College Football Schedule: Week 14

Better late than never, even if a big chunk of the weekend’s games have been played already. All times Eastern.

Top 25 Games
#1 *Florida @ #19 Florida State 3:30 ABC/ESPN2
#2 *Oklahoma @ #16 Oklahoma State 8 PM ABC
Texas A&M 9-49 #3 Texas Final TH ESPN
Notre Dame @ #5 USC 8 PM ESPN
Fresno State 10-61 #6 Boise State Final FR ESPN2
Auburn @ #7 *Alabama 3:30 CBS
Kansas v. #9 Missouri 12:30 FSN
Baylor @ #12 Texas Tech 3:30 VS.
Western Michigan 22-45 #13 Ball State Final TU ESPN2
Georgia Tech @ #14 Georgia Noon CBS
Mississippi State 0-45 #18 Mississippi Final FR R’com/Y’hoo
#20 North Carolina @ Duke 3:30 ESPNU
#21 West Virginia 15-19 Pittsburgh Final FR ABC
Oregon @ #22 Oregon State 7 PM VS.
#23 Tulsa @ Marshall 3:30
Colorado 31-40 #24 Nebraska Final FR ABC
#25 Houston @ Rice 3:30 CBS CS
Watchlist and Other Positive B Point Teams
Maryland @ Boston College 3:30 ABC/ESPN2
This Week’s Other HD Games
LSU 30-31 Arkansas Final FR CBS
UCLA 9-34 Arizona State Final FR ESPN2
Virginia @ Virginia Tech Noon ESPN
Miami (FL) @ NC State Noon Raycom
South Carolina @ Clemson Noon ESPN2
Kentucky @ Tennessee 6:30 ESPN2
Vanderbilt @ Wake Forest 7 PM ESPNU
Big East
Syracuse @ Cincinnati Noon BEN (ESPN+)
Ohio 41-26 Miami (OH) Final FR ESPNU
Central Michigan 52-56 Eastern Michigan Final FR CSD.TV
Akron 6-27 Temple Final FR CSD.TV
Kent State 24-21 Buffalo Final FR Gameplan
Bowling Green 38-10 Toledo Final FR ESPN Classic
UTEP 21-53 East Carolina Final FR CBS CS
UAB @ Central Florida 1 PM CBSCS XXL
Southern Miss @ SMU 3 PM CBSCS XXL
Tulane @ Memphis 3:30 CSS
Nevada @ Louisiana Tech 2:30 ESPN+
New Mexico State @ Utah State 3 PM Gameplan
Sun Belt
Arkansas State @ North Texas 2 PM CSD.TV
Florida International @ Florida Atlantic 4 PM
Bowl Subdivision
Navy 16-0 Northern Illinois Final TU ESPN Classic
Washington State @ Hawaii 8 PT Gameplan

Important comment policy change

I only occasionally get comment spam, but after at least 25 posts were bombarded with the same message at once, combined with previous offenses, I’ve had it. Effective immediately, you’re going to have to fill out a CAPCHA to post comments on Da Blog. That is all.

Hey, I wasn’t going to make the strip slip to the morning again.

I may be spending the night at a relative’s, but nonetheless I’m still posting the new college football rankings (long-overdue, as always) and updating the lineal titles!

Now if only I could take care of that nagging college football schedule…

Details about changes to my college football playoff should be coming by the time next week’s rankings come out, including a major change I’m considering compared to last year.

Thanksgiving Day Sports Watcher

Watch Titans-Lions, Seahawks-Cowboys, and Cardinals-Eagles.

Hey, it’s what you’re doing anyway.

Providence @ Baylor is on ESPN2 at 8:30 PM PT for those of you who have been waiting for the debut of college basketball on the Watcher.

Not sure if I’ll have a watcher for the rest of the weekend.

The obvious solution: “We never tell the truth” is a lie. They tell the truth sometimes. They just slip once in a while.

(From Irregular Webcomic! Click for full-sized thought-provoking greeting.)

So I probably shouldn’t be posting another webcomic post so soon and bury my CAD one. I don’t think anyone has even stopped by Da Blog since I posted the CAD post, which means it’ll have been the most recent post for absolutely nobody.

But I did want to mention that this is the first time we have actually seen the Paradox Department, existence first hinted at in strip 671, on the heels of Death of Being Wrestled to Death By Steve being… wrestled to death by Steve, role increasing as the ongoing “IWC crisis” has built.

Now, I’m not suggesting, contrary to what I indicated in Tuesday’s post, that this indicates David Morgan-Mar had this storyline in mind as far back as… exactly four years ago, actually. Well, his planning of this storyline would have to be an extreme coincidence not to have had that date in mind. But anyway, it’s not out of the question that he would have this storyline in mind that far back: anyone looking at a theme that screams “long-term planning” need only look to the Death theme. Every shake-up of the Deaths has been made with the theme’s next appearance in mind.

And… that’s it. As the timestamp on this post indicates, it’s wa-a-a-a-a-a-ay too late at night here on the West Coast and I’ve been fighting off a headache most of the night, and this isn’t even that momentous a moment, but I felt moved to comment anyway…

I can post CAD-related posts at least once a month without even trying. Take that, OOTS!

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized introductory collage.)
Ah yes. Another one of these. Is it just me, or could I care less after the last one of these and certainly after the madness we just went through?

I know Tim probably wants to bring us through a comedown after the exhausting spell he put us through for most of the time from September through November, if not longer, but color me less than fully interested. I suspect I’ll read the first couple, and if nothing happens to get me more fully interested I’ll probably just drop out until the strip titles betray that it’s over.

I was interested in this considering the first time involved a “choose your own adventure” aspect, and while it involved sending in votes via e-mail, the prospect of repeating that did get me interested enough to see what was happening with the forums. Sure enough, there is once again a forum for the actual webcomic, after getting taken down in the aftermath of the miscarriage storyline.

Also, what should we read into the fact we’ve had two of these in a year, especially coinciding with the direction the comic has taken? Is this Tim’s way of saying “let’s have some wacky fun like in the good old days!”? Is this the only wacky fun we can expect from now on?

And for all my preaching about the Angst-O-Meter, there’s still a part of me that’s waiting with baited breath to see what’s next for the “regular” versions of Ethan, Lilah, and the rest. We might be able to see the cast again just in time for Christmas, but I still have a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth from how Buckley left us hanging after all the crap he put the characters through – his last strip in that sequence left Ethan in charge of the store, which seems to demand us finding out how he deals with such a circumstance. Not to mention the whole elopement thing…

It seems more than a little disrespectful to completely shake up the status quo, perhaps more than has ever happened in the history of CAD, in a couple of strips, and then wait until the Christmas season to even come close to showing the consequences. Buckley’s way of celebrating Christmas has, in the past, pretty much consisted of interrupting whatever storyline he already had planned to post a perfunctory acknowledgement of the season, but it seems like an odd time to end a month-long period of limbo amongst CAD fans, where we don’t even know what the status quo is anymore. Which may be part of the point.

Regardless, the main purpose of this post was to show you this, which I found Tuesday at my school’s main cafeteria:

Either there are a few CAD fans at my school, or Ethan’s little invented holiday has had more real-world legs than I might have otherwise suspected…

For added effect, have “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s entrance music, or something similarly badass, playing as you read.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized sexy shoeless god of war.)

Yes, it’s a second webcomic post this week! I’ve got another planned for tomorrow as well, so you get three webcomic posts for the price of one this week! Consider it your little Thanksgiving “second and third helpings”. And no, this isn’t just because Robert A. “Tangents” Howard felt moved to comment on this strip.

I’m afraid I’ve been remiss in not commenting on the previous strip, a strip so epic and pivotal at least one person on the forums suggested it was originally intended to be #600 but Burlew couldn’t condense the story enough.

Perhaps it’s somewhat fitting that last week I aired the complaints of many an OOTS fan that has complained about the story lagging, because all evidence is we may be looking at the light at the end of the tunnel. (Incidentially, I never intended for that post to turn into an OOTS complaint, or even a place where I defended OGTS sufferers, it just ended up that way.)

Of course the Haley/Celia/Belkar half of the OOTS has been approaching their own goal for some time, dating back to the end of our last stint with them. But when we returned to them, things were going… badly. No sooner did the long-awaited cleric show up than their benefactor promptly sold them all out to the Thieves’ Guild. Haley started the cleric on contacting Durkon and then took off to… well… attempt to hold off her former friends.

So we finally got the battle OOTS fans had been waiting for since the end of the last stint with the Haley-Celia-Belkar group: Haley v. Crystal. Which turns out to be rather disappointing, with Crystal having the intelligence of a, well, pickle and all, but still ends with Haley bowless and down for the count. And Celia powerless to stop her.

This stint with this half has really been about Belkar. Belkar was visited in his sleep by the long-dead Lord Shojo, the one character so far Belkar ever came close to identifying with. It’s a standard “vision”/”message from beyond the grave” sequence, but one with a rather unusual moral: “I need to pretend to have character growth!” Shojo’s advice essentially amounts to becoming sneakier, less overtly evil, and staying in line with what others expect of him outwardly, but fiddling around with the rules when it suits him.

It’s a word of advice that has been debated quite a bit on the forums, with fans looking to plumb its meaning, or if it’s really any different from what Belkar was like before, certainly before Roy died when there were still people who insisted that no, Belkar really wasn’t that evil after all. Quite a number of people, including Howard, have wondered if faked character growth will lead to actual character growth. But the general consensus interpretation is that Shojo has effectively been saying that Belkar needs to act Good in order to get ahead. But I can’t help but wonder if what’s really going to happen is that – despite Shojo’s own Chaotic nature – Belkar is going to look more Lawful than strictly Good – playing by the rules when it suits him, avoiding getting caught, but otherwise still participating with those around him only because they happen to be the ones around him. We’ve yet to see it put into practice, but with Belkar likely coming to Haley’s rescue in #612, we’re probably about to.

The reason I was remiss not to comment on #610 when it came out has less to do with its epic, recap nature, and more with what actually happens in it, the scope of which I only recently realized. In a move apparently intended to appeal to the legions of Belkar fans on the forums, Shojo’s last comments to Belkar challenge him to figure out who he is, as more than a bunch of numbers and letters on a character sheet. Belkar ultimately responds by calling back to one of the Belkar fans’ all-time favorite strips, one which established a lasting nickname for Belkar likely to last straight to the end of the strip, perhaps even more so now – just in time for the cleric to hear, just in time for most of the Thieves’ Guild to start banging down the door, just in time for the cleric to take the Mark of Justice off.

To put that moment in perspective, we were first introduced to the Mark of Justice all the way back in strip 295. More than half the strip’s existence has been spent with Belkar under the weight of the Mark of Justice, unable to kill anyone or stray too far from Roy’s body. #610 is, in more ways than one, an analog to strip 393, which in almost as dramatic fashion granted Haley her voice back, but for Haley’s voiceless stint to have lasted as long on a fractional basis to that point it would have needed to start in the late 100s, and for it to have lasted as many strips it would need to have started with strip 78, the actual version of which was during the original Linear Guild story arc (admittedly after the Guild was gone and the last loose end was Durkon’s return to the group)!

Much of that time was spent with the Mark as a subplot and an inconvenience that, most prominently, reduced Belkar’s role during the Battle of Azure City, apart from the aforementioned all-time favorite strip above. Its role has increased in the current book, arguably starting with just how bloodthirsty Belkar became upon leaving Azure City, and kicking into high gear once it was actually activated.

If I have a quibble with how Rich handled this whole thing, it’s that the dream sequence doesn’t feel like much of a climax to one of the longest-running subplots in the history of the strip. Shojo’s message seems almost to stand alone, if not even a deus ex machina, disconnected from anything Belkar might have learned from being under the Mark’s control. Belkar’s last few appearances with an inactive Mark show he’s arguably regressed, and he can’t learn anything from its actual activation because it occured in the memory-charmed Sunken Valley. Even the lesson Belkar does learn is effectively how not to learn a lesson at all, and – pending seeing exactly how it manifests – it doesn’t seem to follow from anything Belkar’s experienced in “real” life either.

Nonetheless, it’s out of the way and Belkar’s on the prowl, causing even people who were among the loudest “yes, he’s very much Chaotic Evil” backers to cheer him on as he… well… let’s just say turns into Chuck Norris in the strip above. Even the previously scared-to-death cleric seems to gain a new level of confidence just from being in the presence of the Belkinator. Not only does he cut through no fewer than ten Guild members, he woos an eleventh and downs a tub of beer (I don’t care what it’s supposed to be, I’m saying it’s beer) like any big-name Hollywood action hero. Rich might even want to be careful about Mary Sue-ization! I can’t help but wonder if part of the cheering for Belkar has come out of a sense that at long last, after upwards of a hundred strips of angst, it’s now fun to read Order of the Stick again – and the slow update schedule until recently hasn’t really hurt.

It’s too bad Belkar’s eventual death has been all but shouted more than a few times over the course of the past couple hundred strips…

(P.S. After my suggesting several times that Vaarsuvius may have de facto kicked Durkon and Elan out of the Order of the Stick, it now occurs to me that perhaps just the opposite has happened, and V in fact kicked him/herself out with Durkon and Elan potentially about to rejoin Haley and Belkar. Which might suggest he/she may be slowly becoming a villain, and also seems to jibe with previous statements indicating V was a last-minute addition to the cast, possibly returning Rich to something closer to his original plans…)

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 12

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was written with last season in mind):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 11
  • In effect during Weeks 11-17
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET. (Note: Last year, NBC listed a tentative game for Week 17; they are not doing so this year.)
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night. (Note: Again, excluding Week 17.)
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and could not protect any games Week 17 last year. Unless I find out otherwise, I’m assuming that’s still the case this year, especially with no tentative game listed Week 17, and that protections were scheduled after Week 4.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 16):

  • Selected game: Dallas @ Washington.

Week 12 (November 23):

  • Selected game: Indianapolis @ San Diego.

Week 13 (November 30):

  • Selected game: Chicago @ Minnesota.

Week 14 (December 7):

  • Selected game: Washington @ Baltimore.

Week 15 (December 14):

  • Tentative game: NY Giants @ Dallas
  • Prospects: This is why I had Fox protect Bears-Packers Week 11 (as did TMS&ISTI): so they could leave this week protection-free and maximize their chances of getting a marquee NFC East matchup back. And with the Cowboys energized by the return of Tony Romo, this game will be hard to beat on its own merits. Despite what I said last week, 10-1 v. 7-4 is pretty good.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Ravens, Broncos-Panthers, Bills-Jets, or nothing (CBS).
  • “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it”‘s protections: None.
  • Other possible games: Bucs-Falcons looks great, but they’re running in a dead heat with Steelers-Ravens if that game isn’t protected. Bills-Jets and Broncos-Panthers both trail those two, and may be widening a bit too close for comfort. Vikings-Cardinals is still a dark horse, but realistically it’s out.
  • Analysis: Giants-Cowboys is lopsided enough that a Cowboys loss can still open things up for a mathematically inferior game, but it has two major advantages: name value and being the tentative game. Bucs-Falcons and Steelers-Ravens are the only major threats to unseat it. Both are 3-loss teams v. 4-loss teams; if the Cowboys lose, the Giants win, and both teams in either matchup win, they would actually be looking at the same average number of losses. The Cowboys loss would be at home to Seattle, and there may be a feeling that the ‘Boys would logically have trouble on the road at Pittsburgh next week if that were to happen. And the Steelers are a name team while the Falcons have the draw of Matt Ryan. And if Bills-Jets came close enough NBC might be tempted at the prospect of Brett Favre in primetime. But in a season this flex-averse? With two name teams from football’s best division?
  • Final prediction: New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys (no change).

Week 16 (December 21):

  • Tentative game: San Diego @ Tampa Bay
  • Prospects: 4-7 @ 8-3? Good lord is this game lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Panthers-Giants or Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS).
  • “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it”‘s protections: Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS)
  • Other possible games: Cardinals-Patriots is still strong and Bills-Broncos is still nominally in it, while Falcons-Vikings stands in between. If TMS&ISTI is right all this is moot because the Panthers and Giants would have to collapse to give up the spot (the Panthers did lose this week), but if it was Panthers-Giants protected Eagles-Redskins would be about on par with Falcons-Vikings. Even if Panthers-Giants had been protected, Cardinals-Patriots is a strong enough game it probably would have gotten the spot anyway.

Week 17 (December 28 Playoff Positioning Watch):

  • Note that not only is there no longer an NBC tentative game, there’s no NFL Network game. Apparently the league learned their lesson from last year’s Patriots-Giants debacle.
  • AFC East: Anyone’s game. All four teams within two games of one another, with the Jets leading, the Pats a game back, and the other two a game behind that. The Pats and Bills play each other, as do the Dolphins and Jets.
  • AFC North: The Steelers and Ravens are running away with it, with the Steelers holding the one-game edge and the Bengals out. The Steelers play the Browns while the Ravens play the Jags.
  • AFC South: The Titans are running away with it, with the Colts the only other team with a shot. No matter the standings, if the Titans remain undefeated Titans-Colts could be a lock.
  • AFC West: Every team is theoretically in it, with the Chiefs hanging on by a tiebreaker. Broncos and Chargers the main contenders, and play each other. Hmm. However, the gap is two games, advantage Broncos, and the Raiders (who play the Bucs) are creeping up.
  • AFC Wild Card: Any two of the Patriots, Ravens, and Colts would get the nod if the season ended today. The Dolphins and Bills are a game back, with the Browns, Jags, and Chargers all losing this week. Their respective games are in trouble, but both East games and Titans-Colts are still strong. Chiefs out, Bengals hanging on by half a game.
  • NFC East: The Giants have a three-game lead over the Redskins and Cowboys. The Giants play the Vikings but the Redskins play the 49ers and the Cowboys face the Eagles.
  • NFC North: Bears and Vikings tied, Pack a game back, Lions out. The Bears play the Texans and the Packers play the Lions, but the Vikings play the Giants.
  • NFC South: Every team within two games, with the Panthers and Bucs leading, the Falcons a game back, and the Saints waiting in the wings. The Panthers play the Saints, but Tampa Bay plays the Raiders and the Falcons play the Rams.
  • NFC West: The Cardinals are running away with it and the Seahawks and Rams need tiebreakers, which the Rams won’t get (too many division losses already). Cardinals play the Seahawks. Hardly must-see TV.
  • NFC Wild Card: The Panthers-Bucs loser and either the Redskins, Cowboys, or Falcons would get the nod if the season ended today. Bears-Vikings loser a game back, Eagles 1.5 back, Packers waiting in the wings. Seahawks, Rams, Lions out, 49ers need a tiebreak. Giants-Vikings, Cowboys-Eagles, and Panthers-Saints are strong games, but that may be it in the NFC. Those could be competitive games for the NBC pick, though.

Nazi science sneers at my idea of sixteen comics for the price of one!

(From Irregular Webcomic! Click for full-sized Nazi grammar.)

Irregular Webcomic! has lured me back to reading it on a regular basis, and indeed has made it all the way to my RSS reader for the first time.

For this development you can thank – or blame, depending on your point of view – the fact that David Morgan-Mar has started tying his themes into a compelling, coherent story, a sort of “Crisis on Infinite Themes”, with a minimum of actual crossovers. To some extent, it begins with strip 2045, when Steve (of the “Steve and Terry” theme) discovers that the Loch Ness Monster has been the Lovecraftian horror Cthulhu all along, with another strand beginning five strips later, when the Mythbusters decide to take on the idea of time travel. (Although it could be backdated to 2033, when a future Hermione travels back in time to warn “present” Hermione of some dastardly future events in the Harry Potter fanfic of the Shakespeare theme’s eponymous Will. But that doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on now… as far as we know.)

I swear all of that makes sense if you’re familiar with Irregular Webcomic!

All that was at the very start of September, so I can’t help but wonder if I myself had a hand in it when I suggested back in June that Irregular Webcomic was in fact a fitting title if it was seen as multiple webcomics, one for each theme, themselves updated irregularly. Did Morgan-Mar start subsequently thinking about tying his themes closer together as a result?

No wait, of course not. Because the groundwork for this story has been slowly laid over the course of well over a year.

It goes all the way back to August 20, 2007, when Morgan-Mar announced that “a major…character” would be killed off “before the end of the year. No ghosts. No witty banter with the Head Death before returning. Dead.” No wait, it goes back even further: strip 1610, dated June 24, 2007 (a full year before my observation, let alone the start of this mess), where the imprisoned Serron and Iki Piki (of the Space theme) find themselves joined by… future versions of themselves. Those “doubles” of Serron and Iki Piki are still around, trying to prevent catastrophic changes to the timeline.

In a nutshell, the character slated for death turned out to be Morgan-Mar himself, or at least his “me” character. After a lengthy sequence of bargaining with the Head Death, Morgan-Mar gets taken away by “Death of Inhaling Hatmaking Chemicals”, upon which we finally learn the culprit for his murder: Morgan-Mar himself again. We also learn that, apparently because he is the first person to be killed by a time-travelling version of himself, he is now “Death of Going Back in Time and Murdering Yourself”, and is charged with, well, going back in time and murdering himself. The last strip in this conversation ends ominously:

1 Me: What if I refuse to kill myself in the past?
3 Death of Inhaling Hatmaking Chemicals: AND THE HEAD DEFF DON’T LIKE PARADOXES.
4 Me: Oh… doesn’t he now…?

Neither the Death or Me themes show up again for almost a hundred strips, but sure enough, by the 2050s the strip gets afflicted by… strange… things, notably a time-travel theme. In strip 2055 the Fantasy crew, having been sent through a teleport gate from Footcrag to Cragfoot, find out that they’ve also gone back in time two weeks, and decide to go back on foot (which they’ve been doing for almost a thousand strips) and meet their past selves. The Mythbusters’ attempt to travel to the Jurrasic land them in the 80s instead and bring them face-to-face with their wackily-haired younger selves. Spanners suggests that the presence of time-travellers may threaten the entire universe (and I should mention that by this point, the Space travellers have been joined by a mysteriously-alive Paris).

While all this is going on, Cthulhu is entering the presidential race and challenging IWC’s in-universe US president, an Allosaurus… and might not have been Nessie all along after all, which might suggest he has something to do with this. Oh, and weird things start happening to the strips themselves.

It’s at this point that the Head Death gets involved, and we’re not done with the time travel yet, because the Pirates are tasked to track down Long Tom Short’s dead-in-their-time father, Medium Tom Short, and (through the use of a time-travel device right out of Doctor Who) wind up in the Nigerian Finance Ministry. So in sum, we’re looking at five themes (Fantasy, Space, Mythbusters, Pirates, and Nigerian Finance Ministry) dealing with time travel in some way, and the only other regularly-updating themes are Cliffhangers, Espionage (which, being an almost-verbatim retelling of the James Bond movies, has only ever crossed over with Death and Imperial Rome, the latter barely), Martians, Shakespeare, and Steve and Terry (and maybe Death). That’s either half or just under half – and Death’s investigating the whole mess.

Oh, and the meta-changes continue with four straight strips (and seven out of nine) including the line “I have a really bad feeling about this” (including the Martians, Cliffhangers, and Shakespeare themes, as well as a look-in on the Allosaurus’ ongoing race for president, filed under Martians. Incidentially, isn’t it well past time for the Allosaurus to have his own theme? All his/her/its earliest appearances are filed under Miscellaneous until the first Martian invasion, so you can’t follow his/her/its story by following one theme alone, and at this point the Allosaurus and the Martians are basically two different plots within one theme.). Something similar happens later with various conjugations of the word “curious”.

And more culprits/problems arise, including a time loop at the Large Hadron Collider, which ropes Shakespeare and Martians into the whole time-travel mess (not to mention creating more of a hassle for Death), so that’s eight themes involved and three not. Not to mention the re-introduction of Me/Going Back In Time and Murdering Yourself as an interrogatee in Stared At Angrily By a Giant Frog’s investigation.

(Do I even need to mention the coming confluence of at least three different Deaths in the Mythbusters theme?)

Oh, and as of today’s strip the time travel is seeping into the Cliffhangers theme now.

And Lambert starts coughing “Gollum!” a lot, which leads to him getting almost killed by his own party members, which – given the interpretation some of the fans have given to that – suggests this has been in the works as far back as May of 2007. Not to mention the first appearance of Gollum in late 2006

Look, can I take a timeout here? I just want to say I am astounded by the amount of long-term planning – or at least the appearance of it – that has gone into Irregular Webcomic! This isn’t an Order of the Stick situation where David Morgan-Mar started the strip intending to develop it into what it’s become, either. In his 2000th strip’s annotation, Morgan-Mar proclaimed shock at reaching a mark only really reached by the giants of webcomics, legends like PVP, Sluggy Freelance, and User Friendly. Morgan-Mar has never made any money on Irregular Webcomic, never sold any T-shirts or books, never even taken donations. As he put it,

I was just bored one day and thought, ‘Hey, this newfangled idea of putting comics on the web looks cool. I might try it.’ Five and a half years later, here I am typing this….I make comics because I enjoy making them. (If I didn’t, I would have given up ages ago!) I try to make them enjoyable for you. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t – I don’t let it bother me much.

And by all appearances, that’s entirely true. In Morgan-Mar’s first couple of strips, he literally has nothing to do. It’s evident he basically decided to throw up a small web site and put up a comic whenever it struck the mood (hence the “irregular” name). Eventually he starts throwing in tales from his role-playing games, the precursor to the Fantasy theme. That’s sprinkled in with other slice-of-life stories he felt like putting in comic form. Then he started doing a couple of parodies of Steve Irwin, using LEGO figures for the first time, and decided to throw a reference to that in the fantasy story. And threw more LEGO figures into the fantasy story as well. And (by this point already settling into a daily routine) started doing tales from his “science fiction game” as well, and while he’s doing sci-fi, why not throw in a Jar-Jar joke as well? And the Steve Irwin parodies become a fairly consistent feature, the spacefarers join the Star Wars conversation again, and then he decided to throw in an Indiana Jones parody, and gave him a name that wouldn’t invite lawsuits down the line, and the fantasy story starts seeing its members get more character development, and strips start referring to previous strips that aren’t adjacent

That was all in 2003. In those first 50 or so strips contain the beginning of no fewer than six themes. There are 16 now, all started within the first 1000 strips, although some (Miscellaneous, Supers, Imperial Rome, arguably Harry Potter and Nigerian Finance Minister) have comparitively very few strips. Generally, IWC switches between plots in the Fantasy, Steve and Terry, Space, Cliffhangers, Pirates, Shakespeare, Espionage, Mythbusters, and often Martians themes. Many of these use discrete story arcs, but not all. The Fantasy people have been going on a quest pretty much constantly since strip 510, all the way back in 2004, before some of the themes had even started – in response to even older ongoing plotlines, especially in Cliffhangers, which has had some sort of plot since almost the beginning – I haven’t read the whole thing but I think the Indiana Jones parodies have been on an ongoing plot since strip 63! Obviously most of these have been made up as they went along, but once Morgan-Mar started working on megaplots like these, it was only a matter of time before he started pacing them out – or at least connecting them so seamlessly it gave the appearance of a unified vision.

Take Loren Ipsum. Introduced in strip 1144, in the Shakespeare theme (in early 2006), rather unexpectedly for some fans who were used to Shakespeare characters being the names used for people in the Shakespeare theme, until her last name and the accompanying pun were revealed. Pretty much every appearance in the Shakespeare theme for a long time involves either her project to “make the US constitution ISO 9001 compliant“, or Will’s crush on her, and over the course of these strips it becomes obvious that Loren knows basically nothing about the world around, chalked up to “not leaving the government offices much”. Finally, in strip 1324, we learn Loren’s mother’s maiden name, and Morgan-Mar attempts not-so-subtly to bury a bit of spoilerage in the annotation: “In fact, Loren is a Martian. This will be revealed in strip #1500.”

Yes, Morgan-Mar, assuming this was in the annotation all along, is planning these sorts of things out 175 strips in advance, or half a year… and arguably, all the way back in those early appearances. Ipsum summarily gets reassigned and that’s all we hear of her for a while.

As promised, she returns in the Martians theme in strip 1500, as the Martians’ “sleeper agent in the US government”, and this kicks off arguably the second-biggest crossover in IWC history, involving not only the Martians and Shakespeare themes, but the Nigerian Finance Minister and Mythbusters themes as well. It’s also epic in length as well, spanning 175 strips, another half year extending into mid-2007, with the Martians eventually leaving rather than dealing with the paperwork.

They haven’t given up on Earth yet, though, in a plot that dates back to December 2007, this time involving a plot to smash the planet with an asteroid. (Minor nitpick: If it was going to smash the planet at the end of the presidential campaign, why hasn’t it hit yet? Oh, that’s probably more time fluctuations…). So now Ishmael and Loren Ipsum are joined forces on the team to deflect the asteroid… and Ishmael just became the first Earthling to realize she’s not what she seems.

Now, it’s possible that this current subplot wasn’t in the cards during the last Martian plot, or even that its role in the current madness wasn’t planned when the Allosaurus apparently ate Loren. But given the other evidence it’s far from impossible. And with the epic nature of this story, with the tentacles reaching back so far it makes “Loren the sleeper-agent” look like child’s play, and the fact it’s roping in just about every theme on the books, makes it feel like the entire post-Cerebus Syndrome IWC has been leading up to this storyline, which in turn suggests it could end up threatening the end of the entire strip. Morgan-Mar, after all, did say he wasn’t messing around with his “someone will die” guarantee, suggesting even if the strip goes on the “me” character is going to be a Death for a long time. And that, in turn, makes me intrigued enough to go on, to press on even through the slow moments, to get interested in themes I didn’t know a damn thing about before, to find out if IWC really is coming to an end or how the comic, at least in the case of some themes, can even continue.

Wait, Morgan-Mar is on record as saying he wants to at least match Bill Watterson’s mark of 3,160 strips of Calvin and Hobbes. He still has over a thousand comics to go. Well, it’s an entertaining, thrilling patch along the way anyway.