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"Young lady, you fail to grasp the basic principles of mad science. Common sense would be cheating."
—Professor Lupin Madblood
Evil has never been this cute!
Answering an innocent job offer, Dave Davenport is drawn into a shocking spiral of vice, crime and moral depravity. Hopelessly ensnared by a madwoman's feminine wiles, can he return to the world of sanity before it is... too late? Narbonic skates over some surprisingly serious territory, but with such a light touch you will probably be too busy laughing to notice. Formerly on a subscription site, the story ended in late 2006, whereupon the entire archive was made free.
You can view both the regular version and the Director's Cut (wherein cartoonist Shaenon K. Garrity explains the previous-comic background of the major characters, and comments on each strip). (And finally please refrain from reading the spoilered text below if you intend reading this comic at some point in the future or are following the Director's Cut in real time.)
- Achievements in Ignorance: Dave, who can fix anything. At the very beginning of the strip, he is able to reconstruct a fully functioning weather-control device from a broken mail sorter that Helen tricked him into believing was a broken mail-order doomsday device. The resulting device can control pre-existing Kill Sats.
- Subversion too, as he's really a latent genius.
- Affably Evil: Helen and Mell do pretty unpleasant, not to mention unethical and irresponsible, things pretty much constantly. But they're so darn charming its easy to forget.
- And Then John Was a Zombie And then Dave was a Mad Scientist.
- Animorphism: inverted with Artie, a gerbil transmogrified into a human
- The Annotated Edition: The comic has a rerun with strip-by-strip commentary, which started when the strip itself ended.
- Anti-Villain: The protagonists!
- Art Shift: Every year has a Dave-in-Slumberland strip whose art style is based on that of Little Nemo and Dreams of the Rarbrit Fiend. These contain coded clues for what will happen in the following year of strips.
- Back from the Dead: Dave. No, this isn't a spoiler.
- Bad Future: Dave ends up in one when he's unstuck in time. One of the residents there a Hyperintelligent mind uploaded verison of Dave himself gives him a subtle clue about how to fix the future.
- Beta Couple: Mell and Caliban
- Big Bad Ensemble: The last arc has the Hamsters and Dave, though the later is clearly the bigger and more personal threat.
- Briar Patching: "If that's the way they want it, I'll just have to cope with living on a tropical island with two scantily-clad women." (Also a heavy dose of Foreshadowing and or Fridge Brilliance on the part of the author.)
- Bold Inflation: Two plus two words: ANTONIO SMITH (FORENSIC LINGUIST).
- He would kill you for writing his name in all caps.
- Unless he's wearing the fedora.
- Broken Faceplate: The state of Dave's eyeglasses symbolizes the state of his sanity. For most of the comic's run, his glasses are intact but represented as opaque. Towards the end when Dave finally realizes the great secret responsible for much of his life's path, his glasses are suddenly represented as clear, showing that he can see clearly now. And then one of the lenses cracks, as a not-so-subtle way to show that Dave is half-cracked.
- Butt Monkey: Madblood and Dave for much of the comic. They still don't have anything on Victorian Madblood, who ended up the sole consort of a planet of shapeshifters who decided they all liked his form best.
- Brain Uploading: Dave, during his Mad Scientist breakdown.
- Brotherhood of Funny Hats: The Dave Conspiracy-- Their "hat" is being named Dave. Not only is every member a Dave, every Dave is a member!
- Daves who are ejected from the Conspiracy must introduce themselves as, and respond to, David. Others even take to calling them David, unconsciously, without any prodding!
- Card-Carrying Villain: unusually, this applies to the protagonists
- Chekhov's Gun and Chekhov's Gunman: Several examples.
- Chronically Crashed Car: Dave's cars can't ever catch a break.
- Cloning Blues: Helen was scarred by growing as the subject of experimentation by her mother on the heritability of Mad Genius, and worries that she's turning out just as bad. These worries become especially relevant both in her experiments on Dave's nascent madness and her bringing out a clone of Dave after their breakup. The Dave clone is killed by Dave as part of his Villainous Breakdown.
- Clue From Ed
- Companion Cube: Foot, of sorts. Acutally intelligent enough to speak, and an object of (temporary, we hope) desire for Mel. "Oh! He's so coldly destructive!"
- Con Lang: A throw-away gag in the epilogue.
- Contractual Genre Blindness AND Genre Savvy
- Cool but Inefficient: a hallmark of mad science, as pointed out by Mell: see Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better
- Cosmic Deadline: The final story arc.
- Costumer: the Victorian Sunday feature
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Helen never actually appears stupid (she is a mad scientist afterall) but she does almost always act as a Affably Evil hyperintelligent version of The Ditz. this is very much an act.
- Deconstructor Fleet
- Destructo-Nookie: when Helen and Dave get together for the first time, the lab is trashed. Noodle Implements are scattered everywhere.
- Do Not Adjust Your Set: Done by Professor Madblood
- Easter Egg: A story of Helen's origin can be found (two or three words at a time) attached to the filenames of the individual strips. The compiled story can be found here.
- Elaborate Underground Base: played straight with Helen's lair, but subverted as well. Madblood brags about his "underground lair", but it's revealed that "underground" means "living in Mom's basement".
- Helen's "underground lair" is actually a storm drain. They just do a really good job fixing it up.
- Embarrassing Middle Name: Helen (Beta), Dave (Prescott), and Mell (Wildflower).
- Entertainingly Wrong: In this strip, Dave comes to the entirely logical but incorrect conclusion that Lovelace is actually Professor Madblood.
- Evil Laugh
- Fake-Out Make-Out, sort of
- Filk Song: This has become a running feature in the comments section of the "Director's Cut" re-runs. For example, this strip inspired one reader to compose "In The Dungeon We'll Rot" to the tune of "You're The One That I Want" from the movie version of "Grease".
- Foreshadowing: Almost everything in the comic. Side characters, oddball filler arcs, offhand comments, almost everything comes into play later.
- For Want of a Nail: "Listen, Dave. When the time comes, you must refill the swimming pool. Got it?"
- Freak-Out: All mad scientists go through this when they first go mad. Hellen's, told in an Easter Egg spanning literally the entire strip's run (hint: Look at the filenames of the strips) involved her turning a bunch of pasta into a deadly bioweapon.
- Note that, of the scientists who mentioned the settings and casualties of their initial freakouts, Helens was the most destructive. The competition included a nuclear power station.
- Dave's involves him taking over Madblood's evil lair, killing off the local advanced AI, and uploading his own brain to take it's place.
- Furry Fandom: Some elements are heavily parodied in this strip.
- Geeky Analogy: Dave does this a lot; since he works for a mad scientist, his analogies with Star Trek and Marvel Comics are usually highly appropriate.
- Gender Bender: First once to test a theory about the Third Law of Gender Bending, later used as a sexual roleplay device.
- Generation Xerox: Not only is Helen a literal "xerox" of her mother, but her life and personal tastes parallel hers in several ways, occasionally to her angst.
- The Victorian Narbonic storyline may or may not be part of canon, but there are at least two ghosts to testify to a Helen, Mell, and Dave living over a century ago having similar mad science adventures.
- Go-Go Enslavement
- Go Look At the Distraction: Happens to Dave during the "Lovelace affair" plotline.
- Good Angel, Bad Angel: Played with -- not only is there Good Angel, Bad Angel, but there's "Social Life", "Mad Scientist", "Self Esteem", "Fear of Women", "Biological Clock"... And the characters can all see their own, and the angels can see each other -- and socialize after work.
- Gratuitous Italian: The Italian spoken by the Amazon Women of Mars in the Victorian storyline oscillates between nearly normal and positively Jabberwockish.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Zeta Vincent.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Shaenon Garrity litters the Mad Symposium of "Professor Madblood and the Lovelace Affair" with cameos of mad scientists from other webcomics.
- Hoist by His Own Petard (subverted)
- Huge Holographic Head
- Hulk Speak: Foot
- Humanity Ensues: Artie is not happy about his acquisition of Shapeshifting abilities.
- Hyperspace Mallet: Mell's easy access to Hammerspace has been lampshaded once or twice.
- Especially when she takes out an actual mallet.
Helen: Where exactly did you get that mallet?
- I Am Who?: Dave
- Idiot Ball: Dave plays a fool to Artie's straight talk, but only when it's funny.
- I'll Tell You When I've Had Enough!: ...mocha talls, damnit.
- Indy Ploy: Helen's typical approach ("It's times like these I almost question my usual strategy of doing whatever dumb thing pops into my head.")
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Madblood gets no respect.
- Inside a Computer System: Where Helen goes to rescue Dave.
- Intellectual Animal
- In the Past Everyone Will Be Famous
- Indulgent Fantasy Segue: Dave confessing (or not) his feelings for Helen.
- Inferred Holocaust: Played for in-universe Fridge Horror when Mell and Dave speculate about the control group for Helen's mothers experiments on mad science.
- Informed Ability: Dr. Narbon's only major scientific accomplishment (mad or otherwise) is her longitudinal study of her daughter-clone Helen Beta. Everything else, she snitches off Helen's work. This is brought a few times, naturally. She's pretty good at the Evil Overlord gig though.
- Instant AI, Just Add Water: Lovelace
- Involuntary Shapeshifting: Two examples - Artie (shapeshifting into a human whenever he hiccups), Dave (given a Gender Bender drug against his will by Helen to test a hypothesis).
- Ironic Echo: "I love you." "Not enough." Especially noteworthy since Dave echoed what Future Helen said to him, while she probably echoed what he said.
- Jacob Marley Warning
- Kid From the Future
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: As Mell points out, Madblood has armed his robots with laser weapons that expend a rare moon crystal for power...which get one shot per crystal and must be manually reloaded like an antique pistol.
- Kiss Me, I'm Virtual: Lovelace
- Large Ham Title: Antonio Smith, Forensic Linguist!
- Law of Conservation of Normality
- Like a Badass Out of Hell: Seth
- MacGuffin Delivery Service: subverted
- Mad Scientist: Helen, Madblood, Dave Davenport
- Mad Scientist Laboratory: The main setting.
- Man, I Feel Like a Woman
- Meanwhile in the Future
- A Million Is a Statistic: Played for laughs in the epilogue.
- Milkman Conspiracy: A vast yet conspiratorial organization which consists of guys only named Dave. At one point, protagonist Dave Davenport gets kicked out and his name becomes David. The other protagonists don't care and decide to keep calling him Dave anyway.
- My Little Panzer: In "A Week of December 18th Story", a parody of A Christmas Story, little (future Mad Scientist) Helen's Christmas toy of choice is the BioBeam 8000 gamma irradiator with 5-liter containment chamber, cesium 137 radiation source, optional remote monitoring station, and a thing on top that tells the time. This is apparently a real piece of equipment.
- Naked on Arrival: When you get kicked out of the afterlife into the mortal world, you're naked. Happens to both Caliban and Mell.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Professor Lupin "Wolf" Madblood, Helen Narbon Sr.
- Nerd Glasses: Dave, and the cartoonist.
- New Tech Is Not Cheap: Taken Up to Eleven, with a time machine requiring the energy of an entire universe.
- No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: Parodied when the hologram of Future Dave says something to this effect, then interrupts himself so he can use the "hologram" part for a Princess Leia impression.
Present Dave: I have no problem believing this is me.
- No Fourth Wall
- Noodle Incident: Plenty, but the most literal one was when Helen first went mad in an Italian bistro and caused nine casualties.
Dr. Fowler: "Yes, that was simply a killer pesto wasn't it, Narbon?"
- If one reads the side story, added a word or two a day in the filenames, the tale of that Italian Bistro is told.
- Not So Different: Poor Artie causes a lot of chaos, despite being the token good member of the cast.
- Not So Harmless: Helen comes across as a slightly goofy, hopelessly inept mad scientist playing to all the tropes (and a Hollywood Nerd). Turns out this is a persona she wears at all times to be able to interact with people on our level. When she has to go up against another newly-gone-mad mad scientist, she warns the rest of the cast that she will be too busy to play nice.
Artie: So what we've seen up to now is the reassuring persona?
- Oral Fixation Fixation: Dave
- Ordinary High School Student: Dave
- Otherkin: Inverted with the "acaudials" Artie meets on the internet, sapient animals who believe themselves human.
- Out-Gambitted: Madblood, constantly, by Helen. Has enough moments involving other people to manage being both the Butt Monkey and a Magnificent Bastard at the same time.
- Painting the Fourth Wall: Madness gets its own font, a particularly curly, flowerly script that just screams derangement.
- Photographic Memory: Artie, supposedly, but it's not a plot point.
- Power Perversion Potential:
Dave after breaking up with Helen: I'll never have lesbian sex again, dammit!
- Psycho for Hire: Mell.
- Punch Clock Villain: Dave, at least in the beginning.
- Rasputinian Death: It wasn't enough to kill Dr. Narbon.
- Reunion Revenge: Helen plans one, but calls it off.
- Rule of Pool
- Sanity Has Advantages: Played with. One girl — Helen and Dave's daughter — who's been seen in the bar Dave frequents comments that the first time she met him, he was driving androids to Canada, and the second time he was licking the barroom floor.
Dave: "So sanity's not coming off too well?"
- Scary Shiny Glasses: Dave is an odd example - his eyes are covered sporadically by his glasses throughout most of the comic and only go totally clear once he goes mad. The elder Doctor Narbon also wears glasses obscuring her eyes in all of her appearances in the comic except for when Dave meets her while traveling in time, where she looks exactly like present day Helen.
- Science-Related Memetic Disorder: Mad genius is an actual genetic condition, and Helen manages to find a cure for it... but with the side effect of decreasing the subject's intelligence and amplifying their Weirdness Censor to an astonishing degree. It also makes the user impotent. Since Helen was dating Dave at the time, she didn't want to use it on him for that reason.
- Sense Freak: Caliban in human form.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Among other things, Dave quit smoking by never starting in the first place. In a more plot heavy moment Dave from the future specifically invokes this trope by leaving a holographic message to a time hopping Dave from the present that he's not happy with his life, and gives him instructions on how to fix things.
- Sex Dressed
- Shameful Strip: After Nick Cricetida is knocked unconscious, he awakes in the villainess's bed naked.
- Shout-Out: When the mutant gerbils escape they are killed by a lop-eared rabbit with a switchblade - Bun-Bun from Sluggy Freelance. Also, a more subtle one: the Crabtree Grant to Women in Mad Science.
- Pretty much any film with a mad scientist gets a reference at some point or another. Here, the teleporter has a sign barring entry to flies.
- Shout-Out/To Shakespeare: ANTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST! (mis)quotes Shakespeare constantly. Helen's name is a reference to Helena de Narbonne in All's Well That Ends Well.
- At a mad scientists' convention, a supercomputer is asked to sing 'Daisy, Daisy'. It refuses.
- It later takes an opportunity to say: "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that." Later still, as it's being erased, the supercomputer says "Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Will you stop, Dave? I'm afraid. Dave, my mind is going. I can--"
- To Babylon 5 when Helen declares:
Only one man has ever survived my ur-gerbils. He is behind me. You are in front of me.
- Artie's product number, RT-5478, is a reference to Shaenon's birthday.
- Small Girl, Big Gun: Mell, to a tee!
- Space Is Noisy: lampshaded
- Spanner in the Works
"And thus he falls for Villain Fallacy #2: Letting the harmless comic relief run free."
- Stepford Smiler: Helen, which we find out after Dave leaves.
- Talkative Loon: Dana, as well as Dave
- Tap on the Head: subverted; Mell can't do it properly because she's used to going straight for the kill.
- Tenchi Solution: The end of the "Victorian Narbonic" storyline, though it's a slight subversion.
- The Mad Hatter
- They Called Me Mad
- Time Skip: Three months, at the ending. Others are implied to take place in-between storylines, keeping the comic as a whole roughly in real time.
- Time Travel
- Tongue on the Flagpole: The parody of A Christmas Story briefly shows a young Dave Davenport yelling "I'm thtuck!"
- Took a Level in Badass: Seth is something of a subversion. He becomes a potent demon slayer when he reappears in the comic, and has a wicked axe to boot, but has no better luck getting dates than he did in his earlier appearances.
- Totem Pole Trench: Done (unconvincingly) by a bunch of superintelligent hamsters with a trenchcoat and a paper plate face.
- Truly Single Parent: Helen is Dr. Narbon Senior's clone.
- Unholy Matrimony: Dave and Helen's happy ending.
- Video Wills: it wasn't a will, but Dave's 46-year-old self made a hologram to show his 26-year-old self when the younger Dave showed up via Time Travel. He knew what to say because he remembered what his younger self heard 20 years ago. Then it didn't happen. Oh well. Technically the 'holographic will' was actually Dave's mind in a supercomputer. Maybe.
- Villainous Breakdown: Every Mad Scientist goes through one of these when they first go crazy.
- There are benevolent Mad Scientists, who presumably don't go through one of these, but they're barely touched upon, as the Mad Scientific Community at large views them as tremendously creepy.
- Villain Protagonist
- Virtual Ghost
- The Walls Are Closing In: When Mell is sent on a mission to kill Dr. Narbon, she falls prey to this after commenting, "Huh, weird floor." Her captor comments that there wasn't time to come up with something original, since Mell made it farther than expected.
- Wham! Episode
- Weird Trade Union: Both henchmen and killer androids have their own unions. (That last one was actually Artie's fault.)
- Weirdness Censor: Dave's brother Bill is an extreme example — rather than merely reinterpreting weirdness as mundane things (for example, treating Artie as a normal gerbil) he does not perceive weird things at all (for example, he just can't see Artie).
- Notably, when Helen tests her Science-Related Memetic Disorder antiserum on a clone of Dave, he gains one that's just as strong; someone even mistakes him for Bill for a moment or two.
- Weirdness Magnet
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Mad scientists are utterly brilliant and can do things that should be impossible... but their genius is tied to their madness, which makes them volatile and destructive. It's probably also the reason that none of them has ever actually achieved World Domination.
- Xanatos Roulette: Helen may or may not (See Indy Ploy above) have planned everything that happens in the strip's run.
- You Didn't Ask: They don't even need to ask the question.