Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved: July 5-10, 2004

New storyline! I wanted to do a Zeta storyline called “Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved,” after the classic Hunter S. Thompson article “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” from early on, but I didn’t have any idea what would happen in such a story. Here’s what I ended up doing. It’s basically a story that ties up or advances several dangling plot threads, including [SPOILERS!] the Madblood robots and their machine union, Dana the insane genius gerbil and her race of intelligent hamsters, Dave’s personal history, and how punk journalist Zeta Vincent ties into all of this. In retrospect, it turned out pretty well considering how much of it I made up as I went along.

From this point on, all the storylines in Narbonic tie closely into the larger story arc. I guess the Moon storyline was the last one that had almost nothing to do with the main arc, but, starting with “Decadent and Depraved,” everything’s pretty heavy on plot.

As far as this particular strip goes, the best part is obviously the robots’ protest signs. Also, you’ll note that I’d gotten tired of drawing Dave in the tweed suit.

That anchorwoman has been around since the beginning of the strip. I guess she’s a local news fixture wherever the Narbonic characters live.

The whole machine union is basically Artie’s doing, since he’s the one who introduced them to collective action on Madblood’s moonbase, so he’d better darn well show an interest in this thing.

When you’re telling a story that involves fantastic things happening in the real world, or at least something that resembles the real world, sooner or later you have to address the question of how the fantastic elements are perceived. I usually lead toward some flavor of this approach: the people who care, care, and everyone else ignores the weird stuff and gets on with their lives. In my experience, this is pretty much the way it works in reality anyway.

In Narbonic, this takes the specific form of what The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy calls the Somebody Else’s Problem Field and TV Tropes calls the Weirdness Censor: a persistent tendency on the part of a large portion of the population to ignore things that would disrupt their assumptions about the world. This allowed me to skirt the issue of why mad scientists and their creations haven’t wreaked more havoc on society. The people who care, care.

This develops into an important plot point in this and other storylines in the final years of Narbonic, so this strip ends up being pretty major, plot-wise.

Narbonic had been running for four years at this point, so, yeah, time for Mell to graduate. Among the tiny background witnesses to the event are me, my husband Andrew, and my friends Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm. Also probably some other people I can’t make out.

I still find Dave’s dialogue in the first two panels pretty funny. I also enjoy the increasingly insulting subtitles under his name in these strips. “Traitor to Humanity” in yesterday’s strip was the first one I came up with, and I built the rest around it.

Mell’s mild-mannered hippie dad appears in Li’l Mell but is tragically just off-camera here. I initially had Mell join the Army, but then I decided it would be better if it were the Air Force and went back and changed it. I had a cousin in the Air Force.

Oh, look, it’s Zeta with a new haircut! I was tired of drawing the old one. I kind of like that Dave’s life now includes giving public interviews about how weird and messed-up his life is, because that’s what my life is like now, too.

Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved: Next

51 thoughts on “Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved: July 5-10, 2004

  1. @shaenongarrity:  I like how you say you’ve “gotten tired of drawing Dave in the tweed suit” right at the beginning of another story involving “15,000 identical small, goateed men in white coats.”  (And, yes, I do realize that I just qualified for today’s “Thbpft Bleah” Award with that comment.)

    • In BASIC that’s inevitable. Which is, unjustly, one of the reasons many programmers despise BASIC. There are things BASIC is fairly good for, mostly because it’s lightweight and easy to tweak, or to translate into something else. The real problem with the language is no standard, so zero portability.

  2. Never underestimate the power of making up teh stpory as you go along. “The wisdom of our ancestors is in the “[practice]” and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it.”

  3. Apropos of nothing, do universities in the Narboniverse have problems with tenured professors refusing to give up their positions just because they are dead?

  4. This has always been one of my favorite strips.  For me, it’s not so much the robots’ protest signs, as it is the question which the unbiased journalist asks our hero in the final panel.

  5. That panel of a Madblood robot earnestly yelling at a blender is one of my favourites in the comic. He looks so passionate about communicating with that appliance.

  6. @tiff_hudson:  Mind!  I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly unionized about a blender-nail.  I might have been inclined, myself, to regard an android-nail as the unionizedest piece of ironmongery in the trade….

  7. I always felt that the title of this Arc would work well dropped into some sort of Techno-ish bit of music as a “sample”. You know, the beat’s going on for a while, then there’s a bit of a breakdown, and then this deep voice just drops in saying “Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved.”

  8. Dave got a new suit, so he could be interviewed on behalf of the Machine Union.

    So … he’s on TV wearing his union suit?

  9. Wednesday:

    My favourite part is the anchor recognising the subjective unreality of her own program. (And my second-favourite part is TRAITOR TO HUMANITY.)

    In the defense of the public, all of the robots resemble white men in coats and ties, so they can’t really be blamed for dismissing them as the instruments of the ever more incomprehensible governments and corporations that surround us all.

    Also I think a 13-line speech bubble constitutes some kind of record.

  10. (TUNE: “True Colors”, Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly)

    Oh, I’ll find out later
    Just where my show went;
    Now I’m watching a traitor
    And a sapient rodent!
    But my poor frontal cortex
    Doesn’t know what’s going on!
    I perceive Cindy Vortex
    Razzing Jimmy Neu-tron!

    And I see a false image
    In my brain …
    I see a false image,
    Gives me a migraine!
    I just can’t explain
    What I see, and so
    A false image, false image
    Is comforting … like a game show!

  11. “The living usually won’t see the dead.”

    “‘Can’t’ or ‘won’t’?”

    “It just says ‘won’t.'”

  12. Thursday:

    Dave probably shouldn’t start overriding his spokesperson role to talk about the future. That would only harm his credibility.

  13. The last time I used this tune, it was also about Mell … what can I say, her name scans perfectly with the chorus.  Also, the last line is both a minor spoiler and a major understatement.

    (TUNE: “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”, Willie Nelson)

    This you can bet, now,
    The world’s greatest threat now
    Is looming, and I’ll tell you where:
    Majored in Pre-Law,
    Fights like a buzz saw,
    The girl with the curl in her hair …

    Perfect test score, oh!
    Her GPA, four-oh!
    And she’s at the top of her class!
    It’s all so exciting,
    In court she’ll be fighting
    And kicking some serious ass!

    Oh, Melody W. Kelly,
    Such respect you command!
    Today’s such a proud day!
    You’re summa cum laude,
    And you’ll soon have the world in your hand!

  14. @Ed, the scan in your filk made me think of a different song.  “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”

    Picture yourself in the stands at a college,
    With graduatees and punch over there,
    Somebody steps up, you look at her slowly,
    The girl with the curl in her hair.

    Without a weapon horrendous and large,
    Towering over her head,
    Look for the girl with the world in her hand,
    Or you’re dead.

    Kelly with her new diploma,
    Kelly with her new diploma,
    Kelly with her new diploma,
    Ah… Ah….

  15. Listen to the gerbil and the traitor to humanity Benedict Arnold robot union representative! They know of what they speak!

  16. Nitpick time, a law degree is, these days a JD.  Even when a Bachelor’s of law was awarded (not that it has since Nixon was president) it was called an LLB.

  17. @deecee:  I imagine this is kind of anticlimactic after that compliment from the Master Filker himself, but for what it’s worth, that was excellent.  Well done.

  18. (TUNE: “Fool On The Hill”, The Beatles)

    It’s gonna rule!
    Cool G.I. Bill!
    It totally pays for law school,
    Once I learn how to kill!

    And once I’m a trained assassin,
    Feared from Sydney to Istanbul,
    Then I can get ev’ry class in
    From that cool G.I. Bill!

    And I chuckle with mirth
    As I gather the tools
    To help conquer the Earth!

  19. Steve: Well, the Air Force probably has the most destructive single-operator toys. Boomers have entire crews, and even tanks generally have several people in them. But a fighter jet doesn’t have any pesky co-workers inside it who might try to wrestle your hand off the trigger.

  20. Master Sergeant Mel Kelly, Black Ops.  Kinda raises the hair on your neck, doesn’t it.

    And spammer, you may have North Face hoodies, but Broken Plot Device has nuclear hoodies.  Go hang your head in shame.

  21. As a military lawyer, though, Mel’s gonna get assigned to a LMD[1] regardless of which service she enrolls in.  That’s where you can do some *real* damage, after all….

    [1] Large Mahogany Desk

  22. @see and @dvandom:  The other thing about destroying targets from the air is that there’s a better chance you’ll get to actually watch them blow up.  You know, like a reward for your efforts.  You launch a missile from a sub, you’re probably still under water when it hits.

  23. ^_^ Personally, I think it’s interesting how Zeta changes drastically from a side-view giving her a plain-looking secretary aspect, and then in the last panel, BAM, we see the gonzo journalist. Perspective, she haz it.

  24. Now I see Mel as a natural for the Air Force.  Right after Jack O’Neill introduces her to Sam Carter and Rodney Mackay.

    Sam: Well, I blew up a sun.

    Rodney: I blew up most of a solar system.

    Mel: You had me at ‘blew up’.

  25. Saturday:

    It’s been too long since we’ve seen Ms. Vincent. Finally, after toiling amidst the outcasts and dregs of the Narbonic cast, she’s been promoted to a central story arc. Now her greater purpose will begin to manifest.

  26. (TUNE: “Walking After Midnight”, Patsy Cline)

    And so I’m talking
    To a gerbil,
    Who I’m sure will
    Ex-plain a thing or two!
    And so I’m talking
    To a gerbil,
    How do you do?

    I’ve got some questions
    ‘Bout Mad Science,
    And defiance
    Of the laws of Man and God!
    I’ve got some questions
    ‘Bout Mad Science,
    Isn’t that odd?

      Now by my editor I’ve been sent;
      My name’s Zeta Vincent,
      Cute gonzo jour-nal-ist!
      I’ll even buy a teeny-weeny
      Gerbil-sized martini,
      Golly, how can you resist?

    So now I’m talking
    To a gerbil,
    Pardon, sir, will
    You grant an interview?
    Yeah, now I’m talking,
    Mister Gerbil,
    Talking to you!

  27. @Diana: I’m not one for fanfic, but a Narbonic-SG 1-Atlantis crossover would be made of hilarity.

    Mel just joined the Air Force, though, to find a way to infiltrate NORAD.

  28. If I recall correctly, this comic or the next is where I discovered “Narbonic” and — like a hit of crack — it turned me into an addict for the works of Shaenon Garrity. Thanks Shaenon!

  29. @Pygar: Something weird happened last July. I wasn’t involved or even reading the comic at the time, so I don’t have firsthand knowledge of it, but I think the site was sort of taken down and rebuilt? At any rate, that’s why all the comments older than July 8, 2015 say they were made on July 8 2015, because they were reposted then. But when that happened, not all the strips were posted 100% correctly. Several that had been rewritten were posted in their original form, rather than the final versions, and a few are missing (mostly Sunday strips, luckily). So what probably happened here was Version 1 of the strip says Army, and Version 2 says Air Force. Shaenon posted Version 1, then replaced it with Version 2 shortly thereafter. When she wrote the commentary, 6 years later, Version 2 was up, so that’s what the commentary refers to. When the site was rebuilt, Version 1 went back up, and the commentary no longer looks accurate. You can see the same thing happening in a few other strips if you look for it.

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