It took DC Comics and Marvel Comics decades to build out the complex, interconnected, self-referential universes that they eventually mined for their movie projects. It took The Venture Bros. creators Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick three seasons to create a similarly rich world crammed with heroes and villains. And then, in the season 6 premiere, they did it again, in the equivalent of one of DC’s timeline-resetting crisis storylines. At the end of season 7, the showrunners finally played the hand they’d been holding since the beginning: the eponymous Venture Bros. were not who they seemed to be. The Venture universe was just about to enter its biggest spin yet. And then, with little more than a couple of tweets, the show was abruptly finished, like a world erased by the Anti-Monitor, or eaten by Galactus. Except Hammer and Publick didn’t get to write the ending.
Much has been made of how lucky The Venture Bros. was to get so much time to make its mark. Initially a Jonny Quest satire that morphed into a massive, self-aware parody of nerd culture, superheroes, and the fragile masculinity of man-children determined never to grow out of an endless game of high-stakes cosplay, Venture Bros. stretched out to seven seasons over 16 years. But what good is that time if it all ends in a whimper? The show came to a satisfying conclusion in the season 4 finale. Why let it live on, only to kill it just as a new and final era appeared to be beginning with season 8?
Last season, The Venture Bros. played its ace in the hole: it revealed to a long-suspecting audience that the titular “Venture Bros.” weren’t necessarily boy-turned-teen adventurers Hank and Dean Venture after all. The title may not have even referred to their father, anti-protagonist Doctor Thaddeus S. Venture, and his secret long-lost brother Jonas, Jr. The real Venture brothers may be Doc and his archenemy, the Monarch. The reveal has been hinted at for years: the character designs for Doc and the Monarch are eerily similar, and a handful of Easter eggs strewn about the series hinted at a childhood relationship that neither one seems to remember.
Season 7, building on the show’s labyrinthine mythology, answered the lingering question: the Monarch, né Malcolm Fitzcarraldo, is also a son of the legendary (and legendarily awful) super-scientist Jonas Venture, Sr. An alternate future version of Doc even coincidentally visited the Monarch, referring to him by his first name, and hinting at a future where the bitter frenemies became allies, or even friends.
The series was also moving toward a new relationship between Hank and Dean, brothers whose lives have drifted apart, and whose ties may have been irrevocably severed after Dean slept with Hank’s girlfriend in season 7’s penultimate episode. Could Hank and Dean become the next Doc and Monarch, another generation of archnemeses fated to play out the toxic patterns their grandfather set in motion by?
We may never know, and for fans, that’s a crime far greater than any perpetrated by a member of the series’ villainous bureaucracy, the Guild of Calamitous Intent. Allowing a show to patiently roll out an entire universe over seven seasons, then killing it just as it’s bringing its characters’ arcs to their natural conclusions is like stopping MCU Phase Three right before Avengers: Endgame.
In fact, it’s worse. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a big-budget blockbuster game, through and through. The Venture Bros., on the other hand, had real heart. As critics have noted when analyzing this show, Hammer and Publick clearly developed genuine affection for their characters over the show’s middle seasons. As a result, the way they told stories in later seasons became less hinged simply on crazy premises and pop-culture references. While they never tossed those things aside, they increasingly built on tender, clever character development and the expert world-building that gives the show its present reputation.
Someone at Adult Swim seems to know this — another tweet after the cancellation announcement suggests Cartoon Network is trying to work with the showrunners to find another way to continue the story. But it’s hard for fans to believe, after seeing the network abruptly end other beloved properties. (Metalocalypse, anyone?) Adult Swim let Hammer and Publick break tons of TV rules around series structure and season release timing. So why couldn’t they get even a special two-hour finale episode to send the show off right?
Maybe they will. Maybe the series will move to HBO Now, or maybe a made-for-TV movie will wrap everything up in spectacular and probably semi-disastrous fashion in 2022. But for now, The Venture Bros. is done, while the story is anything but. And the show that ushered in the golden age of sequential storytelling in adult animation deserves better. Venture Bros. made shows like Rick and Morty, Archer, and BoJack Horseman not just possible, but plausible. Hammer and Publick’s series has arguably been as influential as The Simpsons before it, if not nearly as heralded. It’s earned its finale. Go (find a way to make it happen) Team Venture!