PS238 is a comic book series about the eponymous first public school for metaprodigies — super-children, in other words. That is, if you can call a top-secret underground school "public".Created by Aaron Williams, who is also known as the maker of Nodwick and Full Frontal Nerdity — all of which can be viewed on Nodwick dot com — it has been described as "Take the kids from Springfield Elementary, give them X-Men powers, and send 'em to Hogwarts."Basically concerned with the general, superpowered going-ons of a school filled with superpowered children (most of whom are the children of Lawyer Friendly Cameos of various well-known Marvel and DC heroes), PS238 follows a small core cast of about ten to twelve kids, with plenty more who make cameos. The closest thing the series has to a protagonist is Tyler Marlocke, the notably only non-superpowered student on campus.Needless to say, the series thrives on Super Hero-related tropes, and indeed, tropes in general. Several characters are openly Genre Savvy, including Tyler at times — though he would probably prefer if those tropes weren't there.Originally a print comic, Aaron has followed the example of the Foglios and released it as a webcomic, but the free online version is still well behind the print-version. In 2008, a licensed Role-Playing Game using the Hero System was published.
PS238 provides examples of the following tropes:
Name a superhero-related trope. Any superhero-related trope.
Absurdly Powerful Student Council: Despite the fact that they could eventually end up with one that consists of absurdly powerful people, this is averted. When Tyler got elected Class President, the faculty had yet to figure out what responsibilities the Class President was supposed to have. So far, said duties have consisted entirely of participating in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Academy of Evil: Praetorian Academy is a private school for metahumans that's not publicly traded, looks regimented and militaristic, dresses its students up in uniforms and faceless masks and gives them codenames, and its headmaster is a shadowy, enigmatic figure. Subverted, as the intent behind it involves anything but releasing more supervillains into the wild.
Action Survivor: Tyler. Although, as time goes by, he is slowly approaching Badass Normal. He's already running toward danger of his own volition.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Averted. Human AIs, like Doctor Positron, exist and they're all perfectly nice. The only exception was Prospero's robot companion, which was implied to have gotten damaged in the crash. The Singularity is pretty nice too, for an omnipotent extradimensional AI. Think of it as a sort of omnipotent schoolteacher with a somewhat quirky sense of humour.
Alternate Universe: Tyler sees a few alternate versions of himself in the Castle Beyond Time and Space. One is a Jerkass Woobie who is one of the most powerful people on the planet but has a hair-trigger temper, another is more along the lines of what his parents wanted, and the third is a ridiculously powerful telepath who accidentally turned the human race into a Hive Mind when he was bored.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: A telepath exposed while holding political office, admits that he's used his telepathic abilities to defeat opponents, win elections, and get good deals on cars.
Art Shift: One issue contains school reports from the superkids that are drawn by children of the same age.
The Atoner: Cranston is attempting this but Toby may have inadvertently messed this up for him as a side-effect of his Reality Warper powers. Depending on how closely you're reading, the scene is either an Oh Crap moment or a moment of Fridge Brilliance, because neither Toby nor Tyler realize the significance of the exchange demanded by Toby's powers, and thus Toby's statement passes without comment.
Author Avatar: While there haven't been any explicit versions of the author himself in the series, Miss Kyle is modeled after his wife.
Badass Longcoat: Cecil Holmes. The longcoat becomes Badass unto itself as well as making Cecil Badass.
Batter Up: The supervillain The Sinister Shortstop was armed with a baseball bat that caused whatever was hit with it to explode. It recently came into the hands of one of PS238's students, who's held onto it because it complements her existing powers, which are entirely defensive.
Blessed with Suck: Lyle can't turn off his ability to "see patterns in things" and he spends most of his time in a featureless white room to keep his brain from overloading. On the other hand, he is effectively omniscient and at one point he begins to set into motion a complicated scheme to allow himself and his classmates to escape unharmed from a pair of dangerous kidnappers several issues before the kidnappers have even decided to show up.
Bonus Material: "Dr. Positron's Science Corner" in some of the print issues, written as an in-universe educational message expositing on some of the alternate history or superscience of the world.
Captain Ersatz: PS238 is made out of this trope. Two of the more outstanding examples are Atlas and Emerald Gauntlet, although both have developed points of distinction from the originals as the series progresses. Among the students, there's also "Murphy", the "Prince of Daydreams" (whose older sister is often mentioned in passing...), and Victor Von Fogg, heir of the Von Fogg family of supervillains.
Casual Danger Dialog: The Revenant is perfectly able to take calls while in the middle of fighting bad guys, and has been known to make them as well.
The Revenant is involved with practically every storyline in the comic one way or another, although so far he's avoided trying to bring them all together.
The Headmaster is in the middle of a decades-long project to prevent the destruction of Earth by a future metahuman arms race, and founded Praetorian as one way to prevent it. He currently looks to be using the Von Foggs as pawns in his scheme.
Von Fogg junior is especially prone to this in his first appearances, and would probably count as a Large Ham if he didn't eventually mellow down in later issues.
American Eagle and Patriot Act also act like this on-camera.
Cloning Blues: Averted. Tyler's clone gets a name (Toby), develops cosmic powers, and is adopted by his parents, who are delighted — to the point where Tyler is worried they'll like his new "brother" better. However, Cecil rejects Toby, though he remains close friends with Tyler.
Comes Great Responsibility: Repeatedly used as An Aesop towards the children. Also, somewhat ironically, what the evil-looking Praetorian Academy claims is its founding principle. They're genuine about it.
Competence Zone: Averted; the kids' teachers are presented as intelligent, competent, and perfectly aware of what's going on around them. This being a comic about the kids, though, the kids still do most of the day-saving. Most of.
Conspicuous CG: Quite intentional with the Determinant and the Balagan, Entity of Order and Aspect of Chaos respectively, hinting at You Cannot Grasp the True Form. Later depictions are just drawn, rather than being CG'ed onto the page. Whether this is supposed to represent something or is just a cost-cutting measure is unknown.
Conspiracy Theorist: Cecil Holmes. He actually gets pretty close to figuring out the truth about PS238, but Tyler derails him with alien stuff. Ironically, Cecil can unconsciously detect superpowered beings (who he thinks are aliens) unless they are, in fact, aliens. He thinks Propero, the resident alien kid, is a normal, if weird and foreign, kid.
The Revenant. He has a box under the seat in his jet just in case he suddenly needs to go into space.
And Tyler is learning from the best. As of the Rainmaker story he's gotten pretty good at thinking ahead and is getting better. Exaggerated the first time Tyler teams up with the Revenant, as he deliberately loads himself with equipment to the point that he can barely move in an attempt to avoid having to actually fight crime.
The Revenant: I sometimes think access to cash is the greatest superpower of all.
Crossover: In issue 39 it was revealed that the events of Nodwick take place in the distant past of PS238. Thanks to some time-travelling and a Predestination Paradox, some of the characters from PS238 briefly meet the main characters from Nodwick.
The Crystal Skull, an ex-supervillain, has since turned his intellect to taking money from people legally, and runs one of the higher-class casinos in Las Vegas.
A minor supervillain known as The Headmaster (no connection to the Headmaster of Praetorian Academy), who had the power to detach his head and throw it at people, retired from a fairly unsuccessful life of crime to become the spokesman for a chain of bowling alleys.
Drunk with Power: Subverted. Victor von Fogg obtains a machine that grants ultimate power over the shape of the universe, but it also grants him perspective. He is frustrated that he is incapable of doing anything evil with it.
Evolutionary Levels: Discussed and sort of justified. In one of the "Science Corners", Dr. Positron hypothesizes that the relatively high frequency of the Flying Brick powers may indicate a more stable metahuman gene complex that will eventually provide the baseline for all humanity. Given later developments that inarguably demonstrate a cosmic force of some sort influencing the development of powers, evolution may actually be set with levels and goals.
Exposition Beam: Tyler learns of Principal Cranston's backstory when his headband is damaged by reliving his memories.
Almost every character who is not an outright Captain Ersatz is an expy of a known superhero comics archetype, without blatantly referencing any one single comics character. An example would be Herschel Clay, who turns out to be an expy of Iron Man.
Between metahumans and normal people. According to Revenant, Tyler's own parents have expressed the (frankly rather ugly) opinion that non-metas have no business trying to change the world, despite making up the majority of the world. It puts their relationship to their son in an uncomfortable light.
Argonians look down on everyone who does not have Flying Brick powers. Normal humans are treated as an inferior underclass; other metahumans as outright threats.
Fate Worse Than Death: Zodon manages to convince the otherwise mild-mannered and rather cowardly Flying Brick, Forak, to guard a dimensional portal while he's on the other side with some of the other kids. The threats he makes are spoken of only in whispers, but Forak is terrified enough to even stand against the Creepy Child Alexandria Von Fogg when she shows up to disrupt matters. Towards the end, Hershel convince him to tell him what was said. Turns out that Zodon threatened to delete all his Achievements if he didn't do as he was told. Terrifying!
Five-Man Band: Tyler's impromptu "team" in his first fight with Charles Brigman.
Deconstructed as being a F.I.S.S. (flight, invulnerability, strength and speed). This package is so common that F.I.S.S. heroes are just given a number. Julie, one of the current PS238 students, is number 84.
Further deconstructed when Earth makes contact with Argos. Flying bricks rule the planet in noble houses with normal people (called "softies") as an oppressed underclass. All other superpowers are referred to as "ferals" and are implied to have been culled from the Argonian gene pool long ago.
Tyler is expected to do this, despite the fact that he didn't inherit his parent's superpowers.
Ron feels pressure of this nature as well.
Foreshadowing: The alternative universes Tyler glimpses in the mirrors at the Castle Beyond Time and Space foreshadow later events, such as the alien virus that turns humans into aliens and Tyler (or rather his clone) becoming the most powerful meta-prodigy at PS238.
Lord of Order: When you observe the actions of an imp and cherub who influence the clone of Tyler Marlocke... Lord of Chaos: ...what you see them doing isn't truly real. It's just how your eyes try to explain what's going on to your brain, which is sensitive and doesn't do metaphysical stuff if it can avoid it.
Geometric Magic: Alec, who ends up being able to do magic with scribbled runes after some exposure to Malphast.
The Ghost: A metahuman-hating Senator Durbin, who apparently was a political opponent of Cranston, is mentioned several times during the comic without ever appearing. Turns out he's The Headmaster.
Grappling-Hook Pistol: Tyler's still getting the hang of it. Hilarity Ensues. Interestingly, it's about the size of the MythBusters model, and thus is worn as a sizeable forearm bracer rather than sitting in the utility belt. The winch on that thing is incredibly powerful, able to pull creatures that outmass Tyler by at least 100:1 — by the tooth (Which also implies a lot about how strong the tooth was).note It's possible that the winch isn't quite that strong. Any extended tooth like the one the winch grabs is going to be very sensitive to being pulled on, not matter how well anchored it is. The dragon, feeling a sharp tug on a sensitive spot, instinctively jerks his head in that direction to relieve the pressure, and ends up putting his head through the wall.
Guardian Entity: Ambriel's power. She talks to her force field and treats it as if it were a living thing, but so far there's no sign that it's anything but a force field that automatically intercepts anything harmful. However, after she dies and comes back, the field seems to be more selective. Or perhaps is just weaker.
Guile Hero: Tyler. Whatever you do, don't take his business card.
Healing Hands: Dr. Newby, the school medic, has this — fortunately for Tyler. He needs it. A lot.
Her Code Name Was Mary Sue: When the pupils are reading their creative writing assignments, Dylan's story features a very handsome and powerful version of himself defeating Victor's father and saving the world, while his rival Jenny is completely useless. It ends abruptly when Jenny and Victor sets his essay on fire.
Dylan: I consider this an assault on my basic freedoms and liberty.
Victor Von Fogg's headgear comes with a lens giving the effect of a monocle. Just like his father.
The Headmaster of Praetorian Academy also has a lens over one eye as part of his cyborg gear.
Hive Mind: The Commonality, created by an alternate universe version of Tyler. He had such powerful telepathy, he decided to see if he could touch every mind on Earth at once. It worked. It's also a rare (at least relatively) positive example of the trope — the Commonality seems entirely benevolent, and has made rapid strides toward improving not only people's lives, but the planet itself.
Holographic Disguise: Those PS238 students who can't just change into normal clothes (because they're part-machine, or bright blue, or whatever) get image emitters to help them blend in with the oblivious above-ground muggles.
Hurl It into the Sun: Issue #40 revolves around an installation that uses this method of disposing of dangerous super-gadgets.
After the Mister Extraordinary issue, it's implied that Tom keeps going back to the past to visit Naomi, leaving her gifts and even taking her to other time periods, and, much later, it's heavily implied that they will be married or at least in a relationship as adults.
Kinda Busy Here: The Revenant, every time Tyler calls him for advice. But he's so badass he can whomp supervillains and give career counselling simultaneously without breaking a sweat.
Landslide Election: Tyler becomes Class President in one of these, despite the fact that he wasn't running. This is because nobody in the class liked either of the actual candidates, so they voted for him as a write-in candidate.
Look Ma, No Plane!: Captain Clarinet starts out with a pathological fear of flying, due to having repeated nightmares of being sucked into a jet-engine. It doesn't particularly improve matters when Zodon "helpfully" reminds him that his invulnerability ensures that, should that happen, he'd come out on the other side unscattered... while the plane plummets to the ground in flames with the passengers aboard.... And then Zodon plays a "practical joke" on him that results in it happening in real life. It backfires spectacularly in that it ends up curing the good Captain of his phobia instead of compounding it when he is forced to use his flight to put the damaged plane down safely.
Loophole Abuse: The Crystal Skull weasels out of giving Zodon $100,000 by giving him store credit instead of cash, since his lawyers noted that they never specified what form the payment would take. Technically this would actually be more expensive due to the way casino gift shops work, but the Crystal Skull was probably worried about 1) not giving a budding super-villain a leg up, and 2) staying in the Revenant's good graces.
Satori Deacon, one of the Excelsior kids who turns out to have a power, can see ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. She hates it, because as soon as any given ghost figures this out, they will bug the living crap out of her with requests from beyond the grave.
And Cecil, the conspiracy theorist who thinks the PS238 kids are (all) aliens, turns out to be able to sense metahumans. This being the series that it is, he gets what he sees, which sparks the conspiracy theories, presumably because he gets some sort of "otherness" feeling when the sense goes off. Notably, he doesn't seem to recognize Prospero, the actual alien. Most likely because, while Prospero is an alien, he's a normal alien and not a meta-alien.
Maligned Mixed Marriage: Malphast's parents, an angel and a demon who have kept their relationship, and particularly the fact that it has issue, secret because they expect unpleasant consequences if they're found out. It turns out that their superiors had known all along.
Metaphorically True: When Cranston used to be president he was accused of using a telepath to read his opponent's minds, and he swore that he had no telepaths of any kind on his payroll. He didn't. He wasn't on his own payroll after all.
Mood Whiplash: There are some surprisingly dark and serious elements to the series, which is also more thoughtful than you might expect, based on the description at the top of the page.
Most Common Superpower: Averted. The one character who could probably conform to this trope is revealed to have had "work" done to look that way. Of course, most of the cast is grade-school age. Then again, Spell Siryn certainly looks to be in very good shape, especially since her powers are magical, not physical (of course, it's not like the right magic couldn't help keep her in shape). Micro-might seems to have a normal, even slightly stocky build, though her power (becoming smaller and denser) might be partly responsible, and we never see her wearing anything but loose dresses except for times when she is using her powers.
Mugging the Monster: The school bullies above ground have the bad habit of picking on the wrong metahumans.
Mutant Draft Board: Averted, as PS238 is just a superhero-flavoured school and is, if anything, less sinister than the regular kind. Praetorian Academy, meanwhile, is not an aversion.
Mystery Meat: According to Prospero the food in the cafeteria is evolving. According to Malphast it's amazing how readily it animates into a homunculus.
Nightmare Fuel: Invoked by the Revenant when discussing Harold's power nullification and enhancement abilities. A lot of supers have a very bad response to the idea of someone messing with their powers.
Nosy Neighbor: Cecil Holmes, who doesn't know the school secretly has superhero students, so is convinced it's being infiltrated by aliens in disguise. Later, it's been established that Cecil can detect metahumans. He's very disappointed that "the aliens were a lie."... But not for long.
Papa Wolf: You do not kidnap the daughter of Mister Extraordinary (the first recorded metahuman). He will rip your car apart then beat you over the head with the largest part left.
Paper-Thin Disguise: In the PS238 universe, a simple mask can fool your best friends and family into thinking you're a completely different person. Tyler is highly worried by the implications this has. Notably, it only seems to work on people who are part of the whole "superhero" shtick — even teachers and super-intellects are fooled by it, but Cecil isn't. Cecil has jokingly suggested that Tyler's inexplicable ability to not be recognized by any of his metahuman acquaintances when dressed as Moon Shadow is his superpower.
Power Incontinence: After Principal Cranston's headband is damaged and removed, a hex to punish removal kicks in. Instead of him being able to hear other's thoughts, now his thoughts are projected out. The one who placed the hex has to help control this, as the removal of the limiter was justified at the time.
The Rainmaker can invoke this in other metahumans.
Cranston's headband is also supposed to be one of these, but it doesn't work completely — he can still lift pens and push buttons while wearing it. (Telekinetically, that is — his hands work just fine either way.) It still visibly hurts him to do even that much, though.
Retired Badass: Most of the PS238 teachers are former superheroes. They're more than capable of getting their hands dirty to protect their students, although they tend to suffer from The Worf Effect to allow the students to shine.
Running Gag: Whenever anyone new shows up, Zodon and Von Fogg will hand them minion application forms sooner rather than later.
All superpowered students at the school are required to practice having a secret identity (those that end up going into hero work are expected to discard this "practice identity" when they start their careers.) They must appear as normal humans aboveground, and wear their costumes in the secret underground classrooms.
Moon Shadow subverts it by being a normal human with a secret identity to hide who he is from the supers.
Shout-Out: Apart from all the superhero homages, there are also homages to non-superhero comics, including:
Zodon's human disguise makes him look like a character from The Far Side.
The time-traveller Tom Davidson is named after two of the stars of Doctor Who (and the cover art for issue #12, in which Tom features heavily, includes a homage to one of the old Doctor Who title logos).
In another issue, Murphy quotes Leela in "The Robots of Death".
One humorous two-panel joke has the Revenant decrypting the names "Wayne, B" and "Grayson, D".
Revenant's Alfred Ersatz is named Cranston, most likely a reference to Lamont Cranston, a.k.a. The Shadow. The Revenant also uses the alias Kent Allard, which happens to be another secret Identity of The Shadow. Allard's character design also has a notable resemblance to author Michael Stackpole, the creator of Revenant.
Coach Rockslide's real last name, Krutz, is a reference back to Nodwick, where it was itself (not much of) an anagram of Scott Kurtz.
Shrouded in Myth: Moon Shadow gains a near-mythical reputation amongst the PS238 students.
Similar Squad: A trip "sideways to the seconds, underneath the third and fifth dimensions" takes Malphast and Cecil to a school occupied by tentacled aardvark-snouted children ... two of whom, arguing about who will kneel before the other's intellect, are the bowler-hatted Von Phtago and the thick-spectacled Zodthulu.
Special Guest: In a very bizarre but hilarious situation, Wil Wheaton guest stars in the comic about superpower career day, as the representative of meta-humans who go into the Entertainment industry. In the PS238 universe, he not only played Wesley but single-handedly used his psychokinetic superpowers to do most of the special effects for Star Trek: The Next Generation, which apparently helped cancel out some of his character being a Creator's Pet in this universe. Zodon still hates him, though.
Stable Time Loop: Vashti "Spell Siryn" Imperia's origin story. She was kidnapped by a witch as a little girl (In the era of Nodwick), and eventually stole the witch's spellbook and used it to become a powerful mage. Thousands of years later, she ended up going back in time, where she kidnapped her younger self, and deliberately left a copy of her early spellbook lying around to be stolen.
Stage Mom: Tyler's parents are utterly convinced they can micromanage their son into becoming the World's Greatest Super Hero (when they aren't ignoring him).
Ultima: To even think otherwise is to defy the will of the Universe.
Straw Character / Pompous Political Pundit: Jenny (American Eagle) and Dillon (USA PATRIOT Act) both sound like they learned how to speak from political sound bites and 24-hour news channels. Neither one's backing party is explicitly identified, though Dillon's dialogue would fit comfortably with a conservative Republican, while Jenny reads like a conservative Democrat.
Suddenly Fluent in Gibberish: Angie can somehow understand what Prospero is saying. Nobody knows how. It might be because she's a super-intellect who is smart enough to build rocket ships out of scrapped cars in her spare time. She spends a lot of time with him, and picked up the language quickly.
Superpowerful Genetics: Well, duh. The school's full of children of superheroes who have one or more of their parents' powers, alongside a few "first-generation" metahumans (whose parents were normal), and Tyler, a subversion by being the only non-powered child of metahumans known to exist. This gets deconstructed later by "Big Bad" The Headmaster, an anti-metahuman Well-Intentioned Extremist, who considers superheroics a form of courtship display meant to showcase the superpowers of the individuals involved. He argues that eventually, competition for mates, evolution of powers and crossbreeding of metahuman with metahuman will lead to the piling on of powers over several generations, creating more and more powerful superpowered children until eventually a Goo Goo Godlike scenario and the probable destruction of planet Earth.
Turbine Blender: Captain Clarinet is afraid of this happening to him if he flies. That is, until Zodon points out that he'd be the one blending the turbines. (It doesn't make him feel better, mostly because Zodon goes on to describe what happens to the people on the plane.)
Wham Episode: Issues 25-27 (Invasion Day, Quarantine, and Remember When I Was President?). Several major plot threads come together as: aliens openly invade Earth with a "bioforming" retrovirus; Tyler is infected as Patient Zero to spread it to the rest of humanity and has to be quarantined in stasis; one of Zodon's plots comes to fruition; we learn the secrets of PS238's faculty and how (and why) the school was founded; the school is heavily damaged and nearly destroyed; and we even get to see Revenant's face (...maybe). A lot of important new plots, character developments, and changes to the world arise from the fallout of this story. It remains one of the biggest climaxes the series has had.
The children in the Rainmaker program are all in possession of powers that are pretty much useless when it comes to things like fighting crime or saving the world. However, the purpose of the program is to give them an opportunity to explore using their powers in the private sector. A perfect example is a kid who can make any object as edible and nutritious (and tasty) as he wants; he won't be fighting any supervillains any time soon, but several restaurant chains are already lined up to headhunt him. Not to mention the job offers from Hollywood for the one who can change the distribution of body fat in people.
Wil Wheaton used a modest telekinetic talent (think "can lift a trashcan" level, not "stop bullets with his mind") to allow models to remain competitive in the special effects department.
What the Hell, Hero?: Satori almost becomes violent when confronting the healer who brought Ambriel back to life. She claims "how would you feel if after being born, you were dragged back to where you were before you were born?", but Satori was talking to Ambriel before and at the moment of her resurrection, and knows this is not true, at least in this case. She knows perfectly well that Ambriel was very unhappy with her situation and will be overjoyed to come back to life. No explanation is given for Satori being so furious that the teacher actually has to physically pull her away from the healer.
Wingdinglish: Alien tongues are in strange font, but otherwise readable. Prospero's walls of text in his introductory chapters starts off with "If you can read this" and goes on with Monty Python quotes, a recipe, etc, to avoid heavy spoilers, but in the rest of the series, his utterings are often hilarious. (some of them are available here.)
The Worf Effect: The teachers often suffer this to allow the kids to take center stage. Partly justified if one of the kids has a power far better suited to a situation. Also justified in that the teachers are all former famous superheroes whose powers were well known, so villains who've done their research know what to expect from them. The students, however, are mostly complete unknowns and therefore aren't as easy to predict.
Write Who You Know: In-universe. Every one of the class' "creative writing" exercises is a story that is rather transparently about the person who wrote it (though Tyler's classmates don't see this in his story about Moon Shadow). Most of them are describing events that actually happened.