I blame The Tick for my entire generation.
I like superheroes. I know I’m not alone in this, because I’m pretty sure any film starring Robert Downey Jr. is currently making more money than every single human in Macedonia combined (and a few of the particularly skilled dogs, too). It’s reached the point that, even on this very blog, when I’m talking about “comics”, I mean “the big two companies publishing superhero comics”, and not, say, some graphic novel about taking care of elderly relatives or scoring blankets in the Middle East or whatever is cool in the indie scene right now. I like my weekly comics to be about one thing: grown men punching each other for the slightest of reasons. And, again, I know I’m not the only one, because I just watched a movie where a magic man puts on a super cape and turns an angry German to dust. That doesn’t happen outside of superhero comics and/or Harry Potter novels (or comic books about Harry Potter novels).
Given I am clearly an adult child, you might be under the mistaken impression that I’ve been reading comic books as long as I’ve been able to decipher a thought bubble. And, while it’s true that I’ve been reading comics of various kinds for years, I actually never had a subscription or frequent exposure to the big Marvel or DC titles when I was a wee Goggle Bob. This was because, predominantly, the only comic book shop in the area was filled with sweaty nerds, and even I, a proto-sweaty nerd, found the place to be rather… repellant. As a result, I rarely ever had any new comics, and predominantly only saw an issue when my family went on vacation, and I was gifted an issue of X-Men for the long car ride. Do you know how long it takes to drive from Jersey to Florida? Longer than it takes to read one comic book, dad.
But you may be asking, “Hey, wait a tick. If you never got any comic books, then how did you know you wanted an X-Men comic? Was that the only comic book at the supermarket checkout line, and that’s just what your dad happened to buy?” The answer to that is a resounding “yes”, but what’s important is that I gladly accepted that supermarket comic book because I loved the X-Men. And why did I love the X-Men? Because of television, of course.
Similar to how toddlers today may love Rocket Raccoon despite not being old enough to read a single one of his adventures, the Marvel machine was churning out a number of licensed shows for their key demographic back in the 90’s. X-Men and Spider-Man were the big ones of the Fox Kids line-up, but there were also Iron Man (which was basically stealth Avengers) and The Fantastic Four programs that no one seems to remember. Stan Lee introduced each Fantastic Four episode! He spoke Skrull! It was important! And on the DC Comics side of the aisle, we had the show that seemingly started it all: Batman: The Animated Series. I might have to turn in my nerd card for this, but B:TAS was not my favorite superhero show of the time, simply because it didn’t have nearly enough mutants with laserbeam eyes. I recognized the show was good, but give me some crazy nonsense with bright colors and dudes with four arms over “another Don Falcone episode” any day. The Adventures of Superman and the eventual Justice League series whet that whistle nicely, though.
And then there were the other superhero shows…
I suppose it started with the Disney Afternoon. The life and times of Scrooge McDuck and rescue rodents always got my attention, so when Darkwing Duck was introduced, I was 100% on board. As previously mentioned, I’m a sucker for bright colors and random “mutant” powers, so a purple-clad duck battling a fearful fiveful of elemental based bad guys (water, lightning, plant, dark, and… laughter?) may as well have pasted my eyeballs right to the ‘tube. Darkwing Duck, despite being ostensibly a comedy, was still very adventure-based, and it perfectly scratched those “hero” and “hilarity” itches. There was an episode where a scientist became a dinosaur! What more could I ask for?
And then Batman: The Animated Series hit the airwaves, and I was introduced to Batman for the first time. I was dimly aware of Batman before the show, but B:TAS was the “real” way I learned about Joker, The Waynes, and Alfred. Everything else had come from movie commercials or the NES game. Maybe I saw a Batman comic once before. Maybe.
So, in short, I watched Darkwing Duck, the obvious Batman parody, before I ever learned the details of “straight” Batman. Before I saw The Joker, I saw Quackerjack. Before I saw Batman go blind and fight Penguin, I saw Darkwing lose his sight and battle Megavolt. Years before I even heard of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, I saw a future Darkwing Duck ride around a dystopian St. Canard in a tank and enforce unrelenting vigilante justice. I saw all the parodies before I saw everything else.
And then there was The Tick.
The Tick is amazing. Comic book, animated series, live action series: whatever. It’s all good. Ben Edlund’s parody of superhero comics is spot-on, and without The Tick (in whatever form) we might not have The Venture Brothers or Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog or the other amazing superhero parodies of today. Hell, you can even see Edlund’s impact in more “normie” programs that have greatly influenced modern media, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, where the superhero formula is stretched and distorted, but you can still pick out your “capes” and “big bads”. … Alright, I might be cheating because Edlund worked on all those shows, but I’m pretty sure my point still stands. The Tick was funny and innovative on its own, but its greater impact on media at large seems disproportionate to the idea that most people only know the character from one Fox Kids show from the 90’s.
But it was that Fox Kids animated series that everyone in my generation (that was cool enough… yeah, that’s the ticket) watched. Batman was on every weekday, but Die Fledermaus appeared every Saturday. Superheroes had sidekicks, right? Like Arthur, the pudgy moth-rabbit man that had previously held a pretty good job in accounting. The Tick was invincible! Like Superman! He was also kind of dumb as a post, and his crime fighting catchphrase (“Spoon!”) wasn’t exactly “Avengers Assemble”. There was an episode where a scientist became a dinosaur! And who can forget the villainous The Human Ton and Handy? I mean, he’s no Chairface Chippendale, but who is?
But “Who is?” is the question.
Batman The Animated Series was a show for kids, but it was “serious” in that it took its Bruce Wayne and his many trials completely seriously. Spider-Man weaved the tale of Peter Parker and his many loves turned victims and/or supervillains earnestly. The X-Men lived in a world that hated and feared them, complete with at least one main character spending a season in jail as an example of peaceful protest. X-Men compared its big, blue champion to Ghandi! The Tick compared its similarly shaded hero to… a nitwit.
Darkwing Duck was a hero, but it was always front and center that he was primarily fueled by his ego. The Tick was indestructible, but, as Arthur often reminded us, his endless drive to save The City seemed to be (literally) crazy. The Tick’s superhero contemporaries seemed to be similarly… off… and I don’t think anyone wanted to grow up to be Sewer Urchin, hero or not.
So my entire generation (of nerds) watched Batman solemnly save the city, and then, a half hour later, The Tick did the same thing, but mocked the very idea of taking such a thing seriously. Week after week, rerun after rerun, we saw the hero rescue the world, and then we got a hero that laughed at that first hero. The moral, over and over again, was simple: caring about stuff is lame.
And it’s funny, because it’s pretty clear that the creators and writers of these shows loved superheroes. As Mel Brooks has proven repeatedly, you can’t parody something effectively unless you know the source material, and love is the quickest route to knowledge. The writers of Darkwing Duck may have vehemently hated continuity, but that’s likely only because they lived through The Phoenix Saga (that X-Men will be running through on their show this week). The Tick seems to be “Superman, but an idiot”, but you only get to write that after seeing Superman barbecue Jimmy Olsen’s favorite sweater. These parodies came from a loving place… but the cynicism that was conveyed to a virgin audience is palatable. Without the base, without coming to these shows as fans first, well, it all gets a little muddled.
And then, twenty years later, we’ve got an entire generation of people that don’t seem to believe in anything, and can barely distinguish between an elderly lady that can’t understand her email and a raging racist.
I blame The Tick.
FGC #212 The Tick
- System: Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, the usual suspects. Sega Genesis version for this “review”, technically.
- Number of players: Just one Tick. Arthur is a summonable “weapon”, at least.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s a beat ‘em up. There seem to be a few interesting ideas in the opening areas, like rooftop hopping or optional mini bosses, but around the second level, it becomes an endless gauntlet of the exact same multi-colored ninja. There’s a glimmer of a neat idea in “back-to-back” hero-buddy summoning, but even that gets real old, real fast (and that particular power-up always seems to note the 2/3s point in the stage, so just seeing it means you have a ways to go).
- But is it a “The Tick” game? Yes. The Tick has some amusing animations like leaping “gracefully” across rooftops and a finishing attack that is a finger flick. And some of the stars of the comic/show are here, like Chairface and The Idea Men. And occasionally The Human Bullet drops in and accidently causes damage to heroes and villains alike. There is, basically, a subtle undercurrent of “amusing” to the game.
- But? But it’s still a tepid beat ‘em up, and you can only fight the same three ninja over and over again so many times.
- Is The Tick at least “invincible”? You can toggle the continues and lives at will, and any defeat will lead to a restart right where you failed, so, actually, yeah. If you pump up The Tick’s lives count, you can probably easily make it to the end… but the boredom will stop you first.
- Favorite Tick Supporting Character: Sewer Urchin. No contest. Definitely the best. Definitely.
- Did you know? This game was apparently released very close to the Fox Kids premiere of The Tick. Likely as a result, there are a lot more characters in this that are comic-based than the “usual stable” of the animated series. It’s not like it’s a comics Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vs. animated TMNT situation, but you still see easy (lazy) parodies like Oedipus the Electra clone more than, say, American Maid.
- Would I play again: I’ll watch The Tick over and over again until I die. I will not touch this game ever again.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Blazblue Central Fiction. Hey, drawing from the end of the deck for once, robot? Is this a good thing? I guess we’ll find out. Please look forward to it!