How many shows can you watch these days that will show you a tiny green alien with a bad toupee pull out his human friend’s eyeballs and replace them with mechanical eyes that cause the boy to befriend a squirrel? Probably only one: Jhonen Vazquez’s Invader Zim.

For anyone who knows of Jhonen Vasquez’s work on his comic book Johnny The Homicidal Maniac, the idea of him creating a cartoon for primetime Nickelodeon is preposterous, perhaps even blasphemous. But after watching ten minutes of Invader Zim, the most recent in a long list of successful “NickToons,” even the most faithful Johnny fan will be won over.

Invader Zim, however, is not a typical NickToon. While staples like Doug and Rugrats chronicle the adventures of hopelessly good-natured and moral characters, Zim focuses on the carefully calculated, though essentially doomed attempts by the title character, an alien from the planet Irk, to conquer the Earth. Invader Zim is probably the only show aimed at kids in which the viewer is rooting for the bad guy. This is truly a strange phenomenon. Each time Zim’s evil plans are thwarted, you can’t help feeling he was denied something that should rightfully be his.

The only similarity between Zim and other NickToons is the underdog quality of the main character. Zim, however much he considers himself to be a truly worthy invader, is little more than a trigger-happy, power-hungry child with dreams of domination. Plus, in the Irken society where height is valued above all else, Zim is cursed with being “a tiny thing,” as one of the all-mighty “Tallests” puts it.

The pilot episode begins on Irk, where invaders are being assigned to enemy planets, the most notable being Blorch, the home of the slaughtering rat-people. Zim, who has been banished to the planet Foodcourtia, shows up demanding his own enemy planet to destroy. Instead of a real mission, Zim gets a fake planet and a robot slave named GIR, who is built out of trash and the contents of the Tallests’ pockets. He is then sent out into the galaxy, never to be heard from again.

Or so the Tallests think.

After six months in a spaceship with GIR, who spends the entire trip singing the “doom song,” which is by far the most hilarious segment of the episode, Zim discovers Earth, and assumes it is the secret planet to which he has been assigned.

The overriding conflict, and humor, of the show becomes apparent when Zim goes to “Skool” and meets up with Dib, a pint-sized conspiracy theorist hell-bent on exposing Zim and overseeing his alien autopsy. Dib, not fooled by Zim’s shabby disguise and transparent excuse that his green skin and lack of ears are due to a “skin condition,” tries to expose Zim to the class. Zim is about to press the “self-destruct” button on his wrist when another student chimes in, stating that all Dib ever talks about is “aliens and monsters and seeing Bigfoot in {his} garage.”

In what is surely a shot at the ridiculousness of political correctness, Jhonen Vazquez has the students tell Dib that just because someone looks different doesn’t mean they’re an alien, illustrating this point by way of “old kid,” a third grader with the body of an eighty year old.

Print does not do justice to the brilliant dialogue. Zim's squeaky, angry voice adds an extra element of humor to lines like “Now let’s rain some doom down on the doomed heads of our doomed enemies,” and “while I’m at it, I’ll make your whole brain...not more,” that would not be there otherwise. This type of dialogue also allows the viewer to see just how stupid Zim really is.

Even the lesser characters like Dib’s sister Gaz, his dad, and the teacher, offer comedy unparalleled in any other series, with the possible exception of The Simpsons.

Like The Simpsons, Invader Zim stretches the limits of what is allowed to be shown on TV in cartoon form. As in the aforementioned example, when Zim rips out his best friend’s eyeballs, who consequently explodes as a result of this operation, much of the episodes contain subject matter and material that normally would not be allowed in children’s programming. Perhaps this is why Zim is on at nine o’clock and hardly ever shown in reruns during the day. Any show, cartoon or otherwise, that is well crafted enough to cause the viewer to cheer for the ultimate takeover of Earth by an alien is quality television.