734: Outbreak

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Let's get dinner after we promptly destroy all the X-7 we've manufactured.
Title text: Let's get dinner after we promptly destroy all the X-7 we've manufactured.


Patient Zero is the usual terminology for the first patient tested or infected with an outbreak-style infection, (in the comic's case, a zombie outbreak,) like in the movie Outbreak, which is not the main inspiration for this comic, except maybe the title.

This comic, however, serves to make fun of the stereotypical zombie movie in which an unlikely series of events, coupled with extreme oversight on part of the staff, leave an opening for an outbreak to begin. Often, the infected find themselves lacking any restraint or containment, and freely move about in search of humans to infect.

In the comic Ryan (drawn as Cueball) tells Laura (drawn as Megan) that the patient has been exposed to toxin X-7. The patient (a zombie version of a Cueball-like guy) can be seen through a window inside a laboratory, with Ryan trying to block the door. The patient has turned into a bloodthirsty monster that in true zombie-style calls out for brains, while walking with both arms stretched out and bits of him falling off, three typical cliches for zombie movies.

Laura then asks if the zombie has been kept in isolation, a standard medical procedure that prevents the patient from coming into contact with anyone or anything not specifically approved, and thus prevents the spread of the disease. Her question serves to point out the drastic difference in real-life procedure and zombie movies.

When told that so far the zombie has been isolated her next action is to run to her car to obtain the weapon she has there to shoot the zombie, again showing contrast against the often irrational and illogical actions of medical staff in movies, whose behaviors usually lead to their deaths and to the spread of the disease, which causes the real outbreak. One person (or a few people) dying from a disease is not called an outbreak.

When Laura returns, she kills patient zero before he can spread the infection, and thus the outbreak ends in the third panel five minutes after it started in the first panel.

The comic ends with a little "mock the audience" joke as romantic comedies stereotypically have a very different audience from zombie horror movies.[citation needed] The two characters had never been introduced before, their names are first given in the last panel. Having such an intense and life-threatening experience often causes people to fall in love. But for a zombie/disaster movie this is supposed to happen just before the end titles, so you have all the fun first, and can go home on the happy ending. Since the "fun" part only lasted for five minutes the rest of the movie will now describe Ryan and Laura's romantic relationship after this comic.

As a result, the director(s) of this movie are deliberately showing the wrong kind of film to the audience attracted by the title or teaser. This would be disastrous for a movie in real life given that audiences do not take kindly to such antics and are likely to pour hate about it online, dissuading others from going, and alienating both those audiences who enjoy romantic comedies and those who enjoy zombie films, leaving just a niche occupied by the people who enjoy both.

The title text is included as another example of the logical real-life actions versus the illogical movie ones, as any dangerous substance in a real lab would be disposed of, preventing further harm. In zombie movies, another major trope is the medical staff thinking that they are safe after they eliminate the first zombie, only to find the remaining chemicals have been used to make more. But before Ryan and Laura have had dinner, they promptly go back and destroy both the X-7 toxin and the last hope of the zombie fans seeing the movie of any further action...

Zombies are a recurring theme in xkcd. Though zombies are often depicted as being raised from the dead they are as mentioned often created (in films) through disease or toxins as is the case here. Apart from the three typical features of zombies mentioned, the zombie in this comic is also called zombie in the official transcript on xkcd.


[Cueball and Megan stand outside a door into a laboratory (with the word "LAB" in large letters on the door). Cueball is leaning back against the door. A Cueball-like zombie which is clearly falling apart, walking with its hands stretched out in front of it, is visible through a window into the laboratory. At the top of the panel there is a frame around a yellow area with narration, which goes over the top of this panel's frame.]
Narrator: The outbreak started with Patient Zero...
Cueball: He was exposed to toxin X-7— now he's a bloodthirsty monster!
Megan: Has he been in isolation?
Zombie: Braaains!
[Cueball turns towards the door, pushing on it and partly blocking the door's label ("LA"). A noise indicates the zombie banging on the door from inside. Megan runs right her head and hand already partly outside the frame.]
Cueball: Yes, but I can't hold this door for long!
Megan: Hang on, I've got a gun in my truck.
Zombie (hitting the door): Wham
[In this frame-less panel Cueball opens the door a crack, leaning back with a hand in front of his face, as Megan shoots with her shotgun through the open door at the zombie inside. The word "LAB" on the door is no longer blocked.]
Shotgun: BLAM
[Cueball and Megan stand together away from the laboratory door. Megan still holds shotgun down. At the top and bottom of the panel there is two more frames around a yellow areas with narration, which goes over the top and bottom of this panel's frame. As Cueball and Megan talk, their names are revealed.]
Narrator: And ended with Patient Zero five minutes later.
Cueball: So, I never got your name. I'm Ryan.
Megan: Laura.
Narrator: The remaining 90 minutes of the movie will be a romantic comedy.

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A romantic comedy in which the couple tries to hide evidence of the battered corpse while making out. Would pay to watch. Davidy22[talk] 13:22, 18 February 2013 (UTC)

cueball and megan? the text clearly name the characters as ryan and laura 18:48, 17 April 2013 (UTC)

  1. Cueball and Megan are acting in a movie.
  2. In the transcript, Randall specifically names them as Cueball and Megan. :-) Saibot84 (talk) 02:38, 18 May 2013 (UTC)
Note that "Cueball" and "Megan" are merely the Explain xkcd names. The official transcript refers to them only as "Man" and "Woman". (Anon) 13 August 2013 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Randall did also use the name Megan, while Cueball is just an invention by interpreters not only here. The names "Ryan and Laura" are just characters in a movie.--Dgbrt (talk) 07:33, 14 August 2013 (UTC)

I love how Ryan is covering his face when he holds the door open. 23:27, 20 April 2013 (UTC)

I saw it as trying to plug his ear. Shotguns are loud, especially indoors.Tryc (talk) 14:24, 8 July 2013 (UTC)
Indeed. Z1mp0st0rz (talk) 15:25, 11 April 2024 (UTC)

I've always considered this a bait and switch. Men would take their reluctant girlfriends on movie dates, somehow manage to get a movie they wanted, and soon find they were had. It is ever so much sweeter this way. Black Hat Productions, in collaboration with Danish Movies, should make this. Anonymous 03:00, 13 December 2013 (UTC)

The patient might overwhelm the man and escape before the woman returns. X-7 might still be communicable after death. Errors. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Honestly, what better plan was there? The door didn't have a lock (for whatever reason), and most people (or at least most scientists) don't usually keep a gun in their truck, much less in the lab itself. Also, the title text takes care of the toxin issue. Presumably, they'll follow proper protocols when destroying the body as well. And disinfecting Laura. Shotguns spray. Anonymous 15:03, 5 November 2015 (UTC)

This explanation desperately needs some cleanup. It's currently shockingly short, and gives almost no explanation of anything. 21:57, 11 December 2015 (UTC)

That at least have been fixed now ;-) --Kynde (talk) 09:56, 6 August 2016 (UTC)

Question: Are there any reason for the names Laura and Ryan, like are they used in a zombie movie of outbreak style movie? Or are they just randomly chosen so they can be introduced in the film? --Kynde (talk) 10:50, 6 August 2016 (UTC)

The whole idea from thi comic really looks like something Russian filmmakers would try to spend state issued budget on

Isn't Patient 0 from Among Us?Z1mp0st0rz (talk) 15:25, 11 April 2024 (UTC)

The "Patient 0" from Among Us is (I would presume, not having see it) from the pre-existing and longstanding general concept of "Patient 0" (or, better, "Index case" in epidemiology/etc.
Regardless, this comic is from 2010. Years ahead of the game, or the subsequent manga/animation adaptations, if that's what you're thinking of. 16:35, 11 April 2024 (UTC)