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Personnel of Narbonic Labs


RT-5478, alias Artie Meriono, A. Murida, Arthur Narbon

A test gerbil given partially human DNA and superhuman intelligence by Helen Narbon. While originally a mere experiment, Helen grew very fond of him and he proved to be a very competent individual, leading to a de facto, and later official, place on the Narbonic Labs staff. He is artistic but also a competent scientist and leader. Being the only morally upstanding member of the staff, he's prone to being various characters' conscience. Later he gains the ability to toggle back and forth between human and gerbil form whenever he hiccups.

  • Humanity Ensues: It takes him some time to cope with his newfound humanity.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Near the end of the comic, Helen rather viciously points out that everything that's gone wrong and everything that's currently threatening the world is his fault. Specifically, he made Dana super-intelligent (and insane), and she went on to create the intelligent hamsters who are trying to wipe out humanity. He went on to sponsor the hamsters' "non-partisan think-tank", giving them the funds to set up said humanity-wiping plan. Then he forced Helen to make Dave leave, thus allowing his mad genius to awaken without a controlling influence and nothing to keep him from deciding to take over the world.
    • Whether Helen meant for him to do those things, or even created him for that purpose, is a difficult question, however, and certainly complicates matters.
  • Not So Different: for a Token Good Teammate, he sure causes as much chaos as the evil ones, the only difference being that it's usually through good intentions and ignorance of human nature.
  • Only Sane Man: Very much so, despite his destructive naivete. Helen is literally mad, Mell is obsessed with weaponry and destruction, and Dave often goes along with Helen's insane plans due to their sheer coolness, so Artie's often the sole voice of reason. Later, he becomes literally the only sane member of the staff if we count Mell as insane.
  • Straight Gay: As far as one can tell from a comic, he seems to lack camp mannerisms, while it becomes very clear that he's gay after he adjusts to his human form.
  • Uplifted Animal: By definition, yes, but he takes offense to the term, saying that it promotes the idea that evolution is a one-way street with human-level intelligence as its goal, as well as a hierarchical view of humans and animals.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifter: After mastering the reflex with Zazen meditation, he permanently gains the ability to transmogrify between human and gerbil at will.
  • Wangst: yes, he can unfortunately come across this way. In a comic where most characters have mental illnesses and/or tragic backstories, Artie angsts enough for all of them, despite having arguably the least reason to. Lampshaded when he complains about how strong and attractive his human body is, calling it "the antithesis of all my values made flesh."
    • Luckily, however, Gayngst is averted for poor Artie; it may be one of the few things he never feels conflicted about.


    Dave Davenport 

Dave Prescott Davenport

Geeky everyman, or is he? Dave Davenport is the viewpoint character for much of Narbonic's run. He's an intelligent but dorky computer scientist with a love for all things geeky, from Star Trek: Voyager to Dungeons And Dragons. When he accepts a job offer from Narbonic Labs (apparently because Helen agreed to his terms of "casual dress code, smoking allowed), he finds himself drawn into the insane world of Helen Narbon, eventually finding himself as a willing and enthusiastic part of the mad scientific community. Which is appropriate enough, given that he's a latent mad scientist.

  • Achievements in Ignorance: Helen tricks him into doing this on a regular basis. She tells him that a rusty mail-sorter is a broken weather-controlling doomsday device, and he makes it work as such. She later tricks him into rebuilding a non-functional death ray console into a functioning one that can control existing Kill Sats. As he's actually a latent mad genius in deep denial, almost all of his technical feats count as this trope.
  • Always Someone Better: He's this to Madblood. Even before Dave breaks through and becomes a far stronger mad scientist, Professor Lupin Madblood envies a mere henchman, because, let's face it, Dave is a very lucky man. He has experiences that no one in their right mind could ever dream of having, gets the girl and manages to have a kind of geeky coolness that Lupin can't manage.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Zig-Zagged. Yes, he goes through hell literally and figuratively and never regains his sanity, and it is very satisfying when he gets his happy ending, but considering some of the things he does just before the end after he goes mad, it also counts as a Karma Houdini in a way. Much of the conflict of the last chapter is whether Helen can accept him back, but it seems so easy once she makes up her mind to that it comes off as a Karma Houdini anyways.
  • Face–Heel Turn / Heel–Face Turn: shortly after going mad, he starts really acting the part, up to and including trying to kill Helen and go on a world-ending rampage as a living computer virus. When he wakes up months later in a cloned body, he seems more at peace and is clearly the protagonist again (for the last two or three weeks of the comic.)
  • Gadgeteer Genius: He can apparently tinker anything technological into anything else without proper tools. Perhaps the most extreme example is when he builds a paper-thin PDA capable of using any surface it's placed on as a quantum CPU. He does so while distracted and possibly using only a paper-clip. This PDA leads directly to the reveal that he's a mad genius.
    • He also apparently turned the lab's coffee maker into some kind of rocket-propelled space probe capable of transmitting data back from the outer solar system. This is after he gave it and lots of other appliances in the lab artificial intelligence, by the way.
    • And Madblood's coffee maker now runs on heat from a quantum singularity, thanks to Dave. It still makes mediocre coffee, however.
  • Gender Bender: He's the first test subject for Helen's experimental gender-swap pill/serum. Contrary to the First Law of Gender-Bending, it's temporary, although he goes back sporadically when he and Helen have kinky mad-science sex all over the lab and later in order to bear their child.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Until he changes the timeline so that he never took up smoking, he's a rare good or at least chaotic neutral chainsmoker.
  • Morality Chain: Acts as this for Helen, whether either of them is willing to admit it. Just look what happens when he's temporarily out of the picture.
  • Mister Seahorse: It's strongly implied that he's the one that will eventually give birth to his and Helen's daughter, enough so that it shows up in officially commissioned fan art used as part of the grand finale.
  • Nerd Glasses: Big round ones. They're the Scary Shiny Glasses variety for most of the comic's run. His opaque glasses are a visual shorthand for him being blind to his true nature as a potential mad scientist. When he realizes his nature, they're drawn clear, and when he goes mad, one of them cracks.
  • Walking Spoiler: Just look how many spoilers there are in this character sheet! He's the central character of the comic, and a lot of the comic is devoted to exploring aspects of him that he is initially unaware of.
  • Weirdness Censor: Most people have this about mad science and the general weirdness of the world around them, but Dave has it for the fact that he's a mad scientist.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Early in the run of Narbonic, he tries to act like the Only Sane Man, but finds himself ill-suited for the role.

    Mell Kelly 

Melody Wildflower Kelly:

Evil intern. No, literally, this is her actual job title, and she lives up to it. Mell is violent, chaotic, obsessed with heavy weaponry and thirsty for power. When armed (which is nearly always,) Mell is a teenage force of nature capable of demolishing anyone or anything. She also has a laid-back, quirky personality and a knack for manipulating people, which she later puts to good use by becoming a lawyer and a politician in some timelines.

  • Angst? What Angst?: It's revealed that she can't get into heaven or hell again when she dies, having been thrown out of both. Her response? Have sex with her boyfriend and get over it. This probably sums her personality up as well as anything else.
  • Ax-Crazy: She's so violent and unpredictable that, when a plan is particularly delicate, she has to be distracted first. She's self-aware enough to acknowledge that it's a good idea, for extra crazy points.
  • Badass Normal: According to Word of God, she's not an evil genius or even a genius at all, but she's capable enough on her own terms to frighten hardened mad scientists, and more than one sticky situation is solved because Helen has her on staff.
    • She gets kicked out of Heaven for kicking God in the crotch and then immediately fights her way out of Hell, singlehandedly storms the Dave conspiracy's heavily guarded summer headquarters, negotiates with demons using her law degree and becomes the President of the U.S. in at least one timeline. In the same timeline she becomes the first character in Narbonic to destroy an entire universe.
    • It's heavily implied that she also has the honor of being the genetic source of Unity's brain in Skin Horse. Mell is so badass that the shadow government use her (cloned) brain in a weapons project.
  • Hammerspace: Mell regularly pulls anti-tank weaponry or giant ray-guns out of nowhere, and at one point opens her backpack and pulls out a BFG that couldn't possibly have fit inside. At least once she literally pulls out a Hyperspace Mallet, and when asked about it, responds with the now-classic line "mallets just happen."
  • Improbable Weapon User: Natch!
  • Naked on Arrival: As happened already with Caliban, this is what happens when you're thrown out of Hell. Done with unusual levels of discretion, as the reader only sees her feet and ankles sticking out of a snowbank.
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: frequently Up to Eleven, as Mell is tiny, possibly the smallest out of all the human characters, and some of her guns are huge.

     Helen Narbon 

Helen Beta Narbon

Helen is a perky, cutesy mad geneticist with a gerbil fixation. While Dave is both the viewpoint character and the main protagonist, she's the title character for a reason; ninety-five percent of the individual arcs happen at her instigation.

  • Baleful Polymorph: She has this reaction while turning into Dave due to a teleporter accident, with plenty of homages to The Fly (1986).
  • Bi the Way: She did apparently have "lesbian sex" with gender-swapped Dave. This is Dave's term for it, so take this with a grain of salt.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: As part of being a mad scientist, she has moments of utterly strange behavior like trying to set her pants on fire while giggling. She also apparently can't help herself from experimenting on Dave without his consent even when they're together.
  • The Chessmaster: Is she? Or does she just do what the voices tell her? In a mind as twisted as Helen's, there's apparently no difference between the two. She claims to have orchestrated all the major events of the comic up to a certain point as part of her intensive research on Dave, which would be a mind-boggling feat of prediction considering all the unknown variables involved. Towards the very end of the strip, Dave uses a form of mad probability to predict someone's location within a large area, so superhuman powers of prediction and strategy apparently go with the territory.
  • Identical Grandson: The women of the Narbon family tend to be identical in appearance and strikingly similar in personality. This is perhaps less striking with Helen and her mother of whom she's a clone, but it's very noticeable with the Helen Narbon who was active during the Victorian. In fact, the author theorizes that they might have been cloning themselves even back then. It's less explicable in the case of Victorian Mell and Dave, however.
    • There's a version of Lupin Madblood in the Victorian too, if we're to believe the Sunday steampunk features. He's later alluded to in Skin Horse. He created Mustachio.
  • Lethal Chef: An animate, monstrous pesto was her very first mad creation, alluded to in the comic and shown in a well-hidden easter egg story. Come to think of it, she's not much better at cooking now.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Normally averted, as her specialty is definitely genetics and ninety-five-percent of the science we see her doing is biologically based. That being said, she did build a device capable of sending Dave's consciousness back and forth in time, and is more tech-savvy than she lets on.


Other Characters:



Dana is the last surviving super-intelligent gerbil from the batch created from regular gerbils by Artie. Artie was genetically engineered with human DNA to be able to cope with the intelligence serum; the other gerbils were just any test gerbils, and so they degenerated into worsening psychosis—some of them even showing competence as mad scientists along the way, as in Dana's case.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Oh, yes. This is seen with a lot of the mad scientists, Helen especially, but Dana's instances of it take the cake, they really do. She builds a little man out of a spool of thread shortly after building a devastating superweapon, and later commits suicide in her final fit of degenerative madness by jumping into a bathtub of whipped cream.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Gerbils don't have a lot of sexual dimorphism, and Dana has been both a predominantly male name and a predominantly female name (like several of the other gerbil's names.) It was unclear even to a lot of the gerbils what the genders of some of them were. Dana ends up being female, in actual fact.

    The Daves 

The "Dave Conspiracy"

The Daves are the body of all humans named Dave. They're an ancient and absurdly powerful conspiracy, capable of influencing the government, making business deals with Hell on even footing, imprisoning people indefinitely on a private island, and getting chain hotels to install secret dungeons for them. In fact, it might not be a stretch to say that, as of the time Narbonic is set, that they are the shadow government. (Although this may have changed by the time of Skin Horse.)

     Professor Madblood 

Doctor Lupin Madblood

A high-grade mad engineer and computer scientist who has some mutual interest with Helen.

  • Always Someone Better: He feels this way about Dave, who previously thought the same thing about him.
  • Butt-Monkey: Not so much so as his Victorian ancestor, but let's see: his plans for world domination are always foiled by Helen and Dave, the former of whom is a mere upstart in the mad science world, and the latter of whom is a mere henchman. He never gets the girl, ends up repeatedly moving back into his mother's basement, and his own AI ends up falling for Dave. In the end, Dave's rampage upon going mad destroys his secret base yet again—in a certain timeline, Dave even claimed the base for his reformed "Narbonic Labs" after his rampage. Lupin does get one shining moment when he explains madness to the newly-mad Dave in a way that makes them both oddly sympathetic.
  • Meaningful Name: He's mad, and it's hereditary. He's got mad blood.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Again, Zig-Zagged. Most mad scientists have a specific field of study, and a fairly limited range of competence outside of it. Madblood is an engineer specializing in robotics. He does, however, build spaceships, rayguns, forcefields and a high-powered supercomputer.

     Doctor Narbon 

Doctor Helen Narbon

Dr. Narbon is Helen's mother by way of direct cloning, and one of her archenemies. She's manipulative, callous, self-absorbed, and in league with very dark powers. For various evil-related reasons, she fakes her death often, for instance in the beginning of the the easter-egg story; this particular death (and the insensitive way the family lawyer informed her of it) was one of the stressors that drove Helen mad.

  • The Dreaded: Her reputation is pretty huge. Helen once said that many mad scientists cite "mom" as a contributing reason they went mad. When somebody asks if she means their mothers, she says that she means her mother. Generally everyone dreads dealing with Dr. Narbon. Except Mell, who has Misaimed Fandom for her.
  • Evil Laugh: A crucial point of distinction between her and her daughter. Helen's is kooky and maniacal, standard mad science fare, really, while Dr. Narbon's laugh goes "heh heh heh," and usually means that she knows something you don't. She tries to teach Mell this during her stay at her daughter's lab, but Mell lacks the evil secrets to make it sound convincing.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: She doesn't do a lot of mad science on-panel, considering that she's a well-known and feared mad scientist. The most she really seems to do is assemble some things from plans another mad scientist drew, and her reputation is apparently built on a psychological case study of her latent-genius daughter/clone, Helen Beta. Honestly, she often reads more like a hitwoman than anything.
  • Name's the Same: With her daughter, natch. This is why she's referred to as "Dr. Narbon" so often; she finished her Ph D. while Helen Beta went insane and dropped out shortly before completing her own.
  • Not So Different: Helen fears that she's not all that different from her mother in the end. Dr. Narbon certainly hopes that this is the case.

     Zeta Vincent 

Zeta Vincent

Zeta is a gonzo journalist who writes for various zines.note  She finds herself drawn to mad science antics with extraordinary frequency. Appropriate, given that she's a early science project of Helen's, a gerbil given human form and intelligence.

  • Big Brother Instinct: Big Sister Instinct: She has this for Artie, once she realizes who he is (and regrets hitting on him earlier). She helps him up when he's cracked most of his ribs and begins to say "he ain't heavy, he's my brother" but interrupts herself.
    He's my brother, dammit!
  • Cute Monster Girl: An old picture of her as a child before having her ears and tail docked is adorable.
  • Seen It All: She doesn't have the Weirdness Censor that makes most normal people unable to see the various fantastical things that go on in Narbonic, but she's pretty jaded to the weirdness. An insane super-intelligent gerbil riding a lobotomized hippy doesn't register on a gonzo journalist's weirdness scale, apparently.
  • Sunglasses at Night: She wears her tinted glasses even indoors because she has a light sensitivity (photophobia). You know, it goes with being a gerbil.
  • Tagalong Reporter: She's there for the climax of the whole strip, although by this point she's mostly given up on reporting and become an adventurer/forensic linguist.
  • Tattoo as Character Type: She's definitely a rebellious, eccentric type, with an eye tattooed on the back of her neck and a cartoonish question mark on her arm.
  • They Fight Crime!: the author facetiously remarks in the "Director's Cut" commentary that she should have just written Narbonic as a buddy cop detective story with Mell and Zeta as the main characters. In the actual strip, she does have the buddy cop vibe, but with Foot, not Mell.
  • What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: In universe, her editors probably think she's on acid 24/7. They print her work anyways, not knowing that it's an accurate picture of the universe they live in.

Example of: