David Cronenberg’s The Geek: September 23-28, 2002

By my standards, this is a lot of fills and filters and stuff. It came out looking okay, I guess. This is Dr. Narbon’s lair in the Alps, as mentioned in the Dr. Narbon storyline. Much later, she has a completely different lair in the Lost Diamond Mines of Brazil. Dr. Narbon changes addresses a lot. Anyway, I like her twisty mountain.

Dr. Narbon appears to be dropping gerbils into a barrel of toxic waste. She and Helen have many interests in common and really ought to talk more.

“Them’s the breaks” is one of my favorite phrases I can never personally get away with saying. It’s strips like this that make me think I should’ve gone with my original plan of making the entire comic about Helen’s mom.

When I first drew these strips, Andrew would look at them and say, “I don’t think you should smoke.” Sorry, Andrew. I like Helen taking a drag on her cigarette before letting fly with the enraged demand for Yak-Face, though. At this point she’s starting to sound like Dave, not just in her passion for vintage “Star Wars” action figures, but in her speech patterns.

I’m sorry, I still like this strip. I always enjoy Artie’s painfully well-intentioned efforts at political correctness (he obviously made the brochure himself, and probably has a whole box of them in a back room waiting for the transgenic community to expand), and this strip got the message board fascinated with spider-goats for days. The best part, however, might be Mell’s histrionic foreground reaction in the second panel.

The back of the brochure reads Eat no meat? Spill no blood? Walk on two legs?, as it would pretty much have to.

It was either this or reverse the polarity. At this point, Helen and Dave have the same approach to problem-solving, which is to refer to plot devices from “Star Trek.”

Speaking of “Star Trek,” how did they end up separating Tuvok and Neelix in that episode of “Voyager”? I bet they recreated the accident.

I set this loose rule for myself that anything the Narbonic characters identified as “pseudoscience” or “technobabble” would be more scientifically accurate than the rest of Narbonic. So this conversation is based on actual teleportation theory. That, and computer-science stuff, because we’re dealing with a couple of Daves here.

Now we get back into pseudoscience. Even though magical movie-style genetics is ridiculous, “gene-splicing” having replaced “radiation” as the catchall hand-waving explanation for anything awesome, I still enjoy it. I will feel kind of sad when “gene-splicing” is officially replaced by “nanobots.”

The teleporters Dave and HelenDave have built have a nifty Cronenberg look, much snazzier than the boxy teleporter on the island. The teleporter on the island ought to look more advanced, since [SPOILERS] it was built from blueprints Dave drew up long, long after building these models, but oh well. Maybe Dr. Narbon just didn’t bother to make the Dave Conspiracy’s teleporters look cool.

58 thoughts on “David Cronenberg’s The Geek: September 23-28, 2002

  1. Monday:

    One of the weaknesses of Narbonic’s newspaper strip format is that, apart from the constant and bloody territory war waged between speech balloons and art, it’s a little bit hard to properly convey a sense of location. These establishing shots are something of a luxury, and it’s a bit of a shame that the most important location of Narbonics Labs is entirely underground, and thus has no noteworthy external structure to be reminded of… outside of that lonely elevator on the median strip.

    The real Helen Narbon again reciprocates the means-to-end relationship that has persisted between her and her overgrown organ bank / daughter in their previous two meetings. (Does this monster have any emotional weaknesses?!)

  2. (TUNE: “Help!”, The Beatles)

    I got a phone call from my daughter yesterday …
    She needs the means to clean her genes,
    Some pristine DNA!
    She’ll turn into her henchman, gee that really sucks …
    Let’s have some fun, I’ll charge her one-
    And-one-half megabucks!

    I should help my daughter, yes it’s true …
    But I love to make her squirm and watch her stew …
    Now I’ll make her pay through the wazoo!
    I can squeeze, squeeze those fees!

  3. As Leon pointed out, Beta was created to be an organ bank for mom (among other things). Shouldn’t Beta be pointing out how her value in that capacity has diminshed in order to get Dr. Narbon to at least give a discount?

  4. Andy, that’s assuming that Beta is the only clone, a question that was never answered.  (I like to imagine the clones going through at least Omicron, or perhaps even being like the Lintillas from the radio version of the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.)

  5. It’s strongly implied later on that Beta wasn’t the only clone of Doc Narbon. It’s also strongly implied that she’s the only surviving clone of Doc Narbon.

    They’ve also been less than completely honest about what Beta’s intended purpose was. Organ bank may have been part of it, but certainly not all.

    I’d guess that Doc Narbon makes anencephalic clones for straight-up organ/body replacement purposes. Less hassle to harvest.

  6. Tuesday:

    The last thing that you lose in an onerous metamorphosis is your mind. Having retained your personality long enough to bear witness to your slow and painful transfiguration, you now find that your own mind betrays you. I suppose it’s fortunate for Helen that her mind and Dave’s aren’t too far separated in speech patterns or personality – having only a few significant differences of opinion with regards to other people.

  7. For never was there story of more woe

    Than this of Helen and her vintage Yak-Face Star Wars figurine.

  8. (TUNE: “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot)
    ( … well, if you can call it a “tune” …)

    I love Star Wars and I had Yak-Face!
    Oh, Mama came to my work-place!
    And then she showed Yak-Face that was hidden in her purse
    And she laughed, that made it worse!
    (Heh heh!)

    I wanna … wanna …
    Yeah, I wanna have ’em all!
    So Mama, gimme … gimme …
    Give me back my doll!
    Mama got Yak!

  9. HelenDave certainly does look a lot like your self-portrayal, Shaenon.But why would Andrew think you shouldn’t smoke? I mean, there’s no reason you’d be drawing Helen smoking just because she’s turning into Dave, because Dave never smoked.

  10. Ahhh, quoting “The Island of Dr Moreau” the little bugger is.  Truly vile of him.


    Also, how do I become a member of the Transgenic community?

  11. You know, there’s a good question. Are the Canadian spider-goats eventually going to show up in skin horse?

  12. Rockphed
    Step one, have your genes spliced between members of two different species, or the same species post-natally. Preferably against your will, and in a mad science setting.

    …that’s pretty much the only step.

  13. What’s Mell getting all worked up about? She’s not the one turning into a horrific genetic abomination.

  14. Crossover fan-theory here: Artie was a founder member of the Chimeric Anti-Defamation League, but was ousted after [SPOILER] when the Bears of Very Little Brain accused him of selling out.

  15. Yeah, we’ve all seen the song parodies of the spider-goats set to the tune of “Spider-Man”, or

    “Underdog”, or even “Yesterday”.  So, in a feeble attempt at originality …

    (TUNE: “The Fire Inside”, by Bob Seger)

    There’s a goat-like species with an active gene
    That produces rather a strange protien
    Inside its milk …
    You can filter it, clean it, let it dry,
    And you end up with an unusual fi-
    Ber just like silk …
    And the goats say nothing (as they always do),
    But deep inside they laugh at you;
    Beware, take note!
    And you pay no mind to what the others said,
    Ignore the warnings running through your head,
    Weaving a garment from the silky thread,
    (Humming a song by a guy named Ed),
    Don’t put it on!
    Soon you’ll be gone!
    Stuck in a booby-trapped coat!
    Trapped inside
    Until you’ve died!
    And man, that’s all she wrote …
    The spider-goat …

  16. So, are we dealing with spiders that crossed with goats, goats that crossed with spiders, or spiders and goats that crossed with Canadians?

  17. I found the matching grins is the last panel a bit disturbing. I think Artie has the right idea to supervise them on this.

  18. Thursday:

    For some mad scientists, B movies and TV shows are better than textbooks. Bad sci-fi is an awfully fitting choice of resource for a mad scientist, a character archetype born most entirely in the realm of fiction.

  19. Not entirely.  Nicola Tesla was most certainly a mad scientist.  (Well anyway, he was mad, a genius, and a scientist.  That counts, doesn’t it?)

  20. Booby-trapped coats? This goes back to the Shirt of Nessus or the fairy tale about the seven swan-brothers, I think.

    Poor Artie looks so world-weary in the last panel.

  21. (TUNE: “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”, Bacharach & David)

    What do you get when you merge with Dave?
    Your chromosomes shot; they’re out of order!
    But all we need’s a teleporter!
    We’ll … re-create the ac-ci-dent …
    We’ll re-create the accident!


  22. You ask, the internet delivers: 

    “Tuvix” on the Memory Alpha wiki:

    “After much research, however, the Doctor is finally able to reverse the process by radioactively labeling one half of Tuvix’s genome, so the transporter can separate the two individuals.”

  23. “After much research, however, the Doctor is finally able to reverse the process by radioactively labeling one half of Tuvix’s genome, so the transporter can separate the two individuals.”

    (Geeking Out in 3… 2… 1…)

    Actually, the Doctor developed the prociedure but refused to administer it, citing the Hippocratic Oath not to do any harm to the patient (Tuvix).  It was Janeway who injected the marker.

  24. Isn’t that what they did to Kirk to get Evil Decorated Poodle Kirk to stop biting Yeoman Rand so they could beam up Popsicle Sulu?

  25. Once more, we confront the irony of implausible pseudoscience driving a talking gerbil away.

  26. Compare and contrast to the Mad Scientist Wars, where the technobabble is quite dissociated from real science. (Though occasionally, we put real things in there with the serial numbers rubbed off.)

  27. Friday:

    The only problem with using actual theoretical physics in technowaffle explanations is that the sorts of readers who have New Scientist subscriptions tend to scoff at the so-called geniuses inventing solutions that have already occured to us lesser mortals. Far better, I feel, is to do what Sam Hughes did in the Ed Stories and dream up a whole new field of physics exclusively for your story’s benefit. The only difficult part about that is keeping it internally consistent.

    Now’s the time to embrace the poetic fortune that Helen’s corruption has, in its final hours, left her with a mind equipped with exactly the tools to build a device to rid her of the corruption. It almost perfectly justifies this storyline’s dramatic tension!

  28. If Shaenon’s going to start selling T-shirts again, she ought to design a “She Blinded Me With Pseudoscience” shirt (which I would keep right next to my “She Blinded Me With Library Science” shirt from Questionable Content.

    “A chamber thou shalt make in the teleporter, and line it within and without with pseudoscience.  And the length shall be four cubits, and the height ten cubits, and the bandwidth 10^12 quibits.”

    • 10^12 qubits, though sounding impressively large, is actually rather low for a teleporter of everyday objects. Remember the Avogadro constant cup? If allocating just one qubit per molecule, a single mol requires on the magnitude of 10^24 qubits.

      (Of course, if there were some sort of square-root-of N phenomenon going on here — as there are in a couple of quantum algorithms — then that would probably constitute one major clue on how the teleporter works for anyone seeking to reverse engineer it. Knowing that something really is possible makes it easier to repeat, and all that.)

  29. The only problem with using actual theoretical physics in technowaffle explanations is that the sorts of readers who have New Scientist subscriptions tend to scoff at the so-called geniuses inventing solutions that have already occured to us lesser mortals.

    Not at all! One of my best friends is a physicist (he makes lasers and stuff), and he originally tracked me down in part because he liked the Narbonic “pseudoscience.” This strip was the first thing he brought up when we met. Science helps me make friends!

  30. it is my humble aspiration that my own characters might use pseudoscience as smooth as this, when the time comes.

  31. Saturday:

    The seasoned reader might wonder if some sort of hideous causal loop is at work in Dave’s mind – having deconstructed a teleporter back on that lovely island, how much of that retained knowledge went into constructing this teleporter? Let’s quietly assume that, given half of the brainpower behind this invention being Helen’s, it wasn’t very much at all.

    Nanobots tend to bring to mind artificially motivated metal powder, unlike than the gooey cellular life-infused mental imagery of gene-splicing, don’t they?

  32. (TUNE: “Taking Care Of Business”, by Bachman-Turner Overdrive)

    We were stranded on an island,
    But we made it back to dry land!
    Dave, he teleported Helen away!
    Trouble is, her life he saves,
    But her genes got mixed with Dave’s;
    Now we gotta clean her gene DNA!
    It’s like splicing with a hatchet!
    (Now we’re gonna quote Pratchett;
    You people, don’t just sit there and lurk!
    Come on, say it ev’ryone!)
    “It’s a million-to-one,
    It sounds crazy, but it maybe could work!”

    Yeah, we’re
    Teleporting Dave’s genes!
    (In this strip!)
    Teleporting Dave’s genes!
    (What a trip!)
    Teleporting Dave’s genes!
    (Helen’s clean!)
    Teleporting Dave’s genes!
    (We built a cool machine!)

  33. The narrativium this thing runs on wouldn’t have worked if Artie hadn’t said that, would it?

  34. @Leon: Given the upcoming hideous causal loop of “synchronicity,” why should we quail at another one here? No one ever actually invented the teleporter. It just happened.

  35. Great Ed. Now I not only have the BTO original and El Vez in my head, but you Narbonicized it as well. I’ll probably end up mashing all three together and singing something truly incomprehensible.

  36. My personal explanation for why the Dave Island teleporter looks so relatively assy is that


    Helen Narbon Sr. had already spent her whole budget on enough boxed wine to get her to concentrate on an invention made from someone elses blueprints.

    Or enough boxed wine to survive 30 minutes.

    You know, either way.

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