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Webcomic: Schlock Mercenary

"A soft answer turneth away wrath. Once wrath is looking the other way, shoot it in the head."

Space Opera with several relatively Hard Science Fiction aspects in the 31st century.

Named after Schlock, an alien shaped like a pile of crap with eyes and a mouth who joins "Tagon's Toughs", a space-faring mercenary outfit. The cast includes the aforementioned Kaff Tagon, The Captain of the group, Commander Kevyn Andreyasn, inventor of the "teraport" system and all-around Mad Scientist, Ennesby, a former virtual boy band turned ship's AI, and many others.

Consistent humor (it is very quotable) and we mean consistent — Schlock has been running seven days a week without missing a day since the 12th of June 2000 - fourteen years. There are moderate elements of social and political satire, but it's never partisan; let's just say it's not for people who think governments deserve sympathetic treatment. This is a world where the only respected authority is the one with the larger gun - in other words, the perfect world for a mercenary company.

Howard Tayler has given enthusiastic permission to John Ringo to write about the First Contact days, in a series of novels collectively titled Troy Rising. However, the two worlds have drifted apart and Troy Rising is not currently considered canonical within the Schlock universe. However, Tayler still considers the books a Spiritual Licensee.

Now has a Referenced page.

The comic can be found right here.


This webcomic provides examples of:

  • Absolute Xenophobe:
    • The Pa'anuri. Their response to the invention of the teraport (the use of which is harmful to them) is to blow up the nearest star. They later set up a time bomb to blow up the galaxy, just to be sure.
    • The Ob'enn, on the other hand, just want to conquer everything. Although it's implied that there's internal friction between their military, which simply wants to own the universe, and their theocracy, which sees all other races as being "inferior."
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Many of the blades in the setting are capable of slicing through heavy armor. Tailor is particularly impressive, as he's able to dismember the hands of three heavily-armored Mooks in a single pass. Tailor was designed to cut, create, and modify body armor, though. There's also the problem of tensile strength versus shearing strength, which is why armor designed for kinetic weapons isn't nearly as good against edged ones.
    • Then there's the "Dorothy System", which while not a blade per se is decidedly absurdly sharp.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality:
    • The author notes for this strip gives us an example of why we need this trope in regards toward battles in space.
    • Also done here to explain how to depict the thought processes of the Fleetmind.
  • Accidental Murder: Pi manages to blow up King Lota with his anti-improvised-armor mines.
    Pi: I swear, that was an accident.
    Ennesby: Congratulations. You just invented "negligent regicide."
  • Accidental Truth: "Captain" here. And later in a flashbacksee the lightning epaulets?
    • Notably though, Kathryn is not being referred to as the same rank in both, as the first implies a navy-esque captaincy (Equivalent to Colonel) whereas the flashback shows Kathryn as an army-esque captain. (equivalent to a naval Lieutenant.)
  • Acting Unnatural: In this strip Brad mishears "act casually" as "act casualty", which does not look very inconspicuous.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Lieutenant Ebby runs afoul of this while telling the troops to not laugh.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: "The Battle of Beggar Bay was brief. Also alliterative."
  • Ad Hominem: Once was reverted with Xinchub's public speech (he's that sort of a guy):
    Tagon: Aaargh! I can't watch any more of this!
    Jevee Ceeta: Just because he's right doesn't mean you're not allowed to hate him.
  • The Ageless: One small alien race explains they don't have true immortality, but immunity to effects of aging.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
  • Air-Vent Passageway: A Running Gag is Schlock hiding in air vents. Since he's an amorphous blob, the air vents don't actually have to be wide. Also, at least once he sneaks into a ship via the sewer. As he possesses an incredible sense of smell and tastes with every surface of his body, he has no pressing urge to repeat the experience.
  • All Hail the Great God Mickey!: Reverend Theo refers to 'The Gospel of Uncle Benjamin' when confronted with the quote "With great power comes great responsibility", and invokes The Power of Greyskull as part of an exorcism rite.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: Humanity is more varied that at present- the most notable examples are the Purps, a genetic offshoot who have purple skin due to a form of synthetic photosynthesis.
  • Amoral Attorney:
    • The Partnership Collective are an entire race of these. The Toughs have a no-deadline, pay-per-kill contract to wipe out a million of them, and generally shoot them on sight. Schlock tends to eat them and take their ties as trophies. For added Anviliciousness, they're literally snakes.
    • The no-deadline contract was issued as a very fair punishment for the Collective. When the Collective was introduced, they took a patent case to get our heroes' prototype hyperdrive banned by the Wormgate Corporation. When they were clearly losing in court, the attorneys tried to blow up the defendants' ship with a total conversion bomb that would have, at the least, sterilized the nearer side of the moon.
    • Taylor started that if the comic got 10,000 votes in a February 2010 Washington Post poll, he'd kill an attorney drone in the "Mallcop Command" arc, and that if he won, he would kill ALL the attorney drones. Sadly, neither came to pass.
  • Amusing Injuries: Anything at all happening to the above Amoral Attorneys, usually fatally. Also, given the state of medical technology, any injury that doesn't invoke the Chunky Salsa Rule can be made Amusing.
  • Anachronism Stew: The cover of the Schlock Mercenary game has Elf still with her metal legs and shirt from before her body-mod and promotion to Lieutenant. However, she's fighting Partnership Drones (who had largely stopped being a threat by that point), Captain Tagon has his current (green) uniform, and there is a teraport gate behind them all, something not created until later.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Wormgates.
  • And I Must Scream: A disconnected AI. Sartre was called "lucky human".
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Tagon's Toughs had this reaction to Xinchub's death. He had spent several arcs as the personally nastiest of the Tough's rogues gallery (or, in his own words, "the biggest ace-hole in the game"), and his death caused happy-dances throughout the major cast (not to mention wearing party hats to the funeral).
  • Anticlimax Cut: At the end of Book 12, Tailor and Ennesby discuss what will happen in Haven Hive after they removed the prior power structure, leaving Shep with a squad of milspec robots to control things. Right after Ennesby predicts some unscrupulous outsider will take charge, it cuts to Shep's mom, in charge, with one of the 'bots holding a tray of lemon bars as she orders the drains vacuumed.
  • Anti-Gravity Clothing: Among the standard abilities of the Toughs' powered armor, even the low profile kind, is enabling the wearer to fly.
  • Anti-Hero: The entire central cast. Notable for mostly being played for laughs, instead of Angst.
  • Anyone Can Die: Throughout most of the series, Death Is Cheap. Characters can be regrown in a tank from just a head, preserved in a nanny-bag to prevent degradation, and Tagon, Kevyn, Elf, Xinchub, and Petey have all come back from far less. Which makes it that much more shocking when characters like Hob, Sh'vuu, Pronto, Doctor Lazcowicz, and Brad, some of whom had been around since the very beginning, were all Killed Off for Real.
  • Appeal To Ridicule:
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Nannies, and to a lesser extent gravy. Also the Teraport, although that got kinda nerfed shortly after Kevyn open-sourced it. Mostly because the possible applications were so terrifying—like smashing a planet from across the galaxy—that it created a boom in anti-teraport defenses. Even so, its release started a galaxy-wide set of wars.
  • Army of Lawyers: The Partnership Collective.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Mostly played straight (and since armour has gotten a little stronger in the past thousand years, the slap can be delivered in equally powered armour or by a bullet). Subverted here after a classic setup.
  • Art Evolution: The author knows it. He uses the term pretty much verbatim in his commentary on the first strip. Compare this with this... Or compare Captain Tagon's first appearance, and about six months later with his image approximately twelve years after the comic started.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • The crimes Kevyn could hypothetically be tried for include: treason, high treason, and grand spamming. However, in the 31st century spammers are held in the same contempt as pedophiles so it's a subversion.
      Kevyn: Hey, the only charge they can make stick is the spamming.
      Ceeta: You need to capture some moral high ground that sits outside of artillery range.
    • The future equivalent of DUI carries the death penalty because you have to be completely sober to modify the vehicle to make it possible to use manual mode while under the influencenote . In some cases, this requires installing a manual mode. Quite understandable, however, since the consequences of screwing up while drunk are exponentially different when you're piloting a spaceship.
    • Played straight with a rounding error. Since the current list of crimes includes armed conquest and attempted genocide, rounding pi down to 3 seems like an especially trivial crime, even when you're charged by an AI.
  • Artificial Gravity: complete with exploration of technological consequences
  • Artificial Limbs: Frequently, and heavily lampshaded, though when possible they prefer to clone new parts/bodies.
  • Aside Glance: Ennesby is probably the most common source of these, but other characters use them from time to time.
  • A Simple Plan: A small team from Tagon's Toughs go to get some data, legally, from a library. It ends with the library getting demolished and a hostage situation, from which the Toughs get paid to retrieve their own people.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Played with. Tagon likes this trope; whenever one of his men does something stupid (such as blowing up the ship/fleet/planet), they usually get a promotion if they survived. At least, if they survived and blowing up the ship/fleet/planet did the job it was supposed to. Tagon himself is also subject to this. He's not the brightest on strategy or tactics (though far from the worst at it, either), but nobody in the company can beat him when it comes to one on one combat. He's extremely sharp in his own way when it comes to the things he's good at (which is, unsurprisingly, hurting people and breaking things), even if a little Book Dumb. He just looks dim next to the hyperintelligent warship AIs he tends to employ, or to Kevyn, one of the single greatest scientific minds in the galaxy.
    • Played straight with the Pugil sticks... Tagon defeated Schlock (who is three times his weight, five times his strength and can grow extra limbs at will) and Chisulo who is a several-tonne anthropomorphic elephant in hand to hand combat just to show the troops why he's in charge.
  • Ass Shove:
    • In the 2001 Schlocktoberfest epilogue, it's stated that the smuggler that brought the diamond-beetle eggs aboard the Princess Tyola as a suppository.
    • Action Girl Elf once treated a reality TV host to this trope with one of his own cameras.
    • To handle the toxic atmosphere of Ghanj-Rho when the Toughs were going on a mission to get a new set of eyes for Schlock, they are given with a device to filter the toxins out of their blood. They're not, unlike one grunt thought, to be swallowed...
  • Attack Drone: The armor Tagon and Pi are wearing have Shoulder Cannons that can be set to fly on their own and engage targets independently, instead of remain attached to the Powered Armor.
  • Author Guest Spot
  • Autodoc: There's one that gets souped up a bit and actually tries to improve its patients, sometimes successfully.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: We finally get an explanation for why the Toughs don't use their powered armor uniforms to just fly everywhere.
    Legs: Do you know what we call flying soldiers on the battlefield?
    Tino: Air support?
    Legs: Skeet.
  • Back from the Dead: Several major characters have managed this, including Kevyn (multiple times, even), Xinchub, Petey, and in an extreme case requiring a cosmic Reset Button pressed during Time Travel, Tagon.
  • Badass Normal: Even non-soldiers like Massey the lawyer and the Rev have their moments.
    Nick:Rev, didja just stake that guy to the wall on purpose?
    Rev: It's called mercy, Nick. My guy is more alive than yours.
    Assailant: Mercy? You stabbed me through my throbbin' eye!.
    Rev: The grace of god knows no bounds, but my mercy has some practical limitations..

  • Badass Boast: A token example from the resident [Mad Scientist].
    Commander Andreyasn: I am commander Kevyn Andreyasn. I have shaped the destinies of worlds, of nations, of galaxies.I have created and destroyed. I have followed and I have led. I have known love, and loved back. I flirt with death for a living, and I have cheated the reaper more times than I can remember.

  • Bad Boss: The tough's Punch Clock Villain attitude occasionally makes them work for one.
    Tagon: General, let's be clear on this. Working for you will be no different than working for any number of other clients I've personally detested. Granted, I'm growing unfond of you faster than any other fat, fascist warlord I've taken money from, but if the money is good I'm sure I can get over it.
    Ennesby: Word choice, sir. Word choice.
  • Bad Omen Anecdote: Kevyn once did remind Lieutenant Ebbirnoth about military anecdotes on how the different branches handle the task at hand. They eventually got their punchline, of course.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between AI's, no less.
  • Brass Balls: In this strip, Petey attributes these to the Qlaviql ship captain that used his unarmed ore freighter to destroy a frigate wielding a powerful plasma cannon. Unfortunately for the complement, the captain lost those in the Secession Wars, 60 years prior to the depicted scene.
  • The Battlestar: Battleplates, plus Ob'enn Superfortresses and pretty much every ship made by the psycho bears (including their plate-class vessels that are unmatched by any other ship made of baryonic matter and have yet to be encountered by the heroes), everything the Toughs fly in after the Kitesfear is destroyed (with the exceptions of Serial Peacemaker and Bristlecone), Petey's Extortionator class ships, and every ship equipped with a fabber.
  • Behind the Black: The Toughs frequently display their ignorance of the law, never seeming to notice their lawyer is present until Massey sticks his head into the frame.
  • BFG: Schlock loves them so much that he once actually rejected a far more powerful and efficient version of his plasma cannon because it was dinky-looking. And because it lacked the "Ommminous Hummm".
  • Big Book of War: The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. Remember kids: Pillage, then burn.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Parnassus Dom has a building named "Barad Mellon". That's Quenya for "Tower Friend". Fitting name for a guest-house.
  • Boarding Pod: Petey has been known to use this tactic on occasion.
  • Body Horror: The Nano Weapons, which often start by using their Typhoid Mary carrier's body mass as raw materials to mass produce more nanobots before forcibly spraying them at anyone nearby. Those of a compatible makeup can then be used to repeat the process. Those who are incompatible instead have their muscles hijacked before their bodies are made to painfully tear themselves apart.
  • Bond One-Liner: When Kathryn freaked out and reverted to her earlier training, she had a good one.
  • Bowel Breaking Bricks:
    • From a discussion between Thurl and Kevyn:
      Thurl: The metaphor monitor indicates that Ennesby has vented his virtual bowels.
      Kevyn: I can see that, but where'd the virtual bricks come from?
      Narrator: Goodnight, kids!
    • In another strip, in a conversation with King Xinchub in his bathroom:
      Petey: [...] I was going to employ Tagon and company to extract you, but they declined. Apparently they'd rather see you dead.
      Petey: You look like you're thinking maybe the plumbing in here needs to accommodate flushed bricks.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Although the main protagonists aren't totally amoral and will generally try to do what's right, they ultimately are mercenaries, and will do a lot for the sake of a contract. However, by and large their opposition in any given story is anything but concerned with "what's right".
  • Black Box:
    • The "Magic Cryokit".
    • A lot of pieces of technology have "fiddly bits" on them with unclear or dubious purposes.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: The special nanomachines used to create supersoldiers give black eyes to the enhanced form. It's not proof of evil, but it still violates several galactic conventions.
  • Blob Monster: Carbosilicate Amorphs. Like Schlock.
  • Blue and Orange Morality:
    • In this strip, the Reverend Theo Fobius mentions measuring sticks with evil clearly marked upon them, all of differing lengths, some of which measure in directions perpendicular to reality.
    • Sergeant Schlock's moral compass, which has the points "Eat it", "Kill it", "Make friends with it", and "Take a bath in it".
  • Boxed Crook: The entire company becomes this in the book "Under New Management", doing "dirty" jobs for General Xinchub in exchange for not having an assortment of criminal charges thrown at them and the mercenary company's license to operate be revoked. The events of the next book, "The Blackness Between", document how they ultimately got out from under Xinchub's thumb.
  • Brain Bleach:
  • Breaking the Bonds: Jud mentioned in his memoirs that he realized his bonds were made of toilet paper and were easily broken. He didn't say that it took 15 minutes to free himself.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Characters often grip the edge of panels, occasionally address the reader, and once fired a plasma lance through the border of a frame, but Kevyn meeting his creator, literally, has got to take the cake..
    Kevyn: Are you killing me?
    Howard: No.
    Kevyn: Oh, goo-
    Howard: Blood loss is killing you.
  • Breast Plate: Tagon switches Breya's armor order to one that looks more... prominent. She does not appreciate this.
  • Brick Joke: Quite a few, since the author has enough experience to know he can pull this off.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Most of the characters wear body armor. This comic points out that body armor is only useful if you get shot in an armored spot.
  • Bystander Syndrome:
    • The characters are mercenaries, after all. Priority number one is to stay alive long enough to get paid. Priority two is to get paid.
      Breya: What about priority three? Feel good about yourself?
      Tagon: Do what I do: Learn to feel good about getting paid.
    • Petey on the other hand is very much against this philosophy, which is largely why he declared war on the Ob'enn, and eventually the entire Andromeda galaxy.
      Petey: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
      Tagon: I haven't heard that one before.
  • Call Back:
  • Calvin Ball: a.k.a. Munchkin-clix of Cataan.
  • Caught in a Snare: When the Toughs land on a planet only to discover it's home to a sentient stone-age race.
  • Centrifugal Gravity: Credomar and Mel-Onenote  both use Centrifugal force to keep people on the deck. The sheer inefficiency of the design is lampshaded in the former case and the latter is justified by the station pre-dating Terran use of Artificial Gravity, and maintained in such a manner (minus a station crew module given artificial gravity) for historical purposes.
  • Cerebus Retcon: Subverted. The early gag of the "magic cryokit" modified by the Toughs' former doctor using his illegal research, including dumping his own memories into it, takes on surprising seriousness in light of later revelations about the doctor, his role in certain black projects, and what those projects are capable of. Also related, the apparent throwaway joke at the time that the doctor's corpse was missing unspecified parts when it was brought in for the bounty; it's not until more than six years later that we find out that said illegal research is capable of rebuilding people from parts of their dead body. Subverted in that it's done so subtly and over such a long period that it appears to be less a retcon than incredibly long-range foreshadowing.
  • Chased by Angry Natives: In Zoojack station, until the natives discover their targets can talk.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: The Massively Parallel arc has had so many Chekhov's Guns left lying around that the readers have probably forgotten half of them . . . should be fun once said guns all get chain-fired.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Used repeatedly, without mercy. In fact, any throwaway oneliner can turn out to be Chekhov's Gun 200 strips later.
    • Prime example: Cocked here, fired here.
    • Excellent example is here, making Credomar a literal Chekhov's Gun. One capable of firing across the galaxy.
    • Yet another rapidfire burst of gunfire: The end of "The Body Politic" arc had the Toughs' collective memories wiped in order to prevent them from being executed by the UNS in order to cover up secrets. The deal also included a complete cutoff from Petey. Two arcs later, near the end of "Massively Parallel", Petey bails them out as mentioned in the above mentioned literal 'Gun', and it's only Schlock's circumvention of the mindwipe rearing its head that makes Tagon listen to anything Petey has to say. Like the Toughs themselves, Howard sure loves his guns...
    • Then we're given this strip that details what the Toughs found out to have their memory wiped in the above example. This becomes the entirety of the plot of "Random Access Memorabilia."
    • Ultimate example, a tasteless Aprils Fools Joke becomes the Plot for over two whole books nearly five years later!
    • Ennesby is seen with an eyepatch in the present day. In a later flashback to the month before, Tagon threatened to poke out an eye if Ennesby's plan goes pear-shaped. The eye is actually lost due to enemy fire when the plan goes up in flames, making this a Red Herring instead.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
  • Civil War: The United Nations of Sol is divided into many factions with varying levels of ruthlessness and sanity. The conflicts between them form a major plot thread throughout the story, and the UNS has been one good shove away from civil war for centuries. In particular, this is why the Laz'r'us Project is kept such a tight secret. If knowledge that one faction of the UNS has been experimenting with Nanomachines capable of allowing agelessness, rewriting peoples' minds, or even genocide were to get out, it would be enough to finally trigger it. In Book 15, events start to near a boil.
  • Click Hello: Given the amount of guns floating around, this is a favorite of nearly everyone. Even the AIs, who can sometimes do this with tanks.
  • Clones Are People Too: All clones are considered real people with little debate.
    • The surviving gate clones who were freed were given status as legal individuals, including every Gav, who was duplicated nearly a billion times. There were most likely political ramifications, but this didn't affect the Toughs, so it wasn't expanded on.
  • Cloning Blues:
    • Averted for everyone on-screen. Duplicated characters are treated as legally and morally equal to the originals, and are usually Put on a Bus rather than killed. An extreme example is "The Gavs": a cameo by the creator of Nukees is duplicated some 950 million times in an instant, and is now a dominant ethnic group and marketing demographic in his own right.
      Captain Tagon: Kevyn and, um. . . Kevyn, do you have any suggestions for how I handle paying you? I mean, there are two of you now.
      Timeclone!Kevyn: No. There is one of me, and one of him.
    • In Kevyn's case his gate clone replaced him completely, as he'd been killed by his own improvised gravy gun. His time clone (from an alternate future) retired after winning the lottery and apparently some mob-run horse races.
    • HOWEVER... Uncountable gate clones were tortured and murdered off-screen over all the time the F'sherl Ganni gates were the galaxy's only practical form of transportation.
  • Cloning Body Parts: Prosthetics are generally temporary and only issued when cloning tanks are unavailable or the HMO doesn't cover them.
  • Clothes Make the Superman: Even the standard low-profile powered uniform practically turns a soldier into a Flying Brick. You should see what the actual armor is like.
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: From Ovalkwik to Samsony, several formerly competing companies have merged, as revealed by their portmanteau names.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: In an in-universe example, Lt. Shodan suspects that a bunch of new recruits charging ahead and blazing away with their guns were prevented from shooting one another only because they were wearing the same color.
  • Comically Missing the Point : The response of the author in this strip to complaints about how the story is being told doesn't focus on the story telling, but instead on the elaboration of the metaphor "like a hot knife through butter."
  • Comic Book Time: An early strip is dated at 3096, and it's clearly been a couple years, but it's not clear exactly how long. Even more pronounced in the later books, where it can take years to go through months.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Kevyn uses his blood to write a warning for Captain Tagon, about his antimatter grenade epaulet being armed, as the same injuries that gave him blood to write with also prevented him from being able to speak.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Four Parkata Urbatsu practicing punks versus one combat experienced merc captain itching for revenge after the Fork Incident. It was not a fair fight.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy:
  • Darker and Edgier: The annual Schlocktoberfest season tends to see a more sinister arc. Zig-zagged in general, with dramatic moments and lighter arcs taking turns.
  • Deader Than Disco: Invoked by Kathryn, in reference to Max Haluska. Later it's mentioned by Ennesby that Disco has returned several times since the 1970s. So does Max, after RED #2 revives him.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Everyone except the absolute dumbest characters.
    • Subverted and parodied on many occasions: "This is the punchline" or "I don't want a punchline" are recurring throughout the series (and might make this one a Running Gag in its own right).
  • Death Is Cheap:
    • As of June 2012, the following characters have died and been brought back to life via various means (including nanites, mind backups and time travel): Kevyn, Tagon, Xinchub, Max, Petey, Schlock.
    • As long as the head is mostly intact, a person can be brought back to life. Case in point...
    • With RED #2, death is so cheap that characters can get 'revived' even before they die, with only requirement being data from their brains is stored somewhere.
  • Declining Promotion: Warrant Officer Thurl says that the moment he's offered a commission he'll resign.
  • Deconstructor Fleet
  • A Degree in Useless: A minor character apparently studied "comparative Gal-West lit, with an emphasis on memetic Terranism" before working fast food, and subsequently becoming cook's assistant for the Toughs.
  • Democracy Is Bad:
  • Determinator: Howard Tayler, the author. Nothing can stop him from updating every single day. Not injuries, not software glitches, nothing. Even a transformer explosion at the server farm where the comic is hosted that took out two walls, several websites, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment did not stop Schlock Mercenary's update schedule; he just set up a temporary site until they got the main host back up. On one occasion, the comic was up several hours late. Howard apologized, and the strip was up by End of Business that day. One occasion in eleven years.
    • And with the revelation on his blog that he had been suffering from depression all this time... Well, let us just say then that the respect due to him for publishing a strip daily no matter what is going off the scale.
  • Deus Est Machina:
    • Seemingly any AI should it gain enough processing power. Lunesby, the accidental offspring of a holographic Boy Band and Luna's millennium-old filing system immediately decides to start streamlining the moon's labyrinthine bureaucracy. LOTA (the Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse) does pretty much the same thing on Credomar. On the other hand, Petey is suicidally insane when the Toughs pick him up, but eventually becomes the core of the Fleetmind, a gestalt of countless Battleship Class AIs into one, big, (kinda) omniscient Uber-AI... that immediately decides to appoint itself guardian of the Milky Way Galaxy.
    • This could be Howard's idealistic side shining through the series' prevalent cynicism; organics are flawed, but machines just want to do what they're designed to do - make their creators' lives better. And given the opportunity, that's just what they'll do! More on Fridge Brilliance.
  • Deus Exit Machina: According to comments by the author, it's hard to keep Petey's near omnipotence from slicing through a perfectly tangled Gordian-knot plot. This may explain why Petey was given a reason to avoid contact with the mercenaries at the end of Book 9 (they were made to remember him having abandoned them by a UNS rewriting of their memories), and in Book 11 he has to use all his god-like power to fight the Pa'anuri of Andromeda and cannot spare any to act as Deus ex Machina for the protagonists.
  • Didn't See That Coming:
    • One of the most common plot complications. For example, the gang didn't see a rogue Ob'enn hijacking the PDCL coming. Petey didn't see the UNS making the mercs think he'd abandoned them coming. You get the idea.
    • The narrator goes so far as to say, at one point, that good intel for any non-AI-directed military mission usually amounts to, "Crap, I think they heard us coming."
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Schlock Mercenary plays with this a lot, although it's often subverted by the fact that in military operations, "overwhelming force" is not at all an unreasonable place to start from. One in-universe saying is "There is no overkill. There is only 'open fire' and 'I need to reload.'" A few of the straighter examples of the trope:
    • A reality TV host for a glamor show makes fun of Elf while she's shopping. His miniature camera ends up somewhere that medical help is needed to remove it.
    • A planetary legislature hasn't allocated funds to replace their orbital defenses, a couple months after god-like AI Petey defended them from attempted orbital bombardment. Petey finds this irresponsible, and exiles them to the Andromeda galaxy.
    • The Obenn at one point decide to grind one of the protagonists into sausage. Because he was insufficiently polite during his interrogation.
  • The Ditz: A number of clients, especially those from the government.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Get it?
  • Don't Ask, Just Run
    Kevyn: Maxim Three: an ordnance technician at a dead run outranks everybody.
  • Double Standard: The standard outcome of an accidental insult or reflexive lechery from a male mercenary to a female mercenary is for her to break several of his bones. There's never any repercussions, and none of the men have ever assaulted any of the women.
    • It should be noted that assuming you're not in the middle of combat, healing is exceptionally easy to pull off, with several characters coming back from Beheading with minimal (For BEHEADING) amounts of fuss.
    • Though the Captain did slice Elf's head off with his dorothy-line at one point. She was very much alive and conscious at the time it happened... even if it was for her own good, it certainly left a longer lasting mark than those she inflicts upon her male colleagues.
    • Arguably justified, since women like Elf and Bunnigus need to earn/maintain the respect of the testosterone-heavy grunts.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Karl Tagon's comment after telling the heartbreaking story of the death of most of his family to a weaponized nanomachine attack: "They don't make bottles big enough for this kind of empty."
  • Duct Tape for Everything:
    • Seems to be Pronto's favourite method of restraining prisoners, and is stated as such explicitly:
      Kevyn: Does the Serial Peacemaker even have a brig?
      Tagon: All I need is Corporal Pontucci and some duct tape.
    • Kevyn apparently took notes, later used when he takes command after Tagon's death:
    • An annotation notes that of the classic jury-rigging Holy Trinity of baling wire, Bondo, and Duct Tape, "Duct Tape has actually seen the most change during the intervening centuries. For instance, it can now safely be used to fasten and seal duct-work. Just be sure to lose the handy-dandy spool with the built-in tape cutter before it trims the tape just above your first knuckle."
    • Even useful for restraining nanomachine-based zombies.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The early strip had a LOT more Fourth Wall humor, with characters frequently having discussions with the narrator and complaining to the artist. After the first few years of the strip that kind of thing faded away, with only occasional uses afterward with Kevyn in The Sharp End of the Stick, and the time immediately before Brad's being killed in the first Credomar arc.
    • In the first story arc, Schlock feels nauseous after drinking a 4-liter soda. Much later, amorphs are established as masters of biochemistry, able to digest anything short of Grey Goo.
  • Ear Worm:
    • The Macarena has been banned dozens of times since its creation because it's proven to be catchy enough to literally be infectious. Even when you change the words. invoked
      Kevyn: Explosive mayhem would actually be safer than some of those showtunes you used, but that's beside the point.
    • Not even LOTA is immune.
  • Easy Sex Change: One of the many possible modifications offered by GavCorps Diversity Engineering division.
    • Major personality modification was part of the package the subjects signed up for, which would probably make the transition rather less traumatising.
  • Egocentric Team Naming
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • The Paa'nuri are strange dark-matter creatures that can't be seen and threaten to destroy the galaxy. It takes advanced science and lots of collaboration to fight back.
  • Enemy Mine: Several times, most often with General Xinchub.
    Maxim 29: The enemy of my enemy is my enemy's enemy. No more. No less.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: On several levels; not only are there sentient apes hanging around, but the characters are Genre Savvy enough to know that monkeys are just that awesome. Especially with grenades. They also make great distractions.
    "One of the best uses for a monkey is to make everybody pay attention to the monkey."
  • Evil Laugh:
    • Here.
    • If you buy a creepy AI template, the evil laugh comes standard.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: "Yes, we know they're all lawyers. You're supposed to be rooting for the friendly human one."
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Kevyn learns that there is a right time and a wrong time to invoke this on someone here.
    • Used in a broader sense a couple of other times where the Toughs will be talking over a scenario or predicting the worse thing that could happen. There's a fairly good chance that said horrible event is well underway already.
  • Exploding Bling Of War: Kevyn and Tagon's epaulettes. Tagon just has a grenade while Kevyn has an antimatter anti-tank grenade in one and a 14-kiloton antimatter bomb in the other.
  • Explosive Decompression: Done fairly realistically rather than the usual popping skulls.
    Schlock: Explosive decompression sucks.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Sgt. Schlock, best summarized here.
  • Eye Scream: Eye injuries are extremely common.
    • Tagon alone has lost at least two over the course of the strip, the same one in the same book (medical cloning).
    • Others who have lost eyes include (but aren't limited to) Andy, Ch'vorthq, Ebbirnoth, Chisulo, Schlock (a special case - he can always go to his home planet and pick some more), and any number of anonymous enemy grunts. Given the state of medical technology, these are almost always either Amusing Injuries or the least of their worries.
    • It is also one of the few things Schlock has to worry about. As he notes when being shot by a sniper, only a hit to his eyes would even bother him.
    • Here is a demonstration of what happens when human eyeballs are exposed to the wash from a plasma cannon, courtesy of Danita, one of the modified Gav gate clones.
  • Face Palm: Something of a regular occurrence. In particular, Major Murtaugh's palm winds up more or less glued to her face while she's trying to get used to having Schlock in her command.
  • Fake Memories
  • Fan Disservice: Naked General Xinchub.
    • Elf gets a nude scene. She also doesn't have her skin on, since she's regenerating at the time.
  • Fanservice:
    • Lots and lots of gratuitous bikini shots while the mercenaries are on vacation, which are hilariously lampshaded here.
    • Chelle's Incredible Flying Bikini, during the Barsoom arc.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • Beyond a variety of "Race X hates Race Y and is trying to subjugate or destroy it," there's also a few cases of an extremely negative view of artificial intelligences, especially from Reverend Theo. Though he eventually came to terms with Petey (mostly) and had nothing against Lota becoming a supposedly benevolent dictator.
    • Also, there are always elephant jokes.
    • There are broader criteria, such as Andy's "They're all Terrans. They all look alike".
    • A bunch of Gavs used cutting-edge tech to "diversify" themselves, giving themselves new bodies (even changing sex in some cases) and implanting new personalities and skills into their minds. They did this because they were having difficulty coming to terms with being one of a crowd of identical people. They also are convinced that every Gav secretly feels this way, and look down on "baseliners" somewhat as being in denial. Ironically enough, a baseliner suspects that this attitude was specifically added in to make them like the change.
  • Fartillery: Discussed in one strip:
    Kevyn: During this time you [Pi] are not to discharge anything more energetic than a sneeze.
    Ennesby: Sneezes move at about forty-two meters per second, sir.
    Kevyn: ...how fast does a fart move?
    Ennesby: *shocked* Mother of methane! Farts are flammable!
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The nature and socio-political impact of the Teraport is a major theme of the series. The Wormgates also turn out to have far more plot significance than mere transportation.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Referenced in this strip, and ultimately averted (if barely).
  • Fetch Quest: When Schlock had to go back to his homeworld to pick up a new set of eyes.
  • Field Promotion: Happens a lot due to characters dying off.
  • Finishing Each Other's Sentences: Tagon and Ceeta (which scared them).
  • Flame War: Referenced when Ennesby responds to a terapedo (which he disabled) with a very harshly worded message, using his Weapons-Grade Vocabulary.invoked
    Ceeta: I have this policy about not starting flame wars with people who ride around in battleplates.
  • Foreign Queasine:
    • The ape-style rock-a-stack with real termites.
    • Smutto (a mixture of natto and corn smut) would also be a good example.
    • Subverted with chupaquesos. They are delicious.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The fact that Kathryn is an ex-UNS captain was quite heavily foreshadowed several times, starting with her exceptional competence at planning and subterfuge, along with her adeptness at using firearms while rescuing Karl Tagon.
    • Para is foreshadowed to be a UNS agent.
    • "Sis, that's long enough that the thing could have flown here from Andromeda." Guess where the wormgate being discussed goes to?
    • This leads to this which is actually what Xinchub was working against.
    • Here, Tagii says she has “plenty of processing cycles to spare”, to which Ennesby replies that “Idle CPUs are the devil’s workshop”. Over two years later, Tagii is driven insane by being disconnected and trapped in her processor bank with nothing to do.
    • "Do you have any idea how many successful mutinies are associated with the ship's plumbing?" Maybe not instrumental to the plan, per se, but later that year, we do learn of at least one mutiny that did involve the plumbing...
  • For Inconvenience, Press "1"
  • Fourth Wall: Gets progressively thicker as the series progresses. In the first volume, characters actively try to decide who's going to die on the basis of when they were introduced, who gets punchlines, and whether they're named. By later volumes, the wall gets nudged much more rarely, and fleetingly.
  • From a Single Cell
  • Fictional Document: The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries
  • Freudian Couch: Reverend Fobius tries to therapize Captain Tagon on one, but the Captain is too tired to do more than fall asleep.
  • Freud Was Right: invoked During a docking procedure, Admiral Breya is really, really tired of these kinds of the sexual innuendo. All Kevyn said was that things were going smoothly.
  • The Fun in Funeral: Brightly-coloured party hats and noisemakers are the attire of choice at General Xinchub's funeral.
  • Fusion Dance:
    • Amorphs use this to exchange memories, to fight, and to reproduce.
    • There's also an interesting one when Schlock tries to trade memories with a timeclone of himself - the intellectual thought-processes recognize two unique Schlocks, but the biology thinks it's recovered an errant fragment of the same amorph unit. What ensues is described (to give us non-amorphs perspective) as being sort of like trying to resist throwing up, except backwards, and with about the same inevitability of outcome.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Kevyn; Dr. Todd, inventor of the "magic cryokit".
  • Gale-Force Sound: "If you want to really yell at somebody, Doctor, do it from the diaphragm."
  • Gallows Humour: After Schlock is killed, and restored from a backup of his memories;
    Tagii: I'm not the one who jumped into a six-kilometer hole without a flight suit.
    Schlock: Neither am I.
  • Gambit Pileup: Both most arcs and the overreaching plot, especially since the Fleetmind formed.
  • Generation Xerox: Played with and ultimately averted in a short storyline. General Tagon looks a lot like his son, which causes the latter to worry at one point that he's going to become his father as he ages, but an AI's projection shows that Kaff will look very different when he reaches his father's current age.
  • Genghis Gambit: On a galactic scale.
  • Genius Loci: Any ship with an AI.
  • Genre Savvy: Everyone.
    • Prime example: Thurl and Tagon are discussing a mission (May 1,2008):
      Thurl: I've run a cost-benefit analysis, and it remains profitable even in extreme contingencies.
      Captain Tagon: Did you just weasel-word your way around saying "What's the worst thing that could happen?"
      Thurl: Hey, you just now invoked Murphy, not me. Those weasel words are there for our protection.
    • This actually backfires at times as well, when people are too Genre Savvy for their own good.
      Inspector: People have been suckering each other with 'secret of the ancients' scams for thousands of years. Claiming that some lost technology has been re-discovered is pretty much the same as 'I am running a con.'
      Ennesby: So you see our problem.
      Inspector: Of course I... wait. Your problem?
      Ennesby: We want to sell rediscovered tech but our potential customers think they're too smart to buy it.
  • Glove Snap: In the second strip. (Expected outcome subverted.)
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: As usual for this trope, massively parodied. Tagon shoots his shoulder angel with his sidearm because he thinks it's a mosquito, his shoulder devil tries to dress up as an angel, and his shoulder angel comes back to shoot it in the head for doing so.
  • Good News, Bad News: All over the place, in every form, including
    Kathryn: (upon viewing certain spy cams in Dr. Pau's facility) Hmph. Well, the good news is that I can now start killing and not feel in the least bit guilty. The bad news is I'm not going to feel the least bit guilty about the killing I'm about to do.
  • Godiva Hair: Several times in The Sharp End of the Stick, this is used to hide Elf's breasts, after the Toughs captured by Shufgar were stripped of their clothing.
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual:
  • Gone Horribly Right: As Dr. B explains how Project Laz'R'Us synergizes dozens of soldier boosts:
    Bunnigus: They found that the right combination of these technologies would make any human functionally immortal.
    Breya: Okay, but what were the side effects?
    Bunnigus: You mean besides turning the entire population into a standing army of Super Soldiers? No side effects. Clean as a razor sharp, double-edged sword-whistle.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Captain Tagon isn't shown extracting a knife that was stuck in his eye or what he does with it to the knife thrower, but from the concluding scene the next day, it wasn't pretty.
  • G-Rated Drug: Ovalkwik, for Schlock
    Ch'vorthq: Sergeant, you will be drinking a very heavy stimulant cocktail cut with shampoo and inert ultra-tensile carbon.
    Schlock: I don't drink it. I eat it straight.
    Ch'vorthq: (dryly) And I suspect you're addicted to it.
    Schlock: (drawing his BFG) Step away from the tub of happiness.
  • Gravity Master: The UNS battleplates.
    • The Pa'anuri rather outclass them... being made of dark matter, gravity is the only way they can interact with regular baryonic matter. Usually by crushing it, whether it's a belt-size antigravity device or a city-size battleplate.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: averted. The alien womenfolk are generally quite alien, as ably demonstrated by Legs.
    • Zigzagged with Ceeta, who has purple skin, but is a genetically modified human.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Tagon's Toughs aren't the heroes. They're the protagonists. There's a distinction (though they do overlap).
  • Gunship Rescue: Here and here, for example.
  • Hand Cannon: Schlock's plasma guns fit this trope well. Although, depending on the environment, your cannon may vary...
    LOTA: You should now confiscate Lieutenant Pibald's pistol. It can shoot a hole in the world.
  • Happiness in Slavery: I am ablative armor! Life is boring, then briefly exciting, then over! I am ablative armor! Life is boring, then briefly exciting, then over! I am...
  • Hard on Soft Science:
    • Heartily mocked in the author's note for this strip.
    • In this strip Liz comments on how the trope attitude has resulted in her studies in memetics, linguistics, and sociology resulted in her landing a fast food job.
  • Heel-Face Turn: The Tohdfraug fleet was introduced attempting genocide. Petey captured them and when next seen, they seem to have become devoted to protecting the helpless.
    Tohdfraug Admiral: (to Petey) We've failed you. We've failed them.
  • Hellevator: Both an escalator to hell and a space elevator on Luna, called the "Hellevator".
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A couple, despite all the Heroic Comedic Sociopathy.
    • Most notably Brad, who stayed on his crippled tank to jury-rig a self-destruct out of ordnance so it wouldn't crash in a city and kill hundreds to thousands of people. In a surprising twist, he actually died. He got a really big statue, though. His last thoughts also "highlight his noble character." This particular sacrifice got all the hero mileage possible.
    • Similarly Hob, who also died setting off a life-saving explosion.
    • Not death, but in a similar vein, Tailor agrees to have his personality rewritten (which he is understandably afraid of) to gain the medical knowledge needed to save Tagon.
      Ventura: Do you trust me?
      Tailor: I'm terrified of you.
      Ventura: But you want me to do this?
      Tailor: My Captain needs me to be something I'm not.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath:
  • Hero of Another Story: Quite a few of them but the top contenders would probably be Petey/The Fleetmind, Admiral Breya and Der Trihs (post retirement). The bonus story in one of the print books is all about Petey and Der Trihs being the heroes of their respective stories.
  • Hive Mind, I Am Legion, Master Computer, N.G.O. Superpower: The Fleetmind.
  • Homage:
  • Honor Among Thieves: The Toughs may be sociopaths but they steer clear of outright evil beyond what's Necessarily Evil to get the job done, and are very loyal to each other. Schlock in particular: to hurt someone he likes is not a safe place to stand. Nor, for that mater, is anywhere else downrange or in the blast radius. Case in point: here and here (death spoiler warning if you're mid Archive Binge).
  • Humanity Is Young: A paltry thousand years participating in a galactic civilization that has existed for over 20,000.
  • Human Outside, Alien Inside: many of the aliens look more-or-less human, but have subtle or bizarre differences, like Lt. Ebbirnoth, whose species has their brain located in their pelvis and, rather than having a head, has a single giant eye.
  • Humans Are Special: "Rescue Party" variant; with less than a thousand years in space - a fraction of many prominent species' lifespans - humans have already spread an English-influenced dialect of "Galstandard" far and wide, ballooned to the fifth-largest sapient species and fourth-strongest military power yet seen, rediscovered an order-disrupting technology purposefully suppressed for six million years, and been indirectly responsible for the creation of a godlike AI hivemind. And now that hivemind has decided to express its gratitude... Though we probably can't be trusted to run a project on longevity.
  • Humans Are White: Averted, in that dark skinned people show up as often as they would in the modern day. Intra-species ethnicity seems to have become a less significant matter compared to the wide variety of sophonts in the Schlockiverse.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: Pops up quite a bit.
    • Schlock notionally carries his armament inside him, but many others go around fully armed wearing very fitting clothes with no obvious bulges...
    • 'Chelle conceals a pistol about her person whilst [[www.schlockmercenary.com/2005-10-06 wearing nothing but a bikini]]. Bit of Fanservice involved there.
  • Hyperspeed Ambush: The way wars were fought in the galaxy was completely changed thanks to the invention of the Teraport and related inventions such as the Terapedo. It isn't long before various anti-teraport countermeasures are designed to bring a sense of equilibrium back to transgalactic warfare.
  • Hyperspeed Escape: Quite common, unless measures are taken to prevent escape via Teraport.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The Fleetmind, during the war with the Dark Matter Entities, realizes that their human captains aren't willing to sacrifice themselves for the fleet. However, when they start talking about it amongst the other AIs in the fleet, Athens says she doesn't want to go first.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him:
    • Parodied.
      Nick: Lemme hit 'im too, sir. I promise not to kill 'im too quick.
      Kevyn: I know he murdered our friend, but that will take you into a very dark place, Nick. We are going to turn Shufgar, alive and healthy, over to judges of House Est'll. Then, per ancient tradition, he will be killed and eaten a little bit at a time.
      Nick: Your place sounds darker, sir.
      Kevyn: It has the advantage of being legal.
    • Yet another variant:
      Major Murtaugh: ...Sanctum Adroit is never violent in anger lest we become the evil we behold.
      (report about Maximilian's team being wiped out comes in)
      Maximilian: (smugly) Well... well... Major Murtaugh, are you ready to become what you behold?
      Major Murtaugh: (looking at him with disgust) I'm ready to punch what I behold. Does that count?
  • If You Die I Call Your Stuff: Schlock pulls this once, after the Toughs discover that two of their soldiers were killed by UNS nanite weaponry. Tagon is not amused, and threatens him with physical violence. Tagon was calmed down when Tailor explained creating armor for Schlock from battlefield scrap.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Right here, between Petey and Tag in regards to what is known but wasn't discussed in the extradition hearing for the Toughs, following the HTRN building hit.
  • I'm Standing Right Here:
    • During Schlocktoberfest 2005, Shodan comments on the competence of the local constabulary.
      Michelle: Uh-oh. These teeth are too small. I think we got the wrong shark.
      Shodan: Elizabeth might take issue with that since this is the shark that was trying to eat her.
      Michelle: Yeah, but the cops said that the teeth-marks on Monk were bigger than this.
      Shodan: True. But the cops are also stupid, and think Der Trihs faked that attack somehow.
      Policeman: I'm standing right here.
      Shodan: Oh, good. That means you heard me.
    • Shows up later when Captain Tagon and his father are discussing the woman who used to captain the ship they're on.
      Karl: Make her a sergeant.
      Tagon: Are you kidding me? Dad, she's a complete unknown!
      Murtaugh: I'm right here.
      Karl: She's not UNS intel, and she's not trying to steal the ship back.
      Tagon: How can you possibly know that?
      Murtaugh: Listening to every word, boys.
      Karl: I'm old, and I'm smart about a few things. I've got her pegged as a knight errant, a ronin. She's a sullied paladin questing for redemption.
      Murtaugh: Gentlemen, I'm standing between you.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun:
    • A supply vessel called "Eatonrun", call sign "MRE S0-7A57Y". The last part is claimed to be "completely unfunny", though (of course, if that's really MRE, it may be).
    • Ennesby coins the term "Assassineated" to describe what Schlock did to Colonel De Haans.
  • Indy Ploy: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and at times the battle plans for the Toughs don't even make it to the point of contact before going up in a blaze of (in)glory.
  • Information Wants to Be Free:
    • Early on in the series, the mercenaries are attacked repeatedly by the F'sherl-Ganni "Gatekeepers," due to experimenting with (and holding the patent for) the Teraport, a method of Faster-Than-Light Travel that far outstrips the unwieldy stargates that got the F'sherl-Ganni their other name. Finally, Admiral Breya Andreyasn figures out that there's a way to stop the attacks: release the Teraport into Open Source, essentially spreading the technology freely across the galaxy and removing the Gatekeepers' reason to specifically target Tagon's Toughs.
    • Invoked by Petey after the UNS battleplate captain realizes that his intended private discussion with Petey was being transmitted on public channels.
    • A bizarre eco-terrorist uses this as justification for the giant man-eating sharks he created.
  • In Medias Res: Used in the opening of Book 8, The Sharp End of the Stick. Later lampshaded here.
  • Instrumentality: The Fleetmind, but only for AIs and cyborgs.
  • Ironic Echo: When Para meets Kevyn for the first time, she recognizes him by name prompting a 'my reputation preceeds me' from Kevyn before she gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech. When Para meets the timecloned Kevyn, it goes exactly the other way around.
  • Ironic Echo Cut:
    • Used during the "Massively Parallel" arc to communicate flashbacks.
      Thurl: Okay, perfect. That should do it.
      Narrator: Rewind: seven hundred hours earlier, berthed at the High Olympus shipyards.
      Kevyn: Okay, perfect. That should do it.
    • Again, during "Force Multiplication." Someone steals a villain's visor computer, which doesn't log itself out. She gloats about how he must be stupid, or it must be defective, right before it blows up in her face. Cut to the one who blew it up complaining about how he always suspected it was defective when she lives.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: In this strip, Karl Tagon is identified as a "nice old man". In the last panel, he shows up suddenly to object to the "nice" part.
  • It Wasn't Easy: 2004-08-31:
    Kevyn: Do you expect us to believe that you took control of a Tausennigan Ob’enn Thunderhead Superfortress using nothing more than a minitank?
    Petey: I didn't say it was easy.
  • I Warned You: Ennesby zings Kevyn hard here.
    Kevyn: One word from you and I'm handing you to Lieutenant Ventura for upgrades.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: In the "Reality Television" arc, Lieutenant Ebniroth actually gets hired as a janitor for the building he's meant to infiltrate. Since they don't know the mercenaries are after them, he doesn't have to disguise his identity at all, even bragging about how his service qualifies him for the job.
  • Jump the Shark: Just in case anyone thought the introduction of time travel might be the shark-jumping moment for the series, the author lampshades it here.invoked
  • Just Between You and Me: Lampshaded here, with Major Timmons of UNS Intelligence declining to spill the beans to his intended victims.
  • Karmic Death: Colonel Krum originally tried to prevent Kathrine (and others) from using one of Tunguska's terapods, reserving seats for priority personnel. During the destruction of Morokweng, she was left behind with Kowalski claiming the seats are all full of priority passengers.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Yes, the Toughs do some nasty stuff but we cheer for them anyway, because the current bad guys are usually nastier and deserve the pwning that's headed their way.
  • Killed Off for Real: So far, Doctor Lazcowicz, Hob, DoytHaban (well, sort of), Sh'vuu, Pronto, and Brad.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence:
    Ensenby: (from an armed troop-transport to a single guard) You there on the ground. Drop your weapon or be fired upon!
    Guard: I'll die before I [THOOM!!]
    Ensenby: "...finish my sentence", I think he was saying.
  • Killer Rabbit:
    • The Ob'enn, (colloquially known as "psychobears") are cute, cuddly-looking koalazoids who just happen to be unbelievably violent xenophobic megalomaniacs.
      Ennesby: The Tausennigan Ob'enn warlords look like cuddly teddy-bears?
      Petey: Yes, they do. And they'd cheerfully exterminate your entire race for making that observation!
      Ennesby: I guess that explains their rich military history, then.
    • And inverted by the Kssthrata, the velociraptor-like species which evolved in the same system as the Ob'enn. Instead of continuing their counter-genocidal war with the Ob'enn, they just moved.
  • Late to the Punchline: Depicted here.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: Sanctum Adroit, referred to by Tagon as the "haughtiest, most self-righteous mercenary company I know of." In other words the most principled.
  • Layman's Terms: Kevyn's learned them. It was that or die because soldiers aren't physicists, and if you can't get them to understand you, you, along with trillions of others, will die because most people don't know the difference between "nonillion" and "bazillion".
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • Characters often grip panel edges.
    • Also:
      Ennesby: The stray breacher round was a nice touch. Good timing. Perfect ironic humor. (Said in the last panel of a comic)
  • Le Parkour: It's evolved into a martial art called Parkata Urbatsu. According to one character, along with influences of urbobatics and "something called YouTubing."
  • Let's You and Him Fight: When being attacked by a battleplate belonging to a decidedly nasty faction of the UNS, Tagii lures it close to a just released dark matter entity.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Ennesby to Schlock, after a particularly unpleasant moment involving the removal of the smell of death from Ennesby's chassis.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Mallcop arc was distinctly lighthearted, with aerial hijinks and the only antagonists being non-violent free-runners.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Tagii and Tagon, according to herself. Kathryn and Nick, according to Karl Tagon.
  • Little Hero, Big War: Ostensibly the Toughs' position, being a small mercenary company in a big, big galaxy with lots of conflict. However, they do play a role in many important events and are responsible for some major shifts in the galactic balance of power, including the introduction of the teraport, the formation of the Fleetmind, and the creation of LOTA.
  • Living Doorstop: Kevyn strapping misbehaving Buranabots to the hull as "ablative armor".
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Understandable, since it focuses on an entire company of mercenaries, but there's still a lot to keep track of. And the Big Guys tend to all look fairly similar. Not to mention 950 million Gavclones and assorted Gate Clones. Unless a character is confirmed dead there is a very good chance they'll show up again. This applies to everyone.
  • Locked in a Room: Dr. Bunnigus and the Reverend are trapped together on the Hellevator as one result of an attack on them by the Attorney Collective.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard:
    • The mobsters that kidnapped timeclone-Kevyn and general Tagon actually force Kevyn to build a machine that they don't understand.
    • The original Kevyn turned a mini-wormgate into a gravy gun that splattered the UNS marines about to kill him, though it was fortunate he used it to clone himself first.
    • Also happens to Lt. Ventura. Her captor tries to be Genre Savvy by not having the innoncent-with-the-big-eyes looking girl guarded by an easily swayed human guard. Instead they locked her in with the robots...
  • Longevity Treatment:
    • The amorph's creators made themselves immortal and destroyed their civilization as a result. Project "Laz'r'us" attempted to rectify humanity's short lifespans relative to so many aliens.
    • A plot point is "Project Laz'r'us", which was intended to circumvent humanity's short lifespans in comparison to many other sophonts using hyper-advanced nanotechnology. The nannies are also capable of repairing a clinically dead host and even making internal backups of the brain. The species from whose computer equipment carbosilicate amorphs has evolved already made themselves immortal and ran into several layers of problems. Still, there's a few remaining individuals alive and sane after their twelve million of Terran years, "give or take a little bit".
  • Long Runners: The comic has run constantly since June 2000.
    • Referenced in a surprisingly meta Brick Joke - on June 24th, 2000, we learn that the New Synch Boys, who would go on to become the main character Ennesby, was in fact an AI of some sort. On August 30th, 2013, this is slyly referenced when Coxswain Para Ventura, a ridiculously competent and surprisingly young robotics savant and former Mole, reveals to Ennesby that she cried for a week straight when the record label announced (falsely) that the New Synch Boys had died in a shuttle crash, indicating that she was a young teenager at the time. Really serves to hang the lampshade on the comic's age, if we assume that time has passed in-universe at essentially the same rate it passed out-of-universe.
  • Loophole Abuse: Presumably, after this strip there's now a company policy regarding air vents, where there wasn't one previously.
  • Made of Iron: Many of Tagon's mercenaries have various artificially-induced boosts to their strength and endurance, but during the Timeclone Kevyn and Karl Tagon rescue, Captain Tagon was particularly Bad Ass. Bad guy throws a knife and sticks Tagon in the eye with it. Tagon pulls it out of his socket and uses it to kill the bad guy and a Mook.
  • Mad Scientist: several, subverted in Kevyn. See the Characters page for details.
  • Magic Antidote: The regenerative tanks, which can rebuild an entire person as long as their brain survives.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!":
    • Invoked here after the original use of Credomar as a hyperspace death ray that can't be stopped by any existing defensive technology is revealed by Lota:
      Kevyn: This is where I defecate in sympathetic reflex for every defense planner in the galaxy.
    • The crew together lets loose one when trying a then-experimental FTL drive to escape an attack by the Attorney Collective.
  • Mathematician's Answer:
    Chelle: Why do you think the Barsoom Circus recruits new performers from all over the galaxy each month? People come to see the aliens do weird, alien stuff.
    Schlock: Are we joining a circus or a freak show?
    Chelle: [Deadpan] Yes.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Several of the names in the series have gags attached to them (e.g., 'Corporal Oleo' getting sliced in two at the end of an Overly Long Gag based on the saying 'like a hot knife through butter'; the planet Qlaviql, which appeared shortly after Tayler injured his clavicle in Real Life; the Tohdfraugs; Dr Todd, which stood for 'The Old Dead Doctor', who wasn't given a name until long after he was killed). Finally, Fanon holds that Kevyn and Breya's last name is meant to imply that they are descendants of a certain 21st century computer industry figure - who must have done very well, given that they are nobility back on Earth.
    • And, most significantly, the oft-injured Der Trihs.
    • The Reverend Theo Fobius. A comical inversion of "Theophilus" who crops up in both Luke and Acts in The Bible.
    • Most of the planets they encounter. And all the Battleplates are named after notable meteorite impacts with the earth (Tunguska, Chicxulub, etc.). Logically, since they've meant to prevent the near light-speed, weaponized version of that.
    • Then, of course, there's LOTA...
      Kevyn: That's the name. LOTA. It's your name. You live in those control systems. You are the Discontiguous Particle Acceleration System.
      Lota: Yes, that is a little megalomanicial.
      Kevyn: Only now "Lota" stands for "Long-gunner Of The Apocalypse".
      Lota: ...and Lota likes it.
  • Membership Token: A new member of the team decides to introduce the Challenge Coin tradition to Tagon's Toughs, to tie-in with the Real Life creation of a variety of Schlock Mercenary Challenge Coins created by Taylor for a Kickstarter campaign after he learned of the military tradition.
  • Memory Gambit: Schlock pulls off one by taking advantage of the origins of amorphs as artificial data storage devices, by sneaking some memories into [[http://www.schlockmercenary.com/2008-02-23 a bit of amorph goo stuck into one of his extra eyeballs.
  • Metaphorgotten:
    • Howard Tayler loves playing with metaphors, almost as much as Terry Pratchett. Breya even revokes one character's metaphor privileges after a particularly Squicky one.
    • This happens to Schlock, too.
      Ebby: I need to see if these lieutenant tabs will let me revoke metaphor privileges from a sergeant.
      Schlock: They don't. And even if they do, they don't.
  • Might Makes Right: Despite all the cynicism, this trope is usually averted. Oh, sure, the strong ones can do whatever they like, but at least no one pretends they have the moral highground.
  • Mindlink Mates: Kevyn likes the idea. Petey doesn't think it's going to work well for humans without related experience.
  • Mind Rape:
    • The "Mind-Rip," an invariably fatal method of extracting a being's memories. Funnily enough, it's been used by the "heroes" at least as often as the villains.
    • Elf accuses Petey of having “mindraped” Kevyn, but realizes it wasn’t so bad after calming down.
  • Mook Horror Show: The 2001 Schlocktoberfest has Schlock regenerating, eating his friends to increase his massnote , and then tearing apart what the transcript calls "Diamond Bugs". The Bugs are juveniles and they see Schlock as a "REGENERATING ZOMBIE CANNIBAL".
  • More Dakka: Used liberally, and forms the basis of Maxim 37: There is no "overkill". There is only "open fire" and "I need to reload".
  • Motion Capture Mecha: Used with sufficient delicacy to pick one's own nose.
  • My Name Is Inigo Montoya, You Killed My Father, Prepare to Die: All three show up in one panel of this strip.
    Gasht'g'd'g'tang: I'm Gasht'g'd'g'tang. Your gate-copy killed my son. Prepare to die.
  • Myth Arc:
    • It's subtle, but the state of the galaxy is influenced a great deal by the Toughs, whether they know it or not. It begins with Kevyn's invention of the teraport, then the gatekeepers siccing the partnership collective on them to suppress the technology. Which leads to The teraport wars, and then the war with the dark matter entities.
    • There's a second arc at play as well. Project Lazarus started as an even more subtle myth arc, but starting about here a lot of Chekhov's Guns were fired in quick succession, bringing the arc to the fore. The Lazarus arc may not be as vast as the Teraport Wars or the Andromeda War, but it's a lot more personal - and what with Petey having taken in General Xinchub and possibly allied with him, the two arcs are likely to fuse into one.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast:
    • The ship Serial Peacemaker. Ironically, it is the smallest and least dangerous ship the Toughs have used as their flagship.
    • As explained here, he name of the alien artificial intelligence T'kkkuts Afa literally translates as "Broken Wind". This shows why it is very important to consider cultural context when performing translations; a looser translation would be "Angry God". The looser translation is not misleading.
  • Nanomachines: used heavily in-story and played with a lot by the author.
  • Never Heard That One Before: In this strip Kathryn Flinders replies sarcastically that "that joke never gets old" when Schlock references an old joke about "military intelligence" being an oxymoron, after she's hired by the Toughs in the "Haven Hive" storyline.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: The Show Within a Show has Schlock gaining abilities which Amorphs don't actually have for the sake of the show's plot. This presents problems for Schlock later.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • The "older and wiser than everyone" Thurl, of all people, falls victim to this. After figuring out that Para and Tagii might have loyalties elsewhere, he goes and disconnects Tagii. The result? Since Tagii was jamming the Redhack, Gavs started morphing into Super Soldiers all over the place, the Toughs lost overwatch and are in an ill position to fight off anyone else since Ennesby doesn't have Tagii's processing power at his disposal and the Oisri startup sequence is running and threatening to squish everyone around into singularity. Oh, and Tagii goes banshee-insane, and tries to kill the entire crew. Of course he acted in the best interest of the Toughs based on the information he had, but he stands firmly in the Unwitting Instigator of Doom territory.
    • In a later plot-arc, the Toughs arrive at their new assignment aboard a massive space-borne construct, find that their entrance is blocked with wooden growths and promptly start an equally-massive fire blasting their way in.
  • Nigh Invulnerable: a number of characters, starting with Schlock and going up to god-like proportions.
  • Night Swim Equals Death: The plot of the Mahuitalotu arc kicks off this way, with one of the Toughs being eaten by a shark secretly introduced into the oceans.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot:
    • In one strip, the Pi talks about watching Jack-san Robo III, which features a ninja pirate cowboy with a monkey.
    • Turns out that the UNS is a government version of this. It's a combination of democracy, oligarchy, and every other sort of government you can think of, with some representatives elected, others chosen by lottery, and others with their seats explicitly and publicly bought. It's mentioned that this insane compromise of a legislature has been balancing on a knife's edge for centuries, and has great difficulty making any major decisions.
  • Nobody Poops: Perhaps a bit too averted at times.
  • No Endor Holocaust: Averted here.
  • No Fourth Wall: More frequently and noticeably in early strips.
    • During the "Pointy End of the Stick" storyline, Kevyn literally "met his maker" during a near-death experience, and instantly recognized him as the cartoonist, which led to this exchange:
      Kevyn: Are you killing me?
      The Cartoonist: No.
      Kevyn: Oh. Goo-
      The Cartoonist: Blood loss is killing you.
    • Generally speaking, the fourth wall disappears when someone is dying (usually only for that character). Thus, when the entire galaxy is dying, the fourth wall may as well be non-existent.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The tactical uses of this combined with Paranoia Fuel are nicely demonstrated here.
  • Not in My Contract: In the closing of the first Credomar story arc, Tagon protests to a UNS Commodore that it wasn't in the contract that they should distribute the food to a Credomar faction inclined towards annexation by the UNS.
    Commodore: You might have found our choice...objectionable.
    Tagon: Then we would have asked for more money.
    Commodore: Mercenaries...
    Tagon: You get what you pay for.
  • N-Word Privileges: Gorillas have, prior to the 31st century, been uplifted to human level sapience, and since then a lot of primate-related phrases have been deemed as being racist. Unless you're a gorilla yourself, apparently.
  • Odd Couple: Bunnigus and the Reverend (sounds like a sitcom title), now Happily Married, despite issues with Fake Memories.
  • Odd-Shaped Panel: Overlapping, with arrows between them.
  • Oh Crap: Many.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Ennesby sets an army of repair drones to singing "O Fortuna."
  • The Omnipotent AI Knew You Would Do That: Petey engineers many apparently coincidental events, eventually admitting to it here:
    Theo: So events like the recent chain of tiny manipulations that destroyed Pi's explosives won't constantly be shattering my illusions of free agency?
    Petey: No one else figured that out. You're very astute.
    Theo: Oh no. You knew we'd be having this conversation.
    Petey: Very, very, astute.
  • Only in It for the Money: It is about a band of mercs, after all - but even they won't agree to some things.
  • On Three: There is the occasion when a sniper has Schlock in his sights, while Schlock had just fired some grenades at the target. While the sniper tries to get an eye shot, Schlock holds up his fingers to count down from three to zero (ground zero) since his targeting computer told him how long it'll take the grenades to reach their target.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: When Ennesby, the resident Pungeon Master fails to deliver a fart joke after learning that an ancient (and very insane) space station AI's name translates to "Broken Wind", Tagon realizes just how bad the situation really is.
  • Other Me Annoys Me: Amorphs ran into a problem with TV version of them:
    Schlock: The TV-me is putting me-me out of a job. [...] Maybe we can kill another TV network. Is there still money in that?
  • Orwellian Retcon: "The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries" used to be "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates," and the "maxims" referred to as "rules" (with the explanation that each "habit" comprised several "rules"). Eventually, the publishers of the real "Seven Habits..." caught wind and made him change it. ("Eventually" here defined as "after over eight years, when the joke had already long since undergone Memetic Mutation...") To soften the blow however, Howard Tayler admitted he was glad for the excuse to make the change, not least because the new title could be used for The Merch.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted; religion is alive and well among many different cultures, and the Tagon's Toughs have their own chaplain (Reverend Theo). In his first appearance, Howard Tayler included an editor's note stating that this trope is what's "foolishly optimistic," not religion.
  • Outlaw Town: The starport and orbital station of Ghanj-rho are havens for smugglers, pirates, and slavers. It's also where Tagon's Toughs hired most of their non-Terran troops, and it's Sergeant Schlock's homeworld (though he was one of the "primitive natives" and left years earlier as a slave).
  • Outrun the Fireball: Averted. Major Charper's shuttle fails to outrun this particular (nuclear) fireball. Don't worry, he survives.
  • Overused Running Gag: In-Universe, this is what Tagon considers Shodan's continuing to bring up the accident during the Mall Cop Command arc where Tagon got a fork stuck in his eye.
    Tagon: Clever, but I bet a professional comedian would have moved on to new material by now.
  • Overly Prepared Gag: One of the ships the company gets was christened the "Serial Peacemaker."
    Ennesby: Everyone stand by to pour some Serial Peacemaker into a big bowl of "no-problem."
    Tagon: How long have you been waiting to use that stupid "Cereal" pun?
    Ennesby: Ever since you let me name the ship, sir.
  • Painting the Medium: Characters routinely lean on or brace themselves against panel borders.
  • Peeling Potatoes: parodied here.
  • People Jars: At one point, the author gets away with a full-frontal nude shot of Elf in a regeneration tank by making her too nude to have skin. "I'm as naked as the day I was born. And then some."
  • Perpetual Poverty:
  • Perpetual Storm: Book 14, "Broken Wind", features a planet-sized gigahabitat that rotates to provide gravity. The resulting coriolis force has produced a permanent "sideways hurricane" in one part of the habitat, when a pair of baffle walls designed to prevent just that are intentionally knocked down.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: Ennesby has a habit of doing this. Words, phrases, quips, and puns. Ye gads, the puns...
    Schlock: Ennesby gave me a shorter word to say all that, Sir. 'Assassineated'.
    Tagon: Ennesby needs to stop inventing words.
  • Phrase Catcher: Schlock's faster than he looks. Finally lampshaded:
    Pau: Don't worry about me! Worry about that turd-tentacled monster! He's faster than he -
    Schlock: Say "Looks."
  • Physics Plus: Gravity manipulation (but not generation — ships are built around spheres of neutronium as sources of gravity to manipulate), a process which is as well developed as electronics, and playing the result to its natural conclusions; ubiquitous flight, Deflector Shields, traversable wormholes (one example which Justifies a Time Travel storyline), and quantum teleportation. Some find the easy nanotechnology a bit of a stretch.
  • Plasma Cannon: Schlock's signature BHG-9000 plasguns, plural because they tend to explode at the drop of a hat.
  • Population Control: Earth has a gene pool protection act that required Doctor Bunnigus's parents to have a Designer Baby.
  • Portal Network: with an incredibly dark secret; It copies everyone who uses it each time they use it. The Gatekeepers then interrogate the copies and kill them. They know everything about everybody without anyone's knowledge. Seven million people every minute. For hundreds of thousands of years. Technically, they meant well - the Pa'anuri made it clear that either the Gatekeepers would prevent the use of Teleporters and Transporters or they'd kill the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • Powered Armor: Besides the standard stuff, the Toughs are equipped with low-profile (to the point of invisibility) armor built into their uniforms that helps diffuse energy weapons and lets them fly.
  • The Power of Friendship: A twisted sort of application of the trope. The Toughs can't count on their allies, because they're mercenaries and your allies might be the guys you're hired to kill tomorrow; they can't count on any of their respective home governments, for pretty much the same reason; they certainly can't count on their employers, who are frequently known to try to backstab the Toughs since, well, they hired a band of mercenaries to begin with, so why not add "screwing over those who make a living with violence"? But they know they can count on their friends (which, admittedly, is usually limited to "each other", but the sentiment is there).
  • Private Military Contractors: The Toughs and much of their competition that isn't a star nation's military.
  • Projected Man: most of the shipboard AIs; also, Ennesby before he joined the crew and got a body of sorts.
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • Pi's paranoid delusions are sometimes right on the money.
      Pi: But the plan is absurd. Suborning Gavcorps would be terribly expensive, and no military will admit to having genocidal nanotech on hand...
    • Karl Tagon's response to seeing Kaff Tagon's nanite-riddled girlfriend start having a seizure - put his suit-helmet up in case of bio-weaponry. His wife wasn't so lucky...
  • Psychic Powers: It is stated early on by the narrator that someone with "psychic sight" can see the bullet destined to kill someone. This is dropped in favor of harder sci-fi, but psychic powers such as (radio) telepathy get referenced every once in a while.
  • Psychotic Manchild: Probably the best description of Schlock's attitude. He does show care and loyalty to his friends despite his status as a sociopath, but enjoys fighting too much to care about the blazing hot maimery he spews from his plasma cannon on anyone but his friends.
  • Punctuation Shaker:
    • The F'Sherl-Ganni typically have three apostrophes in their names
    • And they call a certain enemy the Paan'uri, or is it Paa'nuri, or Pa'anuri?
  • Pungeon Master: Ennesby, being an entertainment AI, used a databank of puns across 50 languages.
  • Quote-to-Quote Combat: A notable exchange occurs after LOTA teraports New Credomar out of the cannon barrel.
    Kevyn: If you say "I told you so," I get to say "my sarcasm is more accurate than your paranoia."
    Ennesby: That's fair.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The misfits and more exotic alien members of the team are all assembled in a squad led by Schlock himself. Tagon and his command staff treat them as an elite force they don't so much deploy as unleash.
    • And barring some of the only remaining founding members of Tagon's Toughs (as seen at the start of the strip,) they represent the longest-serving and most experienced members of the company (experienced as Toughs, anyway.) The command staff tend to listen when they speak, even if they vastly outrank them. (It doesn't hurt that Sgt. Schlock once literally owned the company, and still owns as much or more stock as the command staff.))
  • Razor Floss: Tagon's "Dorothy System" which strings a razor-sharp wire between his boots when he clicks his heels together.
  • Recursive Ammo: Referenced once, but beam attacks tend to be more common when battles occur.
  • Recursive Canon: The very inaccurate Show Within a Show licensed adaptation of the Toughs' adventures, which inappropriately chibifies the crew and exaggerates Schlock's abilities.
  • Recursive Reality: In the library at Tinth-Pilkra, as part of an Old Media Are Evil joke, on a shelf in the foreground can be found compilations of early twenty-first century webcomics, including Sluggy Freelance... and Schlock Mercenary itself.
  • Remember the New Guy: Justified. The Toughs are a mercenary company anywhere between several dozen and a few hundred strong, not all of them identified. Introducing a new character can and has been as simple as giving one of them a name and a job that lets the audience know what he does.
  • Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: When M'Conger is boggling at the sheer size of a mere portion of the artificial environment they're exploring, Legs dismisses it as no big deal.
    Legs: You weren't with us for the Buuthandi. Engineering feats lose their punch after you've popped the containment system somebody built around a star.
  • Retcon: Due to trademark issues, the Big Book of War of the series needed to be retitled. Formerly "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates", it is now "The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries".
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: It's not clear what sort of democracy Shufgar promoted, but his methods aren't much better than those of cannibalistic aristocracy he fights.
  • Ridiculously Human Robot: Human in basic emotions, very not human in every other part of their outlook.
  • Right Behind Me:
    • Captain Tagon falls victim to this trope when he starts to badmouth General Xinchub, only to have Massey point out that the general is right behind him.
    • Captain Gasca tells the admiral how the current intelligence chief is too cautious. And that's when said chief appears to remind him that if her predecessor had been more cautious, he would be less dead.
    • Kevyn gets this pulled on him with the Gav ambassador aboard the Touch and Go, thanks in part to a "helpful" Tagii.
    • Karl Tagon gets the drop on one of the Parkata Urbatsu performers, who finds out that Karl resents the "nice" part of "nice old man".
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: This Qlaviql ore freighter captain is in command of the only ship able to respond to an attack on his homeworld by a frigate armed with a powerful plasma lance. With guts and a "dream mess" created from the ore mined from asteroids, the frigate is destroyed. This ultimately results in his being declared the leader of the planet.
  • Right on Queue: A whole story arc is based around this. Luna's bureaucracy was so slow, and the queue so immensely long, only the oldest people in line remembered it ever moving. There were religions dedicated to the idea of reaching the front. The Toughs thought they'd been hired to disperse a crowd of rioters, but found that it was just the line for the bureaucracy.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Averted. The alien population is extremely diverse and well worth studying if you'd like to break out of that anthrocentric mold. The title character doesn't even have a head or a bipedal humanoid form. It's even played for laughs sometimes.
    Bounty Hunter: Everyone lie down, and put your hands behind your head!
    Tetrisoid: I can't lie down.
    Uplifted elephant: I don't have hands.
    Unioc: I don't have a head.
    Bounty Hunter: It's times like this I start feeling really, really bigoted.
  • Rugby Is Slaughter: All sports, from Ballet to Deathball, share a league. One where spiking the ball with high explosives is allowed. Rugby is not permitted.
  • Rule of Funny: "[One interpretation of this scene is that] the Universe required a punchline (which it does, every day) and warped physics in such a way that the conversation was audible."
  • Running Gag:
    • The most enduring example is that Schlock looks like, well, a giant pile of crap. Nearly everyone who sees him for the first time mistakes him for a moving pile of poop. And when not, they still say it.
    • Der Trihs ending up as a head in a jar; Kevyn surviving repeated deaths; Schlock crawling, or squeezing, through air vents and pipes; the names of the ships in Petey's fleet; the Toughs killing lawyer drones on sight; the Gavs. In Book 11, the recurring question What Would Schlock Do? Schlock later shows up to deliver a superb "Show Not Tell" answer. "This."
    • Every time Kathryn gets her bus repaired, the Toughs hijack it frequently enough that its story is delivered as a running gag.
    • It's almost impossible to keep track of the amount of times when kitties are involved and Schlock tries to eat them. Fortunately for the kitties, he never does.
    • Schlock being faster than he looks, much to the surprise of those facing him.
    • The Vomiting Cop in "A Hand of Acey's." Yes, the Incredibly Lame Pun is Lampshaded.
    • The in-universe Schlock Mercenary TV show, it comes around every now and then to overshadow the protagonists and causes them inconveniences.
    • There's also recurrent phrases mostly from the "Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries," such as "Pillage, then burn" or "There is no overkill. There is only 'open fire' and 'time to reload.'"
    • One that was used heavily early on but shows up less frequently in later strips are the use of numerous variations on Open Mouth, Insert Foot.
    • Schlock's plasma cannon getting blown up. especially when he and the people he's with are in desperate need of heavy weaponry.
  • Sapient Ship: it's a rare exception when a capital ship is flown by a human pilot or even a mobile robot. Almost every armed starship we see is inhabited by its own AI, who "is" the ship and considers the whole structure its body.
  • Sarcasm Failure: You know the situation is dire when Ennesby neglects to make a fart joke about "Broken Wind".
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Regularly.
    • Such as with Renault clumsily hitting on Elf prompted her to "fill in some key details".
    • Tagon didn't agree with an employer on some important terms. His solution is to quit and then ask Pibald for "his favorite" (which is bound to be colorful) scenario for a potential attack, inducing the employer's security chief into their little Club Properly Paranoid in seconds.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: Implied as the reason behind the Ob'enn's war-like nature.
    Psycho-Bear Lieutenant: Talking to inferior species beats getting killed by them.
    Psycho-Bear Captain: Don't let the chaplain hear you say that.
  • Scenery Censor: gets to ridiculous levels in The Sharp End of the Stick, when the Toughs wind up naked after being captured and stripped of their clothing and armor. Lampshaded in the note to this strip, where Schlock's arms being spread wide for a yawn cover the lower areas of Elf and Kevyn.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Cheerfully lampshaded: The narrator will go into great effort to describe exactly how big the universe/galaxy/star system is, and how abysmally low the chances of some event happening are, and then the event will happen. A lot of these are Justified much, much later.
  • Scoundrel Code: The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: This is what the structure the Toughs were defending in "Random Access Memorabilia" (Osiri) is thought to be at first, a Precursor prison containing a dark matter entity. The truth turns out to be a lot more complicated.
  • Self-Deprecation:
  • Serial Escalation: Approaches this at times. How many times can you get paid for a single job? Tagon's Toughs' current record is five.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: When Kevyn travels back and therefore the Bad Future is erased, this is effectively conveyed with a panel that imitates the look of loading a saved game in DOS.
    Your current game will be lost. Reload from previous save? Y/N
    > Y
    Loading...
  • Shout-Out: Has its own page.
  • Shoulder Cannon: The Powered Armor developed by Tailor for the Toughs has the option of mounting a cannon on each shoulder of the suit, which can also detach and function on their own as "Paul-drones".
  • Slasher Smile:
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Quite cynical.
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness: Despite the cynicism of the strip, it rarely takes itself seriously.
  • Smart People Play Chess: AIs play chess for fun. You can tell when one of them is seriously outclassed because his opponent will be able to predict the entire game before the first move is played.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Murtaugh combines this with Altum Videtur here. Working out the translation shows that it also adds in Getting Crap Past the Radar.
  • Stomach of Holding: Schlock is this. Overlaps with Hyperspace Arsenal, given that he's been known to keep a substantial number of large weapons, and on occasion an armoured spacesuit big enough to fit himself in...
  • The Soulless: The Reverend doesn't think that AIs have souls. He mentions this to Schlock, who observes that's he's an artificial life form too, and wonders whether one might acquire a soul by eating someone else..
  • Space Based Weapon Has Cutoff Range: Averted here, where the note for the strip explains that the beam will essentially continue on until it hits something more substantial than interstellar dust.
  • Space People: The F'sherl-ganni/Gatekeepers, to the point of being able to survive vacuum.
  • Sparse List of Rules: The Maxims, of which there are seventy but only about 35 have been revealed.
  • Spit Take: Kevyn gets several in a row, starting here.
  • Spy Speak: In this strip, Maximillian Haluska's use of field operative terminology gave away he was more than just a well-equipped thug. The "Aunt Amy" and "Uncle Bob" thing comes up again here, in conversation with Para Ventura.
  • Starfish Aliens: Schlock is really, really weird. Most of the others we meet at least breathe oxygen, and a lot of them are something vaguely resembling humanoid. But the Pa'anuri are the weirdest of all, consisting of dark matter that can't even exist in this dimension.
  • Stealth Cigarette Commercial: The in-universe Plasma Cannon Safety Coloring Book, printed jointly by Magic Dreamland Entertainment and Strohl Munitions.
  • Stop Helping Me!:invoked
  • Story Breaker Power: Petey could deal with most of the issues the heroes face on a whim. He has purposely done things in a less efficient way just to give them something to do in a few storylines since his ascension to Fleetmind.
  • Stripperiffic: Parodied.
  • Strongly Worded Letter: Used several times:
    • Once the Fleetmind starts interfering in governments:
      President Mancala: I'll send you the full report. This kind of opportunistic militarism cannot be tolerated. The United Nations of Sol and allied planetary Governments will not stand idly by while sovereign galactic powers are overthrown, crushed, or assimilated by the Fleetmind.
      Ambassador Breya: What's our plan, Mister President? Do I need to deliver a declaration of war, and then withdraw the embassy?
      President Mancala: Don't be ridiculous. Your job is to lodge a protest, using the strongest possible diplomatic language.
      Ambassador Breya: Ah. And how is that different from "standing idly by?"
      President Mancala: If we were standing idly by, we would not be lodging a protest.
      Ambassador Breya: Wow. We are fearsome.
    • And just to rub it in:
      Note: The League of Galactics is a millennia-old body of diplomats and other ne'er-do-wells representing almost two hundred thousand different governments throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. It has a rich and varied history, liberally garnished with back-patting tales of heroic diplomacy — studies conducted, sanctions administered, statements released, and reprimands served.
      It has about as much effect on key galactic events as central Asian rainfall has on the mean high tide in the Gulf of Mexico. Brandishing a reprimand from the League of Galactics is only marginally worse than threatening to cut off one's access to the Ron Popeil Shopping Channel.
    • ''I'm here to lodge a protest. I'll let you read it yourself. The formal document uses some of the strongest words you can write in Galstandard West without violating grammatical checksum.''
    • As far as Schlock himself is concerned, the words "temporary restraining order" mean "come back with guns."
    • Subverted on one occasion however.
      Ennesby: Fine. I've forwarded [the nasty-gram I sent to Xinchub] to you for your expert critique.
      Some time later:
      Tagon: I see you've just been exposed to Ennesby's Weapons-Grade Vocabulary.
  • Subspace Ansible: The Hypernet is able to reach anywhere instantly, unless it's being specifically jammed.
  • Super Senses: Schlock has superhuman senses of vision, hearing, and smell. Part of what makes him so dangerous.
  • Super Serum: Soldier-boosts; illegal if done without a license, but that doesn't stop anyone.
  • Super Soldier: Several, with the Doyts being particularly notable.
  • Super Spit: One of the abilities the Magic Cyrokit gives Doythaban.
  • Superweapon Surprise: Implied in the form of Maxim 24: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a really big gun."
  • Take Our Word for It: The artist knows full well that sometimes the readers' imaginations can come up with a far more epic scene than whatever he might've had planned, so he employs this.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Averted, here, due to one character having far less time to chat than he thought.
  • Talking Your Way Out: Most characters employ this (even the supposedly dumb ones) to some degree, but Kathryn in particular is an artist. No small wonder, considering her background. Case in point here, talking her way out of being held at gunpoint.
  • Tank Goodness: Flying Tank goodness for the win.
  • Technology Uplift: While hiding out on a primitive planet the company chaplain convinces Kevyn to build a robot to uplift the natives, unfortunately they throw it in a volcano.
  • Teleport Interdiction: Teraport Area Denial systems were introduced within days of Kevyn making the blueprints for the Teraport open-source. Removing the Tough's massive tactical advantage.
  • Tempting Fate:
  • Theme Initials: all of the PD Fleet ships have names with the initials 'P.D.'[1] Their fleet of warships contains, among others, ships named Pterodactyl, Perjurious Discourse, Pretentious Drivel, Predictably Damaged (I-VI), Priority Delivery, Painstakingly Defenestrated, Polysyllabic Designation, and more.
  • The X of Y: All the Ob'enn ship names follow a strict pattern: The [Object] of [Pretentious Adjective] [Pretentious Principle]. If it is a defensive ship, the object will be a piece of armor or article of clothing; if offensive, a pointy handweapon of some sort. Lampshaded when Tagon was told his recently-acquired fabber is of Ob'enn manufacture:
    Tagon: Let's slap a drive and crew quarters on it and christen it the Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance.
    Kevyn: Making fun of Ob'enn ship names is like shooting fish in the barrel of circular swimming.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill:
    • Routinely. Discussed in this strip.
    • Maxim 37: is "There is no overkill. There is only 'open fire' and 'I need to reload'.
    • And Maxim 34: "If you're leaving scorchmarks, you need a bigger gun." (First mentioned here, sans number.
    • After Karl Tagon and Timeclone Kevyn are kidnapped, the Toughs have the following exchange:
      Thurl: Whoever took him was not subtle.
      Kevyn: Broken furniture?
      Thurl: Craters.
  • There Was a Door: Petey tends to use unorthodox methods of entering spaceships, seen, for example, here.
  • Three-Point Landing: Tagon here, particularly impressive in that he also did a flip.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Both Petey and Lota are willing to threaten to use this tactic. Of course, Petey's version is more a teralock, but still...
    Lota: Should you so much as approach those systems Lota will be required to fire you.
    Kevyn: Okay, I get it.
    Lota: Out an airlock.
  • Third-Person Person: Lota not only refers to Lota in the third person, but insists that everyone else does so as well.
  • This Ain't Rocket Surgery: One plotline invokes both halves of this in quick succession.
  • Time Abyss: The Really Old Dude and Very Old Guy, members of the species that originally created the amorphs.
    Fobottr Tenant: Are you claiming that your people have been on the surface for over ten million years?
    Rod: Oh, my people have been down there for much longer than that. No, I was just talking about me, personally.
  • Time for Plan B: Recurring.
  • Time Travel:
    • Kevyn manages it in the effort to stop Captain Tagon from being killed, by jumping back to before it happens to stop it.
    • The Command and Conquer chapter returns to the time travel concept, giving hope that time travel can be performed using 140 character messages.
  • Title Drop: The seventh strip. The individual physical book collections also have their titles dropped at some point during the events portrayed within.
  • Toilet Humor:
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Viaton sniper lands an anonymous news interview - and gives his full name on live TV.
    • There's also the Hauling robot operator, whose hands followed his own in motion, who was bragging he was good enough he could throw boulders with the same hands he could pick his nose with... and in the process of demonstrating, pinched his own head off.
  • Too Much Information: Comes up from time to time, often related to Schlock's biological functions.
  • Torture Technician: U.N.S. Colonel DeHanns
  • Totem Pole Trench: This strip.
  • Try Not to Die:
  • Tsundere: Most of the female cast has their moments, but Elf is the most prominent example, especially earlier in the strip.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Referenced, and rejected by a gate clone of one man's wife, here.
  • Unfortunate Names: "Uniocs" are only known as such because they decided it would be preferable to being known by the name of their home planet, Oth. Unioc, meaning "One-Eye" is merely a bit silly. But being called "Other" would have been politically difficult, having a meaning similar to "foreigner".
  • Unit Confusion: Being reasonably hard SF, it's usually pretty good, but with the occasional slip-up.
    • Especially early on, "watt" would occasionally be used as a unit of energy instead of power.
    • Kerchak made this mistake as late as 2010, but that time the author claims it was intentional.
    • Upon getting his head around that one, Tayler made the different error of using "terawatt-nanoseconds" to mean "an incomprehensibly huge unit of energy"note .
    • Gav once refers to the "radius" of a Negative Space Wedgie where the author probably meant "diameter" (a slip-up from him being a bit less plausible than one from Kerchak), since a later strip has it swallowing a ship at a bit over half the "radius" given.
  • Unnecessarily Large Interior: An employer of Tagon's Toughs is the Oafan, whose current space station is as large as a planet, is big enough to stuff the planet Mars inside, and has a docking area big enough to dock battleplates, the largest spaceships the U.N. has. How many battleplates could dock inside? "All of them."
  • Unsound Effect:
  • Unusual Euphemism: Used rather often, and often to hilarious effect.
    Tagon: (discovering he's just been stabbed in the eye with cutlery) Oh. Fork.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Invoked in this strip, where Gasht'g'd'g'tang explicitly says he's not going to discuss F'sherl Ganni plans, especially with the narrator, as "nefarious plans must remain secret".
  • Uplifted Animal: Humans have uplifted elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, and possibly others.
  • Virtual Celebrity: The New Sync Boys.
  • Virtual Reality Interrogation: Creating a simulation in which the subject has escaped and begun musing on how he got into such a mess is the first phase of the infamous Mind-Rip.
  • Visual Pun: Check out the "waldo".
  • Vomiting Cop: Exaggerated as part of a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation parody arc. The cop in question has been a forensic specialist for 3 years and still vomits at every case like a rookie — as well as any mere graphic description. On the other hand, he's helped put away 16 murderers and lost 40 pounds.
  • Wave Motion Gun: Credomar.
    Pi: Hyperspace Death-Ray. That's what Credomar is.
    Lota: Correction: "Credomar" is a city-state full of coddled humans who currently reside on a habitable moon of their very own. The remains of their station...THAT is a hyperspace death-ray.
  • Weapons-Grade Vocabulary: Ennesby gives the trope its name here in a message sent to Xinchub after his attempt to have the Serial Peacemaker destroyed with an extra terapedo snuck into the ship's armaments.
    Ceeta: My stomach is in my throat right now. It's trying to spit acid on the parts of my brain that remember reading his message.
  • Webcomic Time:
  • We Are as Mayflies: Humans have much shorter lifespans than many alien races, as even Xinchub will admit.
  • We ARE Struggling Together:
    • In the original timeline, the galaxy is destroyed because the governments are bickering and fighting over minor intelligence leaks instead of banding together to save themselves. Luckily, things go more smoothly the second time around, though only because Petey first blackmailed them and then assimilated their fleets.
    • Book 13 (Random Access Memorabilia) involves two different UNS intelligence agencies fighting over the Gav-owned artifact Oisri. Those under the command of Admiral Emm try to capture the artifact by hacking the Gav's backups so that they'll resurrect as loyal soldiers, while the second group tries to stop them.
    • Book 14 (Broken Wind) has the mercenaries themselves having severe chain of command issues. The Toughs are loyal to Captain Kaff Tagon, the Parkata Urbatsu team is loyal to General Karl Tagon, and the emancipated warship Bristlecone they're riding on is loyal to Para Ventura. Then there's the fact that the former owner of Bristlecone, Alexa Murtagh, is (possibly unconsciously) making a subtle power play by issuing challenge coins to the Toughs. Liz, Nick's girlfriend and the chef's new assistant, is the first one to notice this.
  • Wham Episode: Schlocktoberfest in general. When it's Halloween time, the story often takes a darker turn and characters will die. (Though, not always permanently.)
  • Wham Line:
  • Which Me?:
    • The wormgate system creates a perfect duplicate of anyone sent through it, which is kept for interrogation by the Gatekeepers, who then kill the clone. The first characters who suffer from this problem are Doythaban and his gateclone Haban II, but this later becomes a galaxy-wide problem when billions of these clones are released. However, no-one suffers from it more than Gav, who clones himself 950 million times to escape, leading to an truly epic case of this trope.
      Gav: There are still over nine hundred million Gav clones out there. My activities of the last year can only be understood statistically.
    • At one point the Terran government tries to charge Kevyn with treason for mass-releasing the teraport designs. He points out that it was his now-deceased clone who released that information, not him, and thus he can't be charged with anything.
    • It also leads to some rather bizarre court cases since there are some legal issues where the gate clones are not always considered separate individuals. In one case, a person had two death penalties against him for Manual Operation under the Influence. When his gate clone turns up, the judge rules that, since the clone was created after the commission of the crime, it is perfectly legal for them to apply the second death penalty to the gate clone.
      Judge: Oh, and you used up all your appeals the first time around. Sorry.
    • In the "A Hand of Acey's" storyline, a gate clone attempts to murder the original version of himself, but instead gets killed by the original acting in self defense. Since the clone and the original are legally the same person in that particular jurisdiction, the final police verdict ends up being attempted suicide.
    • The Gavs eventually found a way to differentiate themselves from one another, to the point where they are barely recognizable as Gav-clones. Especially the females.
    • Kevyn has to go through this again, during his attempt to Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Subverted to death with the Ob'enn, and summarized here.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Usually subverted, in that it's not being non-human that makes killing someone acceptable. It's getting in the way of the Toughs completing a contract.
  • Whole Plot Reference: When Tagon's Toughs are on shore leave on a resort planet, they run afoul of the same Obstructive Bureaucrat types as seen in Jaws.
  • World Shapes: the Bu'uthandis are a variant of a Type I Dyson Sphere (see also Hollow World), while the Zoojacks are literally shaped like toy jacks, and the Tinth look like giant subway sandwiches
  • World's Shortest Book: Inverted:
    Tagon: Vog, you're about a zillion years old. What you don't know can probably be written on the back of your hand.
  • Worrying for the Wrong Reason: This.
    Ennesby: Uh-oh. Those look like real police.
    Tagon: Uh-oh. Elf is smiling at them.
  • Worst News Judgement Ever: In this strip a Hypernet News Network story item goes into detail about a zoo brontosaur projectile vomiting over 300 people, and then only gives a brief blurb about the possible deaths of millions of people by the collapse of a damaged Space Elevator.
  • Worthy Opponent: Pranger's Bangers. Much ass-kicking ensues when they team up on a mission.
  • Writing for the Trade: Not so much in the earliest days, but now, oh yeah. As of this writing, the latest complete arc, Book 11: Massively Parallel started March 02, 2009 and ended 637 strips later.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Schlock either sent Jud to hire reinforcements or to an early death. According to Chelle, "We can hope for both right?"
  • X Meets Y:
  • Yellow Peril: Professor Pau. Prefers to wax his 'tache rather than go for the traditional Fu-Manchu style, however.
  • You Are in Command Now: Happens a couple of times during really bad crises, like during the HTRN takedown story arc which left Elf in command when more senior officers were unavailable.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On
  • You Kill It, You Bought It:
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame
    Petey: I know I've hit a rough patch when a violent, amorphous sociopath is my best character reference.
    Tagon: He's the only reference I'll trust. What's that say about me?
  • Your Mom: ...weighs six tons and kisses with two meters of muscled trunk.
  • You Monster!: Captain Tagon is called a monster by one of the Parkata Urbatsu members, when he informs them that there will be no video of the big chase scene involving them and the Toughs because all the PU cameras were destroyed before the actual pursuit began.
  • Yowies and Bunyips and Drop Bears, Oh My: Referenced in this strip by D'amico, in regards to Petey.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: Sooner or later, they all seem to do this.

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alternative title(s): Schlock Mercenary
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