It has been several years since I last perused the entire archive of Narbonic. Of course, given that the comic ended a couple years back, that makes some sense; while I’ve been tempted occasionally to peruse the archives as Shaenon Garrity’s Narbonic: Director’s Cut slowly approaches the culmination of her opus comic, I’ve resisted the urge partly due to the joy of re-experiencing the comics again, and reading Garrity’s commentary on each strip. I found today’s strip to be especially delightful when the titular character broke down and in a moment of sheer adorableness ask Dave to go out steady with her. But I disagree with Garrity concerning the depiction of Helen’s face in the second and third panels; perhaps it’s my lack of formal artistic training (I’m a writer, not an artist) but I don’t see what’s wrong with how Helen was drawn in the third panel. In fact, I found her wide-eyed gaze and emotiveness worked quite well. But then, it’s always been true that we are our own worse critics, and as Garrity admits in her commentary, this kind of thing probably only bothers her.
Perhaps it’s just fortuitous timing, but I can’t help but be amused by the Christmassy aspect of today’s Girl Genius. I’m sure some of you are scratching your heads over what dragons (especially a steampunk-enhanced dragon) has to do with Christmas… until you take a step back and look at it more whimsically. First, red and green are the colors most often attributed to Christmas (no doubt due to use of the holly plant (which has red berries and green leaves) in winter solstice celebrations for centuries now)… and here we have a green dragon next to a red building. Panel 3 even has an amusing juxtaposition of a column over the head of the dragon, giving it an impromptu hat.
Next, there’s the fact our “jolly green guardian” is holding a sack that is filled apparently with treasures meant to be distributed to those minions who have aided the Heterodynes (or in other words, awarding those who’ve been “good”). Those who oppose the Heterodynes of course get flambéed into charcoal (as that’s what dragons do best), allowing for the whole “coal in the stockings of the naughty” theme… even if the coals in question are from the burning remains of the Heterodynes foes. Yes, I know. It’s a stretch. But Phil and Kaja Foglio enjoy being subtle at times, and this comic works quite well both as a mainsteam part of the comic… and as a delightful nod to the season for those with a quirky enough imagination to see it.
And if I can indulge in a brief tangent, I’d like to comment on my previous article on the ringing of the Doom Bell, and my belief on how Airman Higgs and Zeetha would respond. In all likelihood we’re not going to be treated to one final “echo” of the Doom Bell (though that does not rule out a flashback). But given what we know about the Jägers (who were apparently mortal men who agreed to be transformed into Jägerkin) and Higgs’ own Jäger-like tendencies (if normally kept under wraps), I had wondered if Higgs was a type of Jägerkin – a subtle type that could integrate into humanity.
Ten days ago we saw an alternative possibility sneak into the background of one Phil Foglio’s double-page updates, nestled into the corner of the comic when the Jägerkin returned to Mechanicsburg, with a Jägerkin having a quiet and heartfelt reunion kiss from one of the ladies of the town. This doesn’t look to be an unwanted kiss, despite the suddenness of it. Instead, it seems more like a classic welcome-home kiss, one that can happen between a soldier and a girlfriend who’ve not seen each other for too long… or even a spontaneous kiss as sometimes happened to the soldiers returning home from the Second World War. And this, no doubt, was part of what the Foglios were working toward.
But it also suggests something else… something fascinating. The Jägerkin are not feared and hated inside Mechanicsburg. Years back, we’d even seen that Jägers were quite taken with von Pinn and saw they were… flirtatious toward other women at times, but I never really took it the next reasonable step: that the Jägerkin were human enough to be in any sort of romantic relationship… or father children. What if Airman Higgs is so “unstoppable” because he’s the child of a Jäger? He may lack the monstrous dentition and claws of a Jäger, but he’s shown their same resilience… and a tendency to slip into a Jäger accent when stressed. No doubt we won’t learn the truth for a while yet, though it would make for a fun Christmas extra. You know, while the Heterodyne dragon is busy distributing goodies for the minions.
Every so often a webcartoonist will take a theme, scene, or running gag and beat it into the ground until it loses any and all value it once had. Normally this occurs with inexperienced cartoonists, but on occasion a more experienced cartoonist will run with it much to the eventual annoyance of fans and critics alike. I must admit I was surprised to see Phil and Kaja Foglio taking the ringing of the Doom Bell (and how it was knocking allies and enemies alike unconscious) and beating it to death; the cacophony was diminishing my enjoyment of the comic, and I must admit I was hoping for a culmination of this continually-resonating scene and for Agatha Heterodyne and the Girl Genius crew to move on. And then the Foglios pulled the rug out from under me with a twist I should have seen coming : Gil is immune to the deleterious effects of the Doom Bell.
Indeed, he thinks it sound beautiful and reacted much like the Jägermonsters did when they heard it. This wasn’t just pulled out of the blue. When you look back to when Gil was treated for wounds by the Jägermonsters three years back (and yes, we’ve been in Mechanicsburg for around four years now), there were hints that Baron Wulfenbach had learned more secrets of the Jägermonsters than he’d admitted to. Gil’s reaction to being given Jäger Battle-Draught (to hasten healing) was fairly benign, compared to the apparent effects it could have on “normal” people (aka, anyone who wasn’t a Jäger). Add in the Baron’s concerns of Gil and Agatha being together (partly due to his belief Agatha was the Other, who had nearly destroyed Europe back nineteen years earlier), and you can see there are some interesting links between Gil and the Heterodynes.
Of course, there is an alternative, and one that will be hinted at when we see one last reaction to the Doom Bell’s Toll: Zeetha, Agatha’s green-haired companion and mentor of sorts (at least when it comes to martial arts and learning how to survive). We’ve already had hints that Gil’s mother may have been from Skifander. If Zeetha isn’t adversely affected by the ringing of the Doom Bell… then it may suggest one of two things. First, it may be that Gil’s immunity to the Bell is part of his heritage from Skifander. More interestingly, however, is this: there may be a link between Skifander and the Jägermonsters (and Mechanicsburg). Given the number of plots needing to be wrapped up (including the inevitable showdown between Zeetha and the former pirate queen Bangladesh DuPree, the fight against the Baron and the Other, and of course the time portals shown waaaay back at the start of Girl Genius), and it’s likely we won’t see this story for quite some time.
That’s assuming, of course that Zeetha isn’t knocked out by the Doom Bell. But seeing that we’ve not seen her response to the Bell prior to now (come to think of it, I’m not sure when we last saw Zeetha… I think it was when she was recovering from the fight with the false Heterodyne Zola), and it becomes more likely we’ll have one last glimpse of the Doom Bell’s toll… which will show us not only the ties that Airman Higgs has with the Jägermonsters… but if Zeetha herself is immune. It’s a twist that (now that I’m looking for them) I’m half-expecting. And while it would be perfectly natural for the Foglios to put this overused scene to rest with the story-twist involving Gil… I can’t help but think they’ve one last card to play.
Considering that webcomics have their roots in their print ancestors (though the line between webcomics and print are becoming quite hazy, what with DC and Marvel publishing their comics online, while webcomics are increasingly becoming available in print), it’s not exactly surprising to see webcomics indulge in the occasional shout-out. Today’s Narbonic: Director’s Cut has a rather delightful little indulgence with cartoonist Shaenon Garrity including footnotes for previous comics referenced in the update. This happens with surprising frequency with print comics (even before the internet morphed into the World Wide Web); on multiple occasions various comics would reference not only incidents that happened in their own archives, but in other comics as well. Fortunately, readers don’t need to purchase back issues of N:DC to find out what Garrity is talking about. I will admit, however, it would have been a nice touch if she’d included URLs to the specific comics in question, even if the links would have sucked me into a new archive crawl.
Posted in Chord
Tagged Mad science
I must admit to being curious as to what Artie’s game is in the current Skin Horse storyline. Back when Shaenon Garrity first introduced Artie in her original mad science webcomic Narbonic, Artie had a bit of a reputation for realizing what people would say and do before they did. It wasn’t perfect; Helen Narbon was able to out-guess him, and managed to hide several secrets from Artie that even Mell figured out (such as the true nature of Dave). But as recent comics have shown, Garrity hasn’t forgotten Artie’s near-precognitive intuition, meaning that he not only knew H.T. (a sentient full-grown tiger) would come for him, and compensate for it in some way.
Given Artie’s reference to Tip in today’s comic, it’s probable Artie’s plan involves Tip in some way. In fact, there’s a certain symmetry to this: H.T. “seduces” Sweetheart (through words and mind games) and convinces her to not act against him, while Artie physically seduced Tip and ensured that he would remain foremost on Tip’s mind (what with being with another guy soon after having slept with Tip). Whether H.T. would be willing to kill a Federal Agent or not remains to be seen; given H.T.’s opinion of humans and the threat they hold, I can’t help but think Tip alone couldn’t stop H.T. from not only taking out Artie, but to the human witness (Tip) as well.
Another question to ponder is just how far in advance is Artie plotting out his actions and his antagonist’s responses. While today’s punch line might dance along the border with good taste and appropriateness, it also reminds me of something author Terry Pratchett said (through his character Sam Vimes) in the novel “Men at Arms.” In essence he suggested that if you were ever at the mercy of anyone, pray it is an evil man as villains will delay death as long as possible, while a good man will kill you without a word. H.T. is living up to this ideal by playing with Artie… allowing Artie’s own manipulations to come to fruition. Though to be honest, I’m doubtful Garrity would allow a fan-favorite character to die so soon after introducing him.
One of the fun things about Shaenon Garrity’s Narbonic: Director’s Cut is seeing these comics again through Garrity’s eyes. These last couple of weeks, with the recent revelations that Dave is the subject of the Tinasky study (and is a latent mad scientist) is fascinating to reread with the insights of the cartoonist added to the mix. Among the revelations is that Garrity doesn’t know everything about her characters; one example being Garrity being impressed Helen knew about an X-Men comic storyline concerning a “cure” for the mutant gene, which may seem incongruous when you consider Helen is Garrity’s creation. But it’s today’s comic which amused me the most, with Garrity admitting she found Helen’s lovestruck expressions to be cute… and yet her comments on how she finds his scream to be cute to be horrifying. It’s an interesting revelation, and it reveals something about Garrity’s skills as a storyteller that she can create such a compelling character that she herself is uncomfortable with.