Professor Madblood and the Doppelganger Gambit: April 7-12, 2003

Because every once in a while you’ve got to do a dick joke. This is one of the rare strips that still cracks me up, in this case right around the point of Madblood referring to Helen as “that Circe”–a pretty accurate assessment actually.

And Madblood catapults to a whole new plateau of bad ideas. Even given that he thinks the Dave lifestyle package includes regular sex with Helen, this is obviously a terrible plan. If Helen didn’t already know who he really was, it wouldn’t take her long to catch on. And Madblood would make a lousy henchman.

Still, it’s interesting that Madblood leaps at the opportunity to steal Dave’s life and presumably abandon his own. It suggests that, beneath his theatrical bluster, he’s on the insecure side. In a much later strip (which I wrote at around the same time as this one), Dave bolsters his own ego and works up the nerve to approach Helen by realizing that Madblood, of all people, envies him. And in a much, much later strip, Dave confesses that he always envied Madblood until he realized that he, Dave, was the person he thought Madblood was.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, this is the last in a series of storylines involving Dave undergoing different physical transformations and other people transforming into Dave. In every case, part of the point is to explore what it means to be Dave, what’s fundamental and unchanging about his character. This storyline takes it to an absurd extreme, with multiple Daves and Madbloods running around defending their identities. By the end, I hope, it’s been established who Dave is. In the next storyline, we move on to the second phase: Dave undergoing personal, inner transformations.

Meanwhile, we have yet another joke about Madblood’s height even though he’s not actually that short. Dave’s pretty tall, though. He probably didn’t realize how much he slouches until he saw Madblood walking around in his body looking all tall and imposing.

I like Madblood’s smile in the last panel.

Some folks have noted in the comments that Madblood has an old-school dungeon with iron bars instead of a science-fictional arrangement with lasers or something. I did consider laser bars, but a) they were hard to draw clearly, and b) I wouldn’t have been able to draw characters clinging to the bars as Dave does here. Iron bars are more reliable anyway, although it’s hardly in the nature of mad scientists to worry about things being reliable.

The whole point of this one, of course, is drawing Madblood’s facial expressions. Fortunately, by this point I was really toning down everyone’s eyebrows.

Nuts… for this strip, I had the bright idea of using a black crayon to get a blurred, shadowy effect. It didn’t come out right, and it looked and still looks weird, but I applied the crayon right to the original art so there wasn’t anything I could do to fix it short of redrawing the strip. Which I didn’t do, because I’m lazy.

It’s too bad, since Dave has some nice evil grins in this one. Sigh.

So Helen kinda has a thing for Dave. It was worth doing a five-panel strip to establish it.

As this storyline got longer and longer, I regretted that Helen didn’t play a larger role. She’s relegated to the background of her own strip. Still, Helen’s so powerful that it’s useful to find reasons to take her out of the action. It makes things that much harder for everyone else.

Just about every Narbonic storyline has a strip where the characters pause to revel in how weird and/or unnecessarily complicated things have gotten. I’ve seen Narbonic (and now Skin Horse) described as surreal or absurd, but they always strike me as almost depressingly logical. What I try to do is start from a point of mild deviation from the norm and gradually, ploddingly, build from there until the plot becomes toweringly irrational and you have hamsters in flying islands and whatnot. Daniel Pinkwater’s books Lizard Music and Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars are my touchstones, although I’ll never be a fraction as sublime.

This is one of those weeks where, by the sixth strip, I was tired of drawing backgrounds.

Professor Madblood and the Doppelganger Gambit: Previous, Next

57 thoughts on “Professor Madblood and the Doppelganger Gambit: April 7-12, 2003

  1. *snicker* I guess he did hear.

    It is going to be interesting when Dave gets back to Earth…

  2. (TUNE:  “Goody Goody”, Matty Malneck and Johnny Mercer)

    So, I won’t be standing up for a little while …
    (Woody woody!)
    Yes, I heard what Helen said with her little smile …
    (Woody woody!)
    Yes, I heard her loud and clear,
    And the blood flowed down to here!
    And I know I won’t need Viagra
    For many a year!

    Now I’ll lie awake at night ’cause of what she said …
    (Woody woody!)
    And I guess that Madblood’s planning to make me dead!
    When Helen thought it funny
    To say we humped like bunnies,
    I will never forget!
    Woody woody I get!
    Pretty soon I’m gonna need a moist towelette!

  3. Monday:

    How could anyone dare to think that our virtuous, demure Dave is anything but paralysed with embarassment, indignity and the overall existential horror of his situation? Really, that I must put up with your gutter-minds.

    So Madblood’s futuristic moonbase has a bricks-and-mortar dungeon cell? What a future we live in. The bars aren’t even made of glowing energy!

    • True, the bars are made of actual matter instead of plasma, but look at it this way: 1, it saves on power (which can then be used for more nefarious purposes), and 2, no chance of escape if the power goes out.

  4. @Leon: Well, no! Glowing-energy bars just don’t support the right “gloomy dungeon” ambiance.

    These’ll still give you a jolt if you touch them, but they don’t glow.

  5. I’m much too amused that Madblood fully expects Dave to help him get revenge on… Dave.

  6. I’m an idiot. I never got the joke until now. (Unlike what my opinions on sex might suggest I’m a completely innocent virgin)

  7. Bart Janssens (blackcatmoebius) says: I’m much too amused that Madblood fully expects Dave to help him get revenge on… Dave.

    The really funny part is that he’s probably right. Make the revenge cool enough, and Dave won’t be able to resist pitching in. “But it’d be so cool!” is always Dave’s undoing.

  8. But, but, they’re not iron bars, they’re ferro-composite alloy, unbreakable, rustproof and hollow so you can use them as bendy straws. 🙂

  9. (TUNE: “When I’m Sixty-Four”, The Beatles)

    When I resume my conquest of Earth
    In a few short hours,
    I could be much taller with a husky frame!
    Then that sweet blonde temptress I’ll tame!
    Having free rein in Narbonic Labs,
    Could be rather fun!
    Helen my bedmate;
    Life will be so great
    When I’m six-foot-one!

  10. Tuesday:

    The characters in this webcomic have so little fealty to their birth-bodies. Madblood, Mell, Dr. Pim, Dr. Narbon, drunk Dave, drunk-with-power Dave… ever so eager to cast off their skins like cicadas.

    Madblood supplanting Dave is actually a quite eerie story premise. It’s almost a shame that his will gets cut down so soon, and we don’t get to see it played a shade darker.

  11. I figured he found the iron bar cells left over from the prison in Amazon Women on the Moon or something like that…

  12. I would contend that the “theatrical bluster” is because he’s on the insecure side; that, when he first went mad, there was a period of oh-no-I’m-a-mad-scientist-what-do-I-do, followed by a temporal accident in which he found and latched onto a list of the Mad Scientis t Tropes. Really, about all he’s missing is an Igor.


  13. I figured the iron bars were explainable by that, too, like the flasks of colored fluid. Madblood’s going for “dank dungeon of the evil doctor”, not “Star Trek”. The skeleton of previous occupant probably just hasn’t been installed yet. Or maybe it’s out for cleaning. And the rat is on his lunch break.

  14. And this doesn’t even mention the silliest part of the idea: the invincible clone army that doesn’t look like Madblood any more.

  15. Hmm…I guess I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for so many years that the concept of a moonbase that looks all futuristic on the top level but looks like an early-20th-century jail (or power plant, or refinery) on the lower level(s) doesn’t phase me at all!

  16. I always figured Madblood for the insecure type. For that matter, most mad scientists – both in and outside of the strip – seem to be. Comes with the lab coat, I guess…

  17. Wednesday:

    It doesn’t just copy genes, as evidenced by the facial hair too.

    Now, let me remember… what did Rob and Andy say about this particular paradoxical plot ptwist? …Hm. Oddly enough, I think I prefer Dave’s panel 4 quip.

  18. (TUNE: “Maybelline”, Chuck Berry)

    Mountain Dew!  He’s gettin’ a jones!
    Mountain Dew!  This ache in his bones!
    When it’s nearing, you’ll be hearing moans and groans!

    Infiltrated a lunar base;
    Madblood puttin’ gun in my face!
    He, with glee, turned into me;
    Called up Helen on big TV!
    All of a sudden his face turns grey;
    Caffeine, nicotine save the day!

    Mountain Dew!  He’s gettin’ a jones!
    Mountain Dew!  This ache in his bones!
    And Madblood’s screams are now my new ring tones!

  19. I like Madblood’s not even finishing “What could possibly go wrong?”, which might as well be his motto.

  20. Now the obvious question: How does this work in a reality where Dave never smoke? Since Andrew’s and Wheelchair Dave’s doesn’t convince me; I’m gonna give my own: 

    Mountain Dew adiction! Nuff Said

  21. Artie never showed a craving for Nicotine.  I wonder why not?  Personal inner strength?  Different transmorgrification procedure?  Cartoonist issues? 

  22. It’s actually the pre-aftereffects of the history-change in the making. Thus, we can measure the exact point that the history-change overwrote the present-tense of the comic. (Hint: Not yet)

  23. Thursday:

    There may be no nicotine on the moon, but there are barred cell windows?

    This is so absurdly felicitous that Dave certainly doesn’t deserve credit for it, but whatever. Dave schemes: 3. And one for Madblood for managing to successfully steal Dave’s life for three measly seconds. Madblood schemes: 5.

  24. @Leon: We’ve been discussing this. The window is there for ambiance, because dungeons need barred windows. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it was facing a vidscreen showing a procession to a medieval execution.

  25. (TUNE: “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)”, John Phillips)

    If you’re flying to Madblood’s moonbase,
    Be sure to take a pack of cigarettes …
    You can wave them in his buffoon face,
    Then you can smile and watch him as he sweats!

    Agonizing craving
    Is the thing that’s saving
    Annihilation …
    Though he hates my guts now,
    He must have some butts, wow!
    His desperation
    Is my salvation!

    So if you fly to Madblood’s moonbase,
    You’d better take a pack of cigarettes …
    Though death and doom I’ll very soon face,
    Right now his pain is funny as it gets!

  26. For once, Dave Davenport proves he is the evil peer of any evil mad scientist. 

    I bet there aren’t any nacho-flavored Doritos on the Moon, either.

  27. I like the crayon-shadows. They’re very effective at making Dave look sinister, something he doesn’t manage to pull off very often. He may be evil, but he’s usually too affable to do sinister. (Dave at his most sinister wasn’t even in-panel…)

  28. Yet another reason I prefer to work purely digitally. No matter how badly I screw something up, it’s easy enough to just remove the part of the single layer I screwed up on, and I can experiment without consequence.

    That said, I think the crayon-shadows look great.

  29. The technique with the crayon shadows is very neat.  Trying to get them a little closer to the edge/word balloons in spots might have made them look more realistic, but the effect works.

  30. Having often attempted similar effects with markers instead of crayons, I have to say that the end result looks similar or identical to me. For what it’s worth.

  31. Friday:

    At around panel 2, the reader can freely anticipate one of these two conclusions emitting from Helen, much to her own embarassment: 1) he was sexier than Dave, or 2) he wasn’t as sexy as Dave. Fortuitously for fans of our hero, the latter transpires forthwith. Fortuitously for Helen, Artie pays little attention to chinks in her emotional armour.

    Artie, it must be said, is a man willing to admit his shortcomings – even those shortcomings used for the purposes of a punchline last week.

    Eye crinkles: the most underrated beauty spots?

  32. (TUNE:  “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, The Righteous Brothers)

    He didn’t have that cute little crinkle
    Under his eye …
    And there’s no smell of week-old smoke
    When he walks by …

    He boldly stood at attention!
    (… Lupin … )
    Oh Lupin … you’re not my henchman!

    He lacked endearing habits!
    I said we humped like rabbits!
    Heard Madblood say “Dagnabbit!”
    From the Moon, Moon, Moon …
    We must save Dave soon …
    Whoa-ah-oh-oh …

  33. Being both not a human and as young as he is, it’s not surprising Artie can’t make heads or tails of body language.

    Finally caught up!  Now I can finish Narbonic at the (relatively) leisurely pace of this director’s commentary version! I have to say, Shaenon, you really impress me.  You’re the only webcomic artist more reliable than most newspaper cartoonists in terms of actually producing material.

    And yes, yes, I should probably read it without the commentary first.  Too bad, I’ve suffered too many spoilers already.

  34. Ed, how much time do you spend coming up with Narbonic-themed cover songs to put here in the comments? They’re brilliant… Heh…

  35. This is one of those strips that shows the clear genius of Narbonic.  If you took someone who’d never heard of Narbonic, They could probably tell whether or not they were  going to like the whole thing from this strip alone. 

  36. @kneefers: How long does it take me to write a parody?  Short single verses, like today’s Skin Horse spoof, take about five minutes.  Longer ones that do the whole song (see below) may take 15-20 minutes.

    (TUNE: “That’s Entertainment!”, Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz)

    Not nice!
    Madblood has our device!
    What a knave!
    Turned himself into Dave!
    Fooled his foes!
    (Well, as far as he knows…)
    It’s com-pli-ca-ted!

    Well damn!
    Dave is sure in a jam,
    ‘Cause he thought
    He would surely be caught!
    Yes, and then
    He’d be killed once again!
    It’s com-pli-ca-ted!

    We see
    Helen B
    Working all through the night!
    While near
    To her ear
    Artie huddles with fright!
    Her plans are never airtight!
    ‘Cause without flaws egregious,
    Your lives would be so tedious!

    We’ll unravel this now,
    And address
    This insoluble mess!
    It’s assumed
    Artie thinks that they’re doomed!
    But Helen is not!
    It’s all in her plot
    That’s com-pli-ca-ted!

  37. Wow, Shaenon, you’ve just described my typical thought process quite accurately.  Logic and absurdity: two great tastes that taste great together!

  38. This was also the modus operandi of W. S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan. And, yes, my favorite type of humor as well. When a character’s silly for the sake of zombie robot monkey silliness, who cares? When a character has ridiculous, consistent, bizarre, recognizable motivations, then you’ve got a joke coming.

    Also, 15 minutes, Ed? Man. Somebody’s got an ear for meter/rhyme.

  39. Saturday:

    “Depressingly” logical? One ought to derive great joy in the strength, rigidity and necessity of one’s story’s causation. It is proof positive that you’ve written it the only way it can be written! …And most of those people wouldn’t know the meaning of “surreal” if pickle jar right on his head! He was killed instantly!

  40. “Imagination does not breed insanity.  Exactly what does breed insanity is reason.  Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do . . . it is the pure promptitude of the intellect that is in peril of a breakdown . . . the madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” ~G.K.Chesterton, Orthodoxy

  41. The original “Ghostbusters” also was built up in this deviation-from-normal-but-logical-construction way. So much so that test audiences complained about how Bill Murray didn’t get covered with marshmallow glop like his compatriots did because it was illogical, never mind that the entire situation that led to that was completely ridiculous.

  42. It’s the incremental progress from straightforward (if strange) goal to completely-warped-out-of-reality that makes your work what it is. 

    Whatever that is.


    (wonderful, is what that is, btw).

  43. I showed my husband the week where Helen taunts Madblood with Dave’s sexiness. He said, “I never know what’s going on in this strip.”

    Yeah, weirder me out too. It makes logical sense to me, too, Shaenon.

    Then again, so does Alice in Wonderland.

  44. And… hmm, I thought I’d spotted an inconsistency, but maybe not.

    It struck me that when Dave became Madblood, he smoked even though Madblood didn’t. But when Madblood became Dave, he also got the jones — or at least Dave thinks so (and told Madblood).

    But then, it occurred to me that Dave smoked even as a zombie and a ghost — his habit is entirely separate from the needs of his body. So Madblood is now feeling the lung damage (and maybe addiction) from Dave’s body, with Dave’s help interpreting it, while Dave is smoking from habit and “essence”.

    Though actually, that wasn’t the first thing that occurred to me. The first thought was: Suppose that (perhaps thanks to the later temporal hijinks) Dave’s cigarette habit has developed its own morphic field… it’s capable of parasitizing any Dave-body, but when Dave originally transformed, it just stayed with him for lack of any better host. (Even a reified addiction knows better than to mess with Mell!)

    Excuse me, I need to go out for a smoke….

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