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