Left to right: Lottie, Shauna and Mildred.
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 evolved to focus on and develop 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.
On the 3rd of November 2014, Allison announced that Bad Machinery as such would end with the just-completed story, as he felt that the characters had "outgrown the setting, the premise and the format". He promised that the characters would return eventually, under some other title, but possibly not for a little while.
- Aboriginal Australian Myths: The Tackleford Beast in "The Case of the Good Boy" is identified as a Cheeroonear.
- Adorkable: Jack, very much so.
- 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.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Mildred and Lee. Lee's one of the rougher boys, but seems genuine in his affection.
- Almost Pash: Mildred in detention.
- Anime Hair: Lottie in particular (and Shauna to a lesser extent) is very fond of painstakingly backcombing her tresses into a style that Mildred refers to as "huge manga hair".
- Angels Pose: When the girls have Oliver Spain and the twins trapped in a blind alley.
- Art Initiates Life: The magic pencil in "The Case of the Good Boy". Or does it?
- 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...
- Audible Sharpness: Inverted; Clair's knife is so blunt it goes "BLUNT!" when brandished.
- 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.
- Bilingual Bonus: Jack identifies the "Night Creeper" as a soul-sucking creature from Polish folklore called the "Odkurzacz". This is in reality the Polish for vacuum cleaner.
- Bourgeois Bohemian: Mildred's parents.
- Brick Joke: This strip is the punchline to a set-up in this one, from nearly five months earlier.
- Buffy Speak: The whole cast has a very unique way of saying things that borders on this.
- Caffeine Bullet Time: Well, more like Caffeine Hyper Awareness, the first time Shauna tries it.
Coffee is like rocket fuel for your mind, Shauna. It's very good for you.
- 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.
- Changed My Jumper: Mildred considers this in "The Case (of the Forked Road", but ultimately decides that all they need to do to avoid suspicion in the past is to restrain Lottie's Improbable Hairstyle in Girlish Pigtails (much to Lottie's dismay).
- Chick Magnet: Jack. His sister's friends find him Adorkable. Shauna is quite fond of him, as well.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Lottie's ideas aren't always the best, she has a habit of trailing off into odd things in her jokes and getting up to silly things.
- Continuity Nod: Several, both to Scary Go Round and to itself.
- Mr. Beckwith, the girls' teacher, is (obviously) Ryan from SGR, and is now married to Amy Chilton. The two had expressed feelings for the other but by the end of SGR nothing had developed.
- Lottie mentions that Mr. Beckwith dated her sister before she left for University.
- Lottie and Shauna decide to do their first school assignment as a Zine, using the equipment Lottie's sister had left her at the end of SGR.
- Said sister pays Lottie a visit (starting here) and goes shopping with her.
- Mad Terry is never named in SGR but can be seen in the background, most notably as one of The Boy's co-workers.
- Amy is still an antiques dealer and seems to still be running out of her shop, Bric A Brac.
- Panel two of this comic even is a Continuity Cavalcade. From left to right, we have:
- 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.
- Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Biscuits.
- Cool Pet: Archibald, for both Mildred and Shauna.
- Crash-Into Hello: Lottie and Jack, while each independently investigating the Case of the Unwelcome Visitor.
- Create Your Own Villain: 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...
- Delusions of Eloquence: Some of the children stumble into this now and then.
: 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.
- Egomaniac Hunter: A trapper for a private zoo in "The Case of the Good Boy".
- Emotion Eater: The Night Creeper eats people's hope.
- Fan Nickname: Applied in-universe. Jack has names for all the shapes in Tetris. And he's written fanfiction for them.
- 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.
- Flat "What.": Seen here.
- 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.
- In the end, Mimi has become Lottie's friend and was romantically involved with Jack, while Camille's personality leaves an overall more negative impression. Little Claire scares her into trying to act nicer in the future, though.
- Goshdang It To Heck: Mr Beckwith's "age-appropriate" adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross has a lot of this, as you'd expect.
Blake/Lottie: You call yourself a salesman, you son of a twit?
Moss: I don't gotta listen to this swizz.
- Granola Girl: Mildred's family is vegan, although the trope applies more to her mother Glenys.
- Heävy Mëtal Ümlaut: An umlauted band, Lünk, was used in a strip discussing a rocker vs. mod war. (Link)
- 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.
- Hidden Depths: Trophy Wife Yana Kropotkin turns out to be a expert hacker.
- 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.
- Hormone-Addled Teenager: The comic tends to play more with the male version; the boys become quite susceptible to being distracted by any good-looking women or girls they see, while the girls are usually more rational and cool-headed, although they're not necessarily entirely immune to the effect.
- Hot Scoop: Erin Winters, who has already appeared in Scary Go Round as an awkward teenager and is all grown up now. Jack seems to be developing quite the Precocious Crush on her, to Linton's dismay.
- Hot Teacher: Ryan is quite popular with his female students.
- Elodie is a French assistante rather than a teacher, but judging by Linton's reaction she seems to have the hot part down.
- Mrs. Lord fits the bill as well.
- Humans Kill Wantonly: Shauna seems convinced that this is the moral she's meant to be taking away from this story, but the facts keep getting in the way.
- Hypnotic Eyes: Lem.
- Hypocritical Heartwarming: Jack's sister, after he comes home with a black eye in "The Case of the Good Boy":
Jessica: Jack, maybe I have pushed you round a bit over the years. But no one messes with my personal punchbag.
- Hypocritical Humor: Oliver criticising the Mamet Speak in Glengarry Glen Ross:
Rubbish, rubbish, this is RUBBISH.
Why do they have to repeat everything? Adam:
- I Knew It: In-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.
- Interrupted Kiss: Mildred and a 4th year boy during detention. Also Shauna and her boyfriendwhen reality changes after some time-traveling, and she suddenly has had one for a year.
- J'accuse!: Used on multiple occasions, like here and here.
- Just a Stupid Accent: Kropotkin and his wife speak Russian-accented English even when talking to each other, even though they presumably do it in Russian.
- 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.
- Last-Second Word Swap: Jack returning victorious with cigarettes from the Sixth Form common room:
I got them! I got them! I got the... Mr. Knott:
...sixth-formers opinions on sensible GCSE options.
- Lighter and Softer: Bad Machinery has a lot of the same humor as Scary Go Round, but because it focuses mostly on pre-teens there is significantly less cursing, gore/violence, and sex.
- Little Miss Snarker: Pretty much any female character that you can find. Lottie may possibly have been influenced by older sister Sarah from Scary Go Round.
- Love Hurts: Colm is a thief and a bit odd with a suspicious hole in his backstory, but everything that gets him in trouble stems from his honest attempts to impress Lottie.
- Make Wrong What Once Went Right: Upon discovering the time hole to 1960, Oliver Spain and his two friends go through it and derail a train, traumatizing, injuring and killing a lot of people. Why? For revenge on a teacher who gave them detention.
- 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.
- Monkey Morality Pose: Shauna, Lottie and Mildred's shocked reaction to watching Ryan's terrible band.
- Mood Whiplash: The end of The Case of the Lonely One.
- Murder the Hypotenuse:
All I want to know is if he has a girlfriend. And if he does, how I can destroy their love
- And then the girlfriend finds out about Mildred and tries to drown her. Part and parcel of the Selkie myth, of course.
- My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad: The intimidating size of Shauna's stepdad convinces Jack that this is not so:
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.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- 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".
- Noodle Incident: "The case of Mad Terry".
- Not a Morning Person: Charlotte Grote.
- 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.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: Shauna and Lottie first appeared in some of the last chapters of Scary Go Round, which were more like a Fully Absorbed Pilot.
- Put on a Bus: Erin Winters has left for a new job in London as of the Night Creeper Arc.
- Rambling Old Man Monologue: Sonny coins the brilliant word "anecdotage" to describe Grandpa Joe's propensity for these.
- Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Lottie. "Grote women have naturally alabaster skin!" — and Colm definitely thinks she's a beauty.
- Red Herring: Colm may be a thief and a creeper, but he isn't the Firebug.
- Relationship Upgrade:
- Ryan and Amy, friends from Scary Go Round, got married in the three-year gap between both series.
- Shauna and Jack have their relationship upgraded in the course of events, at least for a while.
- 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, having escaped Hell in an obscure bonus strip/comic in the meantime. (She also appears in Giant Days, which is set in the past of Bad Machinery, filling in some of the intervening period after her escape by getting a university education.) However, the rest of the cast still don't remember her; the fact that she shares a surname (and red hair) with Shelley causes a very little bemusement.
- 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.
- Russian Guy Suffers Most: Both Mrs. Biscuits and Mr. Kropotkin have led hard lives in Russia before coming to Britain.
: 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.
- Sixth Ranger: Mildred was this for a while, before becoming part of the main cast.
- Self-Made Man: Kropotkin - see above in Russian Guy Suffers Most.
- Slavic Mythology:
- 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".
- The Smart Guy:
- Mildred is good with physics and quite clever in general.
- The cast page describes Shauna as "incredibly bright", and she has some surprisingly developed opinions on things like architecture for her age and background.
- Speech Impediment: Claire hath a LITHP, which therveth only to emphathithe her DRAMATIC PROUNOUNTHMENTTH. (But she seems cured of it by the "Forked Road" case.)
- Spit Take: Shauna appears to be trying to hold one in when Lottie talks about Kropotkin's "giant balls" (which she immediately clarifies to mean wrecking balls) in this strip.
- Stalker with a Crush: Colm has a thing for Lottie. She just thinks he's a creeper.
- Stern Teacher: "Mr. Knott is a looming mountain of discipline. A sheer edifice of telling you off." Spin-off Expecting to Fly shows his Hidden Depths, however.
- 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.
- Time Travel Episode: The Case of the Forked Road
- Too Spicy for Yog Sothoth: The Night Creeper is destroyed when he eats the ghost of Todd Baxter, "the most miserable rock star in History!"
- Torches and Pitchforks: Referenced in this strip. When the Tackleford townsfolk learn of a troll being about, they start stocking up on pitchforks.
- 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.
- 20% More Awesome: "I like it maybe 63%."
- 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.
- Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: Their investigations are much more local than "saving the world", but the trope is still the thrust of the comic:
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.)
- 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
- Zettai Ryouiki: Jack's sister.