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Webcomic / Skin Horse

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Skin Horse is a webcomic written and drawn by Shaenon K. Garrity (of Narbonic fame) and co-written by Jeffrey Channing Wells. Launched in December, 2007. On November 5, 2008 the webcomic became syndicated on GoComics. Within the comic, Project Skin Horse (named after a character in The Velveteen Rabbit) is the name of a government department devoted to helping the U.S.'s non- and part-human citizens.

    The Story So Far 
  • "Cowardly Lion": A day in the life of the Project Skin Horse employees as they go to bring in a genetically-enhanced lion.
  • "The Borrowers": Tip tries to make peace among the many forms of intelligent life that have developed in the office basement over several decades.
  • "Wild Things": Unity urges Sweetheart to go on a destructive rampage.
  • "I Can Fly": The team investigates the case of a military helicopter that used to be a video game nerd named Nick.
  • "Dead Dogs"/"Big Bad Wolves": Tip is in charge of a mission to Alaska. Involves werewolves and sapient canids.
  • "Tin Soldier": It appears to be Moustachio's turn to go on a rampage. Also features the return of Dr. Lee from "I Can Fly".
  • "Brave Little Toasters": Gorgeous and FUNKY mad scientist brought in to repair Moustachio due to his breakdown from the events in Tin Soldier.
  • "And All the Lovely Ladies": Tip and Konstantin must mud-wrestle. The ladies of SH gather to watch.
  • "Come Swing From My Branches": The SH team is mobilized to serve notice to a Genius Loci, a sentient swamp.
  • "If I Ran the Zoo": Unity and Nick are sent to investigate the mysterious fire at The Cypress, while Sweetheart and Tip go to a talking animal convention.
  • "Once And Future": Unity wants to be a Notary Public, which coincidentally involves becoming part of an Ancient Order in Idaho, where Dr. Lee is looking into rogue robot sightings.
  • "Choose" While Sweetheart deals with issues, two former acquaintances of Nick investigate his disappearance.
  • "A Wrinkle in Time": A short guest-written story in which Dave Davenport's time machine goes wrong, and an infinite number of Arties try to steal Tip's dress.
  • "Railway Children": SH and Anasigma (represented by Dr Lee, Violet and Sergio) are both invited to a mobile city of mad scientists and must compete to see which gets to represent them to the outside world.
  • "My House Is Me": The team visits a disused amusement park with sapient animatronics, to try to get some answers about the Old War.
  • "My Brother Sam is Dead": Dr Lee perfects her brain-dispensing machine to improve human/zombie relations. Skin Horse escorts her to California, where Dead Rights legislation is being enacted.
  • "The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day": Skin Horse get back from California to discover that Gavotte has gone stupid, and everyone needs the Basement Dweller files.
  • "Grillo Parlante": The return of Jonah and Nera from "Choose", who now run a conspiracy website.
  • "Mixed-Up Files": Mr Green does some exposition, Tigerlily Jones escapes from the Institute, and Skin Horse reforms to infiltrate A-Sig.
  • "Looking Glass Land": The new Skin Horse gets organised and visits a parallel universe where "My Brother Sam" went differently.
  • "Can't Catch Me": Ginny joins Skin Horse and goes on an entirely routine mission where nothing could possibly go wrong...
  • "What Big Teeth": Sweetheart tries to get ready for a meeting.
  • "Purple Waves": With the Department of Irradiation defunct, Chris and Marcie are given the chance to regain their irradiator, but they're not the only ones after it.
  • "Yes, Virginia": Skin Horse has a Secret Santa to improve morale.
  • "Fun for Some": Nick playtests the VR Whimsyworld, with the help of Baron Mistycorn and a familiar AI.
  • "Ghosts I Have Been": A guest-written story in which Remy tries to help a spirit possessing an alligator.
  • "Sure as Your Born": Skin Horse go on an unofficial mission to support a vote for nonhuman rights, and discover an old enemy is involved.
  • "Unsinkable": Jonah and Nera investigate the fallout from the previous story and encounter Skin Horse, AG-I and a sea serpent.
  • "The Hundred Dresses": Sweetheart uses drone technology to go on a date. It doesn't go well.
  • "Angry at the Sky": Some kind of weather control threatens all Skin Horse's clients, and Mr Green is revealed.
  • "Figgs and Phantoms": Mr Green makes his move. Virginia finally learns what extirpation is.
  • "The Iron Man": Tigerlily gets her mojo back and builds a really big robot.
  • "Green Noah": Robot Fight Club.
  • "Swiftly I Glide": The team infiltrate an A-Sig facility with surprising ease but conflicting mission goals.
  • "A Life in the Woods": Tip finds himself on a new team with a familiar mission.


Tropes used in this comic include:

  • Action Prologue: "Come swing from my branches", and Looking Glass Land.
  • Affably Evil: Sweetheart's Mad Scientist creator, Captain Bram. Well, what else do you expect from a guy whose evil plan revolves around adorable puppies? Given her past activities Dr Lee probably counts as well, despite her improving and being on the protagonist's side.
  • Agent Peacock: Tip Wilkin, the casanova crossdresser who's also handy to have around in a crisis (as long as he's wearing the right outfit).
  • Alien Animals: Bee swarms, including Gavotte and Pavane. They came to earth to monitor the emergence of intelligent life.
  • Almighty Janitor: (WARNING! Massive spoiler!) It turns out Mr Green/Goldbug, the mysterious guy running the conspiracy, is actually Ira, Skin Horse's supposedly mind-fried security guard.
  • Advertisement:
  • Amusement Park of Doom: The Little House of Wonders.
  • Anal Probing: Inverted. Unity once probed an alien.
  • Analogy Backfire: Project Skin Horse, which helps sapient non-humans function in society, is named for the mentor figure in The Velveteen Rabbit. Artie points out that that book ends really badly for most of the non-human characters other than the protagonist.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Notaries Public (not Notary Publics) have been around since Cicero.
  • And Zoidberg:
  • Angst? What Angst?: Invoked in-universe by Sweetheart [to Unity]: "Do you ever angst?" Since Unity is programmed to be a weapon, she may simply not be capable of it—it'd get in the way of her ability to kill things.
  • Appendage Assimilation: Anything attached to Unity becomes a part of her; it's hinted that her blood is the "real" Unity and that it's some sort of colony creature. When a town becomes transfused with her blood to cure them of lycanthropy, they all start acting like her. It has now been stated explicitly.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Sweetheart has no problems believing in the products of Mad Science, but the supernatural is out of bounds.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Mr Green's final argument against nonhumans:
    Then there are your coworkers, who just get on my nerves.
  • Artificial Human: Inverted with Nick, who is completely human, rather than an AI as the team first assumed, despite being stuck in a mechanical body. Played straight with Unity... Kinda.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Gavotte politely explains to some nice young ladies why she can order them around.
    Gavotte: It is on the authority that I am a large and angry swarm of bees.
  • Attractive Bent Species: When Tip is temporarily turned into a werewolf he becomes irresistible to female dogs as well as humans.
  • Author Appeal: "Let me have this, and later I'll draw Sweetheart in cute little goggles." A promise later granted, of course.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Here (note: spoiler in strip).
    Tip: I forgot the universe runs on "evil genie" rules.
  • Berserk Button: The Macaw Bird does not appreciate hats. Or beards.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Moustachio has an "evil mode" that he could potentially slip into if the parts of himself that maintain his good-mannered gentlemanly nature are disturbed.
  • Big Applesauce: Subverted in a big way. The team is based in Washington D.C., but so far their adventures have taken them to New Jersey, Nevada, Alaska, Louisiana, Ohio, Idaho, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, Michigan, and Maine. They're a Federal agency, so they have to serve all 50 states (plus territories).
  • Big Damn Heroes: Or as Nick says, Big Tang Heroes.
  • Black Helicopter: A modified V-22 Osprey, with the brain of a foul-mouthed gamer.
    Tip: We've got a black helicopter! You know what that makes us? An officially intimidating secret organization!
  • Bland-Name Product: The 'Hot Goblin Brotherhood' is the in-universe version of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Complete with silent h's.
  • Brain Bleach: Nick plans to have some installed.
  • Brain Food: Binging on brains temporarily makes Unity super-smart, but other zombies tend to become dumb and lethargic after eating too many brains.
  • Brains and Bondage: Tip. Smart enough to have a doctorate in psychology, and definitely seems to enjoy a bit of kink now and then.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: This Comic.
  • Briar Patching: Invoked by Dr. Lee here
  • Brick Joke: The lion from the first story meets back up with Skin Horse in Cleveland. Unity's strategies for fighting historical figures make a reappearance as well, years after their first mention.
  • The Casanova: Tip is somewhere between this and Kavorka Man. Tip is charming and attractive. However, the sheer degree and instantaneousness of his success with women would be mind-blowing even if he wasn't usually wearing a dress and make-up.
  • Cast Full of Gay. Of the core members of Skin Horse, almost everyone with a sexuality - Tip, Unity, and Sweetheart - is suspected or has experimented. (Moustachio is a robot and, being a swarm of bees, Gavotte is autosexual.)
  • Cat Girl: With a little help from Remy, Unity gives herself bobcat ears in order to resemble a favorite TV character. Sweetheart is not amused.
  • Cats Are Mean: The various comments and questions Sweetheart has for a helpful tiger are met with "I'm a cat" as explanation.
  • Chained Heat: Mentioned by name here, but it doesn't really play out that way.
  • Chained to a Bed: The friendly werewolf sheriff in Alaska chains Tip to bed so he won't get hurt when the town transforms into man-eating monsters during the night. Tip is a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass, though, and very experienced with kinky chicks, so this doesn't slow him down much.
  • Chain of Deals: Tip and the basement creatures, but this upsets the equilibrium they had already established and causes disaster. Gavotte chides Tip later for meddling in affairs he didn't understand.
  • Character Blog: Nick had one (originally a LiveJournal, later on Wordpress, now possibly defunct), which explains, among other things, that he is a practicing Jew. Probably NSFW, as his censor filter doesn't apply here. During "If I Ran the Zoo", while the comic was following Tip and Sweetheart in Cleveland, the blog was following Nick and Unity going down to New Orleans. And Unity had seized control of it. When the team was split up, it gave us further details of life with AG-I, and why he hated it.
  • The Charmer: Tip can charm anyone who's female by presence alone, and can win over most hostile men in enough time, too.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: The creators have made no secret of the fact that their work has parallels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The extent of those parallels was summarized in this Sunday strip, with references going back over ten years. (Warning: huge spoilers for one of the comic's central mysteries!)
  • Chekhov's Gun: Nick, in the swamp, with a freaking buzzsaw. Yippee kay o, melonfarmers!
  • Clockwork Creature: Moustachio. Apparently at one point he once had arms and legs, but had them removed so he wouldn't be a threat to the community. Tigerlily installed tiny, mostly-cosmetic arms to him later.
  • Closet Key: Tip goes from straight to bisexual after he sleeps with Artie.
  • Close-Up on Head: This strip consists mostly of head shots, to conceal the fact that Tip and Sweetheart are prisoners of the crystal entity until the final panel.
  • Cluster Bleep-Bomb:
    Nick: What the mosaic-tiled poorhouse floor do you think you're flipping gingerly, panther? Like I don't get enough opal circles, some secret Mayan astronaut has to eat the magic fudge? Sahara!
    Jonah: What the hell?
    Nick: Easy for you to say, gorilla-watcher. Easy for you.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Nick, before the censorship software kicked in. Which also paradoxically counts as a Precision F-Strike for the authors, as there had been no profanity in the strip before Nick's introduction, and little if any since. Indeed, Chris' swearing is censored in the same way as Nick's. Possibly justified, given how much time the D of I crew spends hanging out with him.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Parodied: Tip tells Sweetheart to turn on the news, and she has to flip past every news channel to find the one he's talking about.
  • Cool Old Lady: The Abbess is surprisingly funky.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: As Tip says, he served in Afghanistan. As Unity replies, that's kind of easy to forget.
  • Cultured Badass: Unity (when on a brain high) once quoted "Blight" after destroying a plant monster.
  • Crystal Prison: Tip gets caught in one when he interacts with the sentient transgenic colony beneath the facility. Along with the building's maintenance team.
  • Death Is Cheap: Pretty much everyone who died in the Railway Children arc gets revivified, fringe benefit of being in a city full of mad scientists. Elsewhere averted, aside from Jonah with his "reset button".
  • Death Trap: Anasigma uses a lot of deathtrap technology to defend their bases, even at severe risk to their staff, presumably because they employ far too many mad scientists as designers. In this strip, one such offers a justification of sorts, but, well, he's mad.
  • Depending on the Writer: Nick's wrongswears. Shaenon works out exactly what he's saying and makes sure the replacements fit the cadence enough to be recognisable. Jeff just writes funny words.
  • Description Cut: In this strip.
  • Did You Get a New Haircut?
  • Distaff Counterpart: Invoked Trope, Violet Bee appears to be a female Tip, but this is just an act.
  • Disney Creatures of the Farce: Nick is a "Whimsy Princess". It doesn't go as planned.
  • Divine Date: Played with and deconstructed. While Artie isn't quite a deity, he is a hyperintelligent posthuman, and as such, it's been suggested, he cannot love someone of only human intelligence, because love requires the other person be on his level. He can, however, have a lot of fun with humans in the process. It should be noted, though, that this idea was put forth by Sweetheart to the team psychologist, Tip. Sweetheart could simply be dead wrong.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Unity's tendency to binge-eat brains to get smarter is treated as alcoholism. Complete with her hurting her loved ones (she gets very insightful and points out their flaws, shortcomings and mental hangups) and them preferring her "normal" dumb self.
  • Eats Babies: Unity, reportedly.
  • Escort Mission:
  • Even Nerds Have Standards: Baron Mistycorn loses respect for video game partner Nick when the latter trains to be a princess.
  • Even the Guys Want Him:
    • Tip suddenly finds himself going out for drinks with Artie, whose human form is indeed very attractive.
    • For the inverse, Unity appears to have a crush on Tigerlily Jones.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The Anasigma facility, pretty much.
  • Evil Counterpart: The Skin Horse team has counterparts working for Anasigma and consequently against them. Of course, there's a pretty fine line between their moralities....
  • Evil Laugh:
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Apparently only Projects (like Skinhorse and Pixiedust) get mysterious names. Departments follow a simpler scheme. They have been shown to include:
  • Expospeak Gag: In his new job, Chris of the Department of Irradiation asks a client if she wants the "sample" to be subjected to radiant energy to evoke the Maillard reaction, or EM emissions to induce dielectric heat. He's working is a sandwich shop and is asking "Toasted or microwaved?"
  • Expy: Unity is a psychopathically violent Genki Girl much in the vein of Mell. Which only makes sense, as the filename hidden story strongly implies that her brain is a clone of Mell's. And mostly confirmed in the author's notes here.
  • Extranormal Institute: Skin Horse itself, and it shares the building with several others (see above).
  • Extra-Strength Masquerade:
    • A sentient swamp unleashes a zombie horde on Louisiana, werewolves take over an Alaskan town, and transgenic animal-human hybrids have a mass convention in Cleveland, yet the public at large, somehow, is still unaware of the rampant paranormal happenings.
    • With the confirmation that the strip is set in the Narbonibrane, Weirdness Censor rules are now in effect. In the filename side story, Sweetheart notes to Tip after he's hired that, "...about twenty percent of humans psychologically block things they consider impossible; they can't hear me. If you were one of them, you'd be useless for this job, not to mention annoying as a coworker."
  • Extreme Omnisexual: Tip. Before meeting Artie, it was "anyone humanoid and female," now...
    Ruby: [a humanoid battle-android] I'm married.
    Tip: Kismet! So was the couple I spent last Thursday with!
    Ruby: He's a shapeless protoplasmic ur-entity.
    Tip: Sorry, am I not known here?
  • Extreme Omnivore: Unity.
    Unity: Yeah! I ate a little old lady like you for breakfast!
    Hooded Figure: I thought you ate steel for breakfast.
    Unity: Oxygen tank.
  • The Faceless: Nera's mom in "Grillo Parlante". Coupled with how genre savvy and completely terrifying she is, this has encouraged a lot of speculation that she might be someone we'd recognise.
  • Failed a Spot Check: All-around, but best exemplified here.
    Unity: ...I've gotta be the only humanoid being around for miles!
    Hooded Figure 1: Oh go on, tap her on the shoulder.
    Hooded Figure 2: I wanna see how long we can keep going.
    Unity: Noisy birds, though.
  • Faking Amnesia: Played for laughs: When Animal Control shows up to capture Sweetheart, Unity panics and feigns amnesia. She's apparently done this before.
  • Fanservice:
    • The "All The Lovely Ladies" arc requires Tip and Konstantin to mud-wrestle topless for some reason. Don't ask, just get a jetpack and a camera and head down to the river.
    • Immediately after the resolution of the "Once And Future" arc, Unity (in Dr Lee's body) and Tigerlily Jones kiss (which is rather sweet). The next strip not only breaks the Fourth Wall to lampshade the Fanservice but also calls back to "All The Lovely Ladies".
  • Fantastic Racism: The Transgenic Convention is full of intelligent mutant animals and hybrids, many of whom have utter contempt for Tip (such as some surly squirrels, and a part-Macaw woman whose inexplicable Berserk Button is people who wear hats).
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness: Nick's Judaism becomes a minor issue in his Character Blog.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Many of the bad guys are disarmingly cheery.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Among the birdfolk crowd, wearing a hat is a major faux pas.
  • Filk Song:
    • The comments section always features a filk related to that day's strip.
    • This strip, about Unity literally freezing her butt off, inspired the song "Put On Your Weekend Butt", to the tune of "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" from the musical "Hello Dolly".
    • It needs to be pointed out that Ed Gedeon (of Everyday Heroes) writes a filk song every single day. Several other people are likely to contribute one as well.
  • Flashback Fail: Unity is prone to this.
  • Foreshadowing: Following the reveal of Mr Green's true identity, a Sunday strip showed that this had been foreshadowed since the beginning of the strip. Specifically, Ira had, at various points given Unity pins, Sweetheart booze, Nick a plush heart, and - just before the reveal - Tip a balloon, revealing that, in Skin Horse's massive Land of Oz shout-out, he was the wizard.
  • Freudian Slip: Unity's reaction to hearing that a virtual reality accident might turn Sweetheart's brains into (metaphorical) pudding.
    Unity: That sounds delicious. I mean delicious. I mean tragic.
  • Freudian Trio: Sweetheart is the superego, UNITY is the id, and Tip is the ego.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • U.N.I.T.Y = Upgradable Necrotic Independent .... "We do not talk about my acronym! (Unity herself has decided it stands for Unity's Nice, I Tell You.
    • There's also G.O.D.O.T., the Genetic Organism Designed Only for Thought. G.O.D.O.T. was used by the military to create acronyms, and then to create backronyms until it went mad because it was given a project title it couldn't backronymise. Project U.N.I.T.Y.
  • Fun with Autocensors: Nick.
  • Gainaxing: Not that you see it, but Nick apparently knows the term.
  • Geeky Turn-On: Nick's reaction to Dr Lee and Unity discussing the Hulk.
  • Genius Loci: Several targets of interest are these. One is a sapient swamp. Another is the Whimsy Corporation itself. Its mad scientist designer's ultimate creation was a sentient machine that used people as its components; a hive mind whose individuals don't even know they're a hive mind.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Because it's set in the Narbonicverse, "personality sprites" definitely exist.
  • Government Conspiracy: Deconstructed. The whole comic is about how terrible real governments would be at this.
    • Skin Horse itself isn't really a conspiracy, just a moderately secret government department trying to help ... people ... who need help.
    • The real Conspiracy is Anasigma, which is sometimes what Skin Horse is rescuing them from. And, according to the blog story, even has Men in Black.
  • Gratuitous Russian:
  • Great Offscreen War: The Old War, which apparently took place back in Moustachio's day, and which no-one really knows anything about except that it would be a very bad thing if it happened again. At least for humans.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: More weirdness at Anasigma. After accidentally falling into an alternate-universe viewing portal, Jonah gains what appears to be a variant on a Save Point - whenever he dies, he 'resets' to the point where he originally snapped out of the portal-induced daze. This is heavily implied to be based on the Expendable Alternate Universe principle instead of a time loop; by the time they finally escape Anisigma he's "reset" either 27 times (Nera's count) or 40 (Jonah's).
  • Gunship Rescue: courtesy of Nick, interrupting Sweetheart's Rousing Speech.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: "Could you stop blinking? It's really loud."
  • Hard on Soft Science: Dr. Lee thinks very little of the "soft sciences," including psychology. Tip is forced to show her the error of her ways by using psychology to effortlessly seduce her.
  • The Hat Makes the Man: An avian-humanoid thinks hats turn their wearers evil, and flips out when Tip puts one on.
  • Headdesk: Sweetheart is driven to this when the city of New Orleans thwarts her every single attempt to get information on their case.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Unity is equal parts adorable and disturbing.
  • Hikikomori: Nick, before joining Skin Horse. (Or at least he thought he was. His brain had already been removed and he was living in a simulation of his own dingy apartment).
  • Hillbilly Horrors: Parodied in an encounter with man-stewing, inbred, shotgun-toting, hick-accented... flowers. They're even cannibals, lampshading that maybe they shouldn't be tossing some of their cousins (carrots) into the pot.
  • Historical Domain Character: Emperor Norton appears as a zombie.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: "Y'know who else liked last-panel gags like that?"
  • Hive Mind: Gavotte is a sentient hive of bees. While the Cypress is an entire sentient swamp. And then there's Whimsy-Corp.
  • Hot Scientist:
  • Hypocrite: Goldbug insists that the world is more morally complex than Nick thinks, and then immediately reveals that he sees it as a Black and White Morality scenario where humans are good and nonhumans are evil, no exceptions.
  • I Am Not Shazam: When Nick asks Tip to name one other trustworthy crossdresser, he comes up with "Metroid!" invoked
  • I Call Him "Mr. Happy": "You named your tackle The Light of Culture and Reason?"
  • I Call It "Vera":
  • I Have Nothing to Say to That: Tip explains to Dr Lee that this is exactly what it looks like.
  • I Love Nuclear Power: Radiation not only makes things sentient, but also gives them nationalities.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Tip and Tigerlily Jones, the only woman thus far to be completely immune to his "superpower".
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All the chapter titles are, like "Skin Horse" itself, references to classic children's literature or fairy tales:
  • I'm a Humanitarian: On the team alone. Unity at least has claimed to eat people, particularly brains, while Sweetheart ate her creator, granted he was already dead and the pack was starving from an inability to open doors.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: Tigerlily Jones is brought out of the van used to transport her from the asylum, and once they take the straitjacket off, she's wearing 70s clothes. It is specifically noted that they put her in the straitjacket in institutional grey.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: Tigerlily has an impressive, well-maintained afro, despite living in a mental institution and wearing a straitjacket frequently.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun:
  • Informed Attribute: Many readers don't find Cunningham the pig nearly the Ridiculously Cute Critter he's supposed to be.
  • Insistent Terminology: The people of the "Department of Irradiation", they're not "mad scientists" (in-universe a DSM-IV disorder), but just "irresponsible".
  • Instant Seduction: Tip does these. It's like a superpower.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: All the time! This is pure Author Appeal. Referenced by name in another strip, where Sweetheart is reading the Ironic Echo Cut page on TV Tropes (although they call it Ironic Description Cut), and complains that no one on their team gets to do anything cool anymore. Cut to Nick fighting a giant octopus in the middle of a typhoon.
  • It Amused Me: Sweetheart theorizes this as the reason that Gavotte engineered events to get the department closed.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Nick's heart is strong and full of love!
  • Kavorka Man: See Casanova above.
  • Killer Rabbit: Sweetheart and her packmates. Or at least that was the plan... The mad scientist who created her could also apply. Aside from this whole "take over the world with sentient sled dogs" thing, he was the nicest, most politely Canadian guy you could ever meet. Turned up to about seven hundred fifty three.
  • The Lad-ette: Unity. And now Nick as well... Sort of.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Tip has fallen hard for Dr. Jones.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In an impressive bit of Meta-fiction that leads back to This Very Wiki, there is a scene where Sweetheart is reading the Ironic Echo Cut page, only to be interrupted with an Ironic Echo Cut.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Tip swinging into ass-kicking mode.
  • Literal Metaphor: Tigerlily Jones talks about how Tip is "always covered in hot chicks." In the next panel, Tip is covered in hot chicks, but they're literal baby chickens and he's checking the temperature on their incubator.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Skin Horse refers to a character in The Velveteen Rabbit. As noted above, all the chapter titles are literary allusions as well.
  • Lost in Transmission: This guest strip.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Until the illusion was forcibly shattered by the mysterious "Goldbug," Nick thought he was living in his apartment, testing simulations for military hardware, rather than actually being military hardware.
  • MacGyvering: Tigerlily can break the rules of space-time using only springs.
  • Mad Scientist:
    • Genuine mad scientists are usually kept under lock and key whenever possible; the majority of the scientists-who-tamper-in-God's-domain that have been featured (like Dr. Lee, or the Irradiators) are "irresponsible" or just plain evil rather than clinically insane. Also the numerous and often defective results of mad science have repeatedly been encountered.
    • Apparently there's a government work-release program for mad scientists, which is how the team calls in Dr. Jones.
    • St. Charlie is a city of 1 million populated entirely by mad scientists and their creations.
  • Man, I Feel Like a Woman: Apparently averted. Despite Nick's perversion, he does not seem particularly intrigued by his "Violet" chassis. That may have something to do with a lack of nipples.
  • Marshmallow Dream: Unity describes an inverted one here.
  • The Masquerade: Anasigma invented The Masquerade by brainwashing humanity into total supernatural blindness.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Remy might have channeled the spirit of the dead groom of the swamp, or he might have faked it in a moment of desperation.
  • Medium Awareness: Seen on this page.
  • Meet My Good Friends "Lefty" and "Righty": Konstantin: "My biceps have clever names. Are you wishing to hear?"
  • The Men in Black: Subverted/deconstructed with a vengeance. Yes, they work for the government, and yes, they are tangentially involved in maintaining The Masquerade, but Skin Horse functions more as "Black Ops Social Services". Instead of neuralizers, black suits, and evil motives, Skin Horse makes due with a wind-up receptionist, a cross-dressing psychologist, and under-funded placement programs. There are other forces at work with more sinister motives, however, and their results often provide the project with even more work to do. But played completely straight by the sinister agents of Anasigma, right down to their perfectly-shined black shoes.
  • Mexican Standoff: Tip has one with his Anasigma counterpart. Neither man can bear to shoot, because it would "mar perfect beauty."
  • Minion with an F in Evil: In a better world, Dr. Lee wouldn't even be in the business of creating horrible sentient weapons out of people. She tries an Evil Laugh once and fails at it. She also has a confused motherly affection for her creations, even if they don't return it.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Alaskan Werewolves are downright terrifying, and the comic gets the goriest it's ever gotten when they show up. It also has a Bittersweet Ending for that arc.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Front Desk Guard Konstantin is mostly made out of this trope with assorted other Russian stereotypes as garnishes.
  • Mr. Alt Disney: Posthumous Character Dr Collodi seems to be turning out to be one of these.
  • Mud Wrestling: Tip and Konstantin attract quite a large audience of ladies who want to watch them wrestle. Tip defuses the fight with his much-vaunted diplomacy, then the ladies are the ones who wind up doing the actual mud-fighting. Nick curses himself for not being present.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Everything related to the Notary Public, which is basically a religious order, complete with sacred relics, is treated with religious reverence and awe. Special mention to the Abbess, who treats her past as a member of Parliament-Funkadelic the way more conventional abbesses would treat a past as a witch.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: On this page.
    Pack Member 1: That's why we need you for this crisis! You've dealt with humans!
    Pack Member 2: And Americans!
  • Nanomachines: Unity was revealed to not be the Frankensteinian mishmash of teenagers she appears to be, but rather a nanobot horde suspended in whatever passes for her blood. This explains why she can attach different parts and still have them function; she can even be removed and put in other things (like a goat). However, the body we've become familiar with does have enhancements that prevent it from rejecting her (which is not an amenity the goat had).
  • New Age: mostly appears in Sweetdaddy Jupiter Velvet's middle name, but also in her references to being from Planet Lovetron.
  • Nice Hat:
    • Tip has been seen wearing one quite often. Women's hats, of course.
    • And in a semi-meta example: after Unity ran into a cute little fox, fans collectively decided that it would look cute with a little hat on. Shaenon warned them that they'd be sorry to have said it...and in the next strip, said fox became a cute little hat for Unity. Ouch.
  • No Indoor Voice: The Mike, as befits a living microphone.
  • Non Sequitur Environment: Tip has developed this into a superpower, as the writers decided to turn the smash cuts that marked his successful seductions into an in-universe effect. Basically, if he needs to get into or out of somewhere, he just has to get an unattached woman to agree to a date — and the next panel will show the two of them elsewhere, hopefully where they need to be.
  • Science-Related Memetic Disorder:
    • Mad Genius really is a mental disorder in this universe. It's a pity that the institute in charge of taking care of mad scientists is, itself, totally out of its tree and in fact makes the problem worse.
    • According to the people from the "Department of Irradiation", "mad genius" is a disease according to the DSM-IV, and they object to being called that way.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Tip shows an amazing lack of self-awareness towards his lack of long-term relationships.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Anasigma seems to employ a lot of mad scientists for special design jobs. This strip shows where that philosophy leads.
  • Serious Business:
  • Sesquipedalian Smith: Berenice "Tigerlily" Jones.
  • The '70s: Personified in the form of Tigerlilly Jones and her robot, Sweetdaddy Jupiter Velvet.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: The water cooler gets one. "Service is my only joy" indeed.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Prior to dating Tip, Marcie appeared to be scientifically engineered to disable the boners of all but the most selective of fetishists. After she hooked up with Doc Wilkin, the term "Nerdy Hot" definitely applies, and she hasn't gone back since. And it turns out her would-be boyfriend Chris cleans up pretty nicely too.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Tip, regarding Dr. Lee, though she's certainly the closest he's come to a meaningful relationship so far.
  • Shipped in Shackles: Tigerlily Jones in her first appearance can be seen in a straitjacket on a handcart. Since she is a dangerous mad scientist who can turn anything into a deadly robot, this is mostly justified; in this continuity, people with that condition can make death rays out of X-Box remotes.note 
  • Sir Swearsalot: Nick Zerhakker, though his profanity filter keeps his dialogue family friendly. His blog, on the other hand, does not.
  • Snarky Nonhuman Sidekick: Totally inverted: Sweetheart is sometimes bitterly snarky, but she's supposed to be the leader. Nick might count, depending on how human you still consider him to be. Baron Mistycorn might count, applied to Nick, though they're both pretty snarky.
  • Spiritual Successor: A good chunk of Narbonic's tone and themes are present and accounted for. As of May 6, 2011, it officially became a Spin-Off and official part of the Narbonic with the appearance of Artie (in his human form)
  • Spot the Imposter: Subverted. When Nick semi-accidentally creates an AI copy of himself (long story), Baron Mistycorn agonizes over which one to delete... completely missing that the clone is volunteering himself.
  • Stealth Pun: Dogs don't know it's not Bacon...
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Seems to be the case with Sweetheart, who loved her creator despite all the crazy things he did to her.
  • String Theory: As this strip points out, constructing a chart of your theories regarding the shadow government out of thumbtacks, string, and scrawled notes makes you look unhinged. There are much saner ways of doing it.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial:
    • "I am a totally normal alive human federal agent." [Unity's arm falls off] "Who has a cold."
    • And in the blog-story, Unity finds two interior decorators at Remy's house: "I should stress here that we are not kidnappers on a mission from a sinister quasi-governmental conspiracy or anything." She buys it.
  • Talking Animal: Sweetheart, Leo, and half the creatures living in the office basement.
  • Tastes Like Purple: "Your words were blue and smelled like bacon."
  • Tempting Fate: Dr. Phillips, who should really know not go around invoking the wrath of the universe while he's in a city of mad scientists. Everyone else realizes that he's a dead man walking, and not the pleasantly au courant zombie type.
  • That's What She Said:
    • Nick's follow-up to Dr. Lee saying, "I can't help thinking we've bitten off more than we can chew."
    • And Dr. Lee took her gender-inverted turn when Nick said, "I'm a machine."
  • Theme Naming: Captain Bram gave all his talking dogs ridiculous names like "Captain's Fancy Sweetheart" or "Captain's Fancy Snugglebuddy." "Captain's Fancy" is apparently their surname. This is a case of Shown Their Work, as the pack were originally bred as show dogs; names like this are routine for show dogs (and in fact these are simpler than many). It was only after the AKC refused to recognise 'talking dogs' as a breed that the Captain decided he would Show Them All.
  • They Called Me Mad!: Remember how mad scientists often shout "Those fools at the institute laughed at me!"? Well, it turns out there actually is an Institute that trains people to be Jerkasses who laugh at the failings of others. Apparently this is simply to instigate even more scientists to go mad, which they then capture.
  • Third-Person Person: The Mike.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!:
    • Nick would love to do this, except that with his profanity filter, it always comes out, "This is for emphasis, BRANCH!" Or "BIRCH!" Or "BANDOLEERS!" Never what he wants it to be.
    • Unity can do it, though. "I'm the government, beyatch."
  • This Is My Side: In the blog story, Unity attempts this with Nick's cabin. Nick tries to point out that she's telling him to stay out of half of himself, but she ignores him.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Some citizens of St. Charlie are awfully inattentive to warnings.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: SAMMYCHES!!!
  • Trigger Phrase: The phrase "blueberry waffles" suspends Unity's aggression patterns. And causes her some pain, judging from her reaction.
    • It turns out that all of Virginia Lee's projects have similar trigger phrases, from 'buttermilk pancakes' to 'Rice Krispies'. She gets hungry on those long projects.
  • True Love's Kiss: Part of the Whimsy princess test.
  • Two Gamers on a Couch:
    • The lion rehomed in chapter one draws one of these, called "AsLAN". Examples can be seen in the Sundays. Later, it became subject to a ridiculous parody of Cerebus Syndrome with death, tragedy, and (in a jab at Ctrl+Alt+Del) miscarriages. That said, it still nets him a six-figure income.
    • Chris and Marcie. Nick would be with them if, you know, he wasn't the game itself.
  • Understatement: "There were definitely some gaps in pre-mission intel."
  • The Un-Reveal: In "Railway Children", the Wham Line that Violet Bee is Goldbug is closely followed by the further revelation that Violet Bee is a robot teleoperated by a person unknown, who is Goldbug.
  • Unsound Effect: SCYTHE!
  • Unusual Euphemism: Nick is forced into this by his swearword-replacement control chip.
  • Up to Eleven:
    • Gerda is a "Kinsey Seven, a type of lesbian so profound it was once thought not to exist in nature." (Still, even she can't resist going off to watch Tip and Konstantin mud wrestle. Maybe Tip's ambiguous beauty had something to do with it?)
    • Bonus Shown Their Work: The Kinsey Scale is a real thing, which measures how gay a person is on a scale from 0, totally hetero, to 6, totally homo (1-5 don't define the gradation well). This means that a similar scale may be required to gauge sex appeal, so that Tip can be put above the top category himself.
  • Verbal Tic: The Killotron robots, who will "destroy" everything. It is very off-putting if you don't know they don't actually mean to say it.
    Killotron-1: Happily, we are purged of our old destructive impulses and live only to destroy. And by "destroy" I of course mean "serve obediently without destroying."
    Unity: Nice save.
  • Verbal Backspace:
    • Sweetheart is well aware she's the Only Sane Man of the group.
      Sweetheart: Sorry friend. That could have gone better. Tip doesn't really have the training for field work. Or the shoes. Sometimes I wonder if being our token human has cracked him even more. When you come to, I'll see that you only deal with the other members of our t—
      Unity: Sweetheart! Praise me! I punched out these monkeys real good!
      Sweetheart: With me. You will only deal with me.
    • And again when Tip's reaction to her saying "This is a job for Tip" means it becomes "This is a job for Tip, supervised by me."
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Many little Genius Bonuses about in the strip, sometimes as puchlines, mostly as throwaway references; ranging from the well-know (eg. Milton's Paradise Lost), to the fairly obscure (Winsor McCay's Dream of the Rarebit Fiend).
  • Virgin Power: The final test as to whether Whimsycorp will accept someone as a Whimsy Princess is the "Purity Test", which leads to the conclusion that Tip is "very much not a princess".
    Cunningham: In fact, I'd say he's as far from being a princess as one can be without going blind.
    Tip: This is a sex-negative framing of princesshood.
    Bunny rabbit: We were built in 1964! What do you want?
  • The Virus: Unity is, technically, a set of nanobots in a special fluid; anything injected with the fluid then becomes Unity. Fortunately for the rest of us, she can't replicate very well and non-dead tissue tends to reject her after a while.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Tip deals with a whole slew of them in The Borrowers.
  • Werewolf Theme Naming: Julie Rome (as in Romulus, plus most likely Julie of the Wolves) and Sergeant Willoughby (as in Joan Aiken's Wolves Of Willoughby Chase). The unfortunate victim of the werewolves also has a Meaningful Name — Private Hood.
  • Weirdness Censor: It's revealed during "The Little House" arc that many humans have this (the filename story says 20%). Sweetheart's even able to sing Gilbert and Sullivan in front of a pair who only comment on how much she barks. As of the end of "Sure as You're Born", that figure has risen to nearly everyone in the US.
  • Wetware CPU: Nick got his brain attached to a black helicopter because the company that produced the helicopter were too inept or too lazy to produce an actual AI for it.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Whatever you do, don't trust Project Skin Horse."
    • At the end of the "Come Swing from my Branches" arc, we have The Reveal that the peppy mediator from "Brave Little Toasters", Violet Bee, is actually an Anasigma spy, saying that "We're preparing for war. Neutralizing the swamp creature is just one front".
    • "After all, I'm the one who took off your spectacles." Lampshaded by Nick protesting that his shocking revelation has just been trumped.
    • "I should have taken him out from the start." Said by kindly old Ira, when he realises the mask isn't useful any more and it's time for Mr Green to act directly.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser:
    • Tip Wilkin is fashion conscious and uses a variety of complex female outfits, but he makes no attempt to appear female. This is some kind of strange self-flagellation on part of the artist, whose Narbonic starred four obsessives who didn't always keep track of whether or not they were wearing pants.
    • Emphasis on the wholesome part too; Tip manages to make it seem totally normal for a manly stud to wear frilly things. Granted, he then proceeds to willfully and decadently seduce most of the female cast members, so "wholesome" may not be entirely the right word.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Sweetheart fears frogs.
  • Zombie Gait:
    • Completely averted by Unity, unless she's screwing with her co-workers or Lurching For Life.
    • Completely evoked by the swamp zombies.


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