It's been said many times that Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is the best and worst thing to happen to superhero movies in the past decade. The film's brooding gravitas provided the genre with Oscar-worthy respect, but suddenly trend-chasing Hollywood executives decided that every hero should be a tortured, miserable bastard.
So in addition to characters who are naturally dark and gritty (like the Punisher and Daredevil), we got dark and gritty Spider-Man, dark and gritty Fantastic Four, and -- perhaps most at odds with the source material -- dark and gritty Superman, who is supposed to represent hope but just came off like a dude in need of Kryptonian Prozac.
Audiences are burnt out from nihilistic gloom-fests.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice barely made a domestic profit, but audiences flocked to action-comedies such as Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy. Maybe we just want to laugh instead of subjecting ourselves to yet another self-serious, ponderous moral gray zone. Doesn't real life provide enough of that?!
Which is why now is the perfect time for another hero's comeback...
Created in 1986 by Ben Edlund for New England Comics, the Tick was a goofy parody of superheroes at a time when Frank Miller and Alan Moore were reinventing the medium with (brilliant) darker stories such as The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.
It was bright, colorful and totally idiotic ... in a good way.
The titular hero would randomly shout non-sequiturs, most famously the catchphrase "Spoon!," while complicating the life of his sad sack sidekick Arthur, who wears a flying moth suit that villains constantly mistook for a bunny suit.
In the mid-'90s, a Fox cartoon adaptation became a beloved staple of the network's Saturday morning animation block, preceding the far more serious X-Men cartoon. The show's humor was more silly than biting, even with its satires of Batman (as the Spanish Batmanuel) and Captain America/Wonder Woman (as American Maid, the "World's Most Patriotic Domestic").
It wasn't half as clever as Animaniacs or Ren & Stimpy, and it wasn't half as complex as X-Men or Batman: The Animated Series. Still, it was a good fun romp. You probably didn't call it your favorite show, but you also probably didn't miss an episode either.
Spoon! Get a Heaping Bowl Full of Justice in These Tick Stories:
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- The Tick! Would it fail today's audience?
- Patrick Warburton himself says-------- about The Tick!!
The cartoon disappeared from airwaves in 1996, though reruns aired on Comedy Central. A fall 2001 live-action version starring Patrick Warburton (an inspired choice for the lead) didn't resonate with audiences, perhaps because zany, lighthearted irony was totally out of vogue immediately post-9/11.
A decade and a half later, Amazon Studios has brought back The Tick.
Exclusive to Amazon Prime members, the new pilot stars Peter Serafinowicz, best known as Darth Maul from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, plus from his roles in Shaun of the Dead and Guardians of the Galaxy. He gets the Tick's physicality and baritone exactly right, and the show's absurdist humor -- as you can see in the EW clip below -- is 100% authentic to the original.
In the 30-minute episode, Arthur (Griffin Newman) tracks down the henchmen of a villain named the Terror, who is responsible for killing Arthur's father decades ago. Even this aspect of the standard dark, gritty superhero origin story is played for laughs.
Yeah, that's a bit easier to take than watching Thomas and Martha Wayne die for the umpteenth time...
Arthur soon finds himself joined by the Tick, who is likewise tracking down the Terror and is convinced that destiny wants them to join forces.
"You've got the brains; I've got the everything else," the Tick explains, later adding, "Destiny is calling you, Arthur. ... It's good, it's warm, like the inside of bread. ... Destiny wanted us to meet, Arthur, so we did. ... Destiny also wanted me to cause that big explosion last night, so I did that too."
The pilot ends (spoiler alert, I guess?) with Arthur in moth costume and hesitantly committed to wage the Tick's battle of "light against darkness, up against down, a struggle as old as time."
Is the pilot as captivating as Amazon's The Man in the High Castle? As exciting as Netflix's Daredevil?
Not at all. It's also not the most hilarious comedy you've ever watched, despite a few solid chuckles.
But that's never really been the point of The Tick. It's a quick sugar rush, not fine dining. For fans of the comic book and the '90s cartoon, the new series is an easily digestible nostalgic treat.
And for a superhero genre that's facing its own identity crisis of light against darkness, Amazon has given Hollywood a much-needed reminder that comics used to be called "funny books" for a reason.
Are superheroes getting too dark and gritty lately, or is that just the way you like 'em?