Professor Madblood and the Doppelganger Gambit: March 10-15, 2003

This is one of my favorite weeks of Narbonic, either because of or in spite of the fact that large chunks of it were written by someone else. It still continues to crack me up that I worked a musical number into the strip.

You don’t often see Dave’s eyes over the top of his glasses, because his glasses are enormous, but I think he looks cute this way.

At the time of the Battle Anthem Contest, I’d exchanged emails with Jeffrey Wells on and off. His long-running online story Mundementia One shared certain character and thematic elements with Narbonic (but featured more lemurs), something we found mutually fascinating. I enjoyed Jeffrey’s writing a lot, and then there was this contest, and he sent me a battle anthem which was both brilliant and perfect for my purposes. So here we are.

Six years down the line, this has somehow led us to collaborating on another webcomic, which also contains very few lemurs. It is funny how fate takes its cut.

One of the highlights of the first Narbonicon was Jeffrey singing the Madblood Battle Anthem in his very Madblood-like baritone. I have an MP3 of it somewhere, but I can’t find it right now, sorry.

Update: Valerie Kaplan has provided me with the MP3 of the Battle Anthem! You can listen to it here.

Jeffrey had “steely heart” in the original. I deliberately mucked it up.

Why didn’t I write my own battle anthem? Well, for one thing, I’m very lazy. Also, I’m not very good at writing song lyrics. If you’re morbidly curious about what my poetry looks like, you’re in luck, because while I was clearing out my closet last month I found a set of Narbonic poems I wrote around 2002. This one is after the style of Walt Kelly’s Pogo poems, although the meter reminds me of that earworm jingle from Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. Tenser, said the tensor!

Song of the Evil Laboratory

Let us juggle the genetic
With frenetic fancy free
For mutations have magnetic
Magic, merry, gloppy glee.

Come admire the aesthetic
Of prosthetic biology
I’ll inject something tremendic
Into he and she and we.

It’s kinetic, diatetic;
Don’t, frenetic, try to flee
The plurally phonetic
Compounds in your cup of tea.

I know I’ve said this before, but I love the way Dave and Madblood play off each other. [SPOILERS] I think the key is that they’re very similar people except that one of them is an arrogant supergenius and the other one is just a developing arrogant supergenius. Much later in the strip, I had Dave go work for Madblood because I enjoyed the buddy-movie vibe so much.

Going back to the old poetry I dug out of my closet, here’s a sonnet about Dave. I think my original plan was to write a poem for each of the central characters, but I never wrote one for Mell. What would that even look like?

Dave: A Sonnet

The real world would be easy, I thought in
The happy days before I took this job.
I’d land a cushy spot as sysadmin
Wiring networks, twisting little knobs,

Day slotting into day, precise and clean,
With room for the important things, like Quake.
And now? I’m working on some death machine
I didn’t know that I knew how to make.

Not even I can hide inside my head
With women waving guns and shouting, “Freeze!”
While my body might be mutated, or dead,
Or have six arms, or horns, or ovaries.

How dare they fill my programmed world with strife
And force me to (believe it) get a life?

What can I say, I love these guys.

Okay, last poem. I wrote a sestina for Artie, because Artie just has to be difficult. Geez, these things are hard to write.

Gerbil Sestina

It’s surely unabashed insanity
To keep penned in a common gerbil cage
Somebody with my brand of well-built mind–
Me? Subject to any odd experiment?
Cruel disregard has always been my tale.
I never win the spins of Fortune’s wheel.

All evening I’ve been running in my wheel
Until I’ve nearly reached insanity.
I’m one snapped nerve from chasing my own tail!
I told them I’d go mad inside a cage!
But outside–oh, I could experiment
Exquisitely–but, oh, well. Never mind.

If they insist, I’ll show them I don’t mind.
We’ll just sit quiet, won’t we, now? Yes, we’ll
Let Helen and the rest experiment
On the effects of genius and sanity
On some forsaken gerbil in a cage.
We’re quiet from our whiskers to our tail.

I won’t so much as twitch that tufted tail
‘Til they admit my marvel of a mind
Is nothing a mere scientist should cage.
Inside my skull, bright wheel clicks on bright wheel.
They’ve really surrendered to insanity
To tell this mind it can’t experiment.

Imprisoned for just one experiment!
Explain, please, the illogic of my tale!
Well, yes, they say a mild insanity
Runs through my genetic potluck of a mind.
Isn’t it worth it for the thoughts that wheel
Behind my eyes, so far beyond this cage?

But it takes more than stainless steel to cage
This tuft-tailed scientist’s experiment.
Around and round I run inside my wheel.
So what if I made Dave there grow a tail?
If they don’t want it, why give me a mind?
Expecting quiet–that’s insanity.

On this wheel I can almost catch my tail.
So cage me. I can still experiment
On me, my mind, myself. Insanity!

Every comic strip should have musical numbers. Even “Gil Thorp.” Especially “Gil Thorp.”

At the time this ran, people commented that Madblood’s dialogue here has an oddly stilted “A Winner Is You”/”Somebody set us up the bomb” badly-translated-from-the-Japanese type syntax. I don’t know why I phrased it that way. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

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55 thoughts on “Professor Madblood and the Doppelganger Gambit: March 10-15, 2003

  1. Monday:

    Madblood begins an awful lot of sentences with “ATTENTION”. Also, it’d be tremendously more practical for him to unleash clean, odourless neutrons on the robots rather than burning all their beards off.

    Dave has perhaps wasted his best opportunity to make good of his disguise, by not even attempting to order the robots to hunt down and incapacitate the real Madblood before he showed up in the room. It wouldn’t have been exactly successful, but would have made for an in-credible distraction. Boo!

  2. I’d add this to the Big Freakin’ ™ Gun count, but a plain ol’ flamethrower just isn’t freaky enough.

    (TUNE: “Lady Willpower”, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap)

    I know there’s one impostor, hiding in here,
    Who would misuse my face and name …
    You’ve made a fatal goof now
    If you’re not fireproof now!
    I’ll melt each ‘bot down to its frame!

    With my … flamthrower!
    I know you’re
    Hiding there
    In my lunar lair!
    And … I’ll show you’re
    Just not as smart as me-e-e …
    Flam-ma-bly …

  3. @eddurd: Go for it. That doesn’t look like a “plain ol'” flamethrower to me, and presumably Madblood built it himself. Since he’s mad, any weapon he makes will be at least a bit freakin’.

    Relatedly, is the Freeze Ray song from Dr. Horrible in your cue?

  4. OK, by popular demand, the Big Freakin’ ™ Gun count goes to 31.  And no, the Freeze Ray song is not in the queue … YET.

  5. Tuesday:

    Good job Mr. Wells. Incidentally, I remember reading that Douglas Adams and co. had quite some difficulty in creating a convincing audio equivalent of several hundred-thousand robots singing the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation anthem simultaneously. I cannot bring myself to imagine what sort of disastrous aural phantasmagoria these perfectly synchronised robots will unleash on our two humans.

  6. Wednesday:

    Here’s a fine bit of slapstick: putting two scatterbrains in the same room, getting them sidetracked from their initial goals, then letting them increasingly fail to remember that they’re supposed to be hunting each other down, and not chumming up, borrowing smokes from each other, or asking each other which direction they went. It’s not quite my favourite sort of prolongued gag, though, probably because it’s a little bit silly for its own good.

  7. It’s tough for me here this week … how do you write a filk about a filk?  Well, I gotta try anyway (it’s a filky job, but somebody’s gotta etc. etc…) 

    (TUNE: “Look What They’ve Done To My Song”, Melanie Safka)

    Hey, Dave improved Madblood’s song, now!
    One word he moved in the song!
    Though it seems absurd, he just changed one word,
    And it fixed the scansion somehow …
    See, Dave improved Madblood’s song!

  8. Speak for yourself, Leon. Personally, I could see a sitcom just based on Dave and Madblood’s interactions.

  9. That’s right, I penned the *correct* version of this song, the one that Dave writes.  Do you want some of my awesome?  YOU CANNOT HAVE MY AWESOME.

  10. A Mell poem would have to be a shape poem, in the shape of a gun. Or an explosion. And preferably in paired rhyming couplets. (AA, BB, etc)

  11. Yes, Leon, God forbid this comic strip be silly.
    Well, I delicately speak of this week and its gag in comparison to a similar forgetfulness-based week-long prolongued gag (this week), which is sufficiently silly, but not too much so, simply because the object of their forgotten task isn’t, um, singing a duet with them.

    (Though, I won’t go so far as to say that this week’s events aren’t in-character – for Madblood, at least.)

  12. Thursday:

    (Frankly, I’m getting worried about Dave’s fealty to Narbonics Labs at this point.)

    Oh, and here’s the fourth draft of my Helen war anthem, having undergone extensive quality control editing:

    “Helen is great! / Helen is great! / Helen is great! / (by Helen, age 8).”

  13. Well, Madblood set up singing the anthem as the “test of the True Madblood”… serves him right that Dave can sing it better!

  14. Actually, I did write an original song for Mell (like “Crazy Genius Girl” for Helen).  Trouble is, it’s on my wife’s computer, which is several hundred miles away right now.  Either I ask her to find it and email it, or spend the weekend re-writing it on NoteWorthy Composer. 

    (TUNE: “Friend Like Me”, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman)

    Well, Van Helsing’s foe was Dracula;
    Mr. Christian was Captain Bligh’s …
    And the Xindi had Scott Bakula
    On the early Starship Enterprise!

    Now, I heard your world-invading plot,
    And I’m here to sabotage your plans!
    See, I got my brains; what have you got?
    ‘Bout thirty thousand helping hands!

    Professor Madblood, sir!
    My word, what did you do?
    I see you made
    A ‘bot brigade!
    I ain’t never had a foe like you!

    Most evil geniuses
    Make a robot drone or two;
    But you made, wow
    Like, fifteen thou!
    I ain’t never had a foe like you!

  15. OK, I’ve been waiting for this one.  Dave would have to have some special musical madness to be able to sustain parallel tritones.  And the sound would drive anyone nuts, human or robot.

  16. @Leon: Oh, come on, isn’t this just a part of infiltrating Madblood’s lair to play with the fun toys get information to Helen? No disloyalty involved.

  17. Surely the “flattened fifth” comment is a Hitchhiker’s reference, to the massed robot rendition of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation song “Share and Enjoy” – find a recording of this from the radio series if you don’t know it, it has to be heard to be believed.

  18. Exactly a flattened fifth off? Exactly? That’s nearly impossible to pull off and actually requires someone with amazing musical skill. (So sez the musician)

    Or amazing nerdish luck to be off by a Hitchhiker’s reference (Douglas Adams was a pretty amazing guitarist – he knew)

  19. An alternate Mell haiku:Rat-a-tat-a-tat!Bam! Pow! Subpoena! Depose!Bam! Pow! Fa-whoooooosh! ….aaaaah….OK, so the meter sucks, but at least the syllable count is right.

  20. Arg! The formatting on my haiku was all messed up. Stupid cybernetic internet technology….


    Another Mell Punctuation Poem





    *changes clip*


  22. Friday:

    Dave, this could’ve gone on for at least another four days had you just kept your danged labcoat on.

  23. I just love how into the song Dave’s getting by the last panel. If Madblood hadn’t caught on, he would have been crowd-surfing next.

  24. I thought a sestina was an afternoon nap in a Mexican tavern.  Shows what I know.

    Very well done, Shaenon.

  25. I first heard of sestinas a couple days ago while reading some biting political commentary.  Why do things like this always come up next to eachother?

  26. Yes, that is what I thought it was in reference to as well. Pogo, right? You should never apologize for making a Pogo reference.

  27. (TUNE: “Singing In The Rain”, Arthur Freed & Nacio Herb Brown)

    We’re singing on the Moon!
    We’re singing, on the Moon,
    An anthem to honor
    A psychotic loon!

    I sang along with
    This crazed robot smith;
    But my pitch was off by
    A full flattened fifth!

    I got in the zone,
    And sang on my own …
    Now Madbllod says “Seize him!”
    My cover I’ve blown!

    I’ll likely die soon!
    Let’s finish this tune!
    Death bringing
    From singing on the Moon!

  28. It’s sort of Pogo-y, but it doesn’t really connect to the Pogo reference in a meaningful way.

  29. Don’t forget that the Pogo line itself is a reference to Commodore Perry’s 1813 dispatch, “We have met the enemy, and he is ours.”


  30. Well, I don’t think “I have found my intruder, and you are he!” would really sound any less stilted. And a less stilted alternative like “You’re the intruder!” would lack a certain Madsanguinary flair.


  31. Well, there were a bunch of things you had to do first in order to do a seppuku ritual properly; get the brushes, find a second, get a towel to catch the mess…

  32. If any poetic form can express the feeling of being trapped in a tiny cage, running on a tiny wheel, it’s the sestina. Very well-chosen keywords there.

  33. Every comic strip should have musical numbers. Even “Gil Thorp.” Especially “Gil Thorp.”

    You are aware, of course, that Gil Thorp DOES have a musical number?  “Tarzana Nights,” originally by Gil Thorp‘s very own Gail Martin, “The Rock & Roll Carole King” (and never actually heard in the strip) was “covered” by the New Real People and can be heard here:


  34. The great thing about Monday’s comic is, it came out a solid four years before Team Fortress 2 and the normalization of flamethrowers being used to expose an otherwise perfect disguise.

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