The Venture Brothers, if you haven’t heard of it, is a cheesy superhero cartoon show for adults who grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons. I love this show. At first glance it appears to be just another cheesy superhero cartoon show, but it’s not the Spiderman, Superman, and X-Men shows so many of us loved growing up in the 80s and 90s. We’re adults now, in our late 20s and 30s. We don’t have the patience or the suspension of disbelief to tolerate that nonsense anymore.
For example, how is it that all these supervillains have armies of minions? What adult with a high enough intelligence to understand and follow orders would ever sign up for a job where you’re constantly at risk of a violent death, where your boss makes it clear that you’re a worthless, expendable pawn, and where even if you manage to get away, you’re still a wanted criminal? How is it that the bad guy can afford to build massive secret lairs, hire all these henchmen, and develop technology the US military would commit mass genocide for? Where does the money for all this come from? Where does the technology come from? And how is it that no one ever just drops an atomic bomb on their lair and eliminates the problem for good? For that matter, if the bad guy has all this amazing technology and a literal army of minions at their command, how is it they always fail to take down their nemesis?
Even the concept of an arch enemy is a little absurd. As kids, we lapped that stuff up like hungry little kittens, but in the real world, adults don’t behave that way. Sure, most of us have at least one person we absolutely despise, but the most any of us ever do about it is leave passive-aggressive post-it notes or maybe talk some smack about them behind their back. The level of mental and emotional instability that would cause someone to put on a latex costume and hold a city hostage would also prevent them from forming and carrying out such a complicated plan to begin with. Not to mention that anyone wearing one of those ridiculous outfits would be pretty easy to find and catch. Maybe the police wouldn’t really be up for it, but the military, special forces, secret intelligence… There’s just no way there could be a world full of costumed villains where none of them ever get caught by law enforcement or the government. For all their shortcomings, even the police aren’t that incompetent.
And even if there somehow came into being a massive league of villains, there’s no way life for the rest of the people would simply go on as usual. Whenever the villain strikes in these shows, it’s always at a shopping mall or something, where everyone is just going on about their business as though this sort of thing didn’t happen all the time. America (being the setting for most of these stories) would become a war-torn region.
(Now, before I continue, I know how rabid superhero fans can get in defense of their beloved franchises. I’m well aware that in the various shows and comic books and all that, there are many exceptions to the above. This is just a generalization to give you the basic idea: superhero shows were crazy unrealistic. Feel free to rant at your screen for a few minutes to point out all the mistakes I made, if it helps you sleep a little better.)
It’s just… not believable. Not by us grown-ups. I mean, come on, we’re not nine years old anymore. We may still have fond memories of masked baddies and caped crusaders, but we need a bit more logic. We need some way to reconcile the fantasy with the reality we all know far, far too well at this point in our lives.
The Venture Brothers gives us that.
How could the villains accomplish all this? The same way the real-life villains do: with bureaucracy. Enter the Guild of Calamitous Intent, the organization to which all supervillains must belong. Joining up requires an application and membership fee. There are dues to pay. Most of all, there’s a handbook filled with rules and regulations which must be followed. Breaking the rules can result in fines and other punishments, or even expulsion from the guild. Why bother with all this? Because the guild offers protection and assistance. They assign you a hero to be your arch enemy. They keep the police away from you. And most importantly, anyone caught engaging in supervallainy outside of the guild is quickly brought down.
The guild is necessary, because it prevents the world from descending into absolute chaos. If every supervillain just blew up their nemesis, there would be total anarchy, and the villains would inevitably wind up fighting each other for control of a broken society. Where’s the fun in that? Instead, each villain has their arch enemy, whom they interact with according to strict rules and guidelines.
What about the money and the henchmen? There’s an explanation for that, too. In fact, while the show contains plenty of action sequences, much of it focuses on the characters themselves. Over the course of the series, we get to know each one of them and learn their story. The main villain is a spoiled trust fund kid. (Not too difficult to imagine one of those turning into a supervillain, given the chance.) One of the henchmen is a lifelong comic book geek who joined the ranks in order to live out his fantasies.
And how about the protagonists? They have their believable stories as well. Rusty Venture is a superscientist and dad of twin boys (whose mother we don’t learn much about until a long ways into the series). His father Jonas, dead for 20 years now, was also a superscientist: a highly successful one who traveled the world with his son Rusty going on adventures a la Johnny Quest. But this has its realistic edge as well. That kind of childhood doesn’t produce a well-balanced adult, and Jonas Venture was a terrible father to boot. Rusty is now in his 40s and struggling to keep the superscience business from going under while fending off the attacks of his arch enemy, the Monarch, who wears a yellow butterfly costume. A lifetime of exposure to danger and death has dulled his emotions and empathy for other people, and he, in turn, is a terrible father to his sons Hank and Dean, who are educated by a computer program in their beds and have no social skills and no idea how to function in the real world.
Then there’s Brock Samson, the beefy badass bodyguard, the stereotype of Rambo-style manliness. Even he has his background story and emotional problems, and his job is not only to protect the family, but to act as a sort of nanny to the boys.
It all comes together with a generous helping of comedy and great writing to form a show that satisfies both our nostalgic need for costumed action heroes and our grown-up serious adult need for the story to make some sort of logical sense. The perfect combination for enjoyable drunken Saturday nights with friends.