Sometimes, The Tick comic book creator Ben Edlund wonders if viewers of the show — any of the three so far — are tired of the meta jokes baked into the programs. When Rotten Tomatoes spoke with him earlier this week, he even mentioned the metatextual content has “been my obsession for a long time now.”
“Probably, too much,” he added. “They probably just go, ‘Oh, please, stop with the meta.’”
And yet the humor — which extends from the situations superhero The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz in his current manifestation) and Arthur (Griffin Newman in the new series) find themselves in to commentary on celebrity autobiographies, superhero television shows and comic book clichés — helps keep the concept alive and allows it to keep evolving across three separate programs. First, there was the Fox Kids animated series, which aired from 1994 to 1996 and popularized The Tick’s battle cry of “Spoon!”; then there was Fox’s live action series from 2001; and now the new Amazon Prime series which debuted last August, but returns Friday to wrap up its first season on the streaming platform.
For Edlund, the new show is a sort of “synthesis” of his favorite parts of the previous versions.
“The cartoon had such a great omnivorous diet for visuals and for scope,” he explained. “And the [earlier] live action had a kind of graduation of language and certain ideas, but it just couldn’t go to the places that a superhero narrative wanted to go.”
And while the new show mixes those extremes and injects heart into the story, he said there is “part of the cartoon thing that just sort of still lives inside this.”
With that in mind, Edlund discussed a couple of his favorite moments from the various Tick series. Though by no means complete overview of the various Tick incarnations, it may offer newer viewers insight into The Tick’s brand of humor as the new series completes what Edlund called “the first book” of current Tick iteration.
In the animated series’s second episode “The Tick vs. Chairface Chippendale,” The Tick faces a mobster with a chair for a head known, appropriately enough, as Chairface Chippendale (Tony Jay). Gathering The City’s super-villain community together to celebrate his birthday, Chairface also decides the world deserves a lasting memory of his greatness: his name emblazoned upon the Moon in giant letters. The Tick (Townsend Coleman), Arthur (Rob Paulsen), and American Maid (Kay Lenz) stop him before he could complete his interplanetary autograph. Nonetheless, Chairface’s scheme is partially successful, though, as “Cha” remained etched upon the moon for the rest of the animated series.
In hindsight, Edlund questioned if Chairface really thought out all the angles.
“I don’t know, he expected it to rotate or something. He was writing pretty big,” Edlund said. “I would’ve used two lines [on the Moon].”
With a handful of clever retorts and few concerned words, Danger Boat (voiced by Alan Tudyk) quickly became a fan favorite when the Amazon series debuted. A reproduction of the heroic vehicle even appeared at New York Comic Con last fall. But part of the character’s instant appeal was the theme song he was putting together as Overkill (Scott Speiser) climbed aboard him for the first time. Within seconds, the character had a following.
“The voice [in the song] is one of our editors who just put that on the scratch track to begin with, and that was the voice we went with,” Edlund said of theme, which went through a surprising number of iterations for the simple and somewhat incomplete tune. “Danger Boat as a composer of garage bands,” is how Edlund put it.
Danger Boat will continue to be presence in the second half of the first season and possibly beyond. While musing on the character, Edlund offered an enigmatic “stay tuned.”
Edlund’s favorite moment from the animated series concerns The Tick’s existential crisis at becoming a literal vegetable. In “The Tick vs. El Seed,” The City’s superhero community manages to foil El Seed’s initial attack on the park. But in the battle, El Seed sprays The Tick with an elixir that is meant to accelerate plant growth. While the heroes – including the Carpeted Man and Die Fledermaus (Cam Clarke) — wait for treatment in the ER, The Tick keeps sprouting various veggies on his head, shoulders, and underarms, including broccoli.
“So, he’s growing into broccoli, and then he’s saying, you know, ‘I hate broccoli, but in a certain sense, I am broccoli.’” Edlund recalled. “And for whatever reason, I enjoyed that.”
Part of the line’s power, of course, comes from the intonations of Coleman and his incarnation of The Tick.
Coleman continues to be a presence in The Tick meta-verse, giving his voice to the Amazon series character Midnight, the canine member of the Flag Five who survived The Terror’s (Jackie Earle Haley) attack and became a noted author.
“He’s beautiful, he’s great, and I really love what he’s doing with that,” Edlund said of the performance.
Midnight has more to do beyond the talk show circuit in the second half of the season, of which the creator teased, “He’s a better author than he is a person, and that’s saying a lot about a dog.”
It is one of the most prominent clips you’ll find from the first live-action series out on the Internet and one of the most memorable moments in that iteration of The Tick overall. In “The Funeral,” The Tick (Patrick Warburton) is overjoyed to meet The Immortal, an author and overall swell guy. But upon arriving in town, The Immortal dies, leaving The Tick and Arthur (David Burke) to deal with the arrangements and the body.
In the scene, The Tick has a hard time processing the notion of death and Arthur hits him with the cold truth: It happens to everyone and it can happen at any moment, just like it did to The Immortal. Until that moment, Tick thought death only happens to “dead people.”
“Patrick was amazing,” said Edlund of the first live-action series’s star. “The cast of the first live action [had] gorgeous sorts of expressions. They were great.”
Like Coleman, Warbuton also remains in the fold as a producer on the Amazon series, though it remains to be seen if the three Ticks will ever share a scene together.
Though the absurdity of The Tick looms large in his mind, one of Edlund’s favorite moments in the Amazon series comes from the second episode when The Tick and Arthur embrace.
“It sort of lives as a good expression of that recurring element of their abiding affection in each one of these [iterations,]” he explained. “This is a recurring dream. I have a recurring dream about a blue man that menaces an accountant.”
Though, in this version, the two are more openly concerned about one another’s emotional and physical well-being. A notion which gets its first retention during the hug with “that sort of swinging like 360 around the hug, the shot, and the music.”
“Yeah, I really enjoy that because that’s not really something that’s happening in a lot of the other superhero shows,” he said. “I believe that Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) hugged, but then I think it went further than that, and then it was just different.”
As Edlund noted, the previous versions tended to joke around with the material, with the earlier live-action series going for a Police Academy tone more often than not, blunting the emotional stakes.
“We were making a joke of everything, and that’s one way of going,” Edlund said. “But you don’t get to have real relationship stuff, which we do have [in the current series] and which we have to protect.
“So there’s a certain life and death element that needs to be let into the universe. Blood has to be shed,” he continued. “All these things, in one world, were antithetical to a [previous] expression of The Tick. So we’re pulling The Tick through a portal into this world where those things happen, and he has to adjust to that, and that’s part of the arc over time.”
The results so far have been great as the current Tick mixes its absurdist past with a deeper emotional core, which will no doubt lead to a new list of memorable Tick moments in the seasons to come.
The Tick season 1 returns to Amazon Prime on Friday, February 23.