In 2002, Christopher McCulloch – one of the main writers for the highly underrated animated version of “The Tick” series – came up with an idea to take some of his fondest memories watching Hanna-Barbera’s “Jonny Quest” and doing a complete 180 with the premise and its themes. With Doc Hammer and the Astro Base GO! crew by his side, Jackson Publick (McCulloch’s pseudonym for this project) revised a Comedy Central-rejected pilot titled “The Venture Bros.”
The animated show chronicling the adventures (or misadventures) of the Venture clan premiered on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block in February 2003. The episode showed just how far Publick and crew planned to take their concept if the show got picked up. How far, you ask? The pilot featured the main villain attempting to steal a death ray not to destroy the world, but because he had a sexual fetish for advanced technology. It’s hard to believe that the show was not only a green light for more episodes following the pilot’s airing, but also the precursor for five seasons featuring some of the best storytelling seen on television today – animated or live action.
With the sixth season airing soon, I want look back at the first five seasons to get Venture newbies up to speed on what you’ve been missing; and recount some of the greatest, most important moments in the series’ history for you long-time Venture fanatics. But before I can write about the show’s ever-evolving plot, I must introduce the characters that make “The Venture Bros.” so fantastic. (Note: All the character descriptions provided are base summarizations coming from the first season.)
Dr. Thaddeus S. “Rusty” Venture
We can’t analyze this series without starting with the head of the Venture household. Though his title might make him sound prestigious, the truth is Dr. Venture is the epitome of lost potential. The son of legendary super scientist/adventurer/ladies man/all-around genius Dr. Jonas Venture, Rusty spent the majority of his life trying to live up to the grand image his father created before his father’s death/disappearance. Before Thaddeus became a letdown in life, he was a hero to many children by being the figurative Jonny Quest in his father’s television series, “The Rusty Venture Show”; showcasing the Jonas Venture-led group “Team Venture” in saving his villainized and/or endangered son through various locals such as jungles and sewers.
Naturally, the show traumatized young Rusty and causes him to suffer in his later years from paranoia, hallucinations featuring himself killing and eating another baby in the womb, a “diet pill” addiction, and an inability to accept that he isn’t worthy of the Venture name. Add those problems to the fact his overcompensation for a lacking genius intellect and pseudo-physical prowess against both men and with women has left him financially struggling and morally depraved. In summation, Dr. Thaddeus Venture is also the epitome of failure.
Henry Allen “Hank” Venture
The older, bolder, toe-headed Venture brother, Hank is a visual parody of Freddie from “The Scooby Doo” series with his out-going mindset and neckerchief. The eldest Venture brother, though always looking for acceptance from his father, discovers himself more in the family’s bodyguard Brock Samson than his father. Unlike his younger brother, Hank takes pride in facing dangerous situations, dressing up like Batman (it’s his spy clothes), and doing his best to be a field operative like Brock. Hank wants more in life than to be just another Venture disappointment, but greatly reflects a childhood version of his father more than he could ever imagine.
Roger Dean “Dean” Venture
If Hank represents the image of his father as a youth, Dean is similar to father Venture now – a smart individual who has the pressure of his predecessor to live up as well as his father’s expectations. In short, Dr. Venture wants his youngest son to be a super scientist just like Jonas Venture wanted for young Rusty even though it’s obvious neither want to follow in their dad’s footsteps.
Though he doesn’t necessarily live to be like his dad, Dean has the mind of a child when it comes to respecting, believing and loving his father even though it’s obvious if Thaddeus could rid himself of the boys and keep the Venture name in existence he’d do it in a heartbeat. This naivety to his father’s feelings for him rolls into Dean’s perception of the rest of the world. Spending his entire life on the Venture Compound and being home-schooled makes Dean the definition of “sheltered.” Dean’s awkwardness around women his age or older, an inability to let go of childhood toys, and, at times, accepting a fantasy world he’s created as reality become hallmarks to his character; making you sympathize with a teenager who might never make it in the real world.
The Venture family’s bodyguard, Brock Samson is a living, breathing, killing machine (he actually owns a “License to Kill”). A man of few words during the series’ early episodes, Samson showcases his greatest joys in grand fashion: killing and making love. Lets just say that Samson has a way with the ladies when he’s not finding creative ways to maim, murder, and defend the family he holds dear – all without a gun.
Interestingly enough, Samson and Dr. Venture actually roomed together during their respective stays in college. The future doctor understood firsthand what Brock was capable of in the sack as he lay on the bottom buck of their beds, kept awake for hours during Samson’s furious love-making sessions. Since becoming the Venture family’s bodyguard, Brock has taken a keen interest in helping guide Hank and Dean as best he can. While Dean sees Brock for what he is – a bodyguard who becomes close to a family member as possible – Hank looks up to Samson as the father figure he wishes his real dad could be. A lot of life advice has been given to Hank through Brock instead of Dr. Venture. But there are many skeletons in Brock Samson’s closet.
Though it looks like a large, talking coat rack on wheels, the Humanoid Electronic Lab Partner Robot (H.E.L.P.eR. for short) was created by Jonas Venture as a babysitter for young Rusty during the days someone wouldn’t capture the poor lad. Sadly, time hasn’t been kind to H.E.L.P.eR. mostly thanks to Rusty not really seeing the robot in the same way as many others – a member of the Venture family. There have been many moments where H.E.L.P.eR. saved the various members of the Venture family, but rarely gets any thanks from the person H.E.L.P.eR. was created for.
The Guild of Calamitous Intent (a.k.a. “The Guild”)
The Guild of Calamitous Intent is a somewhat secret organization that governs the interactions between protagonists and costumed antagonists. In “The Venture Bros.’” world, heroes and villains don’t just fight each other because of simplistic differences. If a villain wants to “arch”, he or she must apply with The Guild. After approval, that villain will be assigned an enemy that he or she can terrorize, but not kill. It’s up to The Guild to rid the world of a hero or villain. While only mentioned slightly in season one, it’s established early that The Guild is a force one must abide by, or else…
The Monarch, Dr. Girlfriend, Henchmen 21 & 24
The Monarch is one of the many costumed villains in “The Venture Bros.” series. Unlike the Manotaurs or Bearded Specters of the Venture world, The Monarch’s single goal in arching is to ruin Dr. Venture’s life. After living with monarch butterflies following the death of his parents due to a horrible plane crash, the future Monarch – Malcolm at the time – grew to appreciate the butterfly’s beauty before they all died during the fall. The Monarch went on to inherit his parents’ estate, go to college, and, seemingly, have a run-in with Thaddeus Venture that ended with him attempting to blow Rusty up (accidentally obliterating fellow student/future villain Werner Ünderbheit’s jaw). While you’d think Dr. Venture would be a little bit afraid of The Monarch’s actions, he sees the costumed antagonist as nothing more than a nuisance rather than a threat.
The former Lady Au Pair, past girlfriend/second-in-command of Guild operative Phantom Limb, and The Monarch’s current beau, Dr. Girlfriend bears a remarkable resemblance to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, but has the voice of someone who smokes four packs of cigarettes a day – thus bringing forth the rumor that she’s a transsexual. While not the most opposing person in the series from a physical standpoint, Dr. Girlfriend is a force in the show’s villainous hierarchy that causes more than a few problems between her past and her current loves.
Then there are Henchmen 21 and 24 of The Monarch’s “Fluttering Horde”. To paraphrase The Monarch, they are the perfect mix of incompetence and invincibility. No matter the situation, they walk away unscathed and while spending a majority of their time together posing hyphotheticals and double entendres instead of improving themselves to become better henchmen. Like Dr. Girlfriend, Henchman 24 has a unique voice that would make you think Ray Romano is lending his voice talents to the series.
Dr. Byron Orpheus
Confused by Hank and Dean as Dracula, the good doctor is a “famed” necromancer who conjures the spirits from beyond to keep the world in order. Though his spiritual abilities are beyond reproach, his personable traits are far from good. His wife left him for his protégé. His daughter Triana is a Goth teenager who is almost too normal for the environment she lives in (and becomes Dean’s infatuation). And to top everything, Dr. Orpheus lives in a rented section of the Venture Compound to house his daughter and himself. Though Dr. Orpheus sees the world completely differently than Dr. Venture, it’s obvious these two have walked similar paths without being able to stop themselves.
Pete White & Billy Whalen
Pete White – as his name might suggest – is an albino who also went to college with the future Dr. Venture. After encountering a man suffering from hydrocephalus, White joined forces with self-proclaimed “boy genius” “Master Billy Quizboy” Billy Whalen (who’s actually thirty-five years old when the series begins) to create “Conjectural Technologies”. Whalen’s unusually high intellect for someone with hydrocephalus allows him to make their “organization” a launching pad for his dream to become a doctor. More than once, Dr. Venture will have to call on the help of Whalen and White. And when he doesn’t need them, Rusty treats them like trash. Aw, friendship.
And that’s just a few of the faces and personalities this series contains. (How does a man with electronic, invisible limbs sound to you?) Next time, I’ll recap the first season’s major happenings. And let me tell you right now, it gets weird … fast!