Action, mystery, martial arts, adventure–what’s not to like about Jonny Quest? The exact same things could be said about Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim cartoon The Venture Brothers, a clever and brilliant parody of Jonny Quest. They both have tons of similarities and loads of differences. Let’s compare them head-to-head, mano a mano, toon to toon, and see who comes out as the winner! This week’s cartoon battle of the ages (literally) is Jonny Quest Versus The Venture Brothers. In the ongoing war between Old School Versus New School Cartoons, which will end up victorious this week?
Jonny Quest is a cartoon I remember as one of many favorites that I watched on Saturday mornings. Ironically, it originated as a cartoon meant for older kids, teens and adults, and aired on Friday nights. It was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions for Screen Gems, and created and designed by comic book artist Doug Wildey. Premiering on September 18, 1964, Jonny Quest only ran for a year, but not because it wasn’t popular. The reason was because it consistently went over-budget. Jonny Quest was one of many Hanna-Barbera produced cartoons, such as Space Ghost, The Herculoids, and Birdman and the Galaxy Trio. The cartoon appeared on all 3 major US television networks of the time, ABC, CBS, and NBC, in reruns over two decades. Then, new episodes were produced for syndication in 1986. Besides this, there were also two telefilms, a comic book series, and a more modern revival series, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, which was produced in 1996–97.
The Venture Brothers premiered on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim on February 16, 2003, and it’s still currently on the air. The show’s creator is Jackson Publick (a pseudonym of Christopher McCulloch, who also does some of the cartoon’s voices). The executive producers are Keith Crofford and Mike Lazzo. The series mixes action and comedy together while it chronicles the adventures of the Venture family: well-meaning but incompetent teenagers Hank and Dean Venture; their emotionally insecure, ethically challenged super-scientist father Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture; the family’s bodyguard, originally the ultra-violent and macho secret agent Brock Samson and his later replacement, reformed super villain and “cured” pedophile Sergeant Hatred; and the family’s self-proclaimed arch-nemesis, the Monarch, a butterfly-themed super villain.
Category 1 – Main Characters
Tim Matheson as Jonny Quest
Mike Road as “Race” Bannon
Danny Bravo as Hadji
John Stephenson as Dr. Quest (five episodes)
Don Messick as Dr. Quest and Bandit
Scott Menville as Jonny Quest
Granville Van Dusen as “Race” Bannon
Rob Paulsen as Hadji
Don Messick as Dr. Quest and Bandit
The Venture Brothers
Christopher McCulloch as Hank and the Monarch
Michael Sinterniklaas as Dean Venture
James Urbaniak as Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture
Patrick Warburton as Brock Samson
Doc Hammer as Dr. Girlfriend
Tim Matheson, voice of Jonny Quest, 1964-65, was also Eric “Otter” Stratton in the 1978 comedy Animal House, and he was one of the stars of the 1984 movie Up the Creek. On TV, he portrayed Vice President John Hoynes in The West Wing. Mike Road, who does “Race” Bannon’s voice in the original run, was also the voice of Zandor in The Herculoids, Ugh the giant caveman on the Dino Boy cartoons of the Space Ghost series, and Reed Richards in The New Fantastic Four. John Stephenson, the voice of Dr. Quest, has been the voices of many other cartoon characters, though is perhaps best known as the voice of Mr. Slate in The Flintstones. He also did the voices of many of the villains in the Scooby-Doo cartoons. I won’t go into the other characters, movies, and television shows that the cast of the 1964-64 and 1986-87 characters were in, but if you are interested in learning more about them, you can click here.
I love the main characters of Jonny Quest, but I’d have to say the winner of the Main Characters category is The Venture Brothers. Patrick Warburton, who also stars in Rules of Engagement, is awesome as Brock Samson. He also did the voices of The Tick in the cartoon The Tick, was David Puddy on Seinfeld, the evil Johnny Johnson on NewsRadio, and anchorman Jeb Denton on Less Than Perfect. In the Bee Movie, he was Ken, and he did Kronk’s voice in The Emperor’s New Groove and its sequels. He also provides the voice for wheelchair-using police officer Joe Swanson on Family Guy, Steve Barkin on Kim Possible, and The Wolf in Hoodwinked, among others. James Uraniak plays Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture to grumpy, grouchy perfection, Christopher McCulloch doing both the seemingly opposite roles of Hank and the Monarch is amazing, Michael Sinterniklaas brings out his inner nerd with his portrayal of Dean Venture, and Doc Hammer’s voice coming from the beautifully drawn body of Dr. Girlfriend, the Monarch’s girlfriend and later on, his wife, is just plain wrong, but oh, so funny.
Category 2 – Secondary Characters
Most of the secondary characters in Jonny Quest were villains who appeared in only one episode each, so there are not a lot of secondary characters in the series. One recurring nemesis is known as Dr. Zin, an Asian criminal mastermind. The voices of Dr. Zin and other assorted characters were done by Vic Perrin. I believe that the Monarch, while not Asiatic, is a parody of Dr. Zin–at least, he is Thaddeus’ arch villain, as Dr. Zin is to Dr. Quest. Race’s mysterious old flame, Jade (voiced by Cathy Lewis), appears in two episodes, as do the characters of Corbin (an Intelligence One agent) and the Professor (a scientist colleague of Dr. Quest’s). I got much of this info at the Jonny Quest wiki site.
The Venture Brothers
!.) Baron Werner Ünterbheit (voiced by T. Ryder Smith). He is a former dictator of the duchy of Ünterland and bears a grudge against Venture. He blames Venture for the loss of his jaw in college, citing, “One is always supposed to look out for one’s lab partner!” The season-three premiere reveals that the Monarch was responsible for the explosion, an attempt on the life of Dr. Venture.
2.) Phantom Limb (voiced by James Urbaniak). The Phantom Limb is a ruthless killer, villain insurance agent, and high-ranking Guild member (or was until he tried to usurp David Bowie as the Sovereign). Also, he was the former lover of Dr. Girlfriend before she left him to become The Monarch’s companion.
3.) Doctor Byron Orpheus (voiced by Steven Rattazzi). Doctor Orpheus is an expert necromancer. He lives with his daughter, Triana, and they rent out a portion of the Venture Compound.
4.) Triana (voiced by Lisa Hammer). Triana is Doctor Orpheus’ apathetic, teenage goth daughter.
5.) Pete White (voiced by McCulloch), is an albino computer scientist and a former college friend of Dr. Venture’s.
6.) Master Billy Quizboy (voiced by Hammer). He is a middle-aged, but still boy-sized, hydro cephalic “boy genius” who, for whatever reason(s), is seen almost always hanging out with Pete White.
7.) Henchman #21 (voiced by Doc Hammer). He is the chubbier of the two main Henchmen of the Monarch’s legions of Henchmen. Though he started out as being a rather bumbling sort of henchman, he honed his fighting skills and has grown to be fairly good at fighting, giving even Brock Samson a run for his money. He was best friends with Henchman #24, who got killed off, and he has sought revenge since then, blaming the Venture family.
8.) Henchman #24 (voiced by Christopher McCulloch). Henchman #24 sounds very much like the comedian Ray Romano. He was the brighter of the two main Henchmen of the Monarch, and his best friend, Henchman #21, looked up to him.
There is really no contest when it comes to the winner of this category, as there weren’t that many secondary characters on Jonny Quest, compared to The Venture Brothers. Also, the secondary characters in The Venture Brothers are more unique, peculiar, colorful, and funny than those of Jonny Quest, so I declare the winner of this category to be The Venture Brothers.
Category 3 – Over-All Concept
Jonny Quest followed the exploits of eleven-year-old Jonny Quest, his step brother, Hadji (adopted from the streets of Calcutta, India), who was the same age, their world-renowned scientist father, Doctor Quest, and “Race” Bannon, as they traveled around the world investigating scientific mysteries that were generally shown to be caused by the series’ villains like Dr. Zin. Hanna-Barbera had originally intended to produce an animated adaptation of the radio serial Jack Armstrong, about an All-American boy who has lots of exciting adventures. The creators of the show were also inspired by the 1962 James Bond film, Dr. No.
The Venture Brothers was, of course, inspired by Jonny Quest, but it was also inspired by the crime-fighting teens, the Hardy Boys. Besides these two inspirations, at The Venture Brothers wiki site, failure is mentioned as being the over-all theme of the series:
In the commentary for the episode “Home Insecurity”, Hammer and Publick elaborated on the theme.
Publick: “This show… If you’ll permit me to get ‘big picture’, this show is actually all about failure. Even in the design, everything is supposed to be kinda the death of the space-age dream world. The death of the jet-age promises.”
Hammer: “It’s about the beauty of failure. It’s about that failure happens to all of us…Every character is not only flawed, but sucks at what they do, and is beautiful at it and Jackson and I suck at what we do, and we try to be beautiful at it, and failure is how you get by…It shows that failure’s funny, and it’s beautiful and it’s life, and it’s okay, and it’s all we can write because we are big…failures. (laughter)”
I’d say both Jonny Quest and The Venture Brothers do a great job of sticking to their over-all concepts. It’s difficult to make a fair comparison between these two shows, as though The Venture Brothers was inspired by Jonny Quest, and there is lots of action in both, the former is often LOL funny. The animation of The Venture Brothers is also tons better, and the colors really pop, but animation standards have risen over the years, and the technology to make animated series has improved by leaps and bounds. Also, though Jonny Quest was originally a Friday night show premiering in prime time and was fairly violent for the time, it is now one that appeals more to a younger audience, while The Venture Brothers is meant for older teens and adults to view.
Favorite Episode or Moment
Tough, tough, tough to decide. I’d say the Jonny Quest episode “The Robot Spider,” would have to be my choice, because the image of that spider is one of the most iconic images from the series. The Quest nemesis, Dr. Zin, sends a giant robot spider (by flying saucer-like craft) to a U.S. government research facility in the American Southwest to steal the secrets of a ray gun project on which Dr. Quest is working. The robot spy had a huge single “Cyclops” camera-eye where Dr. Zin could observe the environment remotely.
Deciding my favorite episode of The Venture Brothers is even more difficult, because each episode is so great. “Viva Los Muertos!” from season 2 is the one I’ll choose, though there are many that are excellent. In this episode, Dr. Venture finally succeeds in attaining the holy grail of superscience, the revivification of a human corpse for fun and profit. Also, a gang of analogs (duplicates) for both infamous 70s characters/the Scooby-Doo Gang find the Venture Compound, and become convinced that it is haunted. Their investigation uncovers something far creepier. The series often references numerous pop, musical, political, etc., subjects, and I found the Scooby-ish crossover of characters in this episode to be pretty hilarious.
Jonny Quest likely wins this category, because it has been around in various forms and in comic books for decades. It has a memorable theme song, though if it has words, I’ve never heard or read them. Also, since it’s been around for so long, there has been lots of merchandising done, and though The Venture Brothers also has merchandising associated with it, the show hasn’t been in existence long enough (yet) to have had as many products produced featuring its characters.
Over All Thoughts
I have many memories of watching Jonny Quest when I was a boy, and it is a sentimental favorite of mine. I thought it was pretty cool that the hero of a cartoon was a kid, and it made me (and I’m sure many other children) think that they, too, could lead exciting lives filled with action and adventure, if only the right circumstances presented themselves.
But, as an adult, I’d say if I had the choice between watching a rerun of one or the other of these two shows, I’d pick The Venture Brothers any day of the week. That’s because the humor is topical, and irreverent, and it pokes fun of so many subjects. The animation is also better, and I really like many of the main and secondary characters in The Venture Brothers.
That said, my choice for the overall winner is going to seem very wishy-washy, because I’m choosing two winners, based on the age of the people watching these two cartoons. I wouldn’t recommend any younger children to view The Venture Brothers, because it deals with adult themes and adult humor, so when it comes to younger kids, I’d have to say Jonny Quest is the winner. But for the age group of older teens and adults, IMHO, the over-all winner is The Venture Brothers.
What do you feel? Would you have picked Jonny Quest or The Venture Brothers, outright; or, would you have been a fence-rider like me, and chosen both, based on the age of the potential viewers of each? Please leave your comments below–I’ll be looking forward to reading them!