The Venture Bros.: An Overlooked Cartoon Gem
By Ethan McIntyre
Cartoons are, for whatever reason, traditionally thought of as a medium for children. While many of the most prominent cartoons have, historically, targeted a young demographic, there are a large amount of cartoons that are aimed at older audiences.
The most famous examples, of course, are Fox’s long-running and iconic The Simpsons and Comedy Central’s raunchy and satirical South Park. There are lots of others - Futurama, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and so on - but there’s one in particular that I feel deserves much more attention than it gets.
The Venture Bros. is an incredible comedy series that has been airing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block since 2004. Written by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, Venture Bros. is a parody of ‘boy adventurer’ shows like Johnny Quest, Venture Bros. explores how real people might react to the rigors and traumas of such a world.
The series is centered on the Venture family - patriarch Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture (James Urbaniak), his two sons Hank (Jackson Publick) and Dean (Michael Sinterniklaas), and their bodyguard, Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton).
Rusty is the son of world-renowned scientist and adventure Jonas Venture; Jonas was brilliant, handsome, and courageous, but behind closed doors, he was a neglectful and emotionally abusive father who dragged Rusty into his many adventures without regard for the child’s safety. By the time the series begins, Jonas is dead and Rusty is a jaded, self-centered failure of a scientist who has never been able to escape his father’s shadow.
His twin sons, Hank and Dean, are naive in the extreme; they’ve lived their whole lives on the Venture compound (aside from the times they’ve been kidnapped by various supervillains, of course) and have a romanticized idea of what the world of super-science and costumed villainy is like.
Brock Samson, a member of the OSI (Office of Secret Intelligence, essentially the Venture-verse equivalent of Marvel’s SHIELD), serves as Rusty’s bodyguard. He’s every ‘manly man’ trope mixed together with every super-spy trope you can think of, topped with an extreme love of Led Zeppelin and Steve McQueen. Hyper-competent and hyper-masculine, Brock has been accurately described as a “Swedish murder machine” by other characters, but beneath his gruff exterior it’s clear that he truly cares for the Venture family.
The family is frequently threatened by a variety of villains belonging to the Guild of Calamitous Intent, an organization that determines which heroes a villain of a given skillset is allowed to terrorize (or “arch,” in the parlance of the show). Venture’s primary arch is a butterfly-themed villain known as the Monarch (Jackson Publick), who was raised by a colony of Monarch butterflies after his parents were killed in a plane crash that only he survived.
The Monarch hates Rusty with a passion, for reasons that have never been made entirely clear. Luckily for the Ventures, the Monarch isn’t particularly effective as an arch - despite having a giant floating cocoon-shaped base and an army of henchmen, there’s not much the Monarch can do against Brock Samson.
Far more competent is the Monarch’s right-hand woman, Dr. Girlfriend (Doc Hammer). Though she is much smarter and more capable than the Monarch (and lacking his obsession with the Ventures), Dr. Girlfriend is mostly content to work as her boyfriend’s second-in-command. Weirdly, despite their villainous natures, the two have what is probably the strongest, most stable relationship on the show.
A host of other characters fill out the show’s cast, but those are the central roles. What makes the show great, however, isn’t just that the characters have interesting designs and hilarious quips. It’s the fact that each character has such a clearly established personality, and beyond that, the way they learn and grow as the series progresses. Watch any episode from the most recent season (season six) and compare it to an episode from season one - the amount of growth these people have undergone is undeniable.
In addition, the weird world the Ventures inhabit has continually gotten more and more fleshed out. Both the Guild of Calamitous Intent and the OSI have been explored deeply throughout the years, and the newest season changed the series’ location, leading to the introduction of a slew of new characters and concepts.
The Venture Bros. is absolutely hilarious; the humor alone is enough to make it a must-watch, particularly if you’re familiar with the superhero and super-science tropes it so often mocks. However, Venture Bros. surpasses the rank of mere comedy with a truly engaging cast and a constantly-evolving world.