Apr 25, 2015

The Venture Brothers

I usually avoid the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block.  The animation is usually miserable, the concepts stupid -- talking fast food wrappers? -- and the homophobia intense.

The Venture Bros (2003-2015), created by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, throws out a few homophobic slurs, usually "That's Gay!", and a few gay-stereotyped characters, notably swishy secret agent Shore Leave.  But with all the gay, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, and gay-subtext activity going on, who has time to notice?

The central character are:
1. The snippy, sarcastic Rusty Venture, a grown-up Jonny Quest, son of a famous super-scientist trying to follow in his father's footsteps -- and failing miserably.
2. Hank and Dean, his two absurdly naive teenage sons (Hank is muscular and dimwitted, Dean petite and brainy).
3. Surly bodyguard Brock Samson.

But that's just the beginning of a huge cast of super-scientists, arch-enemies, henchmen, and secret agents, all with complex histories and past interactions, all bound by bureaucracies and traditions. There are secret agendas, changing alliances.  People change, develop new interests, take on new jobs.

When Rusty's arch-enemy, the Monarch, breaks one of the rules of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, he is forced to arch someone else, so Colonel Hatred is assigned to arch Dr. Venture.  Then Brock Samson leaves the Ventures, and Rusty hires Colonel Hatred as his new bodyguard.

The Monarch's favorite henchman, Number 21, quits to go rogue, briefly become his own super-villain, and then joins the unlicensed superhero team S.P.H.I.N.X., with former antagonist Brock Samson.

By the fifth season, the cast has become so large, and alliances changed so often, that you need a scorecard to figure out what's going on.

There are many, many gay and bisexual characters, including Colonel Gentleman, part of the elder Venture's team; "Six Million Dollar Man" Steve Summers, who is living with a male sasquatch; and the Alchemist, a member of the Order of the Triad who occasionally assists the Ventures.

And gay-subtext relationships.  I like Billy Quizboy, a failed game show champion who is living with his former mentor, the albino Pete White, while they try to break into the super-scientist business.

And Number 21's relationship with the tall, stentorian-voiced Number 24.  When he dies, Number 21 is so distraught that he asks Dr. Venture to clone him.  Apprised that the clone will be a baby, with none of Number 24's memories, he says "I don't care.  I'll raise him as my son.  Just bring him back!"

Venture Brother Hank has so many gay subtexts that one expects a "coming out" episode any moment.  He hangs all over Brock Samson, he is overcome with enthusiasm for other muscular men, and later he gets a "boyfriend," the surly wannabe delinquent Dermott.

Did I mention that there's an absurd amount of beefcake?  And, on the DVD sets, unexpurgated male frontal nudity.

See also: Jonny Quest


  1. I remember how they also lampooned every cliché. Sergeant Hatred is Mr Terrific, but a pedophile, and Rusty's fine with this. Johnny Quest himself is a reclusive shut-in as an adult. A Fantastic Four parody where all their powers make it clear Ben got off light (e.g., only She's skin is invisible) and Reed is the abusive Silver Age type we know him for. (He's not alone. Check out Superman's marriage. Or the Flash's.) There's a billionaire pedophile vigilante too, clear reference to Batman. (Or Green Arrow, if you bother to read.)

    But my favorite is the Scooby-Doo bit. And the cloning chamber, one answer to the Jason Todd problem.

  2. Some kind of possession forces the brothers to kiss in one episode.


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