March 26, 2013





New comic for you!


128 Responses to “superhighway”

  1. Simon Says:

    Some of your comics really make the brain tick…

  2. Not going to lie, i don’t get this one at all.

  3. hint 1: there are four characters; compare their faces and names.

    hint 2: considering that, what do you “backspace”?

    hint 3: considering that, re-read the teacher’s point about the children.

    • Jorpho Says:

      Yeah, I still don’t quite get it. I see now that “clonegating” can be both “clone-gating” and “clo-negating”, which is kind of clever.

  4. Katherine Says:

    I KNOW it’s good…I just don’t GET this one. Help or interpretations?

  5. DNTME Says:

    That was kind of pointless. And why would anyone make a weapon that makes that much of a mess? And, was he made of water, or did you just not want to make it that gross by not making the blood red? If so, why not just have him killed by a less messy weapon? Questions, questions.

    • DNTME Says:

      Well heck. Wish I’d read leonardo’s comment first. Questions answered. How do you delete posts anyway? If I could do that my posts could just go away.

    • tuna Says:

      Backspace, motherfucker.

  6. rayneau1032 Says:

    You’re awesome, Winston

  7. Dasanjos Says:

    This was awesome, even though I didn’t quite got it (even after leonardo’s comments)… Captain Obvious, come rescue us!

  8. Let me know if I’m right/wrong.

    Dave and Terry are clones (or the originals?). That part of “clonegate” suggest that. The others are going to kill them, maybe because clones are illegal or doesn’t have privileges?

    The gun use “weaponized nanites”.

    I don’t know anymore, brain still working.

  9. APersonAmI Says:

    The way I read it, after checking Leonardo’s comment and the wikipedia article on “Backspace”, is that all four are clones, but the survivors are the later ones, replacing the older ones.

  10. Mr. Whim Says:

    GAAAH the amount of details I want to know!

    When were these guys cloned?
    Which are the originals?
    Is this legal?
    Is this specifically what this highway is used for?

  11. Al Sweigart Says:

    The year is 2157 or later (as you can tell from Terry’s “Super Bowl CXCI” shirt as he’s switching shirt designs at the end, and that the road sign at the start says the estimated completion date is 2156, though there’s one more label that was slapped over it.)

    Terry and Dave are being chased by their clones (though they themselves might also be clones) who seek to replace (“backspace”) them by killing them.

    Note the parallel to the new superhighway replacing the old highway, just like the clones are trying to replace the originals.

    My guess as to why the clones want to kill the originals is a stretch but: the “weaponizing nanites” implies that nanites (nanosized robots small enough to fit into a human body) were benign or helpful, which could have effectively given people immortality. This could have implications for overpopulation, especially if clones can be made.

    “Clone-gating” might refer to a law that only allows a limited (gated) number of clones of a person can exist at a time. The law might also allow clones to kill each other? (From the “just sitting down to eat lunch” comment that Terry makes, it must be rare but very bad to run into your clone.)

    The “gun” that the Terry clone has probably doesn’t even fire bullets, so much as a signal (a “tag”) that cause the nanites in the person’s body to destroy the person. (The signal causes the nanites to become “weaponized”. Note there are no bullet holes in his clothes that bullets would have caused.) The gun makes a “tek” sound effect, but so does Terry’s shirt when he changes it. The button must send out the signal that causes the nanites in his shirt to change the design.

    Brilliant comic as always, Winston. I’ll take a more careful look at the comic later. You are a master of “show don’t tell”.

    • Sergeant Major Tom Says:

      That seems pretty exhaustive. The only thing I can think of to add is that the pursuers have a reason to want to not only eliminate, but destroy all trace of the protagonists, whatever the implication of that may be.

    • Jorpho Says:

      The confusing thing is that the hunted seem to have led rich, complicated lives. Is armed-Dave also a teacher, but out having a little fun?

    • Robert Ray Says:

      i think clone gate was more likely some scandal involving clones.
      whenever there’s a government scandal they add gate to the end of whatever it’s about and call the scandal that. started after watergate.

    • David Duarte Says:

      I thought it was more like gate-keeping for some reason

  12. Al Sweigart Says:

    Also, you’re telling me that in 2157 Starbucks will still be around? I hope I die before they invent immortality. 🙂

  13. Shaun Grey Says:

    i wonder what’s meant by terry 2 noticing a brief “trace reading” of terry 1 after backspacing him?

    • Sergeant Major Tom Says:

      Best guess (which I alluded to but didn’t fully say in response to Al Sweigart’s great analysis): the weapon being used destroys a body down to the molecular level, or at least to a point where it is unidentifiable by DNA or whatever other means, and possibly to the point where only the unscathed clothing gives a hint that the puddle of goo was formerly biological matter of any sort at all. The scanner being used presumably tracks DNA or specific biomatter, or at least is being utilised in that capacity. The fact that the clones’ main goal is to destroy all trace of the originals implies, in my mind, that they are possibly fugitives of a sort whose only chance at a worthwhile life, or possibly any life, lies in eliminating the evidence that they are in fact clones.

      So, to finally get to your specific question: the tag-gun or whatever it’s called can presumably take a few seconds to fully disintegrate (if that’s the right term here) a body – or, to be pedantic and factor in previous theorising of others present it can take a few seconds for the nanites to reduce the biological matter they inhabit to an unidentifiable, possibly no-longer-biological goo.

  14. Ok, this is all too confusing for me to think about. I’m just going to go play Canabalt instead.

    Oops, my guy just died. Ah well, I have infinite lives, so can always pull up another one and try again…

  15. Harry Says:

    This is what I love about Subnormality; complex, intriguing plots with mountains of fascinating backstory behind the simplest details. Every frame has so much intense thought and planning behind it.

    Hard to answer all the questions? Yes. But I also feel that maybe it’d be less satisfying if I could.

    Another fantastic comic, Winston.

  16. The Old Wolf Says:

    People’s comments helped a bit, but my brain is still hurting from this one. I’m going to have to spend more time thinking about it. Clone-negation seems to have become a national sport…

  17. Sergeant Major Tom Says:

    Since it either hasn’t been said yet or I haven’t paid enough attention reading the comments, I’m going to mention that I love the mirroring/echoing in things said by the originals and the clones, not to mention matters of perception and other common traits which I haven’t noticed yet and hopefully will on another rereading.

  18. overand Says:

    Just a little thing I noticed – the gun may be optical. It’s a dull blue in most of the panels, but when it’s firing, it appears to be a slightly brighter blue. (Matches the subdued color in general for this strip).

    You can also see the reflection in one character’s glasses – and the device the other character holds up to his eyes. Perhaps it protects them from being backspaced themselves.

    (Based on the fact that they seem to have disintegrated a tree, I don’t think the gun only-works-on-clones).

    • Sergeant Major Tom Says:

      Winston, something completely off topic but current that I feel like mentioning while I’m here (oh, and warning in advance: this whole thing amounts to little more than long-winded, roundabout flattery):

      I’m presently watching the countdown and funding total on a certain Kickstarter project – you might have seen it, it’s being run by someone who could perhaps be referred to as one of your “Topatoco fellows”, for the one webcomic I know of which I consider comparable in ambition and accomplishment to Subnormality. The project’s a bit over 9 hours away from finishing and it’s a book being made, if I need to narrow it down any further. I’ve backed that, and also another one which recently finished from someone else in the same ballpark, for a card-game-based-on-a-collaborative-book-based-on-a-concept-from-a-webcomic.

      Suffice it to say, I’m new to the whole thing and was disappointed to find out it’s so far only set up in the US/UK, because one of my first thoughts on seeing these things was “there’s a certain Canadian I know of whose project I’d be backing in a heartbeat if I saw one”.

    • Sergeant Major Tom Says:

      Damn, um… put that in the wrong place. I should really sleep soon, clearly. 1am and all that.

  19. Yen Says:

    The thing about trying to trick your clone is that it thinks like you do :-/.

  20. I'm stupid Says:

    I don’t get it!
    The best I can come up with is that backspace “removes the previous character”. Like, I clone myself and the clone gets rid of the previous personality. Which would be me? Why would I do that? Halp!

    Very intriguing the video game reference. But in what game do you kill your old selves? Do elaborate!

    • Jorpho Says:

      Holy crap, I didn’t even think of it that way.

    • carlijn Says:

      Like in that movie: The Prestige, where Hugh Jackman\s character makes clones for the sake of an elaborate magic trick and he keeps killing them off because he doesn’t want to keep loose ends and he just hopes that he somehow isn’t the clone that gets killed?

  21. cbobgo Says:

    Other people’s comments about the plot are interesting, but the question remains, what does it mean? What is the point of telling us this tale of maybe-clones killing other might-be-clones? What is the message, the moral? What is the story a commentary on?

    • mavericknm Says:

      I want to know too :(.

      unfinished symphony?
      not halfway to anywhere?
      present tense?
      running the other way?

      They never had a chance and yet Dave insisted on living to the last moment?

    • Jiffy Says:

      I’ve always found it a bit strange how people want validation on the message or moral of a story. I think that if you don’t see the message yourself, then even if you’re told the message, it won’t really have an impact on you. Stories shouldn’t need validation, but if you accept what you did find this time, then perhaps the message will become clear later. At least, that’s my policy.

    • ZeroSD Says:

      Jeff- the message is part of the story. If you need to be told it, it might not have the same impact as finding it out yourself… but sometimes it does, and it sure has more impact than non.

  22. blackouthart Says:

    Just gonna assume it’s a clone version of the Hunger Games. Or, like, ok, it’s 5 fucking AM in the morning so Imma just gonna go on a tangent. Like, these guys, the protagonists, are just spare clones, the better clones are in frozen storage or some shit like that, because why let a clone go out and have its own life/get damaged in the process? The spare clones are used as manpower, etc. They all live in “the dome” and “the road” was used as like, a motivator, or some shit, you know, the Hope Spot to keep the clones working. But then the corporations outside the domes decided that once they got older the originals could chase them down for sport down the road for big bucks, etc. etc. Like a weird version of the Hunger Games, except that the outcome’s already been decided.
    Man. I really liked Protagonists!Dave and Terry.

  23. What is really throwing me off is why are both pairs…paired? Like, why did both pairs become friends? (wow I suck at phrasing.) The only hint we have is when protagonist!Dave says “this thing that binds us” which doesn’t help at all. Are the clones paired up according to the original friendship? (Not that we even know which pair is original and which is cloned, or even if they’re both cloned… augh my brain is hurting.)

  24. Infanttyrone Says:

    Huh. On my second go-through I noticed the first two panels, side by side; the perfect, planned idea, and the run-down, real life version. You show us right at the beginning what we’re going to be thinking about. Like most great stories these details come surging out with a re-read. Man, you get better with each comic. The overhead views, the breaks between segments (which you have nailed so subtly before), the scope of the panels… But I could go on and on…

    And hell of yes you should get up on that Kickstarter thing. People like you. They want to sit next to you at the lunch table. They would take you out for nachos. Let us give you money for what you do.

  25. neerk Says:

    holy shit, you should be a screen writer.

  26. Some of your comics are so cinematic. I’d love to see a few of them turned into short films or something.

  27. Collin Yeoh Says:

    Guys. I think this story is entirely metaphorical.

    The two versions of Dave and Terry are two possibilities of what kind of people they might turn into. The good ones are a Dave that became a teacher and a Terry that became a firefighter. They’re being hunted, and ultimately eliminated, by a Dave and Terry that became evil cackling douchebags.

    I can’t quite explain all the other things – the unfinished highway, or the “thing that binds them” – for which I’m sure Winston put there for a reason. But this was my first impression when I finished the comic.

    • Infanttyrone Says:

      There are two higways; the old one, that worked just fine but was due to be replaced by an ‘improved’ version, and the newer one, which was supposed to be better but despite the high aims it sucked. And there’s the two runners and the two pursuers; the (originals?) and their clones. The originals seem like good guys, a teacher who loves what he does and a firefighter, while the ‘improved’ versions are, well, a couple of dickheads.

      It’s also cool to note that at a certain point the new highway narrows to one lane. The two sets of Daves and Terrys can’t both continue, one peters out. If you look at the breaks between the sequences, you see two white dots, and then another two, and the distance between them keeps growing shorter.

      “This thing that binds us”, that I’m not sure. Good question. I can re-read these over and over and find great new stuff.

  28. GlitterBerri Says:

    The first time I read this comic, I didn’t understand the clone aspect until I read the comments here. That being said, I’d like to elaborate…

    I believe the protagonists, Terry and Dave, are clones of the antagonists, Terry and Dave. Like the next generation of schoolchildren who protagonist Terry refers to as being better people than their parents, protagonist Terry and Dave are a moral advancement in comparison to the original, antagonistic Terry and Dave.

    “Backspacing” refers to destroying clones, thus regressing to a state where only the originals exist.

    The whole comic seems to be a commentary on progress and how it’s unfairly held back by the older generations. The newer generations are conscious of this, and angry at their seemingly unchangeable fate. Like protagonist Dave, they try to focus on the present, but are unable to escape from the past’s destructive influence. Not only is the older generation satisfied with progress being impeded, but it’s also attempting to destroy the newer one.

    It draws parallels to the gay marriage debate going on in America right now.

    • Harry Says:

      yes yes lets melt some clones/originals in a superadvanced future world as a metaphor for gays getting married

      A++ deduction

    • I think the connection to gay marriage is tenuous at best, but I love the rest of your analysis. Especially the comparison between the children bettering themselves and the clones bettering themselves.

    • Null Says:

      Best analysis so far.

      Glitter was using the gay marriage debate as an example of older generations holding back the younger, he wasn’t saying that was what the comic was about.

    • Oh duh that makes sense. Thanks Null

    • Terra-Mythos Says:

      I like this interpretation best, I think. Nice one!

    • Shezah S Says:

      I was thinking along the same lines about the older-younger generation relationship that the originals and their clones seemed to mimic, and your comment helped me realise how everything in the story tied in with it.

      Even Terry saying how unexpected it all was and “We didn’t even get to order”; it’s like the regret of what could have been. The same with the actual highway, it could have been great, but they weren’t able to complete it.

      I just love how Winston interlaces everything in his comics with subtle metaphors. It’s like reading stories within stories.

    • Calibur Says:

      Hold on… What about the highways? The old highway worked fine, but it was abandoned for the new highway that turned out to suck.

  29. Well Done... Says:


  30. Scim Says:

    Alright, I really didn’t get this at first, but I think after reading the comments I’m making some headway. My only question left is what’s up with all the numbers? There are obvious numbers on boxes etc. in almost every section until they reach the end of the highway, at which the only number even mentioned is zero right at the end. Can anyone shed any light on this?

  31. Sergeant Major Tom Says:

    Couple of minor things I’m stuck on still:
    – What exactly is the “orange vest-thing” mentioned?
    – Is anyone doing any better than me reading the tiny sound effect text in the panels following the “take a look” line?

  32. Phil C. Says:

    Damn you, Winston, for creating such a depressing comic that is still so damned good. This is going to have me in a funk all day and I only just met these guys.

    How can you kill yourself like that? To borrow a phrase from John D. MacDonald, “Am I not meat and tears, bone and fears, just as they?”

    Still….great comic as always. Hits you like a punch to the gut.


    • Infanttyrone Says:

      John D.! When you first mentioned killing yourself, I was actually thinking about the teacher throwing himself off the highway, which seems… insane. I understood it, but holy crap.

      I can’t figure out why they didn’t try and hide, or double back, though.

    • mavericknm Says:

      I’m not sure why they didn’t try to hide or double back but it the reveal of the tracker makes that option futile. Death was inevitable for these “runners”

  33. bear Says:

    I don’t get why they didn’t both jump. All they needed were parachutes, and there were these fluttering yellow tarpaulins all over the place, with ropes attached to the corners and everything. Might be a rough landing, but I bet it would have been a survivable one. And that’s probably more risk than Hunter!Terry and Hunter!Dave are ready to take to complete the chase, so you get a break until they get down off the road by some other way that’s probably a lot slower.

    Also, there was a much better hiding place, and probably even a way back past the hunters — the utility tunnels inside the road. Those things are bound to connect to service tunnels at some point so workers can get in to access the pipes and wires and crap, so if you can break a door or a lock there is even a possible escape. At the end of the built freeway, you have a kinda risky swing down to get into one of ’em, but once you do so you can run back under the hunters’ feet, and even if they know you’re there they can’t do crap about it.

    So… I’m seeing an Aesop about fatalism leading to fatalities. Why the hell did these guys just accept that they’re fated to die?

    Nice subtext with the numbers, BTW. 121 = 11 squared. The result of two single entities together, duplicated in multiplication. 86 for Death, of course. Zero for a zero-sum game.

  34. Al Sweigart Says:

    Sergeant Major Tom brings up a good point. The weapon probably totally disintegrates their DNA to remove all trace of them. That’s why the hunters shot Dave’s body even though he was already dead from the fall: they want to remove all traces of him.

    That’s why the Terry-hunter was surprised that there were still trace readings after shooting Terry. He wants to make sure that his body is not just dead, but completely erased.

  35. Richard Says:

    I viewed this as a recreational activity. After all, two of the participants where clearly being hunted with no possible way of fighting back. My guess would be that this is a kind of future version of entertainment where the participants have clones made of themselves and proceed to hunt themselves in “The most dangerous game” fashion. Note that the second Terry and Dave don’t seem at all concerned, they seem like they are having a good time. After all, what could be harder to hunt then something that thinks exactly the same way you do.

    I bet the weapons couldn’t hurt the hunters even if they pointed them to their head. Just a signal to de-construct the nanites that make up the clones.

    Build yourself out of nanites, implant it with all of your memories up to yesterday at the coffee shop or something and hunt it for fun. Sadly I could actually see this being acceptable to society.

  36. Magnanimous Says:

    Great comic, Winston, though I will admit that it was lost on my feeble mind at first – thanks to all who made helpful analysis comments! One thing I still don’t understand – what was with the comment about the kids he was teaching? What’s the connection there?

  37. Caleb Says:

    WOW. Brilliant as always, Winston. Half the fun in reading your work is going through the comments after and perusing all the different theories and interpetations-only to go back and reread the whole story over again with a new perspective. I can’t stress enough how rare and delicious a treat that is for me amidst the pablum soaked media shitstorm of today. Rarely does an hour and a half movie cause to me to stop and analyze it for the multiple meanings that may or may not be embedded… and yet you manage to do it in a few hundred words and, I must say, a very clever layout scheme.

    Personally,I think Glitterberri hit the nail squarely on the head:

    “The whole comic seems to be a commentary on progress and how it’s unfairly held back by the older generations. The newer generations are conscious of this, and angry at their seemingly unchangeable fate. Like protagonist Dave, they try to focus on the present, but are unable to escape from the past’s destructive influence. Not only is the older generation satisfied with progress being impeded, but it’s also attempting to destroy the newer one.”

  38. SuckMyComment Says:

    I think the point was to make you all speculate. DANCE PUPPETS DANCE. Ahem. But why assume they were killed by the next generation of clones? If there even is a next generation of clones. ‘Backspace’ implies they are being undone by those who created them, the originals. It also explains how they can be treated so inhumanely, because the originals don’t see them as human, just copies to be ‘backspaced’. “You never think it’s going to happen to you” clearly there exists a society of clones. Living in fear of those who might see them as having outlived their usefulness,whomever that may be. But the salient point to me is the children. Dave speaks of them, he even taught them, but there’s no way to know whose children they are. Human or Clone, perhaps there is no difference. Dave speaks of them with hope, maybe what he is hoping for is a more benevolent master. Or maybe for them to wise up and see past their cruelty. But now i’m speculating too. Oh well.

  39. oa Says:

    Great comic! They are definitely clones: at the beginning they are scratched and bleeding, later wounds are healed. I’m also pretty sure they have some kind of AI “can’t hurt people” blockade – they don’t even slightly think of fighting back or making a trap, and the hunters know it well. That’s why the hunters treat this like a game and are not afraid. Hunters are clearly human – need glasses and smoke. I don’t get how old are the clones. They clearly have memories, but they know that those are only memories, not real things. This is where that “present tense” came from – they have to force themselves to believe that everything is happening right now.
    Really like that chase, at first you don’t know what is trying to get them, but then you hear hunters that sound like some trigger-happy CS players, and finally you know that they are the same guys.
    So… Dave is a clone that leads his own life as a teacher. Or maybe not? Maybe the real teacher is Dave “tree came outta nowhere” hunter, and the clone only has a different look on exactly the same memories. Too far, I know.

    • quicksilver Says:

      i thought the “present tense” thing was intended to keep dave and terry from dwelling on the imminence of their respective ends, and i stand by that, but upon further consideration (and much reading of comments) i think that it’s related to the intense focus on the past and the future at odds, and here adds the present. perhaps the children are the hopeful future, hunter dave and terry are the originals and hence the murderous past, and the good dave and terry are the present that struggles to improve and help the future but is held back by an inescapable past.
      i think this is supported by the details of the superhighway, though i can’t touch the numbers that show up. “it’s a good idea,” but it’s ruined by other things – time itself, in that it’s delayed, and old brands. if this is futuristic, then starbucks is very old at this point.
      also, i don’t think that clone dave and terry are bound by any variation of asimov’s second law – i think it’s a matter of circumstance. they’re interrupted randomly, suddenly, and stuck on the highway. they’re not inherently violent people, both because we know that winston doesn’t value that as a virtue and because they’re a sharp contrast to the hunter versions of themselves; these combined factors mean that good/clone dave and terry don’t attempt to fight back.

      i have decided as well that the comment about the restaurant is a reference to girl with pink hair’s career in restaurants, because it amuses me to assume that.

      overall this is probably my favorite of the recent comics.

    • carlijn Says:

      Damn , Quicksilver’s comment now has me thinking I should look up the restaurant scenes with the Pink Haired Girl to see if Dave and Terry come up.

      Also, seeing how Winston often is featured on I wonder if Dave and Terry are somehow related to the two Mystery Hipster Guys that Show Up in Every Superhero Comic

  40. toaster_pimp Says:

    huh. that was…quite good.

    also quite like…depressing. man. heavy.

  41. Thomas Says:

    I agree that the good guys are probably clones. The “expected to amount to zero” comment seems to suggest it. And this:

    “A few short years and they’re already better human beings than the previous generation?” “I’d like to think so, Terry.”

    Seems impossible that they could have the same memories as the hunters and still end up as good people, and I don’t think implanted memories make any sense either, so they’ve probably actually lived the life they remember.

    Which means people in the future are lazy assholes who create automen and clones to do all the difficult work for them, living in the Dome perhaps. They’re “bound” by the controls that exist on clones, and some of the children Dave teaches are clones, “the ones who’ve been bound to damaging people from day one purely because of DNA.”

  42. oa Says:

    Dave himself is “bound to damaging people”, just look at his hunter version. But with mostly the same DNA (minus modifications), and mostly the same memories (friendship with Terry, I don’t think they could became friends independently as humans and as clones) is a completely different person.

    I’m sure the Dome was just a place to hide, like the plaza, not some kind of jail. Interstate 70 passes near Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

  43. Keith Says:

    Amazing strip.

    Depressing as all get out, but amazing none the less.

  44. Mark Says:

    I’ve noticed a lot of people suggesting that the nice Dave and Terry are clones of the hunter Dave and Terry, the latter of whom are the originals. So there’s a theme of old holding back the new. And this is certainly supported by the discussion about how the new generation can be better people than the old.

    But the only thing which gives me pause is the way that the old I-70 is being replaced by the new highway. There doesn’t seem to be much of a theme of old holding back the new there, as I-70 is all overgrown and unused. The new highway, however, has chain stores and seems to be continually delayed. I get the feeling that we’re not supposed to like the new highway.

    Since Winston puts just an absurd amount of thought and effort into his strips, I get the feeling that something is wrong in the analysis. Or perhaps, alternatively, there isn’t meant to be a consistent theme. Sometimes the new is better (as with Dave’s students) and sometimes it’s worse (as with the highway). But that makes it tough for me to conclude whether the hunters are the original or the clones.

    • supersachio Says:

      I think the point was that the highway was, in theory, a “great idea” (“it’d have been wonderful for people to have this route open again”) but it was brought down by the negative remnants of the past it was forced to carry with it (the chain stores, etc.) until it was the unusable, unfinished, hyper-stupid mess seen in the very first panel (“but then that’s the problem, it’s a great idea”).

  45. Kamaria Says:

    You just wrinkled my brain, man. Another intensely good short story. On the one hand, I would love to see this fleshed out in the style of Captain Estar, on the other hand, the ambiguity is half the fun. I read through all the comments trying to wrap my brain around this and it all seems to have some kind of relevance, the numbers, the “clonegating” and backspacing… but based on your silence, I’m guessing you have no intention of giving us the satisfaction. Well played, sir, well played.

  46. Rob Says:


    And no, I don’t think having to read through all the various comments, sifting theories and opinions, is a reasonable expectation.

    This comic was pure WTF, and thus a failure.

    • Bor Says:

      ‘Cos having to think is a bad thing.

    • Jacob Says:

      No one told you that you HAVE to read the comments. Any information in the comments was learned fair and square by reading the comic and thinking about it. So if reading the comments doesn’t sound fun to you why not turn off your computer pour yourself a cup of coffee, listen to some music and think about it for yourself? Frankly I think that’s the best thing to do after any story in any medium.

  47. SellYourself Says:

    I read it as a metaphor for the creative process. The Dave and Terry we follow are early versions of the characters being hunted down and wiped out by the newer versions. The highway represents progress of the story with the numbers being how far earlier versions made it before being scraped and re-written. I’m not saying this is the right way, or that there are wrong ways to interpret it, but with Winstons history of re-writing comics over and over again it’s what my mind went to.

    I loved it by the way.

  48. Hafwit Says:

    A great and thought-provoking comic. Thank you, Winston. Thanks to you other readers too. Your interpretations are very interesting.
    My thought was that it showed that creating something worthwhile takes time, dedication and a measure of decency. Destroying it often takes sweet Fanny Adams.

  49. James Says:

    Superhighway… man. MAN!! Freaking brilliant!

  50. NomadC Says:

    Really thought provoking stuff. Here’s some of the stuff I picked up.

    In the 5th block of frames, Terry says that Dave was “expected to amount to zero but became a successful educator”

    Using the super highway as a metaphor; the old highway was allowed to be overgrown with the introduction of a new super highway. It was a great idea. But the highway was never finished.

    Dave: “But that was the problem. it was a great idea”.

    Super highway was delayed repeatedly and never finished.

    The children are the innocent. In many passages, they talk about children as the hope of the future. Of being free of fault,

    There is a passage where Dave talks about absentee parents, about children with shitty parents that don’t get that it’s horrendously unfair, but just get along with their lives.

    Terry chimes in “and in a couple of years they’re already better than their parents”. Dave adds “I’d like to think so”.

    Backspace: Regression, deletion

    Soooo. My interpretation is as follows.

    In the future, cloning technoloogy is available and widely adopted. “it’s a great idea”. However, without sufficient forethought, the originals never thought about the impacts of having clones on their own lives. Many of these originals became absentee, abandoning their clones to fend for themselves, with the expectation that their clones would wither and die. “Amount to zero”.

    But the clones survived, and thrived. Terry and Dave both became respectable members of society, being an educator and a fireman. Clone Dave has a long term relationship with a woman named Gwen as well.

    But the originals (out of jealousy perhaps) start something called “clonegating” or destroying their clones, and destroying their DNA.

    The scene that unfolds in the comic is the result of the confrontation between our originals and clones.

    Favourite moment: Clone Dave says “goodbye Terry” as he locks Dave into the compartment. Original Dave says “HELLLLO Terry” as he finds and opens the compartment and clone Terry dejectedly and defeated answers “Goodbye Dave, both as a fairwell to his friend and enemy infront of him.”

  51. graham Says:

    Did anyone else catch that the estimates of the height (20 stories and 200 feet at least/easily) were given by the reverse people in the two times they were given? Probably pointless, but couldn’t help noticing.

  52. Henry Turner Says:

    Winston normally would have chimed in to the discussion by now, I suspect he’s going to sit this one out and watch from the sidelines.

  53. Catapult Says:

    All I can think is…

    are those actually the Post Brothers?

  54. Grimm Says:

    I liked it, even though I still don’t understand it. It felt like reading a science-fiction short story. One of those unnerving, what-the-hell-am-I-reading kinda thing that takes you out of your comfort zone. Disturbing but well done.

    Ungh, and the point-blank execution, easily the most jarring thing I’ve ever seen in this comic, hands down. Thanks Winston for the unpleasant yet powerful image – some people would have made the good guys win and it seems it would have been a disservice to the story.

    I already know this comic will stay with me for a long time.

  55. mavericknm Says:

    I would like to propose a new meaning to Superhighway. It’s one that I feel satiates my need for understanding.

    I’d like to thank two previous theories for bringing me to my conclusion. Collin Yeoh for discussing agency and possibilities. GlitterBerri for discussing regression and progress. Also thanks to those who identified the harder points of this science fiction piece, (clones, demolecularizer, timeline)

    I believe that Superhighway is a metaphor for one of Winston’s favourite topics, the creative design process.

    The process is a long and arduous journey through uncharted territories. Yet it is often guided by our ancestors. We remix, juxtapose, re-engineer and innovate our past to create a better future. This is the new highway that seeks to do what the old did, but better. This is the version 2.0.

    But the process has no end. Unlike a journey, the process can not be said to be “half way to Denver” because progress is never complete. It is an “unfinished symphony” that seeks continuous improvement. There will always be an iphone 6, an HTML7, or a Cube Generator MK. V. Design is never done.

    So then arrive’s Winston’s favourite discourse, the difficulties and pitfalls of the creative process. To start, there are the bad ideas. Roads and clones that should never have been built and that amount to nothing, even from the best initial conditions. Then there are the gems. Children with fantastic potential who may have come from the worst set of possible conditions. Some of the world’s greatest works have come from the deepest depressions, the most difficult heartbreaks or the most evil deeds.

    This is where Winston tells us to fight the good fight. Projects can get delayed passed 2156. Sometimes good ideas get wrongly scrapped. It’s easy to be put down by the bad ideas. It’s easy to hit backspace and feel like nothing has been accomplished. It’s easy to start “running the other way.” We have to focus on the moment. The “present tense”. See what’s ahead of us. Find a way down. Be brave and take a leap of faith.

    Hope some of you agree with this analysis. Even more so, I hope some of you improve upon it. I hope you release an engineering change order and share it with this community. I’m so happy to be part of this tiny, mostly positive, community that is collaborating to find meaning in our artist’s work. I don’t think we’ve worked as well as a team as we have now. Thank you everyone.

    Above all and as always, thank you Winston.

    • mavericknm Says:

      Oh bugger, Hawfit and SellYourself already proposed this idea. Sorry, Bugger and Kudos.

    • SellYourself Says:

      Don’t worry about it, I think you said it in a much better way than myself and improved on the idea like you hope someone inproves on yours. PROGRESS!

  56. Hafwit Says:

    I agree. 🙂

  57. Henry Turner Says:

    Peace out bros, this is nothing more than a reimagining of Logan’s Run. Winston, do I win the prize?

  58. Henry Turner Says:

    Plus, Jenny Agutter nom nom nom.

  59. mystrsyko Says:

    I don’t have any intelligent theories or analysis for the comic as a whole. The only thing I noticed was that the “Superhighway” is actually “super” high.

  60. My initial interpretation was that it’s about getting older. No matter how much you try to run away from it, time catches up with you and you will be replaced by an older version of yourself.

    • Jason Says:

      An asshole version of yourself? You start out young and innocent, then gradually become an asshole? And your younger self would be horrified by the older one?

    • Exactly! People look at their parents or other older people and say “I’m never going to become that. I’m never going to become so cynical. I’m never going to become that uncool, conservative, etc”. But then, as time goes by, they become that. Despite badly not want to become that when they’re younger. And before they know it, they look in the mirror and realise they have become their parents.

    • Dhatz Says:

      EXACTLY. and this is what is being uncovered now more than ever: the impact of parenting is VITAL deciding factor, even though you can find some exceptions where gems come out of graphite, the real goal is to eliminate the process of making bad people. that is to stop believing what is false and start learning what is true. And because there are three blocks in the path to truth: not beginning, not going all the way and looking just one way, nobody can progress without self-knowledge. That is why only the internet age allows for resources like: GetInvolvedYouLiveHere
      WhatOnEarthIsHappening com
      FreeDomainRadio com

  61. Jason Says:

    I really like this comic. But never mind the metaphor — I’m having a little trouble reconciling the details of this comic into a world that makes complete sense to me.

    The hunters, for example — I’m not convinced they’re doing this purely for recreation. To me it seems more like this is their job. For one thing, they find it necessary to “tag” Dave even after he’s dead, and complain about how they would have to climb down to the ground to verify Terry’s death and tag him too. Plus they seem pretty skilled with their guns (tagging dave from 200 feet, the first miss notwithstanding), suggesting they have experience. Plus after they’re finished, one mentions having his house in order, like they wouldn’t have been allowed to let the hunted guys go. And then he mentions how “the chase was kind of a good time”, almost as an afterthought — not the goal in itself. And their goal doesn’t seem to be to replace the guys they just killed…it just doesn’t follow from their casual reaction to having killed the guys.

    Then the hunted. What strikes me is “You think it’ll never happen to you.” They never expected this, I guess until they spotted their dopplegangers as they were sitting down to have lunch. If they were clones, were they completely unaware of it? Or did they think the chances of their hunters finding them was unlikely in their lifetimes? They don’t talk like their memories and lives were fake, which argues against implanted memories. On the other hand, I’m struck by the fact that they didn’t choose to stay in a crowded area, which suggests that the hunters were unafraid of having witnesses to the execution–suggesting that the hunt was legal. Or maybe they’re just unafraid of the law, like mobsters.

    P.S. “Tree came outta nowhere” is hilarious. 🙂

  62. pG Says:

    That was way better than any movie out so far this year. Good story, good dialogue, interesting premise that is not shoved down your throat – forcing you to make your own assumptions. And probably the most likely comic to get a live action remake by someone on youtube.
    Nice one, wince.

  63. Dhatz Says:

    the bodycount hypothesis can easily be debunked since 11 repeats and the numbers have predictable placement, also this is a world based on left hemispheric dominance where numbers play a significant role in organizing things, just where we are headed. you can see the yellow disk being a city with protruding skyscrapers, not a sun I originally mistook it for. Dave finds a roadKitt, no explanation of the extra t. the file name is clonegating, which makes this a typical case of one(probably meaning negating because negatives annihilate). CFD makes no serious hint at where they are actually from, since all CFD are far from Denver. Dave mentions you have one year responsibility for the kids, which could indicate the way their education works, not so much they knew they had a year or they WOULD expect it to happen to them(and he has a GF). the alternates both have their weapon, having to cover their eyes when it fires. They make the same estimates, meaning they are not very different from the first ones, as hinted by Dave’s ability to know what he’d do about the machine(it is demonstrably him for that context in the dialogue). Dave mentions no negatives about the children, this might be the bias that allowed the situation in the first place. see my previous comment on that matter.

    • Thomas Says:

      Oh, you’re right about the yellow dome! I dismissed it as the sun too, but obviously the shadows don’t make sense. So I guess that would be Denver (since they’re traveling by foot, “halfway to Denver” can’t be that far), and considering the position of the sun (it has to be evening since they’ve been running since afternoon) and the look of the mountains they’d have to be coming in from the west.

      When Terry looks back to see they’re still being chased, you can see another smaller yellow dome in the distance, which I guess is the one they mention leaving.

      So cities are built into domes in this future, presumably due to air quality issues. “Skycutting” is probably a dome-related activity.

      Dave talks about the I-121 like he’s much more familiar with it than Terry, so CFD doesn’t have to be from nearby if Terry lives somewhere else.

  64. Doyle Says:

    What interest me, is that the second set feel almost buisness like about it, even to the point of nonchalance. the one guy even says that the chase was fun and that the highway should have been finished. like they would have been happy to chace them forever just for the kicks.

  65. Jacob Says:

    I’m pretty sure the antagonists are the originals and the sympathetic ones are the clones. It took me a bit to come to this but I remembered the conversation about the kids. Particularly the comment about being born into an unfair situation and the next generation being immediately better than the last. Also is adds to the tragedy in a kind of Blade Runner esque sort of way. The originals act like delinquents and talk like XBox live players… only in real life. But their copies gained an appreciation for the finer things and actually tried contributing to the world around them.

  66. Andrew Millar Says:

    This may be the best Subnormality so far. Don’t get me wrong: There have been quite a few great ones over the years.

    This isn’t the first one I’ve re-read a couple of times, and this isn’t the first time I’ve gone to the comments to get a few others’ takes on it. It is, however, the first that’s left me sitting, just thinking, for a quarter hour or so between readings, sort of stunned.

    I’m still not sure I’ve entirely wrapped my head around it. In fact, I’m sure I haven’t.

    I’m not one to praise art merely for being esoteric; in general, I’m wary of abstract and heavily metaphorical work. Too much of that stuff is bullshit, and much of the rest is the result of artist misjudgment.

    This piece, however, walks that fine line of almost-comprehending that really makes you think constructively about the metaphors. It’s also well-written in the sense that I never got bored with the story as it was told; I wanted to know what happened next.

    I’m looking forward to reading this one again every so often!

  67. Deep Philosophical Point Maker, PhD Says:

    It’s about man’s inhumanity to man, dogg

  68. Prashant Says:

    Drexler (1986) of Engines of Creation invoked in the depiction of “grey goo”. In the literal sense grey goo may refer to self-replicating robots at the nanoscale which rely on consumption and/or imitation of specific (usually) organic material to enact ecophagy or ecocide wherein all the available matter in the environment is consumed providing a malthusian constraint to such grey goo growth.

    Drexler himself emphasized that grey goo was not a reference to the physical characteristics of such self-replicating machines. Rather he meant to suggest a distinction between superiority (in an evolutionary/competitive/grey-gooey ‘who/what is better designed to survive/replicate/reproduce’ sense) and value (in a ‘what is valuable to mankind/life/etc’ sense).

    The author probably means to suggest that the availability of software and other technological tools to replicate the creative drawing process makes it possible for original creative processes to be consumed by their (mechanistically?) duplicated/ing counterparts. The idea of an old I-70 lying overgrown with trees while a newer one is built right above is indicative of this tendency among humans to build redundancy into their actions to eliminate apparently tedious work while providing such redundant actions a veneer/whiff of creative production when in fact they simply reduce what is characterized as drudgery (but may in fact be quite challenging).

    Dave may be referring to programs/tools when talking about his favorite students – Safra a handwriting recognizing and transcribing utility (which I imagine would be quite helpful to the author himself), and, Jim – progeny of Automen – a video decoding, encoding and filtering tool, perhaps applicable to image conversion.The backspace and keyboard sounds and the reference to tagging suggest some form of HTML coding problem which the author probably found a way to address through an automated routine whereas previously he looked for such errors by hand. He rues the loss of the creative aspects of programming hand-drawn and written content to the web through the use of code which relies on some sort of learning algorithm/s to resolve bugs he previously used to do by himself.

    possible Star Trek reference with the nanites.

  69. Vanzetti Says:

    No one got the point of this comic yet?

    Dave`s work is pointless. They clones represent the children. In a way, they ARE the children,

    They are not better than the previous generation, they are exactly the same, only better armed. They will kill you and then stand over the same cliff you once stood.


  70. Hi Winston (Or whatever!)

    This one leaves me with a definite sense of “this might be the big picture”..

    Once again brilliant, and having read for most of the six years, please keep it up!

    I must try and comment more..


  71. Zach Webb Says:

    Something interesting I just noticed:
    Running Dave and Terry both have jobs that children tend to want to do, until they get older and realize that both of those jobs, as good as they are for the community, are kind of shitty for different reasons.
    Chasing Dave and Terry sound like douchebags on x-box live.
    I think this comic has more to do about ideals getting forgotten or twisted as “progress” is made. For example, the original highway worked perfectly well for transportation purposes, but they replaced it with the supercommercial superhighway that they never finished because they were so focused on fitting in as many strip malls and coffee shops as they could that they lost sight of the main purpose of a highway in the first place: to get from A to B efficiently.
    That is also the point of creative works, albeit mentally/emotionally instead of physically.
    Just a few thoughts. I’ll have some more later, I’m sure.

  72. vcspeights Says:

    We’re so easily desensitized in the 21st century, to find something that stops us in our tracks like that is so rare. Thanks Rowntree.

  73. lookmeat Says:

    What I found interesting is the repeating trope of something old but complete, being killed and replaced by something new but incomplete.

    The Super Highway is incomplete, and replaces I-70 which lies in ruins.

    The hunters Terry and Dave are incomplete characters: we don’t really know them at all. We just assume they are assholes and useless because they are never presented as fully as the protagonists.

    The interesting point is that the children do not replace their parents. They are the one thing that doesn’t destroy it’s predecessor before they’re complete (fully adult). Instead they grow alongside the adults, until they become a better, stronger generation, but their parents are never “backspaced”.

  74. tmgreebo Says:

    And of course once the clones kill off the clones, they are at the start of their own journey, halfway to Denver, having to find a way off the highway. And probably with someone chasing them as they move toward the other end. And get killed, and the clones are then at the start of their own journey, halfway to Denver, having to find a way off the highway……

  75. Heyy, sorry to stay out of the conversation this time around– i’ve really been enjoying just sitting back and reading everyone’s interpretations. I honestly find there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing people find stuff in your work that you didn’t even notice, so thanks x100 y’all for the great discussion. I really enjoy doing things that are a bit ambiguous, like where i don’t even know what it all means (if it means anything) despite having written it, and i most definitely love doing the sci-fi, so yeah– i’ll definitely be at it again down the road.

    ps: and whoever mentioned the “grey goo,” that’s indeed what i was going for with the disintegration at the end there. It’s tough to include exposition in a story and not have it seem forced, so i tried to leave out basically all the exposition and just let it play out as is. I actually like the results of that.

    • dzamie Says:

      If you keep on making comics like this one, it won’t be too long before your readers start making inferences and interpretations that you never intended.

      And it will be awesome.

  76. Fantastic, but grim.
    I think I’m with Glitter Berri as interpretations go.
    The past could be a source of wisdom and reflection, but all too often it’s just this unquiet corpse strangling our movement forward.
    Especially on social issues.
    And Dave’s students. “A few short years and they’re already better human beings than the previous generation” ties to that. Letting go of the drive to violence as an answer could be part of that, part of why the better Dave & Terry don’t try to fight back.
    Didn’t Ghandi say “there are many causes for which I would die, but none for which I would kill?” Dude did beat the then reigning world’s power with little more than a bristling mustache and eye-glasses.
    Regardless, a tale both merciless and worthy of reflection.


  77. Hey. I don’t know if you read this or whatever. I really like the way you write and draw your comics. I particularly liked this one because I could not fully understand it. I also hated it because of this. I DESPERATELY want to figure out what was the back story of the two main characters and the ones who were chasing them. I guess that’s part of the charm. Maybe I’m repeating most of the stuff people said above me in the comments. I’m sorry. I just personally wanted to tell you I think your storytelling is brilliant and you’re a personal inspiration to me and the people I convince to read you.
    Also I like to read your comics when I’m feeling like shit and like nothing I’m writing is worth it.
    That’s it really.

  78. WAIT…I just got it. It’s brilliant. Thanks.

  79. Line Noise Says:

    clones? i thought they where the time travelling guys who altered there own histories. hence the repeated phrase “use the present tense” and backspace for kill.
    am i mistaken aren’t these guys reoccurring characters?

  80. --bill Says:

    Those Annoying Post Bros.!


    • --bill Says:

      Oops–forgot my interpretation:

      Russ and Ron are hunting down all their alternative selves who are too pleasant.

  81. fishboy Says:

    Wow. Just seriously wow. I’ve not been able to keep up with Subnormality much this year (RL takes up an unreasonable amount of my webcomic reading time..) but catching up on them now is amazing. And this one is the most enigmatic and subtle to date. Fantastic work WR!

  82. J Says:

    Winston rowntree during an AMA:

    “At some point i had the idea to do an anthology of sci-fi comics set in the same future society, at least i think i’m remembering that right, and that story was one of them. And YES, the issue with that comic is that it lacks some exposition that might make the comic make more sense. I forget the exact details, but i think i had this idea that there was a legal loophole where you could kill your own clone because they genetically couldn’t prove if it was them or you that was dead (or some damn thing), but then i forgot to or just didn’t put any context like that in the comic. I wish i could remember more, but yeah, it’s definitely a glimpse at something that was intended to have a lot more backstory around it.”

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