"You can't be arrested for things that are too weird for there to be laws about!"
John Allison's followup to Bobbins, using most of the same characters and the same setting - only this time around Tackleford isn't just a charmingly eccentric British village, but one overrun with mad scientists, Satan worshippers, robots, elves, minotaurs and devil bears. The locals either fail to notice the madness, or take it all in their stride.The lead is once again Shelley Winters - no, not the redoubtable Oscar-winning actress but the cute, ever-chipper redheaded sometimes-reporter who has an insatiable drive to investigate odd goings-on, to restore justice and order where she senses it is lacking, and apparently to die gruesome, though temporary, deaths. It also features Amy Chilton, Shelley's merrily self-involved co-adventurer; the misfortune-laden but unflappable Ryan Beckwith; Tim Jones, brilliant inventor and accidental mayor; sassy goth girl Esther De Groot and her naive boyfriend The Boy; Fallon Young, sexy spy of questionable competence; Rachel Dukakis-Monteforte, bitchy college student turned Satan's minion; and Raffles, the Gentleman Thief.After a little over seven years, the comic finally came to an end on September 11, 2009, with a new series called Bad Machinery (link) following on the 21st; it takes place three years afterSGR's ending.Shelly Winters still crops up on Allison's blog and around the site, where she appears to be an actress whom Allison pays to star in his comics. It's all a little confusing.You can read it right through this link.
Action Girl: Fallon Young, secret agent for some British government agency, and more interested in "the ass-kicking and running around" than the reasons behind her missions.
Affably Evil: The League Of Enemies towards Shelley (who isn't the enemy in question), especially Dr Petrescu. Though a Card-Carrying Villain, he makes new glasses for Shelley and seems heartbroken when she escapes.
All Love Is Unrequited: Initially, Amy had a secret crush on Tim and Ryan; Ryan had a kind of platonic love for Shelley. The Boy is introduced having a huge crush on Amy. (Well, he's only human.) Erin nurses a crush on The Boy, but loses out to Esther. Ryan admits to "an abiding love" for two girls "that we can never speak of", almost certainly Amy and Shelley.
All Just a Dream: A couple of particularly unusual tales run for a few comics before turning out to be dreams or flights of fancy by Shelley.
Erin: Don't stare at me Oggy! Everyone's staring at me! Oggy: Um, I'm no expert, Erin. But you look kind of like a honey trap alien queen sent to enslave the male race and put eggs in us...and most of us would be willing to let the eggs thing slide.
Shelley: Mr Devil, sir, in the last few months I have been strangled to death, buried, re-animated, kidnapped, was made to wear a tight goth-girl corset by my so-called friends and had to eat a lot of salt.
Shelly: But what would you do in a word-based emergency? Des: Like what? Shelley: Eviction notice. Death warrant. Valuable coupon that expires today.
Art Evolution: A gradual improvement and a shift from Adobe Illustrator to hand-drawn.
Ascended Extra: Esther. First appearing as part of the gang that thumped Amy for chatting the band they liked, she went on to be one of the core protagonists.
The real exemplar is Esther's friend Sarah Grote, who really just hung about in Ester's orbit until chapter 47, when she suddenly moved up to the front to cause the events of that chapter and go on to date Ryan.
Arguably Ryan as well, who went from a pretty minor character in Bobbins to one of the mains in its sequel.
Buffy Speak: Shelly and Ryan especially, but the cast in general have some very unique ways of phrasing things.
Butt Monkey: Poor Carrot just can't seem to catch a break.
Call Back: "Abductions" has quite a storm of callbacks. The League Of Enemies comprises Archie Stanwyck, who strangled Shelley and was assumed dead while trying to kill Tessa and Rachel way back in chapter two, Dr Petrescu, defeated by Fallon and Tim in chapter six, and Mayoral candidate Bentley Quorn from the previous chapter. Their plan involves unleashing a zombie clone of Shelley, much like Shelley's time as a zombie in chapter 4. Also, Shelley calls on the Portuguese man-o-war who was her enemy in chapter 17, in a sort of unreliable case of the Androcles Lion.
Card-Carrying Villain: The League Of Enemies, who describe themselves as evil. Amid their island lair, Gibbous Moon says she's an "evil intern".
Character Blog: Shelley had a Twitter for a while, (described in mock-outrage by John Allison as "the greatest betrayal of my professional career") but it was later deleted when people started sending her messages, because her creator was unnerved by the idea of replying in-character, as if roleplaying as Shelley.
Clark Kenting: A wig and different clothes makes Fallon completely unidentifiable to Ryan. Though to be fair to him, she is a secret agent, so maybe she's trained in disguise, and even if not:
Ryan: I never looked directly at Fallon due to feelings of manly inadequacy, is all. Like she would see my weaknesses and report them to Lady Central.
Deal with the Devil: Rachel is thrown off a bridge by the biker gang for leading them to gun down Shelley. The Devil catches her and offers her the choice of becoming his minion or continuing her fall.
Demoted to Extra: When the focus shifts to Shelley, Ryan, Tim and (later) Amy and Fallon, original protagonists Tessa and Rachel are just serving them beer in the pub and chatting to them in epilogues.
Well, this what you get for weeks of acting like a jerk-face jerk, Shelley. Kidnapped into space by space aliens.
Description Cut: After Shelley escapes another unlikely death, Ryan tells her she's lucky "the universe isn't keeping score". Actually, it is, but the being who manages Earth has a soft spot for Shelley and her "pleasing existence."
Rachel is dragging Amy back to the interdimensional portal from an alien world and says of her partner: "If I know Tessa like I think I do, she'll have spotted my ruse and be getting things ready in the forest to take us home." Meanwhile, Tessa is...steaming drunk and chatting up a giant beetle.
Devil In Disguise: It is revealed that Ryan's friend Ralph is actually the devil rather than the figure that the comic had presented as such.
Early Installment Weirdness: Go to the start of the comic if you're more familiar with the later ones - or Bad Machinery, or the description at the top of the page - and between the early Adobe Illustrator art and completely different character focus, you might wonder if you're reading the same comic.
Even Evil Has Standards: The biker gang have no problem with doing drive-by shootings on people who crossed them, but they're very upset about being led to shoot the wrong person.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Boy, and his parents The Father and The Mother. In a slight subversion (or just an eventual retcon), it is revealed that The Boy's real name is Eustace Boyce, and he became known as The Boy because Elodie the French exchange student couldn't pronounce his real name. After that, his parents get names too.
Everything's Deader with Zombies: Shelley is resurrected as a zombie after dying. At first, she's silent and seems hollow, but her personality returns over time, until she fights the inevitable zombie urges to eat brains.
Face Heel Turn: Several characters, most unexpectedly Ernest. Most obviously, Rachel, which is particularly remarkable because she starts the comic as the central protagonist.
Famous-Named Foreigner: All Russians as we know are writers of blistering brilliance and anarchist prince revolutionaries *
Fictional Document: Occasionally, there's a newspaper article written by (or featuring) Shelley, one of Esther and Sarah's (and later Shauna and Lottie's) zines, and others such as the tabloid magazine story where Ella Wickle claimed that Des was her son.
Goshdarn It To Heck: This evolves over the series: the characters curse when provoked, but usually in creative and non-profane ways, sometimes using the word "tupping" in place of f-bombs. (It's an archaic word that means the same thing.) There's the occasional light swearing ("She's alive! She's alive and talking bollocks!") but any serious swearing is covered by censor bars until late on. Even then, the print versions still cover it up, and it's mostly exclusive to Amy.
Goth: Esther (mostly a Perky Goth). Tim and Ryan dress zombie-Shelley in goth clothing so her undead pallor doesn't attract attention.
Graduate from the Story: In the last chapter, the school-going characters (Esther, The Boy, Sarah, et al) finish school and leave for university, or start work. Shelley also leaves Tackleford for a job in London.
And that is all the explanation we ever get. Shelley makes few of these over time, brushing off questions about why she doesn't call on Tim or Fallon in "Super Crisis Quests" and glossing over how she travelled back to Britain from Portugal without any identification.
Shelley: I'm training a crow to dance and we've, like, got no chance at the regional championships if I don't finish making his tiny tap shoes.
Informed Flaw: Fallon and others say that she's terrible at her spy work, but for the times she mentions it - "The Russian itinerants...I told them in no uncertain terms that a nuclear warhead is not a toy"; "Ex-CIA man? Hooks for hands? I'll be there in half an hour" - she clearly came back with both herself and the world alive and unharmed. Her mission to Romania with Tim argues otherwise, as her plan seems to be "go dancing and drinking and play Scrabble", but she's still alive and being sent on missions.
Intrepid Reporter: On and off, both Rachel (initially), who had to revive the student newspaper to avoid being kicked out of college, and later Shelley at the Tackleford Cormorant.
Karma Houdini: Poh, in-canon. Even Esther is helpless before his dickishness. Until he's arrested and presumably sent to a mental institution for kidnapping postmen.
Lampshade Hanging: Tim's girlfriend Riley points out that the time-travel teapot makes no sense whatsoever, and that The Boy's name can't really be "The Boy". She gets no answers, because in the first place the teapot does work, and in the second her half-dressed form has rendered The Boy incoherent.
Loads and Loads of Characters: First Tessa and Rachel, and a few secondary characters. Then Ryan, Shelley, Tim and Amy join the cast with Fallon Young joins shortly after. The next major group is the schoolkids - The Boy, Esther, Sarah, Milford, Carrot, etc. - and towards the end there's the nascent Bad Machinery characters too. Then there's recurring characters who show up for a storyline and then go Out of Focus again, like Hugo, Gibbous Moon, or Natalie Durand, and minor characters like Hamilton Percy who pop up only occasionally. When salty old seadog Ernest first appears, there's a note beside the comic reading "I keep creating new characters. I just can't stop."
Mad Scientist: Tim Jones occasionally, Dai Davies generally, Dr. Petrescu totally.
A Man Is Not a Virgin: Kinda. After The Boy sleeps with Esther he becomes a Man! (or rather The Man) and uses this to construct a boat. Unfortunately he uses up all his manhood doing this and reverts to "callow youth".
The Merch: Among other things, Ryan's expression "Tupping liberty" was put on a t-shirt, and The Boy's "Wales Is OK" t-shirt was defictionalised. There's a whole store of books, t-shirts, prints, tea towels and tote bags keeping John Allison in tea-bags on the SGR/Bad Machinery site.
Out of Focus: There's always at least two different groups active - Tessa and Rachel; Shelly, Amy and/or Ryan, often with Fallon; The Boy, Esther and Sarah - plus others, so some of them lose the limelight for a while. Fallon and Tim seem particularly prone to this.
Put on a Bus: Given this comic, it's safe to assume that this has happened to Tim (though he does show up later to drive the girls home from their Atlantis misadventures.) Also Shelley in the end, when she leaves for London and a job at the Ministry Of History. Probably so that she didn't weigh into Bad Machinery. (This was originally intended to set up the next comic Destroy History, where Shelley would roam through time causing and fixing trouble, but by then, Allison decided to retire Shelley instead.)
When Rachel and Tessa return from a long absence, they're leading an order of Satanic nuns, who eventually throw off Rachel's bossing them around by burning her alive in a a wicker effigy of a vole.
Pygmalion Plot: Sort of - In the later chapter "Chilton Takes Charge". Amy finds finds that Ryan's recent poor luck with women has led him to become a depressed drunk with an uncontrolled beard, and she knocks him back into shape and rebuilds his love-life. Three years after the end of SGR (just before Bad Machinery), they got married.
Recurring Extra: Rachel's childhood fear, the Krakkagar - man-sized beetles with black carapaces and red eyes, who sometimes appear in the background without explanation. Also the green fairies, some of whom move up to speaking parts.
Retcon: When Esther and The Boy leave for their respective universities, she tells him "Oxford and Cambridge aren't too far apart". Later the names of the universities were blacked out, presumably so it won't limit the options of where they're going.
Ret Gone: After Erin was sucked into Hell the people who had known her forgot about her existence.
Some people (on the internet) have written to me to say that they think today's comic is some sort of cuss to Questionable Content. With all the war in the world and the complexities of VAT on my mind, I have no time for that sort of thing. For those of you writing prac. crit. essays, it's a deeper sideswipe at the word-haemorrhaging quasi-OC/Dawsons spiel of the self-interested post-teen. Discuss.
Another here with a display of famous robots including QCs Pintsize.
Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Shelley and Amy. The original protagonists, two students and later barmaids named Tessa and Rachel, were gradually pushed out when the whole Shelley-Ryan-Amy-Tim axis proved much more interesting. Here, after two Shelley-centric chapters they bitch about her for stealing their spotlight being annoying. After that, they're Demoted To Extras. They get another story, fade out for a while and then Rachel makes her descent into evil.
Spy Catsuit: Fallon Young, sometimes even when she's not on the job.
Stylistic Suck: Shauna and Lottie's newsletter shows they have a good grasp of desktop publishing, but not of English language and grammar.
Sudden Videogame Moment: Occasionally someone will get a little "+10" beside them when they win an argument, or a stream of hereduring sex. When a trio of Goth girls threaten Amy for chatting up their favourite band, Fighting Game-style health bars appear in the panel (also making it clear that Amy's about to take a beating.)
Take That: This strip has Shelly winning a large stuffed doll that looks suspiciously like Jar JarBinks. The very next strip has Shelly and Ryan lighting the doll on fire and tossing it off a bridge while holding an unrelated conversation.
The Jeremy Kyle Show is scorned when Shelley, Des and his "adopted" mother appear on it.
Amy: If you don't have a job, you watch Jeremy Kyle! Once more than one generation of your family hasn't had a job, you're allowed to go on and get shouted at.
Chapter 22, The Election contains many a thinly-veiled swipe at the Conservative Party, most notably that blue-ribboned corporate candidate Bentley Quorn apparantly represents the "Evil Party".
Esther: Did we ever find out exactly what's wrong with Mr. Manuel?
Undead Tax Exemption: Notably averted. As a zombie, Shelley has trouble getting a job because she's legally dead. Presumably, it's sorted out later.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Many things happen in Tackleford that you'd think people would be more worried about, or that you'd expect to be seen as more important than they are. Just as a particularly obvious example, Fallon accidently opens a window to feudal Japan and spends the next few nights fighting off attacks by ninjas. It's not the start of a story about Japan or the ninjas; just a reason why Shelley and Amy move out.
Wales: Gets quite a few mentions, from Tessa and Rachel deciding they should flee to Swansea and adopt new identities and later ending up there on their slide into evil, to Tim leaving for exile there and Esther and The Boy going there to meet him (it's raining heavily for most of their time there, but that's Wales for you.)
Weirdness Magnet: Tackleford in general. To varying degrees, Tim, Ryan, Fallon and Amy, and Shelley very much so.
Fallon: You don't choose action! Action chooses you!
Amy: Copper Edge is nice. They rob you, then shoot you so you don't feel bad.
Yandere: Riley is quite jealous of other ladies who get close to Tim, and helps sabotage his mayoral career to get the two of them exiled to Wales without his friends to distract them. He's not all that upset when he finds out.
Alpha Bitch #1: Susan Ptolemy, 19, "a dangerous loose cannon who plays outside the rules." Alpha Bitch #2: Bleugh, is that from her Facebook? Alpha Bitch #3: No, it's quote from the Chief Inspector of Northamptonshire Constabulary. Alpha Bitch #2: "'...but, she gets the job done', he added reluctantly."