The Tick Is The Other Great Fox Superhero Cartoon From the ’90s

After the success of X-Men '97, it's time to bring back the other great Fox superhero cartoon from the 1990s, The Tick!

The Tick and Arthur in the '90s Tick cartoon.
Photo: Fox

Imagine. The year is 1994 and you are a huge superhero fan. You sit down to watch your favorite cartoon show, a thrilling battle of good versus evil. In this week’s episode, Charles uses his mental might to clash with a blue enemy who promises to be his friend.

The cheesy voice-acting and choppy animation doesn’t disrupt the experience. In fact, it makes it better, intensifying the clash between Charles and the blue guy until you can’t take it anymore and you unleash your hero’s battle cry:


Because, of course, you’re not watching X-Men: The Animated Series, nor even Batman: The Animated Series, both respected superhero cartoons that get ample praise today. No, the Charles in question is Brainchild, a precocious evil pre-teen (voiced by Rob Paulsen) who enhanced his intelligence by giving himself a glass covered throbbing brain.

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And the other guy is the personification of Mighty Blue Justice, because you’re watching The Tick, the hilarious and under-praised Fox Kids show from the 90s.

The Tick vs. Origin Stories

The Tick is the creation of cartoonist Ben Edlund, who started drawing the character for newsletters distributed by New England Comics in 1986. Big, blue, and nigh-invulnerable, the Tick protected the City alongside his sidekick Arthur, a pudgy accountant trying to embrace his true calling as a superhero in a bunny moth suit.

That loose premise served as a launching pad for Edlund to offer some of the most incisive comic book parodies of all-time, complete with goofy heroes like the Running Guy (“faster than ten fast men!”) and the most extreme antihero, the Chainsaw Vigilante.

Hoping to replicate the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fox approached Edlund to make a cartoon series out of the Tick, resulting in the cult hit that ran for 36 episodes from 1994 to 1996. The Tick returned to television two other times, once in an under-appreciated 2001 live-action sitcom starring Patrick Warburton in the title role and again for two seasons in 2016 and 2018, a live-action series on Amazon Prime Video, with great performances from Peter Serafinowicz as the Tick and Griffin Newman as Arthur.

Every adaptation of the Tick featured plenty of involvement from Edlund, which ensured that they all have the same sense of humor as the comics. But the ’90s cartoon series remains the gold standard, precisely because it was in conversation with other shows of the time, including X-Men: The Animated Series.

The Tick vs. Superheroes

“Where’s the jerk who calls himself the Tick?” demands an orange-clad buffoon with a shield in his hand and a long pointy nose.

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“I am that jerk!” shouts the resolute Tick, ready to take on the challenge.

This exchange from season one’s “The Tick vs. The Tick” captures everything great about The Tick, from Townsend Coleman’s earnest and bombastic performance as the title character to its well-observed take on superhero tropes. The orange jerk-seeker who calls out the Tick is himself the Tick. Well, his name is Barry (voiced by Jim Cummings), but he claims to be the original Tick and doesn’t take kindly to this new guy running around and his duds.

Even in 1994, hero versus hero tropes were well-worn, especially when two muscle-bound do-gooders shared a name. Green Lantern fought Green Lantern and the Flash fought the Flash in DC Comics multiple Earth crises, and it only took a few issues in the Marvel Age of comics for Human Torch Johnny Storm to clash with the android Human Torch from the Golden Age.

Even those who got their recommended amount of capes and tights through cartoons recognized the trope. After all, Spider-Man: The Animated Series adapted the Venom storyline and Wolverine tried to gut Cyclops in the first episode of X-Men.

In fact, much of The Tick‘s humor came from its winking relationship to other series at the time. X-Men: The Animated Series became a hit because it faithfully translated the comic books, complete with the melodrama of Chris Claremont’s scripts. The overheated soap opera of the X-Men, its over-the-top dialogue, the outrageous costumes — all of these things made X-Men: TAS great. And all of these things made way for fantastic jokes on The Tick.

On X-Men, Magneto and other villains proclaim their superiority with absurd plans. On The Tick, the evil Chairface Chippendale proclaims his superiority by writing his name on the moon — getting stopped after writing the letters “CHA,” which remain on the moon for the rest of the series.

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The X-Men get help from a range of heroes, who assemble in exciting montages. The pilot episode “The Tick Vs. the Idea Men” features a series of shots with heroes assembling, including the patriotic American Maid, Bullet Man (“Fire me, boy!” he says to his young sidekick as he climbs into a cannon), and Bi-Polar Bear (“If I could just get off the couch…”). The X-Men save the entire world, while the Tick goes to Belgium in season three’s “Tick vs. Europe.” Marvel’s mutants deal with complicated romances, as does the Tick, when Ottoman Express tries to marry his ally Die Fledermaus and Arthur (voiced by former Monkee Micky Dolenz for season one, then by Paulsen).

While all of these riffs deal with the ridiculous parts of superhero stories, they never condescend to them. Edlund has a clear love of superheroes, which allows him to goof on the tropes with such accuracy. The Tick is a celebration of superheroes, in all of their goofiness — which is why it needs to come back to television.

The Tick vs. Nostalgia

X-Men ’97 became such a sensation not just because it brought back the cornier elements of the ’90s series, but because it heightened the stakes. Cal Dodd growls his every line as Wolverine, just like he did three decades ago. Professor X and Magneto deliver bombastic monologues that have long gone out of style. The good guys and the bad guys solve their problems by punching one another out.

But all of these cheesy aspects serve knotty and immediate themes, with the attack on Genosha mirroring real-life hate crimes and the rhetoric of villain Bastion taken from white supremacists online. X-Men ’97 portrays the concerns of minority groups with a frankness rarely seen in mainstream media.

All of this is great. But all of this is really serious. And the only superhero parody around is The Boys, which is extremely cynical, despite its necessary political satire.

In short, the time is right for The Tick to return, a loving superhero pastiche that reminds us all that this genre should be fun. The Tick doesn’t preclude the deeper and weightier stuff in X-Men ’97 and other forms of superhero media. But it also acknowledges the excesses of capes and tights tales, which only makes those qualities all the better.

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As much as we love X-Men ’97, The Boys, and the MCU, they don’t capture everything great about superheroes. And so we wait, hoping to hear that word of power and promise, signaling a the coming of a long-awaited superhero.


The Tick is available to stream on Hulu in the U.S.