Professor Madblood and the Everlasting Ices of the North: July 17-22, 2006

This is the first and, if I remember correctly, only time Madblood confirms that he created Foot. This is the kind of thing that’s important to me and possibly no one else. Also, note that Madblood is a pretty major mad scientist. He’s not always out making a fool of himself in front of Helen and her staff.

Artie’s communication rig is totally boss.

Frankly, this strip is pretty great, but it’s especially great for Madblood’s faces. Look at his little pout! Ha!

And yes, by this point in the strip almost everyone has gotten fed up with Helen.

I felt bad about making Madblood more or less the buttmonkey of this storyline (and, arguably, the entirety of Narbonic), so I resolved to give him at least one strip to be cool in. And here it is. I worked hard on his little speech. He even takes off his glasses so you know it’s serious.

Of course, Madblood’s one cool moment has serious consequences re: Dave’s mental stability, but that’s a problem for a later strip.

I wrote this one early. I had to cut a fair amount of dialogue in the final strip; I had lots of clever ideas for things Dave’s new sprite could say.

The sprite has deely-bopper antennae! That is so correct.

And this one was written very late in the game. I like the way it turned out, especially Lovelace’s irritation with Dave’s persistent feelings for Helen. That’s always a frustrating situation, even without all the evil.

In the original thumbnail, I put the phrase “when that fool laughs at me” in my curlicued “madness” font. I didn’t have room to do it in the final strip, plus I decided it would be better to make the line more subtle. Did I choose wisely…or poorly? YOU DECIDE.

Okay, this is it. The strip where I was extra-special clever and amazing, and all I had to do to pull it off was draw Dave with frosted-over glasses for six damn years. So worth it.

As long as I’m feeling cocky, I feel I should point out that the backwards text in the third panel forces you to read more slowly, drawing out the reveal and also delaying the revelation of Dave’s eyes. ALL INTENTIONAL. BECAUSE I AM GREAT.

I could’ve done a better job on Lovelace’s hands, though. Oh well. Still worth it.

Professor Madblood and the Everlasting Ices of the North: Previous

59 thoughts on “Professor Madblood and the Everlasting Ices of the North: July 17-22, 2006

  1. I don’t know… the more time we spend over on St. Charlie over at “Skin Horse,” the more I wonder if “pretty major mad scientist” and “fool” aren’t more or less synonymous anyway…

  2. Monday:

    I appreciate that Madblood’s relationship to his failed downscaled creation gets at least a sentence of screen-time.

  3. “Artie’s communication rig is totally boss.”

    Which ’50s-era breakfast cereal box-top did he have to send in to get it?

  4. (Dave fires missle at Helen)

    Helen: Dave!  Did you miss me?

    Dave:  Yes, let me correct my aim and try again …

  5. It is an amazing speech, and I wonder if he ever realized that he was a fool who laughed.  

    Also I’m not sure we ever saw this sort of stuff come out of Helen, possibly because her fields of expertise and Dave’s didn’t really overlap.  

  6. Wednesday:

    I appreciate that as this endgame storyline gets increasingly tense, the degree of dramatic posing and limelight-seizing ramps up as well. The characters sense on a subconscious level that this is their last curtain call.

    I really like the imagery of a mind that “opens to the sky” – more than just the Frankenstein movie image, it’s a picture of a mind without limits, that ascends ever upward until it’s among the gods themselves… and yet is also incomplete, inhospitable, self-injurious.

    (And soon I recall Madblood will deliver another sparkling analogy. He may be a foolhardy antagonist, but Madblood is the only genius in the strip who can describe his condition with outright poetry.)

  7. (TUNE: “Deck The Halls”, traditional)

    Mock the fools with howls derisive!
    For his madness is incisive!
    To the sky, his thoughts are zooming!
    Earth to rule, and hamsters dooming!

    Madblood’s mind is steel and lightning!
    Hear him laugh, it’s truly fright’ning!
    But what he will soon have seen is
    He’s the fool who laughed at genius!

  8. At this point, Madblood is unquestionably a fool laughing at Dave. Since he is a professor somewhere, does that make him a Fool at the Institute laughing at Dave? Does his Von Boom grant him membership in the Institute?

  9. I used Madblood’s rant here as my Voice Mail message for like a year, until everyone complained that it was too long.

  10. Yeah, I don’t think Helen ever does say stuff like this.  Partly because for most of the strip she knows what a bad idea it would be to trigger Dave this way, but mostly because it’s just not how she operates.  If Dave objected to something she wanted to do, she might ignore him, or force him, or tempt him by reminding him of how cool it would be, but she wouldn’t laugh at him and say he was stupid for having an opinion.  She wouldn’t do it to Mell or Artie, either.  Helen’s equivalent of this speech is that bit at the end of Doppleganger Gambit where she lets Mell realize how she took Mell down without appearing to do anything; she doesn’t just say what a genius she is, she demonstrates.

  11. “My mind is steel and lightning and opens to the sky.” Brilliant. Sheer poetry.

    I’m pretty sure he DOES realize later on exactly what he’s done here, though. As much as the poor Professor is the buttmonkey of the strip, he’s got his moments of really impressive clarity.

  12. Trying too hard, sprite. If you’d just suggested a good death-raying, he would likely have gone with it without thinking twice.

    • It’s the breakthrough – when you first go mad, you always go big. And for Dave, a death ray isn’t big. It was like the second thing he did at Narbonics.

    • Latent Malign Hypercognition Syndrome. In plain English, it’s sort of a non-differentiated insanity brought on by being way smarter than most people, and thus able to perceive reality without the blinders that you humans normally view the world through.

      “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” –H.P. Lovecraft.

  13. Thursday:

    The personality sprite thing was really quite sparingly used (only, as of this one, 21 strips in 6 years) compared to other 2000’s webcomics. Bringing the concept back just for this one lead-up strip does a good job of briefly transforming this silly trope into something horrifying, something hideous. The original good/evil personality sprites are metaphors for God and Satan whispering in your ears, and this new sprite of Madness transcends them both – amoral, alien, a new God inside your head.

  14. (TUNE: “My Heart Belongs To Daddy”, Cole Porter)

    When Helen split,
    I had to quit …
    I just couldn’t deal with the sadness …
    But my new boss
    Is mocking my loss,
    So my mind breaks through to Madness!

    Now Madblood there
    Within his lair
    Is planning some organized badness!
    He called me “fool”!
    That’s really uncool,
    So my mind breaks through to Madness!

         Yes, my mind breaks through to Madness!
         This is now the last straw!
         Now my mind breaks through to Madness!
         Bwa ha ha!  Bwa ha ha!  Bwa ha ha!

  15. I wanna know how the nanobot thing would work. I mean, would they bring the metal in with them and somehow hold it in abeyance until the command is given? Would the material come from the outer parts of the organs? Would they just summon it?

    Also, isn’t “nanorobotic virus” at least implicitly redundant?

    • Presumably they would absorb metal molecules from everything Madblood touches, using them to replace other molecules in his body one by one until he was fully metallic.

      And no, “nanorobotic virus” is not redundant; it’s simply the non-portmanteau version of “nanovirus”.

  16. Jon, when I read it I assumed it would use some kind of fusion.  I don’t know where the waste heat would go, but maybe it wouldn’t matter too much, given the goal of the conversion.

  17. @Rob: I though so too, at first. But most of Dave’s sprites have always had clear glasses. See these two weeks for instance.

    Did this sprite just come into existence now, or has it been lurking in Dave’s subconsciousness all this time?

  18. Carry the metal? Fuse the metal?

    Please. This is Dave we’re talking about.

    All the robots would need to do is teleport the metal in and teleport the living cells out.

  19. Friday: It would be fitting for the word “laughs” to be in the madness font, since you used it in the June 7 strip, but back then the focus was on the laughter itself.  Also, the other times that Dave speaks in the curlicue font he is making statements that are much more emphatic than this one.  Here, using the normal font keeps the focus on Helen and the breakup, leading up to tomorrow’s revelation.

  20. Friday:

    I like this strip. A nice, extremely protracted pause, focusing the attention back on Dave, in a spare room.

    To figure out why that relationship died, he needs to know what it was. Was it really just love, or did something else force it apart? And what could that something be if the only affected people were Helen and Dave?

  21. I agree with Ed. Keeping it subtle makes the final reveal that much more impactful for both Dave and the reader.

  22. Yup, good choice to tune it down between yesterday–when we, the audience, see what’s coming–and tomorrow, when it hits Dave like a brick.

  23. I, too, agree that the subtlety works out really well. Even if it was an accident of happenstance, it was a great accident which made the big reveal all the more strong.

    Oh, and I love how the madness sprite’s glasses are clear. Great visual foreshadowing there.

  24. @fluffy: I’ll just copy and paste Tetra’s comment here.

    Tetra Valent (4_valent) says:

    @Rob: I though so too, at first. But most of Dave’s sprites have always had clear glasses. See these two weeks for instance.

    Did this sprite just come into existence now, or has it been lurking in Dave’s subconsciousness all this time?

  25. Saturday:

    Shaenon, when I first read this strip, I was ensorceled. I was physically shivering, it had such an impact on me. That really happened. It’s a moment I will always remember.

    Shaenon I want to say how much I love the fact that you made this twist the climax of the entire webcomic, a grand and immense upturning of its entire premise that rips the past five years apart. I don’t know of any other gag-a-day webcomics that have ended on such a successfully presented catastrophic twist. It’s amazing, it’s wonderful, it’s special. Thank you.

  26. Well, now that the overemotional gushing’s been dealt with, let’s not forget that from Dave’s perspective this is two horrifying twists in one: 1) he is a Mad Genius, and 2) Helen knew that he is a Mad Genius and misled him for years and years. The second one is surely the more hurtful – he has been kept ignorant of who he is, his true self, by the love of his life. But both together is a hideous combination of betrayal and self-deception – it turns out that not only did he not know Helen, but he didn’t even know himself. What a crime, that these two people had conspired to blind him for so long.

  27. Of all the special effects that have ever been drawn, it the history of comics, this strip has *the* best one.  I got shivers the first time I saw it.  like light beems all focused onto a single point, six years worth of strips focus onto this single one.    

  28. I have to agree with my predecessors in saying: this strip -the de-frosting of the glasses, the slo-mo third panel (be it intentional or fortuitous), is perfect. Goosebumps. I actually heard the background music in my head explode in a dramatic crescendo.

  29. And the first glimpse of Dave with clear glasses, is through the awful truth that cleared them.

  30. Another thought: The Cat says outright “you’re mad”, but that’s not the revelation. But its next line, embodying the mad logic of Wonderland… that’s what opens Dave’s eyes.

  31. Another goosebumps moment here. In fact, I just registered at WCN just to say how much this strip paid off for me. I came here after reading Websnark rave about the strip for so long that I just couldn’t stay away, and after catching up with the story and following along for a year or two (or more, the exact moment I caught up is lost in the mists), this strip right here was my webcomics-as-real-art moment. Thanks, Shaenon.

  32. You know, this is one of several genres in which, as far as I have been able to determine, there is no more frightening sequence of words.

    “I understand… everything.” Ellipsis optional.

    There may be – probably are – sequences that lead more directly to more destruction. But nothing else leads to such change, such upheaval.


    Incidentally, I think you mentioned a couple of times that you hadn’t decided on the glasses symbolism when you started. Why, then, did you consistently draw them opaque until you had decided? Especially when Mell’s, for instance, are almost always transparent.

  33. I second Leon’s first comment, except for one thing: I still have that reaction to this comic every time I read it.

  34. This is seriously one of the best executed reveals of the twist in a story to a character ever. Easily up there with things like Ozymandias’s reveal in the climax of Watchmen, or the identity of The Fourth Man in Planetary.

  35. I imagine panel 3 taking some time for Dave as well, while he considers all the implications.

    Although the significance of clear glasses was not planned from the start, one can ret-con a few things.  In the time-travel arc, Dave’s glasses are clear when in his 6- and 16-year-old bodies, as his 26-year-old self knows what was going on then, but opaque when in his 46-year-old one.  The actual Future!Dave’s are clear, as fits his being past today’s revelation.  As for Dr. Narbon, it is obvious now that glasses cloud up with one’s age, another thing that happened to Dave during college.  Maybe *that* explains why my eyesight is deteriorating?

  36. I’m imagining an animated or live action version of Panel 3. In my head, to let viewers have a chance to read the text properly, it would start from behind Dave in a quiet over the shoulder shot so we only see the back of his head… then the camera pans around, the whole room rotating around Dave, and we clearly see his eyes, glasses already clear, and maybe have him blink just once before proceeding to Panel 4.

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