Written by Jonathan Wojcik

October 26:


   I'll let you in on a dark secret: before there was Bogleech.com, there was simply geocities.com/scythemantis, and my content consisted of approximately one sprite page (Abadox), a single-page list of "weird nature trivia," a page of terrible Magic: The Gathering art scans, and a page of Invader Zim screenshots. Screenshots I took with a $100 "TV card," which was the only reliable method in 2001 of watching television shows on a computer. I never bothered to carry this over to Bogleech because it was terrible in every single way, from the 250 pixel width of my fuzzy shots - at the time fairly standard - to my insipid, grammatically offensive and meaningless commentary. Thank Juiblex I've moved on to just insipid and meaningless.

   Invader Zim probably needs little introduction at this point. The unlikely mutant offspring of comic artist Jhonen Vasquez - whose best known character at the time was a serial killer - and a children's television network became a thing of legend both for its criminally insane sense of humor and criminally premature cancellation, a move even Nickelodeon itself is said to regret. How Jhonen managed to get half the things he did to air on the same network as Rugrats - long after they were pretending Ren and Stimpy never happened - remains one of of the seven mystic wonders of cartoon fandom, and one of the finest examples, if not one of the finest things ever animated, is no doubt the Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom.

   In the opening sequence alone, we get our first taste of the creativity in store with a brief glimpse of Zim and Gir getting devoured by something that defies categorization. Jhonen Vasquez and his buddy Roman Dirge both think way, way outside the box when it comes to creature designs, and they had a field day with the chance to do a Halloween special.

   Honestly, what do you call a thing like this? It's a flesh lump with skeletal flippers and a multi-eyed bone mask concealing its real mouth, not unlike Noh-Face from Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Zim attempting to Trick or Treat directly at a flesh eating monster instead of a front porch is actually kind of impressive, because he usually doesn't even get an Earth convention half that correct.

   Now, I'm still going to write this under the notion that, for some reason, you might not know that much about Invader Zim, so if you've been avoiding both television and the entire internet for over twelve years, this is Zim, the alien who falsely believes he's on a mission to conquer Earth when his people, who weren't even aware of our world, really just wanted to get rid of him. This is because Zim is an uncontrollable, psychopathic disaster even for a race of unfeeling, world-conquering space bugs.

   Zim has no idea what to make of the Earth-children suddenly showing up to "SKOOL" in bizarre costumes, every one of which terrifies him, and is lead to believe that "Halloween" is a night where children literally become sugar-craving monsters. This is all par for the course in the realm of space alien comedy, but this show never sticks to convention for long.

   This is around when Dib finally enters the episode, the only person who not only sees through Zim's haphazard human disguise, but actually cares. Unfortunately, nobody else cares about him, or anything he has to say, not even when he shows up to school screaming about "horrible, nightmare visions." ("It's called life, Dib")

   For acting slightly crazier than usual, Dib is sent to the "crazy house for boys" with one of his classroom's three yearly "crazy cards." I love how dystopian and cynical absolutely everything is in this show, and it's not even set all that far in the future.

   Hauled off in a padded truck, we finally get to see what Dib's been seeing as the entire world phases into a hellish alternate universe! The hairy, tusked, nightmare-world white-coats rant about having found "the one" that they've been "waiting for," only for Dib to shift back into reality before he can learn more.

   In the real-world examination room, Dib recounts how he peered through an interdimensional scope in his father's (the world-renowned Professor Membrane) basement laboratory, investigating his personal theory that paranormal phenomenon may be signs of our universe colliding with another. His visions began after cranking up the power, and have only become increasingly frequent.

   A series of images flash by in an instant as he tells his story, each a standalone work of art I'd be happy to put over the mantle. Almost every monster in this episode, however minor, has an "official" name at least according to various wikis, and the headless, mouth-bellied fellow here, adorably playing on a sled, allegedly goes by Simon Rikkis. We'll see a little more of him later. The one in the foreground, with no known name, is never shown again.

   The slimy nightmare toilet is also only seen here, but I love how the flusher is its other "eye." I don't know what's up with the goofy little bird-creature. I guess he just watches. Nightmare world thinks of everything!

   This ominous, doll-like creature with huge, mechanical spider legs on her head is simply referred to as "Pepe." This might be my favorite shot in the sequence, just for composition and coloring.

   Looking pretty weird in this inverted color scheme, Oculord is a lovable giant eye-stalk with a pelvis and spindly limbs, a simplistically flawless design and concept. I like how his shadow looks perfectly human. it's subtle, but it looks deliberate.

   The eyeless, big-mouthed slugs, who seem injury prone, are the Slobulators, and another creature with bony, segmented finger-flippers. Jhonen seems to like those.

   Finally, we get a glimpse of Hummelflesh enjoying a soda. We'll see a lot more of him, too, and a lot more monsters eating sugary junk food, probably because it's adorable.

   Dib is tossed into a padded cell only moments before he's pulled completely into the nightmare world, finding himself in a cavernous shaft of imprisoned freaks.

   A shadowy figure in a neighboring cell is stunned to see Dib in person, and finally explains the situation - that the entire nightmare realm is, in fact, the world within Dib's own imagination, and its ghoulish inhabitants, having "completely trashed the place," want out into reality! I knew Dib and I had a lot in common, but I didn't know it went this far.

   We get a better look at the white-coats when they come to retrieve Dib, the faces on their shoulder pads apparently alive, as they try to steal a bite of ice cream.

   Dib gets wrapped up in a living straightjacket, which carries him off on its long, tentacular straps as we finally see who the shadowy figure was - an apparently abused nightmare counterpart to Dib himself.

   Fortunately, Dib shifts back out of nightmare-world along the way, and finds himself at Zim's house. Knowing alien technology could be his only hope, he breaks in rather easily and begs Zim's assistance, leading to Zim's beautiful response, "I've had enough of your nonsense from your smelly mouth filled with...CORN!"

   As Zim attempts to push Dib out the window, both of them get pulled into the nightmare world where a pack of monsters hang from the ceiling in ambush, which Zim is certain are the horrible "HALLOWEENIES!" he believes he's been hearing about. We've already seen Oculord (top) and Hummelflesh (bottom), but the eye-stalked, big-mouthed ghoul (with lipstick and a pink tank top) is Bobby Joe Ray Billy Sue, the blind guy with the giant teeth and the bridle is Giggles, the crawling green bug-head with the sphincter on top is Poofter, and the scorpion-like leather gimp creature is Mister Pinchy. I love every one of these beautiful bastards more than the previous, no matter what order you put them in.

No, YOU make no sense!

   Trapped together in Dib's headworld, the two mortal enemies are pursued by the monstrous search party, and we get more good looks at their designs. I love Pepe's disturbingly veiny head! The taxidermied sock-puppet-skull with the enmaciated antelope body is one of the Petersons - there are two of them - and probably a Roman Dirge design, judging by some of his other works. The disturbingly goofy, sub-human mutant with too many teeth is Oraface. Is he wearing a chastity belt? There's a mutant tooth-man named Oraface with a chastity belt in a Nickelodeon cartoon?

   "The Admiral" is probably one of my favorite designs in the episode; that's the guy on the left here, with the tiny, goggle-wearing worm-head inside his larger, tooth lined sewer-pipe body, with jellyfish tentacles for good measure. We'll get to the thing in the back momentarily.

   Dib and Zim are hiding behind a tree, but the monsters spot the flashing of Dib's crazy-house tracking collar. We can now see that Simon Rikkis has nipple eyes. Nipple eyes, and leather garterbelts. It's so cute how Hummelflesh won't stop eating chips even as he tries to bark orders.

   One of the great things about Invader Zim is that, unlike virtually every other children's show at the time, there's never any clear "good" and "bad" side. Sure, Zim wants to enslave all mankind and Dib is intent on stopping him, but both of them are antisocial, bitter, crazy, self-serving outcasts who are in it for little more than the glory. This is especially apparent with Dib rips off his tracking collar, and, while simply ditching it would save him just as much time, immediately puts it on Zim and shoves him out into the open.

   Zim is sucked up by my very favorite thing in the episode, the Jail monster,, nothing but an eyeless, stumpy-legged bathysphere-like being, oozing with phlegm, with a retractable toothy hose where a head ought to be. I've drawn somewhere around 50,000 monsters in my lifetime and I still feel like this hits a level of perfection I've never achieved. I want this thing. I want to be this thing. I say that a lot, I know. I still always mean it.

   Zim is brought back to the Nightmare World's mysterious leader, revealed to be a monstrous counterpart to Dib's creepy teacher, Miss Bitters. I like the shirt that just says "BAD."

   Though Nightmare Bitters believes Zim will be useful, Hummelflesh still brought back the wrong guy, and for that, he's condemned to "the realm of eternal screaming and restlessness," a hellish chamber of flames. Their ensuing exchange of "I don't really want to go there" and "Well, you'll just have to deal with it" is another fine example of the whole show's writing.

   Hummelflesh's friends wave goodbye, among them The Enigma, a peanut-shaped monster with a giant mouth in his stomach and, for some reason, a steering wheel. We also see Puncher of Heads for the first time, a shriveled little creature with huge bat-wing-ear-legs, and Ralfie, a spidery thing with vertical jaws.

   A pod-shaped monster, Yolk, is then sent to tell Dib that they'll destroy his "little friend" if he doesn't surrender, but Dib says he doesn't care (if an alien is murdered in his own brain?) and throws things at him. It's hardly his fault, but Yolk is the next to be banished to the realm of screaming and restlessness.


   This time, we get a whole glorious panning shot of over half the nightmare beings, including several more we either never saw or barely glimpsed until now. Beginning on the right, the two-legged demon with stacked faces is Ouchmaster, who looks an awful lot like a bunch of ceratoid anglerfish fused together. Behind him, with one eye above the other, is "Insect Related Bug Thing," not the most appropriate name from what little we can see. Directly below Oculord, the monkey-like thing with the withered body and multiple tongues is Droogle, a quite unsettling design for something so comical.

  Behind the big-toothed Giggles is what fans are calling Nightmare Nny, due to his resemblance to Jhonen Vasquez's formerly better known creation, Johnny the Homocidal Maniac. A ballsy cameo, considering Nickelodeon's rumored demands that Jhonen never, ever reference his extremely mature and graphic comics in the show. Immediately after the adorable gimp-bug Mr. Pinchy is the rotten-looking Bride of Mortis, whoever "Mortis" is supposed to be. The rest of these cuties have already been named, if you've paid attention.

   Zim slips away as the monsters are distracted, flees the nightmare elementary school and heads off to find Dib, bent on revenge for the double-cross. Is it a double-cross? Can you "betray" someone you've been a dick to the entire time already?

   We get a momentary look back at the real world to see what Zim's malfunctioning robot Gir has been up to, which is terrorizing children and gorging on their candy. Gir's manic, child-like sensibilities and non sequitur outbursts very nearly exceed the show itself in popularity, but he's fairly lovable in smaller doses, and his toned down but eventually significant role in the Halloween special is one of his best uses.

   Meanwhile, Dib thinks he might find something useful in the Nightmare version of his own house, but only finds a twisted monster version of his own father, almost identical to the real thing, until his eyes pop out, his talons unfold and his lab coat reaches out like a tentacle.

   The slobbering, lipless nightmare form of Dib's sister Gaz appears only long enough to deliver one line, but it's one of the better ones. How often do you hear we're gonna open your head on Nickelodeon? I also like her Dark Juice.

   The best line in the episode, however, comes immediately afterwards, as Nightmare Professor Membrane carries Dib away and simply cackles, with disproportionate joy, "I'M FLOATING!" Maybe you had to be there. Reluctantly, Zim realizes he'll have to rescue Dib if he's ever going to break free from his skull, and sneaks into Nightmare Membrane's lab to find anything useful.

   Nightmare Bitters straps Dib into a contraption that will open up a portal through his brain, and gives a rousing speech to her minions about the brand new world they can have fun trashing, until...

   It's ZIM to the "rescue!" Piloting some kind of slime-spewing nightmare world war machine.

   More great close-ups as Zim drenches the whole horde in slime. It doesn't seem to hurt them, but they act defeated, and we can probably assume it would melt the flesh of real-world humans.

   The Nightmare Bitters takes on a larger, more imposing, Gigerier form to pursue the robot, while our antiheroes argue over how to pass through Dib's cranial gateway.

This is how.

   Before the portal closes completely, Nightmare Bitters breaks through to her new world, only to be horrified by what she sees:

   Thanks to Gir's off-screen rampages, our world looks only more disgusting and twisted than the one in Dib's head, and the nightmare monsters retreat back into a deranged little boy's imagination for good. Halloween is ruined, Zim's bones are broken, and Dib goes home. Nobody ever speaks of the distorted purgatory in his cerebellum ever again.

   All in all, Invader Zim is still one of the funniest, most inventive, sharpest looking and most cynical series ever intentionally hurled in the general direction of children, and The Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom is easily one of the most intensely ghoulish basic cable holiday specials ever to be made out of colorful, moving drawings.

   As a self-appointed expert on the subject, I can honestly say that monsters this sincerely bizarre and wholly original have always been a rarity in Western television animation, this episode standing as a rare oasis of grotesquery in a sea of mediocrity that spanned from the mid 90's to nearly today, until only Adventure Time really started serving up some ingenuity in the monster department.

   Halloween is a time when cartoon shows are allowed a little leeway to be darker, more violent and more sinister than censors are comfortable with the rest of the year, and Zim, already pushing the envelope, took full advantage of the excuse to bombard young viewers with screaming, multi-mouthed, tentacled horrors of a caliber they may have never before seen until that special night on October 26, 2001. Happy birthday, Halloweenies!