Ama­zon takes up the odd­ball su­per­hero tale ‘The Tick’


There are two kinds of peo­ple in this world: those who like their su­per­heroes bleak and those who like them bright. (And, yes, there are peo­ple who don’t like su­per­heroes at all, but I have fac­tored them out of this equa­tion.) You have your Re­vi­sion­ists and your Clas­si­cists, your Team Kevlar and your Team Spandex, your Dark Knighters and your Caped Cru­sader­ers.

You can put me in the lat­ter camp — the some­times campy camp. Adam West was my “Bat­man” of choice. But that a su­per­hero story might be com­i­cal does not mean it can­not be ex­cit­ing and sus­pense­ful and en­gage you the way any story in which good and evil come to blows can. Just be­cause a sce­nario is dark, dreary and dystopian doesn’t mean it’s any more true to life or psy­cho­log­i­cally acute than one that is kooky, col­or­ful and op­ti­mistic. Fan­dom has demon­strated re­peat­edly that a not com­pletely se­ri­ous su­per­hero may be taken se­ri­ously; in­deed, for some of us, it is the com­pletely se­ri­ous su­per­hero that can­not be taken se­ri­ously.

And so I greet with in­ter­est Ama­zon’s new take on “The Tick,” the story of a su­per-strong, ad­dlepated big lug in a blue suit — such a nice change from all that black — and the ner­vous ac­coun­tant he en­cour­ages into part­ner­ship.

Like its in­sect name­sake, “The Tick” is a tena­cious beast — it dug its teeth, or pin­cers, or what­ever it is ticks have, into the cul­ture and held on. Cre­ated more than three decades ago by an 18-year-old Ben Ed­lund, who later went on to write for “Fire­fly,” “Su­per­nat­u­ral” and “Gotham,” the char­ac­ter be­gan as a mas­cot for a comic book store newslet­ter, then blew up into a comic book it­self. The comic be­came an an­i­mated Fox se­ries in the mid-’90s, os­ten­si­bly for kids but taken up by their el­ders, and then a live-ac­tion se­ries in 2001, also on Fox, fea­tur­ing Pa­trick Warburton (an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the new show) in the ti­tle role. It did not last long, but its nine fine episodes have sur­vived and cir­cu­lated. There is a cult.

Ev­ery it­er­a­tion of the Tick is es­sen­tially, though not en­tirely, like the oth­ers; but as Ed­lund has been in­volved with them all, we can re­gard ev­ery con­flict­ing ver­sion as au­then­tic and, if that mat­ters to you, canon­i­cal. In the new se­ries, Arthur (Grif­fin New­man), the ac­coun­tant, moves to the cen­ter of the ac­tion; trau­ma­tized at age 9 by wit­ness­ing the death of his fa­ther, he has set him­self on a course of in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ret­ri­bu­tion against a su­per-vil­lain called the Ter­ror (Jackie Earle Ha­ley, pretty ter­ri­fy­ing). The hero’s jour­ney, as the Tick (Peter Ser­afi­now­icz) does not tire of re­mind­ing him, is his.

“I don’t have any spe­cial des­tiny,” Arthur will protest.

“You do,” in­sists the Tick, “and you’re al­ready at stage three: the hero re­jects the call.”

For his part, the Tick knows what he is about — his task is “to win the elixir and save the world, be­cause vil­lainy is real, it has guns and stars and tat­toos and it’s li­censed to drive” — but not who he is: He re­jects the con­cept of se­cret iden­ti­ties be­cause he has am­ne­sia.

The show is clever and crazy in the right pro­por­tions; it is al­ways, in its out­sized way, hu­man and be­liev­able.

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