Professor Madblood and the Doppelganger Gambit: January 13-18, 2003

It’s not often Helen uses her womanly wiles as part of a plan. Knowingly, anyway. I guess at this point she thinks she can handle Madblood. We’ll see how that works out.

Helen’s hair keeps changing depending on how much I felt like drawing.

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This one was, of course, a joy to draw. Why can’t my characters always be chibis? The rocket ship they build looks pretty much the same in non-chibi form, actually.

Even better, of course, is the strip a few weeks from now in which TINY SPOILER Madblood also turns out to have an adorable evil plan drawn up. Sometimes he and Helen seem awfully well matched.

I could have done this joke at any point in Narbonic. Somehow it ended up here. It’s one of my favorites. I’m still pretty pleased with myself for coming up with Helen’s ingenious, if ridiculously complicated and disgusting, snot-based communications system and then only mentioning it in one strip. You don’t know how much willpower it takes not to wear the hell out of a great idea like this.

Although I didn’t have a cell phone at the time and still don’t have one now (yes, there’s something wrong with me), at this point in the strip I figured the characters ought to have them. I mean, it was 2003. Mulder and Scully had been running around with the things for ten years. Cell phones kill a lot of suspense in fiction, but you’ve gotta roll with the times. (In Skin Horse, Jeffrey and I avoid this issue by having very few characters with opposable thumbs.)

The more interesting question is how Dave is able to make cell phone calls from outer space and the surface of the moon. Since Dave is the one who provided the cell phones in the first place, my hand-waving explanation is that SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS he’s got them specially modified and the fact that they work is a subtle nod to his latent mad-science abilities.

Also, I couldn’t think of any funny strips about rigging cell phones to transmit from space. This storyline’s eight friggin’ months long as it is; if I explained everything, I’d still be drawing it today.

“The old family antigravity formula” is, presumably, the formula devised by Helen’s ancestress in the Victorian storyline. It’s never clear whether the Victorian story and the regular story take place on the same plane of reality, but here there seems to be some hint of continuity.

What I really like is Helen’s drinky bird.

Later on we meet Dave at age six, and, yeah, he’s a nerdy little kid.

[SPOILERY STUFF] Helen’s casual mention that Dave designed much of the spaceship is pretty major foreshadowing. That aside, I like the way I drew the spaceship. I’ve mentioned this before, but if I had to do Narbonic over I’d try to give each of the mad scientists a distinctive design style. Madblood would be steampunky, Helen’s inventions would all look like toys (her firearms tend to resemble Super Soakers), and Dave’s would recall 1950s pulp sci-fi cover illustrations. This spaceship looks like a cross between a toy and a pulp magazine cover, so it works pretty well as a Helen/Dave coproduction.

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This gag was unconsciously stolen from the episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer goes into space, something I didn’t realize until about two years later. I feel pretty bad about it, but the truth is that all modern comedy is ripped off “The Simpsons.” Just recently I realized that the entire delivery room scene in “Knocked Up” is from the flashback episode where Marge gives birth to Bart. That’s right, Judd Apatow. You’re no better than me.

Anyway, I really like William Blake, as a poet, artist, and nutjob. Artie is quoting his poem An Imitation of Spenser.

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60 thoughts on “Professor Madblood and the Doppelganger Gambit: January 13-18, 2003

  1. Hellen and Lupin.

    Meeting soon.

    She wants to date him.

    What a loon.

    I’ve got a mission!

    And I leave soon!

    I’m gonna go to the Moon…


    It won’t be easy.

    Going to space.

    I’m gonna feel quite

    Out of Place.

    I really feel like quite the Poltroon.

    Don’t wanna go to the Moon.


    Why would I do this?

    Is it Noon?

    I wanna back out!

    Change the tune!

    But it’s just so cool!

    I’m no buffoon!

    That’s why I’ll go

    To the Moon!

    That’s why I’ll go to the Moon…


    To the tune of “Everyone’s gone to the Moon”, 1965, Jonathan King. 

  2. “Lovely but treacherous.”

    Love the third panel… Helen looks so cute when she’s being evil.

    • She looks cute all the time, actually. So does Mell. I’d say their creator is kinda cute too, but she’s married and I don’t want to make her husband jealous. -_^

  3. Monday:

    Helen, opportunist. You could quite possibly just end this episode on panel 2 and leave it at that.

    Though, panel 4 makes me realise that Helen doesn’t play up the megalomania aspect quite as often as she should. Remind me in four months to ask if she ever got a bombastic battle anthem as well.

  4. Helen isn’t all that megalomaniacal by mad-scientist standards. I mean, she’ll take over the world and all if it suits her ends, but she’s more about the SCIENCE!

  5. This is one of my favorite Narbonic strips, both for the chibi art and Mel and Dave’s lines in the last panel.  It just makes me giggle every time I read it.

  6. The rocket in that first panel appears to be propelled by chibi-Dave’s fury… at being drafted into this plan?  Or just at being sent to the Moon while Helen seduces Lupin?

  7. Tuesday:

    There’s gotta be a name for cartoony exposition panels that turn out to be actual diagrams drawn by the characters. It’s another sort of thing that only comics and videogames can pull off.

  8. (TUNE: “With A Little Help From My Friends”, The Beatles)

    What will I do while you fly to the Moon?
    I’ll pretend to be so nice and sweet!
    You’ll run the moonbase, and then pretty soon
    We’ll have the world beneath our feet!

    Yeah, I will rule
    With a little help from my hench!
    Laugh at those fools
    With a little help from my hench!

    Do you need to be evil?
    (I just need ruling the Earth!)
    Really need chibi evil?
    (I’ll laugh with psychotic mirth!)

    Yeah, I will rule
    With a little help from my hench!
    With a little help from my he-eh-eh-eh-ench!

  9. Why doesn’t chibi Helen have glasses. She’d be even more adorable then! Also, angry Dave chibi is incredibly cute. I’m amused that Helen apparently drew him complaining about his treatment at her hands.

  10. Leon:  I seem to recall some stoic no-nonsense girl hero in an Anime liked to explain her plans with adorable crayon drawings.  Think it was Bleach; coulda been Busou Renkin.  Either way, another one for your list.  Of course, Japanese cutesie technology is far ahead of our own.

  11. @ Mike Kozar: “Bleach” is the one you’re thinking of. Rukia draws, Ichigo critiques, hilarity (or violence — or both) ensues…

  12. Fortunately for the international balance of cutesie, the West has its own master of the art in Shaenon. I mean, over in Skin Horse, she managed to make both a stitched-together undead supersoldier and a litter of venomous snakes cute.

    Probably she’s been exposed to secret Japanese kawaii techniques in her day job. 

  13. The funny thing is Dave does understand a lot of the aesthetics of the job as evidenced by SPOILERS the fact he is about to be behind most of the very raygun gothic design of the rocket.  Not to mention the strip a bit later in this arc where he asks to be humored for using NASA style acronyms.

    I think he just knows that since Helen is a mad biologist, most of her ideas hold a high proability of doing something awful to him.

  14. In the revived Doctor Who, the Doctor has taken to modding his companions’ mobile phones to work anywhere in time and space (you can call your mum from a space freigher in the 42nd century). It eventually becomes a plot point when a former companion can’t get through to a mobile she previously left with him.

    This joke, of course, breaks off at just the perfect “Do we really want to know what Helen was going to say next?” moment.

  15. Wednesday:

    The best part of this episode is Dave actually having to plead with Helen. The second-best part is that it reminds us all how very unsettling biology-based mad technologies are than those of the other sciences.

    Silent penultimate panels: 15. I don’t have a cell phone either, if that makes you feel any better.

  16. I have a cell phone, but it stays off all the time, as it’s function is purely to call a tow truck if my car breaks down.

  17. (TUNE: “Mony Mony”, Tommy James & The Shondells)

    Here I go into space unknown, see!
    Staying in contact, phone me, phone me!
    Helen, don’t give me some weird shot, now!
    Semaphore sneeze, you think it’s hot!
    But I think it’snot!

    I say heh!  (Heh!)
    Heh! (Heh!)
    Heh! (Heh!) Heh! (Heh!)
    Heh heh heh!  I’m gonna

    Fly      (phone me phone me!)
    In       (phone me phone me!)
    Space  (phone me phone me!)
    Fool!   (phone me phone me!)
    Walk   (phone me phone me!)
    On      (phone me phone me!)
    Moon  (phone me phone me!)
    Cool   (phone me phone me!)

  18. The interesting side of making cell phone calls from outer space is watching how the system reacts when your phone hits towers in S.F., T.H., and N.Y.C. at the same time.

    Heh. Joss Whedon used this trope in Dollhouse (woot!) when they SPOILERS take Mr. Dominic out of the attic and put him in Victor to open the “mission impossible” thumbdrive they think is a communication from NSA. He looks at them like they’re idiots and says “We don’t comminucate like that. We have phones.”

  19. You’d think someone of my vintage would have the impulse to answer a cellphone, if any at all, “Kirk here.” But no; mine was always, “Mulder.” It seems to have gone away, but I won’t rest easy until my first cellphone that doesn’t flip open.

    • I hear it’s even harder when you have a ringtone that sounds like the communicators from Star Trek…

      Of course, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a sound clip of the HAL 9000 saying “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” as the error message on his computer. ^_^

  20. It just assumes that if you’re desperate enough to be using it in the first place, your message is: “HELP!”

  21. When this was running for the first time, had Nicorette and Nicoderm come out in America yet?  Casual googling indicates the patch was invented in Switzerland (during the 60s!).

  22. Thursday:

    You’d think that Dave meeting up with a Ghost of Helens Past would have already verified the connectivity of present and past, but the implicit unresolved conflict between Victorian and modern astrophysics, and the quite understandable assertion that the afterlife scarcely counts as ‘reality’, lend some doubts to the theory. But we all know it’s true. It has to be!

    Let’s not dwell too much, though, on the implications of the family artificial-gravity formula applying to both past and present.

  23. Dave built an awfully fast ship.  It took us about three days to go a quarter million miles.  ‘course, NASA had a few extra safety features.

  24. (TUNE: “Safety Dance”, Men Without Hats)

    You can go to the Moon now!
    You can hop a ship and fly!
    But if you smoke up there,
    You’ll use up you air,
    And you’ll … very likely die!

    First we get rid of Madblood!
    When we go, he won’t be there!
    Then you can fly through space
    And land at his base
    And then … infiltrate his lair!
    (Then you can smoke!)

  25. The Apollo missions were coasting in free-fall almost the entire way, which is why it took so long. (Because Freefall’s pacing is so slow, you see.) It’s plausible (not possible, but plausible) that this gravitic-drive ship Helen and Dave come up with is capable of making the trip under constant boost. If it can maintain 1 g acceleration, with turnover at the halfway point, it could make lunar orbit in about 3.5 hours.

  26. What amazing timing you have Shaenon.  NASA is set to launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter today, (5:12 PM EDT).  How did you manage to synchronize your comic to that launch, More than 5 years in advance? 

  27. Shaenon: This storyline’s eight friggin’ months long as it is; if I explained everything, I’d still be drawing it today.

    And I would be a happier man.  😛  It bummed me out when you ended Narbonic, especially since it pretty much ended on my birthday. 🙁

  28. Friday:

    What I want to know, out of all things, is how they’re going to launch that spaceship from an underground base with only one surface egress. Presuming from the existence of windows, it’s gone without mention that this is inside some unmentioned hastily-constructed above-ground shelter?

    The one I made you promise to keep quiet about“? Weren’t the previous few week’s episodes predicated on how futile Artie’s silence is?

    Of course, you might notice that this is just a reprise of the very same “Mell and large weapon are missing” joke from the previous storyline, and you might well attribute today’s episode to a case of mental degradation on the part of our hard-working author. As it actually turns out, Mell’s absense today is the precedent for a forthcoming event – albeit an event that also happened in the last storyline.

    Obligatory Nonsense Speculation: given that Helen’s a biologist, I have to wonder what kind of “plasma” the cannon shoots.

  29. (TUNE: “Every Breath You Take”, The Police)

    Ev’rything that’s shot
    And then left to rot …
    If you’re now red-hot,
    If the farm you’ve bought,
    We’ll be blaming Mell!

    Oh, what’s that smell?
    Something stinks like hell!
    You can hear her yell,
    “Mimes just don’t burn well!”

    To our great dismay,
    Getting worse each day,
    Through the coming years
    All our greatest fears
    Will be based on Mell!

  30. “The one I made you promise to keep quiet about”? Weren’t the previous few week’s episodes predicated on how futile Artie’s silence is?

    Well, yes, Leon. This is what we in the business call a joke.

  31. I used to think “They’re having a wonderful vacation” was needless anthropomorphism regarding the gun…  Now I realize…  HELEN made the gun.

  32. So, Ms. Garrity, is that going to be your next Narboniverse-related project after the “Director’s Cut” runs to completion? A thorough re-drawing of the series in line with your “Original Vision”? Eh?

  33. So, Ms. Garrity, is that going to be your next Narboniverse-related project after the “Director’s Cut” runs to completion? A thorough re-drawing of the series in line with your “Original Vision”? Eh?

    • Well, if it worked for George Lucas…

      Then again, would that mean that we fans would then have to shout “Mell shot first!”?

  34. Saturday:

    Perhaps the best attribute of Helen’s chosen lair is the lack of witnesses to such things as rocket launches and satellite crashes.

  35. Well, yes, Leon. This is what we in the business call a joke.


    (Helen should still have known better.)

  36. (TUNE: “Shake, Rattle, And Roll”, Big Joe Turner)

    Well, pack up your henchman, and launch him into space!
    His buttocks will clench, man, while launching into space!
    Then back inside, at a casual walking pace …

    Well, it’s Blake, Scrabble, and stroll!
    Well, it’s Blake, Scrabble, and stroll!
    Well, it’s Blake, Scrabble, and stroll!
    Well, it’s Blake, Scrabble, and stroll!
    In a day or two,
    The Earth I will control!

  37. It’s a great feeling to walk into a real estate office and say, “I’m looking for a quiet little place – near a power substation would be nice – where the neighbors won’t get all annoyed about occasional sonic booms, 300-foot pillars of flame, and possibly some occasional ball lightning…. ” Seriously. You should try it. The kicker is that most of them will be unfazed and give you a referral. You see, there are real estate dealers who specialize in that sort of thing. You can buy anything from an old missile base to a bald mesa in the middle of nowhere if you know where to look.

  38. (Groans mightily at Ed’s filk.)

    Incidentally, according to the entirely noncanonical Narbonic Ditch Day Stack, Beta’s not the first Narbon to think of hiding a message n someone’s genome. The players seemed to like that puzzle…

  39. Oddly enough, through most of Narbonic, the main Madjobs all do have unique styles– Or close enough.


    Helen– Primarily cute, neutral-looking pods, gerbil-based everythng, and super-soaker esque ray guns.

    Helen Sr.– The one thing we see that is definitely hers throughout the story, apart from her lairs (old gothic / puzzle mansion, both approrpriate) is built from someone elses plans– And looks entirely generic.

    Madblood– Definitely has a noir-and-Xpunk-sci feel going, along with 60s-forward bases and servants, and narcissistic robots to boot.

    Dave– The things we see are, more or less, all pre-maddening, and end up with a distinctly sleek design and lack of ornamentaton that screams Pulp and Efficiency, which both seem to be watchwords for our man Dave.


    And now to revel in a little bit of Magic geekery– I am so used to it that I nearly typed Watchwolves up in the last line.

  40. I just love that no matter the time period, giving Dave a chance to go to the moon instantly gets him on-board with your mad plans.

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