10 of the Greatest Moments in Venture Bros. History

Comedy Lists The Venture Bros
10 of the Greatest Moments in Venture Bros. History

It’s now been more than 20 years since the pilot of The Venture Bros. made its late night debut on Adult Swim, first introducing audiences to a series that would go on to become one of the few utterly essential animated programs of the last two decades. Beginning as a mere parody of animated 1960s adventure serials like Jonny Quest, The Venture Bros. steadily grew into something much more profound, a sprawling and self-referential story of failure, hope and generational strife, penned slowly but surely by co-creators Chris McCulloch and Doc Hammer over two decades. Populated by an engrossing cast of bizarre characters and superhero/supervillain satires, the show simultaneously served as a pop-cultural sounding board and experiment in long-form storytelling continuity, constantly evolving its characters over the course of seven seasons.

And then it all came to an end. The Venture Bros. was a show caught in limbo during the vast majority of its run, with long gaps between seasons, constant threat of cancellation and the introduction of new mysteries that only served to make the old ones that much more complex and confusing. Season 7 wasn’t exactly conceived as a series finale, but it was ultimately forced to serve as one, an announcement made by the creators in 2020. But with so very many loose ends, the demands from fans for a conclusive animated movie were loud and persistent, and those cries have been answered with the upcoming, hilariously titled film: The Venture Bros.: Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart.

The film picks up right where the final season of The Venture Bros left off, promising to give a more conclusive finale to numerous beloved characters–something we spoke with star Patrick Warburton about when we interviewed him earlier this year. In honor of the film’s arrival on July 21, 2023, here are 10 key moments from the height of the Venture family story to date, presented in chronological order.

1. The Monarch goes on trialEpisode: “The Trial of the Monarch,” S1, E12

The first season of The Venture Bros. is a little rough and ready, with animation that doesn’t quite synch up with the rest of the series and certain characters who hadn’t yet rounded the initial edges off the broadest beats of how they’re written, most notably the “complete psychopath” early depictions of Brock Samson. However, even by the back half of the first season the show has evolved substantially, and The Monarch’s farcical trial for killing a police officer feels to me like one of the first moments that everything is “fully cooked,” as it were.

This premise is classic Venture Bros., forcing the cartoonish absurdity of the setting–a world where costumed supervillains carry out carefully monitored campaigns of play aggression against superheroes and scientists–into a collision with a mundane setting, like a modern courtroom, with its carefully structured dogma and procedure. The testimonies establish relationships between many of the main characters–the insecurity and jealousy of The Monarch about his relationship with Dr. Girlfriend, his weirdly paternal interactions with Hank and Dean despite the fact that he’s their father’s arch enemy, and the behind-the-scenes orchestrations of Phantom Limb that will frame much of the first two seasons. Plus, there are few gags in the entire series funnier than the boys claiming to have formed a “Mecha-Shiva” while battling The Monarch, and his consternation about their colorful lies.

2. The “birth” of Jonas Venture Jr.Episode: “Return to Spider-Skull Island,” S1, E13

It’s the moment that the entire first season of The Venture Bros. is leading up to. From the earliest scenes, we’re privy to the bizarre nightmares that Rusty has been having for seemingly most of his adult life, dreams that he’s consuming his brother in the womb. These turn out to be not far from reality–for his whole life, Rusty has somehow been carrying a twin brother within him, not fully absorbed, and when that insane little scamp bursts out it means chaos for the entire Venture clan. Initially quite bloodthirsty, and grotesquely referring to Rusty as a former roommate with whom he shared “a cramped little one bedroom down on mommy street,” the “newborn” quickly comes to his senses and proves to be–surprise–a much more competent super scientist than Rusty has ever been. Inheriting the scientific acumen of the original Dr. Venture, he assumes the mantle of Jonas Venture Jr., or just “JJ,” becoming the son that the great Jonas (a terrible father) surely would have wanted, rather than the disappointment Rusty turned out to be.

Bonus points here as well for one of Brock Samson’s most dramatic, over-the-top rescues, as a mostly nude Swedish Murder Machine comes smashing through a window, chained to the roof of his own burning car, to incapacitate J.J. It’s also an early example of the show’s ability to build suspense throughout the course of an episode into a giant, cathartic payoff.

3. The “death” and rebirth of the boysEpisode: “Powerless in the Face of Death,” S2, E1

The fumbling, out-of-nowhere randomness of the title characters–the VENTURE BROTHERS!–being suddenly killed by accident in the closing moments of season one stands as one of the most iconic, utterly unpredictable moments of the series. I don’t remember if I had started watching the series by this time, but I can’t imagine what viewers must have been thinking seeing Hank and Dean turned to charred corpses as the credits roll.

But of course, this is super science, and it turns out that Rusty has a spare–quite a few of them, in fact. What looks like grief eventually turns to hilarity in the season 2 premiere, as Dr. Orpheus and the viewers learn simultaneously that Hank and Dean, being “death prone,” as Doc describes it, have already died quite a few times in the past. And each time that happens, Rusty simply turns to a ready supply of clone bodies, kept warm for just such an occasion. It explains some of the persistent naivete of the boys, as we realize they’re fundamentally unstable clones who have learned social skills entirely through their out-of-date learning beds, and it pays major dividends later via the threat that the boys will one day learn the true nature of their existence. And of course, it also highlights the self-centered pragmatism of Rusty, who refuses to grapple with the horrors he’s wreaking upon the boys, exactly as his own father visited on him.

4. Brock and Hunter GathersEpisode: “Assassinanny 911,” S2, E3

One of the series-long running themes of Brock Samson’s character is that he’s essentially being wasted on the Venture-guarding job, or “Operation Rusty’s Blanket.” But we don’t truly know just how capable Brock really is until we get a chance to see him in his element in “Assassinanny 911,” understanding how he was molded into an elite spy and killer by mentor and father figure (and outstanding Hunter S. Thompson parody) Col. Hunter Gathers. Although their relationship evolves through dramatic changes, betrayals and alignment-switches numerous times through the rest of the series, it’s always relying upon the paternal bedrock that is established here.

I also love how Brock’s mission in this episode makes the viewer aware of the life he could be leading, if he wasn’t stuck tending to Doc, a man who has never really appreciated the sacrifices Brock made to be there. The Brock we see outside of the family is a cultured, suave secret agent, so much more than the hulking muscle we initially assume him to be. And it’s the relationship with Gathers, and what he learns from him, that ultimately pushes Brock on a path beyond simply being the Venture bodyguard, even if he does truly care about Rusty and the boys.

5. Rusty and the ORBEpisode: “ORB,” S3, E11

The third season of The Venture Bros. feels, in many ways, like the pinnacle of the show’s earlier forays into continuity, as many of the stories we’ve been told from the beginning are shown to be lies, or given radically new context. The discovery of the mysterious ORB device is one of those grand moments, throwing into suspicion everything we’ve ever been told about the original Team Venture, while leading Rusty on a hunt (along with Billy Quizboy) that rekindles some of his original “boy adventurer” spirit in a wholesome way. There’s something really touching about Doc’s admission in particular that he still admires his father as a scientist, being perhaps the only endearing memory Rusty has in the entire series about Jonas.

Brock, meanwhile, dives deep into the dark underbelly of the Venture family’s history, discovering its ties to the not-so-evil, historical version of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, and learning more of the truth about why he was assigned to such a ridiculous task in the first place. It all just comes together in a way that is deeply satisfying for the characters–in fact, it almost feels like “ORB” could have served as a series conclusion if it had been the last ever Venture Bros. episode. It remains one of the best pure storytelling moments that McCulloch and Hammer have ever written.

6. The death of Henchman 24Episode: “The Family That Slays Together, Stays Together,” S3, E13

Henchmen 21 and 24 are arguably the most popular tertiary characters that The Venture Bros. ever produced, offering a hilarious perspective on the pathetic lives and geeky aspirations of a type of character rarely depicted in three dimensions: The disposable hired goon. Here’s the thing about giving time and attention to minor characters, though–stick with them long enough and they no longer register as minor characters. This is something that even 21 and 24 were able to recognize, satirized beautifully throughout this two-part episode as they mock the talented and competent new Henchman #1 by pointing out his doomed nature, betrayed by tropes themselves. The genre-savvy 21 and 24 are pretty much the only ones on the show who seem to recognize what kind of story they’re in, ultimately believing that as “main characters” they’ve been afforded impenetrable plot armor. And they certainly seem to be correct … right up until the moment when The Monarch’s car explodes with Henchman 24 still inside, robbing 21 of his one close friend.

What follows is a journey of discovery for 21, seeing the portly goon–we soon learn that his name is Gary–discover a more professional, dangerous side of himself as he ascends the villainous ladder, all while grappling with the scarring psychological fallout of 24’s demise. Gary grows into a fearsome character all his own in the subsequent seasons, pursuing fulfillment even as he reevaluates the nature of his relationships with The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend. The death of 24 effectively elevates him into the territory of a true protagonist.

7. Hank loses his virginityEpisode: “Everybody Come to Hank’s,” S4, E12

When the show began, the titular Venture Brothers were largely defined by their lockstep similarities–as naive boy adventurers, they seemed to share the same brain, both being idealistic, cheerful doofuses who survived primarily not by figuring things out but by running away from various Scooby-Doo-style villains. Dean was perhaps cast as the more bookish of the two, with Hank projecting more jock-like tendencies, but the duo were a unit, more of a singular character than a dyad.

In seasons 2, 3 and 4, however, the boys undergo a slow and steady divergence into personalities that are truly their own. While Dean grapples with existential revelations he unearths about their past, Hank’s growth is in the form of a more classic teen experience, ultimately moving beyond his simple hero worship of Brock, into a mindset that sees Hank increasingly taking control of his own life. His newfound confidence even leads to him losing his virginity to an older woman in “Everybody Come to Hank’s,” an achievement he’s forced to quickly wipe from his memory due to an even bigger discovery: There’s another Venture half-brother out there, in the form of Hank’s friend Dermot, previously implied to be a long-lost son of Brock. But thanks to some clever thinking on Hank’s part, he’s at least able to retain the knowledge that he had sex, permanently cementing his new level of maturity in the seasons to come. This entry, and Dean’s equivalent in the upcoming Halloween special, feel like the true end of the adolescence of Hank and Dean.

8. Inside Rusty’s mindEpisode: “Assisted Suicide,” S4 E14

Rusty’s psychologically scarred consciousness is the setting of this episode, in which we find that The Monarch has infiltrated his brain, sending him into a state of walking, suicidal catatonia. It’s all an excuse to go venturing into Doc’s brain Fantastic Voyage-style, only with an additional layer of Freudian psychobabble metaphor. The payoff is an episode-long breakdown of all the warring factions within Rusty on a day-to-day basis–his weakness, his selfishness, his obsession with past glories and inadequacies compared to his father, his gnawing but repressed guilt over how poor of a father he’s been to his own boys. We emerge with the best understanding we’ve ever had of the complicated layers of damage that were done to Rusty during his singularly weird and traumatic adolescence. It’s the kind of episode that can only be written later in a show’s lifespan, when all the show’s characters have been fleshed out enough to play metaphorical, supporting roles within Rusty’s psyche.

Doc of course manages to eventually take the experience in stride, because he’s just so used to having these horror visited on him. The closing moments feature him being as candid with Hank as we’ve ever seen him be with his sons, acknowledging the pain that Jonas Venture so often caused him.

9. Dean learns the truthEpisode: “A Very Venture Halloween” special, S 4.5

Between the fourth and fifth seasons of the show, The Venture Bros. ran “A Very Venture Halloween” special, the events of which chronologically take place during the season 5 premiere “What Color Is Your Cleansuit?” This would prove to be a critical inflection point for Dean in particular, as Rusty’s more nebbish son meets a geneticist who spills the biggest of secrets: That Dean is a clone, and not a particularly good one. Suffice to say, the discovery that he’s not the original Dean, and that numerous other clones have died before him, has deep-seated ripple effects through all of Dean’s choices through the seasons that follow. He now knows just how fragile he truly is–and with no more clones left to replace him, how vulnerable. Like Hank’s awakening to adulthood after losing his virginity, Dean casts aside some of his earlier fixations (such as romancing Triana) in this moment, but his journey is unsurprisingly driven more by existential dread than Hank’s.

Nor does Dean find the heart in this moment to let Hank in on the distressing news. Instead, he elects to carry it by himself, sending Dean down an increasingly mature and nihilistic path. No experience has been more consequential for Dean in the seasons that follow.

10. The PROBLEM light, revealedEpisode: “The Venture Bros. and the Case of the Haunted Problem,” S7 E1

From the fifth season onward, the tangled mythology and continuity of The Venture Bros. has a tendency to get increasingly confusing, contradictory and tied up in loops. The episodes are still funny and entertaining in the abstract, but storylines become more difficult to parse. Still, there are some satisfying payoffs here, none more so than the big reveal of the PROBLEM light from Jonas Venture’s old space station, first seen all the way back in the second episode of season one, “Careers in Science.” As it turns out, the light is actually something of a cybernetic life support system for the disembodied head of the great Jonas Venture, with the episode finally once and for all setting to rest the mystery of exactly how the original Dr. Venture supposedly perished.

Only, he isn’t quite dead, and Jonas’ rogue, insane consciousness is wired to the entire Venture compound, wreaking havoc when they try to shut him down. Sadly, we get only a hint of true connection or reconciliation between Jonas and Rusty, though the reveal ultimately functions as a kickstarter on several more reveals on the true relationships between several other characters, such as Rusty and The Monarch. It’s a pivotal payoff that gives new meaning to some of the earliest scenes of the series, a style of reveal at which The Venture Bros. always excelled. Here’s hoping that Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart can give us one last dramatic flourish on this level.

Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident genre guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more film content.

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