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The Tick is still the perfect show for an age of superhero saturation

The Tick is still the perfect show for an age of superhero saturation


The mainstreaming of comics heroes just makes this series funnier and more relevant

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Photo: Amazon Studios

Spoilers ahead for season 1 of Amazon’s The Tick.

Amazon’s decision to greenlight a 2016 pilot for a new live-action adaptation of Ben Edlund’s superhero spoof comic The Tick is only getting smarter with time. 2019 is expected to see the release of six major superhero films, and caped crusaders can now be found on nearly every major network and streaming service. The original animated version of The Tick was a cult hit in the 1990s on Fox and then Comedy Central, and a subsequent live-action series in 2001 mined some of the same anarchic humor. But back then, the gags were mostly for younger viewers who read comics or watched cartoons full of superheroes. In 2019, the tropes The Tick is mocking have become so mainstream and ubiquitous that almost everyone can feel in on the joke. More superhero stories give the show more potential fans — and supply its writers with plenty of material to satire.

As a result, The Tick — which returns to Amazon with a new 10-episode run on April 5th — has gotten even stronger in its second season. The series started its run a bit darker and weirder than previous Tick incarnations by questioning whether the titular super-strong, nearly invulnerable superhero (played by Peter Serafinowicz) was actually real, or just a manifestation of the mental health problems plaguing mild mannered accountant Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman) since he watched the supervillain The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley) murder his father and the legendary superhero squad the Flag Five.

But by the end of season 1, the show confirmed that not only is The Tick real, but Arthur was right in his seemingly paranoid belief that The Terror hadn’t actually been defeated by Superman analogue Superian (Brendan Hines), and was just lying low and plotting his next spectacular evil feat. With The Terror neutralized, Arthur and The Tick start season 2 ready to embrace whatever new heroic challenges destiny sends their way.

Many conventional superhero shows falter after they’ve finished their origin story arc, but The Tick finds even stronger footing now that it has room to introduce (and ridicule) entirely new characters and plots. Season 2 focuses on the reopening of A.E.G.I.S., a riff on Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. led by Tyrannosaurus Rathbone, who Marc Kudisch plays with the same level of strutting badassitude as Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. A.E.G.I.S. wants to restart the Flag Five, and invites The Tick and Arthur to audition. That turns out to be a surprisingly invasive, bureaucratic process, largely helmed by the demure Doctor Agent Hobbes (John Hodgman). Joining the team would be Arthur’s dream come true, but The Tick is mostly concerned with pursuing his new nemesis, Lobstercules, a humanoid lobster who’s robbing banks, accompanied by a crew of Maine lobstermen.

Not all is as it seems at A.E.G.I.S., or really anywhere in this particularly twisty season, which is filled with surprises, betrayals, and big reveals. As silly as the show is, The Tick actually asks some pretty good questions about who we expect to be heroes, who we think are villains, and who gets entirely dismissed as a support character. At the center of this conflict is Overkill (Scott Speiser), who most directly parodies the Punisher, but also acts as a commentary on any number of other emotionally repressed, grim male heroes. “I’ve been trained to lock my problems in a mental glacier, under a thousand tons of solid mind-ice,” he tells Arthur’s sister Dot in one of the many sweet scenes the two share this season.

Overkill was trained by A.E.G.I.S. as an elite agent, but went rogue with the help of the stolen sentient ship Dangerboat, which Alan Tudyk voices with the same dry comedy he brought to the droid K-2SO in Rogue One. Overkill warns everyone not to trust A.E.G.I.S., but his allies push him and Dangerboat to confront their fears and traumatic pasts.

Overkill’s grim attitude and affinity for murder was a hilarious foil to The Tick’s boundless enthusiasm and strict hero’s code in season 1. He still serves the same purpose in season 2, but now he’s demonstrating the real power of parody: the ability to critique something from a place of love. Overkill and Dot’s relationship provides a clear parallel to the one between the vigilante Frank Castle and paralegal-turned-reporter Karen Page in Netflix’s Daredevil and The Punisher, but The Tick’s version is actually stronger, because Dot is more willing to call Overkill on his bullshit, and he’s more willing to show her his softer side. That plot also provides a sharp critique of how often women are simply relegated to support characters and love interests in superhero stories. When Arthur learns that Dot is going on missions with Overkill, he confronts her: “This is not who you’re supposed to be, and this is not your story.” Her equally meta response is, “I’m supposed to do what? Just wait around for you to call me to play some bit part in your adventure? Guess what, Arthur. This is my messed-up universe, just like it’s yours.”

The Tick crams a surprising amount of material into each of its roughly 30-minute episodes, with the season also exploring the impact The Terror’s reappearance and defeat had on his former lieutenant Ms. Lint (Yara Martinez), who is plotting a new way to gain power with the help of the tech whiz and social media specialist Edgelord (Julian Cihi), a Kylo Ren lookalike who delivers all his lines in a hilarious deadpan.

Meanwhile, Superian has become obsessed with trying to win back humanity’s trust through a series of increasingly bad ideas. The season also introduces some new heroes with dreams of joining the Flag Five. They don’t really add much to the story, apart from Doctor Strange analogue Sage (Clé Bennett) providing fodder for a lot of jokes about his power coming from a mystical third nipple.

In spite of all the powers and characters in play, The Tick’s writers aren’t particularly interested in showy action sequences. Most of the fights are either brief, or played for laughs. That just leaves more room for the mix of razor-sharp quips and The Tick’s signature goofy rambling monologues. This season neatly ties up most of the conflicts it introduced, while also building toward big trouble to come in its next season. So long as superhero stories maintain their popularity, The Tick will have plenty of ways to keep skewering them.