Monday, September 1, 2008

The Venture Bros. - Season One

Venture Brothers Collage by Bill Sienkiewicz

The Venture Bros. should be a much bigger show, but seeing as how it's clever, I'm sure it completely misses the lowest common denominator. Doctor Venture is part of a super-scientific legacy, but brings shame to the name with his inadequacy and general sliminess. His sons Hank and Dean are "innocent," by which I mean borderline retarded. Their bodyguard, the psychotically violent alpha male Brock Samson, protects them from the legions of villains who would steal the Ventures' inventions, fortunes, and lives. Them there are the constants, but the cast of recurring characters grows over the first season, and add greatly to the value of the show. I do love the retro aesthetic and general subversion. The outstanding music by Jim Thirlwell is a great asset, and even the menu music is better than most. Anyway, here's the episodes and extras from the first season set.

  1. "Dia de Los Dangerous!" The Monarch, a villain with a butterfly theme, remains a personal favorite. Seeing as he's in most episodes, and he's undeniably hilariously voiced by show creator Christopher McCulloch, I doubt I'm alone there. This episode provides his origin, and explores the dynamic of his organization and relationship with Dr. Girlfriend. Fun Fact: The Monarch was partially based on the Aquaman foe Black Mantis, and even before I knew that, I started hearing his voice when reading comics featuring Ocean Master. Anyway, a well chosen first episode, as each major character is given time to be introduced effectively. I suppose the only major flaw is the diminished role for Brock Samson, another favorite.

  2. "Careers in Science" The first totally obvious analogue of many is introduced, revealing that Dr. Venture is basically the underachiever son of the late Doc Savage. There are some cute bits here involving Brock Samson banging a hideous astronaut and the robot H.E.L.P.eR. lost in space, but I find most episodes centering on Dr. Venture fall flat.

  3. "Mid-Life Chrysalis" Speaking of which, there's a lot of Dr. Venture in this one, though the presence of the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend help-- as well as some David Cronenburg body shock horror elements. What?

  4. "Eeney, Meeney, Miney... Magic!" This one's a lot of fun, as I get a kick out of the Dr. Strange parody Orpheus. Everyone has something to do, with Hank and Brock bonding, Dean finding young love, and Dr. Venture playing off Orpheus. Fans of MTV's old Daria might get a kick out of Triana Orpheus, Dr. Orpheus' goth teen daughter.

  5. "The Incredible Mr. Brisby"Another Dr. Venture driven episode, as he faces off against an evil Walt Disney riff. Brock Samson saves the show with some funny character bits.

  6. "Tag Sale – You're It!" Probably the best episode of the season, as most every character appears in some capacity, and all to the good. Loaded with inside jokes, introductions, revelations, subplots, left field references and all-around fun.

  7. "Home Insecurity" Opens with some great gags involving Baron √únderbheit and his cohorts, and follows through with Venture Brothers goofiness. Plus, Brock meets the Six Million Dollar Man!

  8. "Ghosts of the Sargasso" Great opening sequence referencing David Bowie, bit of a drag for a spell, then picks up in a big way through the finale. Several Samson highlights, including an all-time great.

  9. "Ice Station – Impossible!" The major competition for best season episode, and somehow, it's a Doctor Venture spotlight to boot! Venture is invited to an arctic thinktank amongst members of a dysfuntional Fantastic Four with a decidedly Warren Ellis flavor. Stephen Colbert as Professor Impossible doesn't hurt, but my favorites were the Sue Storm moments. That, and "Race" Bannon of "Johnny Quest" fame is killed off in this episode. All so very wrong...

  10. "Are You There, God? It's Me, Dean" This one had a parallel narrative, with the Monarch stuff being great, while Dr. Venture and Dean were one-note.

  11. "Past Tense" Part of the fun of Venture Bros. is that, while the comedy comes first, there's a fully realized continuity in place. It's funny, because it's actually more dense and well crafted than most super-hero adaptations, and yet it demands you not take it seriously. It forms the basis of this episode though, combining flashbacks with a contemporary appearance by the original Team Venture (including a gay Sean Connery!)

  12. "The Trial of the Monarch" Another dense episode, filled with backward nods. Probably too much story actually, getting in the comedy's way. Brock and the boys failed for a change. I actually felt bad about how things turned out, a weird turn, like a dramedy.

  13. "Return to Spider-Skull Island" This one was kind of random, but still story driven, an odd combination. By this point, I'm maybe taking this show too seriously. It sucks you in, drawing from the same bag of tricks as Bronze Age comics. I'm such a sucker. Anyway, the "Scared Straight" and John Woo bits were classic. "Easy Rider" not so much, but surprising nonetheless.

  • "The Terrible Secret of Turtle Bay" A one-off, pre-series pilot; much better looking than any Flash animation I've seen/endured. I really love the design of the series' Monarch, so I'm glad the costume used here was discarded. Samson is especially psycho here, and the Boys especially naive, so lots of laughs.

  • "A Very Venture Christmas" A mildly amusing holiday number, running just over ten minutes.

  • "Deleted Scenes" Storyboards with vocals. Disposable.

  • "Behind the Scenes of the Venture Bros. Live Action Movie" Voice actors in costumes against green screen for over twenty-one minutes of torture. Do. Not. Watch. Preferrable alternatives include blunt head trauma and addiction the black tar heroin.

  • "Animating Hank and Dean" More time out of your life you'll never get back.

  • Turtle Bay Commentary Track: Informative and lighthearted. Doc Hammer, the other major creative presence on the show, offers extensive thoughts on which Venture characters, male and female, he would "do."

While hunting for that Sienkiewicz piece above, I ran across a number of girls dressed as Molotov Cocktease, the only woman Brock Samson has ever loved. I figured I'd throw in a shot of what I figure is the best costume(s) of the lot:

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