9.24.2010

There's No Good News! Only Bad News and Weird News. (Part 1)

ED-- Halfway through writing this I realized what my thesis was, and as it turns out, it's going to take either one or two more posts of this size to flesh it out. They should be finished somewhat more quickly, because I'm no longer trying to condense my thoughts into one easily digestible post.

It's about the beauty of failure. It's about that failure happens to all of us... Every character is not only flawed, but sucks at what they do, and is beautiful at it and Jackson and I suck at what we do, and we try to be beautiful at it, and failure is how you get by. It shows that failure's funny, and it's beautiful and it's life, and it's okay, and it's all we can write because we are big fucking failures.
-Doc Hammer, co-creator of The Venture Brothers 

 That just about everyone who ever believed what they were told about what the future would look like was sold on a bill of goods is hardly a new observation, but the Jet Age took it to the extreme.  Affordable space flight, moon colonies, jetpacks, a cure for cancer, super-efficient Science Farming that would allow us to put an end to world hunger...  All this and more at the turn of the New American Century.

Yeah, about that...

The Venture Brothers is about the hangover that came after the Jet Age bender.  While the title refers to the young adventurers Hank and Dean Venture, the show arguably focuses more on their father,  Dr Thaddeus S. "Rusty" Venture.  The family lives and works in the Zeerust-y Venture Compound built by Rusty's father, Jonas Venture, whose parenting skills were inversely proportional to his propensities in the nebulous field of "super-science,"  Rusty was more or less forced into the life of a boy adventurer a la Johnny Quest-- not even allowed long pants until he left for college, constantly menaced by improbable monsters and costumed freaks... you get the idea.  As for the mark it left on him, imagine a former child star raised by a combination Denny Crane/Captain Kirk who instead of going to camp each summer got kidnapped by ghost pirates.

It's hard to say which Venture is the worse parent.  While Rusty recycled the subliminal learning beds his father used to justify keeping him isolated from the parts of the world not infested with lizard men, disposable henchmen, and superpowered rock stars, he at least seems capable of communicating with his sons.  Jonas, on the other hand, never seemed to be able to turn off his Saturday morning cartoon hero voice.  And while Rusty is a total asshole to his kids, he doesn't hide it under any Rockwell-esque veneer of fatherly pride, which means that when he sends them into mortal peril on a regular basis to stroke his own ego, they don't feel betrayed.  It's just another weekend with their total prick of a father.  He's also taken the precaution of keeping dozens of clones of both boys that he can upload their memories into in the case of disaster.

Ok, so that one can go either way.

In addition to the clones, the Venture Brothers have an additional layer of safety in Special Agent Brock Samson of the Office of Secret Intelligence.   He is, quite simply, the baddest motherfucker on the planet.  Brock didn't want the job at first-- OSI assigned him to Operation Rusty's Blanket as punishment for an op that went south-- but he's come to embrace the job and see the Venture family as his own.  He picks up a lot of Rusty's slack as a father, which has perhaps given Hank and Dean a sliver of hope that they might not wind up quite as fucked up as their dad.

It's hard to say, ultimately, what the damage done to the titular Venture Brothers has been.  They're still works in progress.  It's far easier, however to assess the original Dr. Venture as a father.   Because while he never knew it, he had another son.

 Jonas Venture Junior never met his father because his brother unwittingly swallowed him whole while still in the womb.  He lived undetected in his brothers gullet for forty years. He escaped his brother's gullet at the end of the first season, and immediately set about building a robot battlesuit in order to take his vengeance, which would have succeeded if not for Brock's intervention.

Never exposed to his namesake's unique parenting methods or any of their debilitating side-effects, Jonas Jr wasted no time earning the name he claimed for himself.  The scientific, academic, and philanthropic communities of the world are happy to accept this shiny new Doctor Venture, and didn't bat an eyelash when he opened a museum dedicated to his father where any reference to Rusty was scrubbed and replaced with his own likeness.  Even though the former stars of the Rusty Venture Show were in attendance and selling autographs.

While his skills are sufficient to keep him on the radar for the odd military contract, international summit, or costumed supervillain, it's no secret that he doesn't have the chops his father had.  Hell, he doesn't even have a real doctorate.  Which isn't to say that he has no game.  He's managed to re-animate a corpse,  cobble together a closet-sized VR pleasure chamber out of spare parts-- including some that were a bit... unorthodox-- and build a device capable of projecting sonar back in time allowing one to track anything from any point in space it once occupied to its final destination, which he used  in an attempt to salvage a prototype aircraft of his father's that was scrapped after a test pilot crashed it into the sea in an extended Bowie reference.  But he's never managed to escape the shadow of the original Doctor Venture.  Indeed, it's hard to tell how many of Rusty's inventions were originally Jonas Venture designs left incomplete by his untimely demise.  What else is the genius son of Jonas Venture to do, when the world is expecting, well, the genius son of Jonas Venture?

What else could Willy Loman do but get back in his car and try to sell whatever the fuck it was he kept in that suitcase?  I mean, besides killing himself.

If Rusty is to the the Jet/Golden Age what Willy Loman is to 1940s America, the pint-sized Jonas Venture Junior is a dead ringer for Willy's mysteriously wealthy brother Ben.  Both come into outrageous fortune effortlessly, and are total dicks about it.  JJ's first day out in the sunlight was the same day that Hank and Dean Venture were killed in a tragic homage to Easy Rider.  Distraught (which is confusing in retrospect), Rusty took a one-month sabbatical from Venture Industries, during which Jonas Jr. earned two doctorates, and pulled the rug out from under his brother on every military contract his brother was working on, save for an mostly-finished teleporter that wound up malfunctioning and sending Rusty's body to three random points on the Earth.

Never fight fair with a stranger, indeed.

So Rusty soldiers on, now not only living in the shadow of his father's accomplishments, but also dealing with the unprecedented success of this jerkass who breezed in and pulled his birthright out from under him while the crowd went wild.  And it's not like he has many other career options.  His resume consists of weapons design (for which he isn't qualified on paper), getting kidnapped by costumed weirdos, and getting his kids kidnapped by costumed weirdos.  Will our hero ever, you know, get a life?

Stay tuned.

4 comments:

  1. I'm totally unfamiliar with The Venture Brothers, in that I don't watch it though I have head of it....love the quote though.

    You essay make me think I should try to catch the series at some point.

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  2. Apparently this blog is eating Pia's comments, but this is what she had to say:

    I think we have been fed a load of crap and false expectations that did work for some of us since at least Willy Loman's day--he was a shmata or rag salesman--that being the generic term for all things garment even accessories so the actual product doesn't matter. what matters was his expectations and his relationships and in the long run that's all that matters

    I will see the videos you have when I'm not rushing off to see The Town--your town actually--I need a big city fix someway

    Cooper: It's really quite something. It's basically a pastiche of a significant portion of the best parts of pop culture from the past forty years.

    Pia: I'm absolutely going to see The Town. I'm not sure if it's opened here yet.

    That's absolutely a theme in the show. T.S Venture had everything basically handed to him because of his father. Hell, he even got an A in a course that was kicking his ass because his father died.

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  3. I am with Cooper... I have never heard of The Venture Brothers.

    I have now dyed my hair blond - so I was a little lost in your post. Although- I do get the whole being lied to in the expectations of what the future holds. At least I think I got that part. :)

    Miss you... :)

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  4. Yeah, I tried to link to enough videos to provide context, but it's hard. Also, the copyright holders have cracked down on people posting clips on Youtube, which makes it harder for me to find what I want specifically.

    The basic premise for the show is "what would cartoon/comic heroes be like if they lived in a world where the ridiculous things they do have consequences" So, for instance, when a character based on Batman is introduced, the public's reaction to a man who dresses like a Pride parade and adopts young orphan boys who he trains to fight crime with him is... mixed.

    I'm glad to see you back around here. I've missed you lots. Hope you stick around

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