Judge Sandra Dozier finally has due justification for reading and collecting all those comic books: understanding this show!
Our reviews of The Venture Bros. Season One (published June 7th, 2006), The Venture Bros. Season Two (published May 9th, 2007), The Venture Bros. Season Four (Blu-Ray) (published March 17th, 2011), The Venture Bros. Season Three (published April 9th, 2009), and The Venture Bros. Season Three (Blu-Ray) (published March 30th, 2009) are also available.
HENCHMAN 24 (as a ghost): Seriously ask me any question.
Hank and Dean are growing up, learning to make it without their mentor Brock, and Dr. Venture has to clean up after a devastating attack by The Monarch. What else is new? Oh yeah, Sgt. Hatred, who formally was an enemy to Dr. Venture (albiet only to anger The Monarch), has moved in as the new bodyguard. This should be interesting…our favorite superhero science adventure quest show is back for Season Four!
Facts of the Case
Dr. Thaddeus 'Rusty' Venture is a middle-aged, bald, whisp of a man who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of science. His infamous father was a noted scientist who used his technology for good, so Rusty has an enormous shadow he is standing in. He excels at cloning and making mechanical monstrosities in his labs on the expansive Venture compound, but he falls short in the personal graces, including adhering to a strict moral and ethical code, but most notably as a father to sons Hank and Dean. The boys are teenagers, but suffer from the arrested development of living in seclusion on the compound and constantly being under attack by one of Dr. Ventures many enemies. Dean, who sleeps in Spider Man pajamas, is sincere and the most realistic one of the two, but has inherited his fathers skinny frame and gawkiness, so is the nerdier of the two. Hank has the potential to be a handsome kid, but the fact that he sleeps in Aquaman pajamas really tells you all you need to know about Hank…he's a lot of talk, but in the end he kinda sucks.
Dr. Venture has always had a bodyguard for himself and the boys, a job filled in the past by Brock Samson, a giant slab of man with a glistening mane of hair and a wardrobe and car straight out of the seventies. He is gruff, but genuinely cares about the boys and mainly protects them from the foolish situations they get into because of their father. Brock is also a crack shot, a skilled assassin, and a covert agent who can do just about any task (and still manage to find a date for the evening). He is often overcome by blood lust as he hacks and knifes through a sea of henchmen. We like Brock because he is an unstoppable machine with a heart of gold.
In Season 3, Brock is gravely wounded in battle, so Season 4 brings in Sargeant Hatred, a previous enemy for Dr. Venture, to be their bodyguard. On the surface, Hatred is a strange choice, as both a former enemy and a confirmed pedophile. His motivation is ultimately to anger The Monarch, the primary arch-enemy of Venture's, ever since the Monarch crossed him. In Season 4, we see a different, oddly likable side, of Hatred as he settles into family life with the Ventures.
When the series began, The Venture Bros. was very much a parody of the Johnny Quest cartoon, even down to the clothing worn by the characters and the adventures and situations they got into. Taking this retro-style setting, creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer injected Marvel comic book character clones, modern-day humor, ultra-violence, and twisted personal relationships to create an edgy, hilarious homage to our faithful childhood companions, cartoons and comic books. The humor and the action are extremely fast-paced, with jokes and one-liners almost stumbling over one another, encouraging multiple viewings of each episode. This is a show that fanboys and fangirls love for all the inside jokes that they feel they have a special understanding of. Fans think of it as "their show," and they like that. When someone doesn't get The Venture Bros., it's almost a badge of pride to say you do. The creators have said they geek out about comic books and cartoons just like their fans do, and even say in the opening episode commentary, "Geeks are rewarded in The Venture Bros."
This statement is put to the test with the season opener, as the viewer is dropped into a time-reversed story that is at first confusing, and then slowly becomes clear as the episode progresses. The only clues as to what is going on are freeze-frame snapshots with title cards (like "The Angel" for Brock) and a comic book ratings system that appears periodically. Why is it there? You find out at the end, at which point you are forced to immediately watch the episode again, mumbling, "ohhhhhhh" and "I see what's going on!" every few minutes. Publick and Hammer are really sticking their necks out with this one, as half the audience is going to be turned off and half the audience is going to be cheering and wanting more obscure fan love.
The Venture Bros. Season 4, Volume 1 is so named because it contains just eight of the sixteen episodes in the season:
• "Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel"
• "Handsome Ransom "
• "Perchance to Dean "
• "Return to Malice "
• "The Revenge Society "
• "Self-Medication "
• "The Better Man "
• "Pinstripes & Poltergeists "
The other half of the season finishes airing at the end of November, and will be released as another box set (Volume II).
The absence of Brock for much of the season is disorienting, especially because he was such a mentor to the boys, and responsible for the family feel of the show. Hank and Dean are as resistant to Sgt. Hatred as the audience is, perhaps because of their dodgy past with Hatred or simply because he is not Brock. Hank, more than Dean, is unwilling to accept Hatred. This changes slowly, starting with a bonding moment where Hatred says he wants to make good, and tells Hank he should shoot him dead if he doesn't feel like they can get along. Hank does shoot Hatred, though not mortally, and begins to slowly respect him. I found myself oddly accepting of Hatred, even when he breaks down later due to his crippling desire for young boys, locking himself in the panic room to avoid giving into his urges. Publick and Hammer are not pulling punches with the reminder that Hatred has some extremely unsavory leanings, but he is trying so hard to make it right that it is oddly endearing. It's best not to think of it too much, just like it's best not to think too hard about where the "D" in "HATRED" ends up on his body. Still, he will never be a replacement for Brock, chiefly because of this weakness and the instability it fosters, and that is perhaps intentional.
Dr. Venture's personal foibles are not as spotlighted this season, and he actually takes a fatherly interest in Dean, encouraging his scientific exploits. However, it is business-as-usual with Hank, who is ignored and underminded as much as always. The annoying and smarmy Dermott becomes more of a guiding influence for Hank, which is not a good sign. Dean does do a little growing up this season, finally confronting his pseudo relationship to Triana, daughter of Dr. Orpheus.
There are a few treats this season, including Kevin Conroy voicing Captain Sunshine, a superhero that does his work by day, irradiating his enemies with the power of the sun! Conroy, best known as the gritty voice of nocturnal vigilante Batman, for the DC animated series, does a bold voice for Sunshine, a typical superhero voice that is perfect for the character. For fans of Conroy, it's a fun parody of the Bat-voice. The character of Captain Sunshine is a tortured superhero because he feels his do-gooding is not complete without a young ward to mentor, and he thinks he has found this in the form of Hank, who misleads him into thinking he is an orphan with a circus life background (sound familiar?!). Hearing Conroy scream, "Woooondeerrrbooooooy!" when he thinks Hank has been killed is worth the price of the DVD, alone.
Another treat is the blossoming of Henchman 21, who misses his friend 24 bitterly, after he was killed in Season 3. 21 takes off some flab, learns to fight, and becomes a sort of bad ass, even taking on Brock well enough to earn his respect. Of course, there is the whole issue of how he talks to the skull of his dead friend and imagines him as visiting him from beyond the grave in the same way Obi-Wan visits Luke, but who isn't a little crazy in that show?
One important caveat with Season 4: cursing and sexual innuendo are uncensored in the DVD release. Although full exposure of private parts is blurred in this season, there are plenty of f-bombs and other spicy language that the characters and the creators (in commentary) toss around to make up for it. In context of the show, and the twisted reflection of the superhero/villain lifestyle it presents, the spicy language is entirely in-character and is not gratuitious in any way. Some of the sexual innuendo may be uncomfortable, such as when The Monarch, wrongly believing Captain Sunshine to be a pedophile, confronts him with what ends up being some very sick dialog, indeed. That was the only time I felt things had gone too far, but again—The Monarch is a jerk and a drama queen, and it was completely in character, for him.
Video and audio for Season four are very nice, with a clear, colorful transfer and static-free sound. There is just one dual-layer DVD, but I didn't see any issues with compression. I love the widescreen presentation, and the animation is better than ever. The character design has evolved over the years, of course, but so has the animation quality, to a point where sunburned characters have a great deal of burn detail on their face, and characters shown in darkness have light and dark shadow detail, etc. These touches complement the more shaded, 3D look of costumes and characters. Compare this season to the flatter, more primary-color designs in season one and the difference is amazing. Clearly, a larger budget has been cycled back into the creation process, which is a win-win for fans.
Packaging for the DVDs is always interesting (my favorite was the dead-on Atari cover art from Season 3), but this season went more for creep-out factor than style; the cover art features a wrap-around of Dr. Venture's speed suit, complete with pen and pencil in the front pocket, and if you are already apprehensive as to what might be inside, then you share my own misgivings about opening the box. Sure enough, inside is a hardcase box with the pale, naked chest of Dr. Venture. Even the insert, featuring the cover to Modern Enemy Monthly and a pin-up of Dr. Girlfriend, cannot scrub this from your eyes fast enough. I suggest you cheat, as I did, and slip the insert into the front sleeve of the box…no one will ever know.
In terms of extras, the DVD is rather light. Deleted scenes include vocal performances with storyboard animatics, similar to previous season offerings, and there is a short Comic-Con promo spot advertising Season 4.1 (as it has been dubbed in the fan community). The deleted scenes are mostly slight trims, but there is one funny sequence with The Order of the Triad that is worth watching. One interesting extra here is an extended opening sequence from the Season 3 episode, "The Family That Slays Together, Stays Together" (part one), which is simply titled, "Lost Opening" on the extras menu. All of the episodes have creator commentary with Publick and Hammer. They stayed nicely on target for the opening episode, but strayed wildly off-topic for most of the other episodes, very much like previous season commentaries. If you are a super-fan, it's probably delightful, but it can be somewhat tedious unless you want to know what their typical day is like or how late they were up working the night before.
I always love watching The Venture Bros., and this season was no exception. My only gripe was that there was not enough Brock, and the velvety voice of Patrick Warburton (Rules of Engagement), who was made for that role. Otherwise, this is a solid set of continuing misadventures involving the Venture clan and their constant drama, and well worth the purchase of this DVD. Unless you have Blu-Ray and want to wait it out to see if they will release the full season in one package, pick this up.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cartoon Network
• Episode Commentaries
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