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Webcomic / Narbonic

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"Young lady, you fail to grasp the basic principles of mad science. Common sense would be cheating."
Professor Lupin Madblood

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 the comic, with toggleable commentary (wherein cartoonist Shaenon K. Garrity explains the previous-comic background of the major characters, and comments on each strip) here. (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.)


Immediately after the end of Narbonic, it was followed by Skin Horse, later revealed to be set in the same universe.

Narbonic contains examples of:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: Dave, who can fix anything. At the very beginning of the strip he is able to reconstruct a functioning weather-control device from a broken mail sorter.
  • 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.
    Helen: Nice to have you back, Mell. Shoot out his knees.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: And then Dave was a Mad Scientist.
  • Angelic Transformation: Caliban, a demon/fallen angel, becomes human in order to escape some demonic loan sharks.
  • Animorphism: Inverted with Artie, a gerbil transmogrified into a human.
  • Advertisement:
  • The Annotated Edition: The comic has a rerun with strip-by-strip commentary, which started when the strip itself ended.
  • Answering Echo: When Helen breaks up with Dave, he's so shocked that he reacts this way.
  • Anti-Villain: The protagonists!
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Helen: You are Dave Davenport. You've fought demons, flown to the moon, came back from the dead, and menstruated. I've put you through much worse than this.
  • 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.
  • Awesome, yet Impractical: The bane of most mad scientists. The dangerously sane (by Narbonic standards) Mell lampshades this when she draws an analogy between a highly advanced but thoroughly impractical laser flintlock pistol designed by Madblood to mad science in general.
    Mell: What's awesome is, this gun is like you! It's mind-blowingly brilliant, but on a common-sense level it's dumb as a box of rocks! And in the end it blows up in your face. Big surprise, huh?
  • Back from the Dead: Dave. No, this isn't a spoiler.
  • Badass Boast: A simple yet effective one.
    Dave Davenport: Here's the situation: Right now, you need a mad-scientist liaison. I'm a mad scientist. You're going to hire me.
    Dave Conspiracy: And what will you do if we refuse?
    Dave Davenport: You know, I have no idea. [twitch]
  • Bad Future: Dave ends up in one when he's unstuck in time. One of the residents there, a holographic recording of Dave (or possibly a version of Dave's mind that's been uploaded into the computer), gives him a subtle clue about how to fix the future.
  • Bait-and-Switch Accusation: Helen confronts Dave about something, and he immediately says, "Is this about the sentient computer virus?" Helen replies, "No, it's not about the sentient computer virus. I didn't even know there was a sentient computer virus! On second thought, let's make it about the sentient computer virus."
  • Beard of Evil: The goatee of Male versions of Helen apparently materializes from sheer evil.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: On his way to the moon, Dave gazes with awe on the beauty of the Earth:
    Dave: "Sure makes me wish I had a woman here to share this magical moment..."
    Mell: "And poof! Your wish is granted!"
  • Beta Couple: Mell and Caliban.
    Dave: You've been together for years! How'd you do it?
    Caliban: Elevator sex.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The last arc has the Hamsters and Dave, though the later is clearly the bigger and more personal threat.
  • Black Helicopter: Dave asks if the the members of his game club buy their appliances from places that deliver stuff by black helicopters (government, most likely)
  • Bluff the Imposter: Helen isn't fooled for a moment when Dr. Madblood disguises himself as Dave, so she decides to have a little fun with him:
    Helen: "Please, Dave, after that night of passion we shared, I think we can call each other by first name."
    Madblood: "...Excuse me?"
  • 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.
  • Brain Bleach: Mell's reaction to Dave's clone having found erotic photos of Dave and Helen B. together: "MY EYES! MY EYYYES!!" (warning, spoiler)
  • Brain Transplant: Dave gets his brain passed around a bit after his first death and reanimation. And then there's the Victorian pages where several characters seem to play "musical bodies".
  • Brain Uploading: Dave, during his Mad Scientist breakdown.
  • Break Them by Talking: Helen senior does that to Mell by suggesting her mentally picture a scene of condensed, crystallized, extra-crispy, weapons-grade Fan Disservice.
  • Briar Patching: Confessed by Dave here: "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."
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
    • Although less prominent in the comic, also Seth. His date turns into a man and dumps him before the movie even starts, he gets invited to a Valentine's Day party only to be dragged down to Hell (and dumped post-mortem by his new date for the demon indirectly responsible for it), and even when he comes back as a demon-slayer, nobody gives him any respect. Plus, if the writer's notes are to be considered canon, he winds up becoming housemates with aforementioned fallen angel. Although the epilogue does suggest that some cute devil girls at least find his axe-skills impressive.
  • Buxom Is Better: Mell acknowledges the assets of the Avatar of Lovelace, Madbloods A.I.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: unusually, this applies to the protagonists
  • Cats Are Mean: Helen once bought a kitten named "Sir Pounce" to deal with a superintelligent gerbil rebellion. It ate a few of them, was blown up, and later was spotted in Hell being dipped in boiling oil.
  • Chekhov's Gun and Chekhov's Gunman: Several examples.
  • Chronically Crashed Car: Dave's cars can't ever catch a break.
    Dave: "You killed me and then you killed my car!"
  • 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.: Dave receives a Deus ex Machina in the form of twenty-year-old bathroom graffiti.
  • Companion Cube: Foot, of sorts. Acutally intelligent enough to speak, and an object of (temporary, we hope) desire for Mell. "Oh! He's so coldly destructive!"
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Played for Laughs: Artie in his human form dangles Helen B. at her ankle upside down to know what the hell is it with Dave. After Artie presumably "jiggled" her a little bit, she "cracked" told him and Mell, that Dave is actually a clone, since she broke up with the real Dave to try to safe him from his madness. Helen B. gave the clone the cure against Science-Related Memetic Disorder, which made him less intelligent and oblivious to weird shit around him, e.g. talking gerbils..
  • Conlang: 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.
  • Death Is Cheap: The Henchman's Union has a benefits plan for frequent revivals.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: The entire comic reads somewhere between an Affectionate Parody of For Science! and all its related tropes, and a simultaneous Deconstruction-Reconstruction of them.
  • Description Cut: During the Lovelace Affair arc, while Dave is worrying about Lovelace's refusal to appear:
    Dave: "I just know these guys are plying her with smooth lines..."
    (cut to Lovelace being demonstrated for some other scientists)
    Lovelace: "No, I will not sing 'Daisy.'"
  • Destructo-Nookie: when Helen and Dave get together for the first time, the lab is trashed. Noodle Implements are scattered everywhere.
    • Then again, when Helen kisses Dave inside Madblood's computer, it causes the system to overload.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Caliban is especially prone to this after becoming mortal.
    "I've never seen humans this way! Have you always had these breasts?"
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: Done by Professor Madblood.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Narbonic did this every year of its run on the Sunday nearest December 31st, with a "Dave in Slumberland" strip, which in addition to being a Little Nemo parody, gives a symbolic foreshadowing of the following year. It also ended on that day of the year, with a suggestion that the origin of the dreams was that Dave could subconciously create psychohistory algorithms.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After Helen broke up with him, Dave did this.
  • Drunk on Milk: Dave can get stone drunk on half a glass of Vanilla Coke. (And pathos.)
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Helen B.'s reaction to Artie joking about how Dave was either eaten by a demon or forgot about the date with her. She found the latter much less funny then the former. (click with caution, spoiler!) invoked
  • 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.
  • Escaped from Hell: The minor character Seth is dragged into Hell by a visiting demon. Several years later, he returns when a gate is opened into the beyond. Apparently, he's picked up SEVERAL levels in badass on the way. Not to mention a really big axe. No one cares.
  • Even Mad Scientists Love their Mamas When Helen kicked her mom out for causing problems in her underground lair (e.g. killing Dave), she felt bad about yelling at her.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Helen B. won't have Mell drink alcohol, because she's under 21.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Artie, after being transformed into a human, get's lotsa admirers from both genders.
  • Evil Laugh: A given when half the cast are Mad Scientist.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Many mad scientists fall into this, some to create new life because it's somehow 'better', others because they just can. Helen Narbon, for example, likes gerbils, and one such product, Artie, notes how the gerbil is a much more ecologically sustainable form. Near the climax of Narbonic, a group of conservative-minded hamsters take this logic to its natural conclusion, seeking to wipe out almost all of humanity.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out, sort of. The other party was in no position to complain on the matter.
  • 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, through a combination of adroit planning and Throw It In!. For every time the writer mentions in the commentary that she initially didn't plan the return of a character or plot point from earlier, there are another two or three times that she mentions having written other plot points years in advance so that she could foreshadow them from the very beginning of the comic. Planning is one of Shaenon Garrity's strong suits, as fans of Skin Horse are no doubt aware.
    • The big foreshadowing for Dave's madness starts as early as the first couple of arcs, and doesn't really start paying off until three or four years into the comic.
    • A brief throwaway moment is when Helen randomly tosses out suggestions about who Milo Tinasky could be. Helen probably was really embarrassed about being a brain in a tank in the Bad Future.
  • Floating Continent: The intelligent hamsters that Dana (the superintelligent gerbil) created, used Artie's donation to make a floating village.
  • Foil: Mell and Caliban's quiet, background romance as opposed to Helen and Dave's soap opera-like relationship. Shaenon found it fitting.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Almost verbatim when the envoy of Hell appears to Dave, Artie and Seth. Well, granted, not a form that Dave is comfortable with.
  • 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. Helen'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 while in the most innocuous setting.
    • Dave's involves him taking over Madblood's evil lair, killing off the local advanced AI, and uploading his own brain to take its place.
    • In the Bad Future, he is strongly implied to have topped this off by successfully escaping the base and setting off a global thermonuclear war, after Helen is either badly injured or temporarily killed in her fall and is thus unable to distract him at a pivotal moment.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Though only two characters go through literal hell.
  • Furry Fandom: Some elements are heavily parodied in this strip.
  • Gambit Roulette: Helen may or may not (See Indy Ploy) have planned everything that happens in the strip's run.
  • 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. His daughter does it too.
  • 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
  • Gonzo Journalism: Zeta described herself as such. Though she probably isn't on as many drugs as her editor no doubt thinks she's on.
  • 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.
  • Guest Strip: From time to time other artists do draw a strip or two in the Narbonic setting. See also Official Fan-Submitted Content.
  • Guy-on-Guy Is Hot: Several Mad Scientist ladies are far more interested in imagining Dave and Titus making out than they are in Professor Madblood and his silly life-achievement reward.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Zeta Vincent.
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend: The mad scientist way (paraphrased): "Don't claim he's my boyfriend, or I'll poison your coffee".
  • Heartbreak and Ice Cream: After Helen breaks up with Dave, she expressed her intent to eat six pints (2.84 liter) of Ben and Jerry's "Half Baked" ice cream. Since she's a mad scientist, she also wants to blow up Ecuador.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard (subverted)
    • Played straight in the case of the suicide bomber kitten the gerbils sent against Helen.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: When Caliban the ex-demon sings, heads starting to a splode, which makes his singing also a Brown Note.
  • Huge Holographic Head: Treats the idea with its usual irreverence:
    Madblood: PEOPLE OF EARTH, YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! I choose to address you as a 300-mile holographic projection against the ionosphere solely to secure the attention of Helen Narbon, whom I regret I am unable to join for dinner this evening. I apologize profusely and assure Miss Narbon that when Earth is brought under my heel, she, the planet's loveliest blossom, may have the continent of her choice. Except Europe. Mother dibsied it.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Titus Misanthrope hates Bond Villain Stupidity. In fact, he will rant and rave at length about it, and completely forget to keep track of his prisoner.
  • 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.
    Helen: Where exactly did you get that mallet?
    Mell: Whaddya mean? Mallets just happen.
  • 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.
  • Inherently Funny Words: As explained in the Director's Cut, every time a meathook appears or is mentioned, it's pretty much because of this trope.
  • Inside a Computer System: Where Helen goes to rescue Dave.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Mell tries to use the gerbil inseminator as a weapon but the thread goes stale.
  • Intellectual Animal: Artie, Dana, and the other gerbils.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: Dave confessing (or not) his feelings for Helen.
  • Inferred Holocaust: Played for horror when Mell and Dave speculate about the control group for Helen's mothers experiments on mad science.
    Helen: A control group? You mean dozens of other young women released into the wild to slowly go mad, only to be hunted down and vivisected by my mother, just as I would have been if I hadn't bought myself a rifle? Why Mell, that would be HIGHLY unethical.
  • 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 up a few times, naturally. She's pretty good at the Evil Overlord gig though.
  • Instant A.I.: 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: Dave's daughter. Bonus points for being the reason they got back together.
  • 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
  • Living Weapon: Seth's weapon is at least sentient enough to experience jealousy.
  • Luminescent Blush: Rare, but not unseen. One of them occurred to Helen B., when the uploaded mind of Dave gone fully mad threatened to take revenge and conquer the world:.
    Insane virtual Dave: I'll make you pay. I'll make everyone pay. The world is all mine!
    Helen B.: Good gracious, that was hot *blush*.
  • MacGuffin Delivery Service: subverted
  • Mad Scientist: Helen, Madblood Dave Davenport
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: The main setting.
  • Male Gaze: According to Mell, the Dave clone Helen B. also gave the cure against mad scientist syndrome to never looked in their faces.
    • Male Helen asks Dave "Has Mell always worn those teeny-tiny plaid skirts?". Dave just nods and grins.
  • Man, I Feel Like a Woman: Double-subverted. Dave is initially thrilled to be girlified, but eventually observes that "[Breasts] are useless without the thrill of the chase."
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: "Dave Davenport Has Come Unstuck In Time". Probably justified; Dave's consciousness is bouncing around between three of his past and future selves without his conscious control, so the events are ordered as he experiences them.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Played for laughs in the epilogue. It takes all the energy in the universe to send something back in time, so "we siphon it from other universes where they probably don't want to exist as much!"
    • Lampshaded in an earlier strip:
    Artie: "But you've done lots of horrible things."
    Dave: "This is different. This calls for real nobility and self-sacrifice!"
    Artie: "Because it involves an attractive woman instead of millions of innocents?"
    Dave: "Exactly!"
  • Mr. Seahorse: After Dave admits he loves Helen, he tells Artie that he envisions bearing her children. Artie tries to correct him, but he says he's trying to be realistic. This later happens in the epilogue.
  • Morality Chain: After Helen B. broke up with Dave, Mell claimed, that Dave made her act more sane.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Near the end, Helen rather viciously points out that everything that's gone wrong and everything that's currently threatening the world is the fault of Artie. 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 sponsored the hamsters' "non-partisan think-tank", giving them the funds to set up said humanity-wiping plan. And 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.
  • Nigh-Invulnerable: Titus Misanthrope has this reputation. Earns it too. Some of the female Mad Scientists find it kind of hot, actually.
  • 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: Less so as the comic progressed, but the Fourth-Wall Mail Slot remained dubiously semi-canon right through to the end.
  • 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 Villain: 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?
    Mel: Hells yeah. Not even I wanna meet Real Helen in a dark alley.
  • Official Fan-Submitted Content: There is an official fanfic comic on the site, it's chapters between the normal comic pages. See also Guest Strip.
  • Oh, No... Not Again!: Quoth Artie:
    "Can't we go one week without dynamiting our way out of something's gullet?"
  • Oral 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 Medium: Madness gets its own font, a particularly curly, flowerly script that just screams derangement.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: The hamster's human disguise is a trench-coat and a paper plate with a smiley face drawn on it. No one is ever fooled by it, but they tend to be more interested than suspicious.
    Artie: "It's not a very good disguise at all is it?"
  • Photographic Memory: Artie, supposedly, but it's not a plot point.
  • Polyamory: Not in the main comic, but The Astonishing Excursions of Helen Narbon & Co. ends with a One True Threesome between Helen, Dave, and the Vesuvian scientist occupying Mell's body.
  • Porn Stash: Madblood has lotsa Hustler magazines in his panic room.
  • Power Perversion Potential:
    Dave after breaking up with Helen: I'll never have lesbian sex again, dammit!
  • Projected Man: Lovelace, the A.I. of Madblood, has a sexy holographic avatar later-on.
  • Psycho for Hire: Mell.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Dave, at least in the beginning.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Done on occasion. Once Lampshaded:
    Titus: That many periods in one sentence can't be good for you brain.
    Helen: Nor yours. Sorry, Titus.
  • Rasputinian Death: It wasn't enough to kill Dr. Narbon.
  • Reunion Revenge: Helen plans one, but calls it off.
  • A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma: Artie once describes Helen as "a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a peculiar sense of ethics."
  • Rule of Pool: The future depends on it!
  • Running Gag: After Dave's smoking was wiped out of existence by time-shenanigans, "Dave never smoked" became a running gag in the comic, Director's cut commentary, and fandom.
    • Also, whenever a room is shown or mentioned in Narbonics Labs, if it's not a mad-science invention, it will always, always, be Storage Room C.
    • Dave's cars inevitably end up wrecked.
  • Sanity Has Advantages: Played with. One girl 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?"
    Girl: "I'm just not seeing much of a difference, is all."
  • 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 (DSM-IV numeric code 29533, also known as Walton's Disorder). 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. (Helen also says she didn't use it on Dave because it makes the user impotent, but Word of God is that was a joke.)
  • Sense Freak: Caliban in human form.
  • Seppuku: Dave wanted to do this and asked Helen B. to be his second, when he mistakenly thought that his internet-girlfriend Lovelace is in reality Professor Madblood. He was off, but nor far off. It was Madblood's sentient computer. She refused, of course.
  • 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: Whether it's Helen wearing Dave's clothes, or Dave wearing Helen's body, is unclear, but coitus most certainly had ensued.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: Helen after a trip through Madblood's pool:
    Helen: "Sorry, can I get some dry clothes?"
    Madblood: "No."
  • Shameful Strip: After Nick Cricetida is knocked unconscious, he awakes in the villainess's bed naked.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sick and Wrong: Regarding Madblood programming her with the voice of Jennifer Connelly and the start up phrase "How may I serve you, Lupin Madblood, you handsome devil?" Lovelace has this to say:
    Lovelace: "I know I haven't been sentient as long as some people, but this feels wrong."
  • Side Bet: One of the oddest ones on record appears in the 'Demons' arc:
    Artie: "So I've got a soul. Mell owes me a dollar."
  • Soap Punishment: Helen's mother punished her daughter for saying the "g-word" (No, she wasn't swearing in Russian or Polish, as a Card-Carrying Villain Helen senior finds the word "good" obscene and dirty).
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: Mell, to a tee!
  • Something We Forgot: At the end of the 'Demons' storyline, the main characters are commenting on how nicely everything has been wrapped up... cut to Seth still trapped in Hell.
  • Space Is Noisy: lampshaded
  • Spanner in the Works
    "And thus he falls for Villain Fallacy #2: Letting the harmless comic relief run free."
  • Spin-Off Babies: Li'l Mell
  • Stepford Smiler: Helen, which we find out after Dave leaves.
  • Stupid Sexy Flanders: Dave has this moment after seeing, how damn good Artie looks, after Helen B. transformed him into a human (spoiler, click with caution!).
  • Suicide Attack: The gerbils send the cat Sir Pounce, that Helen sent to keep them in check, as a suicide bomber against Helen. Mell tossed it away and it killed 3 of the gerbils.
  • Sunglasses at Night: Zeta, she's photophobic, and colorblind.
  • Take That!: On the 1st page Dave's interview with Microsoft is taken as a proof that computer-science majors are more likely to perpetrate evil. On the 3rd page Dave mentioned Microsoft working on doomsday devices.
  • 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.
  • The Mad Hatter: Most of the characters know they're insane, and are o.k. with that.
  • They Called Me Mad!: A given, given the protagonists.
  • Third Line, Some Waiting: Dana and Zeta's storyline has almost no interaction with the main plot and characters for a long time, though it is tied in at the climax.
  • 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: Of both the mental and physical varieties. The latter requires every ounce of energy in the universe, so doesn't get used too often.
  • 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.
  • Tsundere: Helen B.
  • Truly Single Parent: Helen is Dr. Narbon Senior's clone.
  • Twitchy Eye: Invoked as part of a threat. See Badass Boast above.
  • Undressing the Unconscious: After Nick Cricetida is knocked unconscious, he awakes in the villainess Dr. Narbon's bedroom naked after she had her Iguana-Man Mook strip him.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Dave and Helen's happy ending.
  • Uplifted Animal: Helen's gerbils. Played with, in that the gerbils have explicitly been made not just "more intelligent", but more human-like in their thought-processes as well. This becomes a minor plot point when many of the rebelling gerbils are wiped out by Sir Pounce because they can't resist the Cuteness Proximity, and later with Artie's sexuality. Also, Artie objects to the hierarchal implications of "uplifted".
  • Verbal Backspace: When Artie gives his grant money away to the hamsters:
    Artie: I imagine you can find a better use for it than I can...
    First Hamster: Weapons-grade uranium!
    Artie: Sorry?
    First Hamster: I mean cupcakes. Weapons-grade cupcakes.
    Second Hamster: And by 'weapons-grade' she means 'chocolatey.'
    Third Hamster: Frances, you idiot.
  • 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
  • Wham Line: "How do you know I'm mad?" asked Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here." And then Dave was a madboy.
    • "Since when do you smoke?"
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Dave has this to say when Helen's Reunion Revenge begins to go south.
    Dave: No kidding. You don't want to talk to your victims.
  • 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).
    • 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.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Near the end of the comics, Dave goes mad and becomes a virtual virus that could infiltrate the world's technological grid and destroy the world.
  • Worth It: Dave's feelings about dating Helen
    Dave: (happily) "I expect to be dead within the week and I don't care."
  • Write Back to the Future: When Dave's mind is bouncing around in time, his 16-year-old self gets a message on how to return to his own time, which was written by his 6-year-old self on the men's room wall (which wasn't cleaned in the next ten years).
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Helen B. is extremely shocked when she hears that her mother is proud of her.
    Helen B. Narbon: There is a thing as too evil!
  • You Didn't Ask:
    • They don't even need to ask the question. On the other hand, Dave had a damned good reason for not wanting to call attention to it; "it" was a teleportation device specifically designed to provide The Alcatraz with supplies without risking escapes - it's "receive" only...
      Dave: Also, live tissue comes out as a pulpy shapeless blob of protoplasm.
      Helen: Let's do it!
      Dave: See, this is why I didn't want to tell you about the teleporter.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Mell said this about herself, after she managed to get herself kicked out of heaven and hell back to earth. Her boyfriend Caliban (ex-demon) agreed and saw to it.


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