Noodle Soup/Astro Base Go/Cartoon Network (2004), Warner Home Video (May 30, 2006), 2 discs, 291 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Not Rated (package warns of material that may not be suitable for children under 14), Retail: $29.98
A family of failures and their bodyguard find adventure all over the world, even as they are opposed by a likewise incompetent criminal mastermind.
The Sweatbox Review:
While I was watching The Venture Bros., I was struck by an awful thought: How the heck do I describe this show? The easy way out is to say that it is a parody of Jonny Quest, which is made quite obvious in the opening titles and is certainly part of the show; but there is such a hodgepodge of influences present, that that description really doesn’t do the concept of the show justice. Plus, the resulting show is much more than the sum of its parts— a cool, fun, satirical, mature content-laced romp of an adventure show, the likes of which I had never quite seen. I was really at a loss to find anything else that I could compare it to, until the bonus materials provided the answer. The creator of The Venture Bros., Jackson Publick (real name Christopher McCulloch), was a writer on The Tick with Ben Edlund. Yeah, now I can see it. The Venture Bros. is a combination between a Jonny Quest parody and The Tick. Like The Tick, The Venture Bros. has a delightful sense of the absurd, but the latter show is laced with more innuendo and potty jokes, hence its placement on the [adult swim] block on Cartoon Network. With simpatico writing partner Eric “Doc” Hammer, they crafted a unique show that offers more real laughs than your average “mature audience” series.
The eponymous characters are Hank and Dean Venture, twin sons of a former child genius. Doctor Venture is now a bald, middle-aged scientist who struggles to live up to his reputation, which is really borrowed more from his great father’s own legacy of super-achievement than due to anything he has achieved on his own. The current Doctor Venture’s sons are even further removed from their genetic heritage, showing much more enthusiasm than brains. While Hank and Dean are not total morons (some may argue), they are hopelessly naïve and certainly a little dim-witted. At the Venture Compound, the only person who has any real credentials to his name is Brock Samson, a muscle-bound agent of the Office Of Secret Intelligence who thrives on way too much testosterone. Let us meet the rest of the cast as we look at the thirteen half-hour episodes included in the DVD set.
Dia De Los Dangerous establishes several hallmarks of the show, from the letterboxed tease to the humorous post-credit tag. Doctor Venture starts this episode teaching a locum at the Tijuana School For Continuing Education. Odd that they would start the series so far from the Venture Compound where much of the series takes place, but the plot is just as absurd as in any of the other episodes. Doctor Venture’s presence in Mexico is detected by The Monarch, his butterfly-inspired arch nemesis. The Monarch sends a phalanx of henchmen, led by pubescent-voiced Speedy, to spy on Doctor Venture. They get a little over-enthusiastic, however, and end up kidnapping the twins, while sustaining heavy losses due to the intervention of the hulking Brock Samson. The Monarch is none too pleased, but this does lead to his facing the hated Doctor Venture, who insults him terribly by professing no memory of who his supposed foe even is. The episode also introduces The Monarch’s gorgeous but man-voiced paramour Doctor Girlfriend, as well as the Venture’s robot assistant, H.E.L.P.Er.
Right from the start, the vision for the show is clear, even if the characters would later become even better defined. The plots tend to the absurd, but are nearly as tight as they are irreverent. The show never devolves into the archaic mess that one might expect. It is also incredibly funny and nicely animated. There is somewhat strong language peppered into the scripts, but just enough to surprise you when it happens. The potty humor, while present, is also generally restrained enough to keep it from becoming a bore.
The tease for Careers In Science gives us a newsreel that introduces us to Doctor Venture’s now-deceased father, Doctor Jonas Venture. It becomes clear here that Jonas’s biggest inspiration as a character is Doc Savage— a man of immense intelligence and numerous talents. As the main story takes the team into space to repair Gargantua-1, a space station that Jonas designed, the contrast with his son Thaddeus becomes ever more apparent. Our Doctor Venture (called Rusty by his dad) is neurotic, impatient, and treats those around him with disdain and impatience. He also isn’t very good at fixing space stations, as it turns out. Meanwhile, the boys are frightened by possible sightings of a Phantom Space Man, at one point mistaking Brock’s “passionate embrace” with a hideously ugly (but curvy) female astronaut for a depraved fight to the finish.
Mid-Life Chrysalis goes Kafka-esque when Doctor Venture develops a nasty growth, courtesy of Doctor Girlfriend. The B story sees Brock training to regain his license to kill after the old one expires. Eeney, Meeney, Miney… Magic! introduces a recurring cast member, the Doctor Strange-inspired Doctor Orpheus, as well as his Goth daughter Triana. Orpheus, who rents a place at the compound, has faced the worst hell has to offer; but he nonetheless deals with even the simplest problems with an overdeveloped flair for the melodramatic. The Incredible Mr. Brisby has the team meeting Disney analog Roy Brisby as they travel to Brisbyland on the behest of the creator of Bizzy Bee. Brisby traps Doctor Venture with the help of his panda assistant, and tries to convince Venture to create a clone for him, preferably one without the facial paralysis with which he is afflicted. We also meet Brock’s old flame Molotov Cocktease, a cross between Marvel’s Black Widow and Aeon Flux. And if that weren’t enough, the Orange County Liberation Front kidnaps the boys.
Tag Sale— You’re It! brings in a few more series regulars, as the familiars of Doctor Venture attend his yard sale. Professor Impossible, the gay albino Peter White, and hydrocephalic friend Master Billy Quiz-Boy are all here, as are numerous supervillains looking to score some cheap scientific gadgets. The Monarch, Doctor Girlfriend, and Monarch’s henchmen create a weird family dynamic to be sure! Naturally, a riot breaks out at the sale, and the help of Doctor Orpheus is needed to quell the disturbance.
Home Insecurity has a great set-up, with the minions of Baron Underbheit encountering the henchmen of The Monarch as they all try to break into the Venture compound on the same night. This awkward situation results in a meeting between the two head fiends, while their lackeys turn the event into a party. And that’s not even the best of this terrific episode, which also sees Brock encounter retired government agent Steve Summers, a six million dollar man who is on the run with his Sasquatch lover. This episode is probably the acid test of whether or not you will be a fan of The Venture Bros., as it contains some of its best edgy humor and pop culture references. Disc One closes with Ghosts Of The Sargasso, which has Doctor Venture going after his dad’s sunken spaceship, while his boat is captured by pirates.
Moving on to Disc Two, we get to another one of my favorites. Ice Station – Impossible! sees Doctor Venture, Peter White, and Master Billy being invited into a think tank headed up by the leader of The Impossibles, a dysfunctional family of adventurers that are more than inspired by the Fantastic Four. The all-too-obvious references to the FF make one truly wonder how this episode ever avoided litigation. Nevertheless, it is a standout of an episode, that also connects the show to the Jonny Quest world with the appearance of Race Bannon, a former colleague of Brock.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean. is yet another hilarious episode. Dean develops a physical problem of an intimate nature, just when The Monarch has the team trussed up and facing death. Due to a clause in the handbook for the Guild Of Calamitous Intent, The Monarch has to agree to let them go while Dean gets medical attention from Peter and Master Billy. Monarch takes Hank and Brock as collateral, which allows them to attend Monarch’s birthday festivities at his cocoon hideout.
The final three episodes aren’t quite as good, but still are enjoyably twisted. Past Tense brings back Jonas Venture’s own Team Venture companions, as they are enlisted to save Doctor Venture and Brock from an abduction. Team Venture is part-Doc Savage, part League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and part Hellboy. The pop culture references continue to fly! And you’ve gotta love fembots. The best part of this episode is seeing how some of the characters originally met in college. The Trial Of The Monarch shows more of the workings of the Guild Of Calamitous Intent, with The Monarch playing the part of pawn during his darkest hour— his break-up with Doctor girlfriend and subsequent capture by police. Lastly, Return To Spider-Skull Island brings the first season to a shocking close as the title of the show takes on a whole new meaning.
I had a blast watching these episodes.
Is This Thing Loaded?
The set has several Audio Commentaries by co-writers Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer. The ones for Mid-Life Chrysalis, Eeney, Meeney, Miney… Magic! Tag Sale, and Sargasso are somewhat meandering, but at least there are no pauses and the boys are enthusiastic enough while imparting the odd bit of information along with numerous segues into other subjects. We can certainly see how they are two writers with one voice. The commentary on Return To Spider-Skull Island is more satisfying, as the guys describe how they met and put the show together, starting with Publick’s conception of the project as a comic book from Money Press (publishers of Rex Steele).
The show’s Pilot: The Terrible Secret Of Turtle Bay (25:04) appears on the set too. It was produced in 2002, using Flash animation (the ongoing series is traditionally animated, however). The pilot is fairly polished, excepting for the limitations of Flash, and you can enjoy seeing the different character designs that were in use then. The pilot also has its own Audio Commentary, where more background on the show’s creation is presented in a relatively coherent contribution by the writers. Then, there is a Bonus Episode: A Very Venture Christmas, which actually runs just 11:26. In this special, a multitude of homages to Christmas specials and movies gives way to the story of a fiendish plan by The Monarch to destroy the Ventures on Christmas morning. After that, there are about ten minutes of Deleted Scenes featuring animatics from six episodes.
Next, there is more exclusive content prepared for the set, which make the extra features here a bit of a home run. Behind The Scenes Of The Venture Bros. Live Action Movie (21:22) has to be seen to be believed. “On the set” interviews are done with various cast members dressed as their characters. And if you think The Monarch looks whacky, wait until you see Doc Hammer as Doctor Girlfriend! While this could have easily become very lame, the actors follow what I assume to be scripted lines that are just as funny as the episodes themselves. Even henchmen Numbers 21 and 24 get their moments in the sun. The last featurette is Animating Hank And Dean (4:27), which naturally is not nearly so pedestrian as the title would suggest. This has live action footage, hosted by Peter White and Master Billy, explaining the green screen, motion capture process that the show allegedly uses. Once again, what should have been lame verges on genius, making each of the special features wonderfully essential viewing for Venture Bros. fans.
This set uses the same packaging as the other [adult swim] DVD titles, utilizing a two-disc digipack with a slipcase. The outer cover is okay, but the front cover reveals little to the initiated; however, the digipack’s artwork is all wonderfully illustrated by comic great Bill Seinkiewicz. It looks awesome inside. One wonders whether the DVD, which did sell well, would have done a little better yet with some of that Seinkiewicz magic where people could see it in the store. The packaging also includes an insert hawking other [adult swim] DVDs.
Ink And Paint:
The episodes are spotless, perhaps coming even from digital files, but they’re not perfect. There is enough shimmer in these babies to drop the video score down a couple of notches. The body of each episode is presented in its original 4:3 ratio, while the opening teases are letterboxed (i.e. non-anamorphic) widescreen. The show as a whole looks very polished, lending credence to Publick’s statements about the show having a higher budget than other [adult swim] shows. Aside from the shimmer the episodes look pristine and bright.
The 2.0 sound is in stereo, and presents no avenue for criticism. Sound design does not seem to be a huge part of the production process, but the audio tracks come off just fine. Voices are done by the two writers among others, with the most notable being Patrick Warburton’s droll delivery as Brock Samson. The music by JG Thurwell is also impressive. There are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Whatever era you grew up in, you will find something in this show that reminds you of something. Pulp adventure? Check. Hanna-Barbera homage? Check. Bionic people? Check. Bond references? Check. It may sound awfully derivative of better things, but this show manages to be its own, delightfully whacked animal. Viewing the DVD set was like finding buried treasure, as I had never seen the show before. Most episodes had me smiling and laughing throughout, and the humor fortunately does not go too for into distasteful territory (though it dips its toe over the border at times). The shows look great if you can forgive a little shimmering, and the extras are better than what Disney is doing with their Platinum releases these days. With the second season to be released on DVD soon at this writing, it’s a perfect time to pick up the first season on DVD.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?