ANIMATION ANECDOTES
November 26, 2021 posted by Jim Korkis

Action Johnny

Suspended Animation #347

Action Johnny [about Dr. Venture]: “I’m the old one, but he looks like he could be my dad.”

Dr. Venture: “That’s because you have more chemical preservatives than a twinkie, and don’t try and tell me that’s not a weave.”

As a huge fan of the original Hanna-Barbera animated series Jonny Quest, I originally approached Adult Swim’s The Venture Brothers television series with some caution but soon became a big fan.

It was obviously much more than a parody of the well-loved adventure series although it had some similar references. The show premiered on August 7th, 2004 and ended October 7th, 2018 after eighty-one episodes and four specials. It is rumored that there will be a direct-to-video feature to be the official finale of the storyline of the series.

The Venture Bros. was originally conceived as a comic book story. Creator Christopher McCulloch realized that his notes were too extensive for a short comics story and proposed that Comedy Central air The Venture Bros. as an animated series, but the network rejected it.

Although the first draft of the pilot script was written in the spring of 2000, the premise was not greenlit until around the summer of 2002 by Adult Swim. McCulloch had not previously considered Cartoon Network because he “didn’t want to tone The Venture Bros. down,” and was unaware of the existence of the network’s late night adult-oriented programming block, Adult Swim.

The series has a wealth of interesting supporting characters and one that caught my attention was Action Johnny (voiced by Brendon Small), who is obviously a parody of Jonny Quest himself. Even though the character appeared in just a handful of episodes over the seven seasons of the series, there was a lot of thought behind the character and his supporting cast.

Like Rusty Venture, Johnny was a former boy adventurer and child star. His life was traumatic, which led to becoming mentally unstable. After his father died, Johnny had been sequestered within a bathysphere, living in isolation and feeding his addiction to narcotics.

Johnny later sobered up, but remained a high strung nervous wreck due to his many psychological issues resulting from his father’s irresponsible parenting. At Rusty Venture’s “boy-adventurer” day camp, he vented to a group of young boys that “fathers are caring and protective men, and I don’t have one of those”.

He also implies that he staged several crimes to spite his father, including the murder of their dog Bandit. When Dr. Z (a parody version of Jonny Quest’s Dr. Zin), the archenemy of Action Johnny, makes a surprise guest appearance, Johnny suffers a nervous breakdown upon seeing his old arch-nemesis.

Creator Jackson Publick said, “Dr.Z is one of my favorite voices to do. I remember trying to get this Asian villain accent, but by way of an aging Jewish show business veteran. The clipped words when he barks an order is the more Asian thing, but when he is warming up to people, he’s all Broadway Danny Rose.

“We imagined Mrs. Z was one of those great dragon-lady femme fatales. She was Dr. Z’s Number 2 for a long time, almost Dr. Girlfriend. Eventually love got the better of him. I think he had a crush on her for along time and they finally got together. She barely speaks English, though, and was voiced by Seth Green. Their living room is based on Hyman Roth’s house in Florida in Godfather II. It’s the last place you expect this major mob mover and shaker to live, but the furniture and swirl patterns are totally taken from that.”

Action Johnny started out as a thinly veiled parody of Jonny Quest but as the producers found out that Cartoon Network actually owned the rights to the Jonny Quest characters, the character became a grown up version of Jonny.

However, Cartoon Network restricted the usage of Action Jonny and the other related characters to avoid any association with the actual Jonny Quest. “The Buddy System” episode is the one where the character had to be called “Action Johnny”

He was next seen in group therapy with several other boy adventurers (a former Wonder Boy, Roboboy and the Hale brothers..a version of the Hardy Boys) and has recovered enough to be functioning, but still going through recovery from his addiction to drugs. His therapist is murdered by the Monarach but Action Jonny blames Dr. Z who goes to Dr. Z’s house but ultimately the conflict is ended peaceably when it is discovered Dr. Z is innocent.

Later, Action Johnny received treatment for his drug addictions at the Sunnylake Retreat where he is visited by Dr. Z who offers Johnny the opportunity to come and live with him as Dr. Z has retired from villainy.

Creator Jackson Publick stated, “Action Johnny is us showing that we’re not just a parody of something and we pretend that thing doesn’t exist; that thing also existed in this world. So here’s what Action Johnny’s like now, a strung-out guy whose fashion cues come from the seventies. He still wears a broad-collared seventies jacket and has a mustache.

“Dr. Venture and Action Johnny would have crossed paths a few times. I’m sure Jonas Sr. and Benton Quest worked together at some point and Action Johnny would have been the older prototype adventurer to the younger Dr. Venture.

“The seventies were not a good period for adolescents and teenagers. There’s a certain kind of shitty seventies teenager, all firecrackers and quaaludes and horrible things, because the culture’s very open but they aren’t old enough for the free-love movement. Drugs are everywhere and their parents are off at key parties and being part of the Me Generation.

“I think Benton Quest and Jonas Sr. would have gotten along. I think Benton’s a standup guy. Jonas Sr. probably would have had professional respect for Benton but thought he was kind of a nerd. Socially, Benton maybe came to a couple of his parties but was awkward and would make ham-handed science puns to try to hit on some beautiful womean and then just stare into his drink in the corner for the rest of the night, while Action Johnny was off bullying Rusty.”

Action Jonny did not appear in many episodes:

Season 1: Ice Station – Impossible (Brock mentioned that he served with Race Bannon on several occasions, regarding the Quest bodyguard as “one of the best”)

Season 2: Twenty Years to Midnight

Season 3: The Doctor is Sin; The Buddy System; Now Museum – Now You Don’t (background cameo)

Season 4: Self-Medication; Operation P.R.O. M (mentioned by Brock as a sex act known as “Action Johnny)

Season 7: The Terminus Mandate

24 Comments

  • I’m probably in the minority, but I’m just not a fan of any modern show that takes beloved creations that were designed for young kids to enjoy, and bastardizes them for cheap laughs or shock value to entertain grown-ups. To me it’s sheer laziness to exploit the equity and goodwill of a classic character by doing a cynical ‘modern take’ on it instead of creating something new.

    I’m in my sixties now, and still remember watching Jonny Quest when it first came out. It was a big deal, and my brothers and I eagerly awaited the show each week. It would be nice if someone created something new for kids that they could enjoy just as much.

    That being said, to each his own – and if these modern ‘updates’ are popular with today’s audiences then, great – I’m glad they enjoy them even if I don’t. These shows will eventually run their course and be forgotten. But they’ll never be remembered with the same fondness as the original shows.

    • The venture brothers is a profound and intelligent show and you’re just a lifeless husk who hasn’t been put in the ground yet.

      • VB was pretty good in the early seasons. After that, meh.

      • Amazing

      • “Calling out curmudgeons”: The nasty tone of the second part of your comment would result in my having less desire to check the series out, if not for more thoughtful comments in the article and later in this thread. But I’m guessing your intent was to show off your “superiority”, not to get people interested in a show you think is good.

    • Yeah you don’t remember they actually did do a newer version in the early to mid seventies, we’re they got rid of some of the older characters, and had put more of a basis on Johnny and hagie. I’m in my sixties also, and I loved the original Johnny quest, and if you remember the show only ran I think like two seasons, and I was bummed out watching reruns all the time because I hadn’t realized the show had been canceled. And as far as the venture brothers go I thought it was hilarious when they brought Johnny back as a heroine addic, and I don’t know what cartoon show it was, but they had shown Race Bannon and doctor quest going through a divorce settlement on who would get custody of the kids

      • It was Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.

    • I’ve been watching The Venture Bros for 17 years now. I live it when they reference old cartoons. I think it’s kind of a show of respect and love and to not forget where they cane from. I am 44 yrs old. I want Season 8!

    • You’re thinking of Rick and Morty. It’s a show about a narcissistic Dr. Brown beloved by narcissists who use the show to justify their social inadequacies.

      Venture Bros. Is an intelligent show, which is probably why Adult Swim cancelled it, not enough dick and ball jokes.

      Anyways, the show does a good job of adulting the old adventure shows without being over the top or perverse. The characters are relatable and witty. If you great up on the old shows, like Johnny Quest, at least try to give this a shot. You might like it

    • The Venture Brothers will be remembered for a long time to come, and it may be remembered longer than Johnny Quest, people may even start to think that Johnny came from it, I’m sure that some already do. I’m sorry that it hurt you in your childhood, but it’s not a bad show just because it did that.

    • I’m in my 30s now, and was a huge fan of the Quest TV movies and reboot series, the Real Adventures, when I was a kid. They were fun to watch as a kid, but if that really happened to you, if you really grew up that way, you would be really messed up.

  • I’ve never seen The Venture Brothers, but “Freakazoid!” had a very funny Jonny Quest spoof called “Toby Danger”. Don Messick, who had played Dr. Benton Quest in the original series, was the voice of Toby’s father. It was his final performance in a cartoon.

    • Yeah, I remember that. I thought that was funnier than this twisted Venture Brothers parody.

  • I would put “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law” at the top of Adult Swim’s riffs on vintage HB / Warner / MGM properties. It sputtered towards the end, but boomers had to love cases like Super Friend Apache Chief suing over a boiling cup of coffee that impacted his ability to, ah, “get large”. “Let’s all go to the mountains!”, Birdman declares when he gets the drift.

  • I can never believe no one thought to do a live-action “Johnny Quest” film while Macaulay Culkin was still young enough to do it. Actually, it would probably be funnier if he did it now that he’s pushing 40. (Where does the time go?)

    “Toby Danger” is hilarious. If only they’d done it in bright 1960s colors instead of those drab ’90s pastels. And if they’d studied Las Vegas a little more to get the backgrounds right.

  • I literally just finished watching Venture Brothers in it’s entirety again. The show is brilliant. Silly enough for low brow stoners who constitute the bulk of Adult Swim patrons to enjoy, but there’s an obvious attempt, a successful one at that, at injecting higher function humor for the smarter crowd. A great recipe for success, and why I have it on my ten best shows ever list. It’s a show worthy of a second gothrough. Sad that it’s in it’s twilight while shows that have been a shameful echo of their once great selves, like Simpsons and Family Guy, continue to shamble on.

    • Well said, friend! I love The Venture Brothers for just that!! I’ve learned quite a bit from Jackson and Doc. It jumps from fart jokes to cerebral seamlessly so, I’ll watch with and without the caption to confirm what I know and what I don’t. I appreciate the vocabulary and their inner and outside of self processing dialogue. It’s hilarious, warm in spite of itself, and populated with characters I’d love to hang with and have similar conversations. More, please?!?

  • I loved the earlier venture brothers at first, but some were along the writing went south, I loved Brock’s character, needless to say I’m sure he was everybody’s favorite, but at some point you started seeing less of him and the writing got a little to soap operish like, they should’ve kept it more like a comic book, and less like a soap opera

  • Old Ben – at Potter’s field. That’s Dr. Quest.

  • Man I can’t believe people get all butt hurt about parody cartoons or their characters.
    I remember watching Johnny Quest reruns as a little kid until they bored the heck outta me.
    This is hilarious. But I do have a dark sense of humor.

  • Can’t wait for the movie. I love this show. The only reason I still keep cable. There’re no other shows that I watch regularly anymore, even though Venture bros are just reruns now, they still make me laugh. Poetic mid life crisis, I love it. And kept getting better every season.

  • Sorry, I’m one of the sick ones. Take every Hanna Barbera, Looney Toons, Charlton characters and turn them into the Suicide Squad! Can’t wait to hear Porky Pig spit out a F- bomb, or Quick Draw McGraw wipe out a village a la Rambo. Was a “Drawn Together” fan, naturally.

    • Yeah, I can name numerous reasons why that’s such a bad idea. And besides, DC already did updates on the Charlton super heroes that they bought.

  • This discussion made me wonder whether MAD magazine ever did a parody of Jonny Quest. So I looked it up, and… no, they never did. A missed opportunity! They could have called it “Jonny Kvetch”!

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