Studies in Internet Humor: Narbonic

An underground lair? Puh-leeeze. The underground lair look was passe when James Bond first blew one up! The apartment was fine, even if it was next to a non-evil dentist; maybe there’s a nice Evil Professional Building the Labs could move into instead. C
(Rated by Amanda Van Rhyn)

Narbonic begs for fanfic. For one thing, an intrepid fanperson writer willing to ignore Dave’s deadness could easily make him the Tenchi of Tomorrow; after all, any time a guy is surrounded by cute psychotic women with a penchant for stuff blowing up, Romance is sure to bloom. A+
(Rated by Amanda Van Rhyn)

Use of Gerbils
An interesting idea–as anyone who ever had a rodent as a littlekid knows, those things have uncharted evil potential–but sadly underused. The “let’s create a giant rampaging gerbil horde” and “let’screate a hyperintelligent gerbil” plots are both overused in Mad Science and sadly underutilizing the unique evil talents of the gerbil. Start thinking outside the box and inside the Habitrail, Beta! B-
(Rated by Amanda Van Rhyn)

Fashion Sense
Definitely business-casual but stylish, appropriate to the rigorous requirements of Evil Science–obviously clothes that look like a pump but feel like a vacc-suit. The Labs’ use of boxer shorts as show-tune headwear also helps the feeling of “sure, we’re bent on world conquest, but we can have fun too!” B+
(Rated by Amanda Van Rhyn)

Overall Evil
You really have to respect the variety of evil found at Narbonics Labs; it takes a brave mad-science crew to branch out from the standard options and into Mad Comp Sci (and Mad Law, a brave and uncharted field). Furthermore, the actual content of the plots has stood up nicely. At least, nobody’s been destroyed by their own creations yet…well, unless you count Dave, but that death ray was a kit. A
(Rated by Amanda Van Rhyn)

Mad Science
You just gotta love mad science, and Narbonic is full of it! Wanton cloning, animal uplifting, growth formulas, teleporters, Death Rays! How can you beat Orbital Death Rays? Ask Dave. You can’t! Mwa ha ha hah! A+
(Rated by Zodo)

Kooky Characters
A mad scientist who is the clone of another mad scientist, grown for body partsbut ran away as a teenager. A gun happy assistant who is just entering Evil Law School, and looks great in plaid miniskirts. A dead Computer scientist who chain smokes. (Death Ray!) Hyper intelligent gerbils! Evil Kitten! Forensic Linguist! Cute Demon! Mwa ha ha hah! A
(Rated by Zodo)

Every strip is dedicated to someone. Most of them I’ve never heard of. None of them are me. Hmph. Don’t really get it, but it’s always there, so it’s an Aspect. D
(Rated by Zodo)

Egregious Violence
Stampeding Ur-Gerbils. Exploding and imploding Doomsday Machines. High calibre weaponry fired wantonly. Did I mention Orbital Death Rays? What makes all thisviolence more beautiful is that there is never any faltering about silly things like morals or guilt. Why did Mom Narbonic kill Dave with a Death Ray? “It’sa Death Ray!” Duh! A+
(Rated by Zodo)

Epic Side Stories/Multipage Sunday Strips
When I started reading Narbonic, it took me a little while to realize I wassupposed to click on some of the Sunday strips to get to the subsequentpages.This was a little confusing at first, but once I figured it out, I was well rewarded, by interesting and perplexing stories. I particularly like the Victorian era story about the journey to the moon. Very true to the flavor of the era. As a big fan of Jules Verne I give a hearty thumbs up to that. B
(Rated by Zodo)

Guest Strips
Every web comic has them. Narbonic is no exception. I won’t complain about their existence. It says a lot about a strip if there are a lot of peoplewhowant to emulate its style. Some do really well. Others…don’t. Sometimes I don’t get the jokes in the guest strips. Other times, I just don’t care for the art. On occasion, it’s both. In any case, they at least beat havingto look at the same thing day after day. C
(Rated by Zodo)

Shakespearean content of Narbonic:
Bleeding zilch! Not one utterance or misquote of a Shakespearean sonnet, and we call this literature? Well, alright, we DO have the ONE (count him, ONE), demon named Caliban, but he amounts to little more than Dave’s counterpart in Hell: just wishy-washy, you know? Where is the passion? Where is the burning desire to do wrong and to harm souls? Is he that tortured, himself? And seeing’s he’s also kind of Gen-X-ish, what does that say about our own generation, that we’re too bored to notice we’re doing the work of Satan? Why does he not rebel or aspire to taking over Hell, himself? Geez! Well, I guess he is kind of existential, in a Sartre sort of way, but there’s no poetry, not even a token mis-quote of Milton, “…’Tis better to be a civil servant in Hell, than to play wimpy harps in Heaven…” Okay, so the score is, Shakespeare: 0, Sartre: one highly conditional, very iffy, point. Rating: D
(Rated by Dennis Bergendorf)

Sex appeal of characters in Narbonic:
Dave Davenport:
Sorry, can’t comment, being straight myself (although all bets are off if Timothy Dalton or Hugh Laurie were to…never mind). However, I suspect Dave might have a certain naive charm (but no muscle), but he smokes like a chimney at a steel foundry, and if you could just pry him away from his damned Star Wars toys…oh, I know, Helen (alpha) tried to wean him (good motherly type that she is), but wound up killing him, instead. Oh yes, and that brings up issues of necrophilia. Okay some girls like that, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t if I were female or gay. Let Demi Moore have her fun with a DEAD Patrick Swayze, but count me out. I mean, evil is evil, but that…no. Definitely not. Rating: D-
(Rated by Dennis Bergendorf)

Dave Barker:
Doesn’t he wear anything else? He travelled as far and wide as he did, and never bothered to pack another t-shirt? Did he remember to buy traveler’s cheques? Couldn’t he have bought another shirt? Rating: D
(Rated by Dennis Bergendorf)

Antonio Smith:
Well, the same as above apply, but I think I would find his literacy quite a refreshing break from all the beefcakes down at the meat market. Wait, didn’t he quote Shakespeare at some point? Hmmm…I may have to revise the above rating. Oh, and he doesn’t smoke, that’s a plus, and he has a secret identity, adding a sense of mystery and dare I say, danger…Oh, he gets a clear and present… Rating: B.
(Rated by Dennis Bergendorf)

Okay, brains, cool hideout, but so stuck on himself. Everything is about him, isn’t it? Well, yes, he’s evil, but…And he’s so stand-offish. There’s a certain appeal in that one (object of desire) that is perpetually unattainable. Wow, and he does his own shopping. This shows a certain independence, meaning he’s not looking for another “Mom”. Oh, if I were a woman, I’d be after him like a starved greyhound on a live rabbit. Rating: B+
(Rated by Dennis Bergendorf)

The Red-headed Cop in the first stand-off:
The uniform, the red hair, the dark shades…Less is more, here, and I am smitten by what little there is known about her. Rating: B
(Rated by Dennis Bergendorf)

Helen Narbon (Alpha):
Warped sense of humor (actually sees the humor in a lot of things, I admire that); knows what she wants; doesn’t need a man in her life (that unattainable factor, again); Her exceptional taste in staple foods (wine and chips) shows a very down-to-earth sensibility; resourceful (knows where to get a teleportation device); and cool under pressure. Don’t really care much for the haircut, but that’s a temporary issue. Rating: C+
(Rated by Dennis Bergendorf)

That evil innocence…That youthful enthusiasm…That ever-so-slightly-revealing-without-divulging-too-much torn sweatshirt…That arsenal that would kill Wayne LaPierre with envy! What is not to find titilating about her. She is a wonderful jolt to the system (not as much as Alpha with a death ray, but a jolt, just the same), capable of driving a man to madness by every moment of her absence. She can kill with a glance, particularly when armed with a Winchester 30.06 with a scope. Oh, to be her target practice. To insult her honor, if only to have her defend it on a gray, misty dawn out on the moors… (ahem). Rating: A-
(Rated by Dennis Bergendorf)

Helen Narbon (Beta):
If evil needed a spokesperson, her appeal alone could convert thousands…well, dozens…well, me, anyway. She is a delightful blend of ambition and vulnerability. She is the damsel in distress sent to lure the valiant knight to his death. How many would gladly fall on their swords for her, if she only used her gift of charm in her ignoble plans? But that is her charm, is her seeming unawareness that she could save all her brilliant, but convoluted schemes, and simply bat her eyes to turn men and women (especially horny ones) alike against themselves? She gets a resounding… Rating: A
(Rated by Dennis Bergendorf)

The Cartoonist:
Nice cameos depicting the girl next door (or more precisely, down at the comics shop on the corner). What can be said about such a vision of familiar beauty, of artistic brilliance, perseverance, and let’s call it chutzpah, to obviously try to conquer a world (wide web) with her intellectual creations? The parallels between her and Helen (Beta) are almost too close to compare. It is as they were one and the same wearing different wigs. But is the creation the distillation, the idealization, or a mirror-image of its creator? Who can tell? I would be enthralled to see more of the Cartoonist and find she is everything Helen is, and then some (more evil? Sure, why not?). Rating: A
(Rated by Dennis Bergendorf)

I don’t care what people say, the underground lair is cool. What better place to hold an up-and-coming evil geneticist than an abandoned sewer system? B+
(Rated by John Sears)

Oh yeah. Nothing like chemically propelled metallic objects flying toward worthy(or unworthy, completely innocent even) targets. Look at it this way, with Mell around, the Narbon lab will never be short on corpses(at least not for long). A
(Rated by John Sears)

Weapons of Mass Destruction:
Whether it’s a nuclear first-strike against the neighbors or an orbital Death Ray with all of the trimmings, Narbonic has weapons of mass destruction covered like a rug. I’d like to see a forensic linguist defend himself from a few megatons of explosive force. A+
(Rated by John Sears)

Reason and peace won’t get you very far in a comic with mad scientists running amok. A simple space lasering in the last panel and everyone will forget that you ever existed. “Pinkos eliminated, time to move out” indeed. F
(Rated by John Sears)

It’s a bitch. You raise ’em, you feed ’em, and they won’t even give you a stomach. (“Mom! Were you going to do stomach surgery on YOURSELF?”). But sometimes they’ll take you in for a bit and give you wine and toys and a henchman to play with. C-
(Rated by Ed Wells)

And the point of that would be? NR (not relevant)
(Rated by Ed Wells)

Yowza! Brilliant, BWAA-HAHA, big-hair beauty–this cartoon has it all, and that’s just Helen. Then there’s Mel, if you prefer smaller, sassy, spunky, dark-haired and dangerous with bullets OR boxer shorts. These two women drive the cartoon with their wit and evil. (Oh, and don’t forget Mom, independent and active in her later years, a role model for the Aging Boomers) A
(Rated by Ed Wells)

Hard to get inspired here. Dave is kinda shlumpfy and soft, blends into an old couch, comfortable but hardly ideal. Madblood is more ego than man, but he gets by on his looks. ANTONIO SMITH, forensic penguin, cannot organize or lead. You want manhood, go find Farago. C
(Rated by Ed Wells)

At last, a cartoonist who understands that gerbils are as smart as people. Or vice versa. I refer here to the Thundering Gerbil Herd, who, if given hands, could defeat any #1 ranked college football team AND get a higher average SAT score. And they are cuter than some of the cheerleaders. A
(Rated by Ed Wells)

Forget it. None. Zero. Zilch. The HIGH point is a bland anonymous suburban office building. Mostly it’s down the sewer. Give me Gotham any day! F
(Rated by Ed Wells)

Sisterhood, Brotherhood, All Them Other ‘Hoods
Ain’t none. Solidarity, who cares? It’s EVIL, baby. F
(Rated by Ed Wells)

Note:This ratings system has been shamelessly ripped off The Brunching Shuttlecocks, which you must visit at once, as part of the Studies in Internet Humor Project.

I think this was the last Studies in Internet Humor feature, which is just as well, although I like the way this one turned out. As you can tell, I solicited ratings from the Narbonic mailing list, and the responses were a lot of fun. I like the lower grades the best, of course.

“Fanficcability” is an interesting category, as no one had, to my knowledge, written any Narbonic fanfiction at the time. Eventually a few people did, which I enjoyed a little too much.

The “Dedications” entry refers to the fact that, as longtime Narbonic readers know, I used to hide dedications for each strip in the alt tags. I stopped doing it when the strip moved to Modern Tales because the Modern Tales control panel didn’t allow me to set up alt tags easily. Also, coming up with the dedications got surprisingly hard after a while. Sorry, everyone. I’m really lazy.

Dennis Bergendorf is totally wrong about the Shakespearean content of Narbonic. Actually Narbonic is all over the Shakespeare thing. Incidentally, I still like Dennis’s lifting of a Rocky Horror quote to sum up Dave’s sex appeal. But Dave Barker should really get a higher sex-appeal grade than I do, even in the Narbonic shirt.

I think “You want manhood, go find Farago” should be on Andrew’s business card.

4 thoughts on “Studies in Internet Humor: Narbonic

  1. As regards Narbonic fanfic — a pair of stories which may be of interest are “Favor for Favor” ( and “I Suppose This Means They Read the Fanfic” (  In the first of these, a villain from the Kim Possible animated series is writing Narbonic slash; in the second, the Narbonic cast — well, mostly Mell — hops dimensions and goes after her.  In some respects these are very odd, but the author’s Mell is disturbingly Mell-like….

  2. Gerbils
    Okay, I get the drift: deep down Helen is still just a geeky schoolgirl who raises pet gerbils named Jemima and Mr. Sillypants and wants a pony for Christmas. (And who among us didn’t want a pony for Christmas? It’s like a bicycle that you can hug.) But after their introductory episode, the gerbil theme starts to spread over the comic like a furry, cuddly bacillus, and Helen’s ‘schoolgirl’ personality aspect never gets to manifest as anything else. Consider: not once does Helen use her powers to make a unicorn. Willy Wonka’s ‘fricking teleporter’ misuse can’t compare to that tragedy.
    Rating: B-
    Author Appeal Quotient: 77%.

    Pink-Heart Evil
    The combination of the evil mad scientist and the chirpy schoolgirl, much like the dunking of block-chocolate into plain milk, results in the structural integrity of the former being seriously compromised by the latter. I mean, what would a chirpy schoolgirl want with Showing Them All? Revenge is a very dour and bitter affair, much like a cube of chocolate that has been transformed into a soggy black lump. How can Helen vow to Destroy Those Fools with a smile on her face and a song in her heart? Is this evil business all just a game, a role she plays, or are the heart-dotted-i’s just a mask for the terrible agony that bubbles deep under the surface, never to be seen directly? What on Earth does Cadbury make chocolate out of such that it’s even capable of turning into that?
    Rating: C+
    Author Appeal Quotient: 52%

    Giant Glasses
    Well, whatever floats your boat.
    Rating: B
    Author Appeal Quotient: 100.3%.

  3. Dave Davenport: The smart girls know there is nothing sexier than a guy with a brain! And glasses are a must for all brilliant-and-somewhat-evil-slacker IT guys. But I really fell in love with Dave during the “High School Reunion” storyline. The way he smiles and proudly declares “That’s my date!” just as Helen is about to turn her schoolmates into gerbils…how can you not love him?

    (In the interest of full disclosure, that’s also the panel when I suddenly realized that Dave is a short-haired, cartoon version of my husband–also named Dave, also a computer guy, also wears glasses and sometimes a flannel, also finds brainy women in glasses hot, who may have inclinations towards mad science, and who would absolutely have the same reaction if I decided that my former classmates would make good gerbils) A

  4. I APOLOGIZE!!!  I was so terribly wrong to have judged your Shakespearean content based on my own limited knowledge of the Bard.

    I realized of my mistake when I found myself immersed in the Merchant of Venice almost three years ago, and it dawned on me that…  well, oopsy on my part.

    If I didn’t think you got this kind of offer all the time, I’d offer to make it up to you (I dunno, buy ya’ a beer or something) next time I’m in San Francisco.

    Oh, okay, and your grade is officially changed to an A+ in Shakespeare references.

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