I’ve always been a DC guy more than a Marvel guy. What keeps me with the Distinguished Competition is also what keeps vexing DC’s attempts to create a universe capable of being translated to movies, TV shows, and even into ‘modern’ comics themselves: legacy.
In the DC universe I grew up with (the early ’90s to mid/late ’00s), characters knew that they were more than just superheroes; they were parts of legacies that traced back pre-World War II. They represented ideas. People (wrong people) think Superman is boring because he has so many physical strengths. But “being Superman” isn’t about punching out Metallo as hard as you can. It’s about being that shining beacon of goodness, decency, and hope that others all hopefully want to strive toward. It’s about building a better future.
In “Careers in Science,” we are introduced to the Venture-verse version of that ideal: Jonas Venture Sr. His legacy casts a shadow over almost every hero and villain in this show. Old arch-enemies talk about him in awe. Super scientists see him as the pinnacle of their profession. To Rusty Venture, however, Jonas Sr. was just his dad. He was a pair of boots Rusty would never be big enough to fill. Instead of pushing his legacy on to the next generation, Jonas Sr. instead used his great mind only to make his own life more pleasurable.
Jackson Publick mentions in Go Team Venture!: The Art and Making of The Venture Bros. that he had been reading a lot of Tom Swift in the run-up to the creation of the show. For those that aren’t familiar, the character of Tom Swift was yet another creation of the Stratemeyer Syndicate — the publisher of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and more. Interestingly enough, the original Tom Swift young boy adventure books were published in the ’20s and ’30s. When Stratemeyer brought the concept back in the ’50s, they created Tom Swift Jr., the son of the original Tom Swift. Tom Jr. was little more than a copy of his father but was always in his shadow. This familial relationship was taken almost word for word for the characters of Jonas Sr. and Rusty Venture.
As we’ll later learn in the series, Jonas wasn’t the paragon of virtue and exceptionalism he presented to the world. Rusty is both traumatized by his father’s behavior while also exploiting his legacy for as much financial gain as possible. However, Rusty’s also fixing his father’s problems. Rusty has to fix whatever problem is setting off the problem light on Gargantua-1. Rusty has to deal with the Guild of Calamitous Intent threats that his father helped to create. Rusty has to fix the damaged mind his father burdened him with. Jonas’s legacy is just as selfish and problematic as Rusty’s. The only difference is that Jonas was able to finish building his legacy.
“Careers in Science” starts with two anachronisms. The first is a filmstrip showing the images of what Gargantua-1 should have been, if it ever was that. The filmstrip shows Gargantua-1 – the 8th Wonder of the World – as how Jonas intended it. It’s a bustling metropolis and science laboratory orbiting the Earth from high in space. The space station is where new and groundbreaking scientific discoveries are supposed to happen. Busy men and women (ok, mostly men) set about their days on the station to make the world a better place in film slides. There’s a Silver Age (to use comics parlance) or Space Age optimism to the idea of a self-contained manmade space station.
The second anachronism is Gargantua-1 itself. Like on our Earth, space travel has seemingly been forgotten by the common man. It’s sadder in the Venture-verse than it is for us. In the Venture-verse, there are super scientists left to continue on Jonas’s plans. But no one has really dreamt of going back into space since Gargantua-1, it seems. (Aside from the Guild’s asteroid base Force Majeure, outer space seems forgotten to the Ventures until Jonas Jr. launches Gargantua-2 in season 6.) To Rusty, Gargantua-1 should have “follow[ed] Skylab” in crashing to the Earth.
Rusty, Brock, Hank, and Dean find Gargantua-1 all but abandoned. None of the great experiments are taking place there anymore. The only souls aboard are the hopelessly naïve Colonel Bud Manstrong and the disillusioned Lieutenant Anna Baldovich. For lack of anyone else around, the two astronauts have coupled up, although their relationship seems anything but romantic. Manstrong’s a momma’s boy, unable to make any decision without contact from his mother, which prevents him from doing anything sexual with Baldovich. Lt. Baldovich’s anger at not being touched by the only man in orbit causes her to immediately latch onto Brock when Team Venture arrives.
Col. Manstrong’s very much a child in a man’s body. Like Gargantua-1, he’s filled with optimistic ideas but stuck somewhere where he can’t do anything with them. His mind has curdled. He tries to murder Brock once he finds out Brock has “plucked the flower” of Lt. Baldovich. For this, he’s almost certainly trapped in space and left to die due to an errant rocket thrust. (A later episode shows he does manage to make it back to the station alive.)
Speaking of the dead, before he wears the cuckold’s horns, Manstrong tells Hank and Dean of the Phantom Spaceman of Gargantua-1. This Phantom Spaceman was responsible for killing much of the station’s crew during a screening of Sharkey’s Machine decades prior. Sure, the audience would learn more about that night in season 7, but to Hank and Dean’s naive minds, there’s nothing as exciting as a mystery about a ghost and an astronaut. The legend of Phantom Spaceman is literally and figuratively another ghost aboard Gargantua-1. The Movie Night disaster looms large in Venture lore, but, in this episode, it also can be a turning point for the entire space station project. While I don’t know for sure, I can imagine that losing so many crew members in one incident lead to the downfall of Gargantua-1. Space Age optimism doesn’t mean much when there’s a chance you’ll be killed during your downtime.
Rusty has to face his fears of his father for the first time in series history, with either a head accident-caused hallucination or actual ghost haunting by his father. While Ghost Jonas berates Rusty for not living up to the standards he planned for him, Rusty counters back by describing the insane pressure put on the only son of Jonas Venture. Rusty just wanted to be a normal kid with a normal childhood. By episode’s end, we know that a normal childhood toy would be the downfall for Gargantua-1. Rusty’s in this life from the moment he was born.
Doc Hammer was a friend of Ben Edlund’s around the time of The Tick. He and Chris McCulloch (later Jackson Publick) met at a party thrown by Edlund after Jackson described the scene of the Monarch’s henchman stuck in the false asteroid he was going to use in The Venture Bros. pilot. The two hit it off and eventually Publick rented out a desk in Hammer’s painting studio (aka the “Astrobase.”) Hammer had written with Edlund a little but, aside from really hammering out (pun!) the idea of the show over time with Publick, Hammer was mostly involved with helping Publick with the technical parts of putting together the show.
“Careers in Science” was supposed to be joint-written by both Edlund and Hammer, but Edlund was unable to write the script before being called out to work on another project. (Based on the timeline, it was most likely Angel.) This left Hammer alone to write his first TV script. His previous “writing” experience was pitching ideas to Edlund. Now, “the painter” was responsible for writing the second episode of a TV series – the second episode is usually where the show succeeds or fails. However, Hammer managed to teach himself how to write a script (based mostly on “how to write a script” books) and out came “Careers in Science.” Hammer’s still down on the episode and wrote season seven’s “Arrears in Science” as a way to retroactively make this episode worthwhile.
Continuity & Foreshadowing:
- This episode has the first appearance of Jonas Venture Sr., Giant Boy Detective, and Col. Bud Manstrong. Lt. Anna Baldavich appears just in this episode but is referenced in “Guess Who’s Coming to State Dinner?” Bud Manstrong’s mother is mentioned but won’t appear in the flesh until that aforementioned season 2 episode.
- True to Rusty’s prediction, Gargantua-1 does crash to Earth in the near future.
- This is also the first appearance of the infamous “Movie Night.” Col. Manstrong’s account of that night is different than Blue Morpho/Vendata’s in Season 7. Manstrong alludes that it was Phantom Spaceman who lured everyone to the hanger, while Blue Morpho claims it was Jonas Sr. responsible for getting everyone onboard to watch Sharkey’s Machine in the hanger.
- There are also some retcons regarding the problem — or should I say “Pro. B.L.E.M” light. Here, Doc’s able to fix it by removing his old melted toy from some of the wires. In Season 7, the light is flashing because the mind of Jonas Sr. is trying to communicate with Doc.
Dr. Venture: “Who lets a 10-year-old build a space station?”
Dean: “Wait, I see him! And it looks like he’s wrestling someone!”
Hank: “Shove over!”
Both: “PHANTOM SPACEMAN!”
Hank: “That’s it, Brock. Pace yourself. Conserve your energy.”
Dean: “What the? What’s he doing with his…?”
Hank: “Think about it bro! What other weapon does he have? He needs his hands free…for…stuff…”
Dean: “Uh oh. Phantom Spaceman somehow got on top! That’s it, Brocko. Shake him off!”
Hank: “What did Dad ever do to Phantom Spaceman? Phantom Spaceman’s a big fat jerk.”
Lt. Baldavich: “What’s gotten into you?”
Col. Manstrong: “Got into me! I know what got into you! And that’s what got into me!”
Lt. Baldavich: “You don’t deserve to be jealous. I gave you every chance in the world.”
Col. Manstrong: “I’m not jealous. I’m pissed! You said you were going to wait til…”
Lt. Baldavich: “No! You said we were going to wait! I don’t have to take this.”
Col. Manstrong: “That’s because you already took it! In the…lap…from not me!”