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Big Blue Marvel

When I was a kid, I read a lot of comic books. I poured a lot of my parents' money into the pockets of Marvel Comics, the company that published all of the cool comics. Over the course of those years, I managed to absorb hundreds or thousands of different stories, from the drudgery of month-to-month comic book story plots (only a half-step up from writing a soap opera, I figure, but a lot more fun) to the occasional classic story arc that would stick with me forever.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered there's a television show -- a comedy, no less -- that manages to both honor and satire the superhero genre more cleverly than any other television series in history. No, not Lois and Clark -- there's a show that's living proof that comic books and the likes of Days of Our Lives live on the same street. The show I'm talking about was one I discovered on a Saturday morning, a time period I remember as being filled with saccharine tripe like The Smurfs or -- meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice -- the Superfriends.

These days, there's still lots of idiotic comic book stuff on Saturday mornings, most notably The X-Men and even my beloved Spider-Man, who still does whatever a spider can, but now to the hep guitar sounds of Joe Perry from Aerosmith.

But there's an oasis amid the Korean-animated debris: The Tick, one of the funniest shows on television and probably this year's entry in the Funniest Show You've Never Seen sweepstakes. (A minor miracle: someone else obviously agrees with me. The show may be gone from Fox Saturday mornings, where it blew its demographic by appealing more to adults than kids, but it's currently being shown twice daily on cable's Comedy Central.)

The Tick is a big, blue superhero. He looks nothing like an actual Tick -- he's a giant guy in blue tights with tiny antennae atop his head. His super power is that he's nigh-invulnerable, meaning he can fall off tall buildings without hurting himself... much. His sidekick is Arthur, an overweight accountant in a moth suit, complete with wings. The Tick and Arthur have no real names or identities; they're always in their costumes. The Tick sleeps on the couch in Arthur's living room. There's really nothing to their lives. In addition, The Tick really doesn't behave like a normal human being -- he's just an overgrown kid, what you'd expect a real comic-book reader to be like if they suddenly were given an adult, nigh-invulnerable body.

Every aspect of The Tick is a parody of the world of superheroes, and it helps to remember the core stories of superhero lore. My favorite instance of this is an episode wherein the Tick runs into Omnipotus, a giant being who eats whole planets -- the first of which, upon which the Little Prince himself lives (!), is quickly made into an appetizer. Omnipotus, of course, is a thinly-veiled reference to Galactus, the mighty Devourer of Worlds from the golden age of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four. The world of The Tick follows rigorous rules that all extend from the crazy concepts that we all accepted when reading comic books: for example, the careful division between heroes and sidekicks (one social club for superheroes refuses to let Arthur in; he's relegated to a crappy shack out back where he has to hang out with all the other sidekicks). Robin, take note.

But this is not to say that The Tick is a show for people hip to comic book in jokes. The fact is, the show's a riot for anyone who has ever been exposed to the ridiculous concept of costumed superheroes, which is to say, everyone. The City (that's the real name of the Tick's home, paying homage to make-believe places like Metropolis, Gotham City, and Central City) is home to countless inane superhero groups, from the Human Bullet (who is fired from his backyard cannon, stashed next to the barbecue, by his young son) to the Civic-Minded Five (a Fantastic Four parody group led by Four-Legged Man). The show's best characters, in fact, are three of the Tick's fellow heroes: Die Fledermaus, a self-centered Batman clone who pretty much wears the costume to pick up chicks and is afraid of actually getting in a fight; Sewer Urchin, a stinky sewer-dweller who talks like Rain Man; and American Maid, a Wonder Woman-style character decked out in a red, white and blue maid costume whose favorite weapon is a thrown high-heeled shoe.

The dialogue is delightfully bizarre, the plots are clever and unexpected, the voice acting without peer. (And let's not forget that monkeys figure prominently in several episodes.) They made 30 half-hour episodes of The Tick (the show's creator, Ben Edlund, suggests that there won't be a fourth season, though some have speculated that another network may be negotiating to pick up the show from Fox and order more episodes) , and there are at most one or two mediocre ones in the bunch. Even the best shows on television hit a weak grounder to short every once in a while, and have to intersperse the deep home runs with solid singles to right. But not this one.

So take this for the high praise it is: The Tick is the most consistently funny show on television. Every episode will offer you something that you have never seen before on television. Whether you spent your formative years sinking huge amounts of money into the deep pockets of Charles Xavier, J. Jonah Jameson, and Bruce Wayne, or actually had a normal childhood, The Tick is a remarkable achievement.

Or, as The Tick would put it in his own inimitable style: Spoon!


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