This week on Venture Bros., Gillian Jacobs does a guest voice and a delusional character believes himself to be Batman. So basically it’s a Community episode. Well, if Community had a cheetah man. Which it totally should. This one is really great, so I’m not going to waste your time with an intro. Let’s just dive into “Venture Libre”.
DOC: “No caffeine for this one. Last time you got a hold of some dark chocolate, you were up two nights straight destroying my wall to build a Murphy bed.”
HANK: “Murphy beds. You still haven’t found all of them. I’m that good.”
The episode begins with the Ventures and Sgt. Hatred eating breakfast. Dean won’t eat his bacon and eggs (arranged to look like a smiley face) because he’s a vegetarian now. Hank wants coffee, but he’s got a caffeine problem, so Doc vetoes that plan. Sgt. Hatred hears the approach of a military helicopter just before a SEAL team bursts in. An unimpressed Dean excuses himself. The leader gives Doc a tablet with a direct line to General Manhowers, and then the whole team leaves the same way they came in. Manhowers tells Doc that they’ve lost contact with Venturestein in Central America and Doc has to get him back.
–OK, I’m freaking out over how good this episode is. There are like five great jokes already, including Hank building Murphy beds. Manhowers has appeared on and off over the years, most notably in “The Doctor is Sin”, when Doc tried to score a military contract. Venturestein is the reanimated corpse of a Monarch henchmen (well, two henchmen) from Season Two’s “Viva Los Muertos”. He’s never been referenced since, and last time we saw him, Brock was taking him to Tijuana for a hooker. Doc sold several homemade Frankensteins to the Army in that episode.
“I’m just saying, if we get there and he’s in a pair of bicycle shorts talking about ‘tears in the rain’, you run like hell because he is there to smush your head.” – Hank Venture
Everybody is ready to leave, but Dean has decided to hang out in the attic and sulk rather than going on an adventure. As soon as the others leave, Dean goes out to play with HELPeR. He realized that HELPeR’s sad because he hates his creepy Walking Eye body. Manhowers continues to brief Doc on the flight over – the military sent Venturestein to Puerto Bahia to squelch a communist uprising, but they lost contact and now they think he’s holed up in a compound with “all the other Steins”. The “jPad” can track Venturestein, and they believe he’ll let Doc get close enough that he can also activate the plastic explosive in the tablet and solve the problem. A voice comes over the X-1’s radio telling them to turn back, and then a pterodactyl attacks their jet. Hank puts on a parachute and jumps out, shouting orders the whole way. It turns out it was a jet pack, and not a parachute. Hatred and Doc quickly lose track of him. Hatred fires a shot from his handgun, apparently thinking it’ll pierce the cabin and hit the dinosaur. It doesn’t. Instead, it shorts out a control panel and ejects the cabin. Which is the part the pterodactyl is holding onto. Hatred has a clear shot and shoots the pterodactyl, who promptly drops Doc and Hatred.
–Man, this is hitting all my buttons. I’m so glad somebody is thinking about HELPeR for a change. And it’s even a Season One style “go on an adventure” plot, only without Dean or Brock. So it’s not really much like Season One at all. Worth nothing – the “jPad” was invented by Jonas Venture, Jr., who’s apparently the Steve Jobs of this universe. We saw a “jPod” billboard in Season Four, so this has been established. Also, it has the old Team Venture logo on the back, but it’s not called a “vPad”, because that sounds gross. Finally, Hank and Manhowers both reference the climactic scene from Blade Runner with the “tears in the rain” bit. And what might be the best joke in an episode full of great jokes has Dean opening a door in the Compound only to get hit with one of Hank’s Murphy beds. HA!
“I hate the jungle. It’s hot, it’s damp, everything’s alive… Here, look at this. See this stick? No you don’t. It’s a bug. A stick bug. Disgusting.” – Dr. Venture
Back at homer, Dean puts on a hairnet and digs up some spare parts so he can do some science. He sets about working on a new body for HELPeR, but then the doorbell rings. It’s Congresswoman Marsha Backwood, who’s going door-to-door to campaign for reelection. Because he’s wearing a hairnet and because he responds to her opening salvo with “’Kay”, she thinks he’s a migrant worker. Dean shuts the door on her, and Backwood is convinced he’s in the country illegally. He goes back to work on HELPeR, but then the robot goes into emergency mode, seemingly following a beacon. He charges out of the Compound, leaving Dean behind. In Puerto Bahia, Doc announces that HELPeR is on the way, and Hatred has to remind him that they didn’t bring HELPeR. Also, they lost the jPad. (It landed elsewhere, and Manhowers seems surprised to see who picks it up.) When something approaches, Doc and Hatred hide – it’s a group of half-man, half-animals. With assault rifles.
–That is the great Gillian Jacobs as Marsha Backwood, because why not fill this show with things that bring me joy? She seems to be loosely based on Michelle Bachmann, at least given her name and anti-immigration stance. I still can’t believe that we see Sgt. Hatred urinating on camera – we don’t see genitals, but there’s a clearly visible pee stream. And the manimals are mostly based on famous half-men. In this scene there’s a cheetah, who I can’t place. There’s a dog, who seems to be one of the soldiers from DC’s Kamandi, and the warthog is Bebop from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
SGT. HATRED: “This was a bad idea! Cheetah Man is crazy fast! I do not know what I was thinking!”
DOC: “Climb up a tree! Cheetahs can’t climb – they don’t have retractable claws!”
SGT. HATRED – “Neither do I!”
Since Doc and Hatred aren’t good at being quiet, the animals find them quickly. Hatred creates a diversion so Doc can get away. Unfortunately, his diversion requires him to outrun a cheetah. It doesn’t work. The warthog and dog catch Doc with the help of an immense crab. Later, Hank wakes up after his crash landing. He begins dictating “Hank’s War Journal” with his status, narrated dramatically. Hungry, he finds something he can eat growing on a plant, and then he eats a lot of it. We see a sign informing us that he’s on a coffee bean plantation. Hank’s getting caffeinated! Then, Doc wakes up on the floor of an old temple, and Venturestein, now dressed like Che Guevara, seems happy to see him,
— I laughed so hard at Sgt. Hatred in this scene, though. By the way, he calls the cheetah “Jocelyn Wildenstein” – she’s the lady who had all plastic surgery to look more like a cat. So, yeah, that’s a pretty good burn. “Hank’s War Journal” comes from Marvel Comics’ Punisher, who dictated all of his narration into a war journal. I feel like Batman must have used the phrase “war journal” at some point, but I can’t prove it. So for now, it counts as a Punisher reference. The Batman content will come soon enough. And I’m pretty sure the rat with a human ear on its back has been used elsewhere, but it reminds me of that one Nip/Tuck episode.
“Army teach Venturestein make more good diction.” – Venturestein
There’s a quick scene of HELPeR frantically running down a desert highway, and then it’s back to the temple. Venturestein is choking Doc, but then he stops and apologizes for his old habits, using actual clear and legible words. He makes it clear that he doesn’t want to go back to the Army. He talks about the Army sending him to stop a workers’ revolt at Nike plant. At first, he followed orders, but then he recognized the little boy, now an adult, from the video about worker relations that he saw in the learning bed. Jorge opened his eyes to the exploitation of the proletariat and taught him about revolution. The cheetah bursts in and says Doc deserves to die for killing the pterodactyl (sorry, pteranodon). Venturestein sends the cheetah (Karl) away. Karl pees on the floor and leaves, and then Venturestein continues his story. He liberated other products of super science (like Karl). Apparently,Central Americais popular with mad scientists. Together, they made a home where no one could hurt them again. Venturestein wants Doc to tell the outside world to leave them alone, but then he realizes that the jPad (which Karl found) is rigged with explosives and orders his men to take Doc away.
–Wow. This is pretty much a direct sequel to “Viva los Muertos”. There really was a video about labor relations that Venturestein watched, and it’s paying off three seasons later. And note that among Venturestein’s army are resurrected corpses of Sonny and Ted (from that episode), and at least one each of Hank and Dean. Yep, Doc used a couple of dead clones to help fill the order. Also, when the cheetah pees and somebody says that “Karl marks his territory”, it is the stupidest joke in the history of this show and I still laughed.
“Yes, mother. I shall become… a bat.” – Hank Venture
Hank can’t sleep, because he’s jonesing on coffee beans. Per his war journal, he’s waiting for a sign from the jungle. He stumbles into a Mayan ruin to get out of the rain, and finds a golden idol that looks sort of like a bat. And that’s his sign.
–YES! Hank’s narration is sort-of based on Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which is pretty great. The actual line in the comic when the bat flies through Bruce Wayne’s window is “father…”, but Hank’s established that the jungle is his mother. I love a really specific Batman reference anyway, but since Hank is long established as a Batman fanboy, that makes this the best thing.
“Holy crap! He ain’t just gone off the reservation, he’s opening his own damn casino!” – General Manhowers
Back in America, Backwood bursts into Manhowers’ office, aghast that he “abducted” one of her constituents. Manhowers assures her that Doc went to Puerto Bahia of his own free will, and tries to prove it by showing her the jPad. But it’s receiving a transmission from Venturstein, who is making a public statement that U.R.G.H. (United Repressed Grotesque Humanity) is seeking the liberation of all their lab-created brethren. A montage shows various creatures rebelling against the scientists who created them, inspired by Venturstein’s rhetoric. Cut to HELPeR, motoring across the ocean, when he’s swallowed by a killer whale. Then a squid grabs the whale, and HELPeR cuts both of them in half with a laser and goes back to work.
–I can’t believe how much I’m loving this episode. Revolutionary Venturestein is such a great idea, and it’s one of those things that only works on this show – Venture Bros. is expansive enough to contain dozens of mad scientists, so it makes sense that there’d be a large number of half-humans seeking sanctuary. Usually it’s just one lab creation versus all of society, but on this show, there are enough of them to reasonably build their own society.
“He’s just a man. A boy. A boy with a tummyache.” — Karl
The giant crab, a human fly (from The Fly) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon are on patrol at night. One by one, they’re taken out by a series of jungle traps. In a flash of lightning, we see Hank in a homemade Batman costume. In the cell where Doc and Hatred are being kept, Hatred has a nightmare/flashback. OSI scientists inject him with “Soldier-X” serum, then he breaks free and attacks a young boy. Hatred wakes up screaming. A mob gathers outside Venturestein’s fort – they demand that he turn over Doc, so they can kill him like they killed their own cruel masters. They’re also concerned about their society’s infrastructure. But mostly, they want to know what they can do about the Bat. Doc and Hatred realize it has to be Hank. The mob goes off to hunt the Bat, and at that point, Hank sneaks in to Venturestein’s fort. Later, the manimals swap tall tales about the Bat. Hank ambushes them and takes out the whole crew.
–This is so awesome. Last week, I noted that the characters were finally starting to succeed occasionally, and this is Hank’s crowning achievement. He’s a combination of Batman and Brock Samson, and he’s finally the hero that he always imagined himself. Also, and I lost my mind over this, he’s wearing the Batman costume from The Return of Bruce Wayne, which starts with Batman stranded in prehistoric times. (He only wears Caveman Batman costume on the cover, but it’s what Hank is wearing!) That is a ridiculously specific reference, and I love it.
We also get Sgt. Hatred’s Captain America-style origin, and apparently it’s the Soldier-X that made him a pedophile. I feel like that’s a little more palatable. But only a little. And the new manimals in this scene include Rocksteady (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), a couple of Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas, Marvel’s Man-Thing, Smoky the Bear, and some others I can’t quite place. And note that this scene confirms that, indeed, cheetahs can’t climb trees. Callback!
“I want to spend my autumn years in a place where I’ll be accepted, with a vaguely paramilitary vibe and absolutely no children whatsoever.” – Sgt. Hatred
Hank sneaks into Venturestein’s command center, sneaking past the monster and finding the jPad. Venturestein tracks him down, and after a tense standoff, he puts on Hank’s old Batman mask and tosses Hank the keys to Doc’s cell. He releases them, but Hatred thinks he belongs with the manimals. Until the mob returns and then they all get away in the Hankmobile. (The body of the giant crab, hollowed out and attached to the jetpack from earlier.) The engine sputters out just as they reach the water. Hank activates the timer on the jPad explosive and tosses it toward the pursuing mob.
–Once again, freaking out over how great this is. Look, besides my Batman obsession, I am an unabashed Hank fan. I feel like fandom generally likes Dean better, but I’m a Hank guy. His weird, dated references. His inability to attract women. The fact that he’s not really good at anything. He and I are cut from the same cloth, and it was so great when he started coming into his own last season. And this? This is just a gift from the heavens.
Also, I just realized that we didn’t see Hank’s Batman mask in Seasons Three and Four. That’s because Venturstein had it all this time! I love them bonding over their masks, Hank doing the Christian Bale voice, and even the Batman Begins dialogue with Manhowers. This is totally the best thing.
“I’m not like the other scientists, OK? You want to know what Venturestein was doing before this? He was dead! And before that, he was a henchman for some prick in a butterfly costume. Two, actually. I saved him! I gave him life!” – Dr. Venture
The bomb doesn’t go off. The manimals arrive, and Karl’s holding the jPad, taunting them. And that’s when Hank finally runs out of energy. Doc begs for mercy, just as HELPeR emerges from the ocean. He holds the mob at bay with his cannon. Then, on the horizon, are boats full of science freaks speeding toward the island. Venturestein arrives to greet them and bring about a peaceful new society. But as they arrive, so does a helicopter. It’s Marsha Backwood, trying to negotiate Doc’s release. She picks up the discarded jPad, which explodes in her hand and takes us to the credits.
–I couldn’t identify everybody seeking asylum on the island, but I spotted Ro-Man (from Robot Monster), a Human Centipede (yes, that one), Otto Aquarius (from the original Team Venture), and a dog with a human head and an iron jaw. I don’t know who he is, but he should get his own spinoff. Hank talks about a big crab dinner – not only did he kill and hollow out a mutant crab (and give it a jet engine), he also ate it. He’s officially badass. And, man, Gillian Jacobs is doing a great job – she’s actually doing a voice! A lot of stars just do their own voice for animation, but she’s throwing in this shrill southern accent, and it’s amazing. If she would like to do more voice work, I’d be down for that.
DERMOTT: “What the f? HELPeR sounds like crap now!”
HANK: “I know, right? Friggin’ Dean.”
In the tag, Doc is watching the news. Backwood addresses the UN, and she’s clearly been reassembled by Doc, right down to the visible surgery scars. She testifies that Venturestein’s Abomi-Nation is “proud and hearty”. Doc calls the boys down to watch her testimony. Dean’s just cleaning up from some lab work, surrounded by broken bits of Walking Eye. Hank’s in band practice with Dermott and HELPeR (back in his old body!), only now his drum beats sound terrible.
–Yay, HELPeR’s back! I clapped my hands excitedly when I saw this. Also, it should be noted that Dermott’s one line is Doc Hammer’s sole vocal contribution to this episode – none of his regular characters appear this week. That’s really weird.
OK, so this is my favorite non-Brock episode. I love this episode so much. Once again, we have characters actually succeeding at their endeavors, which makes me happy. I love the way it feels like a throwback to Season One, but it’s not an episode they actually would have been able to do at the time. So much of it depends on what the characters have already been through and how their world has changed them. I was so excited about this episode that I actually couldn’t get to sleep last night. Not only is a follow-up to the episode that made me a fan, not only is it full of Batman content, but HELPeR gets his body back, and I was sure I was the only person who gave a crap about that. I even like surly Dean, and I am not a big fan of world-weary young people. He’s earned it, you know?
Next week’s episode appears to be centered on Gary, so there’s a strong chance that I will love that one too.