This post first appeared in District of Wonders – Newsletter, Monday 14th December 2015
This holiday season, while many are snuggling up to watch Charlie Brown attempt to decorate an impotent evergreen, I will be enjoying my own favorite animated X-mas special which portrays a slightly darker vision of holiday cheer. I’m referring, of course, to “The Most Horrible X-mas Ever” episode of the Invader Zim television series.
In 2001, when Invader Zim first aired, I was already a fan of Jhonen Vasquez’s more adult-oriented comic books like “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac” and “Squee!,” and I remember being somewhat awed that Vasquez had managed to maintain a style mostly unsuitable for children when putting together the series for the Nickelodeon network. The series is centered around alien invader Zim and his failed attempts to conquer Earth. To this end, he disguises his malfunctioning robot sidekick as a green dog and himself as a green-skinned, human schoolchild. He is recognized and often thwarted by his paranormal-minded schoolmate, Dib.
If you’ve never been exposed to Vasquez’s work, it’s best described as dark comedic horror. The settings are frequently nightmare worlds which are parodies of our own, and the people who populate Vasquez’s worlds, especially the children, are frequently portrayed as revolting creatures. In Invader Zim, for example, the fast food “shakes” at MacMeaties are made entirely of nauseatingly processed meats, an obvious jab at McDonald’s french fries containing inexplicable cow flavorings, but the populous appears to love nothing more.
The scene of the X-mas special opens on Mr. Sludgy, the robotic snowman, 2 million years in the future. He’s telling a group of small, hideous children gathered around a fire the story of The Most Horrible X-mas Ever. That holiday season, Zim hatched a plan to impersonate Santa Claus in order to convince the entire population of Earth to build a space teleporter capable of sending all humans to their doom. One human asks, “Will being teleported to our doom be fun and X-masy?” Of course it will.
SPOILER ALERT As usual, Zim’s technology turns on him, and the Santa suit he created as a disguise gains a mind of it’s own and transforms into a horrifying X-mas monster. Thankfully, Dib, with the help of his sister and father, is able to subdue the suit and save X-mas by shooting Santa into space. Back in the future with Mr. Sludgy, Santa apparently lives on. Not in the hearts and minds of the children, but in space, where he rests and gains power in order to return to Earth for another X-mas attack.