Venture Bros. S5E03: SPHINX Rising!

The Venture Bros. is The Wire of Action/Adventure cartoons. I know I make a lot of boasts that Blank is the Blank of Blank, but editorial hasn’t stopped me yet. [He’s still writing these? Put Robinson on it, half the cost and a quarter of the chance he goes into a diabetic coma before finishing an article. -DR] In this case, it’s all about the attitude they take about institutions.

Let’s dial it back to the most basic question in Hero/Villain lore: Why haven’t Batman and The Joker killed each other by now? Statistically one of them should be fucking dead, no doubt about it. It’s a question usually asked by the same people who want to know why they don’t just ride the eagles all the way to Mordor. The answer to both these questions is a paraphrased version of the MST3k motto: “It’s a TV show, you should really just relax.” The real reason why they don’t kill each other is because it’s a work of fiction, doofus, and it’s about the STORY. A writer of serialized fiction has to bolt on armor to the outside of this basic truth to shield it from the harsh light of an audience’s rage- In Batman’s case, He retroactively swore against ever killing anyone. The result is that most superheroes don’t murder unless they’re REALLY cool.

Sorry, I know that I’ve pulled back a curtain that leads to a huge discussion about the nature of fiction but the real reason Batman doesn’t smash the joker’s god damn brains in is because there need to be more cool batman stories with messed up fish. The concept of Batman as this ultimate beacon of humanism has spiraled out from this (developing along the way from a billionaire who beats up poor people, think about it) and you have to admit, it’s ridiculous. People get huge puffed-out chests over the nobility of these characters who won’t kill and defend the cheap plot devices that let them get around it when necessary because acting like a superhero is intrinsically a complex philosophical character helps legitimize a disrespected genre of literature. Luckily enough people have thought critically about Batman to actually MAKE him an complex philosophical character, but that castle is built on a swampy foundation of basic wish fulfillment and salacious hyperviolent crime comics. Please note: I LOVE BATMAN. I just want people to admit when things they like are dumb.

So Venture Brothers highlights how ridiculous this post-facto moral application is: Why aren’t all the supervillains constantly killing the good guys? Because it’s Villain Code that you’re not allowed unless your boss says so. The Guild of Calamitous Intent, introduced way-back-when, is the Villains’ union. And as long as the villains play by the rules, everybody gets to have a good time playing cops and robbers. You might die, but the Super Scientist Vs. Super Villain sport is only played by the richest, most bored and flamboyant men and women in the world, so if you’re in the club then chances are you’re down with dying for ultimate gametime. When you put any critical thought to the mechanics of this system it totally falls apart. Why is everybody playing dress-up? This is, of course, the point.

Then again, David Bowie could probably make bureaucracy pretty fun.

These massive organizations exist only to provide the ILLUSION of drama while maintaining the status quo. If you’ve seen a better metaphor for the editorial staff of The Big Two comic companies, I’d like to hear it. Actual change is affected by morally compromised outsiders such as Brock Sampson and his mentor Hunter Gathers, both former OSI (Think GI Joe + S.H.I.E.L.D.) agents who worked behind the scenes last season in S.P.H.I.N.X. (Think Cobra + Ancient Egypt), or Phantom Limb and his power-play to kill the Guild sovereign that ended up putting The Monarch in a position of power. And that is The Wire all the way, baby.

Lesson over, review start.

The A-plot of the episode concerns Gary (Formerly Henchman No. 21) trying to get SPHINX going again and pissing off Brock and OSI in the process. The last two episodes have been REALLY heavy on direct movie-plot parodies so it was nice that the main plot here was pretty much new even if the elements of it come from the GI JOE knockoff bits. Gary is probably one of the most dynamic characters on the show and it would have been easy for him to be lost since No. 24’s death two seasons ago, but he’s grown a lot and it’s been fun seeing where he goes. The SPHINX recruits are played by Tim Meadows and Larry Murphy (Teddy from Bob’s Burgers) and are kind of underused, but the bits they do get are great.

He also recruits Hank, who gets some great Hawkeye Initiative-style cognitive dissonance when he puts on a strength-enhancing suit that was clearly designed for a woman. There’s a pretty great twist in this bit that I won’t spoil here, but I will say that the Venture pastiches for intellectual properties that writers Hammer & Publick come up with are always bang-on with the way they imitate the style of their inspiration. I was particularly impressed with the way that Hank’s power suit was animated with the oversexualized “Femme Fatale” fighting style that you usually see female characters get- Way too much straddling people to flip them, six inch heels for some reason – which underlines the messed up way that action-adventure ladies can’t even kick ass without male writers making it a dang mating display.

The B-plot is a classic Monarch Fuckup: After getting thwarted from a little Venture compound B&E by Gary and Sgt. Hatred, he and Dr. Mrs. put on some masks and try to improv their way in. Initially I thought this bit was weak as heck but it grew on me the second time, the back-and-forth as the Monarchs try to fabricate a story about being Beaver inspectors (based on the only piece of non-butterfly clothing The Monarch owns) had me rewinding to re-hear bits I laughed over. Rusty ends up not catching on to the fact that he’s giving his arch-nemesis a tour of the compound’s weak points, and one asks the age old question “how is he not dead?” But I already answered that in 500 words above.

Meanwhile in Plot C, Sgt. Hatred and Dean team up to track down all the bombs that the ersatz beaver inspectors planted. Dean’s been kind of getting the shaft so far this season as his angsty quietude is hinted at (He’s even moved into the attic where one of his goofed up clones used to live) but not really explored, but his chat this episode with Sgt. Hatred helped Hatred click for me. I’m waiting for the big Dean episode and I hope it comes soon, he was probably the first character who drew me in with all his gee-whiz naiveté and sweatervests.

Finally in Plot D, the one that suffers the most since this is only a 22 minute show and Patrick Warburton is probably the most expensive actor to book, brings us to Brock and OSI. There’s a great simultanous-briefing segment (like on The Wire) but besides that the OSI’s activities get kind of backgrounded and it bummed me out. Brock is the football, I am Charlie Brown.

Overall, another great Venture. If you’ve got theories about the Venture-Monarch relationship revealed in this episode, let us know in the comments and Go Team Venture!

Post By Mike Pfeiffer (31 Posts)

Deadshirt staff writer. The last guy in the pews of the church of rock and roll, strains the seeds from Dylan's mind grapes, listens to AC/DC while cooking.


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