Let me start off with a disclaimer of sorts. I have found that over the last few weeks I have kept a constant expression of ambivalence to all the new xkcd comics. I believe this is a result of two different factors at play at once. On one end, after being on xkcdsucks for so long, I believe I’m so ready to see the bad in xkcd that it prevents me from laughing at jokes I might have otherwise found funny. On the other end, whenever I question how bad a comic is, I ask myself “is it really that bad, compared to the verminous, soul-tainting badness of 631?” and the answer is always going to be a resounding “No”.
That in mind, here is my review.
Since this is xkcd, it is impossible apparently to say the artwork is bad, because as the cuddlefish have yelled oh so many times, “the art is just XKCD’s style!” So I am going to judge art on two different questions: 1. Does the art enable the audience to figure out the setting of the joke? and 2. Does the art add any more humor to the joke?
1. Yes. You can clearly see that the first person is a surgeon and the second person is patient, it isn’t like some of the earlier xkcds where an anchor chair could just as easily be a bathtub. I mean, sure the surgeon shouldn’t technically have the mask on while talking to the patient, unless the patient had SARS oozing out of his arm, or something. But we most associate the mask with a surgeon, so it is an acceptable break from reality.
2. No, the art does not add any humor to the comic at all. This whole thing could have been written in IRC conversation form and no humor would be lost.
As I said in the top, I would have trouble laughing at new xkcd comics even if they were of top quality. But this one feels more like a paid ‘comedic’ endorsement of Linux than a joke. I may be the only one here, but this comic has the structure of a ‘comedic’ commercial, you start with a silly, outrageous situation then you plug whatever feature could cause that outrageous situation to occur, then you name the product. Here you have ‘controlling USB ports with your mind’ -> ‘there will have a patch for everything eventually’ -> LINUX. In a good joke comic, everything is supposed to build up to a punch line, but here the only thing that is funny is the beginning of the comic, and everything leads up to the message “Linux is great” which is kinda annoying and not really funny at all. [Carl again: I think this is a good point and I am going to rephrase it: The humor of the situation comes from the idea, tired as it is, of making humans like machines. That is a vaguely unusual concept. But it's introduced in the first panel - the last panel, the joke, is just a run of the mill Linux joke. It feels like a letdown. Sorry for interupting, Kirk.]
Randall has already had a few comics that are more a plug of a product than a comic, but he usually goes at it from the other direction: Product -> Feature of that product -> wacky thing that occurs because of the feature. Here are a few examples:
Smarter health care -> Digital prescriptions -> Bad handwriting becomes bad font
Google Latitude-> Show locations ->Megan is one kinky girl
Kindle -> Lets you check Wikipedia everywhere -> secretly Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy
So yes, this isn’t the first time where xkcd is used to plug things Randall likes, but I feel like the change in order weakens the current comic, because in the three examples I’ve linked, if the joke is strong enough on its own, the comic can still be funny. Of course, the punch lines of the three comics I posted range from terrible to alright, so the comics aren’t great, but the potential is there. But as I’ve said before, the current one’s order makes the message of ‘Linux is great’ come across as the true theme.
Oh and I guess I could talk about how the dialog in the last panel is fucked up nine ways to Tuesday, and we have another Humans as Robots comic. But you know, you get enough of that on the blog normally, and I am not guest posting to say exactly what Carl would.
The Alt text
Ok, the alt text made me laugh. I’ll admit it, I like the alt text here a bunch. The suturing of a vista sticker reminds me a bunch of early black hat, and was unexpected after the ‘Linux is great’ theme of the comic. And a lot of humor is derived from the unexpected. I only wish he took the same wacky situation and looked at from the surgeon’s perspective throughout. Then the comic would be making fun of people who take Linux too seriously, which I would have enjoyed heartily.