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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Venture Bros.: "Handsome Ransom"

Illustration for article titled The Venture Bros.: "Handsome Ransom"
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Batman's cool. I mean, he's a scientist, and he's a detective, and he'll kick you in the face soooo hard that you'll probably, I dunno, end up not really having all of your face anymore. Only, he wouldn't do that unless you really asked for it, like if you were a bad guy and you were kidnapping some kids or maybe if you had a gun that didn't belong to you. Batman works the nightshift, because that's when his costume looks best, and he's got a huge cave with all kinds of gadgets. He also has a butler who gets him soup! And sometimes, he has a twelve year old boy who runs around with him in spandex and-

And what, exactly? Not sure. The official line is "helps him fight crime," but, um, I can't think of many crime-fighting type situations where you'd say, "Man, I could totally foil these bad-guys if I just had a partner who can't get a learner's permit!" It's all very suspicious. Robin was initially created to give comic book readers an identification character, but he's been causing all sorts of trouble over the years, because no matter how you look at it, he doesn't make any sense. At least not any healthy sense, if you get me.

In "Handsome Ransom," we get a few new members to the Venture-verse, as well as the return of some old favorites. The episode doesn't play the same games with chronology as last week's, preferring instead to tell its twisted tale of icky love lost, found, then lost again as straightforwardly as possible. While the results aren't as exhilarating as "Heart of Steel," "Ransom" still largely fun and occasionally squirm-inducing, which, let's face it, is pretty much the ideal state for the show.

The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend are back, and up to their old tricks; only this time, having kidnapped Hank and Dean, the Monarch demands a $10 million ransom for their return. He argues that hitting Doc Venture in the pocketbook is going to ruin the guy's day a lot faster than the nuttier schemes they've tried in the past, and in a way he's right. Venture's money problems have been a big part of the series since the first season, and given that he lacks the inventive know-how of his brother, or the people skills necessary to fake his way through any business situation, it's doubtful those problems will get resolved any time soon. But Venture's lack of funds is so deep that Monarch's demands don't really hit him that hard—he ends up getting the money off Bill Quizboy and Pete White.

Really, though, while the machinations of the Monarch and Doc are fun, the real heart of the episode is Captain Sunshine, a super-hero a, um, colorful costume, cheery mansion, and serious, serious issues. He swipes Hank away from the Monarch and, due some mild misunderstanding between the two (Hank is having problems with his father; from what we've seen so far this season, he's developed the most of the two Venture boys, post—clone, and one of those developments is teenage surliness), offers Hank the job of Wonder Boy, sidekick and, ah, who knows what else. In case the two Batman meta-references weren't enough, Sunshine is voiced by Kevin Conroy, arguably the definitive Batman actor (he did the voice for Batman: The Animated Series, as well as most of its spin-offs). Conroy does a great job—I wouldn't have known it was him if I hadn't known he was guest-voicing—and the parallels between side-kicking and sex are taken about as far as they can go without being completely off-putting.

My only issue with this is, we already have Sgt. Hatred on the show as a regular, do we really need more pedophile gags? "Ransom" manages to dodge this by making Sunshine's relationship with his Wonder Boys so specific that it doesn't seem repetitive, especially given the fact that Batman-doing-Robin jokes have been around since Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent (if not before). But while I appreciate the mythology here, especially the brief-glimpses of Sunshine's history, especially his co-super-heroing buds at Channel 5, I'm not entirely convinced teenage-boy-[bleep]ing is the best well to be returning to.

That caveat aside, I laughed a lot, and having a parody of Robin does seem like an inevitability for Publick and Hammer's unique brand of whimsy. So long as next week doesn't feature some kind of Teen Titans-inspired orgy, I'd say we're golden.

Stray Observations:

  • Hank called his father a "honky." Even in rebellion, he's still a dork.
  • The Monarch on Sunshine: "He's totally hitting that age when men start to look like somebody's aunt."
  • Hey, 21 has two claws now! And a rep! Good for him.
  • Nice to see the shrink ray again, and as effective as ever.
  • The Murderous Moppets even put in a brief appearance.