Follow TV Tropes

Following

Webcomic / Skin Horse

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/skinhorse1_big.jpg
Advertisement:

Skin Horse is a Webcomic written and drawn by Shaenon K. Garrity (of Narbonic fame) and co-written by Jeffrey Channing Wells. It was launched in December 2007, and on November 5, 2008 became syndicated on GoComics. The comic updates daily, with regular strips posted Monday through Saturday and posts of material related to the comic on Sundays.

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 gets 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 runs 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 You're Born": Skin Horse goes on an unofficial mission to support a vote for nonhuman rights, and discovers 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 infiltrates 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.
  • "The Dreadful Future": Everyone's getting ominous dreams, but is that the real threat?
  • "Muddled Wuddled Fuddled Duddled Fox": Renard has to pick a side.
  • "The Lee of the Stone": A-Sig has a new target.
  • "Off to the Fair": The team have to negotiate between Aimee, Tigerlily and Pavane.


Advertisement:

Tropes used in this comic include:

    open/close all folders 

    A - E 
  • Action Prologue: "Come swing from my branches", and Looking Glass Land.
  • Admiring the Abomination: When Sweetheart describes the Necropolis to her teammates and Officially Not a Mad Scientist Virginia Lee:
    Sweetheart: Over the decades, various zombie plagues have spread there, producing its current population of over one million undead. It's an empire of flesh-eating horrors. Any questions?
    Dr Lee: Are all the pathogens biological or has nanotech been introduced? What happens when plagues interact? Have new strains evolved?
    Sweetheart: Do that thing again where you convince us you're not mad.
  • Affably Evil: Subverted. Sweetheart's Mad Scientist creator, Captain Bram seems to come off this way, as his evil plan revolves around adorable puppies and when he actually shows up, he's pretty friendly. However, Sweetheart's comments about her time with Bram frequently allude to things that by any reasonable measure would come off as animal cruelty, hinting that she's painting Bram in an undeservedly bright light.
  • Alien Animals: Bee swarms, including Gavotte and Pavane. They came to earth to monitor the emergence of intelligent life.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: A major transgenics convention is held in Cleveland, while the Notaries Public are housed in Idaho.
  • Almighty Janitor: (WARNING! Massive spoiler!) It turns out Mr. Green/Dr. Ao/Goldbug, the mysterious guy running the conspiracy, is actually Ira, Skin Horse's supposedly mind-fried security guard. Beyond that, Nick was given to Skin Horse for two reasons - one was to make Dr. Lee happy, and the other was so that he could be loaded up with the agency's files, which combined with his command-phrase made it easy to abscond with them once the New War was underway.
  • Alpha and Beta Wolves: Buddy is the alpha of Sweetheart's Uplifted Animal Spitz dog pack, but this turns out to be an elected position. Rather than being the toughest dog in the pack, he's the one everyone likes.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: K.T. runs up to Unity shouting "Zombie attack!" By which she means that she, a zombie, is being attacked by zombies and wants Unity, also a zombie, to attack them.
    Unity: Wait, what do I do?
    K.T.: Zombie-attack. With a hyphen.
    Unity: Awright! Punctuation!
  • Amusement Park of Doom: The Little House of Wonders. It was abandoned years ago, and the "It's A Small World" parody ride now has toxic waste instead of water, is dotted with asbestos warning signs, and the self-aware animatronics are all cynical and depressed. However, to the naturally cynical and depressed Sweetheart, this comes as a relief compared to the wall-to-wall Tastes Like Diabetes she was expecting.
  • Anal Probing: Inverted. Unity once probed an alien, as it resembled Kermit and she was hoping to meet Brian Henson.
  • 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.
  • Apothecary Alligator: The storyline "Ghosts I Have Been", which is both Official Fan-Submitted Content and A Day in the Limelight for Remy the voodoo mortician, opens with him picking up his groceries, including a dead alligator. It's later possessed by the Nonhuman Intelligence of the Week.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Pops up now and again, but best exemplified by the Chesapeake Bay Monster deriding the thought of The Jersey Devil being real.
    • Sweetheart has a major problem with this, as she "just can't believe in anything [she] can't bite."
  • Area 51: "I Can Fly" is set there, although it's only referred to as such in one strip, and from then on it's Groom Lake. It also happens to be Nick's origin point.
  • 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.
  • Author Appeal: "Let me have this, and later I'll draw Sweetheart in cute little goggles." A promise later granted, of course.
  • Bad Boss: Anasigma command staff in general. Any infraction, including improper footwear, is a quick route to "extirpation", which is generally interpreted as "messy death" by the staff.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The Abbess of the Notaries tells Unity about a prophecy. According to her, their Chosen One will be "composed of part many, yet one, a being of great potential, but consumed by barely-suppressed hunger and violence":
    Abbess: So obviously a civil servant.
    Unity: Plus I'm an omnivorous construct zombie.
    Abbess: Whatever.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Here (note: spoiler in strip).
    Tip: I forgot the universe runs on "evil genie" rules.
  • Being Human Sucks: Nicks adopts this view after seeing Dr. Lee change clothes inside him...not to mention the satellite connection, weapons, and the fact that he can fly.
  • Berserk Button: Niue, a macaw woman, does not appreciate hats or beards. She goes from being attracted to Tip to hating him the instant he puts on a hat, and is permanently soured on him from then on.
  • Beyond the Impossible: A Whimsy mechanical - Baron Mistycorn - managed to poop himself despite not even having a butthole after Nick's wail of anguish.
  • 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.
  • 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 an explanation.
    • Cinnamon is cat who's a friend of Artie, but doesn't understand why they should be helping other non-humans when "few of them even own can-openers", and refers to Artie's gerbil form as "tasty mode".
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Tip references it when Sweetheart expresses shock that she didn't catch him in this, calling it "in flagrante colloquio" instead.
  • 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.
    Tip: Honestly. Like I've never been handcuffed to a bed before.
  • Chain of Deals: Tip and the basement creatures, going from the silverfish to the centipedes to the death robots to the huggy-snakes to the mushrooms to sentient ooze to cybernetic fish to giant disembodied zombie heads to a giant rat who expounds on The Chain of Harm to sentient crystals to... the silverfish again. Unfortunately, his interference upsets the equilibrium they had already established and causes disaster. Gavotte chides Tip later for meddling in affairs he didn't understand.
  • Chained Heat: Immediately identified as such.
  • Chair Reveal: Done by Dr. Ao, revealing himself to be Mr. Green. It's admittedly not much of a revelation at that point, but he has a revelation chair and he's going to use it.
  • Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: Tip's clothes suddenly change between strips. Lampshaded by Tigerlily Jones.
    Tigerlily: Hold a tic. Weren't you in a different outfit?
    Tip: A plaid outfit. I'm incapable of clashing with my surroundings.
  • 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!
  • Chess with Death: Parodied. Tigerlily claims that she got the plans for her ultimate weapon by beating the devil at Jenga
  • Chew Bubblegum: Moustachio provides a typically antiquated take:
    Hullcrusher: What exactly is your function?
    Moustachio: I breach hulls & collect pop-corn tins, and I am all out of pop-corn.
  • Chicken Joke: After Skin Horse is disbanded, Tip's new job is covertly injecting chickens with radiographic trackers, leading him to muse on the topic.
    Who cares why they cross the road?
  • Clarke's Third Law: Parodied: Dr. Lee believes that any sufficiently stupid technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  • Closet Key: Tip goes from straight to bisexual after he sleeps with Artie.
  • Close-Up on Head: This strip consists mostly of headshots, 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 calls Sweetheart and Unity and dramatically tells them to turn on the news, but they get the wrong news channel. In the following strip Sweetheart says they're running out of channels, and Tip complains that it works in the movies.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: Most of the story arcs are children's Literary Allusion Titles, and usually the reference is right there in the title ("I Can Fly" introduces Nick the helicopter; "Big Bad Wolves" is about werewolves). The two exceptions so far are "Yes, Virginia", which is about Dr. Lee joining the team's Secret Santa ("... there really is a Santa Claus") and "Sure as You're Born", from the Shel Silverstein poem "The Unicorn", which is about Anasigma spreading reality blindness to almost the entire world population.
  • Contest Winner Cameo: Shaenon and Jeff have run contests on Kickstarter where the winners are incorporated into the comic as minor characters. The first few were all eaten by zombies; most of the later ones have survived, and one was transformed into a dragon.
  • Continuity Creep: Invoked. Skin Horse was pretty continuity heavy from the start, but nonetheless took the time to lampshade it (the "simple" beginnings they refer to, in addition to not being that simple, are actually only the first week of strips):
    Shaenon: Remember when this was a simple strip about transvestites psychoanalysing lions?
    Jeff: I go where the muse takes me.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: The Chimeric Anti-Defamation League tell Sweetheart that because of her rampage, the next Scrappy-Doo will be on her head.
  • Cool Old Lady: The Abbess is surprisingly funky.
  • Cool Train: St. Charlie's, a huge city built into a subway train under Boston which houses Mad Scientists and zombies.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: In contrast to the protagonists' Benevolent Government Conspiracy (social services for non-humans), Anasigma is a corporation that's produced a number of Project Skin Horse's clients (and employees) and is plotting to eliminate Mad Scientists and their creations.
  • *Crack!* "Oh, My Back!": Implied during a conversation between Tip and Marcie:
    Tip: It turns out Unity doesn't understand invitations to "get physical".
    Marcie: Oog.
    Tip: It could've gone worse. Most of my joints snapped right back into place.
  • Crapsack World: A Bad Future version has Sweetheart name-drop the trope.
  • Creepy Basement: The basement of the team's original facility is dingy, dimly lit, poorly maintained, and home to multiple colonies of sentient non-humans, including silverfish, centipedes, and living crystals.
  • Crystal Prison: In the "Borrowers" arc, Tip finds the maintenance staff trapped inside the living crystal entities in the Creepy Basement. He gets captured too, but since the crystals are sensitive to noise, they release him when he threatens to start singing Madonna.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Unity gets a dose (of sorts):
    Unity: So who's the old bat?
    Notary Public: Speak with respect! This is the High Abbess. Try anything and she'll hand you your butt. She will then certify in triplicate that you legally took possession of your own butt. Your demise shall have a scrupulous paper trail!
  • Cuteness Proximity:
    • When Tip, Jonah and Nera encounter the Jersey Devils:
      Tip: Careful! The Devils are wild animals! Not only do they have horns and teeth, according to lore they can addle the mind.
      Jonah: [holding one the way you're not supposed to hold cats] Who's a Jersey Devil? You are! Booguma, booguma, booguma!
      Nera: The legends are true!
    • Prior to this, a week-long guest comic had a cute mouse invoke this to try making demands of the government. Ultimately subverted, though, as it turned out to be a Hive Mind employing psionics to mind-control them into wanting to help.
  • Cutting the Knot: When making their way through a VR Whimsyworld, Nick, Baron Mistycorn and Lovelace find themselves having to play a Game of Nim. The Baron uses their recently acquired ability to duplicate objects to...create a whole bunch of guns and point them at the puzzle setter, whose response is "Nice. Very Gordian."
  • A Day in the Limelight: The arcs "Choose" and "Grillo Parlante" are about Jonah and Nera, two hapless investigators of the weird. The first has them stumble into something that involves Skin Horse, the second features none of the regular team, and is about them investigating what happens once Skin Horse is closed down.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Extirpation." Underlings at Anasigma are frequently threatened with it...unfortunately, none of them know what it means, and those doing the threatening aren't authorized to explain (which is convenient, because none of them seem to know either). It's eventually revealed that extirpation involves putting someone's consciousness into a Lotus-Eater Machine that simulates a walnut farm and then separating their brain from their body when Dr. Lee narrowly escapes the second part.
  • Death Is Cheap: Pretty much everyone who died in the Railway Children arc gets revivified, a 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. One such offers a justification of sorts, but, well, he's mad.
  • Delusions of Doghood: Inverted by Phil the Mynah, an Uplifted Animal who thinks he's human.
  • 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:
    • Sweetheart invokes the trope (and TV Tropes) the 2014-10-11 by name, which does also illustrate it.
    • Tip says that other humans might still be unaffected by the suddenly-nationwide Weirdness Censor "but they'd have to be exceptional. Cut to Jonah Yu in his Tinfoil Hat, and with a jar stuck on each hand because "I, uh, had trouble with some mayonnaise."
  • 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.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Nick, when trying to dissuade Dr. Lee from fighting the superhero Red Knight, gets his train of thought utterly derailed upon Dr. Lee holding up the tiny butt-covers she'd have to wear.
  • 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.
  • Don't Celebrate Just Yet: Lampshaded. Nera and Jonah are fleeing the Anasigma base when they reach an exit. Their celebration is instantly cut off, though, as a mutant venomous axolotl drops down from the ceiling in front of the door, his mouth smoking. The corridor lights then go out and are replaced by emergency lighting, a klaxon sounds, and the energy cannons over the door begin charging.
  • Dresses the Same: Parodied in a guest strip where multiple temporal duplicates of Tip are created by a malfunctioning time machine and are horrified that they're wearing the same dress.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Parodied when Tip is undergoing "princess training". His trainer, Mary, has the usual screaming insults, except she calls him "manly-boy" and tells him he's just not girly enough.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: Oracle, a sentient Speak'n'Spell, gained powers from having an "enlightenment module" installed. These powers include transcendental levitation and astral teleportation.
  • 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.
  • Everyone Can See It: Nick's infatuation with Dr. Lee is so obvious that even Moustachio can see it, and his empathy is "two springs and a Vial of Mercury."
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The Anasigma facility, pretty much. No OSHA Compliance doesn't begin to describe the dangers there, and that's not counting the trigger-happiness of the higher-ups. Jonah Yu finds that whenever he dies, he comes back to life at a point he'd previously 'saved' at. This results in a cavalier attitude in regards to the numerous, incredibly silly, contrived, and pointless deaths he subsequently experiences.
    This place has way too many ways to die.
  • 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:
    • Dr. Lee tries to pull this off.
    • Tigerlily does it better.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Apparently only Projects (like Skin Horse and Pixiedust) get mysterious names. Departments follow a simpler scheme. They have been shown to include:
    • Department of Jetpack Suppression: Stupid Department of Jetpack Suppression...
    • Department of Irradiation: They irradiate whatever the home office sends them. Not like...with any end in mind. They just point radiation at it until HQ says "when" For the Lulz.
    • Federal Office of Giant Leaking Containers: Seen here during the "Borrowers" arc.
    • Department of Precambrian Defense: Currently unstuck in time.
  • Explaining the Soap: Sweetheart explains her soaps to Tip without being asked.
  • 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?"
  • 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."

    F - J 

    K - O 
  • 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.
  • Lady Killer In Love: Tip loses his mojo when he falls for Tigerlilly Jones. Later, Artie crushes hard on Sergio.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: When Unity is protesting to her colleagues that they're berating her for something that is her disembodied hand's fault, she says "Talk to the hand!" They're both horrified, and she apologisfrzies.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: When the other sapient creations are having nightmares of their creators saying "I'm coming for you", Sweetheart asks if Nick has had nightmares about it... before realizing she should rephrase.
    Dr. Lee: (Smirking) It never is.
  • 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:
  • 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.
  • Logic Bomb: Gavotte hits Sweetheart with a couple, outright telling the pup her Secret Agenda, but then insists that her public must remain secret.
    Sweetheart: drag me to coffee. now
  • 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.
  • Love Epiphany: Dr. Lee has one accidentally when Tip talks about knowing what it means to be in love.
  • 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.
  • 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 do 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."
  • 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's outfits very often are accessorized with pretty hats.
    • 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.
  • No Matter How Much I Beg: Tip says this before quarantining himself... only to realize there's no bathroom. Currently provides the Trope Image.
  • 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.
  • Noodle Implements: Whatever "extirpation" is in Anasigma involves monkeys, walnuts, and potentially shea butter.
    Dr. Lee: Would someone please tell me what that is?
    Anasigma Employee: It is both intolerable and endless.
    Dr. Lee: So extirpation is like trying to find out what extirpation is.
    Anasigma Employee: But with walnuts!
  • Noodle Incident:
  • No OSHA Compliance: Anasigma seems to take pride in defying OSHA with deliberate danger at every turn.
  • Not a Game: Goldbug insists that the world isn't like the "stupid games" that Nick plays... then goes on a Bond Villain rant.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: A large part of the New War is that Goldbug is worried that humanity's creations might one day replace them.
  • Nuclear Nasty: After activating the irradiator, thinking it's a test in order to get some paperwork signed by the Department of Temporal Anomolies, Kay gets turned into a dragon.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Skin Horse as a whole averts this, with only Sweetheart caring about the appropriate forms. But then there's the Notaries Public, a hooded order of bureaucrats crossed with {{warrior monk))s; they're not always obstructive, but when they want to be, they can obstructively kick butt.
  • Occam's Razor: Inverted BIG TIME.
    Unity: Either I'm insane or someone is tweaking my pattern-recognition centers with neural waves... City like this, money's on the complicated answer.
  • Oddly Small Organization: Justified due to budget issues.
  • Offhand Backhand: Emperor Norton dispatches a seagull this way.
    Unity: That was so boss it needs a corner office.
  • Oh, Crap!: Jonah really spoke too soon.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Tip's actual first name is Dennis, but nobody uses it.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Tip wears men's clothing.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: They're Canadian. And downright terrifying.
  • Our Zombies Are Different:
    • Unity's really more akin to a classic Frankenstein's Monster than a zombie in the same sense the word is usually used, but "zombie" is probably easier to fit in a sentence.
    • A sentient swamp creates a zombie horde of its own in Louisiana. These are mostly just puppets, though, filled with plant matter that the swamp can control.
Advertisement:

    P - T 
  • 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 actually 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.
  • 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:
  • 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 Is Not My Girlfriend: Tip, regarding Dr. Lee, though she's certainly the closest he's come to a meaningful relationship so far.
  • Shoehorned Acronym: The military AI GODOT was programmed to create backronyms, turning words into project titles. It's implied to have been responsible for the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act as well. And went insane trying to come up with a backronym for U.N.I.T.Y., Skin Horse's resident zombie Super Soldier.
  • 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 
  • 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...
  • Strangely Arousing: Nick in Violet's body demanding to join a D&D campaign.
    Chris: Okay, you warned us about this, but I still have the world's most disturbing boner.
  • 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."
    • 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 Came Out Wrong: Nick states that "Ain't nothing like spending a cold night with a warm dog inside you" before realizing his mistake.
  • 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."
    • And again with Sweetheart when Nick says he's "awesome at keeping it up".
  • 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.

    U - Z 
  • Umbrella Drink: A Kickstarter request sketch has Gavotte drinking one.
  • Understatement: "There were definitely some gaps in pre-mission intel."
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Tip wears a new set of highly fashionable women's clothing in every arc with no repeats. Until, that is, he sacrifices his entire wardrobe for one perfect outfit...and then the purpose he got that outfit for falls through.
  • The Unreveal: 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.
  • Unsafe Haven: Phillips is having a party at his checkpoint because "Nothing ever happens in this sector." Seven strips later, guess what?
  • Unsettling Gender Reveal: Subverted in the "Railway Children" arc. Violet Bee tries to invoke this trope by revealing his gender to Tip. This plan falls flat because A) Tip was never particularly attracted to Violet and B) Tip is an Extreme Omnisexual.
  • Unsound Effect: SCYTHE!
  • 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 punchlines, 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?
  • Villainous Crush: Mr. Green on Dr. Lee - and he'll kill anyone who finds out it's unrequited.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Unity is the source of several, whenever she's transferring her fluid to another body and when said bodies can't handle her anymore and get rid of her.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Tip deals with a whole slew of them in The Borrowers.
  • War Hero: Agent Peacock captain Tip Wilkin earned his promotion by rescuing three members of his unit out of a burning Humvee.
  • 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 thanks to Anasigma.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Skin Horse's purpose is to fight for non-human sapients to have equal rights and protections. They eventually go on to try to prevent Anasigma from completely exterminating non-human sapients.
  • 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 anymore 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.
  • Worth It: Echo Bravo's assessment of accidentally aiding Tigerlily Jones' escape plans... because he had sex with her and Imogene as a Honey Trap.
  • Xanatos Gambit: H.T. implements one during the Zombie Rights arc. The legislation, if accepted, frees him from Transgenic prison. If rejected, it pushes the Zombies in California into allying with zombies in the Florida Keys, and also towards extremism, furthering his anti-Human agenda.
  • X Called; They Want Their Y Back:
  • Your Mom: As a precog, Jonah really should have seen that joke coming.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: At the end of the Mirror Universe arc, a group of Mad Scientists explain that, in a world where a vast intelligent cypress has been destroying the continent, a Hate Plague has destroyed most of the male human population, and the government is now run by transgenic animals, they are going to rebuild by focusing on the most pressing need: Zeppelin docks for skyscrapers.
    Sweetheart: I was all prepped to argue, but that does sound cool.
  • Zombie Advocate: This is essentially Skin Horse's main purpose: to provide social services to non-human intelligences, many of which would be considered "monsters" by the man in the street. Unfortunately, many non-human intelligences view it with not entirely unjustified suspicion—even though the actual team both means well and is mostly non-human themselves, they don't really know why their agency was created, or what the ultimate agenda is, but there are hints it's Not Good.
  • Zombie Gait:
    • Completely averted by Unity, unless she's screwing with her co-workers ("Snaaaaaaaacks...") or Lurching For Life.
    • Completely evoked by the swamp zombies.


Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report