There are a lot of reasons to love The Venture Bros. In its four seasons on Adult Swim, the show has gone from an incredibly funny parody of action cartoons like Johnny Quest to a complex comedy that delves into rocky parent/child relationships, romances gone awry and the quest to actually do something substantial with one’s life.
But between the massive doses of dark humor and genuinely dramatic moments, there are a lot of cultural references. What makes The Venture Bros. different from many other heavily referential comedy series, though, is that they go beyond the obvious. There are certainly nods to Star Wars, Batman and other well-known properties, but that doesn’t make up the bulk of what co-writers Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick do. A lot of fans may gravitate towards comic book or pulp fiction references. I tend to head straight for the goth moments, the times when I see characters who look like my friends and I did in 1996 or when I hear references to bands, writers and other cultural icons that we would talk about while smoking cloves at L.A. goth clubs.
Most of the goth moments come from Doc Hammer and he knows this scene pretty well. Hammer is also a musician. He played in bands like Requiem in White and Mors Syphilitica that were fairly well known in the U.S. underground. His current band, Weep, released a dead-on cover of Bauhaus song “The Passion of Lovers” last Valentine’s Day. He also appeared on Dragon*Con’s “Is Goth the New Goth?” panel this year. These episodes also frequently involve Dr. Orpheus and/or his teenage daughter, Triana (voiced by Lisa Hammer, also of the bands Requiem in White and Mors Syphilitica). And that’s just in general! Check out the eight most goth episodes of The Venture Bros. below.
8) Escape to the House of Mummies (Pt. 2)
?Science and magic go head-to-head in a shrink-off, Brock fulfills his dream of putting Edgar Allan Poe in a headlock and the portal to the Necropolis is in Triana’s room.
Mostly, I’m just fascinated by Triana’s room. It rides a fine line between girly and goth, like she just took the room as is, threw down a purple rug and stuck up some posters. The black and white poster that hangs in the background looks quite like the cover of Bauhaus’ album In the Flat Field. The ankh on the wall, black and red candles and patched-up stuffed animal are a nice touch.
?In the Season Three DVD commentary, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick talk about how this episode is basically an massive amalgamation of Hammer’s interests. There’s the art angle, with James McNeill Whistler figuring heavily into that. Then there’s the fascination with late 19th and early 20th century culture.
Would Mark Twain, Aleister Crowley, Oscar Wilde and Eugen Sandow be riding together in a blimp? Probably not. However, putting together a brilliant satirist and science fiction pioneer, a legendary practitioner of magic, a notorious wit and a Victorian-era strongman makes for good imagined party conversation. If you’ve hung around the goth scene long enough to know its fascination with history, particularly that which is outside of the mainstream, then you know why this is on the list. It’s about as goth as you can get without name dropping bands or inserting images of girls with striped tights.
6) The Revenge Society
?Phantom Limb is back, this time going by the name Revenge, cloaked in burgundy and black and wearing sweet black shoes that look like they stepped off the Mayflower. But this episode’s goth cred stems from the appearance of faux celebrity guest star David Bowie. He’s never mentioned by name, as Watch and Ward say, everyone knows the true identity of the Sovereign, leader of the supervillain association Guild of Calamitous Intent.
For those ready to scream, “Bowie isn’t goth!” I ask you this: Would Peter Murphy have a career if it weren’t for this great god amongst rock stars? I think we all know the answer to this. Then there are the Guild’s guards, the Diamond Dogs. The first track off Bowie’s album of the same name– “Future Legend”– is all weirdo noisy guitars and creepy spoken word. I can’t even tell you how many bands with the g-word tag have cribbed that bit. The album’s last song, “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family,” (also referenced in this episode) is the source of the name for spooky ’80s band Skeletal Family. But, Hammer doesn’t stop here. He actually stuck Brian Eno, producer of Bowie’s Berlin-era records, in the episode, dressed in the black feathered outfit he wore while playing with Roxy Music and looking way too cool to deal with Revenge/Phatom Limb/Whoever’s antics.
5) Eeney, Meeney, Miney… Magic
?This Season One episode marks the first appearance of Triana and Dean is immediately smitten. It makes sense that Dean would fall for the goth girl. He’s a young romantic, an open-minded teen who wouldn’t really mind that a lady looks different. But, he’s also sheltered and easily confused by Triana’s appearance.
Dean doesn’t understand that Triana’s outfit is an homage to Adam and the Ants. He asks if she’s a pirate. Then he confuses her handbag for lunchbox. Oh, yes, the goth box. So many of us carried those metal-trimmed black boxes back in the ’90s that they became something like a scene membership card. Goth boxes disappeared, even from Triana’s wardrobe, but this can’t be for long. The way I see it, if people are bringing back the ’90s with armloads of neon beaded raver bracelets, then the goth box should be ready for its comeback soon.
4) A Very Venture Christmas
?This is the only episode on the list that’s solely written by Jackson Publick and it’s a good one. Somewhere in the short series of weird Christmas happenings, a party goes off at the Venture compound. Triana is there, looking sullen while wearing an empire waist burgundy dress that we can only assume is velvet with her combat boots and a choker around her neck. Pete White takes a liking to her and makes a move in a way that only a clueless older guy with a goth girl fetish could.
“You know, I was the first DJ at my college radio station to play the Bauhaus,” he says.
3) Victor. Echo. November.
?In “Victor. Echo. November,” Dr. Girlfriend, now in her Queen Etheria outfit, is getting fed up with current beau Phantom Limb. Still, she heads out on a double-date with him, her ex-boyfriend, The Monarch, and some girl he picked up on LiveJournal. Meanwhile, Hank and Dean go on a double-date with Triana and her friend.
Enter Kim, Hank’s blind date. Where Triana has the standard ’90s goth look going — striped tights, Mary Jane shoes and a purple/black bob — Kim is the girl for the 21st Century. Hank says she looks like a supervillain — “she has rope for hair and a shiny costume” — but the girl is straight-up cybergoth (or “graver,” as in goth + raver). She wears pink and pulls her hair back with goggles. Hammer mentions in the DVD commentary that Triana isn’t a fan of Kim’s style, which makes sense. They have an old school vs. new school thing going on. A lot of fans love Kim, though. In fact, there’s a running joke at conventions that someone will inevitably ask, “When is Kim coming back?” at panels.
2) The Better Man
Dr. Orpheus has had something against his former pupil, The Outrider, for years. The reason? The Outrider stole his ridiculously hot wife, Tatyana.
Tatyana is the ultimate goth babe, the girl with long, perfectly straight black hair who has the rare ability to pull off a dress that has both a neckline plunging towards her bellybutton and slits high enough to reveal the top of her stockings. You might chalk this up to the character being an animated representation of female beauty ideals, but girls like Tatyana do exist. You’ll find them at the nighclubs and reunion shows for bands that were really big in the ’80s and early ’90s. They may be few in numbers, but they get a lot of attention.
Bonus goth point: “The Better Man” is the episode where we learn that The Alchemist is “old school deathrock.” He tells Triana that he used to go to the Batcave, an actual club that existed in London during the early 1980s, when Nik Fiend, of the band Alien Sex Fiend, worked there.
1) Operation: P.R.O.M.
?This is the Season Four finale, written by both Hammer and Publick and it’s truly the most awkward night of the teenagers’ lives. That iPod DJ Pete White would rather play Fun Boy Three’s maudlin rendition of “Our Lips Are Sealed” instead of the perky version that became a hit for The GoGos is all too perfect.
Our resident spooky girl, Triana, returns, having temporarily ditched her boyfriend Raven to be Dean’s date. She normals herself up for the night, wearing pastels and flowers, and, in the process, looks more like Ophelia than a random Siouxsie and the Banshees fan. Dean takes the advice that he should go goth to get her attention. This, however turns into a completely disaster.
To top off this flashback to High School Gothland, Triana reveals what happened to her friend Kim. She went from goth to preppy, from rehab to church. Yes, for some people, goth is just a phase. Fortunately, that’s not the case for some people working on this show.