In Nickelodeon’s “Invader Zim,” a self-deluded alien comes to Earth in order to find the planet’s weaknesses and plan its destruction. Don’t worry, he’s not much of a threat, and after just the pilot episode, it will be hard not to root for him. If one is going to “borrow” from a predecessor, one should at least choose wisely, and creator Jhonen Vasquez has done so by picking “Pinky and the Brain” as his dramatic model, another animated series with a protagonist with a bent for destruction who never succeeds. The cartoon captures a nice blend of the innocent and the satirical, and should appeal to Nick’s core audience of youngsters and early teenagers.
Vasquez comes to toondom with an interesting pedigree, having authored a comic book series whose title reveals his interest in black comedy: “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.” He invests “Zim” with a dark sensibility, but it’s far from maniacal and even farther from homicidal.
Zim, a green, square-headed, insectlike alien, is an outcast even on his own planet, where he’s considered too short to be much of a warrior. Only by being a complete pest do the rulers, the Tallest, decide to let him be part of their newest attempt at galactic dominance, which they call Operation Impending Doom II, the sequel to an effort that apparently didn’t go too well. To get Zim out of their hair, they send him on a mission to the remotest part of the universe, an unknown planet that turns out to be ours.
Despite his shortcomings, Zim imagines himself to be a great spy, and even though everything proceeds rockily, he convinces himself he’s doing a splendid job. His ability to keep a positive attitude even though he’s pretty much been abandoned by his own makes him a likable figure, and Richard Horvitz gives voice to the character by effectively alternating between the insecure and the demonic.
Zim is assisted in his endeavors by a tin can of a robot named Gir (Rosearik Rikki Simons), who makes his master seem like the epitome of competence. They’re chased by the alien-obsessed human Dib (Andy Berman), who can shout all he wants that the aliens have landed but nobody will believe him.
The artwork here isn’t especially original but still manages to create a nicely off-center vision of Earth and its inhabitants. Vasquez and co-writer Rob Hummel throw in some clever quips at life on this planet, taking aim particularly at the doomsaying schoolteacher, Ms. Bitters. Kevin Manthei’s music provides strong accompaniment to the escapades.