1. No puns
2. No puns
3. No puns
And that is what this strip comes down to. It's a pun, and not even a clever one. Puns are the lowest form of humor, and most of Randall's recent work. One might argue that xkcd does not take itself seriously; today's comic is a self-aware, semi-apologetic pun. However, admitting that puns aren't funny does not excuse making one and expecting your audience to forgive it, or even like it. Again, though, this is most of what Randall does, so it's hard to argue that this particular strip is worse than any other. It's just xkcd as usual.
This strip relies almost entirely on niche appeal. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but wouldn't it be better if he actually made a clever joke about calculus, requiring significant knowledge of the field to understand, instead of a terrible pun? Knowing the history of the invention of calculus does not enhance this strip. Beyond the mere fact that "derivative" is a term used in calculus, knowledge about calculus does not enhance this strip. On the flip side of that coin, anyone who doesn't know what a derivative is didn't get this comic. Randall has already accepted that this comic relies on niche appeal, and yet he failed to do anything interesting with it. Most likely, because he wasn't clever enough to. Nope, comics don't have to be funny anymore; they just have to be about something you like.
And then, to top it all off, he closed with a reference to CSI: Miami, which has become another popular internet inside joke. It isn't even that funny: you just make a pun in the first two panels, then the guy puts on a pair of sunglasses, and finally, YEEAAAAH. It's something people do on /b/ because they aren't funny or clever and it doesn't take much effort. The original comic was funny, but none of its derivatives were. And Randall's derivative is no different. If this were any other situation, I would be struck with the absurdity of Newton doing the CSI Miami meme, but not from xkcd. Randall does stuff like this all the time.
What's else to say? The art is terrible, as always. A stick figure with white hair and a stick figure with black hair? He honestly would have done better to use the original comic as a template, as this guy in the forums did. It would have worked best if he had redrawn the template to put Newton in it instead. But no; Randall only does stick figures. At this point, Randall would be better off doing a sprite comic.
You know what the worst thing is? I got the calculus joke, including the history of its invention. I got the internet joke. I'm a perfect example of the very niche Randall is going for, and I hate him. Why? Because xkcd isn't funny or interesting. It's as simple as that. And yet, as a computer science major, I'm surrounded by people who love the guy. If it weren't for them, I would have simply decided I didn't like xkcd anymore and stopped reading it. It is because of them that I hate it enough to write a guest post for xkcdsucks. And why do they love it? For half-baked puns like today's comic. Either make xkcd a niche comic, Randall, or don't. You can't have it both ways.
Carl again: I actually do like puns, but I feel like calculus puns are really old (we'll get there in a second). And it was delivered better than most puns he gives us (see the infamous classic Uterus-Hertz). So honestly I think I should be a little nicer to this one. I guess that means we are grading randall...on a CURVE! ZING! ha ha, oh man, ZING! ha ha, is there no LIMIT to the puns you could make? oh man i did it again! this post is turning so funny you might not be able to DIFFERENTIATE it from xkcd itself! my my, now I've gone off on a TANGENT of my own! oh! heavens, this is amusing! ok i'm done now.
MARRIED TO THE SEACANT. ok now we're done.