Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Superhero Media: The Venture Bros. - Season 1

This is such a great programme, which, really, if you look at it in isolation, it shouldn't be. Ostensibly a parody of "Saturday Morning" cartoons of the Johnny Quest vintage, The Venture Bros. eventually becomes a sprawling narrative of humanity, trauma and the journey to adulthood. In this first season, however, the themes are more obtuse, and the programme is clearly made quickly and cheaply by a small team. Well, I say quickly, but The Venture Bros. only manages to get a season out every few years, producing only seven seasons of around 13 episodes between 2003 and 2020; it can be a frustrating wait for more sometimes. The series introduces Doc Venture, a middle-aged super-scientist with a drug problem, his two teenaged sons Hank and Dean, both as naive as they are optimistic, and Brock Sampson, bodyguard and murderist extraordinaire. Menacing this atypical family is the Mighty Monarch, a butterfly-themed supervillain prone to ranting speeches and misunderstanding just how butterflies actually work, with his army of henchmen and sexy number two, Doctor Girlfriend. 

The "twist" of The Venture Bros. is that in a world of super-science and super-villainy, life is still pretty banal most of the time. There is an entire episode dedicated to Doc trying to get laid to stave off a feeling of getting older and less relevant, for which an attack on Marakesh by mutant lizard-people is forgotten. Yes, the story ends with Doc transmuting into a giant caterpillar, but even this is brushed off with "I'm in the super-science racket, this kind of thing tends to happen". Not to, for an instant, suggest that The Venture Bros. is anything short of thoroughly entertaining and utterly hilarious through and through; it is precisely the juxtaposition of the banal and the sublime that drives the humor of the programme. Early on, just seeing parody takes on characters like Baron Underbite (Doctor Doom), Richard Impossible (Mister Fantastic) and Doctor Orpheus (Doctor Strange) makes for an entertaining watch, but when these jokes become rounded individuals with compelling motivations, you know you're hooked on The Venture Bros. 

Despite it being brilliant, I tend to not recommend Season 1 of The Venture Bros. as the best starting point; it's fucking weird. To see if you can tolerate moments like Henchmen 21 and 24 arguing over Smurf taxonomy and any of Hank's dialogue, check out the season 2 episode "Escape to the House of Mummies - Part 2" and if you can stand that, go back to season 1 and start your binge. And yes, there is no "Part 1" to that episode. I've mentioned this before, but I could totally write a miniatures wargames rulebook for The Venture Bros., I already have notes and ideas and can think of a decent digital sculptor. On the off-chance anyone reading this knows Doc Hammer, Jackson Publik or someone in marketing at Adult Swim, please pass this on, I'll work for scale. If you can't tell, I love The Venture Bros. I really hope that there is another season or two for me to watch by the time this article works its way out of the backlog. Go team Venture!

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