Superheroes used to be such fun. Now they’re almost always grim. And dark. Grimdark (yup, it’s a real word).
Ever since Batman went overboard with the gritty undertones and Christopher Nolan put the dark in the Dark Knight to critical and commercial acclaim, superhero movies and shows have been trying to out-dark and out-brood each other; to see who can bring the most pathos to the poor meta-human superhero’s human condition with a generous garnishing of existential crises. Netflix’s Marvel’s Jessica Jones was so dark, I had to turn up the brightness of my computer screen.
But there is hope. While everyone else is feeling blue, he is blue. And if the dark TV shows are beginning to bug you too, he is the bug that’ll make it go away. A hero who will go mano-a-monomyth with the darkness. The sterling silver ladle of justice, pouring his creamy foam over the freshly-picked strawberries of crime. He is… The Tick!
Created in 1986 by cartoonist, screen-writer and producer Ben Edlund when he was just 18 years old, The Tick was a spoof on superheroes — a satirical, absurdist, goofy unabashedly silly spoof. Starting life as a humble mascot for a comics newsletter, The Tick was destined for greater things. He graduated to having his own comic book, moving to FOX in 1994 with an animated series that ran for three LOL-filled seasons that were hailed as ‘the first great lampooning of the superhero genre’ by IGN (and garnering its own cult following in the process). Then it was on to his own live-action series, and more cult status, again on FOX in 2001 where The Tick continued to fight corny clichés and tired tropes and battling banality.
It lasted for just one season.
But, you just cannot keep awesomeness down. The Tick is back! With his creator, Ben Edlund in full control, even if The Tick isn’t, because you see The Tick is insane. No, not insane as in “insane fun bro!” (which he is), but mentally unstable and clinically insane.
No one really knows where he came from. He’s got more origins than Spider-Man has had reboots. In the comics, The Tick is an escapee from a mental hospital who starts fighting crime in a city called the City. In the 1994-97 animated series cartoon, he crashes into the National Superhero Institute, demonstrates his superpowers to the judging panel, and is assigned to protect a city called the City. The 2001 live-action series finds him one fine night patrolling a gas station and protecting a bus stop from where he takes a bus ticket to the City. The one thing that doesn’t change are his superpowers: Nigh-invulnerability, reality denial, super strength and ‘Drama Power’ – which gives him the ability to make any situation more dramatic by just being there. And an IQ in double figures.
Ok. There’s another thing that doesn’t change. An accountant named Arthur (last name unknown). Sancho Panza to The Tick’s Don Quixote. Because every self-respecting superhero needs a sidekick. Together, they are ‘a two-headed cobra of goodness slithering down the path of righteousness leaving its venom deep in the hindquarters of evil’. Because Arthur too is super-powered, thanks to his power suit that looks like a moth (it’s NOT a bunny costume!).
There’s a host of equally bizarre, surreal supporting characters – both good and not-so-good – that join or go against the Tick in his (mis)adventures. Die Fledermaus (‘The Bat’ in German) a parody of the Dark Knight in the animated series whose powers include ‘great chemistry with women’ becomes the base for the character Batmanuel in the 2001 live-action series. Similarly, American Maid, the world’s most patriotic maid, a send-up of Captain America and Wonder Woman, becomes Captain Liberty in the live-action series. Among the supers in just the animated series, there are also Sewer Urchin, the ‘apotheosis of cool’ in the sewers and powered by super stench slime; the punisher-spoof Big Shot, Éclair (named after the French word for lightning, not the pastry); PlungerMan, who can unclog any toilet; and the superhero with super allergies, Gesundheitan (battle cry: It’s sneezing time!).
On the unspeakably evil side is an equally stellar roster that includes Chairface Chippendale; Destroyo (real name: Leonid Kasparov Destroyovitch); The Angry Red Herring, who can rub petroleum jelly on himself to escape from the clutches of superheroes; The Breadmaster (expelled from baking college for ‘pursuing perverse baking experiments’); the dastardly Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight; and the most feared supervillain The Terror, really really old and the greatest villain of the 20th century, and perhaps a little bit of the 19th.
Remember what I mentioned about how you just can’t keep awesomeness down and out for long? Well, Amazon to the rescue! After a well-received pilot, Amazon has green-lit a whole new series of The Tick, co-produced and written by Ben Edlund and directed by Wally Pfister, the cinematographer of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, amongst others.
Set In a world where superheroes have been real for decades, an accountant with mental health issues and zero powers comes to realize his city is owned by a global super villain long believed to be dead. As he struggles to uncover this conspiracy, he falls in league with a strange blue superhero (yes, The Tick!), who may or may not be a figment of his own imagination. When Edlund said of the new series that it will be “more grounded and darker”, there were some concerns among long-term Tick fans about The Tick not being that ticklish anymore. Because for every Tick, there is a tock.
Well, the pilot ‘aired’ and all was well again. Of course with some changes. But then, the more things change, the more they remain the same. It’s still the superhero satire it always was. The Tick is back. And back are the loud declarations about destiny and victory. The absurd faux-profound proclamations. Intelligent, yet irreverent. In essence, everything that makes The Tick tick. To head the call of destiny once again. To fight against evil and the not-so-good, as it always was. Light against darkness, up against down. A struggle as old as time, but with a beat you can dance to.
The Tick will start airing next year, hopefully early 2017, but the upside of that is that you get to go and watch all The Tick you can lay your hands on – it’s well worth the bandwidth. As has been mentioned earlier in this column, piracy is bad, so please don’t rob ships. Get your hands on the DVDs of the animated series and the earlier live-action series, so that you can tick them off your to-watch list by the time the new series begins. All primed and ready, appetite all whetted for a hero who can save the world and make you laugh at the same time.
On that note, I fare thee well until next week. Live long and prosper. And as The Tick would say, listen to and answer your destiny, dear reader. It’s good. It’s warm. Like the inside of bread.
P.S.: Of course, there’s no real word called ‘bustice’ (thought it’s been used in the title of this post). The Big Blue Bug of Justice was the tagline of The Tick, but am sure The Tick too would’ve said ‘bustice’ in the interests of alliteration. Until next week then!
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