There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like their superheroes bleak and those who like them bright. (And, yes, there are people who don’t like superheroes at all, but I have factored them out of this equation.) You have your Revisionists and your Classicists, your Team Kevlar and your Team Spandex, your Dark Knighters and your Caped Crusaderers.
You can put me in the latter camp – the sometimes campy camp. Adam West was my “Batman” of choice. But that a superhero story might be comical does not mean it cannot be exciting and suspenseful and engage you the way any story in which good and evil come to blows can. Just because a scenario is dark, dreary and dystopian doesn’t mean it’s any more true to life or psychologically acute than one that is kooky, colorful and optimistic. Fandom has demonstrated repeatedly that a not completely serious superhero may be taken seriously; indeed, for some of us, it is the completely serious superhero that cannot be taken seriously.
And so I greet with interest Amazon’s new take on “The Tick,” the story of a super-strong, addlepated big lug in a blue suit – such a nice change from all that black – and the nervous accountant he encourages into partnership.
Like its insect namesake, “The Tick” is a tenacious beast — it dug its teeth, or pincers, or whatever it is ticks have, into the culture and held on. Created more than three decades ago by an 18-year-old Ben Edlund, who later went on to write for “Firefly,” “Supernatural” and “Gotham,” the character began as a mascot for a comic book store newsletter, then blew up into a comic book itself. The comic became an animated Fox series in the mid-'90s, ostensibly for kids but taken up by their elders, and then a live-action series in 2001, also on Fox, featuring Patrick Warburton (an executive producer of the new show) in the title role. It did not last long, but its nine fine episodes have survived and circulated. There is a cult.
Every iteration of the Tick is essentially, though not entirely, like the others; but as Edlund has been involved with them all, we can regard every conflicting version as authentic and, if that matters to you, canonical. In the new series, premiering Friday, Arthur (Griffin Newman), the accountant, moves to the center of the action; traumatized at age 9 by witnessing the death of his father, he has set himself on a course of investigation and retribution against a super-villain called the Terror (Jackie Earle Haley, pretty terrifying). The hero’s journey, as the Tick (Peter Serafinowicz) does not tire of reminding him, is his.
“I don’t have any special destiny,” Arthur will protest.
“You do,” insists the Tick, “and you’re already at stage three: the hero rejects the call.”
For his part, the Tick knows what he is about — his task is “to win the elixir and save the world, because villainy is real, it has guns and stars and tattoos and it’s licensed to drive” — but not who he is: He rejects the concept of secret identities because he has amnesia. He does not even know, when asked, whether the blue suit is part of him or a thing he puts on. “Am I never naked,” he wonders, “or am I never not naked?
Serafinowicz (an English actor, losing the accent), who on his own time is the voice of YouTube’s “Sassy Trump,” has a softer, more whimsical take on the Tick than Warburton did – this is a kind of love story, not only between the Tick and Arthur, but among the Terror, the electrostatic villainous Ms. Lint (Yara Martinez) and the rogue hero Overkill (Scott Speiser). (Valorie Curry as Arthur’s sister Dot and Brendan Hines as the most super of superheroes, Superian, also figure prominently in the story.) Their domestic arrangements and relationships are well conceived – their lives are, in their way, more normal, and normally frustrating, than those of your typical big-screen superpeople – and everyone commits to their parts, filling them with personality but stopping short of parody.
With key episodes written by Edlund and directed by Wally Pfister (who photographed “The Dark Knight,” ironically), the show is clever and crazy in the right proportions; it is always, in its outsized way, human and believable. It’s everything I like in a thing like this.
Where: Amazon Prime
When: Anytime, starting Friday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd