Batman v. Superman was not good. Captain America: Civil War was great. But I submit to you that the finest exemplar of the ‘superdudes gotta fight’ is the episode of the excellent ’90s cartoon The Tick titled “The Tick Vs. the Tick.” It’s got superhuman crushing power!
Mainstream comics dogma mandates that superheroes punch on bad guys a lot but, since the earliest days of comics, they have fought each other just as much. Hero-on-hero violence almost always happens for dumb-arse reasons that an actual conversation could clear up. Crimefighters brawl over everything and anything the plot might require: hurt feelings, a girlfriend who’s moved on or even someone using the same codename.
That last one might be the most ridiculous reason of all, which made it the best kind of inciting incident for the October 22, 1994, episode of The Tick. To quote: “Where’s the jerk who calls himself the Tick?” “I am that jerk! Who wants to know?” The Tick cartoon was a magical anomaly when it debuted. The show took a main character that writer Ben Edlund created to satirize mainstream superhero tropes and transplanted him to television with all his goofy charms pretty much intact.
The big, blue nigh-indestructible title character just sort of exists and pals around with Arthur, a sidekick accountant with world-saving aspirations who wears a flying moth-suit. Arthur and the Tick hang out with a bunch of other characters that are send-ups of big-name tropes and ideas, like Batman-alike Die Fledermaus and patriotic street-cleaner-upper American Maid. (There was a live-action version of The Tick starring Patrick Warburton years later and another one is on the way.)
“The Tick vs. the Tick” shows what happens when the Tick and his buddies go out to a superheroes-only bar called The Comet Club for a night of socialising. Heroes-only means that Arthur can’t drink up with his friends, finding himself relegated to the dilapidated Sidekick Lounge instead. Other revelers tell the Tick about Barry, a rich brother-in-law of the bar’s owner who, unbeknownst to the show’s antennaed lead, has taken to running around in costume and calling himself the Tick. Barry’s an unhinged wannabe and he, of course, demands a fight with his new same-named nemesis to decide who can use the four-letter name. While all this is happening, a twitchy little supervillain called The Evil Bomber What Bombs At Midnight is trying to blow up the metahuman watering hole.
TvT sings because it slathers love all over the same silly superhero tropes that it makes fun of. The loud, stilted declamatory dialogue from characters like The Evil Midnight Bomber, Barry, Doorman and the Tick makes for great set-ups and punchlines, while channeling the melodramatic essence of Silver Age superheroics. (Side note: I can recite whole swaths of this episode pretty much verbatim. “And so, he says, ‘I don’t like the cut of your jib.’ So I go, I says, “It’s the only jib I’ve got, baby!!”)
Sidekicks are the butt of several hilarious jokes in the episode but it’s Arthur who essentially saves the day by alerting the Tick to the bad guy’s bombs. And the episode gets extra points for actually having the two Ticks try and talk things out, thanks to the talk-therapy intervention of Punisher stand-in Big Shot. However, talking doesn’t work when one of the parties involved is certifiably nuts and fisticuffs must continue.
My favourite parts of this episode are (a) everything about The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight and (b) the end-of-show musings where the Tick opines that he’d still be the same guy even if he had a different name. That’s the main character of the show basically admitting that the whole fight happened for no damn reason.
We’re currently living in a moment where superhero adaptations can be gigantic, self-serious slogs. Ancient artifacts like “The Tick vs. The Tick” serve as a good reminder of the satirical gold that can be mined from the genre’s oddest tics.