Venture Bros: The Revenge Society

hits counter

The protagonist of "The Revenge Society" is Phantom Limb, who has undergone a transformation since we last saw him. This is, of course, nothing unusual in the Venture-verse, "transformation" is one of the strongest themes of the show. Phantom Limb transforms in this episode, The Sovereign transforms several times, Red Mantle and Dragoon merge into one (with limited success). Sgt Hatred tries desperately to transform into a good father-figure for the benefit of Hank, and Rusty even continues his delicate transformation into a father-figure for Dean.

Rebellion is also a theme in this episode. As Hank rebels against both Rusty and Hatred, Phantom Limb rebels against his own father-figures, the Guild of Calamitous Intent. Dragoon rebels against Red Mantle while trapped in his body, and Intangible Fancy rebels against the Guild in his own way as well. (Phantom Limb insists he’s not rebelling, rather, he’s honoring his grandfatherr’s will by taking over the Guild — he is reminded, in the end, that his grandfather was also a rebel and a usurper.)

Phantom Limb, who, when he’s out of costume now looks like Mark Twain, also now has his own team, "The Revenge Society," consisting of a toaster, a mug and a shoe. Surprisingly, the toaster serves as a pretty good agent to help Phantom Limb get into the Guild Headquarters. Phantom Limb is clearly insane for giving these household items personalities, but, given how crazy everything else is in the Venture-verse, a team made up of a toaster, a mug and a shoe doesn’t seem like that far a stretch. (For that matter, an espionage team made up of a toaster, a mug and a shoe actually kind of sounds like the premise for the typical Adult Swim show.)

I like how Phantom Limb wears a sweat band on his mechanical wrist.

Let me see if I have Phantom Limb’s plot straight. To obtain the ORB, and thus take over the Guild, Phantom Limb breaks into Guild Headquarters and kidnaps Red Mantle and Dragoon, then splices them together, in order to enlist them in his scheme to steal the ORB from wherever it is (Billy Quizboy, luckily, is on hand to tell them it’s at the Venture compound). Or does he kidnap them in order to gain legitimacy, since they can accurately interpret the Guild Charter, and thus give credence to his claim of succession? It appears that he splices Red Mantle and Dragoon together not out of necessity, but because Dragoon is dying and he needs these two councilmen specifically, because they were among the first, hired by Phantom Limb’s grandfather, Fantomas, to play in his 1950s rock-n-roll combo, which also (coincidentally?) became the Guild of Calamitous Intent.

(By the way, The Venture Bros has been on TV for four years now, why is there no band called The Guild of Calamitous Intent? Oh, wait — there is.)

Red Mantle and Dragoon, we learn, are Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, who joined the Guild rather than get on the plane that fateful night in 1959. Now, of course, the Guild is run by David Bowie, still affiliated with Brian Eno. And we’ve already heard from Rusty that exposure (sorry) to Robert Fripp’s music may turn one into a supervillaion, so it wouldn’t surprise me to learn he was among their ranks as well. Is it safe to assume that the Guild’s higher-ups consist solely of rock stars? Are Alice Cooper and Stu Sutcliffe among them? Will Pete Best show up as a villain? What about Syd Barrett or Jimmie Page? Any one of these characters, it seems, would be perfectly comfortable putting on a weird druid-costume and officiating a supervillain society. And what if the Guild was intended as a rock organization all along, a kind of Friars Club for washed-up acts? Where did they lose their path and devolve into a supervillain conspiracy?

David Bowie, we learn, is intent on no one knowing that he is, in fact, The Sovereign. And yet, he has named everything in his dominion after David Bowie-things — the "Diamond Dogs," the "Ever-Circling Skeletal Family," etc. And he instructs one of his minions to "call Iman," as though that’s a common occurrence — obviously he’s not trying too hard to conceal his identity.

Bowie is magical, able to change his appearance — chameleon-like — as it suits his needs. As the master of transformation, he is, obviously, the rightful leader of the Guild, an organization built on transformation. The entire "super" lifestyle hinges on the notion of transformation, the ability to escape the life one was born to and become someone else. It makes sense that the Monarch, unhappy as he is, would go for the lifestyle, and Dr. Girlfriend has transformed almost as many times as Bowie, without ever really finding herself, but Buddy Holly? He was at the peak of his career when he vanished in 1959, shanghaied in to Fantomas’s plan for world domination — no wonder he seems ineffectual as a supervillain.

In any case, Red Mantle and Dragoon — Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper — are now surgically spliced together and forced to work together. A fit metaphor for The Venture Bros, which manages to splice together a thousand different cultural references, as well as surprisingly deep insights into the human condition, and force them all to work together. One could even see the Red Mantle-Dragoon comedy as a metaphor for the creators of the show, two heads on the same body, forced to learn to work together, one hand learning to work with the other.

Sgt Hatred, meanwhile, isn’t learning to work with anyone, he’s in the bathroom, sobbing and drinking bottles of Axe cologne. He’s miserable because Hank, still attached to Brock, does not love him. He even congratulates himself for not molesting Hank, as though that, in and of itself, qualified him for love. (He does not mention his need for Dean’s love — everybody wants Hank’s approval, nobody but Rusty cares about Dean.) Rusty reminds him that he has "HATRED" literally tattooed on his chest — a reminder of Hatred’s last transformation, from whoever-he-was to Sgt Hatred. Now that he’s chosen his moniker, and sealed it with a kind of blood oath, his past will always follow him, making it impossible for him to move on. He will always be Hatred on some level, just as he will always be a pedophile on some level. Amazingly, Dean attempts to act as Hatred’s father-figure, to get him on his feet. The body-guarded guarding the body-guard.

The Guild show up, en masse, at the Venture compound. Why is unclear to everyone, including myself. It seems Bowie needs to get to the compound in order to make Dean the "rightful leader" of the Guild, but takes an inordinately long time to get there. Therefore, the Guild must wait, for hours, in a pointless siege no one seems to understand.

While the siege goes on, Hank teases out favors from a tormented Hatred, who’s under the impression that the Guild is there to arrest him for being a pedophile. Hank gets a little Dermot-y on Hatred, pulling some lame "badass" stuff on him and leading them on a pointless wandering of the compound. Hatred "loves" Hank, but is forbidden from showing him the, er, extent of that love. This gives Hank enormous leverage over Hatred, who relentlessly tests his limits. He "becomes Brock" for the purposes of rebelling against Hatred, but the distance between Hank and Brock quickly becomes painfully obvious. A boy can wear a man’s coat, it does not make him a man — the trick of transformation isn’t that simple.

Meanwhile, Rusty and Dean literally go in circles around the compound, trapped by Rusty’s zipper in the people-mover (no hidden meaning there) until Bowie shows up, disguised as "Rusty From The Future." (Another joking reference to Rusty’s time machine — or is it a joke at all?) Rusty loves Dean, it seems, finally, in his own way, which gives Dean some kind of emotional leg up on Hank, even though Rusty is still a horrible failure as a father and a scientist. And yet, I cringe at the thought of Dean falling under Rusty’s influence — Rusty is the last person I would want Dean to turn out like, he deserves better than that. I’m like Diane Keaton in The Godfather Part II, I want this whole super-science circle-of-fatherly-failure thing to stop. I want Hank and Dean to get out and make something of themselves, escape their horrible father, their horrible past, the horrible cycle of paternal violence, and have some kind of lives for themselves. Rusty counsels Dean about how to react when life throws its horrors at you, forgetting that his own childhood was a nightmare of torture and terror, and forgetting that he’s subjecting his own children to the same life, magnified by all the layers of irony and snark that the ensuing 30 years have brought. "I didn’t ask for this life," Rusty carps, but neither did Dean, the difference being that Rusty has a choice of whether to inflict "this life" on his sons.

One Phantom Limb’s plot is set into motion, Red Mantle and Dragoon quake in fear of the outside world. They may once have been popular singers, but the world has passed them by, leaving them agoraphobes. (It occurs to me that Dragoon is taken from Dragon, creepy albino Boss of The Eiger Sanction, who lives in darkness and looks like Jabba the Hutt — an agoraphobe if there ever was one; no Bopper he.) Similarly, the entire world of super-science and super-villainy lives in a hermetically closed world, and must, by definition. There are no "real people" in the Venture-verse, except in fleeting glimpses. The superhero and supervillain must live their lives in secrecy, the moment they step out into daylight they would be exposed as the deformed freaks they are. They construct this elaborate world to play in, where there are elaborate rules of conduct, reminiscent of boys playing war, where the more complicated the rules are, the more fun it is. But shine the light of reality on this world and it all becomes a hideous embarrassment. It’s like Lord of the Flies (or an episode of Gilligan’s Island, and any moment I expect the grownups to show up and carry everyone off to the insane asylum.

The doomsday device, the ORB, is, of course, a dud, destroyed by Sandow in the distant past. So it ever is in the Venture-verse, the real work, the real heroism, was all done by the forefathers, leaving the children of the present nothing to do but slowly go insane in the world their fathers built.


46 Responses to “Venture Bros: The Revenge Society”
  1. jestermotley says:

    I do like that we’re seeing more of the “Real World” in the Venture-verse and what happens when those people get tossed against the weirdness that is the play land these people have.

    Also, the Eiger Sanction, with how much Doc and Jackson talked about it on commentary for Season 3 I can’t believe I missed that link, nice one.

    I also think this episode did an amazing job at just dispelling any Lost like story threads the series had growing. I myself was lured into theory-crafting but it always felt odd and not Venture like. The show was about failure, and elaborate beautiful failure, the fact that super-scientists and super-villains are alive and hiding out in plain sight is crazy enough.

    This definitely felt like one of the meatiest episodes. But then this seasons seems to be panning out to be heavy all around.

  2. notthebuddha says:

    Red Mantle and Dragoon, we learn, are Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, who joined the Guild rather than get on the plane that fateful night in 1959.

    There being no attempt to make them look or sound like Buddy or the Bopper, and pretense being as big a theme as transformation, I think its more likely they were wannabes recruited from their backup bands – similar to the way Rusty pretends to be a doctor, and was presented at first as the grown-up Johnny Quest, but the genuine Johnny later shows up as a separate (and much more wretched) character.

    • Todd says:

      Except that Red Mantle and Dragoon meet up with Fantomas on the exact same night, in the exact same location, where Holly and the Bopper were last seen alive.

      • notthebuddha says:

        Well, crap. I just deleted it from the Tivo, but doesn’t the Cowl say, “February 15, ’59” so that Billy hears it as “February 1559”? The plane crashed on February 3, 1959.

        • Todd says:

          Billy hears it as “1659” because Red Mantle says “1659” at first, then reverses himself to say “1959” and holds to that. I didn’t catch an exact date, but the episode is posted at Adult Swim if anyone wants to check.

      • notthebuddha says:

        yep, confirms at about 06:20 that Dragoon says, “February 16, ’59” – almost two weeks after The Day The Music Died.

        It’s interesting that the Red Mantle dismisses Billy’s mis-hearing of “1659” as “it doesn’t matter” and Dragoon admits he was skimming over important details in the story – almost like they acknowledge they are telling a bullshit story to placate the insane Phantom Limb. The fade from Renaisance dress to the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly appearance indicate that the “flashback” is actually in Billy’s imagination and so is unreliable.

        • Todd says:

          Mmm, I just watched it again, all I hear is Red Mantle saying “February 1659,” then reversing it to “1959.” I think you might be staring in the tea leaves too long.

          • notthebuddha says:

            I wouldn’t have quibbled over the exact date if there wasn’t a national trivia champion quizboy involved in the scene also quibbling about the date.

            And isn’t that the feathery-jumpsuit Velvet Goldmine guy among the Guild minions toward the end? Another not-the-real-rockstar person.

          • It seems solidly meant to be interpreted as Dragoon awkwardly spacing “February 16, ’59” and causing a misunderstanding, not recognizing how the way he blurted the phrase would clearly do that. It’s one of those perfect reflections of an everyday awkward moment that happens all the time in real life, that Venture Bros. does so well.

            At least, it seems solidly that to me.

        • yesdrizella says:

          The fade from Renaisance dress to the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly appearance indicate that the “flashback” is actually in Billy’s imagination and so is unreliable.

          This is what has me doubting that they’re Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper as well. I’d be OK with being wrong, but I’d rather be right because then that means that Ritchie Valens wasn’t left behind to die.

          • notthebuddha says:

            It is a tantalizing problem, especially since they have mixed live and dead musicians before (Klaus Nomi (dead) and Iggy Pop (alive), both apparently dying at Cremation Creek). The Red Mantle’s age is about right for Buddy, but the Big Bopper/Dragoon should be even older, almost 80.

  3. jwz says:

    No mention of The Thing with Two Heads? Surely I’m not the only one who saw that fine film?

  4. Anonymous says:

    You from the Future!

    I love the idea that Bowie’s act as “Future Rusty” (who looks more than a little like Spider Jerusalem) might not be an act entirely, but i thought it was an inside joke since Urbaniak plays Rusty, Bowie AND Phantom Limb?

    Doesn’t he show up here if you say his character’s name three times fast (or three different characters’ names once?).

    -Le Ted

  5. gdh says:

    I bet Freddie Mercury would make a great super-villain.

    You skipped “Return to Malice”!

  6. misterseth says:

    I was sure the toaster was an indirect reference to ‘The Brave Little Toaster’, a more lively, but just as reliable version.

    As for Dragoon, I believe it refers to an 18th century cavalry unit, not the mythical creature.

    • Thank God I’m not the only one who remembers “The Brave Little Toaster.”

      Also, you are correct about the Dragoon = cavalry unit thing, but they did spend about half an episode of Season Three commentary talking about The Eiger Sanction, so, as is usually the case, it’s likely a combination of both.

    • Todd says:

      Here is Dragon, not the mythological creature but Clint Eastwood’s boss in The Eiger Sanction. They got the look and even did the voice. Unfortunately, my new iMac won’t let me take stills off the DVD or else I’d have a better image.


  7. blake_reitz says:

    This episode was amazing in how it blew away half the internet theories about Venture Bros. The idea that Dean’s the rightful heir (he gives it up so naively!), The return of Phantom Limb, revel of (some of) the councilmen.

    I’m really curious to see if they paint a better picture of the Guild’s transformation over time. It started out as a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-type group dedicated to protecting the ORB, then faded into obscurity in the 60s-80s (thought of only as “the bad guys from the old Rusty Venture cartoon”), and are now a bureaucratic union, operating under consent of the government (it would seem). And how does Sphinx tie into all of this?

    Knowing Venture Bros, I’m betting it’s not going to be anything I could guess…

  8. rxgreene says:

    I think that all ORBs are duds, and they serve instead as a kind of Litmus test. Try to use it and your bodyguard destroys the ORB, and you have to go into hiding/disappear for a time while you craft a replacement. As far as the world knows, you are dead, while in fact you go off and do… something else. What I don’t know. Join the Guild?

  9. Good to see an update on the Phantom Limb story at last. Now, if only we can get a “Where Are They Now?” on Baron Underbheit. I mean, Rusty (in his usual, ass-backwards way) basically cost him his crown. Put that as a number two on a “Reasons To Hate Dr. Venture” beneath “Failed to Protect His Lab Partner; Cost Me My Jawbone,” and I think you have one angry arch-enemy.

    He may not have any means of revenge, no longer ruling a small country and all, but Doc and Jackson are the creators of this little universe; who knows, there could be some kind of Guild unemployment benefits program that we’re completely unaware of. Or he, like Napoleon before him, could return from exile at the head of an army and stage a coup d’etat (I like this option better; this way we get to see new-look Underland as it is under the rule of Girl Hitler and Cat-clops). Point is, nobody seems to be clamoring for an Underbheit reappearance, so I thought that I would throw it out there.

  10. Anonymous says:

    My favorite part of the episode was discovering that Dean was, however briefly, the rightful heir to the Guild of Calamitous Intent. He’s got a rich fantasy life to escape from the horror of his daily existence, and we know from previous and subsequent episodes that he loves sword and sorcery epics. So getting to see him wield a jeweled sword and discover that he was the heir to a secret and regal destiny, even for all of five seconds, felt weirdly bittersweet.

    And amazingly, even with Rusty carping and stepping all over his moment of glory, he rose to the occasion and actually used that power wisely. I mean, if you’re going to have someone in charge of a far-reaching supervillain conspiracy, you have few better choices than David Bowie. (No Dick Cheney jokes, please. Besides, he’d run it into the ground inside of 18 months.)

    I also love the growing evidence of Dean’s compassion. He may be a ninny and a coward, but he can recognize in others the same hurt and fear he lives with. Where Rusty only thinks of himself, Dean seems to genuinely care more about others.

    I think Rusty doesn’t realize he’s inflicting the same life on his kids because he still feels trapped in the paradigm his father created for him. It’s convenient for him; he never has to grow up, never has to stop being “Rusty Venture, Boy Adventurer,” and never has to take responsibility for his own decisions. He can just keep blaming everything on his dad.

    — N.A.

    • Anonymous says:

      “And amazingly, even with Rusty carping and stepping all over his moment of glory, he rose to the occasion and actually used that power wisely.”

      That part of the scene with Rusty interrupting his son’s moment, trying to direct from off-stage as it were, echoes the previous episode set-up, where Rusty stood beside as Hank had his solo moment to go up and advise his superhero protector before he gives it all back, and like Dean did in some way, he shows that he has some grasp of a larger side of his total persona and his place. For a few seconds.

      Arthur F.

  11. ndgmtlcd says:

    Did they show Fantomas in his sixties version?

    Did he sound at least a bit like Jean Marais?

  12. yesdrizella says:

    I’m like Diane Keaton in The Godfather Part II, I want this whole super-science circle-of-fatherly-failure thing to stop. I want Hank and Dean to get out and make something of themselves, escape their horrible father, their horrible past, the horrible cycle of paternal violence, and have some kind of lives for themselves.

    I hope the same thing so badly. In a show about failure, I hope a subversion happens in the finale, and they fail to fail.

  13. Anonymous says:

    “(He does not mention his need for Dean’s love — everybody wants Hank’s approval, nobody but Rusty cares about Dean.)”

    And yet only Dean seems to attract the interest of an actual female, and a hot one at that, who isn’t a villain. (still not clear about Monarch and Dr.Mrs.the Monarch) And then he surprised with producing some serious physical damage on Dermot for talking crap to her back last Season. In the Venture family, only he and Brock are so far physically violent on someone. Sure he seemed a bit unhinged at the time, but she was impressed. And doing so impressed Brock, not Rusty.

    I guess as Dean starts to show independence and even continued earnest interest in females, not femme fatales etc… but a girlfriend-type even, perhaps that means he isn’t eligible for alot of the implied brotherly “love” that is bandied about in word and plausibly action in this universe. And yet here he paradoxically is revealed to be the true leader of C.I.

    Arthur F.

    • As I recall, the British twins (who may or may not be his cousins) were attracted to Dean. I’m really not sure how interested Triana is, although I really enjoy Dean/Triana stories.

      • Anonymous says:

        It seems the Triana/Dean set-up is going to come, there’s always a hint in episodes…
        She’s interested enough to not reject him in small, naturally friendly dialog, which is more than she does with Hank. And cried when he was killed (before he returned in the next slug). There was also the double-date with Triana and her friend, who had the potential fo a great villain. But sure it could be the first crush of your next door neighboor’s daughter, which… she is.

        Again just to say, the one who is more nerdish, who both Brock and Rusty worry about as being too feminine in certain ways, who interested in role-playing games that occasionally spill from inner fantasy out to reality, who hasn’t found his new appearance, a cooler haircut or style (vs Hank who has taken a look, grown his hair convincingly out and wears a tougher jacket at least) who is forgotten to be accounted for in the episode when the Monarch is trying to “kidnap” the kids, is the one actually getting a girl, being the rightful, if not momentary head of C.I. and in general is about coming to terms with how to handle what is given him, as even Hatred when he locks himself in the panic room, etc… so it’s like as if Dean for all his supposed “non-manly” geek features, actually more clearly moves towards some discovery of adulthood. Which I suppose, is the same as drifting away from the extended boys life of these rockstars and fans-of in C.I. (he gave up the realm afterall) or the male bonding rituals of Brock’s world… While Hank is obviously buddies already with everyone involved.

  14. It occurs to me that the only real reason Rusty may be attempting to grow into a real father is because it’s the first time he’s had to look at his sons as real children. Before, Hank and Dean were just Clone Slug Hank and Dean No. 18 or whatever. Now, regardless of their resemblance to the originals, they are THE Hank and Dean, and so now Rusty is actually forced to care for them as individuals.

    In a sense, it makes you wonder why he bothered to keep booting up new clones in the first place. He doesn’t seem to need the boys, except in “Dia De Los Dangerous,” where he steals a kidney from each; being a failure as a scientist, having to cover the expenses of two teenage boys would probably be more of a burden than their worth (even if they only have one set of clothes each). I think the answer to that question is one of the most interesting ones left in the Venture-verse.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think Rusty needs the boys because they validate the narrative of his own childhood. By making them “boy adventurers,” he can tell himself that his own upbringing was a natural and healthy one — even when he explicitly admits that it wasn’t. And having sons means he can, in a way, “become” his father, which he’s been trying to do since he was a little kid. Calling himself “Doctor,” living in the compound, tooling around in or with all his dad’s old inventions, even sleeping in his dad’s unredecorated bedroom (remember Agent Doe/Cardholder’s remark from this season’s premiere) — he’s like a kid dressing up in his dad’s clothes. Jonas Venture had a child; ergo, Rusty must have children, too.

      Also, on a darker note, being dad means Rusty can take out on his kids all the pain and suffering his father inflicted on him. Which gives the show a whole creepy subtext of child abuse, when you think about it.

      — N.A.

  15. craigjclark says:

    One thing that I think Sgt. Hatred doesn’t get enough credit for is his grasp of adolescent psychology. In his eagerness to please the Venture clan he may frequently overshoot his mark, but take as an example the scene in the tunnel where he manages to get Hank to do the right thing by invoking his idolization of Batman. I’ve talked to several people about it since this episode aired and no one else seemed to pick up on that. Either that, or they don’t want to acknowledge that there’s at least one area where he’s somewhat competent.