Invader Zim
Hot Topic exclusive Zim, Bitters, Tallest Purple and Gir


Don't know who Zim is? Then you don't watch enough cartoons. Or good cartoons, anyway. Invader Zim was a little show on Nickelodeon back in 2001 - 2003. It's a simple enough story - Zim, a short, maniacal alien from the planet Irk is sent to Earth to prepare for our invasion and domination. In actuality, they send him to get him out of their way, as they view Earth as unimportant, but Zim as annoying. They outfit him with the worst possible sidekick robot, Gir, and send him on his way. Zim disguises himself as an Earth boy (complete with badly built robot parents), but the only person who sees through Zim's disguise is Dib, a bright but shunned kid that no one listens to. He makes it his goal to bring down Zim, but neither Zim or Dib are particularly capable at completing their tasks.

The writing for the show was good, but my favorite aspects were the art and the voice acting. The cartoon has some truly amazing character and background designs, and is a joy to watch. Add in some great voice acting, particularly with Zim and Dib, and you have a winner. It lasted 27 episodes over two seasons, and you can get the episodes now on three separate DVD editions. The initial 2 dvd set contains episodes 1 - 9, while the second dvd set covered 10 - 18. The third, just recently released, has 19 - 27, including a couple unaired episodes.

Zim is definitely an odd, quirky show, but not as far out as some of the more recent stuff we've seen on Adult Swim, for example. The story lines are well written, and it was always an interesting watch for kids and adults alike, which might be why Nick killed it - cartoons that appeal to adults as well as kids don't fair well on Nick.

The show has picked up a huge cult following, particularly with people in their teens and twenties. Since this is the same market that eats up funky action figures, Palisades figured it only made sense that a great action figure line based on the property would do well if marketed properly.

The first series of action figures will be hitting very soon, but were beat to the pegs by an exclusive set sold only through Hot Topic. Both the regular series and the exclusive series includes the same five characters - Zim, Dib, Gir, Ms. Bitters, and The Tallest Purple - but there are two major differences. First, the regular series figures have larger playset type accessories, and second, the head sculpts are vastly different.

Tonight's review covers the Hot Topic exclusives, which are hitting stores all across the U.S. right now. At $16 each, the price isn't cheap, but the exclusivity is a factor. Still, I expect to see the regular release figures at higher than normal price points as well.

Packaging - ***
Hey! I know what happened to all the blue - someone spilled what was left on the Zim inserts! I thought that was pretty funny until someone pointed out to my color blind ass that the blops are more purple than blue. Now you know why I don't do package design. Or at least ONE of the reasons I don't.

The packages for Zim are fairly plain in comparison to much of the other work from Palisades. They went with clamshells of course, and these are a slightly odd size - taller rather than wider. That's not a bad thing though, as it adds a little spice to life. The inserts are all identical on the front, but the backs have a short bio on each character. The package also mentions that these are Hot Topic exclusives with all new head sculpts.

About three of the five of these had a neat feature - no twisties! Instead, a plastic cover was placed over the tray to make sure everything stays in place. I'm betting this was more expensive than twisties, but I like it quite a bit. Getting them out of the tray (and putting them back if you use it for accessory storage) was very simple. And I hate twisties. But two of the five didn't have the cover, and instead went back to ties to hold things in. I suspect this is because the twisty tie cartel is simply to strong to completely defeat.

Sculpting - ****
I'm sure that by the time I'm done writing this section, I'll have found one or two things to whine about. Hey, I always do. But I'll start out by saying that the sculpts on these figures are simply amazing.

The five regular figures are sculpted with 'regular' facial expressions. That means a straight look, without extreme emotion. While that's nice, I have to admit my bias for the exclusive head sculpts, where we get to see most of them at their worst.

Gir is the only one that isn't really an 'angry' faced version. The rest all sport insane appearances to varying degrees, and of the set, Zim is my favorite. This is the real look of Zim, one eye bulging, the other almost closed, mouth wide with wild tongue - this is the Zim we know and love.

That's not to say that Gir isn't radically different from the normal version. He has circle eyes, rather than full circles, and a very different right arm, done in a pose that allows him to salute.  Gir also has a feature right from the show - his head opens up, and he can place various accessories inside.

Both the Tallest and Bitters have that expression that people in power get when you have the audacity to question their authority. The Tallest is a particularly well done sculpt, matching the show far better than I had thought possible. He's a complex and unusual design, but Palisades managed to pull it off.

Dib is frustrated, and has his attempts at outwitting Zim have clearly been foiled once again. Don't ask how it's possible for his glasses to change shape based on his mood - just roll with it.

Most of them are sculpted with open hands, but have difficulty holding accessories. That's due to the ultra small size of most of the hands, and is a fallout from the character designs, not really the fault of Palisades.

The plastic that's been used is fairly strong. I've heard reports of problems with antennae breaking, but mine seemed to be stiff enough to hold position, yet soft enough to bend slightly under pressure. Be careful though, and don't be tossing them around haphazardly.

The plastic also seems stiff enough to avoid wilting over time, although that's tough to say with certainty so early. My greatest concern is with Bitters, who has very small legs, yet is quite top heavy. If she can avoid drooping, they all will.

And speaking of the choice of materials, I want to point out how great the use of the translucent plastic is for the eyes on Zim and the Tallest. While not obvious at first, it looks terrific on closer inspection, and really adds quite a bit to the visual appeal of the figures. A lesser company wouldn't have even come up with the idea, yet alone execute it so well.

Paint - ***
The paint ops were a bit disappointing, but not as disappointing as the MSU loss to UM last week. That was a crushing disappointment - this is merely a mild annoyance.

There's a fair number of random and stray paint marks or rubs across several of the figures. While most of the colors are consistent, there is some bleed and over spray at the borders, and the small detail work isn't at the same level that we've seen with the Muppet line.

There's no tackiness to the paint though, a huge plus, and the colors do match the colors on the show well.

Perhaps my biggest gripe with the paint is something we've actually seen on occasion before. On several of the joints, most noticeably the neck joints of Dib, Bitters and Zim, and the shoulder joints on all, the paint rubs off as you move the figure around. While you expect it to show wear over time - I know I certainly show more wear with every passing year - you don't expect it the first time you repose the head or arm.

Articulation - The Tallest ***; Dib, Zim, Ms. Bitters **1/2; Gir **
The articulation on these figures is very much a slave to the very unique and bizarre character designs. Because of the way these guys are drawn, there's only so much you can do with the joints.

The Tallest was awfully impressive in this category though, using lots of well hidden joints. He has a ball jointed neck, ball jointed shoulders, a cut at the 'bicep', a small ball joint at the 'gauntlet', a joint half way down the gauntlet at the pseudo-wrist, and a waist joint. All the joints work well, are fairly tight, and I had the least amount of trouble with them, compared to the other five figures.

Gir is on the other end of the spectrum. He has a ball jointed neck, ball jointed shoulders, and a cut high on the arms. He's one that has some joint problems, including a head that likes to pop off, and pins that are too short in the bicep cut, allowing the arms to come loose very easily. You'll be putting his right arm back on a lot in particular.

Dib has neck, ball jointed shoulders, and wrists. He has one pretty good pose, shaking his fist in anger at that damn alien once again.

Zim also follows this pattern, with a neck, ball jointed shoulders, and cut wrists at the top of the gloves, but also includes a waist joint. Most of his posing is in the arms, and even there it's fairly limited.

Finally, there's Ms. Bitters. She has a ball jointed neck, ball jointed shoulders, wrists and hips. While the neck joint works well, the rest leave her with the fewest posing options of the group. The hips will at least allow you to get her legs in the best spot to hold her weight, but she still needs to use the display stand.

Actually, everyone of these figures requires the display stands. I've heard some folks having trouble keeping them standing even with the stands, especially the Tallest and Bitters, but that's not been the case for me.

Palisades is usually much better in the articulation department, but the character designs seem to have simply proved too tough for even their creative minds this time.

Accessories - ***1/2
Overall, the accessory count is good, and the designs and sculpts on every one is excellent.

Zim comes with his Bestest Friend card, an Irken brain, Irken monitor, and a couple connector tentacles/pin. The brain can't stand up on it's own, but I'm betting it will plug into the base that comes with the regular Zim, as will the connectors for the monitor.

Tallest also has an Irken Monitor (different from Zim's), a connector tentacle and pin, an Irken Sandwich and an Irken Burrito. The food looks great, and he can actually hold most of his accessories, unlike the other figures.

Dib has his satellite dish, laptop, secret photos, briefcase and video camera. The satellite dish is articulated where the dish connects to the stand, so it can be pointed in various directions. Both the laptop and briefcase open and close, and all the 'top secret' photos fit nicely inside the briefcase. Dib can hold the video camera fine, and if you work at it hard enough, he can use the briefcase as well.

Ms. Bitters includes the spooky Chihuahua, 'crazy cards', and a hall pass aka cast iron radiator. The dog sculpt is fantastic, and the hall pass is a very funny touch, but compared to the others, her accessory count seems just a tad light.

Finally, Gir (the smallest figure, therefore the one with the most accessories) has another Irken monitor with connector tentacle, three donuts, a squirrel, two crazy tacos, a slice of Pizza, and an "I Eat Food" poster. I love the squirrel, who stands/sits fine on his own, and all the food can fit inside Gir's head (although not all at the same time). He can actually hold a donut, but that's about it.

All the figures also include a display stand, each designed specifically for that figure. None of these figures stands well without them, and with some it's an absolute must. The Tallest's is clear, and suspends him above the ground, and works surprisingly well considering how top heavy he is. You will have to force the ends of the rod into the base and into his butt, however once they are in, he's pretty stable.

Not only will all the monitors and connectors make more sense once the regular release figures are out with the bases, but stickers will also come with the regular figures that will be able to be used on these monitor screens.

Fun Factor - **
I'm defining fun here from a kid's perspective, not an adult's. These work great for adult fans of the show who are looking for very exact representations of the characters that are so damn cool. For kids, who would want to play with these, they have a lot less value. Sure, they look good, but the problems with the joints mean they'll be falling apart on them a lot, they can't hold or use the accessories, and for all intents and purposes, there's not really the kind of conflict between the characters that would make them great for play anyway.

Value - *1/2
SWEET JESUS, DID MY CREDIT CARD JUST MELT?!?!?!?! This set of figures is going to cost you $80 plus tax. OUCH! Considering that the normal versions will run you as cheap as $65 (see below for my suggestions), and have much more large and complex accessories, you can see where the exclusive set really takes a hit.

The problem is two fold of course. The production run on this exclusive set is likely to be pretty small, and since not only is there new sculpting and accessory costs, but the overall package had to be new, the costs were going to be more than just a simple repaint. Also, this is Hot Topic we're talking about. There are two things you can always guarantee about Hot Topic - every employee has screamed in pain from catching a piercing on someone else's piercing at least once, and the prices of their action figures will be 30% higher than anybody else.

Don't forget to have your frequent buyers card stamped though - then you can save 15% on your purchase of black baggy pants with too many zippers!

Overall - The Tallest ***; the rest **1/2
If you're not a fan of the show, it's unlikely that these figures will do much for you. The designs are certainly unique, but the other issues - those around price and playability - may put you off. But for big fans of the show, these are a dream come true. This line, similar to the Muppets and Ren and Stimpy, will become the definitive version for the Invader Zim license.

I'm a fan of the show, and I can guarantee that if the regular release figures are like these, but with the larger accessories and slightly lower price point, that the rating will go up. Slightly better paint ops would have helped of course, but the value score was the real killer here. I discussed the rising costs of 2004 last January, and as predicted, things have gotten rough across the board. If anything, 2005 is going to get worse as more retailers dry up.

Some folks have had more trouble with getting them to stay standing than I have, and you may have to experiment a bit with the position of the figure and the position of the stand to get them to work well. I do wish the paint ops were a tad better, but the sculpting and accessories are top notch. Still, this price point really hurts them, and I think that for the most part, the regular release figures are a much better buy.

If you can only afford a limited subset, I'd still buy the exclusive version of Zim. This facial sculpt is excellent, and is much more definitive in my opinion than the blank stare of the regular release. Then again, why waste your green on things like food and shelter when you can buy a full set of these guys? I bet you could even find a way to fashion shoes for your kids out of the clamshells if you try hard enough.

Packaging - ***
Sculpt - Bane ****
Paint - ***
Articulation - The Tallest ***; Dib, Zim, Ms. Bitters **1/2; Gir **
Accessories - ***1/2
Fun Factor - **
Value - *1/2
Overall - The Tallest ***; the rest **1/2

Where to Buy - 
This particular set of four are a Hot Topic exclusive, and since the Tallest appears to be one per case, I'd get my butt moving to your local store if I were you. If you think you want these, buy them now. Think Family Guy, a series that has been a huge hit because of it's cult status and low production run. I think Invader Zim will follow this same pattern, and this first series and exclusives are going to disappear quickly.

However, there's also the regular assortment that will include all the nifty bases. You can find those at lots of on-line choices:

- Clark Toys has a the regular figures at $15 each, or a full set of five for just $65. If you're looking for a set, that's a pretty good deal.

- Killer Toy has the individual figures for $15, or the set of five for $70.

- CornerStoreComics has the individual figures for $15, or the set of five for $72.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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