There are cartoons that you simply remember fondly from your youth and then there are cartoons that still make you happy long after you’ve left childhood behind. Invader Zim is the latter. As you’ve probably heard by now, due to a large portion of the interent freaking out about it, Zim is coming back for a 90-minute TV movie.
In case you somehow missed the show and don’t understand the fuss, here’s a primer: Once upon a time, around the turn of the millennium, Nickelodeon decided they needed a cartoon for a slightly older demographic. They wanted to bring back the tweens and teens who’d left their network behind after elementary school. To hook them, they went to Jhonen Vasquez, already an idol among weird kids everywhere for his indie comic Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Vasquez toned down the mature content found in his comics but kept the weirdness; what came of that Zim.
Voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz, Zim is, as the title of the show suggests, an invading alien, sent to Earth because the rulers of his race just wanted to get him out of the way while they did some real invading. They ditched him on our world and told him to gather intelligence for an invasion they never planned to carry out. What Zim lacks in actual intelligence and maturity he makes up for in passion, and so he sets out to infiltrate human life as an ordinary school kid, with the help of his constantly malfunctioning robot assistant GIR (Rosearik Rikki Simons), who enjoys yellng about tacos and singing to himself. GIR, just so you know, is the best.
Zim’s goal is to blend in, something he’s bad enough at on his own, but there’s another big hurlde in his way: Dib (Andy Berman), a young paranormal investigator who is both the weirdest kid in school and the only one who suspects Zim’s true nature. Dib is obsessed with the paranormal, so much so that he considers his investigations to be a persnal quest of supreme importance—giving him a passion that basically equals Zim’s. Like Zim, no one cares that he’s doing it, including his cynical sister Gaz (Melissa Fahn) and his science hero father, Professor Membrane (Rodger Bumpass). So the show effectively becomes a story about the two weirdest kids in scool staging a secret war while everyone around them is oblivious.
Why does this show merit an internet freakout, and why does said freakout extend beyond the walls of your local Hot Topic? Well, though it only ran for two seasons, Invader Zim has long since joined the ranks of shows with a weird specificity, like David Milch’s John from Cincinnati and Joss Whedon’s Firefly, that burned bright for a short period while attracting a devoted, if small, initial audience. After its cancellation, Zim kept bubbling up in pop culture. It became one of those shows shared among teenagers across America with a “You need to see this!” urgency, as if it contains some secret knowledge. In a way, it does.
Though it initially hooks viewers with a bizarre display of spaceships, aliens and a house that grows legs and runs through a town like an enthusiastic dog, Invader Zim ultimately strikes at the heart of what it means to be the weird kid in the room. Both Zim and Dib are bullied, rejected and mocked for their devotion to things others just don’t get. Any teen, or adult for that matter, who’s still reading Spider-Man comics, or watching My Little Pony can certainly relate to it. Despite their outsider status, Zim and Dib prove time and time again that their lives are kinda awesome, full of secrets and gadgets and strange alien plots that give them adventures the other kids couldn’t dream of. Invader Zim’s message, however buried it might be in the joke-a-second dialogue, is that being the weird kid is hard, but it’s also better. Hence the reason the internet just lost its mind for the show’s return more than a decade after the last episode aired.
Invader Zim will be back, with Vasquez and the original voice cast on board, in the near future. Here’s the announcement trailer: