The Tick vs. Madman vs. Me

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Letting go can be hard. I was reminded of that reading The Tick’s 20th Anniversary Special Edition with the first three issues of Mike Allred’s new Madman Atomic Comics. The Tick’s 20th Anniversary Special Edition reminded me how much I loved Ben Edlund’s first 12 issues of The Tick and how relieved I am that Mike Allred kept Madman for himself.

I’ve said before that I enjoy seeing different versions of the same character and I meant it. But in my heart there’s only ever been one Tick and my declining interest can be clearly graphed from the comic to the live action show. The less Ben Edlund is involved, the less interested I am in the nigh-invulnerable superhero parody. My persnickety attitude makes reading The 20th Anniversary Special Edition complicated.

t20asp coverWhile it’s full of comic history and nice touches, like a letter from the printers, the Special Edition is a collection of various artists’ takes on the Tick. And I was happy to see the City’s antiheros, Chainsaw Vigilante and Man-Eating Cow, again. But then I unfolded the section featuring a note and two comics from Ben Edlund that just rub it all in. His work makes the other versions of the Tick presented in the book seem false. His voice is right on. The art is smooth. The comic’s just funnier. It’s the Tick.

Sure, I understand Edlund’s moved on to dominate television, writing for Angel: The Series, Firefly, Supernatural and The Venture Bros., created by alternate Tick writer, Jackson Publick/Christopher McCulloch. I know if I want more, the only way to get it is through new writers and artists. Still, I miss the Tick.

tick disguise

Strangely enough, the Special Edition eased the pain of Madman’s absence. When Mike Allred started writing about a Robert Rodriguez Madman movie, I flashed back to when Ben Edlund started writing about The Tick animated series and then ran off to join television, without resolving the fight between the real Tick (The Tick) and the fake Tick (Barry). I figured Mike Allred would get involved in the film industry. There would be no more Madman for me and I wanted more Madman.  I got over it. After all, Mike Allred still made comics and his wife, Laura Allred, still colored them. I didn’t begrudge him The Atomics, X-Force and X-Statix. How many people get to freak out X-fans? And it’s totally cool that he got to realize his comic vision of The Book of Mormon, The Golden Plates. My experience with the Tick taught me to be thankful that there’s no painful version of Madman out there hurting me. I just did my best to let go—even while getting way too excited about scoring a trade paperback of The G-Men from Hell.

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Now a friend has loaned me the first 3 issues of Madman Atomic Comics. It’s hard to say where the comic is going yet. It’s been something like 10 years since the last issue of Madman and Allred is catching up new readers on Snap City’s reanimated hero, Frank Einstein, aka Madman. But the comics aren’t a retread. Allred uses exposition as an excuse for a trippy Jack Kirby-esque tour de force. Frank Einstein’s been separated from his body, his girl Joe and all his friends. He’s desperate to get them back. But first he needs to figure out who he is and to separate himself out from other possible lives and other people’s perceptions of him. And that’s where I get most excited.

MMAC 2 varietyIn issue 3, “Swiped from Dimension X,” Mike Allred draws all these possible Franks, displaying a crazy, casual command of other artists’ styles and materials. Starting with the first panel on page 4, Allred draws each panel in a different style. Fleischer Bros., Tex Avery, Neal Adams, Chynna Clugston-Moore, Richard Sala, Moebius, Herriman, Charles Schultz, Katsuhiro Otomo, Chas. Adams, Alex Raymond, Seth, Bruce Timm, Charles Burns—see how many you can recognize.

You might not be so much for cosmic, existential journeys. To be honest, I’m not myself. But the art is astonishing. Aside from drawing in the styles of dozens of comic artists, Mike Allred uses techniques he experimented with in the Dead Girl miniseries. The art looks like it’s done on a vellum overlay with visible graphite and blue pencil shading. Laura Allred’s colors are perfect as always. In a neat touch, the action in previous issues is presented in an opening page of panels. Besides, as with the original run, there are little pin up extras, in this case by Paul Pope, Charles Burns and Tim Sale.

I suppose liking the pinups in Madman and being saddened by only two Edlund comics in The Tick’s 20th Anniversary Special Edition catches me out. It shows the tension between being excited by many possible versions and preferring one. It’s just that I like what I like and letting go can be hard. Like the Tick says, “Gravity is a harsh mistress.”

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Looking back at The Tick’s 20th Anniversary Special Edition, Carol Borden realizes that the printers also use the “Gravity is a harsh mistress” quote in their piece. All props are due to Morgan Publishing.

(This piece was originally published at The Cultural Gutter on July 19, 2007. Last image via Herosandwich).


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