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The Tick is a series that probably should not have become as well-known as it did. That’s not to say it’s this immensely popular force, not at all, it remains stoically in the hearts and minds of cult fanatics. Yet, for a character created as a mascot for a publisher no one really gave any attention to, a cartoon series, a live action television show, and now a pilot for one of the most used streaming services today is not that shabby at all. Ben Edlund’s big blue bug of justice might now has a chance to crossover into a superhero global fandom in a way it never dreamed, so why not take a trip down memory lane?
The Tick’s first foray into television came in the form of a network cartoon show that aired on the famous Fox Kids Block back in the early to mid 90’s. Running three seasons, the show brought the characters to a new range of kids who would become ardent followers and fans. The show expanded the Tick universe with a brand new cosmology of heroes and villains. Introduced into this series were the fan favorites “Die Fliedermaus” and “American Maid”, who would prove so memorable that they would inspire future figures in the successor to this show. The Tick’s irreverent and boisterous humor is aided by the delivery from the great Townsend Coleman.
The show is best remembered for its villains as well as its heroes for some, with eccentric and hammy menaces such as Chairface Chippendale filling the ranks. The cartoon helped The Tick brand in so many ways, giving it a longevity that smaller cult comics can wish for but not really entertain as viable. Of course it was, naturally, softened up some – with the Tick himself being less caustic than the comic version could be at times, an attribute that has carried over to almost every incarnation since then, as more fun loving and in wonderment than the more mania driven original hero.
The version of the Tick that I am most familiar with has to be the short lived 2001 live-action show that also aired on FOX in a prime time slot. The show starred Patrick Warburton as the titular heroic tsunami with David Burke as the hapless, but still stalwart, Arthur. The show was criticized at the time, and still today, for changing the format of the series to fit a smaller budget. While it is easier for a cartoon to capture the super-heroic madness of the franchise, a fledgling FOX show would not be given the same amount it would need to bring that vision to life.
Instead, the show shifted the focus onto the character’s everyday lives rather than outright action or adventures. Plots revolved around Arthur “coming out” as a sidekick to his family, or The Tick’s “ex-wife” tracking him down. Coupled with B-plots about other regulars Batmanuel and Captain Liberty, about protesting a traffic ticket or a sexual scandal respectively, and it is easy to see how regular fans would be put off. Smart show-running, conception, and casting allowed the spirit of the series to shine through. Warburton’s full of wonder, yet brash, attitude merged with Burke’s classic every-man reluctance, earning the brief show a respected place in the halls of Tick. Doesn’t hurt that the pilot was amazingly directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.
Speaking about how different styles doesn’t mean jack when the true passion of the foundation is there, we have to end by talking about the new prospective series from Amazon. Available now only in pilot form as it hasn’t been picked up yet, the first episode is written by Ben Edlund and directed by Will Pfister, and “executive producer” credit cameos by Sonnenfeld and Warburton, and it is truly a delight. It takes itself a bridge apart from the other adaptations by using 15 years of superhero television and learning the best tricks from what’s come out. In a wave of more textured, gritty, and grounded comic shows, Tick aims for a spot among those stars.
The original comic was, in part, a very typical 80’s-esque set-up, rife with ninja clans and supermen in ho-dunk disguises. It was only the Tick himself that broke ranks and that is what gave him his memorable status. It was a world through the lens of a madman, and the Amazon pilot brings it back to those roots. For the most part, the episode would not feel like an outsider among shows like Daredevil or Jessica Jones, where slightly grimier deconstruction narratives are tantamount. Once again, however, it is the title character who takes charge of showcasing how silly this all really is.
Am I going to lambaste the pilot for being darker and more grim than previous versions? No, because it is done with a purpose and because it works. It serves to make the Tick look as ridiculous as he should be, a feat that is harder now than it was twp decades ago when comics weren’t as saturated in the public mind. A goofy superhero show with a goofier main character? It’s the new cliché. Something more cerebral and perhaps scary, but with that same goofy character? That’s genius, and it’s something exquisitely pulled off. The pilot might be a bit messy in places, but I can’t wait to see where it leads our dynamic duo.