The webcomic Bad Machinery is John Allison's followup to the popular Scary Go Round, which itself is a followup to Bobbins. It takes place in the same strangely charming (and charmingly strange) British town of Tackleford three years after Scary Go Round and with some of the old characters from the prior comics. See Bobbinsverse for The Verse shared by all these comics.It follows a group of secondary-school (for Americans: middle school) kids; The girls consist of plucky ringleader-sleuth Shauna Wickle, the endearingly simple Charlotte "Lottie" Grote, and wild child Mildred Haversham. The boys are Adorably Precocious Child investigator Jack Finch, justice-obsessed Linton Baxter, and the sensitive Sonny Craven. The kids attend Griswalds Grammar School and get into all manner of capers and hijinks typical of living in Tackleford.Initially focusing on the group of children detectives as a whole, the stories have begun focusing on and developing one or two main characters for a story's duration. The supernatural elements are toned down slightly from Scary Go Round, though it retains John Allison's signature bantering character interaction and unique way with words, though he's said that the language is less complex than SGR's, partly because of the younger cast and partly because he'd grown out of it.
Adults Are Useless: Played straight and subverted in turn. Notably, Shauna's stepdad Dan tries to help his daughter out when her coat gets stolen, and Glenys takes Archibald away from Mildred because whatever he is, he's obviously not a dog.
Artistic License - Physics: This strip where a satellite falls out of the sky. In real life, it wouldn't simply run out of juice and crash straight downwards, would probably partly burn up in the atmosphere, and if it did survive intact, would probably create a crater so big even the spectators wouldn't survive. But this is a comic after all...
Beware the Nice Ones: Though brought up to be a Granola Girl by very liberal parents who tell her to use their real names, Mildred is usually the first to suggest violence or causing trouble. Perhaps it's an outlet, or a form of rebellion.
Big Sister Instinct: Jack's sister Jessica is always looking out for him, even when she teases him mercilessly.
Call Back: Lampshaded — Lottie writes down that Shauna's obsession with discussing her boyfriend means that she "fails the Bechamel Test (passim)". "Passim" is used in footnotes and references to indicate something that shows up throughout a work or an author's body of work.
Cerebus Syndrome: The Case of the Modern Men is darker and more mature than any of the previous cases, being about an all-out gang war between the Mods and the Rockers of Tackleford. The characters are visibly maturing and developing interests in the opposite sex.
Amy's dad Len Pickering, and Amy herself. Although his appearance has changed a bit (his hair is now grey, and there is more of it in his face), Len should be well known to avid SGR-readers.
Judge Soap, a relatively obscure SGR character. He is the father of Amy's employee Melanie.
Hamilton Percy, the last known employer of The Boy and Mad Terry from SGR. He also appeared in an early story arc as the victim of Zombie-Shelley's craving for brains.
Shelley's little sister Erin, quite literally Put on a Bus to Hell in SGR, has returned to Tackleford. She even seems to have gained Shelley's old job as newspaper journalist for the Tackleford Cormorant.
And at the Cormorant, Erin is working together with Shelley's former colleague Mike Savage (who has visibly aged quite a lot since SGR). Shelley's former boss Paula Scruggs is also still there.
Elodie, The Boy's French exchange student, showed up as a French assistante for the school.
Elodie's little sister Mimi is visiting Tackleford (also as exchange student) in The Case of the Modern Man.
Crash into Hello: Lottie and Jack, while each independently investigating the Case of the Unwelcome Visitor.
Create Your Own Villain: At least according to Mimi, she and her bullying nemesis Camille have actually been best friends once - until the day Mimi couldn't keep a very embarrassing secret that Camille told her....
Deal with the Devil: For Linton and Sonny, asking for help from Erin is this. Given that she makes them promise her a favor and sign it in blood, and was previously seen trapped in Hell, they may be more correct than they think...
Charlotte: I'm bein' sophisticated, Shauna. Reversin' his psychology.
Disappeared Dad: It's revealed in Case of the Unwelcome Visitor that Lottie's father died when she was a preteen. This serves as a Disability Immunity later in the same story — she's gone through so much grief already that the hope-sucking monster doesn't affect her.
Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Continuing on from Scary Go Round, the world is still full of ghosts, weird beasts, magical objects and strange goings-on. A satellite falls on a football pitch... in the middle of a match.
Femme Fatale: In "The Case of the Modern Men", Visiting French student Camille plays the junior version.
Forbidden Fruit: Mildred really loves chocolate, as her family doesn't allow her to have it.
Mildred: I'm not allowed computer games...on account of them promoting violent stereo tights. SO IT IS IMPORTANT THAT WE PLAY THEM ALL NOW.
Free-Range Children: Most of the time; though in one storyline, with a predator terrorizing the town, the parents do clamp down on the kids' movements, interfering with their sleuthing; and in another, they need to pretend to be at one another's houses in order to free themselves to go out at night.
French Jerk: Zig-Zagged in "The Case of the Modern Men". Lottie at first thinks her exchange student Mimi is an example of the trope, but it turns out the other French kids hate her too. Then it's revealed that what looks like the standard haughty superiority is just Mimi's defence mechanism from being bullied by her classmates, primarily Alpha Bitch Camille. But as the story develops, more and more elements of the backstory come out and you're never sure whose side to take.
Heel-Face Turn: Colm rushes into a burning barn to help save the troll after helping to set the mob on him in the first place.
Heroic BSOD: Lottie has one after the mystery shed gets burned down in the Case of the Modern Men. She quits the mystery team as a result, going so far as to burn her signature puffer jackets and scrapbooks.
Colm, previously known for being kind of a weirdo, a thief, and a bit intense about things (and not returning DVDs), is the only one of the boys to show Sonny any sympathy about his horror at coming into puberty, giving Sonny a delicate and helpful talk about accepting his new, awkward dreams.
Oliver: Rubbish, rubbish, this is RUBBISH. Why do they have to repeat everything? Adam: Yeah, rubbish.
I Knew It: invokedIn-Universe, Lottie had "Calvin is Grumpaw" scrawled on a piece of paper so she could display it with a dramatic flourish it when she turned out to be correct.
In Spite of a Nail: In "The Case of the Forked Road", Mildred compares the timeline to a spider's web — able to resist small changes and spring back with only minor deviations, but a sufficiently dramatic event will tear straight through it.
Intrepid Reporter: Erin Winters, doubling as a Hot Scoop. She's better at this job than her sister was, but the kids hate her because she tends to omit their names when she uses their info for reports.
Kid Detective: Refreshingly without coming off as über-competent little master detectives, as is too often the case in this genre.
Messy Hair: Charlotte, during the summer holidays. Given her penchant for backcombing, it's not surprising.
Mistaken for Racist: Linton (who is black) keeps calling Archibald a "racist dog", after the latter pounced the former at their first meeting. But Linton's own father has exactly zero problems when interacting with Archie, and later on he even saves Linton from drowning.
Jack: All I can think about when I meet her stepdad is ... what if something happens and my dad has to fight him?
Newspaper Dating: After traveling back to the past with Mildred in "The Case of the Forked Road", the first thing Lottie does is run to a newsagent to find out what the date is. July 18, 1960
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the Case of the Unwelcome Visitor, Colin and Julian are fighting the Odkurzacz, and other disturbances in general, but Charlotte mistakes their mysterious movements for the movements of the Night Creeper. Both of them are forced to find a new life.
Mouseville USA (and Euro-Mouse in Paris) is a clear stand-in for Disneyland (and Euro Disney).
"The Beetles", an influential sixties girl band with very familiar surnames. They're shown meeting "their idol, Pam Dylan", whose accent and style of poetry are reminiscent of poet Pam Ayres (who has said that Bob Dylan was a major influence on her). Another sixties band that gets a mention is "The Whom".
Only Sane Man: Linton is easily the most grounded of the boys. Same with Shauna for the girls.
Pet Baby, Wild Animal: Archibald the Wendigo. Although he's perfectly (even creepily) civilised, there's still the matter that he'd grow up to be nearly 3m tall and as for his diet, "yak is expensive". He's released to a wild colony in the Canadian Arctic.
Ret Gone: Erin was sucked into Hell during the course of Scary Go Round, which caused all the people who knew her to forget about her completely. She turns up here, but the trend seems to have kept, as Ryan has no idea who she is.
In fact, her escape from her predicament was previously explained in an obscure bonus strip/comic. She has also now appeared in ''Giant Days'', which is set in the past of Bad Machinery, presumably filling in some of the intervening period with her university education.
The Reveal: Double layered in the first story, as Mrs. Biscuits is a "likho", a supernatural creature that curses people, but she isn't the cause of Kropotkin's bad luck.
Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Averted in "The Case of the Forked Road." The girls' memories of the alternate timeline are likened to remembering a dream; hazy and fading more rapidly the harder you try to focus on them. Lottie doesn't even remember meeting Grumpaw.
Mrs. Biscuits: I come from Russia years ago. In Soviet Russia, you have nothing! Here I have home. Will Russia take it from me? No!
Kropotkin: In Russia, I make fortune mining lithium. Initially with bare hands. Then a teaspoon. Other miners laugh! They could not break my spirit. When I feel sad, eat some lithium, feel better. After a week, I earn enough money to buy shovel. Now I own many mines. Laughing miners? Today they are broken men, too tough to cry.
Scooter Riding Mod: The 2014 chapter, "The Case Of The Modern Men", involves a resurgence of mod culture in Tackleford, complete with scooters and conflict with local rockers.
Selkies and Wereseals: "The Case of the Fire Inside" features a selkie whose sealskin is unwittingly stolen by Lottie.
Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Jack is the quiet, sensitive guy, while Linton is a wannabe manly man and the only boy who really enjoys sports. Sonny is somewhere between the two of them, leaning more towards sensitivity.
Serious Business: It's not as if firefighting isn't a really serious business in reality, but in this world, you have to have a maniacial hatred of fire to be in the Fire Brigade.
Ship Tease: The makings of early-teen romance between Shauna and Jack at the end of Chapter 1.
Mildred refers to their "triangle of deception" (telling each of their mothers that they're staying at each other's houses) as "En Ra Ha", the Madness Mantra of the driving instructor from Happy Go Lucky.
Sixth Ranger: Mildred was this for a while, before becoming part of the main cast.
In "The Case of the Team Spirit", Mrs Biscuits is a 'likho', a spirit of bad luck.
Subverted in "the Case of the Unwelcome Visitor", where the happenings are put down to a creature from Polish folklore called an 'Odkurzacz'. There's no such myth; the word is Polish for "vacuum cleaner".
10-Minute Retirement: When the Mystery Shed is incinerated, Lottie decided to embrace darkness, burns all her puffer jackets, and never attempt to solve any more mysteries. She comes out of retirement a few strips later to avenge the mystery shed. She continues to wear a cape, however.
A Touch of Class, Ethnicity and Religion: There's much more visible class and income differences between the characters than in Scary Go Round: Sonny is described as "living in wealth and splendor" and his cousin Mildred's family are also upper middle class; Lottie, Linton and Jack appear to be in the middle, and Shauna's family is working class. It's most obvious when Jack goes round to Shauna's house. Shauna's family seems higher-class in the alternate-universe version that appears after some time traveling in the Forked Road case.
Unfortunate Names Mr. Bough (pronounced "boff"). He's also heard just about every joke possible, so any more and it's detention!
Unsound Effect: These appear quite often, such as the boys doing STUNTS! on their bikes, or Amy fixing Ryan's hair with the unsound "fuss fuss comb interfere". Don't you wish you could invoke the effect J'ACCUSE when you point at someone?
Villains Blend in Better: The delinquent kids who follow Shauna, Mildred and Lottie back in time in order to "break history" for the hell of it go through none of the confusion or trouble that the girls do. Lampshaded by one of the twins, who asks Oliver if he doesn't find being able to travel through time "weird", but he just brushes off the question.
John Allison: The idea of Bad Machinery is that the supernatural mysteries are a distraction from the real dangers, which are personal. All through “The Case Of The Good Boy”, the actual manifest danger is how Jack is being victimised through no fault of his own, and he can’t really ask for help. He’s the good boy! No one has spotted this. I’m probably not doing my job very well, am I?
What the Hell, Hero?: Shauna gives one to Lottie after her plan to help the troll find love gets him hunted down by a mob.
Word Salad Title: If there's a reason for the name "Bad Machinery", Mr. Allison is keeping it to himself. (In social-media comments he mentioned it being from a song lyric.)
Draw What You Know: Tackleford and Griswald's Grammar School based on the author's local area.
John Allison: I do draw the school I attended, and the town I attended it in. It just makes it easier to draw people walking around, I know what is round each corner! But my school wasn't co-educational, the girls' high school was separate, just up the road.
You're Cute When You're Angry: Lottie tells Claire, "I've never seen you like this! It's just like real white hot rage... but cuter?" (However, Claire's anger was directed at another girl, not Lottie.) Link