"When you're a recovering mad scientist, you're always afraid you'll lose control and wake up some morning with a half-built time machine in the living room and a plan to go back in time and pants Hitler."
A Miracle of Science is a science fictionwebcomic written by Jon Kilgannon and drawn by Mark Sachs. It ran from 2002 to 2007 and was set in the year 2148, when humanity has spread across the solar system from Venus to Ganymede, and robotics and artificial intelligence are well developed, advanced sciences. Also of note is the science of memetics, which can be used to treat (or cause) psychological issues. Of key importance in the story is one specific meme, Science-Related Memetic Disorder (or, more colloquially, mad science).Key characters include Benjamin Prester, a field agent of the Vorstellen Police, a law-enforcement agency specializing in SRMD; Caprice Quevillion, a Martian forensic psychiatrist assigned as his partner; and Virgil Haas, the Mad Scientist they attempt to capture. The story opens not long after Mars, a utopiangroup intelligence, has ended a century of self-imposed isolation.Given its Mad Scientist motif, one should expect that a significant number of tropes appear as important plot points in the comic. In fact, given the science of memetics, the characters themselves use tropes (common examples being the Chase Scene and the Dénouement) as psychological aids when dealing with mad scientists.Kilgannon and Sachs went on to collaborate on a second webcomic, titled Afterlife Blues.
Anti-Villain: Yes, Virgil Haas is a Mad Scientist. Yes, he wants to take over the world. But he'd rather not kill anyone to do it. Like the crews of the civilian ships with which he could have rammed the first Qin.
America Takes Over the World: Well, not exactly the world, but they seem to have taken over Canada. And there's a space colony that's nominally in the US, contravening present-day treaties.
Annexing nearby countries isn't just a US thing in the AMoS-verse, either; Peru has been absorbed into Brazil.
Badass Boast: Delivered to an apathetic police officer: "Sergeant, I've just been to the outer solar system and back to track down a mad scientist. I've been shot at with secret weapons, destroyed robots that could take down tanks, and fallen from orbit without benefit of a re-entry vehicle. (beat) I don't need your rudeness added to my troubles, okay?"
Big Guy, Little Guy: Dryden and Chaucer, respectively, are a robotic version and thus able to take the trope to new heights.: Chaucer is the size and shape of a hamster ball; Dryden is several times bigger than a human.
Chase Scene and Dénouement, as mentioned. The Chase Scene is actually a vital part of proper treatment of SRMD; if the Mad Scientist is not given the psychological fulfillment of a direct confrontation with authority, he'll go even more crazy.
Concealment Equals Cover: subverted on this page. When Benjamin is attempting to take cover behind an upturned table, the man shooting at him simply shoots through the table... and then mocks him for taking cover behind such a flimsy object.
Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Justified as actual insanity, but also subverted as mad scientists' inventions are quickly turned into useful technology for everyone. It's implied that The Government's willingness to cut those checks is what led to the advanced society depicted in the comic.
Determinator: Benjamin is very stubborn man; he is more than willing to push through any kind of obstacle to achieve his goal. Best shown in the final face-off against Haas, with his response to You Can Barely Stand. Of course, once Haas surrenders and Benjamin has reached his goal, he promptly collapses.
Benjamin also has a different hairstyle when he's in mad science mode. Notably, he messes his hair back into this style when he relapses.
Maybe everyone has "normal" hair and "Mad Science" hair
Graceful Loser: Most mad scientists end up being pretty relieved that they're stopped.
Gratuitous German: "Vorstellen Polizei" (the name of the "Vorstellen Police" that written over the entrance to it's HQ) is baaaad German for "Imagination Police", correct would be "Vorstellungs-Polizei" or something like that.
Mars however works differently from most in that all members are their own individuals. They relay information to each other, and there is a distinct unified "Mars" meta-personality that can take posession when appropriate, but all information is not immediately shared; the hive mind is divided in two, like the hemispheres of the brain. The Martians' greatest fear is that if both hemispheres were totally connected, the entire planet would become collectively susceptible to SRMD — with the safety redundancies removed, a single case could spread rapidly through the population.
Haas also has built an army of information-gathering robots that function on a simpler level like this.
Honest Advisor: Chaucer. Dr. Haas complains that Chaucer's always picking holes in his plans; Chaucer's response is that he's trying to help, and merely being a yes man isn't helpful.
Human Cannonball: Suborbital Express variant. A one-man pod is shot into space with a giant cannon, design courtesy of a Mad Scientist. When it fails, Ludicrous Gibs result. Fortunately the failure rate isn't very big...
Hypocritical Humor: A background character here says "no one who is in favor of eugenics should be allowed to reproduce".
Imagine Spot: Used in the explanation of the benefits of an AI Hive Mind. Apparently, unlinked computers think about socks.
Insistent Terminology: It is a thing mad scientists do. Special mention, though, goes to Beatriz "That's Doctor" Juruna.
Also of note: Benjamin Prester insists on not being called Ben.
Though this may be an intentional ploy on the Martians' part, since they built the machine in the first place. And Caprice does admit that they had to do a bit of bribery to make sure all the parts got installed.
Nanomachines: The main source of the Martians' advanced technology.
No Medication for Me: One SRMD sufferer, Manny, notes that he can't perform even non-mad science when he takes his treatment under the recommended daily regimen - he claims it makes his head "feel like felt." He takes it on alternating days, which leaves him able to work on robotics and networking... but also makes him increasingly paranoid and has Benjamin worry about the potential for a relapse into SRMD.
Noodle Incident: There are multiple references to the case Benjamin wrapped up previous to the Haas case, involving a Dr. Hanford, although we don't find out any specifics beyond the fact that it involved genetic engineering in some fashion
People's Republic of Tyranny: The People's Republic of the Moon, a drab-looking lunar colony that's heavily implied to be a Communist state (USSR imitation), at least at the time of flashback.
Plot Technology: subverted. When mad scientists are captured, their inventions and research are used for the benefit of society as a whole.
The Rant: Reading Jon and Mark's columns is strictly optional, but they offer a bit more insight into the comic's world and also occasional scientific lectures.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Chief Nyerere and (oddly enough) Haas. In the latter's case while he may be an insane mad scientist trying to take over the world, he does listen to Chaucer and Dryden when they give him advice (even if he does threaten to disassemble the poor fellows occasionally).
Ridiculously Human Robots: Robots with sentience will talk to themselves out loud; in fact, Benjamin points out that only sentient AI's are known to do this: suggesting it's actually rather common amongst them.
Also averted insofar as the robots are rarely, if ever humanoid, being shaped to their purposes.
Sanity Slippage Noticeable in Benjamin if you know what you're looking for, though thankfully he gets better.
Scary Shiny Glasses: The only time Dr. Haas doesn't have these is in the prologue, just before he catches SRMD
Sex by Proxy: A romantic example: everyone on Mars loves Prester.
Shown Their Work: Kilgannon and Sachs are both computer professionals and science geeks, and it shows, making A Miracle of Science one of the hardest-SF webcomics out there. They're courteous enough to confine the worst of the infodumps to the "John/Mark Sez" columns beside the latest panel.
Take Over the World: A seemingly common compulsion among mad scientists. Unusually for a Mad Scientist story, we get several hints as to how, exactly, the various loonies in the story intend to "improve" the solar system once they're in charge of it.
Theme Naming: All of Virgil Haas's robots, much like himself, are named after famous writers and poets.
There Are No Therapists: Averted. Both main cast members are therapists — Benjamin is equally as much a counselor for mad scientists as a detective, and Caprice is a medical doctor and psychiatrist. Therapy for Mad Scientists is a major plot point.
Thou Shalt Not Kill: Benjamin Prester, Caprice Quevillion, and even Virgil Haas are or become unwilling to kill innocents. How well they stick by this rule during a disaster tells quite a bit about their resistance to Breakdown, and in Prester's case, Character Development.
Tome of Eldritch Lore. While not mentioned directly in the plotline, it's mentioned in the site's glossary that the book Crank Theories of Robotics is a known cause of SRMD; effectively, one can become a Mad Scientist simply by reading it. Doctor Haas is seen with it in the prologue.
The Voice is visually represented by the speaker's spoken or telepathic dialogue being written in BOLD CAPS, the rest of the bubble being filled with repetitions of what is being said, in different-sized typefaces and various shades of gray. At one point, when Mars finds out that Caprice isn't dead, the telepathic response is jumbled up with about two dozen different expressions of relief, most of them in lowercase.
What the Hell, Hero?: Caprice immediately calls Benjamin out on his plan to escape Haas' attack on their ship by blasting up five civilian ships and killing a few hundred people. This may or may not have been foreshadowing.
Wig, Dress, Accent, subverted in this page by having a poorly-disguised version of the protagonists going through customs... and then having the actual protagonists enter the scene in the next page.
You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Blue hair runs in Caprice's family, presumably on her mother's side; her dad has brown hair, but every other Quevillion we see has some shade of blue hair. There's a smattering of extras with oddly colored hair, either flat-out unnatural or just matching oddlywith their skin tone.