or whiny. The Media Blasters logo intro seems just plain too long (but you can skip past it). The two disc packaging employs hub locks that seem destined to break, and don't really leave the pack-in chapter guide a place to comfortably live. I had similar complaints about the packaging for Versus, though this is nowhere near as egregious.

Yep, grouchy and whiny.

There are some memorably odd extras here: one-joke entries like subtitles in Zim's native Irken and the pig commentary track on Bad Bad Rubber Piggie are good for perhaps thirty seconds, and then you're going to want to experience something less annoying (rather reminiscent of the Thermian soundtrack in Galaxy Quest).

Those are exceptions, however. Twelve of the seventeen toons have audio commentary by Vasquez and various production personnel and voice talents. These are more like bull sessions than scholarly exercises, full of trash talk and digressions, but never straying too far from the subject at hand. These are mainly useful as a rosetta stone for the various cameos throughout the series, and occasional glimpses into the trials of producing a cartoon series for a major network.

Fourteen toons also have streaming animatics (basically storyboards), accessible by use of the angle function. One small warning: some machines will display an angle icon in the corner of the screen at all times, which can be distracting. I auditioned the discs on four players, and only one - the cheapest - had that problem.

There is, additionally, a thirteen minute Interview with the Voice Actors, and no, none of them look like you'd expect; and the original pilot (which also has commentary by Vasquez and company). The pilot has its points, but is mostly notable as a gauge as to how far the series would develop. Also surprising is the less effective Zim voice work by veteran voice actor Billy West, better known as Stimpy and Fry on Futurama (from the commentary track: "It was decided his voice was too familiar." "To translate for you folks at home, that means it was all down to cost.").

Dr. Freex, 5/11/2004