Sunbow Productions/Graz Entertainment/20th Century Fox Children’s Television (1994), Buena Vista Home Entertainment (August 29, 2006), 2 discs, 252 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, Not Rated, Retail: $34.99
A lovable big, blue dufus and his little pal fight crime in The City.
The Sweatbox Review:
Citizens! Behold the origin of the mighty Tick!
Superhero parodies have been done to death over the years, despite so often being, well, pretty lame. Superhero conventions are easy to make fun of, but apparently it is not so easy to make all the teasing into a fun story. The trick is to recognize what we always talk about, but so few creators seem to take seriously: no matter what genre you are operating in, you have to have a good story. That’s it. That’s the secret. Superhero parodies, like most animated films from the year 2006 about anthropomorphic animals, too often seem to exist only for themselves, not to actually tell a worthwhile story.
Ah, but that is where The Tick is different. In The Tick, the cleverness of writing goes beyond the schtick, producing stories that one can enjoy while guffawing at the ridiculousness of the characters. I’m not saying that the show deserved a Nobel Ptrize or anything, but at least you could tell that the writers were trying to tell stories the audience could enjoy past the one-liners. Most importantly, they created characters, not just parodies. The Tick, with his penchant for addressing inanimate object and his cheerful disdain for evil, managed to connect with the audience on a deeper level than simply being a buffoon. His sidekick Arthur, meanwhile, was wonderfully down-to-earth, an everyman trying to be a hero in a crazy world.
The main writer, of course, was Ben Edlund. Edlund created The Tick to star in a newsletter published by New England Comics, with The Tick first appearing there in the summer of 1986. After escaping from a Minnesota asylum, The Tick embarked a crime-fighting career in The City, in a series of over-the-top superhero comedies. When he met his partner Arthur in 1989, his formula for success was complete. The Tick’s exploits became very popular with local and mail-order customers, and he was launched into his own nationally distributed comic book in 1988. From there, he became something of a cult success, providing comic fans in the know with a rarity in those days— a funny comic book.
Edlund became one of the first of the 1990s comic book cartoonists to achieve success in other media when Fox Kids produced a 1994 Saturday morning cartoon starring The Tick. The show was a bit of a success, running eventually for 36 episodes, although its last original episodes were run on Comedy Central in 1996 (while Fox was content to run repeats). The chief reason for the change of networks was that Fox wanted The Tick to be a kids’ show, whereas the producers and writers wanted it to be actually based on the comic, which was for older readers. It’s that same old story that plagues comic book adaptations— someone buys the rights to a property, but decides they don’t like it and want to make it into something else, thus satisfying no one.
Since then, though, further repeats of what still ended up being a strong show have cemented The Tick as a favorite among Cartoon fans who enjoy their “super-humorics”. (I just made that word up. Just now. Do you like it? No? OK, I won’t do it again…) Most episodes were co-written by Edlund, who has a talent for creating absurdly wonderful plotlines and characters, and has both heroes and bad guys spouting deliriously absurd dialog. His sharp writing ability, laced with irony and an appreciation for camp, led to him working with Joss Whedon, writing and producing Angel and Firefly. He also has writing credits for Titan A.E. and Venture Bros., not to mention the live action version of The Tick that has found more of an audience on DVD than Fox ever allowed it in 2001.
The best writing in the world can be sabotaged by lousy voice acting, but The Tick was exceptionally well cast. Townsend Coleman anchors the whole thing with his perfect voice work as the title character. He plays The Tick with just the right note of enthusiasm, earnestness, and even sweetness. It would have been so eay to make The Tick annoying, but with Coleman, The Tick is only endearing. Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees played Arthur in the first season episodes (he had to withdraw for the following seasons), and he manages to play Arthur straight enough to not sound whiny, but humorously enough to allow him to be a cartoon character. The other voice casting was a nice blend of “straight” and “character” voices, but all professional.
Now, on to the DVD…
Anyone following the developments surrounding the DVD set likely knows that this is not quite a “complete first season” set. Episode #11 (The Tick Vs. The Mole Men) was not included due to legal issues, unfortunately, but it may yet appear in a future set. What remains are twelve pretty darn funny episodes of superhero parody.
The Tick Vs. The Idea Men introduces our nigh invulnerable, super-strong hero. While attending a superhero convention, The Tick wins protectorship of The City, an event that will come to haunt that Metropolis for three dozen episodes. Supporting players like the fairly competent American Maid, the self-focused Der Fledermouse, and The Human Bullet also appear for the first time. (Most supporting characters on the show never appeared in the comics.)
While the first episode offered intros for an assortment of dysfunctional heroes and a group of mumbling adversaries, the second episode, The Tick Vs. Chairface Chippendale, brings on the villains in a big way. Here, Edlund showed off his flair for creating Dick Tracy-like nemeses, taking it to truly bizarre heights. Aside from the chair-headed lead villain (nicely played by Hunchback’s Tony Jay), we also meet Professor Chromedome, The Spud (Man of a Thousand Faces), The Guy With Ears Like Little Raisins, and others. The story sees The Tick and Arthur blowing American Maid’s stakeout, but they manage to stumble upon an invitation to Chippendale’s birthday party, which they infiltrate to discover a nefarious plot to disfigure the moon.
The Tick Vs. Dinosaur Neil sees the boys take on a gargantuan mutated dinosaur park employee, as the other heroes of The City basically chicken out and sit this one out. Meanwhile, Arthur’s disapproving sister Dot comes over for supper. An invitation to the Evil Eye café leads to The Tick being taken over mentally by a master bad guy, forcing Arthur and other heroes to try to stop him, in The Tick Vs. Mr. Mental. Roddy McDowell plays an evil baker in The Tick Vs. The Breadmaster— see The tick struggle to defuse a loaf of bread! The Tick Vs. El Seed sees plants run amok under the direction of a sunflower man; fortunately, the Civic Minded five lend a hand, since The Tick is doused with a vitalizing spray that turns him more vegetable than usual.
Tick, Arthur, Der Fledermouse, and Sewer Urchin head out to a superhero nightclub (in Dot’s station wagon) in The Tick Vs. The Tick. Here, The Tick meets Barry, who also calls himself The tick and is none too pleased to find out that someone else is using the name. As the two Ticks go at it, the club is threatened by The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight. And in the midst of it all, Arthur is relegated to —gasp!— the Sidekick Lounge!
The first disc closes with The Tick Vs. The Uncommon Cold, where an interdimensional monster clones Arthur and then The Tick as part of his plan to create a nigh-invulnerable army. So, for the second episode in a row, we see The Tick battle another Tick. In this case, it’s a gooey, mucous-y Tick. Ew!
The single-layered second disc starts off with The Tick Vs. Brainchild, a parable about touchy-feely 1990s-style parenting and where it can lead when your child is an evil genius. Alternately, The Tick tries his hand at overly hip childrearing, but when he fails he can only shout to the child, “Put the moon back, demon waif!” From kids to animals, the next episode brings in an intelligent space monkey who lands in the hands of a tropical dictator, in The Tick Vs. Pineapple Pokopo. The boys and American Maid go undercover, though as usual they keep their costumes on.
The boys return from WheatLand to find the city evacuated in The Tick Vs. The Proto-Clown. A few other heroes were left behind to fight the Clown, largely because of transportation problems rather than heroism. The Tick spends much of the episode having an existential discussion with his mind, represented by a disembodied head with wings. Finally, in The Tick Vs. Arthur’s Bank Account, The Tick goes nuts with Arthur’s credit card while beefing up their gadgets in order to face The Terror. “Destiny’s hand is on my back, and she’s pushing!” The Terror may be over 100, but he still packs an evil wallop, especially having now surrounded himself with a number of bizarre super baddies. This episode introduces The Tick’s battle cry, “Spoon!”, and also features The Tick singing a sad song.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Nope, not too loaded. The animated menus show some effort, but that’s about it. You can find Previews for The Wild, Lost and Cars, but no Tick-related bonus material appears on the discs. This section earns its only point thanks to the lithograph mentioned under the packaging section.
Buena Vista provides our hero with a keepcase-and-tray deal, and puts them into a slipcover that at first glance simply duplicates the keepcase cover, but actually differs in that the back cover is modified to allow placement of the UPC code. The keepcase itself has those annoying snaps on the side that make getting to the discs take just that much longer. Inside the case, there is an insert listing the disc contents, while the other side of it promises that The Tick Vs. Season II is coming soon. There is also an insert-sized “Collectible Tick lithograph drawn by Ben Edlund”. Hm. Nice.
Ink And Paint:
Well… not great, but not too bad. Well, better than terrible anyways. On the whole, this is pretty consistent with the first DuckTales set that Disney put out— take that as you will. Some episodes look almost decent, while others are softer and fuzzier, or have blooming reds (notably in The Tick Vs. The Tick). The worst part of many episodes is the near-constant strobing. At least the prints used are reasonably free of dirt (with occasional exceptions), though cel dust is apparent.
The audio on this puppy is suitably OK for a 1990s Saturday morning cartoon. Sounds do mange to move between the speakers to some extent, but don’t expect to be wowed. The best parts of the audio experience are naturally the snappy dialog and the wonderful scat theme, as well as the unique scoring that features brass and drums.
A French track is also offered, as well as English captions and French subtitles.
This was one of the last of the great Saturday morning TV cartoons before such a thing practically vanished for a few years. The writing is terrific, and every episode is lots of fun. It is unfortunate that the video transfer is lacking, and there are no disc-based bonuses, but the shows stand up well. So, any big Tick fan will want to own this for the episodes themselves, but for those looking for the ultimate in what DVDs can offer this may be a tough choice.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?