The second season of Adult Swim's The Venture Bros. surpasses its first in nearly every way. The first season introduced us to the Venture universe, which is occupied by hilarious characters who never cease to reach new levels of incompetance. Many of the episodes were laugh-out-loud hilarious that remained so throughout the entire half hour. So if season 1 was taht good, yet this year is so much better, that really says something to the quality of season 2.
The precredits sequence of the season premiere, "Powerless in the Face of Death", is amazing to watch, though some of its power may be lost on DVD. There was a 2-year gap between seasons 1 and 2, and season 1 ended with the deaths of Hank and Dean Venture, the title characters. In the hiatus period, there was a lot of speculation of how the show would go on (Dr. Thaddeus Venture and his brother Jonas Venture, Jr. would be the new Venture Bros., Dr. Orpheus would ressurect them, Dr. Venture would clone them, Dr. Venture would use the Grover Cleveland time machine to save them), and it would be an understatement to say that fans were eagerly awaiting to see what happened next. Set to the tune of the song Everybody's Free, the opening sequence is a montage of the various major characters, reminding us where they were left and how they are dealing with their various situations. Dr. Orpheus is still upset about the boys' deaths, for which he blames himself, the Monarch is still in prison while Dr. Girlfriend appears happy, if somewhat bored, living with Phantom Limb, and the Mondarch's henchmen have nowhere else to go after blowing up the Coccoon lair. Pete White and Master Billy Quizboy have fitted Jonas with a robotic hand replacing his deformed chicken-wing-like appendage. Meanwhile, it appears that Dr. Venture hasn't been coping well with his sons deaths. He steals the X-1 jet, forcing his bodyguard Brock Samson to go on a global hunt for the good doc.
By the end of the first episode, we find out the creepy truth about the Venture Bros, which was heavily hinted at in the first season. From there the 13 episodes of the season, with possibly one exception, are superb. One thing I liked this year was that there was a little more of an overarching story to the season. The first year had episodes that were pretty much all stand-alone stories, which work with a show like the Venture Bros., but I'm a huge fan of serialized story-telling, and when I started to see developing stories at the end of season 1, I was really excited. The season's arc actually has to do with the villains, though. It is about the Monarch's quest to get Dr. Girlfriend back from Phantom Limb. The first two episodes of the season show how he escapes from prison and begins to rebuild his influence. Throughout the season, episodes like "Victor. Echo. November." and "I Know Why The Caged Bird Kills" show the hilarious journey that the Monarch takes to win back his love from a vastly superior villain.
Still, there are plenty of stand-alone episodes. In my opinion, no other Venture episode embodies that idea so well than "Escape From the House of Mummies, Part II". The episode satirizes multi-episode stories, as there is no Part I, but it also pulls a huge trick by switching around the A and B stories. While the story of Hank, Dean, and Brock's journey through a cursed temple accompanied by various historical figures would normally be the focus of the episode, it is merely the backup story that supplements the story of a silly bet between Dr. Orpheus and Dr. Venture over whether magic or science is superior. "Twenty Years to Midnight" is a great example of parody of adventure tales, with the Venture family trying to track down various pieces of a machine built by Hank and Dean's grandfather. The Impossible family, a wonderfully twisted parody of the Fantastic Four, show up to make things more difficult for the Ventures, and a cameo by Johnny Quest (the main influence of the show) make for an amazing episode. Nearly every episode was phenominal (with the exception of "Guess Who's Coming to State Dinner?", which even the creators kind of agree with), from "Fallen Arches", which introduces Dr. Orpheus' old team to "Hate Floats", which features a team-up of Phantom Limb and Brock.
The season ends with the 2-part extravaganza "Showdown at Cremation Creek", which completely changes the status quo for the next season. There is a wedding, a huge battle led by Brock and soldiered by the Monarch's henchmen, a bizarre fantasy sequence involving Dean filling in the role of the lead in The Neverending Story, and David Bowie! It ends with a great cliffhanger, though after having the title characters die, it would be hard to match the season 1 cliffhanger.
While there are plenty of crazy situations, the show wouldn't be half of what it is without the amazing characters. With few exceptions, everyone in the Venture universe is somehow a failure. Dr. Venture is utterly incompetant as a "super-scientist" despite what he believes, his sons are oblivious to nearly everything in life (Dean and Hank think that an erection is caused by evil spirits), and Brock, though a great bodyguard, has no self-control. The Monarch and his henchmen can barely do their "jobs"; the Monarch is jealous, weak, and unable to understand why people can't get anything done, while his henchmen are out of shape nerds who quiver at the words "Brock Samson". Though Dr. Orpheus is a competant necromancer, he is a know-it-all workaholic who drives away the people he cares about.
Most guest stars from season 1 returned, including the Pirate Captain, the Impossibles, Peter White and Billy Quizboy, Baron Underbheit, and the Impossibles. All of these characters were loved by fans, and were effectively used this year as well. But there were plenty of new characters this year that quickly became fan favorites as welll. Personally, I really want to see more of Jefferson Twighlight and The Alchemist, the two other members of Dr. Orpheus' group the Order of the Triad. Twilight is a parody of Blade and the Alchemist is a gay monk who can't really decided what to do with his life (voiced by Dana Snyder of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). Dr. Henry Killinger is a hilarious "consultant" whose true purpose is better left to be found out while watching. Finally, there was the strange Observor from "Twenty Years to Midnight", whose catchphrase "IGNORE ME!" was incredibly funny every time it was spoken.
Despite one misstep, this is a great season of animated television. Many shows on Adult Swim's lineup (that were created for AS) look awful; the animation and/or plot appear to be worth almost nothing, but the Venture Bros. is at the other end of the spectrum. Despite being underrated, it is one of the funniest cartoons I've ever seen, ranking up there with South Park and The Simpsons.