The Horrible Truth about Super-Science

An interview with Jackson Publick of The Venture Brothers

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Reason: But when you write in one of those 60s-style heroes, they come off pretty well.

JP: We haven't done much in terms of casting those older guys in a bad light except of through the prism of Dr. Venture's view of his father. The thing that always struck me about Jonny Quest is: What kind of parent brings his kid to the Amazon so that yetis can throw boulders at him? We were playing with that, that kind of callous disregard for proper parenting in the name of the pursuit of science. Other than that little hint of sadism, we haven't really taken the wind out of the 60s guys.

Reason: The chief antagonist for the heroes is the Monarch, basically a pathetic trust-fund kid who wants an archenemy for the sake of having one. What was the thinking behind that?

JP: We look at the source material. I love old Spider-Man comics, but when I read them I wonder, what the hell do these guys want? What makes you put a costume on and start chasing somebody around? What makes you have a lifelong commitment to resenting a specific other human being? Because it's so pointless we've purposely made it more so. Also, I've known a couple of trust fund kids. Their goals are strange and take... a little longer to get to than some people who have to work a little more. It's pointless.

Reason: Like the Guild of Calamitous Intent.

JP: With the Guild we've created a bureaucracy, a union of hate. Even the way they express that pointless anger is that it's just their job. That's the best explanation they could come up with. It's their job and they have to deal with the bureaucracy, the paperwork that comes with hating someone.

Reason: What was the source of the idea?

JP: Doc Hammer came up with the Guild. I avoided creating something like just because I had written The Tick, which was a superhero parody show, and we came up with reasons for these villains to do what they do. That is the more superheroish side of our show, of The Venture Brothers. Doc comes at it at that exact angle: Why the hell do these idiots do this stuff?

Reason: You reguarly tweak patriotism as a motivation for these characters: You hark back to the patriotism of the 1960s but the contemporary government actors, like the president, are generally gullible morons.

JP: It's a bit of a stereotype, and maybe not the most creative endeavor of our show. Anyway, "patriotism" is the wrong word to use. It's... the self-righteousness that pretends to be patriotism that we see today. I don't think a lot of people are able to relate to genuine patriotism, a genuinely good feeling about our country and its meaning to the rest of the world. I think the bloom is off the rose. Any time you hear people who still talk with that mindset, they come across, to me anyway, as just ridiculous as our characters. You read books about their crazy experiments, like Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stare at Goats.

Reason: About the military's "psychic spies."

JP: Yes. You read stuff like that and realize that those people are crazy. Fundamentalists are crazy. They're the real world equivalent to the evil geniuses of our spy fiction and our superhero comics. They want to mold the world into a specific shape that they really believe in, and if you don't believe in that, if you can't relate to that, it just seems crazy. What is the difference between wanting to develop insane weapons so America can dominate the planet and being the guy with the cat on his lap who wants to take over the world?

Reason: The clichés of this material, though, like the mystery-solving whiz kids and the Dr. Evil character, aren't ever treated seriously anymore. Not even in the stuff on the Disney Channel that's meant for kids.

JP: All of that is so ridiculous that you can only buy it for so long. In the 60s they were servicing a gigantic generation of children. You had all these baby boomer kids in the 50s and 60s, a brand new market for sci-fi writers. There was all this stuff designed to make them feel included and celebrated. At some point you just have to say, c'mon, children can't solve mysteries. Children lack the perception and the reasoning ability to do that. And they don't weigh much! A diamond smuggler could snap one in two! There's that and that the people who are making them are on a nostalgia trip. That automatically puts it a little bit at arm's length. Much has been said about how much the writers of my generation are slaves to irony. What we try to do is I find the heart in those things, in a way. If I'm referencing something, it's me being naked about what my influences are.

Reason: Which is why the archetypes from all of these different kinds of sci-fi and comics make appearances?

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