Now that we’ve all had time to binge the first half of Ben Edlund‘s latest The Tick TV show, I want to examine where it all began. There will be plenty of reviews and deconstructions of the new Amazon show (for the record, I loved it. I think it’s got a unique texture, which is so rare in this genre) so instead, I want to go back to where it started for me, and most of us, and talk about exactly why The Tick speaks to so many of us in the same exact weird way.
Context: In the late 1980s, Ben Edlund created a superhero character spoof called The Tick. He turned it into an independent comic book that quickly grew a large following and a cult status. It was a secret handshake for people with stacks of comic books in their homes. In the burgeoning MTV generation, it fit right in with the mainstream rebellion that was the backdrop reaction to the materialistic 80’s scene. If the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic was a dark reflection of comic book culture, The Tick was a turned-to-11 celebration of it. I didn’t know about any of this until I was a teenager. I was one of the many who were introduced to The Tick on Saturday mornings.
For the years it was on the air, The Tick was my favorite cartoon show. Even my parents watched it with us. We had the Pizza Hut toys for years. It was funny, sharp and satirical without being preachy. It didn’t take itself seriously, it lampooned a genre that often did, but always with a wink a smile. It couched biting, punk-rock commentary in a big stupid candy package. The first episode, Tick fights The Idea Men; business men in suits who can only be understood by each other and who’s only motivation is some vague plan to get money. Ben Edlund sends a clear message: This is supposed to be fun and your suit and tie are smothering. And he got a corporation to pay to put it on the air! This show was special. It spoke, loudly and boldly, to a group of people who wouldn’t be mainstream for another two decades. People who, like Arthur, grew up feeling a little silly (or told that they should) because of their passions. Now they had a champion. A big blue yonder to protect them and shout at them that they were right! They were magical! They had the stuff of greatness within them! You shouldn’t be stuffed into the mythic parents basement, NO! You belong on the rooftops! With THE TICK.
But that wasn’t me. I only read Ninja Turtle comic books (the TMNT Adventure run for kids. Not the original dark and gritty black and white run.), and no one made fun of me for it. I didn’t understand what Edlund was lampooning. I didn’t identify with Arthur, a schlubby accountant who wants more out of life. I didn’t even know what the word ‘satire’ meant. I was nine. Defladermous was just a confusing nonsense word. The word The Tick called Batman. I wasn’t eating up the satire, I was eating up the candy packaging. Looking back at why it’s remained so important though, I think what spoke to me was the pure optimism of the Tick. The blind belief in himself and his quest. The complete absurdity of the universe, that would often wag a finger at itself for being silly, then turn a man into a dinosaur without blinking. That’s what being 9 feels like. It doesn’t occur to you to hate yourself yet like Arthur does. You just want to play. To jump from rooftop to rooftop. You’ve got a lot of people telling you what the world is supposed to be and what it is, but you can see the men turning into dinosaurs all around you. It doesn’t make sense, so you lurch forward unknowing anyway, right into the big blue yonder.
I think that’s why The Tick keeps coming back, and why my parents used to watch every week with me and my brother. We all want something earnest. We all want something optimistic. We all want our convictions to be nigh-invulnerable in a world that never started making sense to us. We all just had to start pretending to be grown ups, but most of us are faking it. Most of us are wearing a moth costume to the office. And what we really, really, really need is a big, loud, dummy to crash into our lives and give us permission to fly.
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