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(Note: This post contains massive spoilers for the Aug. 5 episode of “The Venture Bros.”)
The start of Season 7 of “The Venture Bros.” builds out yet another wing of the show’s ever-growing mythos. The big twist at the start of the season was a resurrection of a character who has cast a shadow over the entire 14-year run of the show.
Almost two years after the start of Season 6 of Adult Swim’s animated series satirizing, deconstructing and analyzing pop culture ranging from superheroes to Saturday morning cartoons, “The Venture Bros.” is back — and it’s (seemingly) finally, actually making a story move it has teased fans with over and over again. Like the comics and cartoons it goofs on that are full of once-dead characters returning from the grave, “The Venture Bros.” is finally bringing back Dr. Jonas Venture Sr., at least in some form.
If you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of “Venture” lore, the underlying premise is that it follows Dr. Thaddeus S. “Rusty” Venture, the son of a 1960s super-scientist who got dragged on a bunch of scary adventures, “Jonny Quest”- and “Scooby-Doo”-style. Now in his mid-40s and with two mostly-clueless boy adventurer sons of his own, Rusty is constantly accosted by supervillains who want to “arch” him (a verb taken from the term “arch-enemy”), while he slowly squanders the fortune his father left behind after he abruptly died.
Jonas has been a major figure in the show, despite having died long before its beginning. Rusty grapples with all kinds of baggage because of his upbringing, not the least of which is feelings of inadequacy in comparison to his father, coupled with the resentment he feels for being saddled with the life of a super-scientist “protagonist” that he never actually wanted — and at which he is not especially good.
Over the years, “The Venture Bros.” has repeatedly teased fans and viewers with the idea that Jonas Venture might return, and what kind of impact that would have on Rusty, only to turn the idea into a joke at the last second. Rusty occasionally has hallucinated meetings with his father, and there was one episode back in Season 2 in which an alien appeared in his father’s likeness, “Contact”-style. Rusty’s long-lost twin JJ (short for Jonas Venture Jr.), who Rusty absorbed in the womb and who eventually freed himself from Rusty’s body after 40-plus years, was also the spitting image of the men’s father. JJ was also a great deal more successful than Rusty, increasing his resentment for his family.
All those years of groundwork and baggage has come to a head in the first episode of “The Venture Bros.” Season 7, when Dr. Venture discovered that Jonas’ brain was actually preserved after his untimely death. Under Jonas’ orders, his adventuring companions known as Team Venture hooked his head up into a computer system on Jonas’ giant space station, Gargantua-1. Turns out, that computer made it to the New York Venture building JJ set up before his death, and now Jonas is finally starting to wake up after 40 years. Most of the premiere is concerned with a sort of techno-haunting of the Venture tower by Jonas.
It’s a weird reunion, but one that’s sure to have serious effects on Season 7 going forward. Jonas was Rusty’s big supporter, but also, in a way, his biggest rival — the shadow of his father affected everything that Rusty did in his life. The major themes of failure, loss and masculinity “The Venture Bros.” is constantly dealing with using its hilarious parodies of cartoons and superheroes all have their roots in Jonas’ failures as a father, and Rusty’s failures as a son.
What isn’t clear is whether Jonas is really “back” (he’s wired to the building, he’s part computer, and his mechanical innards got nailed with a fire ax when Rusty’s computer scientist pal, Pete White, discovered the ghost in the machine and panicked). It does seem likely that Jonas’ presence will be a hinge for the season, though — maybe a catalyst to deal with the childhood connection between Rusty and his arch-enemy, the Monarch, that was teased by a photo the Monarch discovered back in Season 6.
It also feels like “The Venture Bros.” creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer (real names Chris McCulloch and Eric Hammer) are messing with viewers with a plan in mind. The premiere episode starts with a bit of story about JJ, who was killed during the special “All This and Gargantua-2” that set up Season 6. Those first minutes made fans think that Rusty’s brother might have survived his heroic demise.
Turns out, that opening portion is flashback to two years earlier — but to throw in a resurrection tease at the start of the episode and then to bookend it with an actual resurrection at the end seems more than just a bit of comedic or storytelling symmetry. “The Venture Bros.” is nothing if not very aware of its own lore, story, and minor details, and things that seem trivial in the moment often end up being incredibly important later. Could JJ have survived — and is Jonas really back?
No matter what, there’s one thing that’s for sure: Jonas’ reappearance will definitely make Rusty’s terrible life just a little more awful. After all, that’s the main plot of the entire series.