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Has it really been only two years since the last Venture Bros. Blu-ray release? It feels like at least five. Much of this terrible listlessness came out of the year-long period between the first and second halves of this fourth season. If it wasn’t for the fact that season four was the best thing to happen to adult-aimed, serialized, animated television since Futurama hit its stride, this epic wait might have been easier to handle, but noooooo, creators Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick (real name Christopher McCulloch) had to be all on their game. Not only is season four as good as Venture Bros. gets, it more than makes up for the minor dip in quality that was season three. Actually, it brings so many of the third season’s more open-ended plot elements to a satisfying close, that season four makes season three an all around better experience. Let’s take it episode by episode, shall we?

 Venture Bros. Season 4
“Look, I wasn't born yesterday. There's no way that something featuring Ka-Zar the Great, and twelve pages of jungle adventure is worth half a million bucks.”

The season begins with a solid bang (though nothing could ever top season two’s A-bomb like explosion). Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel is less of a toe-dip into this new, post-season three world, and more of a violent toss into the deep end. To make it even more difficult to keep up, the writers toss in a Memento motif, with one series of events moving forward as another moves backwards. They connect during the post-credit joke. This is confusing upon first viewing, but opens the episode up to tasty multiple run-throughs, which lead to extra laughs, and extra reasons to own this season on Blu-ray or DVD.

“What'd he do to you?”
“The usual he threw me in jail. He literally threw me right into the yard of the state prison and he shouts up to the warden, ‘Looks like this one won't be causing any more trouble!’ Then he flies off with this gay salute.”
“Oh my god.”
“Apparently he's never heard of due process.”

Besides finally introducing us to the oft mentioned Captain Sunshine, and hiring long time Batman voice artist Kevin Conroy to voice him, Handsome Ransom is probably the closest season four gets to a genuine standalone episode. Some may argue that introducing another possible pedophile to the Venture-verse (I won’t give away the punch-line) is a bit unnecessary, I’d argue that a good joke is worth making, despite offensive repetition. It’s also always a pleasure to see Doc and Jackson go off satirizing long standing superhero tropes (remember, Publick used to write for Ben Edlund and The Tick).

 Venture Bros. Season 4
“Hank, leave the man alone. Just because he's black doesn't mean he has The Shining.”

Perchance to Dean (a delicious pun, no matter how hard you may groan at it) is another generally standalone episode. The A-story of a demented and deformed Dean clone isn’t the best, but the subplot featuring Hank and Dermott struggling with the thought that they’ve killed Dean, and all the bizarre imagery conjured from Dean’s prog-rock trip are hilarious. My personal favourite thing about this particular episode is how much of it was used out of context in the season four teaser trailer, leading fans to believe that Hank killed Dean, and that Dean had some kind of dinosaur riding adventure.

“Look, I was in the Guild of Calamitous Intent. And I'm also a recovered pedophile. So if anyone knows the rules about abducting young boys from their beds, it's old Sgt. Hatred.”

Return to Malice continues to tell important super-plot without bogging the flow or comedy down, and is our first real introduction to the newer, tougher, sadder 21, who we learn is desperately trying to solve 24’s death. I was personally very resistant to the idea of 21 as a solo character, but the creators rose to the challenge, and have found a way to develop a nameless gag into a real character. This is also about the point I assume most fans started to support the idea of Sgt. Hatred as the Venture bodyguard. Brock’s guaranteed presence likely helped.

“What's this? I leave the room and you turn into a vaudeville routine.”
“Well maybe it's because you made us into a hackneyed premise!”

The Revenge Society is the fourth season’s first truly great episode. Season two ended with the news that Phantom Limb had survived his nearly fatal attempts at taking the lead of the Guild of Calamitous Intent from David Bowie (wow, this must read like the ramblings of a mad man if you haven’t seen the series), but besides a brief appearance after the credits of season three’s opening episode, his current whereabouts were basically unknown. Bringing the villain that all of the major characters have reason to hate back into the story was extremely satisfying. And in true Venture Bros. fashion, he’s reintroduced as a nutter, and every new bit of ancient history on the Guild is sillier than the last.

 Venture Bros. Season 4
“I see you got a little herpe there. Did you get that kissing your wife’s ass…after I put herpe in there?”

Self-Medication features the biggest all-star guest star cast to date, including Daily Show regular John Hodgman as former boy detective Dale Hale, Robot Chicken co-creator Seth Green as his brother Lance Hale (both clearly based on the Hardy Boys), comedian and rat voice artist Patton Oswalt as Wonder Boy (based on Robin, he even starts sentences with ‘holy’ a few times), and Metalocalypse co-creator Brendon Small reprising his role as Action Johnny (based on Johnny Quest). The humour here runs more on reference than character or plot, but it’s still one of the better Rusty-centric episodes in the canon.

“Hank, aren’t you just a little ashamed of your ignorance?”
“Yeah. Constantly.”

The Better Man is sweet not only because it sees a fictional character letting down another fictional character gently, but it sees the show’s creators letting their audience down gently. Hammer and Publick have been honest about Dean’s real chance of ending up with Triana for years now, but a certain subset of fandom didn’t want to listen. It’s also sweet because the Order of the Triad is just generally a sweet group of characters. The Better Man finally gives Jefferson Twilight, the ill-equipped Blacula hunter something to do during one of the Triad’s outings, and his joyful cries of ‘I can do magic!’ are among the most heart-warming moments in the series’ history.

“Monstroso?! That's what this is about? He's king of the double cross. I mean, think about it. He's a lawyer and a super villain. That's like a shark with a grenade launcher on his head.”

Pinstripes and Poltergeists ended the first half of the fourth season, and since the second half wouldn’t be released for another year, it was sort of a season finale, for all intents and purposes. It’s not season finale strong, but it is a very strong episode, and a wonderful centerpiece. This episode brings an end to The Monarch’s brief obsession with hitting Venture in the pocketbook, it introduces Shore Leave as a major character (boom, yummy!), and it sets up 21’s future momentum. It also opens with a bloody action scene, and closes with one of the more satisfying post-credit sequences, which pays homage to Billy Elliot (thanks Wikipedia, I knew I’d seen that scene somewhere before).

“Honey, they're henchmen. You don't explain to them, they do your bidding. When you say ‘jump’, they say, ‘what shark?’”

After a year away (seriously, non-fans, it was a rough year) fans were presented with The Diving Bell and The Butter-Glider, which opens strong, with one of the best action sequences in the show’s history, but is one of the weaker season four episodes overall. The Incredible Journey inspired A-story is pretty funny, and does a lot to endear us to the thought of Shore Leave as a regular, but The Monarch’s B-story doesn’t inspire too many laughs, and kind of backtracks the character to somewhere around season two. The climax makes the trip worthwhile, but there isn’t an excess of laughs here.

 Venture Bros. Season 4
“I want to join up with you guys.”
“Well, my boot wants to join up with your ass, and I'm about to give them a shotgun wedding. Now beat it!”

Pomp and Circuitry sees the creators allowing their title characters a chance to grow up, unlike so many cartoon characters who remain sadly stuck in adolescence. But more importantly, this episode brings back Phantom Limb once again, and sparks the promise of a new villainous team-up between him, the still desperately depressed Professor Impossible (now voiced by Bill Hader), and Baron Ünderbheit (who hasn’t been seen since the early half of the second season) dubbed ‘The Revenge Society’. Hank’s attempts to impress the SPHYNX operatives in hopes of landing a job as a spy are quite endearing, but the intrigue following Limb’s plans is a perfect preview of things to come.

“I fought an eight year old, and the only reason I won is he tripped into a spike. I had my eyes closed the whole time – until I heard an eight year old dying on a spike!”

Any Which Way but Zeus is the one episode of the fourth season I missed entirely on original release and rerun. Not knowing the plot of this particular episode didn’t ruin anything for me, but it’s great to see a continuation of one of the third season’s better episodes (not gonna spoil which one here), and it explains why Hank isn’t quite as angst-ridden for the rest of the season. Atop a series of commendable highlights is a discussion about a stripper’s pathetic breasts, in which each man tries to up stage the previous analogy with one equating the state of the breast with something particularly sad, like Nicholas Sparks’ ‘The Notebook’.

“Oh, if that suit could talk…”
“It would say ‘Kill me, I am a hideous monster.’”

Everyone Comes to Hank’s is a great change-up, mixing unlikely characters like Hank and the Alchemist, paying delightful homage to Hollywood noir, and utilizing Hammer and Publick’s penchant for ‘30s private eye jargon. All this, and the episode fills in some major plot holes left open during season three (it definitively caps a burning question in a way that might’ve surprised some viewers), while managing to finally cast Hank’s delinquent buddy Dermott as genuinely likeable. This one is both sweet and disturbing, which is what Venture Bros. does best.

“Oh, nice potty mouth in front of the boys! Look, you're the Dean of this dimension, right? Explain to the untalented Mr. Ripley here he can't just waltz into my dimension and try to kill me with a rock and replace me just because I happen to have more hair, more money and a hit play on Broadway!”

The season’s best Hank heavy episode is followed quickly by its best Dean heavy episode – Bright Lights, Dean City. Dean gets a much needed reality check, which he handles like a champ, while Phantom Limb, Professor Impossible and Ünderbheit start plotting revenge against Rusty, who stops in New York to visit Dean while working on his Broadway musical (an obsession we’ve only just heard about). The driving theme of failure is alive an well, as is the tradition of introducing a silly side character that will likely make appearances in latter seasons. The Brown Widow, an obvious spoof of Spider-Man, is voiced by nerd fav Nathan Fillion, though unfortunately, most of his stuff ended up in the deleted scenes.

 Venture Bros. Season 4
“And the little guy's Eros, the jerk who made the Rusty join Match.com.”
“He's got to at least try to get some loving.”
“And the one with the umbrella is Thanatos, the jerk who made the Rusty quit Match.com.”
“Hey, many of these women could be murderous gold diggers, or, at the very least, carriers of Chlamydia.”

Assisted Suicide is comparatively speaking one of the season’s weaker episodes, as its major themes pertain to Rusty’s fractured psyche. Orpheus’ journey into Rusty’s mind is amusing (Rusty’s id, ego and super-ego are all very cleverly manifested), and features some fun callbacks, but never feels particularly novel. More interesting is the B-plot, where 21 and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch bond while struggling to keep The Monarch alive (he’s possessing Rusty, which is apparently a very taxing activity). Brock and Sgt. Hatred’s bickering is another strong point, as is the continuing presence of Shore Leave.

“It works like this: If someone points a gun at you, you call the police, if a bunch of guys are pointing guns at you, you call SWAT, if they're in spandex and pointing a super laser at you, you call OSI, and if they're dressed regular and pointing a super laser at your daughter, that's when you call SPHINX.”

The Silent Partners is a minor case of plot getting in the way of comedy, but brings about many answers to burning questions from throughout the season. I hesitate to call it a weaker episode, it just isn’t one of the funnier ones. Hammer and Publick continue to impress with their ability to make Billy Quizboy a genuinely interesting character, when by all rights he should be nothing but joke fodder, and I’m consistently astounded by their ability to pepper future plot elements into early season episodes in the guise of standalone jokes.

“A ‘Rusty Venture’ is when you…”

Operation P.R.O.M. closes the season out with the show’s first ever hour long episode (only 44 minutes minus commercial breaks). There aren’t many huge revelations here, and the episode doesn’t offer too much in terms of closure, but it does feature some charming moments (Dermott and Hank’s song is golden), a positive sense of things to come (I can’t wait to see 21 continue his transformative journey), and some remarkably emotionally overwhelming scenes (Brock’s climatic activities really shouldn’t be this touching). I’m disappointed only by Dean’s back peddling concerning Triana. I hoped we were done with all of that.

 Venture Bros. Season 4

Video


Adult Swim’s third Blu-ray release is more or less the same as their last two – bright, colourful, crisp, and worth the upgrade from standard definition releases (I’m guessing a lot of the big fans out there broke down and bought the first half season DVD). Since I finally decided to drop the extra cash for HD cable TV, I’ve had the pleasure of viewing dozens of animated shows in 1080p, so I’m no longer quite as gob-smacked by such things (if you haven’t seen Chowder in HD yet do yourself a huge favour), but the bulk of this transfer safely meets expectations. More notable, and interesting from a writer’s standpoint, things are not perfect. The biggest issue is minor compression all over the backgrounds, which varies from episode to episode. Sometimes the scratchy blocks are just part of the dry paint style, but often it wiggles with low-level noise. There are also some minor cases of edge enhancement, specifically with the black outlines against other particularly dark colours, and some of the more vibrant warm colours feature some shaky blocking. There are also a few minor cases of jaggies as well (specifically on The Diving Bell vs. The Butter-Glider), and these appear to be an issue with post-production tinkering, which the creators occasionally discuss on their commentary track. Perhaps sticking all 16 episodes on the same disc was a bad idea.

Audio


The box art and sound system both say this is a Dobly TrueHD 5.1 track, but my ears swear it’s a compressed Dolby Digital track. We’re not talking a huge disappointment here, but the basic volume levels are noticeably low, and the bass levels never really impress. The sound design itself is clearly not to blame, as all five channels are given a chance to shine, and the overall scope is occasionally quite epic. On Pinstripes and Poltergeists there’s a funny stereo effect where anytime Shore Leave says ‘SPHYNX’ it echoes in chorus through the back channels. The Monarch’s ‘Butter Glider’ zips around the channels effectively, and the climatic car chase stuff is in the season finale up to your normal action movie standards. Perhaps my favourite sound mixing surprise is the music for Everyone Comes to Hank’s, which is stereo, but purposefully flat to best ape a classic Hollywood noir sound. Composer J.G. Thirwell brings the pain once again, and assists in opening up the sound scale of each episode, though once again the music’s overall LFE is lacking the more aggressive, big budget punch. Season four features plenty of new musical cues, more (I believe, please prove me wrong) than season three.

 Venture Bros. Season 4

Extras


There isn’t a wide array of extra features here, but there are creator commentary tracks for every single episode, as has become the norm for these collections. Considering the chaotic subject matter that usually permeates these things, Hammer and Publick are shockingly focused on the episodes themselves this time around. Well, as shockingly focused as they can manage, which is to say they still zip off on delightful tangents quite often, especially as the season rolls on (though there is an obvious break between the two season halves, and the commentaries have been recorded out of order). The sound of outside traffic, and a love/hate relationship with fandom fill out the usual expectations. Funny subject matter includes working with voice actor Kevin Conroy (they nerded out since he is the longest running Batman ever), Hammer’s paper-bag Spider-Man costume, both commentator’s childhood kitchen décor, testicular surgery, The Eiger Sanction (again), Hammer’s rampant backhoe phobia, accidentally offending H. Jon Benjamin, loud breathing while listening to headphones, snobby video stores, and much, much more.

There are deleted scenes here for every episode, presented mostly in the form of storyboards (though a few are more or less finished products), which are put into context with the finished sequences (29:30, HD). Most of these are short gags, and most feature the final voice work. ‘So This is Captain…’ (2:05, HD) is a series of alternate takes on the line ‘So this is Captain…’ from actor Toby Huss. The sadly brief non-commentary extras come to a close with promo spots for the season finale (2:30, HD), the San Diego Comic Con teaser (3:40, SD) and ‘Lost Open’ (2:10, SD), an apparently trashed alternate pre-credit sequence to one of the episodes (I’m not given enough context to know which one, but think it would match the second episode?).

 Venture Bros. Season 4

Overall


The two year trudge is over – The Venture Bros season four is on Blu-ray. Did I really need to write anything else? I mean, this review is already late, I assume every retailer in the country is already sold out, and that ‘rain check’ lines have been forming around city and suburban blocks for days. This collection features some of the best episodes in the show’s history, and is a thoroughly satisfying experience from top to bottom. The video quality is slightly off, and the audio track could be a little less compressed, but there aren’t any sizable complaints, and the price is fair enough.

* Note: Though this season includes the uncensored dialogue track, I should note that the animation itself isn’t entirely uncensored this time around. For better or worse, you aren’t going to see as much penis as you did on the season three release.

* Note 2: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps.


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