Amazon just announced a full-season pick up of the live action superhero comedy The Tick, but showrunner Ben Edlund is already thinking ahead through five full seasons of the “Big Blue Bug of Justice” and his sidekick Arthur Everest.
“After something like a four- or five-season arc, the story will be complete, and you’ll understand everything about the yin-yang elements that are the story core of The Tick and Arthur, and what The Tick is, and what The Tick is to Arthur,” Edlund told us. “They will save the world, I guarantee it.”
The new series stars English comedy veteran Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Griffin Newman (Vinyl) as his sidekick Arthur. This marks the fourth iteration of the character since Edlund created The Tick in 1986 at the age of 17 as a mascot for his local comic book store, New England Comics. The character grew into his own intermittently published comic book series before being picked up as a Saturday morning cartoon show for FOX, running for 36 episodes from 1994 to 1996. In 2001, FOX produced the first live-action series of The Tick, starring Patrick Warburton (Family Guy, Seinfeld), which was cancelled (far too soon, many fans say) after airing nine episodes.
FOX’s live-action series arrived at the very beginning of the modern cinematic superhero era, when the first Bryan Singer X-Men movie was the most recent appearance of live-action comic book heroes on screen, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was still a few months away, and Joel Schumacher’s campy Batman & Robin was fresh in the public’s minds. The show reflected the comedy sensibilities of the turn of the millennium: A single-camera, half-hour format, with colorful sets and characters.
In that world, superheroes were a barely tolerated nuisance who didn’t seem to be particularly effective at stopping crime or saving the world. At the same time, The Tick took an intimate look at the personal lives and psychological difficulties of costumed vigilantes, a novel approach that preceded other darkly comic on-screen takes in Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Super, and most recently Deadpool.
While many superheroes have been rebooted and retooled under different creators over the years, The Tick is a rarity in that each different version of the character has been overseen by Edlund himself.
Edlund’s latest reboot of The Tick updates that psychology for the modern superhero-saturated entertainment era. “It’s a real-person universe,” he explains. Here, superheroes (and supervillains) are taken seriously and their actions are more deadly.
That tone of muted realism is partly conveyed through the direction of Wally Pfister, who previously worked as the director of photography on Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. In one scene in the pilot, an entire team of superheroes is first blinded with “weaponized syphilis” and then summarily shot by henchmen — subverting the perennial trope of villains who monologue while saying a quick death is “too good” for their rivals.
Most of the pilot episode centers on Newman’s troubled, twitchy Arthur. “The world has told him time and time again that he’s crazy and powerless,” says Newman, a longtime fan of The Tick before he scored the role. Traumatized by witnessing the death of his father at a young age, Arthur has spent a lifetime obsessing over a presumed-dead villain, the Terror (Watchmen’s Jackie Earle Haley, seen in a flashback scene). His sister, a paramedic named Dot (Valorie Curry), worries that Arthur’s “having thoughts” as the camera pans over his apartment wall, which is plastered with newspaper clippings connected by lengths of string to map out a conspiracy.
Into this world, up to that point nearly indistinguishable from Gotham or The Flash, Edlund drops The Tick. Sporting a new costume with a detailed texture like the latest film versions of Spider-Man and Batman, this Tick is still not particularly bright, still given over to long declarative monologues packed with mixed metaphors, and still both incredibly strong and nearly invulnerable.
While that makes for a dangerous mix of traits, The Tick and Arthur recognize right away that their personalities complement each other. “They’re each half a person,” says Newman. “Arthur is too aware, and The Tick is too unaware of his surroundings.”
Edlund says that the pilot episode is full of “easter eggs” that will provide story engines for several seasons worth of episodes. As an example, he compared Arthur’s winged white “moth” costume to the outfit worn by Ralph Hinkley in The Greatest American Hero, loaded with secret powers that Arthur will slowly unlock over the course of the series. Edlund also noted that he re-watched the full run of Breaking Bad before writing the pilot to find inspiration.
The odd couple relationship between the Tick and Arthur is writ large on the Amazon series as it aims to walk a fine line between silliness and tragedy. At the same time, Edlund plans to pick at the seams of our superhero-saturated pop culture.
“The comic books in movies and TV now are darker, grittier, so that’s something to grab onto and use as part of the satire and parody,” Edlund says. “Some sense of the consequence of violence and some sense of the weird side of The Tick — those felt like the right things to bring back now.”