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The Venture Bros. – Love Never Blows Up and Gets Killed
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
I've been a casual observer of the Adult Swim line-up on The Cartoon Network over the last few years, but wouldn't call myself a fan of most Adult Swim shows. I'm not all that interested in their slew of series that seemed to be marketed to buzzed college dropouts with nothing better to do than watch goofy cartoons at 2:01 A.M. on a Monday morning. I guess I find the concept of Adult Swim (animated media and content for adults) more interesting than the results.
Admittedly, I find episodes of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law and (the now defunct) Sealab 2021 hilarious, but, for the most part, I just don't connect with the humor of shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force or endless repeats of Family Guy. I was about to give up on Adult Swim altogether until I caught an episode of the funniest animated show on television these days — The Venture Bros.
The Venture Bros. is essentially a comedic pastiche on the 1960s animated adventure staple Johnny Quest, except that in The Venture Bros. the Johnny character has grown to adulthood, had a couple of kids of his own, failed at following in his father's footsteps and had developed a narcotics addiction.
Dr. Thaddeus ("Rusty") Venture (the grown up Johnny) is a not-so-talented scientist/inventor living on the skeletal remains of the futuristic, technological empire build by his father Dr. Jonas Venture – who bears more than a passing resemblance to the character Doc Savage. If Jonas Venture was a man of action then Dr. Venture is a man who sells the things the man of action collected over the years via yard sales.
Sons Hank and Dean Venture are as inquisitive as they are dim-witted, constantly getting themselves into trouble but lacking the smarts to get themselves out, which is where Brock (voiced by Patrick Warburton) fits in with this testosterone soaked family. Brock is an agent of an organization suspiciously similar to S.H.I.E.L.D. who has a penchant for Led Zeppelin and sharp knives. Brock's one mission is to keep Dr. Venture and his sons alive – which on one occasion proves to be an impossible task.
There's also next-door neighbor Dr. Orpheus who looks like, and shares most of the powers, of Marvel Comics Dr. Strange. Except while Orpheus explores the otherworldly and the occult like Dr. Strange, he's also a single-dad raising his Goth obsessed daughter Triana. Best of all is the Venture family arch nemesis, The Monarch, who wears a yellow suit with large butterfly wings attached to the back and shoots poisonous darts from his wrist since he inexplicably believes that the Monarch butterfly is one of the most deadly creatures on the planet.
The Venture Bros. creators Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick (pseudonyms for Eric Hammer and Christopher McCulloch respectively) show a true love of 1970s and 1980s pop-culture in their show. Rather than simply inserting references to the 1970s and 80s as throwaway comedic punch lines, as so many other animated shows do, Publick and Hammer instead play with the overall concepts of the time, twisting them to suit their own means. Almost anything goes in episodes of The Venture Bros., Marvel-esque super-hero characters can intermingle with a grown-up version of the Scooby Gang while a character looking suspiciously like Steve Austin/Bionic Man and his robotic Bigfoot "friend" has also appeared in an episode.
Here's a bit of trivia about The Venture Bros. – the series shares close ties to both the animated and woefully underrated live action versions of The Tick (1994, 2001). Series co-creator Publick had written for both version of The Tick while co-creator Hammer (according to an interview on IGN.com) had also worked with The Tick creator Ben Edlund. And don't forget Warburton who played the lead The Tick in the live action version of the show.
The first two seasons of The Venture Bros. are available on DVD and iTunes. New episodes of The Venture Bros. are set to air later this year/early next. E-mail me at email@example.com.