In 1988, a 19-year-old, fresh-faced Gen-X’er, Ben Edlund, now known for writing and producing some of the most beloved sci-fi and comic adaptations for television, published the first issue of his gleefully, skin tight blue-suited superhero, the Tick. It took six years, but the comic would eventually jump to the small screen with an animated series created by Edlund, with the titular character being voiced by Townsend Coleman, famed voice of Michelangelo of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Now, many people will look to Deadpool as being the iconic “meta” comic book character because he is written exactly so, but the atypical world built around the Tick allows for the jokes and jabs to fly freely, breaking less the fourth wall and more the barriers between comic realms and stereotypes. For this review, let’s go back to the beginning, to the first episode, “The Tick vs. The Idea Men.”
Airplane! is revered for it’s near-constant assault of one-liners, slapstick, gags, a handful of cutaways, and oddities while trying to have some (ludicrous) column of disposition to center the conflict around. This is how the The Tick felt for me. Every line was a punch or a set-up for a punch, intelligently abusing superhero tropes and offering a sharply written and riotous plunge into a full-blown parody of the caped-crusading realm. Things like the Tick’s “nigh-invincibility”, which render him near-drunk so that he harmlessly crashes through walls, jumps off roofs, and withstands explosions with nary a scuff mark, are ridiculous and don’t make for any interesting conflict or eventual character development, but it does make for solid comedy. And of course, the Tick possesses a power that turns any mundane situation into some overly dramatic scenario complete with would-be cheesy trumpet blares and dun-duns. It is ridiculous, in the same tone the old Batman TV series was, except at that time, it was less intentional. This mockery, near surrealism, is the core of our blue-suited hero.
“The Tick vs. The Idea Men” begins with an interview with our main characters the Tick and Arthur (originally voiced by Micky Dolenz, later replaced by Rob Paulsen) where we get insight to the Tick’s puerile view of herodom and one’s purpose in life when you are the strongest, most justifying caper out there; the interview aspect also helps with simple narrative as the Tick can provide small quips to swing the show back on track or to drop another joke.
The Tick visits a Superhero Convention and is assigned to “the city” where he is destined to dispense a mighty justice. The City has more than one hero patrolling her streets. Some of the recurring ones are obviously parodies of franchise stars such as American Maid, who mocks Captain America, Die Fledermaus, who mocks Batman, and Big Shot, who mocks the Punisher. All of these heroes play on the extreme personality traits of their established characters. Other one-off heroes and villains serve as filler jokes throughout the show, and most are absolutely hilarious. In this first episode alone we get the following montage:
“This looks like a job for Bi-Polar Bear! But I just can’t seem to get out of bed this month.”
“This looks like a job for Captain Lemming.” Who promptly jumps off a building and pleads, “Come on, spine, work with me!”
The episode’s villains are the Idea Men: guys who are just looking to get rich and not have to work anymore (yeah!). If they don’t get their money, they’re going to bomb the city’s dam. Each of them don a helmet that renders their speech unintelligible, fitting the head-to-toe absurdity of the show–for reference, the next episode features a villain with a chair for a head. Comparatively, the Idea Men have a relatively short sharing of the screen compared to other characters on the show, but they’re a silly introduction to the show’s adversaries.
Rarely is a television program able to pack so many jokes into 22 minutes worth of air time, but The Tick does it over and over. Rumor has it that 30 Rock used to pack in 10 jokes per minute, and while I didn’t count or do any hard science, The Tick had me in stitches for the whole episode. It’s great to go back into this series with a huge gap of time since my last viewing. I’ve grown up, experienced more, have a firmer understanding of structure in television and comedy, and am able to pick up on subtleties, which makes the show immensely funnier than the simple screwball cartoon I watched as a kid.
That doesn’t mean it’s not without faults; the plots are almost one paragraph blurbs on 30 pages of jokes. You’re not going to get Christopher Nolan, but who gives a crap? If you haven’t seen this show or are only aware of the strange (equally brilliant) live-action version starring Patrick Warburton, do yourself a favor and watch this amazing, short-lived series.
For those of you who want a quick show to plow through, you can get the entire series of The Tick here. You’ll become one of those cool guys who makes hip references at bars and gets everyone to laugh. Tell us how much you liked the show and how poorly your referencing went in the comments or Twitter!