In many ways, Invader Zim heralded the end of the golden age of darker kids’ shows that graced the world during the grungy ’90s. It was cancelled after only two seasons, despite being praised by critics and audiences, and having a TV movie planned. But its legacy of DOOM still lives on, and it is often voted as one of Nickelodeon’s best shows ever.
Yet the smallest green alien still managed to push the boundaries of what is acceptable in children’s television. The most horrific episode of course being Dark Harvest in which Zim steals the organs of his classmates and implants them into his own body to seem more ‘human’ (which is honestly a little tame compared to Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Zim creator, Jhonen Vasquez – and if you love Invader Zim you should absolutely read it).
I used to believe Invader Zim was cancelled because it arrived too late on the scene to bank on the popularity of the darker and more cynical shows for kids and young adults that preceded it. But looking back now, Zim could only ever have arrived in the early 2000s when the optimism of the new millennium was being embraced everywhere but the grit of ’90s was still on the soles of our shoes.
Zim himself, despite being a creature of evil with access to an arsenal of fearsome technology, was an energetic kid who is excited to impress his Tallest. And his nemeses, Dib, had a love for the supernatural that couldn’t be quashed by a town that ignored or just plain hated him for it (no matter how many times Dib saved them). Even Zim and Dib’s sidekicks reflect this dichotomy. Gaz would tear you apart if you tried to interrupt her gaming session. And Gir, voiced by Supanova alumnus Rikki Simons, dresses up as an adorable puppy and is almost always excitable and energetic, despite being a robot capable of destroying cities.
It’s easy to think that Zim shows that no matter how enthusiastic you are, no matter how good or evil, your plans will fail or everyone will still resent you; but that never stops Dib from doing (or trying to do) the right thing, and never stops Zim from attempting to conquer and destroy. And you know what? Sometimes Zim succeeded. He actually managed to annihilate the city with a giant, happy water balloon. So, if there’s anything The Wettening taught us, it’s that no matter how many times you fail, you’ll eventually win.
And yes, 2019’s Enter the Florpus is decidedly less dark — from the storyline, down to the brighter colour palette and smoother art style. This was a somewhat intentional move by Vasquez as he wanted to create something he’d want to see now and not just make it dark for the sake of being dark.
“A thing I really didn’t want to do was make the movie about nostalgia,” the Supanova alum told CBR prior to the release of Florpus. “Ideas like ‘dark’ don’t so much factor into why or how we make the show so much as this is the kind of stuff we thought was funny even while recognizing how awful a lot of it is.”
After all, in Florpus, Zim’s diabolical plan involves hijacking bracelets that harness the positive energy of children when they hold hands; something so far from the horror of Dark Harvest yet impressively it still retains that very unique Zim vibe of upbeat DOOM.
Perhaps it’s Jhonen’s willingness to embrace the light and dark which has allowed Invader Zim’s legacy to endure to the point of its 2016 comic revival and Enter the Florpus. Zim shows that there’s room for the optimistic and cynical nature together in all of us. That, plus those Gir backpacks. They will always be incredible.