Zim (left) and GIR have been hiding for years. But they're back. [credit: Netflix / Nickelodeon ]
Of all the cartoon series produced by Nickelodeon in its decades of operation, none could have been more unlikely than Invader Zim. Creator Jhonen Vasquez had previously achieved cult fame and notoriety for producing two of the most twisted comic series of the late '90s, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Squee, full of gallons of black-and-white blood and utterly evil characters. Yep, that's a perfect fit for one of the biggest children's networks of all time.
That the series aired for a full year on Nickelodeon, packed full of dark comedy and sneering satire of complacent mainstream culture, is as baffling now as it was then. But that surprise has nothing to do with the series' inherent preteen-friendliness. Above all, Invader Zim worked because its wiry alien fingers tapped directly into the nonconformist weirdo tendencies that lurk in growing children. It respected the instincts of preteens—and understood their equal desires to feel smugly superior to authority while also acting as immaturely as possible. This concept wrapped deftly around a universe where one alien had sneaked onto the planet Earth—with the Vasquez twist that nobody other than the two main characters (the alien, Zim, and his Mulder-like rival, Dib) gave a damn.
This balanced juggling of topics—of maniacally cackling teen aliens, galactic-stakes battles over the universe, and bulbous creatures who both roll around in and vomit entire pizza pies—is not an easy thing to pull off. Thank the Almighty Tallest, then, that Invader Zim's return this week on Netflix is not a lazy cash-in on catch phrases or previous episodes. Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus may rank as Netflix's most impressive nostalgia rebirth to date.