02 December 2009

Paging Drs. Bowie and Fantomas: A Venture Bros. Note

New VB review schedule (now in glorious Scootervision™):  I was supposed to post a review of "The Revenge Society" a week ago Monday, but a surprisingly busy Thanksgiving week delayed that.  Fortunately, Adult Swim used the holiday weekend to again re-air the Season 4 opener, "Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel."  The extra time has let me comfortably reschedule the remaining reviews for the first half of the season:
  • Thursday, 3 December: "The Revenge Society" (first aired 15 November)
  • Monday, 7 December: "Self-Medication" (first aired 22 November)
  • Monday, 14 December: "The Better Man" (first airs this Sunday)
  • Wednesday, 16 December:  "Pinstripes and Poltergeists" (first airs next Sunday)
  • Wednesday, 23 December:  Season 4 Halftime Roundup
The other excuse I have for being late in reviewing "The Revenge Society" actually has some validity. The episode plays well enough on its own, but a working knowledge of both Phantom Limb the Guild of Calamitous Intent would help. Providing that, however, was dominating the review I was trying to write. It finally occurred to me that explaining Phantom Limb and the Guild, and how they've functioned in the series, deserves its own post.

In the world of The Venture Bros., supervillains belong to agencies that provide arch-enemies to would-be superheroes. Each member receives an arch-enemy, whose defeat becomes the member's top priority. The most powerful such agency is the Guild of Calamitous Intent, which, besides heavily regulating its member villains' behavior, exercises considerable influence on the outside world. In exchange for following Guild rules, members can receive generous benefits, up to and including opulent housing in tony suburbs. Repeated violation of Guild rules, however, can get members jailed, killed or even worse.

So, we discovered near the end of Season 1, does crossing Phantom Limb. The Limb first appears in "Trial of the Monarch" as one of the Guild's highest ranking members. The trial itself, which ends in The Monarch's conviction, turns out to be a ruse that Phantom Limb engineered. The Limb's real target was Tiny Attorney, who committed a yet-unspecified wrong against the Guild.

By then, Phantom Limb had stolen Dr. Girlfriend's affections away from the Monarch. The Monarch's disastrous efforts to win Girlfriend back provided Phantom Limb the inspiration for his scheme and, not incidentally, a patsy. With The Monarch in jail, Phantom Limb could have Dr. Girlfriend, now reverted to an older identity as Queen Aetheria, all to himself.

Imprisonment doesn't stop The Monarch's love for Dr. Girlfriend, which drives the story arc that underlies Season 2. "Hate Floats" chronicles another failed attempt to get Girlfriend. It isn't until "Victor. Echo. November." -- when a negotiation among Phantom Limb, The Monarch and the Guild backfires -- that Dr. Girlfriend even considers returning to The Monarch. By the time the hour-long "Showdown at Cremation Creek" starts, though, the two of them are having an affair. Eventually, they decide to marry, with the Guild's approval. As Part I of the Season 2 finale progresses, however, it's clear that Phantom Limb doesn't approve.

Enter the Guild. For real.

However genuine his feelings for Aetheria/Dr. Girlfriend were, Part II of "Showdown" exposes them as yet another cover for Phantom Limb's true intentions. It turns out that what he really wanted was control of the Guild itself -- and the death of its Sovereign, who appears to be David Bowie. The ensuing battle, in which Brock and the Ventures play decisive roles as neutrals, ends with Phantom Limb defeated, and possibly dead.

If Season 2 centered on The Monarch's attempt to win Dr. Girlfriend back, Season 3 revolves partly around his quest to win Rusty Venture back as an arch-enemy. In the season opener, "Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny,", the Guild validates his marriage to Dr. Girlfriend, but at a cost: The Monarch must leave Dr. Venture alone, and find a new hero to "arch." Episode by episode, plot by plot, The Monarch eventually convinces the Guild to finally reassign him to Dr. Venture.

Phantom Limb, who proves to have unintentionally introduced the eventual newlyweds, is revealed to have survived the battle, but appears in only one other Season 3 episode. "The Invisible Hand of Fate" explains both how he gained his powers and how Brock Sampson became the Ventures' bodyguard.

To this point, and well into Season 4, the Guild has never targeted the Ventures directly. When the Guild has become the Ventures' concern, it's been a side effect: some conflict with either The Monarch or Phantom Limb caught the Ventures in the crossfire.

Brock Sampson, however, is another matter. His connections to the Guild and its rival, the OSI, form the other axis around which Season 3 revolves. In "ORB," the Guild and the OSI (Brock's employer all along) are revealed to have once been the same world-spanning secret society. Over centuries, this society's members, who included the world's most brilliant minds, built an Orb, a softball-sized device capable of destroying the world. When the society split up over the Orb in the late 19th Century, ancestors of Rusty Venture and Phantom Limb ended up on opposite sides. One faction became the OSI; the other, the Guild.

That's the last time we saw either the Guild or Phantom Limb, until now. Both of them return, along with the Orb (now in Rusty's indifferent hands), in "The Revenge Society."

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