Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bold venturing

It's no secret that Hunter S. Thompson had a bone to pick with Garry Trudeau over his representation as Uncle Duke in Doonesbury.

Thompson also was the model for the character of "Uncle Duke" in the "Doonesbury" comic strip. But Thompson strongly disliked the characterization, once telling an interviewer that he would set "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau on fire if the two ever met.

In later years, however, Thompson said he had made peace with the "Uncle Duke" portrayal.

"I got used to it a long time ago," he told Freezerbox magazine in 2003. "I used to be a little perturbed by it. It was a lot more personal ... It no longer bothers me."

And why not? Duke initially appeared in the strip as a fun-loving train wreck who wrote whacked outjournalism: a fair representation overall. But from the character's installation as governor of Samoa, he became increasingly tied to dictatorial power and Blackwater-style mercenaryism. Thompson was a true-blue Nixon hater, and had a sharp eye on the abuse of power, so as a character a clef Duke was pretty wide of the mark.

So what would Thompson react to Hunter Gathers, another character based on him, appearing a couple of times so far on The Venture Bros ? Hard to say. Gathers is a deranged spit and polish secret agent who teaches psychopathic regular Brock Sampson (given likeably dry voicing by Patrick Warburton) in the ways of the assassin/field agent, is an over-the-top shitkicker. He also winds up getting gender-reassignment surgery. On the whole the character arc is so hallucinatory I think the doctor would have to approve.

I got the season two DVD of Venture recently, and I have to say I'm enjoying it a lot. As with season 1, the hand-drawn animation is consistently top notch, even if the stories are hit-and-miss. The latter is probably related to the former, as it may take time for the creators to figure what they can draw well within budget and time constraints. But at the point the hits far outweigh the misses. The lead characters of Dr Venture--a venal and selfish super-scientist--and his weak reed sons remain compelling. And I'm now finding it easier to accept Dr Girlfriend as a woman, even if she does have the voice of a Jersey loading dock foreman.

My favorite episode of the series may be "¡Viva los Muertos!" There's a lot going on in it. Doctor Orpheus, a Doctor Srangely necromancer with a tan, has a South American guru giving his party the Castaneda treatment. Meanwhile the Mystery Machine rolls up, but the riders aren't the nice Scooby gang. No, Fred's a manipulative cult leader, Velma quotes The SCUM Manifesto, and while Shaggy does talk to the dog, he hears much the same thing Son of Sam did.

Of course semi-obscure pop references are all over the place in animation. Much of it ("South Park", "Family Guy") also goes for "Oh no they di'nt!" on a regular basis. But there's an extra level of satire here. Venture has created a zombie from an intruder Brock killed. He needs to make this zombie more docile and pliable to his commands. So he puts the stiff in a "learning bed" and shows him... a WTO-produced prop film promoting child labor.

It may not exactly be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but it's pretty ballsy humor.

No comments: