Superhero 101: The Tick

superhero the Tick

‘The Tick’ continues on Amazon Prime August 25. Here’s what you should know before scratching the itch to enter the world of a very different sort of superhero.

If you have Amazon Prime, you should watch the pilot of The Tick as soon as possible. It debuted on Amazon Instant Video last year, and on August 25 the remaining nine episodes of season one will be released.

The pilot is worth your time not only because it’s remarkably well done but because it turns the popular superhero genre on its head. If you like superheroes, you’ll probably like The Tick. If you like comedy (and who doesn’t?), you’ll almost certainly become enamored with the hilarious blue-suited Tick and his sidekick Arthur.

See, The Tick is a superhero parody, but in the clever kind of way, not the sort that will insult your beloved caped heroes. Given the current global fascination with superhero media, The Tick offers a breath of fresh air outside the often-serious genre. As outlandish as it may sound, The Tick has the chance to reenergize a genre that has fallen, by and large, into a state of redundancy.

The timing of its arrival is key and represents another reason you should pay attention to this lesser-known superhero.

This isn’t the first time The Tick will reach television screens.

Back in 1994 The Tick was adapted into an animated series on the now-defunct Fox Kids Network. The show, while keeping its satirical nature, toned down its content for a younger audience. After 36 episodes across three seasons, the acclaimed cartoon was cancelled. Somehow it hasn’t held the same staying power as other ’90s-era animated shows for new generations of kids. Perhaps that’s because The Tick’s Monty Python–style humor was always meant to appeal to an older audience.

superhero the Tick

‘The Tick’ 1994 animated series / Fox Kids Network

Well, in 2001 Fox brought the somewhat forgotten superhero back into the limelight with a live-action show starring Patrick Warburton (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Family Guy) to do just that: appeal to a broad, adult-oriented audience. Unfortunately, due to minimal promotion and a time slot pitting it against the then-colossal Survivor, The Tick lasted only nine episodes before it was ousted.

Now, in the height of superhero popularity, The Tick will try for a third time. This time around, Arthur will be as much of a focal point as The Tick himself. You may be wondering why, if The Tick failed twice already, it would get another chance.

The answer to that is both the quality of the source material and the dedication of its original creator. In each of the previous attempts to bring The Tick to screen, The Tick creator Ben Edlund was at the helm of the project. Edlund once again leads The Tick’s latest effort.

To understand why The Tick has been unearthed yet again, let’s take a look at its promising origins, which laid the groundwork for a premise that could do very well on-screen someday. Maybe someday is now.

While in high school in the ’80s, Ben Edlund came up with the superhero who would become The Tick. At the ripe age of 18, just as Edlund was about to go off to college, New England Comics — a comic shop he frequented —asked him to create a comic strip for the New England Comics Newsletter. In 1986 The Tick appeared in three newsletters as a one-page comic strip. Edlund handled all the writing and black-and-white illustrations himself. Those who read the newsletter were drawn to the fresh superhero, and New England Comics decided to publish a full series of The Tick.

In 1988 The Tick #1 was released by New England Comics, marking the start of undoubtedly one of the most successful independently published comic book series of all time. Edlund once again drew and wrote The Tick #1’s pages, all 36 of them.

At the start of the series, The Tick has just escaped from an insane asylum with no memories of his life before becoming The Tick. When he was originally institutionalized, he already donned the blue suit. Though he suffers from memory loss, apparently caused by repeated head injuries, we learn his first name is Nick. We are led to believe The Tick is legally insane and wears a superhero costume not because he previously performed heroic acts but because his mind isn’t right.

superhero the Tick

Pencils/Writing by Ben Edlund

However, The Tick quickly becomes a superhero in The City (its proper name) when he saves an old man from being interrogated by a group of ninjas. The Tick flees the scene, but the ninjas follow suit. Thanks to The Tick’s “nigh-invulnerability,” he jumps from a string of tall buildings without physical trauma and loses the ninjas. The Tick arrives in a tunnel and comes face-to-face with a bona fide superhero: The Caped Wonder.

The Caped Wonder is a startlingly similar, and purposeful, play on Superman. He can fly, he shoots heat rays from his pupils, and he travels at incredible speeds. The similarities don’t stop there. The Caped Wonder’s alias is Clark Oppenheimer (Superman is Clark Kent), and his hideout also happens to be dubbed The Fortress of Solitude. Oh, and The Caped Wonder has his own form of Kryptonite, a lone vulnerability from his native planet called Ottercreekite.

While in the tunnel, The Tick gets in front of a moving subway. The Caped Wonder tries to save him, but The Tick perceives the man as, like himself, an enzyme lodged in the belly of a whale (as mentioned, The Tick isn’t of sound mind), and they both get hit by the subway because of it.

Since both men are extra durable, they survive the impact, and The Tick decides to follow The Caped Wonder in hopes of learning how to become a superhero. The Caped Wonder works at the Weekly World Planet, and The Tick ends up getting a job right next to his desk to become the newspaper’s new crossword writer.

The problem for The Tick is that The Caped Crusader doesn’t want to teach The Tick how to be a superhero. The City is The Caped Crusader’s territory, but because of The Tick’s psychological issues, he doesn’t fully understand that. Instead, The Tick must learn by himself, as The Caped Crusader wants nothing to do with him.

The Tick recruits his own sidekick in issue #4, a round, troubled former accountant named Arthur. He wears a moth suit that grants him the ability to fly, but because of its design, people in The City commonly mistake him for a bunny.

If all this sounds rather silly, it’s because it is. The Tick’s superpowers include the ability to make any situation more dramatic simply by being in close proximity to a situation. He also surprises his enemies by yelling the word “spoon” when going into battle, which is perhaps better than Arthur’s own call: “Not in the face, not in the face!”

The Tick, Arthur and all the villains seen throughout the comic series are somewhat powerful, but nowhere near as strong as traditional comic book heroes. Because of that, it’s no surprise The Caped Crusader doesn’t play a significant role in the story beyond the outset. For an idea of The Tick’s standard competition, there’s a villain named Chairface Chippendale, who actually has a wooden chair as a head.

superhero the Tick

Amazon Studios

Even though the comic book series takes a lighthearted, absurdist approach to superhero tropes, throughout Edlund’s 12-issue run (1988-1993) there are times sadness peeks out from behind the persistent veil of humor.

The Tick, although capable of withstanding devastating falls and collisions, feels all the pain inflicted by trauma on the inside. We’re led to believe The Tick at one point had a wife and children. While much of what The Tick says is unreliable or imagined, the thought of his old life — his real identity — creeps in, making the comedic effect of Edlund’s words and drawings tug on our heartstrings. One of The Tick’s nemeses, Barry Hubris (feel free to laugh), lives for taking over the personas of superheroes.

Although The Tick thwarts Barry’s attempts at becoming The Tick, what has The Tick really won? An identity that’s largely fragmented and a persona that’s always changing due to his amnesia.

The Tick, unlike most comics, focuses on characters rather than action. In doing so, The Tick tells the story of an average, deeply flawed person in pursuit of becoming a superhero. As superhero stories go, The Tick is certainly among the most comedic, but it’s also one that gets much closer to telling a relatable, poignant tale.

Since its original run, The Tick has been reissued more than a handful of times. While The Tick has been used in a wide assortment of spinoffs and guest appearances, Edlund’s original 12-arc run remains the focal point of interest in the character today.

Hopefully The Tick’s third time on small screens will have lasting power. In an age filled with unstoppable superheroes, The Tick may be just who we need to keep us grounded in reality. end

 

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