Madness: September 25-30, 2006

I wrote this one early on; it’s probably one of the oldest strips in this storyline. Artie in the third panel looked better in the thumbnail than he does here. It’s hard to draw Artie looking down, especially with his little cap.

Nice snow, though.

I like that Artie elects to describe Dave as Helen’s ex-henchman rather than her ex-boyfriend. It’s nice when I have enough space to work in little dialogue quirks like that, because all too often, in a comic strip, you have to cut a lot of that stuff.

I also like that there’s a crowd of hamsters in mechanical walking suits, obviously.

I’ve said this before, but a lot of the time you can tell when I’m insecure about the joke in a strip because I work extra hard on the artwork. This strip looks excellent! Especially everybody running for it in the last panel. I almost never to get everyone in the panel look good like that.

As for the joke itself, it’s good because there are hamsters in robot suits with arm cannons.

Want the original art for this strip?

Oh, I waited so long to get to this point in the story. It was very exciting to draw. Also difficult–in an emotional way, but mostly in the way that drawing a flying island getting hit by missiles is hard.

He does manage to catch her. Go figure.

In many ways, this whole storyline was written around these strips. Or the whole strip, after a certain point. I really wanted to do this scene.

Along with the first strip, the last strip, and the strip where Helen and Dave kiss, this is one of the strips I won’t sell. I just like this whole sequence. I admit I may be the only one.

That said, Artie’s hair looks kind of weird. Oh well.

50 thoughts on “Madness: September 25-30, 2006

  1. Well, why did the hamsters choose to make MAN-shaped walking suits?  Hamster-shaped suits with head-mounted cannon would have been cool, too.  (And speaking of these walking suits, what’s with the head-camera?  It can’t be used for taking images, because they’ve banned head shots.)

  2. Far be it from me to accuse someone of being hypocritical, but didnt the hamsters say they wanted to keep the same, corrupt, plains-ape-based paradigm, only implemented in a more privatized fashion? And that they hired him specifically to gain access to his ability to shape-change into a human body?

  3. Ed Gedeon: Remember where those walking suits came from… they had the basic frame that was man-shaped… and we’ve already seen that even when they hope to be mistaken for a human… they just don’t pay much attention to faces.

  4. Helen’s going to go all chibi if she doesn’t tone the kawaii down a couple notches in the last panel there.

  5. The hamsters have it wrong, and because of that, Helen shouldn’t be as proud. It’s a battle between products of Narbonics Labs to burn the world down, not take it over. Destroying the world isn’t the proper goal of any sane mad scientist. Who will you get to gloat to after it’s over?

  6. I keep imagining one of the hamsters going, “Ex-ter-mi-nate, ex-ter-mi-nate,” and everyone else shouting, “Shut up, Francis!”

  7. “I won’t have the energy to maintain my chipper reassuring little persona.”

    two outta three ain’t bad?

  8. Wednesday:

    The robot suits are calling their special attack. This story has finally become a shonen manga.

  9. They have the right to … arm arms?  The right to arm right arms?  The right to bear harm?  There’s a joke in there somewhere, son.  Gag, that is.

  10. Thursday:

    It seems like a contrived confluence of bad fortune – that there would be a flying island at just this point in time for Helen to retreat to and then get blown off, falling to her certain worse-than-death. But would Helen have even survived this far if it had been absent, and was left at the mercy of Dave eleven episodes ago?

    (Frankly, who knows – as he himself says, he needs her alive, but that leaves a lot of possible punishments open.)

  11. I feel so bad for Helen, falling helplessly … then I think that she’s like Leonard of Quirm, who could step off the top of a tall building and solve the problem of landing before he hit the ground.

    In this case, the solution to her problem just happens to be close by (minor spoiler).

  12. Wow, the spambot was almost realistic this time around.

    Anyway, I find that I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here. If Helen was hit by a missile she wouldn’t be just falling down, so what happened then? did the missile hit the island and the shockwave pushed her over the edge or something?

  13. @Rex: You don’t think a well known actor would visit a webcomic’s comment string to shill for a webdesign company?

    The first time I went through the archives, this strip hit me like a brick. I just didn’t expect Shaenon to drop her title character off the island like that, no matter how much it was foreshadowed.

  14. There are no motion lines drawn around the island, so it doesn’t seem like the vibrations from a missile impact knocked Helen overboard.  She must have been blinded by the snow and lost track of where she was?

    Now even Mell exclaims how awesome the mecha walking suits are.  Do y’all think Shaenon likes them a bit?  I think I know who/what a future Skin Horse client is going to be….  Shaenon: if Jeff balks, put lemurs in the suits.  Not that lemurs need walking suits, but … lemurs!

  15. This one actually kind of disappointed me. I was hoping that the New Year’s strip would be a little bit more… metaphorical than this.

  16. There are motion lines in panel 2, when the missile hit the island. The island shook.Helen, being nearer that particular edge than Mell, went over the edge. Simple as that.

  17. Friday:

    Of course Mell just sits down on the lethal frosty cliff edge, legs dangling, breaking the fourth wall (#74). She has no respect for the drama of the situation.

  18. I always worried about Mell’s legs being cold, but you know, I’ve seen women walking around Boston in January wearing less. And the Arctic is much warmer than Boston in January.

  19. I know Artie can be annoying, and does more harm than good most of the time … but the fact that he immediately jumps to save Helen makes up for most of that.

    Of course, he’s also indirectly preventing a future where he dies, but he’s not thinking of that at this moment.  Probably.

    • I mean, I’m pretty sure this is the point where he died in that future. All the same events happen, Helen is knocked off and Artie dives to save her. He… sort of succeeds, but hitting concrete instead of water, even exploiting his transformation isn’t enough to survive (and Helen is left in a mostly-dead body).

      (Mind you, the whole “water at speed is hard as concrete” thing is literal, there’s really no difference in the first instant of collision. For the water to make a difference, Artie must have done some very precise clever transformation shenanigans at the last second, so that the initial impact that broke water tension was largely taken by a body in the process of ceasing to exist.)

  20. You know, this is really weird if you look at it with the ending of the first Golden Sun game in mind.

    That is all.

  21. Artie’s starting vertical velocity is no greater than Helen’s. By diving, though, he can maintain a smaller cross-section than hers which could help him catch up on account of having less air resistance. I’m pretty sure it takes a greater distance than the island’s current altitude, but in the Narboniverse everything is possible, even things that aren’t.

    • Not necessarily. I’ll invoke artist’s imperfections here: the precise thing we see wouldn’t quite work, but if Artie takes one step down the cliff and then pulls himself downward by that foot, he can apply a nearly an entire horizontal-leap worth of speed to his initial vertical velocity. And he wouldn’t then have to worry about trying to intersect the cliff face a second time on the way down.

  22. @tetra: maybe he plans on reverse-jumping using the cliff’s face on the way down. That would give him a greater vertical velocity.

  23. Ed: If it weren’t for the swimming pool, this action would in fact have been what led, very directly and almost immediately, to the future in which he was dead.

  24. @Rex: That would be an incredible feat after that dive in panel 1.

    It must be the fantastic flying ability of rodents, as demonstrated by Rocket J. Squirrel.

  25. Tetra: In fact, square-cube considerations suggest he might in fact fall slightly faster than Helen — he’s got proportionately less air resistance for his mass. (Though not in rodent form, of course — but then, if he shifted to rodent form, the impact would barely hurt him!)Unfortunately, the swimming-pool’s relevance is either a physics gaffe by Shaenon, or Mad Science at work: As Evil Knievel noted, when you’re moving fast enough, water may as well be concrete.

  26. If they hit at terminal velocity, yeah, but if the force field (so, yes, it’s explicitly Mad Science at work) slows them down to the equivalent of, say, a thirty-foot fall, the difference between landing on concrete and landing in water is significant.

  27. Dave definitely reconfigures the forcefield (at will, as he commented with LOVELACE it’s very easy to reshape) to reduce death.

    When we make the movie of this I think it would be cool to use physics to calculate and chase-cam the entire fall, using physics and choreographers to work out something mad-plausible.

    PS- Maybe Helen’s coat has nano-filiment mad spidersilk threads that auto-deploy to reduce her falling velocity for certain altitude loss conditions.

  28. Saturday:

    Artie seems very keen to refuse ownership of his bravery. Rather, he feels resentment at Helen for putting both of them in this calamity. A man who, long feeling himself imprisoned by biology to be nothing more than a monster, falls to his death feeling robbed of autonomy, bereft of control. Indeed, when his only genuinely transgressive and autonomous act created this cliff edge in the first place, it seems not illogical for him to attribute his literal and metaphorical fall to a vicious and punitive Fate.

  29. I can guarantee you, Shaenon, that you are definitely not the only person who loves this strip. By far my absolute favorite part of Narbonic, and the only one I’ve really ever wanted to own. It’s the only one I’ve really wanted to comment on since I first read Narbonic like, god maybe 3-4 years ago now? but yeah. Thanks for the absolutely amazing comic!

  30. You’d think Artie would anticipate the existential angst of putting self-sacrificial ethics into practice while in the company of shrewd manipulators, but perhaps not. Anyway, even he did, it hardly matters. This is a bit of introspection at a point you don’t often see in narrative, when the character is beyond the event horizon of his own agency. Artie has every reason to believe he’s going to die and that nothing he thinks has any chance of affecting anything. Bound to a grim fate though he might be, he is finally and truly free of any utilitarian impulse to marshall his intellect to a productive cause. Given that liberty from consequence, where do his thoughts go? Where do they dwell? Mostly on the conclusion that mad genius is a pain in the ass.

    Perfect. Perfect scene, perfect character, in an almost-kinda-sorta-perfect story. I love this strip too, and you should never sell it.

    Someone else once described a hero as a person who would jump off the side of a building to catch someone who fell, then figure out how not to die on the way down. They were talking about Batman’s Robin, but I always think of Artie when I remember that description. It fits him to a tee, except maybe for the slight detail that he doesn’t have a rad utility belt to help him not die on the way down. He should… probably not ask Dave or Helen for a rad utility belt. They never really got revenge for the Gender Swap storyline.

    (Edit: Same here, Teej. I’ve been reading for years, but this is the only strip that’s utterly irresistable to me, despite my lifelong career in lurking.)

  31. (TUNE: “Free Fallin’ “, Tom Petty)

    I’m a good man … or a good gerbil,
    Try to do right, I try to be good …
    I recycle, donate to Greenpeace,
    Drive a Tesla, ’cause I think I should …

    Without thinking, I try to save Helen …
    I will shield her … body with mine!
    Plummet downward, gravity pulls us …
    I’ll get splattered, she’ll likely be fine!

          Look at me!  I’m falling!
          Couldn’t be … more galling!

    Was I made for … this single moment?
    Did my maker … foresee it all?
    Could it then have … all been avoided?
    I could really … use a Tylenol!
       [repeat CHORUS]

  32. Oh Artie, if she could plan to avoid the situation, rather than simply find a way to make her minions save her from it, she wouldn’t be an evil mad scientist.

  33. It’s an interesting coincidence that a “then figure out how not to die on the way down” reference like this would show up in the Director’s Cut at about the same time that Aaron’s online PS238 is beginning issue 43.  “Revenant?  I think I need to borrow the JET!”

  34. I always knew I’d die with a headache.

    What an outstanding line that would be to open a hardboiled mad science private eye story!

  35. Helen may not plan that far ahead, but Shaenon does. Now we see what Helen was talking about way back here. Or will talk about, 17 years hence.

    Unless the future gets changed, of course….

  36. This is an excellent sequence. Fits the more serious tone of the storyline, toys around with the possibility that madness makes sense out of a whole several years’ worth of apparent lunacy, ends with Artie making a pithy, Artie-like observation. Good stuff.

  37. This is one of the most beautiful bits of any story I’ve ever read/watched/whatever. It was the first bit of this story that made me cry back when I was reading it through for the first time during the original run, and that was hard to do back then. I’ve loosened up since, but at that point, I think you were the third writer in about 15 years to make something powerful enough that I reacted that strongly. Thank you.

  38. Really, though, if you have this strip, you don’t need the others. You want them, sure, because most of them are pretty darned awe-inspiring in their own right. But you don’t really need them, because no single strip encapsulates the essence of Narbonic a fraction as effectively or as beautifully as this one.

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