I have a confession to make; I still don’t really like superheroes. Growing up, in spite of being a great fan of Calvin and Hobbes, the Far Side, Raymond Briggs, various comic adaptations of literature, and other comic works, I always felt that there was something ridiculous about the caped crusaders. Because of this, I tended, rather snobbishly, to stay away from the genre on principle, and to be honest have not entirely been able shed this feeling. For a long time, I did not even consider myself a comics fan, in spite of my aforementioned loves. Perhaps, under the influence of Bill Watterson, whose views are expressed here, I never game them a chance, despite how many friends loved the X-men cartoons. I still find myself unable to take the genre seriously, whether they’re playing it straight (as in much of the DC/Marvel universes), or attempting to subvert it along the lines of the Watchmen, and I often find myself losing interest before the end of the origin story.
On the other hand, I have often found parodies of the concepts to be quite engaging, from the movie Mystery Men to Dr. Horrible and Freakazoid, and Ben Edlund’s series, the Tick was one of my favorites. I enjoyed the absurdist, mundane life take in both the cartoon and live action form, and after flipping through a friends original Tick comics back in highschool, I recently picked them up at a book sale to read for the first time in their entirety.
The original tales of the Tick, his tussles with sanity, gravity, humorless superhumans, road trips, and even the occasional supervillain like Chairface Chippendale hold up pretty well, though- he had a bit more of a cartoonish unpredictable menace to him, not unlike classic “Loony Toons.” The Tick of the comic is a bit grittier, a bit more morally grey than the big blue boyscout of the television shows; he is interested mainly in the accoutrement of superheroes; the drama, the gadgets, the penchant to dole out righteous violence with, rather than any betterment of humanity (but then, isn’t that really what it’s all about anyway?). Many of the scenes hear appeared in the cartoon show later, though it is also interesting what was left out, particularly the Tick’s origins in a mental ward, though his mysterious backstory is never expanded upon.
The first volume follows the Tick’s escape from a mental ward, his start as a superhero in the City, his battle against the million zillion ninja, and his meeting of his sidekick/conscious, the moth-suited accountant Arthur. The second expands the Tick’s roster of villains with Chairface Chippendale, and the third follows the Tick’s and Arthur’s trip to New York, where they meet Barry, the “other” Tick. The fourth is merely a roster of all the characters, major and minor, while the fifth includes the Tick’s cameo comics with another of Edlund’s characters who also appeared in the first volume, Paul the Samurai. These held less appeal to me, if only because I had no nostalgic connection to the character.
It was interesting how sharp the Tick’s criticism of the superhero comics of the ‘80s and ‘90s were, now that I know a little bit more about them. From the bizarre nature of the heroes and villains alike, to the deadpan nature of the humor, the deconstruction of the genre is great comedy. As a kid, there was no way I would know who Electra, or even Daredevil, were, let alone the rise of the gritty antiheroes, yet the humor of these takedowns still came through for me; the Tick mocks both the over the top exuberance of early superheroes and the dour “seriousness” of the “Dark Age.” Personally, I’d take Tick’s goodnatured lampooning of the ridiculous nature of superheroes in the “real world” over the overwrought grimness of, say, Rorschach, anyday.