“I am the wild blue yonder. Villain, you face the Tick.”
Amazon was always hesitant to get into The Tick business. On IMDB and such, to differentiate it from other versions of The Tick, Amazon’s version is labeled “The Tick (2016)”. But in August 2016, Amazon only put out one episode. One. To be fair, this tactic wasn’t unique to The Tick. At the time, Amazon was putting out pilot-only samples for viewers to vote on for a bunch of new shows. I’m sure some made the cut and others didn’t, but the only one I cared about was The Tick.
I too was hesitant about this version of The Tick. The cartoon version (“The Tick (1994)”) was one of the best things to come out of the 1990s and had a well-deserved 3 season run on Fox Kids. The live action version on Fox prime time (“The Tick (2001)”) was, I dare say, even better than the cartoon. That was for one reason and one reason only: Patrick Warburton. He is, and always will be in my mind, the Tick. He was absolutely perfect in the role. It was made for him and he was made for it. So while I will never turn down more of The Tick, I was already unenthused about this new guy. He was not the Tick.
First thing you have to understand is that this version of The Tick is really not about the Tick, it’s about Arthur. It’s his hero’s journey. 20 years ago, Arthur witnessed his dad get killed in a battle between The Flag Five (superheroes) and The Terror (supervillain). He was pretty much traumatized for life and has only just recently recovered enough to have a somewhat normal life. The Terror was later killed by Superian, this show’s version of Superman, but Arthur believes he survived and just went underground. Arthur has been tracking the ex-henchmen of The Terror and believes he’s finally making a move on The City.
Arthur meets the Tick on a stakeout of one of these gangs, but he panics when police show up and gets himself arrested. The Tick eventually confronts the gang and accidentally blows up their headquarters. Arthur considers that he might have hallucinated the whole thing until the Tick shows up the next morning in his apartment. The Tick believes that destiny has brought them together. “When Destiny speaks, she speaks to me. She says ‘hi’ by the way.” The Tick recovered a moth suit from the explosion. A suit that just happens to be perfectly sized for Arthur. “I think the meaning is clear,” says the Tick.
A year and a week later (seriously Amazon, why not just make it a year exactly?), another chunk of season 1 was dropped, and it wasn’t bad. Yeah, I know, high praise. Amazon extended their commitment to a whole 5 episodes this time, bringing the total to 6. High praise all around. Then in February 2018, the other half of season 1 dropped, making it 12 episodes total now. This show was starting to grow on me.
In the first half of season 1, everyone is focused on getting their hands on that suit. First to show up is Miss Lint, the super-powered henchman of the current crime boss in The City, Ramses IV. Next is Overkill, a vigilante hero who has no qualms about killing bad guys, or really anyone who gets in his way. Finally, the Terror himself does indeed come out of hiding to kidnap Arthur, suit and all. However, the suit imprinted on Arthur when he first put it on, and now no one else can use it.
There were some definite moments from this first half-season that still stand out in my mind. The way that “Arthur” becomes Arthur’s actual superhero name, when he invokes the “28th Amendment” to avoid being unmasked by the police. Arthur and Miss Lint quarrelling upstairs at his step dad’s birthday party, ending in an exploding vacuum cleaner that covers her head to toe in grime (because of static cling). The Terror hiding in the shadows behind a tied up Arthur and saying “Alexa, play ominous music” (perfect product placement).
While the first half of the season may have dragged on a bit, the second half got complicated and tried to cram too much in. The gist of things is that Arthur’s suit is part of the Terror’s plan to kill Superian somehow triggering an explosion of “bismuth”, his version of kryptonite. When the full scale of the plan is explained to Arthur, he says “Oh, my God. It’s… it’s the stupidest plan I’ve ever heard.” Needless to say, the heroes foil the plan, Superian is saved, and the Terror is captured.
Again, there are some fun moments in the second half of season 1, but the real charm of it comes out in the relationships and interactions between the characters. Between The Terror and Miss Lint. Between Dot and Overkill. Between Arthur and Walter. Looking back now, I had honestly forgotten a lot of the plot and what happened. What I remember was the characters, and growing to really like them.
The exception to that was the main protagonist, the Terror. I didn’t like the Terror. He never grew on me. This first season being Arthur’s story, we view the Terror through the lens of that hero’s journey. In the beginning, he’s the essentially the boogie man. Arthur has this entire crazy conspiracy wall dedicated to tracing his possible movements. But has the story progresses, we get to see him as the charlatan that he really is. One of the more annoying subplots is that he takes over a subsidiary soda company headquarters as his crime lair, and his PR folks are making various pitches for his big “coming out.” He’s not scary and he’s not funny. Arthur comes to the same conclusion, confronting the Terror with these words:
“You didn’t mean to do any of this. You didn’t mean to kill my father and turn me into what I am now. No, that was destiny. You’re just a sad, demented, evil old man, and everyone can see it. I can see it, too. You have nothing to hide behind now, Terror. You got nothing.”
Season 2 dropped on April 5, 2019, with 10 episodes this time. A full season in this modern age. Things were looking up for our heroes. And season 2 is where this version of The Tick really came into its own.
The storyline of season 2 has the Tick and Arthur joining AEGIS, the government agency that oversees superheroes (think SHIELD in Marvel comics). The bureaucracy and paperwork is only marginally balanced out by their swanky Heroes Lounge. AEGIS is standing up a new Flag Five and they want the Tick and Arthur to be part of it. Miss Lint also joins the group as a new superhero Joan of Arc, keeping the boys wondering if she’s really turned a new leaf or if this is just an evil scheme to get rid of all her competition (spoiler alert: it’s the latter). But there is a real evil scheme going on within the higher echelons of AEGIS. With the help of Overkill and Dot, they eventually defeat the bad guy (I won’t give everything away) and save what’s left of the agency.
While the storyline is so much better in season 2, the characters again are what make the show work so well. We get some great new characters, like Miss Lint’s new henchman Edgelord, who may be my favorite character from any incarnations of The Tick. (Had I been drinking milk when he was introduced, it would have been bad.) But also, just about all of the existing characters show growth this season. Overkill and Dot continue to slowly develop their friendship / relationship. Dot finds out that she is a “category” (meaning she has a super power). Tinfoil Kevin is also revealed to be a category. Arthur’s step dad Walter turns out to be an undercover AEGIS agent, and his mom helps babysit lobster babies (“Joan!”). Even Dangerboat has his background story greatly expanded.
There are so many great moments in season 2. When the public turns against him, Superian has a meltdown and keeps turning to Arthur for helpful advice—which he always manages to mangle in the most cringe worthy ways. Overkill and Dot’s private dance party in the middle of the AEGIS victory celebration is just so awkward and nerdy, it’s endearing. The Tick feeding starfish to the lobster babies, mama bird style. Arthur and the AEGIS paperwork queen squaring off. We even got a brief glimpse of Thrakkorzog.
In the last scene (OK, minus an epilogue featuring Superian), the Tick and Arthur head out on afternoon patrol. As the scene fades out, the Tick gives his infamous battle-cry, “Spoon!” A perfect note to end a perfect season.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the critics rating went up from 90% for season 1 to 100% for season 2, and the audience score for season 2 was 97%. You’d be hard pressed to get better numbers than that. Reviews from online sites like Vox, AVClub, and ScreenRant unanimously agreed that the sophomore season had found its comedic destiny, as the Tick would put it.
Nevertheless, on May 16, 2019, Ben Edlund himself, creator, author, artist, and show runner for all three instantiations on television, announced via Twitter that The Tick was not going to be renewed for a third season by Amazon. There was a little bit of hope that they could shop it around and maybe Netflix or Hulu would pick it (see #SaveTheTick), but by June that hope too was snuffed out.
It’s hard not to contrast The Tick with the superhero parody that would replace it on Amazon just a few months later, The Boys. Certainly this was a darker, grittier version of The Tick than we have seen in any of its previous incarnations, especially season 1. It seems like all superhero shows these days have to be full of brooding, psychologically damaged vigilantes who constantly teeter on the edge of becoming villains themselves (think The Umbrella Academy and Arrow on television or Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice and X-Men: Dark Phoenix at the movies). The Boys is all of that, cranked up to an 11. Where “supes” really have become the bad guys, and the good guys are only marginally better.
When Overkill was first introduced, he would have fit right in to the world of The Boys. In a dark alley, he eviscerates four of Ramses’ men in front of Arthur, with blood splattering everywhere. We find out that Overkill used to be Straight Shooter of the Flag Five, until the Terror killed his “family” and destroyed his life too. He is the dark version of Arthur, bent on revenge instead of justice.
However, when the Tick saves his life, he clears the debt by making Overkill promise to never kill anyone again. The Tick sets him on the path to reclaim his humanity and become a hero again. When he is back in AEGIS for the victory celebration, he recognizes that it’s “pretty good.”
Maybe this is our take away from The Tick. Given all the dark superhero shows on television and at the movies these days, it can seem like the Golden Age superhero values are quaint in a thing of the past. As Starlight says in The Boys, “Since when did ‘hopeful’ and ‘naïve’ become the same thing? I mean, why would you get into this business if not to save the world? That’s all I have ever wanted.” That’s all the Tick wants to do as well.
The Tick reminds us that the good guys ought to be good. Our heroes don’t need a dark past. Heck, maybe they don’t need a past at all. Maybe Amazon disagrees with that, but I’ll always side with the Tick. I’m sure this is not a goodbye, it’s more of a till we meet again. Because the Tick will always be there when we need him, in our darkest hour.