954: Chin-Up Bar
Title text: Those few who escaped found the emergency cutoff box disabled. The stampede lasted two hours and reached the bottom three times.
Black Hat has a plan to block traffic on the longest single-tier escalator in the Western hemisphere. At the time of the comic's publishing, that placed the comic in the Wheaton station in Washington D.C.'s Washington Metro subway system, where the 70-meter (230-foot) escalator is. An escalator is a motorized stairway. It's clear that Black Hat knows it is the longest and that this is the reason he has chosen this exact escalator for his evil plan.
Black Hat carries a chin-up bar over his shoulder up the escalator, resulting in a conversation with his friend Cueball, riding up behind him, about Black Hat's motives for doing such. Black Hat uses sly conversing methods to avoid saying his true motives. First he counters the question with another question: Why aren't you wearing a hat? Cueball's reply is a normal I'm not really a hat person, whereas Black Hat's copy reply is not a real answer; I'm not really a not-carrying-a-chin-up-bar person, which is probably a sentence never used before this comic. It takes Cueball a second to process this answer, but he doesn't give up and asks why again. Black Hat continues deflecting his questions by stating that he's not a psychologist, although he clearly is aware of his own motives and intentions.
After this they reach the top and once they get off Black Hat quickly turns around and locks the bar in place at about waist height (i.e. as high up as possible on an escalator), just before the moving part of the escalator ends.
Chin-up bars are typically capable of holding up a 300 pound (130 kg) person without moving, and a bar like Black Hat has brought with him can be installed easily in a doorway, or in the opening of an escalator…
The unexpected appearance of a solidly attached bar at the top of a crowded escalator could be disastrous. The first people would probably stumble backward to avoid it or hit it and topple backwards, and collide with the passengers immediately behind them, knocking them off their feet and likely creating a domino effect all the way down. Indeed, this is exactly what happens and is depicted in the last panel. Black Hat and Cueball are seen on the descending escalator in the background, but Black Hat pays no attention to the chaos he has just created. Cueball is not so detached and has turned around looking at the scene and displaying worry about what Black Hat has done. Although it might be possible, the two are fairly lucky to be unscathed, as they could have been hit by someone in the pileup falling all the way over in their side of the escalator. Since they are most likely on the way down to a subway, the traffic should make it easy for them to get away on the next train, before anyone has a chance to try and find the perpetrator, so Black Hat gets away with his schemes once again.
In the title text it is made clear that the few people that actually escaped the moving stairs were unable to use the emergency shutdown because Black Hat had disabled the system, presumably before ascending in the first place. This is stated to have caused the stampede to last for two hours and waves of falling people would end up reaching the bottom three times, before ascending with the stairs again. The reason for this extended mayhem could be that only the very first people at the top of this domino effect who actually hit the chin-up-bar know what caused the problem to begin with. Since they are likely among those people too hurt to explain anything in time, the next group of people trying to get out after the first wave of falling people might just proceed to run into the same problem at the top once again. The problem is exacerbated by the disabled shutoff, so even if someone sees the chin-up-bar and knows how to escape, he would either be pulled back into the crowd of traffic or be free but unable to help. This helps to explain why the cycle of crowd collapse happened three times, and the use of the word "stampede" connotes the panicked, unorganized behavior of the trapped people that serves to make the problem worse.
- [Black Hat is in the middle of on an escalator with five other people as it ascends. He carries something like a a pole.]
- [Zoom in on Black Hat and Cueball.]
- Cueball: This is a long escalator.
- Black Hat: 70 meters. Longest in the country.
- [Black Hat goes upwards holding his pole.]
- [Cueball is still behind Black Hat.]
- Cueball: Why're you carrying a chin-up bar?
- Black Hat: Why aren't you wearing a hat?
- [The view returns to the original view only showing the six people ascending, only shifted so they are all a bit longer to the right.]
- Cueball: I'm not really a hat person.
- Black Hat: And I'm not really a not-carrying-a-chin-up-bar person.
- [Close up on Cueball on the escalator.]
- [Zoom out. Black Hat still has the pole in his hands.]
- Cueball: Seriously, why did you bring it?
- Black Hat: How should I know? I'm not a psychologist.
- [Zoom in on the top of the escalator where Black Hat steps off and installs the chin-up bar on the exit of the escalator.]
- Twist Click Click
- [View from above towards both ascending and descending escalators. Black Hat and Cueball are on the descending escalator.]
- [The final panel takes up two entire rows and shows all people falling down.]
- It would appear that the man behind Cueball with glasses and a goatee is the psychologist from 435: Purity, and then Megan next to him could be the sociologist from the same comic. This gives new meaning to Black Hat's line about not being a psychologist.
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