For a show about failure, Cartoon Network's epic adventure-comedy The Venture Brothers has it all. Humor, smarts, empathy, love, madness, gore, and fart jokes are all a part of its enviable recipe. It satirizes from a place of love, but from Truckules to Professor Impossible to a dead-on Jaws parody, VB's good-natured taunts leave no cultural stone unturned. Even so, a handful of its parodies stand out. These are the cases where Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick have managed to excel, going beyond even the icons they're mocking. Sometimes these perfect cases represent mere moments. Other times, they encompass much of the entire seven season series!
10 Shore Leave vs Shipwreck
The Office of Secret Intelligence has been a part of Venture Brothers from season 1. When its history as a (somewhat) more sensible version of Hasbro's GI Joe turned up, it was a perfect reveal. The ultimate expression of this has been the major character that came directly out of the '80s cartoon/toy line: Shore Leave.
In '80s Joe lore, Shipwreck was the "G.I. Joe Sailor," meaning the team only had one guy qualified to sail on boats. He was mostly a bad-tempered pirate with a parrot, but his hard-headedness was occasionally useful. Enter VB's Shore Leave, flamboyantly out and proud and enjoying his extremely violent life. Unlike Shipwreck, Shore Leave is one of the show's heavy hitters, a deadly sniper and capable head-cracker that only Brock and Henchman 21 have bested.
9 Venture Libre vs Batman: Year One
Miller and Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One is a problematic comic classic. It features a young Bruce Wayne barely surviving as he learns the ropes of costumed vigilantism. Hank Venture may idolize The Bat, but in one moment he finally outdid him.
"Venture Libre" is the episode where Hank, hopped up on coffee beans, became The Bat. He'd long aspired to the role. When he dropped from the trees, extinguishing his Doctor Moreau-inspired adversaries' fire, he actually did one better than the Dark Knight. Barely armed, Hank killed a giant crab and converted it into a rocket car and defeated half of the mutants that were hunting him. True, his plan failed at the last, but only because his stolen military-issued explosive iPad failed to detonate. Batman, for his part, peed himself during his first big moment, so overall it's advantage Hank.
8 Student Green vs Soylent Green
Soylent Green is a sci-fi film that features Chuck Heston chewing some serious scenery in its climax. It's a slow-moving dystopian thriller, moody and a little pretentious. While everyone gets the reference few ever watch it.
"What Color Is Your Cleansuit" works as a parody of apocalyptic science fiction as a whole. In it, a society of work-study undergraduates assisting Rusty Venture's work devolves into mutation and cannibalism. Divided into castes based on their uniforms' colors, the hulking Red Suits soon begin to eat "only Student Green"-- the unmutated Green Suits who work inside the Venture house. Sergeant Hatred gets to Heston it up in the reveal, proclaiming not only that "Student Green is people!" but also that "It's a madhouse! A madhouse!"
7 Phantom Limb vs Fantomas
Phantom Limb was the first VB supervillain who seemed competent. The limbless murderer's costume is an obvious reference to Lee Falk's The Phantom but the show's made it clear that his pedigree runs a bit deeper.
Fantomas, PL's grandfather, was not only one of the Guild of Calamitous Intent's founders, but also the protagonist-villain of a long series of early 20th century French pulps. A flamboyantly sociopathic master of disguise, he can get away with anything. What he can't do is hold 21st century audience interest or kill with an invisible touch. Phantom Limb for the win.
6 The Blue Morpho vs The Green Hornet
The Green Hornet and his valet, Kato, were crime-fighters masquerading as criminals. The Blue Morpho and his chauffeur, Kano, are supervillains (The Monarch and Henchman 21) masquerading as masked vigilantes for incredibly petty reasons.
The TV version of the Green Hornet does get a boost from Bruce Lee playing Kato and punching Adam West, but the brilliance of interlacing The Monarch's masquerade with a multi-generational con game involving the original Doctor Venture and sexual blackmail wins the day.
5 The Groovy Gang vs Scooby Doo
Scooby Doo exists as a series of cartoon series in the Ventureverse. Freddie's neckerchief, for example, is key to Hank's original look and everyone knows it. Mystery Incorporated's DNA is also threaded throughout the series, with its fake pirate ghosts and inane mysteries. When does the homage outdo the original? When the Groovy Gang shows up.
The parody is obvious, but the care that goes into this one-episode wonder is marvelous. Publick and Hammer based the characters on famous serial killers, throwing in Stockholm syndrome poster girl Patty Hearst as well. Groovy, a vicious Great Dane, "speaks" to Sonny because Sonny gets his name from the allegedly schizophrenic Son of Sam. They investigate mysteries the same way Manson's disciples investigated Hollywood homes. It's dark but somehow also perfect.
4 General Treister vs General Thunderbolt Ross
Thunderbolt Ross is the Hulk-obsessed military manic who gives Greenskin much of his trouble in the comics. He's perpetually unhappy and eventually experiments on himself and becomes the Red Hulk, a terrible not-good version of the original. General Timothy Treister is also a crazy general, but crazy in the best way.
He leads the OSI, seeing through every double agent and having the time of his life. Obsessed with becoming "a Hulk" and with avoiding death by peepee cancer, he launches himself into space. Revived by Jonas Venture, Jr., they discover that cosmic radiation has turned him into what? A Red Hulk. The circle of narrative life gleefully completed, he and Jonas save hundreds of lives going down with the doomed space station, Gargantua II.
3 The Doom Factory vs The Legion of Doom
The Doom Factory is what the Legion of Doom would look like if Andy Warhol were in charge. For all their post-modern Pop Art shenanigans, they're actually effective criminals. Their weird "rob the Ventures by throwing them a party" plan works, and totally demoralizes Rusty.
The original Legion of Doom barely managed to inconvenience the Super Friends, unabashedly the least intimidating version of the Justice League. The Blue Morpho semi-accidentally murdered The Doom Factory, but if he hadn't they would have had a future on the show.
2 Hank and Dean vs Comic Book Deaths
Since Season 2's first episode, it's been obvious that The Venture Boys have spent an inordinate amount of time dying. Since Rusty is actually a better necromancer than Doctor Orpheus this hasn't been an issue. Rusty simply uploaded his boys' last memories into new bodies and started over until his army of child-clones was murdered in a stand-off with The Monarch.
This is a perfect satire of 'comic book death,' the way superheroes and villains never really die. The show illuminated this, spelled out the mechanism, and eliminated it. They killed comic book deaths in the Ventureverse. What delicious cake! But how could I have it and eat it, too?
1 Johnny Quest vs The Venture Brothers
More than any other show '60s cartoon Johnny Quest has influenced The Venture Brothers. From its founding concept of boy adventurers and super scientists to Action Johnny. The writers originally named Red Bannon "Race," after JQ's bodyguard. From trips to the Sargasso Sea to Walking Eyes, the parodies have never stopped. But consider what they're parodying. JQ was a crudely animated, poorly voiced show. Its plots were childish. In its loving parody, with its extraordinary animation, great characters and voices, and tight plotting Venture Brothers has exceeded it in every way. The satirist has become... the master.