#3 The Tick. Like Invader Zim, the cartoon version of The Tick was marketed as a kid's show, but there were a lot of jokes aimed at adults. At the time it aired in 1994, it was the most sophisticated cartoon on Saturday morning since Rocky and Bullwinkle back in the 1960's.
Not that The Tick himself is sophisticated. While he is a full grown adult, very full grown at 6'6" and 230 pounds, The Tick thinks in the black and white world of costumed superheroes. There are good guys and bad guys and they fight and the good guys win. He is cheerfully clueless about the concerns of adults. He doesn't much think about money. He absolutely ignores any sexual innuendo. Adult concerns are left to his sidekick Arthur, a doughy former accountant who has a costume that allows him to fly. The white costume with antennae is often mistaken for a rabbit by characters who don't know Arthur. His family is worried about him choosing the "superhero lifestyle".
The show is really all about superheroes. Almost no villains get repeat gigs. Among the friends of The Tick and Arthur are Sewer Urchin, American Maid and Die Fledermaus. Almost no one except The Tick has anything approaching superpowers. Sewer Urchin is like Dustin Hoffman's character from Rain Man, American Maid is a good acrobat but not super strong, and Die Fledermaus has a really cool looking costume, but really doesn't like fighting and is only in the superhero business to hit on chicks. During one adventure a team of heroes from The City are being outmatched by superintelligent ants, and Fish Boy, Lost Prince of Atlantis, turns to Die Fledermaus and asks, "Where is The Tick? You told my mom The Tick would be here!"
Die Fledermaus answers, "Look, Fish Boy, I told your mom a lot of things."
The Tick is the creation of Ben Edlund. He turned a character he drew as a teen as the mascot of a local comic book shop into an indie comic book character into a Saturday morning TV show and then a few years back into a live action TV show with Patrick Warburton as the hero. More recently, Edlund had gigs as writer and producer on the Joss Whedon TV shows Angel and Firefly. There are three seasons worth of the cartoon show. Matty Boy says check them out.
#2 The Venture Brothers. Chris McCullough was a staff writer on The Tick back in the 1990's, and created his own show The Venture Brothers from the same fertile ground of making light of the genre of action heroes. In the background of the picture, you see Doc Venture and his boys, Dean and Hank, as they watch the family bodyguard Brock Samson, who is about to kill an alligator. There are obvious similarities to the old 1960's show Jonny Quest. The characters of Race Bannon and a grown up Jonny Quest make guest appearances on separate episodes. Even more, Doc Venture was sidekick to his own father, an adventurer scientist, and was well enough known to have crap merchandise created with his likeness on it, like lunch boxes and alarm clocks. Life has not turned out well for Doc Venture given his illustrious beginnings, and he is an exceedingly bitter person.
The boys Hank and Dean are very innocent for modern teens, much in the same way The Tick is innocent. In the first season, Dean falls in love with a neighbor girl who barely knows that Dean is alive. Hank likes to talk a good game, but he is even more of a virgin than Dean, if that is possible.
If The Tick was all about superheroes, The Venture Brothers is all about costumed villains. The show spends nearly as much time dealing with The Monarch, a guy who dresses up as a butterfly and commands an army of minions. The Monarch has sworn vengeance against Doc Venture for as of yet unexplained slights. Other villains include Phantom Limb, whose arms and legs are invisible, King Gorilla and Baron Underbeit, a character like Doctor Doom in the Fantastic Four who rules a country. Most important after The Monarch in the list of villains is Doctor Girlfriend, the second in command to The Monarch. Doctor Girlfriend is drawn as a sexy brunette who dress in pink costumes fashioned to look like what Jackie Kennedy wore, but the voice sounds like Harvey Fierstein, only not as feminine.
The shows main strengths is the large cast of well developed characters and the many pop culture references. One episode starts with a scene where all the dialog is lifted from David Bowie's A Space Oddity, which some might remember better from the opening line "Ground Control to Major Tom". Other musical acts who get a mention include Jesus Jones, Depeche Mode, Led Zeppelin (Brock Samson's favorite) and Rick Springfield. So far, there have been two seasons worth of episodes, with Adult Swim promising a third, though exactly when it will air is anyone's guess. Since I think it's the second best cartoon series of the last twenty years, it goes without saying that you should check it out.
Next up: The Number One cartoon show of the past 20 years, the time I call (spoiler alert) The Simpsons Era.
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