The July release of The Venture Bros.: Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart properly closes the book on one of the all-time great animated series. After Adult Swim canceled The Venture Bros. in 2020, an abrupt ending to a seven-season run that started in 2004, the feature-length finale properly concludes the unhinged parodic brainchild of Eric “Doc” Hammer and Christopher McCulloch, aka Jackson Publick. They earned it.
The satirical action series followed the globe-trotting misadventures of Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture, his Hardy Boys-esque teenage sons Hank and Dean, and their hulking bodyguard, Brock Samson. And by the show’s accidental finale, the creative team had amassed a sprawling set of characters and interwoven storylines that presaged and arguably outdid the kind of world-building made famous by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Publick and Hammer wove together a tapestry of pop-cultural ephemera to tell a story of a generation of men haunted by the expectations of their forebears while at once growing into their own people. It was prestige TV-era storytelling with supersuits, dick jokes, and idiosyncratic charm.
The quality, ambition, and lunacy of The Venture Bros. is almost solely the creation of Publick and Hammer. With the exception of one episode — penned by the pair’s mutual friend/mentor Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick — Publick and Hammer wrote over 80 episodes of the series together over the show’s 16-year run. Polygon spoke to the Venture Bros. creators over Zoom ahead of the release of Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart to talk about what went into the making of the finale, how they decided which questions to answer and which to leave open, and how their particular creative partnership spawned one of the greatest animated comedies of all time.
[Ed. note: This interview was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike against the AMPTP went into effect.]
The Venture Bros.: Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart picks up one week after the cliffhanger of the series’ seventh season, with the Office of Secret Intelligence mounting a nationwide manhunt in search of Hank Venture after his sudden disappearance. Publick and Hammer say the story ideas for the film emerged organically out of ideas they originally had in mind for the series’ eighth season, and ideas tied to long-standing questions they wanted to answer with the show’s finale.
“A lot of what Hank was going through was part of my plan [for season 8],” Publick said. “We weren’t gonna see Hank until like, the third episode of the season, he was gonna be missing. We would’ve had him on the road for a season and he would have really done the High Fidelity thing of looking up what he imagined to be his old girlfriends; he was gonna bother the mail lady again, and he was gonna bother Mary Lou Retton because he had a poster of her and got his first erection watching Mary Lou’s Flip Flop Shop,” Publick laughed. “Everybody’s starting points in the film matched with what we were going to do with the season, and then everything went in a whole new direction.”
For Publick and Hammer, the process of writing Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart — as well as deciding which of the series’ most persistent mysteries to answer — emerged as naturally as if they were writing an episode of the series itself. One of the biggest questions the film addresses is the supposed familial relationship between The Monarch and Dr. Venture, which was hinted at at the end of season 7.
“We would have been punched by every Venture Bros. fan if instead of answering that, we had gone, Here it is, everybody: What happened to the Moppets?” Hammer said. “Like, we knew we had to answer that question. We had a deep understanding of what we wanted this movie to be emotionally, and that’s hopefully what you get when you watch it: It’s a very emotionally well-handled story that answers big enough questions that long-standing Venture fans feel sated. We’ve had 20 years to weave an entire existence for these characters and honestly, if they gave me another 20, I’d tell you what happened to the Moppets, but you’re not gonna like it.”
In paring down the focus of the Ventures’ final outing from that of a full-length season to a feature-length direct-to-video movie, Publick and Hammer committed themselves to telling a story that felt natural, without arbitrarily throwing in characters just for the sake of it.
“There’s no cameos; everything was organic, which I think is The Venture Bros. way,” Hammer said. “We made everything that would otherwise feel improbable feel real and organic, and I’m really proud of that. In the original pitch for The Venture Bros., we wrote it as a live-action six-part movie. We dropped the ball and we did something very different than what we probably should have done. But that’s who we are, and when you have a show piloted by the same two people for an entire run, with no writers room and not a lot of help, with just a belief in each other and a great love for our characters, that’s what happens for the good and bad of it.”
This close creative partnership not only sets The Venture Bros. apart from its Adult Swim contemporaries, but also in the wider field of American adult animation as a whole. When asked about what they admire the most about each other as writers and collaborators, the pair had no shortage of compliments for one another.
Hammer recounts the story of meeting Publick at a party hosted by Ben Edlund, where the two bonded over the most surprising of shared interests — Tomb Raider. “We’re just at a party and we start talking, and the room disappears,” Hammer said. “And all I could see was this person. And every idea that came out of his mouth was brilliant. We talked about the dumbest fucking shit.”
At the party, the two talked about playing as Lara Croft, and how elated they felt when we the playable hero did a handstand on a ledge or was eaten by crocodiles. They were both horrified and fascinated by Tomb Raider — and the mindshare only began there, Hammer continued.
“When we started our friendship, we weren’t writing together; we would just play darts. And the entire time we played darts, we would just be screaming and playing characters that we just invented. And writing was not only effortless with him, it was our language. The fact that if we didn’t do this, it would have been a fucking crime because I’ve been alive a long time and I’ve never met somebody who I could just riff off of like this, and we do it effortlessly.”
When asked what he felt Hammer brought to The Venture Bros. that wouldn’t have existed without him, Publick became visibly introspective and thoughtful before answering. “Doc brings a deeper depravity and a deeper decency than I am capable of,” he said. “I’m great at creating dumb comic book shitheads, but Doc is excellent at picking that up and going, Well, here’s the heart of that motherfucker, and then I go, Oh, OK, now I get the whole thing, and then we just feed off of each other’s ideas in that way. We talk through our scripts. It’s a combination of like, one-upping each other and trying to make each other laugh.”
As far as continuing The Venture Bros. universe in some other format, either as a series of direct-to-video specials or even as an audio drama, both Publick and Hammer remained open to the idea while nonetheless saddened by the series’ premature conclusion.
“It is so sad, we love the show,” Hammer said. “We left for reasons that were out of our control. Would we do it again? Sure. If we never do it again, everything is fine. We love the show more than our fans do, which seems ridiculous, but we do.”