April 5, 2001
By Franklin Harris
I can spot trends just as they're getting started. All I need do is examine the server logs for my Web site.
Two magic words, tucked away in a few paragraphs I wrote a year ago, are serving as signposts, popping up in search engines and attracting weary travelers from up and down the Information Highway.
Those words are: "Invader Zim."
If the number of hits my Web site is getting is any indication, "Invader Zim" is about to strike it big.
"Invader Zim," the cartoon from comic-book writer/artist Jhonen Vasquez, finally made its long-anticipated debut on Nickelodeon last weekend.
Its regular time slot is Fridays at 8 p.m. Central.
Fans of Vasquez's comics will find "Invader Zim" somewhat familiar territory, featuring Vasquez's signature character designs and a cast in the grip of a perpetual sugar buzz.
The difference is that while Vasquez's comics, like "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac" and "I Feel Sick," are strictly for adults, "Invader Zim" is suitable for all ages.
"Invader Zim" is frantic, hyperspeed insanity, making it easily the most daring cartoon on Nickelodeon since the early days of "Ren and Stimpy." (We won't talk about the sad, latter days of "Ren and Stimpy.")
This isn't "Rugrats."
The story revolves around Zim, a diminutive and probably psychotic extraterrestrial with delusions of grandeur.
His entire race, the Irk, lives only to conquer, but, lucky for the rest of the galaxy, they don't seem particularly good at it, no thanks to Zim.
In the premiere episode, "The Nightmare Begins," we learn that Zim once ruined one of the Irk's invasion schemes by starting his destructive rampage before leaving home.
To get the overeager Zim out of their hair -- metaphorically speaking, as the Irk don't actually have hair -- the Irk's leaders, called the Almighty Tallest because they are taller than everyone else, send him on a bogus mission to size up an unknown and insignificant planet for conquest.
The planet, of course, is Earth.
To make matters worse for Zim, who doesn't suspect that the Almighty Tallest are just trying to get rid of him, he is saddled with a near useless robotic assistant made of spare parts.
In the episode's funniest scene, the robot, GIR, spends the months-long journey to Earth singing "The Doom Song."
So that you will recognize it when your children sing it, "The Doom Song" goes something like this: "Doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom . . ."
Catchy, isn't it?
On Earth, Zim tries to blend in by assuming the identity of an ordinary elementary-school student. Contact lenses and an Elvis-style pompadour wig help, but Zim doesn't bother to disguise his green skin and lack of ears, neither of which anyone seems to notice.
Well, almost anyone.
One student, Dib, is on to Zim, but he is the class outcast, so no one believes him when he tries to expose Zim as an alien invader.
I'm sure Roy Thinnes can sympathize.
The supporting cast is equally dysfunctional. Zim and Dib's schoolteacher is apocalyptic. Dib's sister, Gaz, is unsupportive. And the aforementioned GIR is afflicted with attention deficit disorder.
(And what is up with all the three-letter names: Zim, Irk, Dib, GIR, Gaz? This means something. I'm sure of it.)
If "Invader Zim" consistently delivers the manic energy of the first episode, Nickelodeon will have another breakout hit on its hands. But it will be one that, unlike "Rugrats" and in the tradition of Cartoon Network's "Powerpuff Girls," has a bit of a satirical edge, making it as much fun for adults as it is for the youngsters.
Meanwhile, adults interested in checking out Vasquez's comic books can consult www.slavelabor.com.