"The Tick vs. Season One": Mighty DVD Justice!
In 1994, Ben Edlund teamed up with Fox Kids to bring The Tick to Saturday morning kid’s animation. Based on his comic book of the same name, The Tick focused on a 7-foot-tall, 300-pound, nigh-invulnerable, and endearingly dense arachnid superhero who fought crime. Along for the ride was his sidekick, Arthur, whose moth suit enabled him to fly and get repeatedly mistaken for a bunny. The show only lasted for 36 episodes, but rapidly gained a cult following who felt the show’s absence keenly for the long, ugly period when it was off the air.
For a time, Evil reigned on television screens by depriving us of our giant blue champion of goodness. But worry not, animation fans. Buena Vista Home Entertainment has finally heard our cries, first by returning The Tick to the airwaves on their Jetix programming block. Now they have answered the long-frustrated dreams of lovers of justice everywhere by promising the entire series on DVD, beginning with The Tick vs. Season One. So beware, evildoers! The Tick is BACK, and ready to deliver heaping helpings of swift, silvery, high-resolution retribution to evildoers infesting home theatre systems everywhere!
Ahem. Sorry. The Tick has that kind of effect on people. It is no exaggeration to say that The Tick may well be the funniest cartoon produced during the 1990’s, if not the latter half of the 20th Century. It’s the demented love child of Stan Lee and Monty Python. A conversation between Tick fans will often degenerate into paroxysms of laughter, punctuated by punch lines from the show when they can be stammered out comprehensively (and sometimes even when they can’t).
In the first episode of the show, “The Tick vs. the Idea Men,” the Tick is assigned to protect The City, rapidly meeting his sidekick and straight-man Arthur and a madcap assortment of the City’s less-than-effective superheroes. Some, like the Lemming, the Human Bullet, and Bi-Polar Bear, are hilarious one-trick ponies that are best used sparingly, if they can even sustain more than one appearance. Others, like the cowardly Batman-clone Die Fledermaus and the Dustin-Hoffman-as-Rain-Man-inspired Sewer Urchin, would prove their worth later in the show as semi-regular cast members, but definitely not as superheroes. The only superhero who shows any competence at the job is the sole woman of the group, a straight-laced Captain America clone with the pun-tastic name of American Maid who serves as a second straight-man…er, straight-woman, to the gonzo blue dimness of the Tick himself.
The heroes may be laughable, but luckily the villains are both less competent and more funny. The Idea Men turn out to be a gang of geniuses who can’t make themselves understood behind their big metal face masks. Organized crime leader Chairface Chippendale and his assortment of Dick Tracy rejects plan an elaborate scheme for Chippendale’s birthday that only yields a running gag for the rest of the show. El Seed is a man-sized sunflower ranting about “La Revolución!” as he creates an army of mobile corn, while the Breadmaster and his sidekick Butter Pat protest insipid, mass-produced bread by planting an assortment of destructive baked goods (excuse me, “baked bads,” as the Tick refers to them). The interdimensional overlord Thrakkorzog grapples with mucus clones of the Tick and Arthur, his unflappable roommate, and his own tongue that’s obsessed with eating brains. And then there is the ancient Terror, who fought Teddy Roosevelt on the White House lawn, and the motley menagerie of naughtiness he gathers: the Man-Eating Cow, alien invader Tunn-La (Not of This Earth), Stalingrad (graduate student and Joseph Stalin impersonator), and the deadly duo of the Human Ton and Handy the Hand Puppet. The puppet is the brains of the pair.
The sharp, funny writing of the show is greatly aided by a top-flight set of voice actors, with Townsend Coleman deserving special honors for his over-the-top performance as the title character. The Tick is equal parts nobility, good intentions, and enthusiasm, blissfully and entirely free from the burdens of higher intelligence. A brief-lived live-action version starred Patrick Warburton as the Tick, who managed to successfully capture the dim-bulb aspect of the character but lacked the underlying sweetness that Coleman brought to the table. Ex-Monkee Mickey Dolenz gives the constantly put-upon Arthur a nasal, un-heroic performance, acting as the perfect foil to Coleman’s freewheeling insanity. The late, great Tony Jay played Chairface Chippendale to the hilt, lending his refined, dulcet tones to some truly ridiculous dialogue. However, the top voice acting job this season belongs to Maurice LaMarche, best known as the smarter half of Pinky and the Brain, for his maniacal stream-of-consciousness ranting to nobody in particular as the Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight (A-HAHAHAHAHAH!!!!) in “The Tick vs. the Tick.” It’s a testament to the strength of the show that this absolutely hilarious episode isn’t even the funniest one in the season.
If the writing and the voice acting are superlative, it must be said that the animation quality of the show would be kindly described as “crude.” This is not a show that one will appreciate for its technical prowess, which is about on a par with the 1967 Spider-Man series or Super Friends. Ben Edlund has claimed at times that the “bad 70’s animation” was an aesthetic choice or that he was happy with the results, but it doesn’t really matter. Like South Park, the quality of the animation is entirely secondary to the wit, intelligence, and keen eye for the absurd found in the writing and the acting.
Considering how long fans have been waiting to get the complete series on home video, simply having the show without ads or those annoying animated “bugs” and station logos is cause enough for celebration, but this release has a frustrating number of flaws. The 2-disc set contains 12 of the 13 episodes of The Tick’s first season, with the last one (“The Tick vs. the Mole Men”) currently tied up in legal wrangling and promised for a later season set; marvelously intelligent readers will be able to guess who the lawyers on the other side are working for. Like many TV series sets, there are no chapter stops within the individual episodes; even though the opening scat theme by Doug Katsaros is tremendously enjoyable, it can be rather tedious to have to fast-forward through it when you just want to get to the next episode. Finally, the set does not include any special features beyond a “Collectible Tick Lithograph,” which is a fancy way to say “a big Tick postcard with a bit of Tick trivia on the back of it.” No commentary tracks, no “making of” featurettes, no deleted scenes, and no retrospectives, even though the second disc has only 4 episodes on it. The end result can’t help but be disappointing, especially considering the relatively high retail price for the set. For any other show, these problems would be completely damning, but for The Tick, they can be quickly forgotten in the waves of laughter that will come from the show itself. With any luck, the deficiencies of this set will be corrected in subsequent releases.
You know, readers, like quality educational television, the end of a review is always a good place to reflect on some lessons learned. Evil will always fail because it is dumb, even if Good is only a tiny bit smarter. Patience pays off, as do we when media companies seek new properties so they can sell us more DVDs, but nobody wins when entertainment lawyers battle. Absurdist comedy turns out to be entirely sane in an absurd world. You can’t put a price tag on top-quality comedy. Ben Edlund and the rest of the crew behind The Tick may be in dire need of psychiatric counseling. But most of all, The Tick teaches us that there is no villainy in the world that can withstand the onslaught of 300 pounds of mighty, nigh-invulnerable, giant blue stupidity. Action may be Spider-Man’s reward, but laughter is the Tick’s. Onward, and upward for Righteousness and Season Two!