The second volume of Invader Zim's animated return ranges from gross, to smart, to stupid, to weird, and remains fun throughout. For fans of the show it's a must-buy and, even better, it works great as a comic. I was thrilled when I heard Invader Zim was getting a comic: it is one of the shows I miss most from when I was younger. Zim takes a familiar hook--alien falls to earth in order to conquer it, etc.--and spins it into something wholly original. It's most well-known for its sharp, malformed aesthetic, around which the world built around the characters is dark and drab and practically impinged by the ridiculousness of the whole situation. The voice acting fell right in line with the character work, with every voice being at all-times a caricature of itself. The comic has taken what made Invader Zim work and effectively distilled it onto the comics page, maintaining the characters' voices, while injecting them into frantic layouts that fall in line with the show's feel, all drawn in the iconic aesthetic.
Volume two contains five chapters worth of stories and some shorts, the first main story being drawn by KC Green and the rest drawn by Dave Crosland with a host of writers including Kyle Starks (who is the main dude writing the Rick and Morty comic), Eric Truehart (who was a regular writer for the TV series), and comic veterans Dennis and Jessie Hopeless. The strength of this comic in all of its issues is in the fact that the editors have really put together teams of people who know the characters and their voices well, and the often experimental layouts make all of it come to life on the page in a way that makes up for the missing idiosyncrasies of the TV format.
My favorite chapter from this volume is KC Green's. I think it's exciting any time you get to see a writer/artist do their thing with a licensed property that has so much ground left to tread; it's not like there's fifty years worth of Zim stories floating around. Crosland's art and Alexovich's layouts in the final four chapters give the chapters a frantic feeling by stressing the atypical aspects of the Invader Zim aesthetic and arranging those things on the page adventurously; Green, however, succeds in his story by tapping more into the fact that not only was Zim himself an absurd character, but he was even absurdly bad at his whole conquering schtick. Sure, a legion of hive-minded Space Pants is ridiculous, but surely it is equally or moreso ridiculous for an alien looking to conquer the planet to walk into a bank for a loan to buy weapons of mass destruction.
Green recently chided himself on Twitter about the fact that his Zim characters don't often fit exactly within the iconic Zim style; still, even though his approach can sometimes be more familiar in its more normal cartoon approach, Green has a tremendous sense of timing and makes short, silly sequences have a big impact. One of my favorite pages in the whole book is a sequence in which Zim, in his mecha man-suit being piloted by GIR, has to sit down in a chair. That's it. That's what the page is about. Him sitting. And it's great.
The third chapter in which the aforementioned Space Pants invade the planet is the other highlight of this trade, mainly because of how much it feels like an episode of the show (doubtlessly because it has one of the show's writers!). As if the hook on this chapter wasn't enough, a side character, Groyna, steals the show for the portion she's in (and the comic book cover gag is great) and proves that there's plenty of room for foil characters in between all the times it's all about just Dib and Zim.
A couple of the other chapters are less successful for me. All of them have a the distinct and necessary feel that Invader Zim should have; but, Starks' chapter aims for a higher brow of sci-fi than it really achieves in one issue, and the Hopeless' chapter (other than a large pile of sandwiches) feels pretty uneventful. What I like about this this series of stories is the one-chapter approach to storytelling: sometimes comic adaptations of cartoons stretch things out too much and don't aim for the same kind of conciseness and brisk pace that define the television equivalent. I think, though, that reading it all in one trade can make things feel a little monotonous. Even when the layouts are fresh and the writers are rotating, things like the iconic color palette can begin to wear on you.
But really that's just my way of saying that you can benefit from picking this book up, putting it down, and taking your time through the stories and enjoying them. Just like I wouldn't sit and read through this trade in one go again, Invader Zim is probably not the kind of show that would do well if you binge-watched it. If anything that's a testament to how well these writer-artist teams have encapsulated the overwhelming amount of personality this franchise has.
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Invader Zim Vol. 2 Writers: Various Artists: Various Publisher: Oni Press Price: $14.99 Release Date: 7/27/16 Format: TPB; Print/Digital