In 1986, 18-year-old aspiring cartoonist Ben Edlund drew a fun black-and-white mascot for startup New England Comics’ newsletter. The amusing character caught on around the area and in 1988 The Tick transitioned from a small-run mascot into a full-length comic book. Cresting on an upsurge in popularity, the now-blue superhero found his way onto television when FOX brought the superhero spoof to its Saturday morning lineup.
The Tick animated series may have called it quits after 3 seasons, but the lunatic-ranting, antennae-wearing titan stuck in the craws of fans around the globe. A live-action series starring Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld, Ted 2) aired in 2001 on FOX, before poor ratings and mediocre publicity pushed it off the air. However, it established a cult following on home video and online.
After 30 years and two television series, The Tick remains one of the most influential comic book characters in indie comics. The most recent incarnation, starring Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy) as the big blue hero and Griffin Newman (Vinyl) as Arthur, brings The Tick back to his roots (read our review here). His antics got a new lease on life through Amazon Studios, but how does the latest representation compare to its predecessors?
Where Did That Big Blue Guy Come From?
Throughout his now three TV shows and comic book run, the Blue Bug never truly retained a consistent origin story. His real name is still a mystery, but The Tick first began his superhero shenanigans while wrapped in a straightjacket. After breaking out of his confines, due to boredom, he stumbles across The City while cluelessly searching for criminals to thwart and shoeing off ninjas like flies.
Naturally, an insane Tick wouldn’t work well for the sake of a Saturday morning cartoon show. As a result, Edlund and his co-writer shifted the blue hero’s backstory a bit. The animated version was assigned to the City after gate-crashing a superhero convention in Reno, Nevada. In his next iteration, the 2001 Patrick Warburton series, the nigh-impervious do-gooder is tricked into leaving his bus stop protectorate for a new metropolitan setting.
As the latest version rolls out on Amazon, the story shifts focus to Arthur rather than his massive compatriot. It colors the young man as unstable but quirky, setting up his sad yet ironically amusing history. He has a genuine desire to live a good life and do the right thing. Unfortunately, the right thing might be part of his delusion, as he obsesses over chasing the shadow of old-time villain the Terror (brilliantly if briefly assayed by Jackie Earle Haley), who is presumed long-dead.
The arrival of the Tick, however, winks a little at Chuck Palahniuk/David Fincher’s Fight Club, as Arthur’s quest for vengeance grows a name and a face (or at least a cowl). In keeping with its predecessors, the show hasn’t tipped its cards as to the true beginnings of the big blue superhero. In fact, it hasn't even confirmed his existence entirely, although fans can assume he's for real. In the face of the madcap action, though, his origin seems less necessary than his existence as a catalyst for his long-suffering future sidekick to emerge from his chrysalis.
“You’re Going Sane in a Crazy World”
Throughout its televised incarnations, The Tick has always maintained a strong satirical element, staying true to Edlund’s original creation. Even his earliest stories were a loving send-up of superhero tropes at the time, skewering popular 'dark' heroes like Daredevil, Frank Miller’s Batman, and the Watchmen.
Nonetheless, each incarnation has its own flavor and tone, while keeping to the basic precepts of the character. The classic comic book generally had more of an adult feel, displaying Edlund’s cheeky and absurdist edge. When the cartoon finally aired in 1994, most of the innuendo was razed from the City, while retaining the more whimsical aspects of the show (such as a villain with a chair for a head, i.e. Chairface Chippendale) and tetherung them to moments of sublime parody (such as Tick’s tete-a-tete with a Punisher-lookalike).
As the animated Tick passed the torch on to its live-action cousin, a good deal of the super-heroics vanished, in part due to budgetary constraints. Edlund and producer Larry Charles did up the grown-up content, though, including plots points like the death of superhero Immortal while mid-coitus with Captain Liberty.
The latest version seems to follow the format and tone of its source material, reincorporating the darker, more adult elements into the plot as its predecessor did. Although the first episode unfolded at a deliberate place, dropping breadcrumbs about Arthur Everest and the Tick along the way, it’s also peppered with amusing heroics and sublimely funny moments – such as the “weapons grade syphilis” which takes down Arthur's favorite superhero team. It also places Arthur’s story in the driver’s seat (for the moment), and much like AMC’s anarchic Preacher, dangles a few plot carrots tantalizingly out of reach.
Fortunately, between the intriguing story, the clever writing, and the characterization thus far, the latest Tick effort seems well worth waiting for.
“The Magnanimous Help of Some Other Folks I know”
In the solar system that is the franchise, the Blue Bug and Moth Man are the binary stars who propel the action. Ben Edlund did, nonetheless, fill the Tick’s world with a requisite menagerie of ridiculous superhero supporting players and nonsensical nemeses. Throughout the comic and the animated series, fans were treated to ineffectual heroes like Die Fledermaus, well-meaning do-gooders like American Maid and Sewer Urchin (with his Rain Man mannerisms), as well as madcap menaces like baddie baker Breadmaster and the Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight.
The live-action follow-up with Patrick Warburton had to leave behind the classic hero cohorts and antagonists featured in the animated series due to licensing. Edlund and Co. did manage to put together fun amalgams like Captain Liberty and Batmanuel, as well as new villains like Destroyo (and the sort-of return of the Terror). The first non-animated Tick, while losing some of the classic characters, was also forged in the tradition of Seinfeld (a la producer Larry Charles), offering some of the great characterization and dialogue the series was famous for.
With the new show, though, it appears the licenses are back in Edlund’s possession. Thus far, only a handful of regulars have shown up, including Arthur, his sister Dot, the Terror, and of course, the Tick. It remains to be seen how many members of the kooky superhero stable will show up, though. And while some fans may not be as keen on the series’ return to its darker roots, the characterization has been top notch so far: Peter Serafinowicz, has a solid handle on the blue superhero, Valorie Curry plays Arthur’s doting sister Dot with poise and subtlety, and Griffin Newman nails the accountant-sidekick’s nervous nature.
With Edlund’s guidance, the characters will hopefully embody the absurdist elements that made the show great, as well as evoking the classic dialogue which set the the show apart. If it does, it may have a solid shot on Amazon.
Will the Battle Cry of Flatware Resound Across The City Again?
The reentry of the Blue Bug into the crime-fighting world, while somewhat different tonally than what came before it, echoes the same touched-by-madness characterizations and surreal action of it's companion comic. The latest version of The Tick may even skew closer to its source material than any of it's predecessors. If “Pilot” is any indication of what's to come, Edlund and Co. have brought the satirical edge and gallows humor back to the superhero spoof in a big way. In addition, the dialogue, which has always been a key elements of all iterations, sizzles with Edlund’s manic stream-of-consciousness prose.
And as fans thoroughly understand, without the wacky banter, The Tick just isn’t The Tick. In fact, the latest entry in the series reintroduces some very familiar lines, including Tick's classic recruitment rhetoric: “you’ve got the brains. I’ve got everything else,” as well as his less-than-encouraging reassurance: “you’re not crazy, Arthur. You’re going sane in a crazy world.” It’s these classic touches, which revels in the franchise's origins.
The latest Tick may also offer the most serious, in-depth look at our eccentric heroes thus far. In addition to its loving lampoonery, it’s already brought an added depth to the characters. Even those who’ve seen and read every prior format may find something fresh in the updated superhero spoof. Assuming the Amazon series moves forward, it should prove authentic to the Tick's history, and may even vindicate fan and critic claims that the canceled FOX outing was ahead of its time.
Only one question remains: will we once again hear the battle cry of flatware? Hopefully, the answer is SPOOON!
The Tick pilot episode is currently available on Amazon.