Doug Glassman, who blogs at Astrakhan Industries.]
In my review of Armor Wars, I mentioned the Iron Man animated series from the early 1990s, and I would like to continue investigating comics relating to that second Golden Age of Animation. My generation was brought into comic books with animated series such as Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, X-Men, and of course Batman: The Animated Series. Also running at the same time, but in a very different genre, was The Tick.
As a child, The Tick was barely on my radar, partly because I was completely obsessed with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and partly because the series was really never meant for kids -- not that it was vulgar, but just written for a much older audience, with puns and references which flew over my head. What eight-year-old would get a pun about a furniture-obsessed villainess called the “Ottoman Empress”? (I do remember a particularly brilliant one in which the United States was invaded by the Swiss, who had massive Swiss Army Knife backpacks with helicopter rotors.)
Coming back from that tangent, the first few issues of The Tick, collected in The Naked City, are more about parodying specific targets than the broader superhero parody it would eventually become. The last story, involving supervillain rentals so that neophyte heroes can show off their skills, is closer to the rest of the series’ tone. The first two issues are about a parody of Superman, and the middle issues are, in my opinion, the greatest Daredevil parody ever written. Yes, better than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Little is revealed about the Tick in these issues ... but then, there is not much to reveal about him. He has no actual secret identity and no past; the first thing we see him do is escape from an insane asylum. Important supporting characters, including Arthur and Paul the Samurai, are also introduced. Paul never made his way into the animated series, which mostly went on its own path in creating its characters, although another comic book hero, Man-Eating Cow, did appear on the show.
Like writing a funny movie, reviewing a funny comic is difficult. Make no mistake, The Tick is still as brilliant as it was back in the late 1980s. Most of the superhero humor is broad enough to withstand the test of time, and the sequence between the Tick and “Ban-Al”, the father of Superman parody Clark Oppenheimer, is an effective skewering of Marlon Brando’s performance in the first Superman film.
There are some subtle references and shout-outs as well. For instance, one panel in the first issue features the Tick at the restaurant from Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks. Naturally, the restaurant is called “Hopper’s.” The parody of Marvel Comics’ Electra is named Oedipus; her full name is Oedipus Ashley Stevens. The Tick’s rooftop soliloquies are spot-on parodies of Frank Miller’s narration boxes.
Considering that Ben Edlund was a novice when he created The Tick back in 1988, the artwork in The Naked City is quite impressive, especially when it comes to comedic timing. For instance, the title card for the third issue, “Night of a Million Zillion Ninja,” first appears as a yellow box on a wall. This just seems to be an interesting placement ... but as the sequence continues, it is revealed that the title card is a sign, albeit a fourth wall-breaking one. Over the next two pages, as a fight scene rages, the title card can be seen in the background at a variety of angles.
My one major complaint about the art is the lack of variety of facial expressions, which border on “dull surprise” at times. However, since this was Edlund's first real foray into the world of comics, it is certainly forgivable, and he does improve later on. Fans of the animated series may also be surprised to see how fat Arthur is.
As an aside: My absolute favorite characters in this volume are the ninjas. Clad completely in black uniforms with extremely expressive yellow visors, they provide some of the best laughs of the ninja story. They are the most wimpy, pathetic ninjas ever written, to the point that when one is run over by a car, the driver brushes it off with, “It’s not like we hit a collie.” If you have ever seen the “Ninja Hedge” images around the web, they come from “Night of a Million Zillion Ninjas.”
There are a variety of ways to get the story. This volume, The Naked City, is a colorized version of the first six issues, which were released under the “Chroma-Tick” title. Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Usagi Yojimbo and other contemporary independent comics, The Tick was published in black and white. Although the colors in The Naked City seem a little washed out -- reminiscent of colorized films -- I feel that The Tick almost needs to be read in color. You can also buy updated omnibus editions with extra features.
Although the trades go in and out of publication, you are likely to find at least one edition in your local comic book store or used book store. Edlund is very business-savvy, as seen in the lengthy catalog at the end of this trade, which features comics and lots of animated series memorabilia.
Every comic book fan should own a copy of the initial twelve-issue miniseries of The Tick, whether or not you watched the animated series. Quite simply, it is the best superhero parody ever created, both art-wise and story-wise.