Monday, May 4, 2009

Comic 577: Not pictured: joke

Hey, kids. It's commentator Jay, up for a round of guest-posting. I've taken over this blog, and I don't intend to give it back - but don't worry, Carl, if you're good I may let you post from time to time. Peons in the comments, I expect you to treat me with the deference that my position deserves.

Okay, the comic. I think most of us can agree that it's bad (which is a relief to me), and I think most of us can agree on why. The first panel. This isn't the first time Randall has resorted to explaining his references, and someone should really tell him that if you feel the need to do that, you're doing something wrong. And this is a pretty clumsy way of going about it too - I'd replace that dialogue with "Nathan Fillion from Firefly." Same effect, without the parentheses. How the fuck are you supposed to pronounce those anyway?

Even ignoring the awful first panel, what we have here is a comic of references. I'm going to focus on the Firefly thing first, because I've wanted to talk about it for a while and I just don't get it. It was a show with what... 11 episodes? That aired in 2003. That was a long time ago. Granted, I've never actually seen it, maybe it really was that good - but guys, it's still time to move on.

Firefly is not the only reference in this comic. Randall is something of a fan of electric skateboards, he's mentioned them a few times, and as he writes on his blog, he is very excited to learn that Nathan Fillion likes them too. Honestly, I don't know what to say to this - I'm glad you have a hobby, Randall, I really am, but it isn't enough to carry the comic on its own.

See, if you're thinking to yourself that this comic is missing something, you are correct, because Randall has apparently forgotten to include a joke. This comic has no humor, not even an attempt at humor. There's just anticipation of all the wacky hijinks that are going to ensue later in the week. It's lazy. Even the alt text is just a reference to an earlier xkcd, and that is not enough. Picture this: I'm a stand-up comedian, and I walk out onto the stage and say in a grave and solemn voice: "internet." Or, "Firefly." Do you laugh? No, and if you do it's only because I'm an idiot. References aren't enough by themselves, you have to do something with them.

That's pretty much it. On the plus side, it looks like this is going to be a five-comic week, which means you all get even more Jay! So if you are thinking, "oh how I love you, you are even better than Carl", you my friend are in luck! If not, well, I hate you too.


  1. Oh how I love you, you are even better than Carl!

  2. Actually Jay I would probably laugh if someone literally just came out onto the stage and said, in a grave and solemn voice, "Internet." That would be kind of funny. But point taken etc etc I'm so glad you're not Rob who is an unfunny trying-too-hard douche.

  3. Actually, when it comes down to it I probably would too. Went ahead and changed it. And man, I agree about Rob, what a jackass.

  4. God DAMMIT, I hate these xkcd story arcs so much. It's the perfect example of attempting to derive humour from over-the-top "epic-ness," which I got sick of, oh, about FOUR YEARS AGO.

  5. I DO like you better! You actually comment on the comic while it's still relevant!

  6. The second comic worries me greatly. He's getting more wishy-washy every time one of these story arc thingamajigs roll around.

  7. Anon: if you are commenting on timing, I believe that has to do with the fact that we generally add new posts at the same time there is a new comic--so Monday's post goes up Wednesday.

  8. "Okay, the comic. I think most of us can agree that it's bad (which is a relief to me), and I think most of us can agree on why."

    Assumes facts not in evidence, bitch.

    Usually Carl can string me along for a sentence or two before he says something like that. Way to go.

  9. ^ Really? He's writing for an intended audience of XKCD Sucks regulars. And furthermore, he then goes on to detail why it is in fact bad. You are nitpicking in the most senseless manner.

  10. All right, I'm going to chip in (late on the bandwagon, as always) that whenever a comic decides to explain its references so blatantly it's usually means that the author just committed one of the Great Sins of Webcomics -- that I Know More Than You.

    Understandably, some webcomics do this -- the delightful (Yes, I'm biased) Dinosaur Comics explains concepts almost every strip. However, this is usually part and parcel of the joke -- the explanation segues into a natural punchline and makes us feel smart at the same time.

    However, in Monday's xkcd it's so deliberately shoe-horned in that I can clearly imagine a scene playing out where Randall hurriedly scribbles "Nathan Fillion", looking at it for a moment, then deciding "fuck, who the hell knows who Nathan Fillion is" and adding the parenthetical because he couldn't reach the white-out from his seat.

    Many comics make references -- and nine times out of ten, if you get the reference you get the reference, and if you don't get the reference you can educate yourself and have a hearty chortle. Kate Beaton doesn't pause and go "Oh, Arnold Benedict (the guy who betrays the American army out of a serious need for attention and epaulets)!", nor does a hundred other comics out there -- it breaks the flow, and it really just sabotages what a reference is about -- a pat-on-the-back for people "in the know" and those who investigate the issue. Adding the aside just makes it feel that Randall has about as much faith in his audience as he does in the validity of deconstructionism (do ho ho ho), which is strange considering his audience are people who generally KNOW THE FUCK OUT OF FIREFLY.

    Anyway, that's my sleep-attenuated rant. Also, the guy dresses up in a helmet, pads, and grabs his electric skateboard before he even books the flight. Does he plan to sheepishly take off the stuff at the security check after driving several miles kitted as if you're going to do some mad ollie-wobblies*? What's going on there?

    *I don't know any skater slang. Sorry.

  11. Trismesuxtis is pretty much a complete dumbass, pay him no mind.

    Re the latest comic: once again we feature Randy's proclivity to feature celebrities/famous people that don't actually behave at all like actual celebrities do--though at least in this case he is behaving based on some weird amalgam of his famous characters, despite the alt text getting the name of Captain Hammer wrong...

    Also, I maintain the text to the original should read: "Nathan Fillion (the actor who plays Mal, who is the captain of the spaceship Serenity, which is the Firefly-class spaceship that is the centerpoint of the canceled Fox television series Firefly, which was canceled after eleven episodes, and aired originally on Fox)".

  12. The name is misspelled, too. It's either Trismegistus or Trismegistos, not Trismegustis. It means 'thrice-greatest' in Greek. Fun fact: switching two sounds, like the T-man did when he wrote Trismegustis instead of Trismegistus is called metathesis in linguistics.

    The first panel joke, I think, was supposed to be that people always refer to him as "Mal from Firefly," even when it's Firefly fans talking to Firefly fans, who would doubtless be familiar with his real name. I've even seen it used as though it were his nickname, as in Nathan "Mal from Firefly" Fillion. (I freely admit to liking Firefly - I do fall directly into xkcd's intended audience, which is why it's all the more notable that I don't love the comic unconditionally.) But, if it were the intention to include that as an in-joke (and that might be giving Randall too much credit), why was it so awkwardly shoehorned into a parenthetical statement?

  13. Newest comment: TVTropes calls it a Description Cut, and, as a sure-fire method of garnering laffs-a-plenty... it worked.

    Last row of panels is a waste of valuable Internet, however.

  14. I honestly don't think the joke worked. It just struck me as an "Arrrrrrrgh. Formulaic nonsense, and it seems pretty, um, I don't know, arrogant or condescending or just ANNOYING to have Fillion actually want to spent his whole life playing Mal forever.

    Also, I think there were 14 episodes produced, but 3 were only on the DVD release. But yeah, it was a good show, it was a bummer that it got cancelled, but holy CRAP can we let it go? Joss Whedon's already moved on to new and unexciting projects!

  15. Jay: If you haven't seen Firefly you haven't lived.

    But this comic was terrible, and today's is terrible. This entire week will probably be terrible.

  16. I'm glad I found this site! After getting increasingly annoyed with xkcd over the past year, I'm happy to find I'm not the only person who doesn't think Randall is God.

    Also, for some sick reason, I still always read the xkcd forums to see what fans are saying about the comics. And it's still the same as ever... "get out of my head, Randall!" or "this comic is epic" blah blah blah. Bunch of lame fanbois and fangirls...

  17. Comic 1: Terrible.
    Comic 2: Terrible.

    Jay has sure taken over for an easy week.

  18. I didn't think it could get any worse. Today's comic is, essentially, Mary Sue RPF.

  19. Tell me about it, john

  20. Fun fact: Nathan Fillion is about a billion times cooler than Randall makes him out to be here. I saw him give a panel talk last year and the dude is too fucking smart and funny to behave ANYTHING like the shallow, poorly-developed, Firefly-obsessed monstrosity that Randall has created in his pathetic attempt to pander to the legions of Browncoats (hardcore Firefly fans, for the uninformed) out there.

    It makes me a little angry when Randall creates crappy characters of his own, but when he creates woefully inaccurate representations of actual people, it infuriates me.

  21. In fact, Nathan Fillion really isn't even acting like Mal Reynolds. Mal was always sort of grumpy, reserved, taciturn, hostile, competent, et cetera. This buffoon is loud, foppish, and random. So, he's not at all like Nathan Fillion, and he's not at all like Mal Reynolds. What the hell was Randall going for?

    The answer, of course, is obvious: He realized that the girl in the first two panels (Megan?) is completely right, and Randall realized that this whole thing would be stupid unless he created a custom-made character JUST FOR XKCD, only clad in the skin of a famous character actor. It's still stupid, but now he's acknowledged it, perhaps? Does that make it better?

  22. Why is he getting into his gear before he even gets on the plane. Regardless of whether it's funny or not, this comic barely even manages to make sense.

  23. @Sarah

    Yes. Randall has managed to bring one of the worst type of fanfiction into xkcd.

    I like it better when generic male character isn't blatantly Randall's creamy version of himself, because that's what adds the creepy subtext to some of the comics.

  24. I was about to write something really mean about Randy then I decided not to because it was too mean and wasn't very productive.

    It's your art, Randy.

    You can draw some more things, not just the ones that are directly related to the story. What about pictures in rooms? How about some vase or a potted plant? Some cracks in the walls? See, those are great things you might want to add and will surely wow your readership.

    Randy, please put more effort in your visual art because we know you can do better! *pep* *motivate* *encourage*
    Draw draw draw draw a beautiful comic!

  25. Errr...

    *dreamy version

    Though, I think my original post stands as is.

  26. He didn't get Captain Hammer's name wrong. He was referring to "The Hammer" itself.

    Unfortunately, this means he just made another fucking dick joke.

  27. Vaguely homoerotic too, since he's talking about Nathan Fillion's penis and him in tight pants and all of that.

    He MEANT Captain Hammer and not Captain Hammer's Penis so Rob's thing stands, more or less kinda.

  28. John: you had to make that typo. You just had to.

    Ramsey/Alex: I guess it's possible? But I interpreted the character's behavior to be, like, some weird crossbreed of Mal and Captain Hammer, because that is all Randy knows about Nathan Fillion.

  29. I meant the alt text. The dude in the comic is a gross Satanic perversion of Nathan Fillion. And a foil to Munroe Stu.

  30. Anon: "I was about to write something really mean about Randy then I decided not to because it was too mean and wasn't very productive." Don't know much about this place, do you? Anyway, Randcarl isn't here at the moment, so you'll have to wait for him to get back.

  31. Upon critical reading, I am almost certain that "The Hammer" refers to his penis.

    Such Freudian analysis is known to be fraught with pitfalls, but I stand quite resolved, and you may read my full thesis in the next issue of Deconstructionist Weekly... Oh hell with it:

    "'The Hammer' is my penis."
    -Captain Hammer, Dr. Horrible@Alex: Seriously man, if he had meant "Captain Hammer" he would have silently, cravenly corrected it by now, right? "Homoerotic dick joke" is clearly the more fertile avenue for criticism.

  32. I have to agree with Malethoth and poore: Fillion is an extremely talented actor and, from what I can tell, an extremely intelligent person. I loved him as Malcolm Reynolds, I loved him as Captain Hammer (even as I hated Captain Hammer himself), and - although Castle as a show may not be nearly as interesting as either Firefly or Dr. Horrible - I love him as Rick Castle.

    Each of those characters is quite different, yet he pulls them all off amazingly: it seems insulting to suggest that he would be stuck in the persona of only one of the characters, or even that he would combine characteristics of several, because neither of those does a good actor make. Randall's portrayal of Fillion, IMHO, belittles the man's talents and makes him seem a fool.

    Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if Fillion missed his days as Mal - it seems like Alan Tudyk (Wash from Firefly) still hopes that the series might soon be revived. And Reynolds was a character that I imagine would have been very fun to play, just as Firefly was a show which must have been great to be a part of. Still, missing the chance to play a character is different from constantly dressing up as said character and insisting everyone address you by his name. I understand the role of hyperbole in comedy, but it requires some basis in reality - the xkcd Fillion's behavior is not a satirical extension of either real-Fillion's behavior or Captain Reynolds'. It's just the behavior of a deluded idiot.

    As for Randall himself: I don't yet know whether I can judge him for his obsession. I only saw Firefly a few months ago, so I can't say for sure that I'll be over it in a few years. I suspect that I won't, as it is one of my favorite shows (and Serenity one of my favorite movies). On the other hand - given Randall's penchant for referencing tired memes - I think it's safe to assume that most of Firefly's recent appearances in the comic result from his laziness rather than any remaining loyalty to or appreciation of the show.

  33. I suspect Randall is being entirely cynical here. He can write a comic like this in 15 minutes and his good fans will appreciate it almost as much as a quality comic--substituting shared positive feelings for someone else's artistic work for the wit and humor of old xkcd.

  34. Actual lines from the #xkcd channel on IRC:

    [Randall] ow ow ow have to add a last panel to today's comic and I have a blister on my finger where I hold the pen :(
    [Randall] today's comic brought to you by: blood sweat and tears :(

    I used brackets in place of errors because the site mistakes it for HTML.

  35. If he gets a blister from the marginal amount of drawing he's doing, maybe he should relax his death-grip on his 10-cent Bic pen.

    Does anyone else remember "Drive?" That was a terrible show. Fillion was pretty okay in it, considering what he had to work with.

  36. oh God. this new one is just Randall writing fanfiction about how everyone in Firefly is not only exclusively notable for their roles in Firefly, but they also behave just like their characters, so when he meets them it is like aogOiofanffkf


  38. Holy crap, this story arc is fucking horrible. It's about as shitty as his other story arcs with the added bonus that I don't watch these TV shows so I don't get any of the references.

  39. One point: how many hours did we have in the Star Wars universe at the end of Return of the Jedi? All together we got 379 minutes ~= 6.31 hours.

    Think about how popular it remained when we just had those three movies of content.

    Firefly: 14 episodes at (let's say) 40 minutes per gives us 9.3 hours. Add in the final episode (the movie Serenity) and we get 11.31 hours. Yes, it really was *that* good.

  40. No, it wasn't. *cough* Bebop ripoff *cough*

  41. Anonymous:
    No, it wasn't. *cough* Bebop ripoff *cough*

    An American plagiarization of Cowboy Bebop?! Wow. So I really should watch firefly.

    WHY DID IT HAD TO END LIKE THAT?! *tears* *whimper*

    BTW, did anyone here see the shooped pics of Keano Reeves as Spike Spiegel?

  42. Regarding Firefly vs. Star Wars in terms of length:

    As much as I like Firefly, the length isn't really comparable. Television is a format uniquely suited to not getting anything done, so you do less with more. A two hour feature film can be a lot more interesting, plot-filled, and worth watching than a television season, if not an entire series.

  43. That depends on the show. Formulaic tv that reboots everyone back to the way things were at the start (sitcoms, Simpsons, etc.) do less with more.

    Episode shows (BSG, Firefly, Babylon 5) use the space of the television format to do more with more. Any of those series fit a hell of a lot more depth of character and plot than any movie could ever dream of matching. There just isn't time.

  44. Disagree entirely. The only thing you can fit more of is characterization, and even then it isn't really necessary. A single season of BSG doesn't go anywhere nearly as far as a feature film could do. Ditto Firefly. Things that happen are pretty much by necessity not terribly interesting, or not enough to radically change it, since it only covers at best a tenth of the total plot going on--and you can't have a climax until the final episode, and even then you're better off throwing up a cliffhanger that doesn't resolve anything.

    The format is simply not good for storytelling. The medium cripples itself.

  45. Agreed with Rob. I mean sometimes there are good writers--Prison Break was pretty damn well written, with the right amounts of cliffhangers mixed in with just enough story development, until they actually broke out of the prison. Then it was like ehhhh okay we'll show you how good this guy is in this episode BUT WAIT HE IS SUCH A BAD MAN oh wait no he is good, but now he is dead. Next episode! Look they are on the run now. Still.

    Anyway. Excellent post, Jay! I look forward to reading more from you.

    Nitpicking: does he really need the TBC at the bottom of the comic? I mean it /does/ say "Part 1," AND it's not in any of the next parts. RANDALL YOU SUCK

  46. Maybe he wanted to really draw attention to the fact it was a series, because it's easy to miss if you just casually skim?

    I should clarify I'm not anti-television as a medium, but it's in many ways the difference between a collection of short stories on the same subject and a novel. The novel can present a more coherent whole--rather than developing over the course of several episodes, and often reinforcing the development of previous episodes before adding new information, it can spend a good chunk of time developing characters and setting and plot and then resolve it.

    Certain television series work very well as series--The Prisoner was very episodic in nature, for instance, and would have been fairly weak as a feature film. Even the first season of BSG was strong television--episodes didn't really progress the plot very far; it was primarily small, discrete problems that the surviving fleet had to face.

    Television series certainly have the advantage of more time to do whatever they're doing--but a film series like the original Star Wars trilogy presents so much more fully fleshed out characters, concepts, and settings than fourteen episodes of a television series--and I liked Firefly a great deal. It was almost all character development, though, with very little paying attention to plot.