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If they'd been Wombat Zombies, Campbell could have worked a Digger reference in too.

(From Fans. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Hot Cootchie Momma!)

I like Fans. I like T. Campbell. I like the evolution of this his endgame. I like where he's going with the story.

I like Narbonic. I like Helen and her gang. And I like Dr. Helen Narbon -- she of the "heh heh heh." I like them all.

And yet... I read this, like I've read the other Narbon cameos in this plotline... and... well, 'meh.' It's kind of bothered me throughout. And I finally figured out why with this particular mention.

See, the late Robert Reed once made reference to 'Batman in the Operating Room.' He was talking about an episode of Brady Bunch that had pulled out a pointlessly slapstick premise that simply didn't fit with the established comedic tone of Brady Bunch. Now, the fact that no one gave a fuck about the "established comedic tone" of the Bradys except for Robert Reed didn't matter. He gave a fuck, and he explained why it was a problem. It was, in his words, like having an episode of M*A*S*H, funny as always in its cerebral way, featuring Hawkeye and the gang quipping in the O.R. Suddenly, the camp version of Batman bursts in, on the pursuit of some nefarious criminal, operating in his comedic theme.

At this point, the scene cannot work, period. M*A*S*H and Batman were both comedies, but they were entirely different in tone, in pacing and in execution. One could make a credible M*A*S*H plot about a shellshocked soldier who got a Batman costume and was delusional, or one could make a credible Batman plot where he ends up at a battlefield hospital chock full of cameos from M*A*S*H, playing off the camp, but you couldn't do both at once. Suspension of disbelief wouldn't support it.

Well, Narbonic is a funny, funny strip. There is essentially always the setup and execution of humor. Always. I can only think of one strip in the last several years that didn't have a joke in it, and even that strip was paced like a gag. That it has clear Story doesn't change that fact. It is gloriously, wonderously absurd.

Fans isn't. There is always a satirical element to the strip, but the strip is itself paced seriously within that. Its humor tends to be black, or even nonexistent. And it always -- always -- takes itself seriously in the heart of the absurd.

To have Doctor Helen Narbon hurling people into Badger Zombie pits in the midst of that is at best jarring. You don't know if you should apply Narbonic rules or Fans rules. It distracts. it cracks the facade of Suspension of Disbelief.

In short, it's Batman in the Operating Room, and even the brilliant writing of T. Campbell and art of Jason Waltrip -- and Waltrip does one Hell of a Doctor Narbon, artistically speaking -- isn't enough to overcome it.

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Comments

*cough* There is actually a Fans strip where they pass a semi that has Digger mudflaps. But that's neither here nor there.

Although while I'm thinking of it, "Zombie Wombats" would be a heckuva band name.

I would kind of like to have a set of Digger mudflaps.

Fair point. I never know how these things are going to work with readers until they're tried. I'm kind of surprised to be hearing about it with the use of THIS character, instead of, say, Daffy Duck.

For me, Dr. Helen Narbon is scary as hell. Her psychotic disregard for human life and seeming lack of vulnerability-- and the number of traits she shares with the likable "Helen Beta"-- well, sure, it's played for laughs, but as I read it, that humor's as black as pitch.

For me, that's why Dr. Narbon works in both worlds.

She works within the context of NARBONIC, but she tests its limits, forcing Helen Beta's nobler qualities to the surface and hinting at the presence of REAL evil, DEEP evil, not goofy and charming "We're going to BLOW UP THE MOON!" evil.

In FANS, she's ironically more at home, sharing a lot of traits with two of the series' longer-lasting villains, Thack and the General. FANS's humor is blacker, on average, than NARBONIC's, but so is Dr. Narbon's.

By sheer happenstance, I believe Dr. Narbon will be returning to "Narbonic" while this "Fans!" storyline is still running, so anyone who's interested will get to see her in both "Fans!" and in her native habitat.

For what it's worth, T's dialogue for Dr. Narbon has been spot-on. And Jason Waltrip's version of her looks pretty much exactly like the version I draw (or, at least, the version I drew the last time this character appeared, two or three years ago), so that works out okay.

I think this may be the very first webcomics crossover I've seen where I was already reading both comics. That alone has made it fun.

If it makes you feel any better, T, I was considerably more thrown by Daffy Duck than by Dr. Narbon.

Where I think the disconnect for Eric may be coming from isn't in how Narbon is written, since that's been pretty much letter perfect -- it's in the evironment surrounding her. In Fans, death is a very real and constant threat. Not so in Narbonic. Sure some gerbils have died, some Daves have died, but nobody important. Except for Dave himself, who had a wacky adventure and then came back. Dr. Narbon is from a consequence-free world. By recontextualizing her into a world where murder really is murder, she suddenly becomes far more sinister, even if her character hasn't changed at all.

Well, since Eric has added an item to the jargon list (or soon will), I suppose I'd better comment. }:-{D

T., there's an aspect of the Doctor that you're missing: the aspect of unbelievability.

Let's take the Roadrunner-Coyote cartoons as an example. The Coyote's travails are often self-inflicted, but -not always-. That's not the core of the humor. The Coyote often comes up looking ridiculously deformed as a result of his disasters... but not always, indeed not even a majority of the time. The core of the Coyote's humor is this: he suffers through events so violent that they are literally unbelievable. His pain is funny because virtually anyone can see IT'S NOT REAL.

Evil mad scientists like Narbon (who I am not familiar with as an individual) are funny because their over-the-top actions (creating universe-destroying push buttons, throwing people into pits of ridiculous forms of death, etc.) are -so- horrible that they are not believable. "It's a joke," the brain says, "it can't possibly be real."

If the Coyote's plans were foiled not by amusing backfires or improbable waivers of the laws of physics, but by a shotgun blast from a Remington-toting Roadrunner, and the Coyote flopped over dead, -that- would -not- be funny. (Unless it were drawn by Randy Milholland, who'd make it black humor, or it were drawn by Josh Lesnick, who would make it an amusing non sequitur. But I digress.)

Likewise, if Narbon's evil becomes believable, it ceases to be humor, dark or otherwise. How this would fit in with Fans I couldn't say; I've tried to get into Fans twice, and I've never found any part of what I've read even remotely amusing. At all. Ever. It just doesn't seem like a comic geared towards humor, at least not to me.

How Narbon would work in a soap opera comic (which is how Fans -does- come across to me) I couldn't possibly guess, but I can see how the attempt to mix the two would seem to clash to Eric...

Hm...I disagree that mad scientists need to be unbelievable. "A Miracle of Science" has used the concept of "mad science as a psychological illness" as one of its main plot devices, with excellent results. Their loony (and dangerous) inventors are no more unbelievable, than, say, Nikola Tesla ;-)

Being a long time reader of Fans! and never having read Narbonic, my brain made the jump for me. The man was being confined in the MAD scientists wing. While the Fans world was already going ahead and breaking all the rules as a result of the 23 sider of power, I simply assumed that this particular mad scientist was, in fact, MAD! As such, everything he said needed to be taken with a grain of salt.

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