The greatest show Adult Swim ever produced says goodbye in an epic movie
The Venture Bros. is dead, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. This time, there is no escape from the maniacal murder-traps of the Monarch or the clutches of the Phantom Limb. This time, it’s over. The show’s final episode, a movie-length epic titled Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart, premiered on July 21.
And it was both a wistful farewell and a batshit-crazy eulogy for the Venture family and all their various friends, acquaintances, hangers-on, and enemies.
The show, which premiered on Adult Swim in 2003, began life as a parody of Jonny Quest from creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer. But unlike other shows on Cartoon Network’s more grown-up late-night channel, it quickly escaped the confines of the bit, and became a smart, occasionally obscene, occasionally touching saga about childhood promise and adult failure.
For those who never caught it, The Venture Bros. follows Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture as he raises his twin sons Hank and Dean with the help of their faithful and murderous bodyguard, Brock Samson.
Rusty (voiced by James Urbaniak) was once a boy adventurer himself, sidekick to his dad, Dr. Jonas Venture, a he-man super-scientist of the 20th Century. A childhood spent in his father’s shadow leaves Rusty shrunken and twitching, addicted to diet pills, struggling with various supervillains and his own inability to live up to the world’s expectations. He can barely make his dad’s inventions work. He isn’t even a real doctor; he has a master’s degree.
So, of course, he does the exact same thing to his own sons, Hank and Dean, dragging them around the world in his supersonic rocket plane. Hank is the more athletic, bolder of the two, while Dean is the bookish nerd meant to fill his father’s lab coveralls. ( Or “speedsuit,” as Rusty calls it.)
Brock (Patrick Warburton), a massive, mulleted secret agent, joined the Ventures when the Office of Secret Intelligence assigned him to Doc. Over the years he’s come to see them as his own family, embarrassing as they can be.
But that’s just the beginning. From there, the Ventureverse only got larger over seven seasons and four specials, starting with the Monarch, Rusty’s officially licensed arch-enemy, and his number two, Dr. Girlfriend (later Dr. Mrs. The Monarch), and Henchmen 21 and 24. The Monarch belongs to the Guild of Calamitous Intent, a professional organization that seeks to make super-villainy as respectable as dentistry, or at least selling insurance. On the opposite side is Brock’s employer, OSI, which has its own versions of the Six Million Dollar Man, G.I. Joe, Race Bannon, and every other action-figure hero, as well as a lunatic mash-up of Nick Fury and Hunter S. Thompson who’s Brock’s mentor.
Rusty also rents an apartment on the Venture Compound to a Doctor Strange knock-off named Dr. Orpheus, who has his own super-team, the Order of the Triad, which includes another mystic and a Blacula hunter. (“So you only kill African-American vampires?” “Man, I specialize in hunting black vampires. I don’t know what the PC name for that is.”)
And that doesn’t include Jonas Venture Jr., the in-utero twin that grows up to become Rusty’s smarter younger brother; the Sovereign, the head of the Guild who bears a striking (and legally contested) resemblance to David Bowie; the original Team Venture, founded by Jonas back in the 60s; the Impossible Family; SPHINX; the Blue Morpho; Captain Sunshine and the Super Gang; support groups for cast-off sidekicks; mad scientists; crime families; and illegitimate Venture offspring.
Despite Brock’s ability to kill henchmen—in one episode, he clenches hard while undergoing a body cavity search and swings the body of the man stuck inside him around the room, beating several pirates to death—Hank and Dean were often drugged and kidnapped. (Upon waking up bound on a soiled mattress in a motel room, Hank only says, “Oh, isn’t this new and different.”)
They also died. A lot. Which is why Rusty had tanks of clones of them on hand, and rebooted their memories into the new bodies whenever they suffered an unfortunate hover-bike accident or giant spider attack.
If they complained about growing up as boy adventurers, their dad would remind them that his father’s teammate, the Action Man, used to wake him every morning by putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger on an empty chamber. “Not today, Rusty.”
The show was an incredibly specific love song to Saturday morning cartoons, comic books, action movies, and dysfunctional families. Every episode contained a parody, pastiche, reference, or homage, with moments of real pathos sandwiched in-between.
It had a magnificent score from J.G. Thirlwell, and guest voices included geek icons Bill Hader, Stephen Colbert, Paget Brewster, Nathan Fillion, Jeffrey Wright, Kate McKinnon, and Patton Oswalt. (All of whom were too busy to make it back to the series finale, but Jane Lynch, J.K. Simmons, and John Hodgman do show up.)
And because they made it with such love and care, with such great craftsmanship for so many dumb jokes, it developed a passionate and obsessive following. The Venture Bros. was The Simpsons to Rick and Morty’s Family Guy. It was pure cocaine cut with Lucky Charms to BoJack Horseman’s ketamine drip.
The ideal “Venture Bros.” viewer was a latchkey kid in the ‘80s and ‘90s who fed themselves cereal for dinner and watched TV until their single mother got home from work. This admittedly limited demographic is probably why the series constantly teetered on the edge of cancellation.
Until it finally fell into the abyss in 2020, leaving Hank wandering the streets after Dean’s betrayal, along with a number of other dangling plot threads. With the ongoing corporate turmoil at Warner Brothers/Discovery/HBO/Max/Whatever, it was an open question whether the Ventures would ever return.
But fan demand got Publick and Hammer a chance to wrap up everything in a movie. Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart—available on video-on-demand now, and on Blu-Ray and DVD July 25— is supposed to answer all those questions, including the mystery that’s haunted the boys since the show’s pilot: the identity of their mother.
Spoiler alert: they don’t find her.
But that’s okay. We get to see Brock Samson and OSI and the Guild teaming up against a new threat, and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch—probably the most capable character on the show—defeat it in spite of them. Meanwhile, Rusty’s latest invention explodes spectacularly in his face. Dean searches for Hank to apologize for sleeping with his girlfriend, with vampires and world-ending threats along the way. And Rusty and The Monarch discover their true origins.
All in all, it’s a very Venture ending. There were always conspiracies within conspiracies, secret histories and betrayals, and none of them really ever changed anything once the show revealed them.
This was always the point of The Venture Bros.: you can’t change the past. You just live with it.
The show was all about the failure of our parents’ hopes and dreams, and our inability to carry the inheritance they’d left us. Jonas Venture Sr. was a titan of industry, a genius, a playboy, and a world-class narcissistic prick who raised his son in a world of volcano lairs and death rays. Rusty never asked for this life, but he was handling it. More or less.
Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon’s Heart takes that idea even further. If it has any message—aside from the fact that Marvel should give Publick and Jackson the keys to a Marvel franchise right quick—the movie suggests that it’s time for all the grown-up boy adventurers (we’re usually boys) to let go of some of this kid stuff.
The world that let us down is gone, and, for a lot of us, so are the fathers who did the same thing.
Maybe we don’t need our action figures to fight for us anymore. As Dr. Orpheus says to Hank at one point, “They are the stuff of fantasy, conjured by a hurt and frightened boy who’s outgrown his need for them.”
Rusty and The Monarch are cautionary tales about what happens when you can’t move on. Nostalgia, like most other drugs, is fun in small doses, but lethal when you get hooked.
The Venture Bros. has one last lesson for its fans, who grew up with a moral at the end of every episode of G.I Joe and Superfriends. It tells us you have to live in the world as it is. Sometimes you’re going to fail, and that’s okay, even if it’s still humiliating and painful and people will laugh at you. You get back on the hover-bike and keep going, because none of us really have any choice.