For over half his life, Ben Edlund has been shadowed by a giant figure in a blue superhero suit. But rather than try to escape him, the creator of “The Tick” keeps finding new ways to tell stories about his unique creation.
The latest iteration of the comedic superhero series will debut its second season Friday on Amazon, but deciding to bring the Tick back to television for the third time was something that Edlund admitted wasn’t easy. “It’s a very chilling, scary concept to try to do it again,” he told IndieWire. But in this current age of superhero saturation, he keeps coming back to his peculiar creation. “I’m really excited with what we’re doing now, because I feel like this is a story we can keep telling into the future.”
Prior to the new series starring Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman, “The Tick” was an independent comic book character Edlund first started doodling at the age of 17; in 1994, it was adapted as an animated series for Fox Kids, and then in 2001 Barry Sonnenfeld helmed a live-action adaptation starring Patrick Warburton as the titular character.
Each version made an impression upon fans, and each was reflective of its time period. For example, at the very beginning, Edlund’s “Tick” comics were coming out around the same time as groundbreaking comic works like Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” — stories which took a post-modern look at superheroes and examining their significance.
The trend streches back to eighties-era comics, and is now happening today on a global scale. “Just in general, we’re in a totally different place now, where I don’t have to educate anybody about superhero tropes. American Express does that for us. Commercials do. Everything says ‘superhero’ now. I thought there couldn’t be more superhero stuff on five years ago. I was wrong,” he said.
And with that saturation comes self-examination. “It’s a collective moment, and it’s a weird thing, because what superheroes used to represent, I don’t believe they represent anymore, in purity and wish fulfillment,” he said. “I think now we’re going through some kind of catharsis in the experience. There’s something different happening, which is less about just pure fantasy and more about processing, because I think things become more crucial the more they’re actually processing things for us. My guess would be that superhero fiction is now an instrument through which we are processing our own god-like power, and our angst about it.”
“The Tick,” of course, was always ahead of its time. But between the 2001 “Tick” and 2017 edition, Edlund got an epic education as to what it takes to make television, beginning with a job on Joss Whedon’s short-lived cult favorite “Firefly,” which led to him joining Whedon’s “Angel” after “Firefly’s” cancellation, followed by a long stint on the WB/CW drama “Supernatural.” “Each one added to my skill base,” he said.
Gaining that experience, creating a resume which also includes Fox’s “Gotham,” “The Venture Brothers,” and “Powers,” was really important, because Edlund said that “‘The Tick,’ as a show, is maybe about as hard a show you can undertake. I mean, there are shows that are better, I don’t mean to say it’s the best or anything. I just mean that as an array of things you have to do as a producer, this is just crazy. It’s got visual effects, fight choreography, costuming, incredibly involved costuming, puppeteering. We have animatronics. We have lots of aggressive locations and set builds that are from another world. So I needed everything I learned just to have a shot at accomplishing what we were trying to accomplish.”
Edlund said that he was still really fond of the 2001 version of the show — “I love Patrick, I love David Burke, who played Arthur, and I thought Sonnenfeld’s direction was just gorgeous” — but what he learned from working in the Whedon-verse as well as “Supernatural” was how important it was to connect an audience with the characters of a show.
“Before, I was exerting a tremendous amount of energy in the villain of the week, and lots of fun for the Tick, and a tremendous number of ideas coming down the pipe,” he said. “But it was always at the same volume of interactivity. The emotions were not further engaged with then you would have been last week. There was no crescendo, or it wasn’t operating like a story, it was operating like a ritual or something.”
Now, he said, he feels he has the skills which help the show work on a more emotional level. “The second season feels like proof to me that it works this way — combining the fun of this largely light thing with engaging, familiar, psychologically compelling elements that are the real story,” he said. “It’s a lot to try and fold into this silly blue man. But I am deeply intrigued by the effort.”
One intriguing aspect of each iteration of “The Tick” is that beyond Arthur, the Tick, and Arthur’s sister Dot, there’s not a ton of overlap in terms of supporting characters — each new version has filled out the ranks with largely original creations. This is, Edlund said, a result of feeling that “the first step in each one of these is to figure out what’s of the times, and what feels now. [Each time], ‘The Tick’ is processing this age of superheroes.”
For example, in the latest series, the character of Overkill (Scott Speiser) “wrote himself. Overkill just said, ‘I’m going to be on this show for sure because of all these Punishers and Deathstrokes, and Deadpools.”
Meanwhile, one of the key figures in Season 2 is a new antagonist known as Lobstercules, who was created by Jose Fernandez at Ironhead Studio based on Edlund’s sketching, as seen in the exclusive image below.
Courtesy of Ben Edlund
Edlund said the initial inspiration “starts with a lobster and Hercules. But it’s Lobstercules. It’s even dumber,” he laughed. “First it just flashed across my brain as ‘Prawn Hercules’ but that didn’t work. It didn’t roll off the tongue.”
The key inspiration beyond the combination of shellfish and strongman was “wanting to have a very visually powerful antagonist, something to go up against the Tick that would really just have made the boyhood version of myself, the child in me, just go crazy for excitement, right? Because that’s the other part of what we want from this is for it to really open that up in adults and kids — the fun of superheroes.”
Edlund deliberately infuses “The Tick” with a upbeat energy, as the character is “a positive person who is showing up in a love-filled universe that’s forgotten that it is a love-filled universe,” he said. “So he hears the music and he shows up to make other people hear it, too. I like things to mean things, and I think that we’re missing some of that and ‘The Tick’ does, too. So if you sense an upbeatness and hope and warmth in this, it’s because it’s drenched in it. Down to the marrow.”
When it comes to a third season, Edlund is hopeful. “It’s a big show, so we need to prove ourselves in this season, in its response,” he said. “I think we got something going that people would like to see more of. So, I am cautiously optimistic that a response will be tendered that gives us a shot, you know?”
Sony produces “The Tick” for Amazon, which Edlund thinks is “the exact right place” for the show because “Amazon has sort of set itself out as the place that will do superhero fare, but it must have a sort of a commentary level” — something it shares with the upcoming new series “The Boys,” which will premiere on Amazon this summer.
“I think we’re part of the house take on the whole thing,” he said. “As far as moving into the future, we just want a Season 3, and I think Amazon wants that, but they have to be satisfied by a set of analytics. The math of which I do not claim to understand.”
It helps that Season 1 was, according to Edlund, one of the best-received Amazon comedies, based on user ratings. “As I understand it, it was among the top five programs… basically, I know it did very well,” he said.
There was one setback — the choice to split Season 1 into two parts separated by months. “Splitting the season into two halves did not help us, and so we are not doing that this season, because this season sort of stands on its own,” he said. “You could watch the first season, or you can kind of step in and just watch these two superheroes decide they’re going to get to work and get to work.”
If a third season happens, Edlund added, he hopes to do “more of… more. The second season was about getting up and running and having the Tick and Arthur go to work… So we’re up and running. It is really now time to have an emotionally deep, very enjoyable version that really should, I’m hoping, give us all the fun of the cartoon and all of the emotional feels, if I may, of the last two seasons. A synthesis of those things that I don’t think has ever been seen before. I think the second season is sort of a tee-up to that, and worked out beautifully, but I think it can be even more.”
“The Tick” Season 2 premieres Friday, April 5 on Amazon.