The Venture Bros “SPHINX Rising” part 2

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In order to gain access to Rusty’s basement, the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend undergo a transition unlike any other: they become improvisers. The man who dresses as a butterfly says he’ll “just wing it” when they get to the Venture compound. I wonder what their vague, ill-conceived plan was before the Monarch accidentally revealed his “Beaver Inspector” t-shirt? It’s a good measure of how little Rusty thinks of the Monarch that he doesn’t recognize their distinctive high-nasal/low-guttural voices. Improvisation is surprisingly effective, and a stark contrast to the Monarch’s earlier acid-magnet attack, which telegraphed his intent so strongly that Gary could decipher it from a mile away.

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But before the Monarch can plant his explosives, we pause for new developments in the c-story (or d-story?), the farce involving Hank’s joining of SPHINX. Sgt Hatred (who doesn’t trust Gary, despite being an ex-villain himself) wants to “talk to Hank about Destiny,” who he thinks is a girl. Rusty and Hatred are worried about Hank getting into trouble sexually (or romantically), but I wonder if they’d have the same concerns if they knew that Hank was joining a paramilitary organization of crime-fighters? In any case, Hank has joined with Destiny by dressing in drag – super-drag, but drag nonetheless, choosing the old “strength-suit” of an erstwhile SPHINX member known as “The Countess.” “The Countess,” we eventually put together, is the only erstwhile member of SPHINX who has not joined Gary’s revitalized team. Windsong may have gotten married and had children, but the Countess’s ex, the one-time SPHINX Commander (who has the voice of GI Joe’s Cobra Commander, which I guess would make the Countess the Baroness, my GI Joe mythology is rusty), is the one who’s wasting his life chasing his old flame. That is to say, Hank, accidentally (the best way in the Ventureverse) adopts the persona of the only member of SPHINX who has moved on with his life. Hatred, despite hearing Hank’s voice coming from Destiny’s armor, doesn’t recognize his own charge, just as Rusty didn’t recognize the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend. The power of the costume is supreme in the Venture world, and the male gaze (and terror of The Other) overrides aural cues and common sense.

(Odd that Gary, who knows so much about this kind of thing, wouldn’t recognize the old members of SPHINX. Maybe he’s more of a silver-age SPHINX fan.)

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In another part of the forest, Hunter Gathers pursues his agenda – not the part about attacking the Guild, the part about eradicating SPHINX. The Guild may be an ongoing occupation, but first things first: eliminate the competition. Now, in real life, when intelligence agencies fight each other, the real enemies benefit, and so we will see here as well.

Gary presents an interesting dilemma, especially for Brock. He’s too pathetic to tolerate, but too competent to ignore. Brock feels a kind of kinship with the big lug, perhaps a sense of “There but for the grace of God.” Gathers declares that for Gary “playtime is over,” and it’s easy to see his point when we see Gary adorably passing out hand-made SPHINX briefings and acting more like a den-mother than a commander. Which perhaps is why the real SPHINX Commander finds it so easy to usurp Gary’s position: leadership is never granted, it can only be taken, especially in this world. (Of course, for Gathers to assert that “playtime is over” is an irony too delicious to ignore: in the Venture universe, playtime is never over, the budgets just get bigger. Boy Adventurer + Helicarrier = super-secret government agency.

At the Venture compound, the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend venture deep into the bowels of Rusty’s domicile, in more ways than one. Their improvisations on “beaver infestation” (one thing Rusty’s life does not have is, ahem, too many beavers) lead them to, shall we say, the Venture fundament, where they discover a photograph in a scrap book that seems to tie together the Venture family and the Monarch family. (Which means that Rusty and the Monarch are brothers? Only time will tell.)

So, the Monarch’s plot for this episode is:

1. Attack the Venture compound with an acid-magnet, presumably at great expense and with long term planning.

2. When that attack fails, slap together a low-rent improvisation to sneak into the compound.

3. When that plan succeeds, develop a false friendship with Rusty and bond over old scrapbooks.

4. When Rusty leaves the room, discover a deep familial truth that changes everything

(Now wait a minute. Sgt Hatred is growing breasts, Hank is dressing in drag, Dr. Girlfriend is dressing in drag and the Monarch is inspecting Rusty’s house for beaver infestation. Something weird is definitely going on.)

In a d-plot (or e-plot? I’ve lost count) Sgt Hatred is feeling the strain of living up to Brock’s legacy as a bodyguard. He confides in Dean, who doesn’t want to be bothered. He tries to connect with Dean in a high-school-guidance counselor kind of way, which annoys Dean. Sgt Hatred’s problem, which predates his breasts, is that he feels too much. He worries, for instance, about his watch indicating explosives on the premises, but assumes that he’s not good enough to deal with the threat. He thinks that Brock would know what to do, when, if memory serves, Brock is just as likely to simply throw his watch away when it pestered him too much. Sgt Hatred is all about opening up, while Brock, in Bond fashion, is all about shutting down, keeping feelings at bay.

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Gary, meanwhile, reaches his low point as his first (and only) SPHINX mission is commandeered by the ex-SPHINX commander, er, SPHINX Commander. SPHINX Commander’s lust for power crosses over to Hank, as (again, the costume ruling all logic) he uses his new-found command to declare his undying love for him (who he thinks is a her). So, Gary has changed costumes from Monarch Henchman to SPHINX agent, the Monarch has changed costumes from butterfly to exterminator, Brock has changed costumes from SPHINX agent to OSI agent, Hank has changed costumes from Hank-everyday-outfit to Destiny, Hatred has changed costumes from supervillain to Venture bodyguard, Dean has changed his costume from Deanwear to Venture Black, old SPHINX has come back entirely to put on their old costumes. No wonder Venture Bros characters are so popular in the world of cosplay, the show is seemingly designed for it. Hell, it seems like the characters live in it.

Sgt Hatred, trying to bond with Dean, goes adventuring in the basement and discovers the Monarch’s explosives, which he mistakes for Gary’s explosives, as he thinks Gary is still working for the Monarch. He takes time to mention that he used to use the same devices in his own work, that the Monarch has attained old ordnance and painted it gold. Even the weapons in “SPHINX Rising undergo costume changes, but the humans, their purpose remains the same.

Gary, now imprisoned aboard the SPHINX command ship, gets the lowdown from Windsong, the most balanced member of the new/old team: the usupation of SPHINX is not meant as a bullying tactic for Gary, but as a last hurrah for the team itself, which is scheduled to die at any moment because of the “cyanide chips” inside their brains. Again, you can take off the costume, but identity is something that runs deep.


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As the episode reaches its climax, SPHINX Commander steers the SPHINX Sphinx toward the OSI HQ while Dr. Girlfriend takes over the bomb-detonation duties and the Monarch obsesses over “that damn photo” he found in Rusty’s scrapbook. We see in the photo that, at this odd family gathering, everyone is happy, everyone, even Rusty, everyone but the Monarch, who seems to be upset that Rusty is playing with a yellow toy truck. (Is that why the Monarchmobile is yellow, because the Monarch never got to play with it when it was a toy?) Hank and Gary escape from their cell as Brock and Shoreleave arrive to halt SPHINX Commander’s last-hurrah (or last-gasp) operation. Oddly enough, Brock recognizes Hank’s voice in his Countess suit; that’s the same kind of clear-eyed (or clear-eared) vision that makes him a better agent than anyone around him. Brock, still a lethal agent with no patience for shenanigans, summarily executes SPHINX Commander, depriving him of his moment of glory. He murders a man in cold blood while a teenage boy sits on his lap, then awards the killing weapon to Gary, who wants it because it makes him feel like Chewbacca. That is, Brock rewards Gary for his courage and skill with a weapon that makes him feel like a fictional character from a movie series. He’s the voice of moral authority in this episode, and the lesson seems to be “It’s okay to hang onto your boyhood obsessions. We all do.”

In a break from the nonstop success of this season, Gary’s episode is more classicly Venture-y: his dream of re-forming SPHINX, of creating his own family, is an instant and unqualified fiasco, ending in the destruction of not only his dream but his home, as the explosives the Monarch intended for the Venture house end up on the porch of SPHINX headquarters. The dual explosions that cap the episode are the sounds of childhood obsessions crying out for a last time, and then being silenced.


10 Responses to “The Venture Bros “SPHINX Rising” part 2”
  1. The Baroness was Destro’s lover in G.I. Joe, but this is Ventureverse pastiche, so SPHINX Commander stalking the Countess works just fine for me.
    On a related note, delusional super-types latching on to the Venture boys as unwilling replacements for their love objects seems to be a recurring motif. Underbeiht making Dean his bride and Sunshine making Hank his ward come to mind right away. Ironic that the boys are replacements-of-replacements-of-replacements (and so forth) of sons to an actual father who clearly never wanted them in the first place.

  2. Geoff says:

    Bless you, sir, for a freeze frame of the scrapbook photo.

    With Jonas Venture’s history of swinging (as seen in “Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman”) and the positioning in that photo, with both men touching the woman, it’s entirely possible that the Monarch and Rusty are half-brothers.

    At least that’s my guess. How funny it would be to see Henry Killinger’s prediction of Rusty’s future potential as his own brother’s arch (“…a classic Cain and Abel story…”) already playing out from the beginning.

  3. Tommy says:

    Something I’m surprised that you didn’t bring up (though it may tie in to something that you said and *I* missed, Dean being tight-lipped at the start. I assumed he was just being rebellious) are the scratches on Dean’s arm. Hatred accuses Dean of cutting himself, to which Dean responds with “No, I got my arm caught in a–” when Hatred cuts him off again, leaving the question hanging. They took the time to draw them in, so there must be something there…

    Overall I felt this was sort of a weak episode. Hank and Gary do some funny things, but the plot seemed to only serve as a vehicle to set things up for the rest of the season (reveal Doc’s photograph, move Gary to OSI, drop clues about Dean). Sometimes shows have to do that, but with only 8 epsiodes in this season I can’t help but be a little anxious.

    Also of note, Hank has a bit of a repetoir of cross-dressing at this point, playing as Columbia from Rocky Horror, Princess Tiny Feet, the character from Lady Windemeer’s Fan. I don’t think it means anything persay, but its a funny pattern. Actually anytime someone is needed to put on a silly costume Hank is the first to volunteer.

    • Todd says:

      I took Dean’s reasoning for his arm at face value, I assumed that cuts on an arm are sometimes just cuts on an arm.

      • Tommy says:

        Okay, no, just straightened things out. THIS is the episode after the Halloween special, Dean sustained those scratches after his encounter with the little monkey-man.

  4. Chad Underkoffler says:

    While I’m interested in the Monarch/Rusty photo, I want to talk about Hank and Dean.

    Hank: Last season he proved he could be a SPHINX (SPHINX!) agent, was incredibly functional (with the hat) in EVERYBODY COMES TO HANK’S, and became the Bat in VENTURE LIBRE. He’s a Rusty trained by Brock. There is no reason (other than his more than usual insanity) that he won’t be an action hero.

    Dean: Dean’s stepped away from super-science, though he still can work it. He’s disillusioned about most of his family’s world, though he knows it exists (and is bored with it). He enjoys stories and reportage of stuff. He is estranged from Triana. He dislikes the Outrider. He’s started to dye his hair dark and retreat into reading. He’s been disillusioned by the fact that he’s the last clone in a long line of clones.


    Sounds like a perfect apprentice for Orpheus.

    And the fact that the Master actually took an interest in making fun of Dean seems intriguing. Plus him being the hereditary leader of the GCI. And a couple other things.

    They’re actually growing up.

  5. SedentGary says:

    To be fair to your thesis about costume and sight overriding all, Hank does have to SAY that he’s Hank before Brock recognizes him. Brock just assumes it’s the Countess based on the costume until then. That not only speaks to this being how the rules work in that world, but even more to the fact that Hank knows he had damn well better apprise Brock of who he is before he gets dealt with as his outfit would lead Brock to deal with him.

    So Hank is fully capable of making really overt slips, like taking a woman’s strength suit (or just not caring about them), but once he knows the context, or knows that someone else does, he’s sharp enough to play by their rules instead of his own. Giving him that slight edge as a boy-adventurer.

    And Brock, meanwhile, seems to have an edge as an agent/murderer/caretaker in that he does listen when somebody actually speaks. He’s perfectly content to play by the fun rules until someone breaks character, but almost alone in that world he will reassess where things stand when someone or something stops fitting.

  6. OldSkoolGeek says:

    No wonder Venture Bros characters are so popular in the world of cosplay, the show is seemingly designed for it. Hell, it seems like the characters live in it.

    In the words of the Monarch: “I am into costumed business, not costumed play.”

  7. JtAF says:

    I don’t think Brock murdered SPHINX Commander in “in cold blood”. SPHINX was about to blow up OSI headquarters, and Hank was being held hostage. Killing someone in the heat of a battle that THEY STARTED is kind of the exact opposite of cold blooded murder.