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  • 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: Part of the deal made with Admiral Emm in exchange for not killing the Toughs is that the company members have their memories altered, with false memories implanted to replace the real things. It's later reversed, with Petey's help, for most of the crew.
  • Fan Disservice:
  • 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 Drug: Captain Tagon mentions, in a reminiscence about what happened to a unit given far too much room for their quarters, something called "hyperjuana", which from the name is probably some kind of extra powerful marijuana equivalent.
  • 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.
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    • 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: fast does a fart move?
    Ennesby: *shocked* Mother of methane! Farts are flammable!
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Gravitic technology is used for both protection and offense ("gravy-guns"), as well as sundry other uses such as Artificial Gravity and ship propulsion.
    • The UNS Tunguska, like all Battleplates, has extremely precise control of its ability to sling around gravity, lifting the Toughs into the air as a show of force, transmitting a message by using gravity to rattle the ship's hull, and even gravitically controlling Tagon to shoot Jak in the head. All of this is notable in that it probably is NOT Art Major Physics.
    • The Pa'anuri, being dark matter-based Eldritch Abominations, have this as their only way of interacting with regular matter. Considering they're really pissed at organics for teraport usage, that interaction usually involves crushing.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe:
    • 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: Troops from the company on the ground have on occasion been rescued by close air support provided by their home ship, as shown here and here, for example.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: During the book The Sharp End of the Stick, a group of Toughs are captured and stripped naked. Assorted objects intervene to prevent anything "naughty" from actually showing, at one point even Lampshaded in one strip's author's note, explaining that Schlock's arms spread in a yawn conveniently covers body parts for which there was nothing in the scenery to block the view.
  • Hand Cannon:
  • 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 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 DeHaans.
  • 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.
  • Assimilation Plot: 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 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 where Schlock uses his amorphous nature to travel through ventilation ducts, 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 badass. 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:
  • 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 a bit of amorph goo stuck into one of his extra eyeballs.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Generally played straight. Although Tagon has several women in his company, the majority are officers, and the only two among the grunts are Elizabeth and Legs (neither of whom are human). While the female members of Tagon's command have suffered injuries throughout the series, the only members of the company who have actually been Killed Off for Real have been male. More female characters outside Tagon's crew have died, but even then not enough to avert this trope.
  • 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.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Ennesby uses General Xinchub's detonator codes to send him a message demonstrating Ennesby's extensive obscenity collection, which is only vaguely described after the fact.
    Tagon: I see you've just been exposed to Ennesby's weapons-grade vocabulary.
    Jevee 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.
  • 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 = 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.
  • O.O.C. 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.


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