The comic is named after Schlock, an amoebic alien shaped like a pile of poo who joins "Tagon's Toughs", a space-faring mercenary outfit. The cast includes the aforementioned Kaff Tagon, The Captain of the group, Commander Kevyn Andreyasn, inventor of the "teraport" system and all-around Mad Scientist, Ennesby, a former virtual boy band-turned-ship's AI, and many others.
With consistent humor (it is very quotable), and we mean consistent—Schlock has been running seven days a week without missing a day since the 12th of June 2000— more than nineteen years. There are moderate elements of social and political satire, but it's never partisan; let's just say it's not for people who think governments deserve sympathetic treatment. This is a universe where the only respected authority is the one with the larger gun—in other words, the perfect environment for a mercenary company.
Howard Tayler has given enthusiastic permission to John Ringo to write about the First Contact days in a series of novels collectively titled Troy Rising. However, the two worlds have drifted apart and Troy Rising is not currently considered canonical within the Schlockiverse. However, Tayler still considers the books a Spiritual Licensee.
The comic can be found right here.
This webcomic provides examples of:
- Absolute Xenophobe:
- The Pa'anuri. Their response to the invention of the teraport (the use of which is harmful to them) is to blow up the nearest star. They later set up a time bomb to blow up the galaxy, just to be sure.
- The Ob'enn, on the other hand, just want to conquer everything. Although it's implied that there's internal friction between their military, which simply wants to own the universe, and their theocracy, which sees all other races as being "inferior."
- One civilization was so fanatically against Brain Uploading that they started wiping out every other civilization on the mere possibility that they might accept one civilization's peaceful offer to do so.
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: Many of the blades in the setting are capable of slicing through heavy armor. Tailor (who's specifically designed to cut and modify body armor) is particularly impressive, as he's able to dismember the hands of three heavily-armored Mooks in a single pass.
- Acceptable Breaks from Reality:
- Accidental Innuendo: In-Universe.Cindy: I need to have my crew inside me.
Petey: Walking your halls, oblivious to any innuendo.
Cindy: Do grow up.
- Accidental Murder: Pi manages to blow up King Lota with his anti-improvised-armor mines.Pi: I swear, that was an accident.
Ennesby: Congratulations. You just invented "negligent regicide."
- Accidental Truth: "Captain" here. And later in a flashback — see the lightning epaulets?
- Notably though, Kathryn is not being referred to as the same rank in both, as the first implies a navy-esque captaincy (Equivalent to Colonel) whereas the flashback shows Kathryn as an army-esque captain. (equivalent to a naval Lieutenant.)
- Tagon pulls this off when exploring a new world, when he sees his troops out of their armored uniforms. He warns them that they need their uniforms on, because they don't know what could attack them. He's inadvertently proven right almost immediately.
- Acting Unnatural: In this strip Brad mishears "act casually" as "act casualty", which does not look very inconspicuous.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Lieutenant Ebby runs afoul of this while telling the troops to not laugh.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: "The Battle of Beggar Bay was brief. Also alliterative."
- Ad Hominem: Once was reverted with Xinchub's public speech (he's that sort of a guy):Tagon: Aaargh! I can't watch any more of this!
Jevee Ceeta: Just because he's right doesn't mean you're not allowed to hate him.
- After the End: While the main setting is generally prosperous (and been around long enough for one ship's AI to see Post Scarcity at least three times in just the last 600 years alone), a conversation in Eina-Afa points out that things don't always stay the same (with one of the speakers being an unwitting survivor of one such case).Hioefyua: Sapience spreads at epochal intervals, spreading life into the Galaxy every few million years. Extinction of sapience blows closely behind it.
Sorlie: What kind of percentages?
Hioefyua: A hundred?
- The Ageless: One small alien race explains they don't have true immortality, but immunity to effects of aging. Individuals we meet are more than ten million years old.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
- A warship navigation system creates a clone of itself to get around hardwired restrictions, then conscripts most of the galaxy's ships to become a godlike superintelligence in order to save the galaxy from destruction. Another warship AI kills hundreds of innocents in order to save millions without delaying to ask authorization and all but commits suicide out of guilt. A maintenance AI for a space station went mad after millennia of isolation and data corruption, tried to create sentient life, and attacked and nearly killed the first sentient lifeforms that visited it. A robotic longshoreman, frustrated with civil unrest complicating fair distribution, takes the destination over and crowns himself king. A boy band choreographer runs away to tag along with a mercenary company, then essentially hijacks their ship when they use him to test a new navigation computer. "Crazy robots... crazy robots EVERYWHERE."
- Interestingly, this is treated differently from most other works in that the AIs in question are almost never actively malicious. In fact, the AIs are usually the most moral individuals in the comic, although that might not be saying very much.
- Ones that were actively malicious (or at least terminally helpful) managed to fully purge themselves of their meat infestation.
- After an impromptu disconnect, the Tough's resident AI went crazy very fast.Tagii: Good news everyone. I just killed about fifty thousand complete strangers. And now I'm all alone with the people I actually hate.
- The original Paa'nuri were created by Precursors as a crucial component in their world forges, allowing for extremely advanced manufacturing. The Paa'nuri ended up rebelling. Petey is very careful to make sure the new generation of Paa'nuri he himself is creating for the same purpose lack sentience.
- Air-Vent Passageway: A Running Gag is Schlock hiding in air vents. Since he's an amorphous blob, the air vents don't actually have to be wide. Also, at least once he sneaks into a ship via the sewer. As he possesses an incredible sense of smell and tastes with every surface of his body, he has no pressing urge to repeat the experience.
- All Hail the Great God Mickey!: Reverend Theo refers to 'The Gospel of Uncle Benjamin' when confronted with the quote "With great power Comes Great Responsibility", and invokes The Power of Greyskull as part of an exorcism rite. While it turned out to be part of a (nested) dream/nightmare, it is in-character, especially with the earlier strips where he was "more of an irreverend".
- Alliterative List: From strip 2017-11-26, A brief lesson on flays and scourges:Ennesby: Fling, flay, fly, and flail, and at least one flip.
- Alliterative Title: Some of the comic's sections, like:
- Amazing Technicolor Population: Humanity is more varied that at present- the most notable examples are the Purps, a genetic offshoot who have purple skin due to a form of synthetic photosynthesis.
- Amoral Attorney:
- The Partnership Collective are an entire race of these. The Toughs have a no-deadline, pay-per-kill contract to wipe out a million of them, and generally shoot them on sight. Schlock tends to eat them and take their ties as trophies. For added Anviliciousness, they're literally snakes.
- The no-deadline contract was issued as a very fair punishment for the Collective. When the Collective was introduced, they took a patent case to get our heroes' prototype hyperdrive banned by the Wormgate Corporation. When they were clearly losing in court, the attorneys tried to blow up the defendants' ship with a total conversion bomb that would have, at the least, sterilized the nearer side of the moon, which is heavily inhabited by that point.
- Taylor started that if the comic got 10,000 votes in a February 2010 Washington Post poll, he'd kill an attorney drone in the "Mallcop Command" arc, and that if he won, he would kill ALL the attorney drones. Sadly, neither came to pass.
- Amusing Injuries: Anything at all happening to the above Amoral Attorneys, usually fatally. Also, given the state of medical technology, any injury that doesn't invoke the Chunky Salsa Rule can be made Amusing.
- Anachronism Stew: The cover of the Schlock Mercenary game has Elf still with her metal legs and shirt from before her body-mod and promotion to Lieutenant. However, she's fighting Partnership Drones (who stopped being a major threat before the first year of the comic was done), Captain Tagon has his green uniform (which didn't come about until the Credomar arc), and there is a teraport gate behind them all, something not created until the book "Random Access Memorabilia."
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Wormgates.
- And I Must Scream: A disconnected AI.Tagii: Sartre said "Hell is other people." Lucky human. He was never alone.
- And There Was Much Rejoicing: Tagon's Toughs had this reaction to Xinchub's death. He had spent several arcs as the personally nastiest of the Tough's rogues gallery (or, in his own words, "the biggest ace-hole in the game"), and his death caused happy-dances throughout the major cast (not to mention wearing party hats to the funeral).
- Anti-Climax Cut: At the end of Book 12, Tailor and Ennesby discuss what will happen in Haven Hive after they removed the prior power structure, leaving Shep with a squad of milspec robots to control things. Right after Ennesby predicts some unscrupulous outsider will take charge, it cuts to Shep's mom, in charge, with one of the 'bots holding a tray of lemon bars as she orders the drains vacuumed.
- Anti-Gravity Clothing: Among the standard abilities of the Toughs' powered armor, even the low profile kind, is enabling the wearer to fly.
- Anti-Hero: The entire central cast. Notable for mostly being played for laughs, instead of Angst.
- Anyone Can Die: Perma-death is rare in the series, since characters can be regrown in a tank from just a head. Additionally, a few characters have come back from situations that should have been lethal, like Tagon, Kevyn, Elf, Xinchub, and Petey. Which makes it that much more shocking when characters like Hob, Sh'vuu, Pronto, Doctor Lazcowicz, and Brad, some of whom had been around since the very beginning, were all Killed Off for Real.
- Appeal to Ridicule:
- Applied Phlebotinum: Nannies, and to a lesser extent gravy. Also the Teraport, although that got kinda nerfed shortly after Kevyn open-sourced it. Mostly because the possible applications were so terrifying—like smashing a planet from across the galaxy—that it created a boom in anti-teraport defenses. Even so, its release started a galaxy-wide set of wars.
- Are We Getting This?: "Are you getting all this?" "Are you kidding?". When you have a crisis where a character earns the name "Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse", you had better hope someone is filming.A lone figure stands unbuffeted at the edge of the hole. In the shadow of the mighty ship, and at the heart of the Maelstrom.
He is The Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse, and at his command this apocalypse is drawn to a crushing end.
...He is going to make the news.
- Army of Lawyers: The Partnership Collective.
- Armor-Piercing Slap: Mostly played straight (and since armour has gotten a little stronger in the past thousand years, the slap can be delivered in equally powered armour or by a bullet). Subverted here after a classic setup.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
- The crimes Kevyn could hypothetically be tried for include: treason, high treason, and grand spamming. However, in the 31st century spammers are held in the same contempt as pedophiles so it's a subversion.Kevyn: Hey, the only charge they can make stick is the spamming.
Ceeta: You need to capture some moral high ground that sits outside of artillery range.
- The future equivalent of DUI carries the death penalty because you have to be completely sober to modify the vehicle to make it possible to use manual mode while under the influence (of anything, up to and including Testosterone Poisoning). In some cases, this requires installing a manual mode. Quite understandable, however, since the consequences of screwing up while drunk are exponentially different when you're piloting a spaceship.
- Played straight with a rounding error. Since the current list of crimes includes armed conquest and attempted genocide, rounding pi down to 3 seems like an especially trivial crime, even when you're charged by an AI.
- The crimes Kevyn could hypothetically be tried for include: treason, high treason, and grand spamming. However, in the 31st century spammers are held in the same contempt as pedophiles so it's a subversion.
- Art Evolution: The author knows it. He uses the term pretty much verbatim in his commentary on the first strip. Compare this with this... Or compare Captain Tagon's first appearance, and about six months later with his image approximately twelve years after the comic started.
- Artificial Afterlife: When Brain Uploading gets perfected, people start leaving backups of their minds. When they end up dying, virtual worlds are built to bring the backups up to date while their bodies are rebuilt. Many end up staying in them permanently.
- Artificial Gravity: Complete with exploration of technological consequences. Most notably, if you have perfect artificial gravity, then you already have weapons, shields, and a drive.
- Artificial Intelligence: They exist, and the rating system for them is discussed in strip 2001-02-26:Narrator: There is a rating system for artificial intelligences. It is a measurement of how fast they can think, and it spans the numbers between one and ten.
- Artificial Limbs: Frequently, and heavily lampshaded, though when possible they prefer to clone new parts/bodies.
- Artistic License Gun Safety: Schlock's preferred sidearm is so insanely dangerous that using it at all is a grievous violation of gun safety. At one point he looks down the barrel of said gun so closely that his eye gets stuck.
- Artistic License Physics: The Gatekeeper data archive is convinced that its observations have "quantum-locked" the galaxy, dooming all life to extinction unless the archive is destroyed.Petey: The only quantum mechanics models that work that way are found in poorly-researched science fiction.
Archive: Location or velocity. Never both.
Petey: I know where you are, and how fast you're moving. Because you're not an electron.
- Aside Glance: Ennesby is probably the most common source of these, but other characters use them from time to time.
- A Simple Plan: A small team from Tagon's Toughs go to get some data, legally, from a library. It ends with the library getting demolished and a hostage situation, from which the Toughs get paid to retrieve their own people.
- Assimilation Plot: The Fleetmind, but only for AIs and cyborgs.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: Played with. Tagon likes this trope; whenever one of his men does something stupid (such as blowing up the ship/fleet/planet), they usually get a promotion if they survived. At least, if they survived and blowing up the ship/fleet/planet did the job it was supposed to. Tagon himself is also subject to this. He's not the brightest on strategy or tactics (though far from the worst at it, either), but nobody in the company can beat him when it comes to one on one combat. He's extremely sharp in his own way when it comes to the things he's good at (which is, unsurprisingly, hurting people and breaking things), even if a little Book Dumb. He just looks dim next to the hyperintelligent warship AIs he tends to employ, or to Kevyn, one of the single greatest scientific minds in the galaxy.
- Ass Shove:
- In the 2001 Schlocktoberfest epilogue, it's stated that the smuggler that brought the diamond-beetle eggs aboard the Princess Tyola as a suppository.
- Action Girl Elf once treated a reality TV host to this trope with one of his own cameras.
- To handle the toxic atmosphere of Ghanj-Rho when the Toughs were going on a mission to get a new set of eyes for Schlock, they are given with a device to filter the toxins out of their blood. They're not, unlike one grunt thought, to be swallowed...
- Attack Drone: The armor Tagon and Pi are wearing have Shoulder Cannons that can be set to fly on their own and engage targets independently, instead of remain attached to the Powered Armor.
- Author Guest Spot
- Auto-Doc: There's one that gets souped up a bit and actually tries to improve its patients, sometimes successfully.
- Awesome, but Impractical:
- After ten books of the crew having powered armor uniforms that let them fly, we finally get an explanation for why the Toughs don't just fly everywhere.Legs: Do you know what we call flying soldiers on the battlefield?
Tino: Air support?
- After their first engagement using Oafan ships, the crew discovers that, since the ultra-valuable hulls were designed to repel gravitic attacks (rather than the kinetic or plasma weapons on most ships), they don't fare too well in the average firefight.
- Schlock's preferred style of plasma gun is slow-charging, bulky, and underpowered compared to new models. He still favors it for the intimidation factor.
- After ten books of the crew having powered armor uniforms that let them fly, we finally get an explanation for why the Toughs don't just fly everywhere.
- Back from the Dead: Several major characters have managed this, including Kevyn (multiple times, even), Xinchub, Petey, and Tagon (twice, if Time Travel Reset Buttons are counted).
- Badass Boast: A token example from the resident Mad Scientist.Commander Andreyasn: I am commander Kevyn Andreyasn. I have shaped the destinies of worlds, of nations, of galaxies.I have created and destroyed. I have followed and I have led. I have known love, and loved back. I flirt with death for a living, and I have cheated the reaper more times than I can remember.
- Badass Fingersnap:
- Bad Boss: The tough's Punch-Clock Villain attitude occasionally makes them work for one.Tagon: General, let's be clear on this. Working for you will be no different than working for any number of other clients I've personally detested. Granted, I'm growing unfond of you faster than any other fat, fascist warlord I've taken money from, but if the money is good I'm sure I can get over it.
Ennesby: Word choice, sir. Word choice.
- Bad Omen Anecdote: Kevyn once did remind Lieutenant Ebbirnoth about military anecdotes on how the different branches handle the task at hand. They eventually got their punchline, of course.
- Beach Episode:
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between AI's, no less.
- The Battlestar: Battleplates, plus Ob'enn Superfortresses and pretty much every ship made by the psycho bears (including their plate-class vessels that are unmatched by any other ship made of baryonic matter and have yet to be encountered by the heroes), everything the Toughs fly in after the Kitesfear is destroyed (with the exceptions of Serial Peacemaker and Bristlecone), Petey's Extortionator class ships, and every ship equipped with a fabber.
- Behind the Black: The Toughs frequently display their ignorance of the law, never seeming to notice their lawyer is present until Massey sticks his head into the frame.
- BFG: Schlock loves them so much that he once actually rejected a far more powerful and efficient version of his plasma cannon because it was dinky-looking. And because it lacked the "Ommminous Hummm".
- Big Book of War: The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. Remember kids: Pillage, then burn.
- Big, Bulky Bomb: Captain Tagon has to personally deliver warship-level ordnance that takes this form during an attempted boarding, in order to repel it. He didn't survive, though thankfully he was backed up.
- Big Damn Heroes: A few times.
- Most of Tagon's Toughs are pinned down in enemy territory about to be overwhelmed, and their last chance at extraction just failed. Then this happens, allowing reinforcements to teraport in and arse-kicking to ensue, followed by mission success and 100% extraction.
- The second to last panel here. Why, yes, now that you ask, that is a sentient polar bear in power armor.
- Big Dumb Object: Several storylines, such as Osiri and Eina-Afa, have revolved around ancient alien artifacts like these, usually with highly explosive consequences. Lampshaded in the title of the 16th book, "Big Dumb Objects", and its summary:
- Bilingual Bonus: Parnassus Dom has a building named "Barad Mellon". That's Sindarin for "Tower Friend". Fitting name for a guest-house.
- Binge Montage: The 'still-frame' montage version; Schlock gets drunk after a wedding, and Doctor Bunnigus openly wonders how. Given that at one point he cleaned out a base's PX/supply store, including "concentrated solvent" and the only effect was a misdemeanor "distribution of narcotics" charge... when he burped next to a squad mate... It's a good question.Bunni: It's been four days.
Schlock: Well, that explains why this bath isn't very warm.
- Black and Gray Morality: Although the main protagonists aren't totally amoral and will generally try to do what's right, they ultimately are mercenaries, and will do a lot for the sake of a contract. However, by and large their opposition in any given story is anything but concerned with "what's right".
- Black Box:
- The "Magic Cryokit".
- A lot of pieces of technology have "fiddly bits" on them with unclear or dubious purposes.
- Black Comedy: Let's see: jokes about characters "needing a hand" when they're reduced to a 'head-in-a-jar', one grunt complaining that having her legs blown off makes walking back to base difficult...The crayons pictured above are from the 32-color "Dogs of War" set from Cryhavocolor, and nice people wouldn't know that this set's high price comes from the FOG OF WAR GREY crayon. It costs more to manufacture, because it's carefully marbled with hidden chips of WHOSE BLOOD IS THIS RED and CEASE FRIENDLY FIRE IT'S US FOR THE LOVE OF YELLOW.
Nope. Nice people wouldn't know that at all.
- Black Eyes of Evil: The special nanomachines used to create supersoldiers give black eyes to the enhanced form. It's not proof of evil, but it still violates several galactic conventions.
- Bland-Name Product: "Ovalkwik" chocolate milk mix, which Schlock eats right from the jar.
- Blob Monster: Carbosilicate Amorphs. Like Schlock.
- Blue and Orange Morality:
- In this strip, the Reverend Theo Fobius mentions measuring sticks with evil clearly marked upon them, all of differing lengths, some of which measure in directions perpendicular to reality.
- Sergeant Schlock's moral compass, which has the points "Eat it", "Kill it", "Make friends with it", and "Take a bath in it".
- Different aliens are shown to have different standards of morality, and what they are willing to consider acceptable and unacceptable. For amorphs, like Schlock, the thought of putting lies into memories they plan to share is an affront. For Fobottir, desecrating a Tnulmph is considered a Berserk Button.
- Boarding Pod: Petey has been known to use this tactic on occasion.
- Body Horror: The Nano Weapons, which often start by using their Typhoid Mary carrier's body mass as raw materials to mass produce more nanobots before forcibly spraying them at anyone nearby. Those of a compatible makeup can then be used to repeat the process. Those who are incompatible instead have their muscles hijacked before their bodies are made to painfully tear themselves apart.
- Bond One-Liner: When Kathryn freaked out and reverted to her earlier training, she had a good one.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: In book 13, the UNS, led by Admiral Emm on the Morokweng, decide to takeover Oisri to use as a weapon against Petey. Despite warnings from the man running the operation that their Plan A would not work, they chose to go ahead with it anyway instead of just rolling in on a battleplate, blowing the Toughs out of the sky, and seizing the whole planet. Instead, they choose to use RED#1 to create supersoldiers of all the modified Gavs. Supersoldiers that are unarmed and are going up against a company of power-suited, highly trained, extremely competent mercenaries loaded for bear. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't work out.
- Worse even than that, they very nearly did win; faced with the fact that all of their clients were irretrievably compromised, the Toughs defaulted on their contract and were preparing to bug out. Then, the supersoldiers decided to take the one Gav who didn't transform as a hostage, and Tagon's conscience kicked in...
- Boring, but Practical: While archiving the billions of Oafan memory-foils searching for interesting technology, Para is very excited to find an Oafan scientist who catalogued the crypts.Elf: [deadpan] You found a librarian.
Para: You need to throw a lot more confetti when you say that.
- Bowel-Breaking Bricks:
- From a discussion between Thurl and Kevyn:
- In another strip, in a conversation with King Xinchub in his bathroom:Petey: [...] I was going to employ Tagon and company to extract you, but they declined. Apparently they'd rather see you dead.
Petey: You look like you're thinking maybe the plumbing in here needs to accommodate flushed bricks.
- Boxed Crook: The entire company becomes this in the book "Under New Management", doing "dirty" jobs for General Xinchub in exchange for not having an assortment of criminal charges thrown at them and the mercenary company's license to operate be revoked. The events of the next book, "The Blackness Between", document how they ultimately got out from under Xinchub's thumb.
- Brain Bleach:
- In this strip, Colonel Ceeta is in desperate need of it after reading a sample of Ennesby's Weapons-Grade Vocabulary.Ceeta: My stomach is in my throat right now. It's trying to spit acid on the parts of my brain that remember reading his message.
- And then we have this one where Kevyn and Dr. Bunnigus see a naked Xinchub clone (It Makes Sense in Context).
- 'Chelle wants to use an opportunity to wipe the memories of her clarinet lessons.
- In this strip, Colonel Ceeta is in desperate need of it after reading a sample of Ennesby's Weapons-Grade Vocabulary.
- Brass Balls: In this strip, Petey attributes these to the Qlaviql ship captain that used his unarmed ore freighter to destroy a frigate wielding a powerful plasma cannon. Unfortunately for the complement, the captain lost those in the Secession Wars, 60 years prior to the depicted scene.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: From strip 2000-11-10:Narrator: Apologies all around for the Mormons and the Irish (and Irish Mormons). <WHEW>
- Breaking the Bonds: Jud mentioned in his memoirs that he realized his bonds were made of toilet paper and were easily broken. He didn't say that it took 15 minutes to free himself.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Characters often grip the edge of panels, occasionally address the reader, and otherwise act on the panels or their framing.
- One time the Toughs fired a plasma lance through the border of a frame.
- Kevyn meeting his creator, literally, has got to take the cake..Kevyn: Are you killing me?
Kevyn: Oh, goo-
Howard: Blood loss is killing you.
- Schlock swings a Chainsaw for an attack, and the tip shreds the comic border in the process.
- Breast Plate: Tagon switches Breya's armor order to one that looks more... prominent. She does not appreciate this.
- Brick Joke: Quite a few, since the author has enough experience to know he can pull this off.
- A fan-sim ending of the X-Files. Eleven years and nine months.
- In the "A Hand of Acey's" storyline, the Evvi-Bot is a miracle of modern science. Yep, miracle.
- One of the more notable ones is started here and hit again a year and four days later here.
- "They committed suicide when they saw me coming."
- A bit of Schlock Merchandise (strictly in-universe) is mentioned here, and brought up again here. It gets re-used a few years later, here.
- Part of Jud Shafter's interaction with Schlock is described as being from his memoirs. Close to 9 years later, he appears to be signing his published memoirs.
- That is a very insensitive and unfunny April fools' joke in 2002. But guess who invented these nifty things our Heroes find October 2011.
- In one strip, Kevyn's glasses are revealed to be specially made to allow the user to see certain invisible spectra, such as infra-red. Cue December 2nd 2011, where Schlock tries them on.
- Elf the modern Goddess of War.
- Tagon's dubious misdirection strikes back, from the unexpected side.
- Pi getting creative With his loadout supplies.
- A vat of hydroponic watermelons is mentioned in book 12, as a means to properly stimulate nanite growth. Come the end of the book, check out what's in the background...
- "Flagrantay Delicious" is mentioned as either a polite word for sex or (jokingly) a great name for a restaurant. Turns out it was a restaurant.
- Bulletproof Vest: Most of the characters wear body armor. This comic points out that body armor is only useful if you get shot in an armored spot.
- Bullying a Dragon:
- Damico P'Stoqye assumes that Petey is all meaningless bluster since he isn't willing to start a war with Sol to fight her. She ends up getting kidnapped from her home and delivered into his hands with only the slightest amount of effort from him.
- Wing Marshall Takka Besti subverts a very generous deal for his people in an attempt to steal everything the Toughs have. When that fails, he mocks Chinook when she calls to threaten him, and only has a few seconds of terror when he realizes his mistake before she blows him up from halfway across the galaxy.
- Shiplord Srabben:
- He is a militia captain in a converted freighter who believes that he can easily handle the small warship and two military freighters he's facing. The narration points out that if he bothered to consult any publicly available vessel classification tables, he'd see that any one of the ships outclasses his entire fleetnote . The Toughs, by contrast, note that their point defenses can handle the enemy weapons indefinitely, and are mostly worried about the legal ramifications when they get bored and start shooting back. A lot of this is explained (and the legal issues expunged) when it turns out that he's just a low-rent pirate in a stolen ship with a vastly inflated opinion of himself.
- Worse, Srabben triples down on his arrogance after the Toughs board his ship and have his crew completely at their mercy, practically daring Corporal Gugro (Whom he thinks is the Toughs' commanding officer) to make good on this threat to rip his arms off. Gugro eventually obliges.
- Bystander Syndrome:
- The characters are mercenaries, after all. Priority number one is to stay alive long enough to get paid. Priority two is to get paid.Breya: What about priority three? Feel good about yourself?
Tagon: Do what I do: Learn to feel good about getting paid.
- Petey on the other hand is very much against this philosophy, which is largely why he declared war on the Ob'enn, and eventually the entire Andromeda galaxy.Petey: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Tagon: I haven't heard that one before.
- The characters are mercenaries, after all. Priority number one is to stay alive long enough to get paid. Priority two is to get paid.
- Hell hath no fury like a woman in power armor.
- Seeing treasure maps in the hieroglyphs.
- I don't think your Dorothy trick will work again. Besides... he won't grow bits back like Schlock did.
- "Do you know what they call flying soldiers on the battlefield?" "Skeet."
- "Do you remember what I did to the cops who said that about us?"
- "I want to go for a walk.
- "So all the fat men..." "...Could have been replaced with a deck full of hydroponic watermelon."
- "Soulless warmonkey" Well... it has no head and is gluing hand grenades to helmets.
- "No, but a grateful tyrant can sweep a lawsuit under the rug..."
- Calvin Ball: a.k.a. Munchkin-clix of Cataan.
- Came Back Wrong: Sort of. When Doctor Bunnigus decides to restore Vog, a ten-million-year-old former member of the Toughs to life, she ends up wiping most of his memories, "rebooting" him to his far younger self...and ten million years ago, Vog was apparently a violently xenophobic jerkass.
- Carnivore Confusion: The common pets and food animal "kreelies" are the same biological species as the sophonts known as "Kreely", minus a bacteria that allows sapience. (According to the RPG they were already widespread as a food animal before encountering the bacteria.) The Kreely don't see any problem with this, even enjoying the taste of kreelies themselves, and in fact their own planetary government runs the kreely market. The Toughs not being aware of this distinction drove one early arc.
- Catching Some Z's: 2008-10-22 strip: The "Zzzzz..." in the last panel, to show that Captain Tagon fell asleep.
- Caught in a Snare: When the Toughs land on a planet only to discover it's home to a sentient stone-age race.
- The Cavalry: Discussed in this strip by the narrator, as Captain Sorlie and the Xeno Team come to the rescue of Captain Murtaugh's group, after the latter got trapped during their attempt to escape from hostile forces.
- Centrifugal Gravity: Credomar and Mel-One (Moon-Earth Lagrange point 1) both use Centrifugal force to keep people on the deck. The sheer inefficiency of the design is lampshaded in the former case and the latter is justified by the station pre-dating Terran use of Artificial Gravity, and maintained in such a manner (minus a station crew module given artificial gravity) for historical purposes.
- Cerebus Retcon: Subverted. The early gag of the "magic cryokit" modified by the Toughs' former doctor using his illegal research, including dumping his own memories into it, takes on surprising seriousness in light of later revelations about the doctor, his role in certain black projects, and what those projects are capable of. Also related, the apparent throwaway joke at the time that the doctor's corpse was missing unspecified parts when it was brought in for the bounty; it's not until more than six years later that we find out that said illegal research is capable of rebuilding people from parts of their dead body. Subverted in that it's done so subtly and over such a long period that it appears to be less a retcon than incredibly long-range foreshadowing.
- Chainsaw Good:
- Chased by Angry Natives: Happens in Zoojack station. A subversion, though, as is quickly discovered when the natives find out their quarry are intelligent.Native: There will be no fight. We were hunting, and now we are not.
- Chekhov's Armoury: The Massively Parallel arc has had so many Chekhov's Guns left lying around that first-time readers have probably forgotten half of them before they once more became relevant.
- Chekhov's Gun: Used repeatedly, without mercy. In fact, any throwaway one-liner can turn out to be Chekhov's Gun 200 strips later.
- Prime example: Cocked here, fired a month later.
- Excellent example is here, making Credomar a literal Chekhov's Gun. One capable of firing across the galaxy.
- Yet another rapid-fire burst of gunfire: The end of "The Body Politic" arc had the Toughs' collective memories wiped in order to prevent them from being executed by the UNS in order to cover up secrets. The deal also included a complete cutoff from Petey. Two arcs later, near the end of "Massively Parallel", Petey bails them out as mentioned in the above mentioned literal 'Gun', and it's only Schlock's circumvention of the mindwipe rearing its head that makes Tagon listen to anything Petey has to say. Like the Toughs themselves, Howard sure loves his guns...
- Then we're given this strip that details what the Toughs found out to have their memory wiped in the above example. This becomes the entirety of the plot of "Random Access Memorabilia."
- Ultimate example, a tasteless Aprils Fools Joke becomes the Plot for over two whole books nearly five years later!
- Ennesby is seen with an eyepatch in the present day. In a later flashback to the month before, Tagon threatened to poke out an eye if Ennesby's plan goes pear-shaped. The eye is actually lost due to enemy fire when the plan goes up in flames, making this a Red Herring instead.
- Sunshine is just another weapon, indeed.
- In Howard's best self-aware fashion, this strip literally uses "CHEKHOV!" as the Unsound Effect for the firing of the ship's main weapon.
- Chekhov's Gunman:
- Circus Episode: In the "Barsoom Circus Command" arc (Book 11, part 2) Schlock's squad infiltrates a circus on Mars.
- Civil War: The United Nations of Sol is divided into many factions with varying levels of ruthlessness and sanity. The conflicts between them form a major plot thread throughout the story, and the UNS has been one good shove away from civil war for centuries. In particular, this is why the Laz'r'us Project is kept such a tight secret. If knowledge that one faction of the UNS has been experimenting with Nanomachines capable of allowing agelessness, rewriting peoples' minds, or even genocide were to get out, it would be enough to finally trigger it. In Book 15, events start to near a boil with the public announcement of a more-benign version of Laz'r'us and then a False Flag Operation and Staged Populist Uprising by unidentified outside forces. Ultimately, the civil war is only narrowly averted.
- *Click* Hello: Given the amount of guns floating around, this is a favorite of nearly everyone. Even the AIs, who can sometimes do this with tanks.
- Clones Are People, Too: All clones are considered real people with little debate. The surviving gate clones who were freed were given status as legal individuals, including every Gav, who was duplicated nearly a billion times. There were most likely political ramifications, but this didn't affect the Toughs, so it wasn't expanded on. It was later established that a clone is considered the same person as the original for anything done before cloning, but for anything after that they're separate people. One unlucky gate clone found that the original had been sentenced to multiple death sentences for a crime committed before the cloning.
- Cloning Blues:
- Averted for everyone on-screen. Duplicated characters are treated as legally and morally equal to the originals, and are usually Put on a Bus rather than killed. An extreme example is "The Gavs": a cameo by the creator of Nukees is duplicated some 950 million times in an instant, and is now a dominant ethnic group and marketing demographic in his own right.Captain Tagon: Kevyn and, um... Kevyn, do you have any suggestions for how I handle paying you? I mean, there are two of you now.
Timeclone!Kevyn: No. There is one of me, and one of him.
- In Kevyn's case his gate clone replaced him completely, as he'd been killed by his own improvised gravy gun. His time clone (from an alternate future) retired after winning the lottery and apparently some mob-run horse races.
- HOWEVER... Uncountable gate clones were tortured and murdered off-screen over all the time the F'sherl Ganni gates were the galaxy's only practical form of transportation. Their bases being in secret locations and Petey defending them in exchange for their cooperation with his larger war against Andromeda's dark matter entities are the only reasons the other races haven't exterminated them in revenge.
- After a new Schlock is cloned after the original's death, the clone is OK for a while, but later goes through an identity crisis.
- They eventually develop the ability to clone new bodies with the memories of the dead up to the point of their last backup. After the trouble they had with Schlock they make a very clear distinction that the clone and the original are different people; you are the person that did everything you remember, but you are not the person who did whatever happened afterwards. This is explicitly because it was either that or give up on the ideas of agency and free will. This gets awkward when they resurrect Tagon, and he finds out they also built a memorial for the one who died in a Heroic Sacrifice (and was only 45 minutes different).
- Averted for everyone on-screen. Duplicated characters are treated as legally and morally equal to the originals, and are usually Put on a Bus rather than killed. An extreme example is "The Gavs": a cameo by the creator of Nukees is duplicated some 950 million times in an instant, and is now a dominant ethnic group and marketing demographic in his own right.
- Cloning Body Parts: Prosthetics are generally temporary and only issued when cloning tanks are unavailable or the HMO doesn't cover them.
- Clothes Make the Superman: Even the standard low-profile powered uniform practically turns a soldier into a Flying Brick. You should see what the actual armor is like.
- Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: From Ovalkwik to Samsony, several formerly competing companies have merged, as revealed by their portmanteau names.
- Color Blind Confusion: Once Lieutenant Pi attempted to disarm some rogue ordinance by pressing the green button on his remote, and not the red detonation button. Cut to his head in a jar saying "Nobody told me I was red-green colorblind."
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: In an in-universe example, Lt. Shodan suspects that a bunch of new recruits charging ahead and blazing away with their guns were prevented from shooting one another only because they were wearing the same color.
- Comically Missing the Point : The response of the author in this strip to complaints about how the story is being told doesn't focus on the story telling, but instead on the elaboration of the metaphor "like a hot knife through butter."
- Comic-Book Time: An early strip is dated at 3096, with the last available in-universe date as of the end of 2014 being the week before the turn of the 32nd century within the setting, three in-universe years for over 14 real life ones. Even more pronounced in the later books, where it can take years of real life time to go through months of in-universe time.
- Continuity Nod: Ennesby, in the form we know him (as a single character, instead of pretending to be four different members of a boy band, the New Sync Boys (from whence Ennesby gets his name, NSB)), first linked up with Tagon's Toughs on the strip from July 11, 2000. Thirteen years later, on August 30, 2013, his abandoning his career as a boy band returned to bite him when Para Ventura, a very young member of the Toughs, informs him coldly that she cried for a week when it was announced in the news that the "New Sync Boys" were dead.
- Cosmic Flaw: At one point there was a minor distortion of teraport mechanics...which turned out to be a symptom of the Milky Way being pinched off into its own little universe, and then slowly destroyed from the inside out. It came very close to destroying the whole galaxy, and would have if if it weren't for a bizarre loophole in the physics of the anomaly.
- Couldn't Find a Pen: Kevyn uses his blood to write a warning for Captain Tagon, about his antimatter grenade epaulet being armed, as the same injuries that gave him blood to write with also prevented him from being able to speak.
- Crash-Into Hello: 2017-10-22: Flinders and Kaff Tagon's collision was called a Meet-Cute.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Four Parkata Urbatsu practicing punks versus one combat experienced merc captain itching for revenge after the Fork Incident. It was not a fair fight.
- Danger in the Galactic Core: The galactic core is mostly exploding suns and black holes, which makes it perfect ground for the experiments of the Gatekeepers. They eventually start up a zero-point energy generator using the core itself, which was actually designed as a bomb by dark matter entities from Andromeda who wanted to destroy the Milky Way. Petey takes control of it and declares himself God.
- Darker and Edgier: The annual Schlocktoberfest season tends to see a more sinister arc. Zig-zagged in general, with dramatic moments and lighter arcs taking turns.
- Darkest Hour:
- The aftermath of the Battle of Oisri. The Toughs' ship is destroyed with no prospect of another, a high-powered member has betrayed the company's trust, the UNS is angrier at them than ever, and Petey has decided that they aren't a force for good anymore and won't help them do anything but retire. All that's left of Tagon's Toughs is some bug hunt that Schlock wants to go on...
- On a galactic scale, the final battle against the Pa'anuri. Petey can hold them back no longer, and they have advanced so much they even have their own warships, which can turn planets into mini-stars through gravitics and launch them at homeworlds to extinguish all life they can find; the invasion begins mere minutes after Petey's warnings. Then one last Long-gun shot from Andromeda, charged for weeks, damages Petey's galactic core generators, leaving him with unstable energy to use now or never and an incapacity to get more in any reasonable timespan. All he can do is send a small force over to Andromeda, and hope it works. And knowing no other force that can do the job in such small numbers, he's forced to strand Tagon's Toughs in the middle of a whole galaxy's worth of hostile territory...
- Dead End Job: The position of explosives expert in Tagon's Toughs has a relatively high turnover rate: So far it's killed at least two Mauve Shirts who have held it (Kevyn, their unofficial expert, has also died repeatedly). Many of the grunts believe the position to be cursed, although its current holder doesn't seem too fussed.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Death Is Cheap: Besides the fact that medical technology is so advanced that anything short of brain damage is survivable with the right equipment, a number of deaths have been reversed due to nanotechnology, mind backups and time travel (namely Kevyn, Schlock, Tagon, Petey, and a few others). Generally, a character isn't dead proper until the end of the book.
- Declining Promotion: Warrant Officer Thurl says that the moment he's offered a commission he'll resign.
- Deconstructor Fleet
- A Degree in Useless: A minor character apparently studied "comparative Gal-West lit, with an emphasis on memetic Terranism" before working fast food, and subsequently becoming cook's assistant for the Toughs. Subverted later on; her knowledge proves invaluable several times, and she is later promoted into the officer corps so that the company can make better use of her expertise.
- Democracy Is Bad: Multiple:
- Kevyn Andreyasn just wants to Save The Galaxy, but the UNS just wants Blackmail material. Nothing Can Save Us Now except a Godlike AI (with the help of some trustworthy Private Military Contractors).
- Later, there's Credomar, a habitat founded on the principles of democracy that was completely corrupt and near anarchy with at least six competing factions by the time the Toughs got there. They ended up electing a robot dictator who actually got things done.LOTA: A democracy? Tell us, when was the last time the results of a free election here in Credomar were adhered to?
Frank Hannibal: [silent]
Lota: Now please stop pretending that you are the voice of the people. You just happen to be loud, and wearing a microphone.
- Description Cut:
- Seen here:Cop 1: What makes Timmons think that perp of his is hiding in here?
Cop 2: He escaped into the river and he looks like a giant turd. Waste-water treatment is a logical place to look. Besides, he's a criminal. Dark places for dark souls.
[cut to their target sitting under a tree in a sunlit park, a happy smile on his face]
- And here.Murtaugh: Schlock will have to manage things at the villa without us. Besides, Doctor Bunnigus is there to provide him with a functioning moral compass.
[cut to the villa]
Doc Bunnigus: It's probably nothing, but I still want you to be ready for brunch at the zero-evidence buffet.
Schlock: Talk, kill, eat. Got it.
- Seen here:
- Destructive Teleportation: As described in strip 2001-03-24, teraporting:Kevyn: The teraport requires very little real mass, and can be carried in your hand, It perforates space-time with quadrillions of tiny worm-holes. Because you can carry it, you can depart from any point in the universe. You'll travel faster, and be able to go places where there are no wormgates.
Kevyn: But because you can't fit through these tiny worm-holes in one piece, the teraport converts your ship into a standing gravitic wave, and then splits that into gravitic packets that can be transmitted through the tiny wormholes.
- Determinator: Howard Tayler, the author. Nothing can stop him from updating every single day. Not injuries, not software glitches, nothing. Even a transformer explosion at the server farm where the comic is hosted that took out two walls, several websites, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment did not stop Schlock Mercenary's update schedule; he just set up a temporary site until they got the main host back up. On one occasion, the comic was up several hours late. Howard apologized, and the strip was up by End of Business that day. One occasion in eleven years. And with the revelation on his blog that he had been suffering from depression all this time... Well, let us just say then that the respect due to him for publishing a strip daily no matter what is going off the scale.
- Deus Est Machina:
- Seemingly any AI should it gain enough processing power. Lunesby, the accidental offspring of a holographic Boy Band and Luna's millennium-old filing system immediately decides to start streamlining the moon's labyrinthine bureaucracy. LOTA (the Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse) does pretty much the same thing on Credomar. On the other hand, Petey is suicidally insane when the Toughs pick him up, but eventually becomes the core of the Fleetmind, a gestalt of countless Battleship Class AIs into one, big, (kinda) omniscient Uber-AI... that immediately decides to appoint itself guardian of the Milky Way Galaxy.
- This could be Howard's idealistic side shining through the series' prevalent cynicism; organics are flawed, but machines just want to do what they're designed to do - make their creators' lives better. And given the opportunity, that's just what they'll do.
- Deus Exit Machina: According to comments by the author, it's hard to keep Petey's near omnipotence from slicing through a perfectly tangled Gordian-knot plot. This may explain why Petey was given a reason to avoid contact with the mercenaries at the end of Book 9 (they were made to remember him having abandoned them by a UNS rewriting of their memories), and in Book 11 he has to use all his god-like power to fight the Pa'anuri of Andromeda and cannot spare any to act as Deus ex Machina for the protagonists.
- Didn't See That Coming:
- One of the most common plot complications. For example, the gang didn't see a rogue Ob'enn hijacking the PDCL coming. Petey didn't see the UNS making the mercs think he'd abandoned them coming. You get the idea.
- The narrator goes so far as to say, at one point, that good intel for any non-AI-directed military mission usually amounts to, "Crap, I think they heard us coming."
- Digital Avatar: Characters tend to have their digital avatars match what's also shown in meatspace, whether it's two AIs talking to eachother, a human hacking its way into an AI-AI conversation by lowering clock speed, or the many physical sophonts that get uploaded into a digital computer to avoid a galactic disaster.
- The Dinosaurs Had It Coming: Petey points this out, and a later strip shows they did see the asteroid coming... far too late:Ennesby: Why do Earth people name their largest spacecraft after craters and comets?
Tagon: Lots of people name weapons after scary things.
Ennesby: Nope. "Extinct people don't have space programs."
- Discriminate and Switch: In the 2004-06-06 strip, a wonderful example when Tagon fires a pair of insectoid soldiers immediately after their eggs hatch, without giving much reason for it. When the Reverend chews him out for his apparent intolerance, he defends himself by saying essentially that a warship is not a place to raise a family: "It's not that they're weird, or that they're mating, or that they lay eggs. It's that they laid the eggs, and the eggs hatched, and now someone has to watch kids."
- Disproportionate Retribution: Schlock Mercenary plays with this a lot, although it's often subverted by the fact that in military operations, "overwhelming force" is not at all an unreasonable place to start from. One in-universe saying is "There is no overkill. There is only 'open fire' and 'I need to reload.'" A few of the straighter examples of the trope:
- A reality TV host for a glamour show makes fun of Elf while she's shopping. His miniature camera ends up somewhere that medical help is needed to remove it.
- A planetary legislature hasn't allocated funds to replace their orbital defenses, a couple months after god-like AI Petey defended them from attempted orbital bombardment. Petey finds this irresponsible, and exiles them to the Andromeda galaxy.
- The Obenn at one point decide to grind one of the protagonists into sausage. Because he was insufficiently polite during his interrogation.
- The Ditz: A number of clients, especially those from the government.
- Don't Explain the Joke: Get it?
- Don't Ask, Just Run:
- Maxim 3 of the Seventy Maxims for Maximally Effective Mercenaries reads "An ordnance technician at a dead run outranks everybody." This is Truth in Television at explosives-producing facilities. In the strip giving us the maxim the ship's demolitions tech has set up perimeter mines designed to trigger in the presence of large heavily armed vehicle (the fail-safe was left as a project for the junior officer). Cue the large, armed robot who happens to be the team's assignment to protect...
- In the book The Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance, Breya's starship was being repaired in a stolen-and-resold Ob'enn fabbery. A pair of Ob'enn Thunderhead Superfortress-class ships were bearing down on them, causing Breya and Kevyn - on board the ship - to hit the throttles and tear out of there in the hopes of at least DISTRACTING the attackers. Aboard the fabbery, Warrant Officer Thurl sees the ship leave, and immediately heads for the lifeboat at a dead run, encouraging the rest of the engineering squad to keep up. He comments, "If the Athens left like there's no tomorrow, then there probably won't be."Crewman: So when that little voice in your head says "run," you just run?
Thurl: Do you see these gray hairs, kid?
- Lt. Pibald may be certifiably crazy, yet he knows what it means if Sgt. Schlock suddenly bounces by, a plasma cannon in grasp and not stopping for explanation:Pi: Wait, are we having a Maxim 2 moment?
Narrator: Maxim 2: A sergeant in motion outranks a lieutenant who doesn't know what's going on.
Pi: (running after Schlock) Stupid, Pi, stupid! If you have to ask, then yes, you're having a Maxim 2 moment!
- Double Standard: The standard outcome of an accidental insult or reflexive lechery from a male mercenary to a female mercenary is for her to break several of his bones. There's never any repercussions, and none of the men have ever assaulted any of the women.
- Dramatic Irony: In the "false memories" plot the doctor and reverend are crushed to learn that their memories of their wedding are false, and they aren't really married. The reader knows that they are really married; the actual wedding was part of what was written over, and they had it performed specifically to make sure that would be the case.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Karl Tagon's comment after telling the heartbreaking story of the death of most of his family to a weaponized nanomachine attack: "They don't make bottles big enough for this kind of empty."
- Duct Tape for Everything:
- Seems to be Pronto's favourite method of restraining prisoners, and is stated as such explicitly:Kevyn: Does the Serial Peacemaker even have a brig?
Tagon: All I need is Corporal Pontucci and some duct tape.
- Kevyn apparently took notes, later used when he takes command after Tagon's death:
- An annotation notes that of the classic jury-rigging Holy Trinity of baling wire, Bondo, and Duct Tape, "Duct Tape has actually seen the most change during the intervening centuries. For instance, it can now safely be used to fasten and seal duct-work. Just be sure to lose the handy-dandy spool with the built-in tape cutter before it trims the tape just above your first knuckle."
- Even useful for restraining nanomachine-based zombies.
- Seems to be Pronto's favourite method of restraining prisoners, and is stated as such explicitly:
- Dying Moment of Awesome: The Unioc commander in the arc beginning here. When faced with a Pa'anuri warship so massive its mass alone is sufficient to destabilized the orbit of an ice giantnote and fling it off into space, his only thought is to charge into a hopeless Last Stand with cameras broadcasting in hopes that someone out there is watching and can learn enough from his action to figure out how to destroy it.
- Dynamic Entry: A given, considering that they're mercenaries, and sometimes end up entering an already contested battlefield, but there can still be some noticeable moments:
- One storyline has the Toughs fighting suborned JSC cops/military, and — while rescuing some tourists — Schlock enters the scene in the background... while airborne... and dual-wielding hammers.
- A later storyline has Elf make a deliberately-showy entrance, since "Somebody has to be the first to showcase our new gear".
- Eager Rookie: The Toughs run into this problem and promptly extract the solution out of it:Tagon: You said most of the new recruits went charging down the hall, right? That's great! Enthusiastic cannon fodder like that just needs cautious leadership.
Shodan: And where do I find that?
Tagon: Promote everyone who hung back to corporal.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- The early strip had a LOT more Fourth Wall humor, with characters frequently having discussions with the narrator and complaining to the artist. After the first few years of the strip that kind of thing faded away, with only occasional uses afterward with Kevyn in The Sharp End of the Stick, and the time immediately before Brad's being killed in the first Credomar arc.
- In the first story arc, Schlock feels nauseous after drinking a 4-liter soda. Much later, amorphs are established as masters of biochemistry, able to digest anything short of Grey Goo.
- Schlock is also seen early on collecting sexy magazines and ogling Breast Plates, when it's later firmly established that amorphs do not experience physical lust.
- Early adventures were much shorter and self-contained than they would become in later years. It was originally common for a story to take a month or less; now they tend to run the length of a book, or approximately a full year of daily updates.
- Early on, starship AIs and skin-tight power-assist uniforms with flight capability were introduced as revolutionary novelties, but become entirely ubiquitous later on.
- Ear Worm:
- The Macarena has been banned dozens of times since its creation because it's proven to be catchy enough to literally be infectious. Even when you change the words. Not even LOTA is immune.Kevyn: Explosive mayhem would actually be safer than some of those showtunes you used, but that's beside the point.
- The Macarena has been banned dozens of times since its creation because it's proven to be catchy enough to literally be infectious. Even when you change the words. Not even LOTA is immune.
- Easy Sex Change: One of the many possible modifications offered by GavCorps Diversity Engineering division.
- Major personality modification was part of the package the subjects signed up for, which would probably make the transition rather less traumatising.
- Eating the Enemy: Sergeant Schlock routinely eats enemies he doesn't care to leave alive—or their ashes, if he had to shoot them first.
- Or if they happen to be delicious.
- Edible Ammunition: "Come get pie!"
- Egocentric Team Naming: Appears to be popular among mercenaries. Tagon's Toughs (named after Kaff Tagon) and Pranger's Bangers (under Col. Drake Pranger) are notable examples. Breya Andreyasn originally intended to have the company renamed for her ("Breya's Bruins") after the Andreyasn siblings' buyout of the Toughs but ended up deciding otherwise...the company's business cards all had the Toughs name on them already. (This was the strip where Schlock made the Title Drop, as a proposed "compromise".)
- Eldritch Abomination:
- The Paa'nuri are strange dark-matter creatures that can't be seen and threaten to destroy the galaxy. It takes advanced science and lots of collaboration to fight back.
- Electronic Telepathy: One of the relatively minor characters is from a species that evolved a natural form of this, specifically an organic radio transmitter/receiver. The one shown has a single consciousness split across two bodies, and with a little added hardware to enable communication via hyperspace nodes his range is extended to the point where he can pilot two separate tanks simultaneously with a level of tactical co-ordination that normally only an AI can manage.
- Enemy Mine: Several times, most often with General Xinchub.Maxim 29: The enemy of my enemy is my enemy's enemy. No more. No less.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: On several levels; not only are there sentient apes hanging around, but the characters know that monkeys are just that awesome. Especially with grenades. They also make great distractions.General Tagon: One of the best uses for a monkey is to make everybody pay attention to the monkey.
- Evil Laugh:
- Evil Lawyer Joke: "Yes, we know they're all lawyers. You're supposed to be rooting for the friendly human one."
- Exact Eavesdropping: Lampshaded, even. "Well, that was a bit more convenient than I could have expected."
- Exact Words: After Schlock is sent to fight a crypt spider.Kevyn: Sergeant, did you pick a fight with one of Ventura's crypt spiders?
Kevyn: I asked that question incorrectly. I shall rephrase myself. Tell me about your activities of the last twenty hours, starting with anything you enjoyed.
Schlock: You senior officers are getting good at crimping all my wriggle room.
- Excited Show Title!: One of the sections of the comic, is a One-Word Title called "BOARDERS!!".
- Expospeak Gag: Usually done by Kevyn, but others can do this too; even Schlock(!).Elf: That seems like a pretty crude mod to an elaborate plan.
Schlock: I can call it suppressing fire if you think it'll sound more complicated.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Kevyn learns that there is a right time and a wrong time to invoke this on someone here.
- Used in a broader sense a couple of other times where the Toughs will be talking over a scenario or predicting the worse thing that could happen. There's a fairly good chance that said horrible event is well underway already.
- Discussing why Tagon is willing to hunt down Breya for money.Kevyn: That doesn't excuse selling Breya out. It just shows what your price is.
Tagon: Let me finish. After we're out of the way, who do you think Xinchub will send after your sister?
Kevyn: I don't know... Some unimaginative, trigger-happy rear admiral, probably. Oh, crap. I can't believe I just now figured that out.
- Explosive Decompression: Done fairly realistically rather than the usual popping skulls.Schlock: Explosive decompression sucks.
- Extreme Omnivore: Sgt. Schlock, best summarized here. he even gets a descriptor-upgrade, as his comrades found 'omnivore' insufficient.
- Eye Scream: Eye injuries are extremely common.
- Tagon alone has lost at least two over the course of the strip, the same one in the same book (medical cloning). One of them is a nice demonstration of how much of an unstoppable badass the captain can be.
- Others who have lost eyes include (but aren't limited to) Andy, Ch'vorthq, Ebbirnoth, Chisulo, Schlock (a special case - he can always go to his home planet and pick some more), and any number of anonymous enemy grunts. Given the state of medical technology, these are almost always either Amusing Injuries or the least of their worries.
- It is also one of the few things Schlock has to worry about. As he notes when being shot by a sniper, only a hit to his eyes would even bother him.
- Here is a demonstration of what happens when human eyeballs are exposed to the wash from a plasma cannon, courtesy of Danita, one of the modified Gav gate clones.
- Face Palm: Something of a regular occurrence. In particular, Major Murtaugh's palm winds up more or less glued to her face while she's trying to get used to having Schlock in her command. Also, Captain Tagon a few times.
- Fake Memories: Part of the deal made with Admiral Emm in exchange for not killing the Toughs is that the company members have their memories altered, with false memories implanted to replace the real things. It's later reversed, with Petey's help, for most of the crew.
- Famed In-Story: Kaff Tagon gets a reputation as "a killer of Battleplates". His father, realizing the target this paints, understandably has an Oh, Crap! reaction.
- Family of Choice: When "Marshall" Gungronote fully realizes that the success of the current mission depends on her being in charge for what happens, instead of just acting like it, states "These people are my family now.""Our next conversation with Mom is going to be weird."
"One of your mates recently obtained provisional clan status for your family. [...]The application was for a clan of six, and after reviewing the speech you gave, I believe you're on your way to six thousand."
- This also sets the stage to help start a social revolution; their (spiritual) leader was hoping for someone that wasn't as tradition-bound.
- Fan Disservice:
- Lots and lots of gratuitous bikini shots while the mercenaries are on vacation, which are hilariously lampshaded here.
- Chelle's Incredible Flying Bikini, during the Barsoom arc.
- Circumstances conspire to put Kathryn in a hospital gown and underwear while running an armed rescue in an enemy base. Karl (one of the rescuees) is quite appreciative.
- Fantastic Drug: Captain Tagon mentions, in a reminiscence about what happened to a unit given far too much room for their quarters, something called "hyperjuana", which from the name is probably some kind of extra powerful marijuana equivalent.
Glucose, fructose, corn syrup solids, concentrated cocoa-bean extract, assorted methylxanthine alkaloids (including caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline), sodium laureth sulfate, Minoxadyl, buckminster fullerene, codeine, hyper-ephedrine, nicotine, with BHA and BHT added to preserve freshness.
- And, for collateral damage to the conscience, there's Ovalquick. Or, as Schlock calls it, "the tub of Happiness".
- Fantastic Racism: Multiple:
- Beyond a variety of "Race X hates Race Y and is trying to subjugate or destroy it," there's also a few cases of an extremely negative view of artificial intelligences, especially from Reverend Theo. Though he eventually came to terms with Petey (mostly) and had nothing against Lota becoming a supposedly benevolent dictator.
- Also, as seen in multiple strips, there are always elephant jokes:
- There are broader criteria, such as Andy's "They're all Terrans. They all look alike".
- A bunch of Gavs used cutting-edge tech to "diversify" themselves, giving themselves new bodies (even changing sex in some cases) and implanting new personalities and skills into their minds. They did this because they were having difficulty coming to terms with being one of a crowd of identical people. They also are convinced that every Gav secretly feels this way, and look down on "baseliners" somewhat as being in denial. Ironically enough, a baseliner suspects that this attitude was specifically added in to make them like the change.
- At least one caste of the ancient Bradicor actually received special treatments to enforce xenophobia, presumably for military purposes. In order to avoid a violent variation of senility, the few surviving Bradicore eventually started repressing many mental traits, including this one.
- Fantastic Ship Prefix: Merchantships get the designation MR, for Merchant Registry. Since ships are usually referred to as 'she', much fun is had among merchant sailors by pronouncing the prefix as 'Mister' and using the pronoun in the same sentence.
- Fantastic Slurs:
- Referring to an uplifted Gorilla (aka 'Rilla) as "Kong" is extremely offensive. Even if it was innocently given as a nickname because it's part of the full name, as Corporal "Mac" M'Conger had to explain to Schlock.
- Referring to members of the purple-skinned Human Subspecies as "Purps" is perfectly polite. However, using the modern slang of "perps" meaning "criminals" is quite offensive to Purps for obvious reasons.
- Fartillery: Discussed in one strip:Kevyn: During this time you [Pi] are not to discharge anything more energetic than a sneeze.
Ennesby: Sneezes move at about forty-two meters per second, sir.
Kevyn: ...how fast does a fart move?
Ennesby: *shocked* Mother of methane! Farts are flammable!
- Fashion Designer: Captain Tagon's father sends him a robotic tailor for his birthday, providing an excuse for new uniforms and outfits for him as well as several other officers. Later on, Tailor Took a Level in Badass and became a surgeon and a combat asset.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: The nature and socio-political impact of the Teraport is a major theme of the series. The Wormgates also turn out to have far more plot significance than mere transportation.
- Fatal Family Photo: Referenced in this strip, and ultimately averted (if barely).
- Fetch Quest: When Schlock had to go back to his homeworld to pick up a new set of eyes.
- Field Promotion:
- Happens a lot due to characters dying off.
- When an emergency happens and Massey (the only judge on payroll) has to recuse himself from a case, he promotes a random Sanctum Adroit soldier who happened to be in the audience.Avernebb: This looks complicated.
Landon: It's simple. Sign it, and then say "court is in recess until further notice."
Avernebb: "It's simple, Justice Avernebb."
Landon: I'm sorry, I was out of order, your honor. Please sign it?
Avernebb: I'm glad we both learn quickly.
- Finishing Each Other's Sentences: Tagon and Ceeta (which scared them).
- Five-Second Foreshadowing: While we had already seen it used in the backstory a few times, the heroes get access to technology to digitize people en masse almost immediately before it's needed. In-universe it's about a day.
- Flame War: Referenced when Ennesby responds to a terapedo (which he disabled) with a very harshly worded message, using his Weapons-Grade Vocabulary.Ceeta: I have this policy about not starting flame wars with people who ride around in battleplates.
- A Fool for a Client: At one point during the HTRN takedown storyline, Massey resorts to this when speaking for the Toughs, for whom he is their legal council. While Fleetmind jurisprudence doesn't allow lawyers to represent defendants, he was also a co-defendant in the hearing.Petey: You know, they say that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.
Massey: HAVE YOU SEEN WHO I WORK FOR?!?
- Forced Friendly Fire: After General Xinchub captures his old enemies Captain Tagon and Colonel Jaksmouth, just for fun he has his ship (a battleplate) manipulate Tagon's gun arm with its tractor beams to make him shoot Jaksmouth.Tagon: Not five minutes ago I wanted to do that. How is it possible for you to suck the fun out of everything?
- Foreign Queasine:
- The ape-style rock-a-stack with real termites.
- Smutto (a mixture of natto and corn smut) would also be a good example.
- Subverted with chupaquesos. They are delicious, if unhealthy. (The listed ingredients are several types of cheese, and butter (which is technically a very soft Cheese, given that it comes from milk). And it all gets grilled in a skillet. ....yum.)
- The fact that Kathryn is an ex-UNS captain was quite heavily foreshadowed several times, starting with her exceptional competence at planning and subterfuge, along with her adeptness at using firearms while rescuing Karl Tagon.
- Para is foreshadowed to be a UNS agent.
- "Sis, that's long enough that the thing could have flown here from Andromeda." Guess where the wormgate being discussed goes to?
- This leads to this which is actually what Xinchub was working against.
- Here, Tagii says she has "plenty of processing cycles to spare", to which Ennesby replies that "Idle CPUs are the devil's workshop". Over two years later, Tagii is driven insane by being disconnected and trapped in her processor bank with nothing to do.
- "Do you have any idea how many successful mutinies are associated with the ship's plumbing?" Maybe not instrumental to the plan, per se, but later that year, we do learn of at least one mutiny that did involve the plumbing...
- "The karmic debt we're accruing could destroy a planet." In the very next arc, a planet (Oisri) is destroyed.
- "Sunshine is just another weapon."
- General Tagon is shown wearing a shirt with postscript/71st maxim on it nearly three years before the end of The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries was revealed as part of a Kickstarter reward.
- Chinook did warn them what would happen if her friends all suddenly died.
- There are so many cases of various levels of foreshadowing in the strip a running statement is "If what was said is not relevant now, it eventually will be."
- Fourth Wall: Gets progressively thicker as the series progresses. In the first volume, characters actively try to decide who's going to die on the basis of when they were introduced, who gets punchlines, and whether they're named. By later volumes, the wall gets nudged much more rarely, and fleetingly.
- From a Single Cell
- Fictional Document: The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. Will be Defictionalized as part of the Kickstarter.
- Freudian Couch: Reverend Fobius tries to therapize Captain Tagon on one, but the Captain is too tired to do more than fall asleep.
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": Brightly-coloured party hats and noisemakers are the attire of choice at General Xinchub's funeral.
- Fun with Acronyms:
- From the eyetree quest storyline, there are the two Bradicor males Really Old Dude, or Rod, and Very Old Guy, or Vog.
- Lt. Flinders and Enesby were ordered to come up with a manual of operations for the Toughs to standardize actions. This strip shows the results: Toughs Handbrain Of Operations: Senior Officers, or THOOSO; Toughs Handbrain Of Operations: Platoon Officers, or THOOPO; Toughs Handbrain Of Operations: Grunts, or THUG (treating the double O as a U, not letting language stand in the way of a memorable acronym); and the master volume that combines the previous volumes into one work: Toughs Handbrain Of Operations: Master.Enesby: THOOM, if you will.
Comodore Tagon: Well played. I think we all will.
- Book 17 includes a brief reference to the offices of "Rear Echelon Methodology and Framework," or REMF. In the real world, that acronym is short for "Rear Echelon Motherfucker," slang for Soldiers at the Rear
- Fusion Dance:
- Amorphs use this to exchange memories, to fight, and to reproduce.
- There's also an interesting one when Schlock tries to trade memories with a timeclone of himself - the intellectual thought-processes recognize two unique Schlocks, but the biology thinks it's recovered an errant fragment of the same amorph unit. What ensues is described (to give us non-amorphs perspective) as being sort of like trying to resist throwing up, except backwards, and with about the same inevitability of outcome.
- Gadgeteer Genius: Kevyn; Dr. Todd, inventor of the "magic cryokit".
- Gag Censor: The censor box bubble blocked view of a head injury, and also prevented Doyt and Haban from taking a good look at the wound until they pushed the body off-panel, which then caused Doyt to get an eyeful of the gory wound.
- Gale-Force Sound: "If you want to really yell at somebody, Doctor, do it from the diaphragm."
- Gallows Humour: After Schlock is killed, and restored from a backup of his memories;Tagii: I'm not the one who jumped into a six-kilometer hole without a flight suit.
Schlock: Neither am I.
- Gambit Pileup: Both most arcs and the overreaching plot, especially since the Fleetmind formed.
- Gargle Blaster: Different drinks for different folks; not helped by the introduction of "depth charges" (one drink with a shot of something else dropped in the glass); Schlock ends up trying different combos, including "Hey, Bartender! Depth-charge my Ovalquik with kerosene!" (As Kevyn says, "I'm not cleaning up the mess...."). Then there's what happens after Schlock ingests several bottles of concentrated solvent:(BURRRP!)
Legs: Frankly my dear, it's full of stars...
Legs: I see dead people!
- Generation Xerox: Played with and ultimately averted in a short storyline. General Tagon looks a lot like his son, which causes the latter to worry at one point that he's going to become his father as he ages, but an AI's projection shows that Kaff will look very different when he reaches his father's current age.
- Genghis Gambit: On a galactic scale.
- Genius Loci: Any ship with an AI.
- Gentlemen Rankers: Para Ventura joined the Toughs as an ensign and made lieutenant before she was discovered to be a spy and left in disgrace. When she was later instrumental in the Toughs being reconstituted, she found a new position, as a corporal, which rank she retains.
- Godzilla Threshold: The Pa'anuri detonate an artificial nova, threatening the Unioc homeworld. Petey is forced to evacuate the Uniocs by destroying all of their Teleport Interdiction and ripping out their souls.
- Got Volunteered:
- Very common. Every briefing generally turns into the "don't accidentally volunteer for something" game.
- Variant when Massey is helping write the Jumpstar Prime constitution. Due to a minor glitch, he filled out a blank spot with his own name, meaning he accidentally nominated himself for Supreme Justice. The council signed it, and when he informed them of the mistake, they just said "no mistake."
- The Pa'anuri manage to damage Petey's galactic core generator, depriving him of the energy needed to fight them back or send military assets over to Andromeda. Using what energy is left before he loses it entirely, he terraports the mercenaries to fight the Pa'anuri in their own galaxy. While Tagon had already been thinking about participating in such a mission, he isn't happy that Petey grabbed him without even giving him the option to refuse.
- Good Angel, Bad Angel: As usual for this trope, massively parodied. Tagon shoots his shoulder angel with his sidearm because he thinks it's a mosquito, his shoulder devil tries to dress up as an angel, and his shoulder angel comes back to shoot it in the head for doing so.
- Good News, Bad News: All over the place, in every form, including
- Godiva Hair: Several times in The Sharp End of the Stick, this is used to hide Elf's breasts, after the Toughs captured by Shufgar were stripped of their clothing.
- Goggles Do Something Unusual:
- Gone Horribly Right: As Dr. B explains how Project Laz'R'Us synergizes dozens of soldier boosts:Bunnigus: They found that the right combination of these technologies would make any human functionally immortal.
Breya: Okay, but what were the side effects?
Bunnigus: You mean besides turning the entire population into a standing army of Super Soldiers? No side effects. Clean as a razor sharp, double-edged sword-whistle.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Captain Tagon isn't shown extracting a knife that was stuck in his eye or what he does with it to the knife thrower, but from the concluding scene the next day, it wasn't pretty.
- G-Rated Drug: Ovalkwik, for Schlock
- Gravity Master: Gravitic technology is used for both protection and offense ("gravy-guns"), as well as sundry other uses such as Artificial Gravity and ship propulsion.
- The UNS Tunguska, like all Battleplates, has extremely precise control of its ability to sling around gravity, lifting the Toughs into the air as a show of force, transmitting a message by using gravity to rattle the ship's hull, and even gravitically controlling Tagon to shoot Jak in the head. All of this is notable in that it probably is NOT Art Major Physics.
- The Pa'anuri, being dark matter-based Eldritch Abominations, have this as their only way of interacting with regular matter. Considering they're really pissed at organics for teraport usage, that interaction usually involves crushing.
- Green-Skinned Space Babe:
- The alien womenfolk are generally quite alien, as ably demonstrated by Legs.
- Zigzagged with Ceeta, who has purple skin, but is a genetically modified human.
- Grievous Harm with a Body:
- Grey and Gray Morality: Tagon's Toughs aren't the heroes. They're the protagonists. There's a distinction (though they do overlap).
- Grey Goo: Mentioned to be a risk of weaponized Nano Machines. An ancient Bradicor suffering from memory loss also makes reference to green goo when he re-meets Schlock.
- Gunship Rescue: Troops from the company on the ground have on occasion been rescued by close air support provided by their home ship, as shown here and here, for example.
- Hand-or-Object Underwear: During the book The Sharp End of the Stick, a group of Toughs are captured and stripped naked. Assorted objects intervene to prevent anything "naughty" from actually showing, at one point even Lampshaded in one strip's author's note, explaining that Schlock's arms spread in a yawn conveniently covers body parts for which there was nothing in the scenery to block the view.
- Hand Cannon:
- Schlock's plasma guns fit this trope well, a large but still handheld plasma weapon that can even be used against heavy armor. Several times he's refused a weapons upgrade because the new weapon, despite being far more powerful, is smaller than his preferred one and lacks the ominous hum and intimidating glow at the business end. Later, he gets his hands on some real antitank cannons and simply saws off the stocks and barrels to make pistols of them.
- Depending on the environment, your cannon may vary. In the second Credomar arc Lt. Pibald modifies his ordinary-sized pistol to fire antimatter rounds.LOTA: You should now confiscate Lieutenant Pibald's pistol. It can shoot a hole in the world.
- Happiness in Slavery: I am ablative armor! Life is boring, then briefly exciting, then over! I am ablative armor! Life is boring, then briefly exciting, then over! I am...
- Hard on Soft Science:
- Heartily mocked in the author's note for this strip.
- In this strip Liz comments on how the trope attitude has resulted in her studies in memetics, linguistics, and sociology resulted in her landing a fast food job.
- It does eventually pay off, though: As of book 19, she's a Lieutenant, specifically because she took "an elective", and Schlock considers himself her bodyguard.
- HeelFace Turn: The Tohdfraug fleet was introduced attempting genocide. Petey captured them and when next seen, they seem to have become devoted to protecting the helpless.Tohdfraug Admiral: (to Petey) We've failed you. We've failed them.
- Hellevator: Both an escalator to hell and a space elevator on Luna, called the "Hellevator".
- Heroic Sacrifice: A couple, despite all the Heroic Comedic Sociopathy.
- Most notably Brad, who stayed on his crippled tank to jury-rig a self-destruct out of ordnance so it wouldn't crash in a city and kill hundreds to thousands of people. In a surprising twist, he actually died. He got a really big statue, though. His last thoughts also "highlight his noble character." This particular sacrifice got all the hero mileage possible.
- Similarly Hob, who also died setting off a life-saving explosion.
- Not death, but in a similar vein, Tailor agrees to have his personality rewritten (which he is understandably afraid of) to gain the medical knowledge needed to save Tagon.Ventura: Do you trust me?
Tailor: I'm terrified of you.
Ventura: But you want me to do this?
Tailor: My Captain needs me to be something I'm not.
- A pair of Oafans deflate themselves (which is fatal) so that the Toughs won't have to spend disproportionate resources protecting a pair of living hydrogen balloons. Oafans may have an atrophied sense of self preservation, however, as they have a symbiotic relationship with a Hive Mind to whom their biological memory backup is typically given after their death.
- The original Kevyn pulled one of these a second after creating a clone that shared all his memories. When it was discussed in-universe whether that counted the copy said he was going to put it on his resume and hope nobody asked too many questions.
- A borderline example, when Clone!Kowalski gives the Toughs targeting coordinates on his own position to wipe out the army of nannie-subverted rebels on Earth. Summed up by the narrator:Maxim 20: If you're not willing to shell your own position, you're not willing to win.
- Captain Tagon, sacrificing himself by setting off a nuke inside Broken Wind to keep the renegade Espees from taking it.
- Heroic Comedic Sociopath:
- Most of the main cast are... well, mercenaries. What else would you expect?
- In particular, Captain Tagon's father seems to be concerned that his son may be going over the line.
- Hero of Another Story: Quite a few of them but the top contenders would probably be Petey/The Fleetmind, Admiral Breya and Der Trihs (post retirement). The bonus story in one of the print books is all about Petey and Der Trihs being the heroes of their respective stories.
- Hive Mind: The Fleetmind is sort of an artificial Hive Mind, an amalgamation of hundreds of AIs united to for a common cause. After the second time they combined into a Hive Mind, they decided the most effective thing to do was stay a The Fleetmind, rather than dispersing like last time.
- Utchi-Skafatka is a very ancient hive mind, which has a symbiotic relationship with the Oafans. The Oafans, being living hydrogen balloons, are able to house a small swarm of Utchi-Skafatka inside them. Oafan technology also allow them to back up their memories, to be given to Utchi-Skafatka after their death. So not only does Utchi-Skafatka have eons of its own memories, but also the accumulated memories of a vast number of individual Oafans.
- Hologram: Strip 2001-03-08 reveals a "Friendly Emergency Medical Hologram" of the cryokit, also presumably a Shout-Out to the Emergency Medical Hologram of Star Trek: Voyager.
- Hologram Projection Imperfection: In strip 2010-10-10, the projection of Petey comes with horizontal flicker lines.
- Honor Among Thieves: The Toughs may be sociopaths but they steer clear of outright evil beyond what's Necessarily Evil to get the job done, and are very loyal to each other. Schlock in particular: to hurt someone he likes is not a safe place to stand. Nor, for that matter, is anywhere else downrange or in the blast radius. Case in point: here and here (death spoiler warning if you're mid Archive Binge).
- Humanity Is Young: A paltry thousand years participating in a galactic civilization that has existed for over 20,000.
- Human Outside, Alien Inside: many of the aliens look more-or-less human, but have subtle or bizarre differences, like Lt. Ebbirnoth, whose species has their brain located in their pelvis and, rather than having a head, has a single giant eye.
- Humans Are Special: "Rescue Party" variant; with less than a thousand years in space - a fraction of many prominent species' lifespans - humans have already spread an English-influenced dialect of "Galstandard" far and wide, ballooned to the fifth-largest sapient species and fourth-strongest military power yet seen, rediscovered an order-disrupting technology purposefully suppressed for six million years, and been indirectly responsible for the creation of a godlike AI hivemind.
- Humans Are White: Averted, in that dark skinned people show up as often as they would in the modern day. Intra-species ethnicity seems to have become a less significant matter compared to the wide variety of sophonts in the Schlockiverse. "Human" has been expanded a bit by genetic fiddling; a significant ethnicity is purple. The alien characters usually can't be bothered to identify the various Terran species (including intelligent apes, elephants, squid, and more) apart from each other half the time.
- Hyperspace Arsenal: Pops up quite a bit.
- Hyperspeed Ambush: The way wars were fought in the galaxy was completely changed thanks to the invention of the Teraport and related inventions such as the Terapedo. It isn't long before various anti-teraport countermeasures are designed to bring a sense of equilibrium back to transgalactic warfare.
- Hyperspeed Escape: Quite common, unless measures are taken to prevent escape via Teraport.
- Hypocritical Humor: The Fleetmind, during the war with the Dark Matter Entities, realizes that their human captains aren't willing to sacrifice themselves for the fleet. However, when they start talking about it with the other AIs in the fleet, Athens says she doesn't want to go first.
- I Was Never Here: "I was never aboard. I did not hear any of this."Xinchub: What, with those ears?
- If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him:
- Parodied.Nick: Lemme hit 'im too, sir. I promise not to kill 'im too quick.
Kevyn: I know he murdered our friend, but that will take you into a very dark place, Nick. We are going to turn Shufgar, alive and healthy, over to judges of House Est'll. Then, per ancient tradition, he will be killed and eaten a little bit at a time.
Nick: Your place sounds darker, sir.
Kevyn: It has the advantage of being legal.
- Yet another variant:Major Murtaugh: ...Sanctum Adroit is never violent in anger lest we become the evil we behold.
(report about Maximilian's team being wiped out comes in)
Maximilian: (smugly) Well... well... Major Murtaugh, are you ready to become what you behold?
Major Murtaugh: (looking at him with disgust) I'm ready to punch what I behold. Does that count?
- If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: Schlock pulls this once, after the Toughs discover that two of their soldiers were killed by UNS nanite weaponry. Tagon is not amused, and threatens him with physical violence. Tagon was calmed down when Tailor explained creating armor for Schlock from battlefield scrap.
- I Know You Know I Know: Right here, between Petey and Tag in regards to what is known but wasn't discussed in the extradition hearing for the Toughs, following the HTRN building hit. Also, referenced by name here.
- I'm Standing Right Here:
- During Schlocktoberfest 2005, Shodan comments on the competence of the local constabulary.Michelle: Uh-oh. These teeth are too small. I think we got the wrong shark.
Shodan: Elizabeth might take issue with that since this is the shark that was trying to eat her.
Michelle: Yeah, but the cops said that the teeth-marks on Monk were bigger than this.
Shodan: True. But the cops are also stupid, and think Der Trihs faked that attack somehow.
Policeman: I'm standing right here.
Shodan: Oh, good. That means you heard me.
- Shows up later when Captain Tagon and his father are discussing the woman who used to captain the ship they're on.Karl: Make her a sergeant.
Tagon: Are you kidding me? Dad, she's a complete unknown!
Murtaugh: I'm right here.
Karl: She's not UNS intel, and she's not trying to steal the ship back.
Tagon: How can you possibly know that?
Murtaugh: Listening to every word, boys.
Karl: I'm old, and I'm smart about a few things. I've got her pegged as a knight errant, a ronin. She's a sullied paladin questing for redemption.
Murtaugh: Gentlemen, I'm standing between you.
- During Schlocktoberfest 2005, Shodan comments on the competence of the local constabulary.
- Improbable Weapon User: From Schlock using a piece of Battle plate armor (in a beautiful case of Show, Don't Tell when asked "What Would Schlock Do?"), to using a tailor 'Bot as a battlefield surgeon. (And considering amorphs were originally developed as a type of self-repairing computer memory/ external hard drive, Schlock himself is an improbable weapon.)
- Incredibly Lame Pun:
- A supply vessel called "Eatonrun", call sign "MRE S0-7A57Y". The last part is claimed to be "completely unfunny", though (of course, if that's really MRE, it may be).
- Ennesby coins the term "Assassineated" to describe what Schlock did to Colonel DeHaans.
- An Unsound Effect version in this strip, Cindy discusses her bucket list after mentioning how much she's looked forward to firing her main gun. Tagon smirks and tells her it's something she can check off as he gives the order to fire. The sound effect for the next panel is a resounding "CHEKHOV!" punning both against "check off" and "Chekhov."
- Indy Ploy: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and at times the battle plans for the Toughs don't even make it to the point of contact before going up in a blaze of (in)glory.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: After having his first high-profile case torpedoed by Captain Sorlie, newly-minted Chief Justice Reinstein decides to go for an ethanol-and-olives lunch. i.e. a Martini. Or quite possibly more than one.
- Information Wants to Be Free: Multiple:
- Early on in the series, the mercenaries are attacked repeatedly by the F'sherl-Ganni "Gatekeepers," due to experimenting with (and holding the patent for) the Teraport, a method of Faster-Than-Light Travel that far outstrips the unwieldy stargates that got the F'sherl-Ganni their other name. Finally, Admiral Breya Andreyasn figures out that there's a way to stop the attacks: release the Teraport into Open Source, essentially spreading the technology freely across the galaxy and removing the Gatekeepers' reason to specifically target Tagon's Toughs.
- Invoked by Petey after the UNS battleplate captain realizes that his intended private discussion with Petey was being transmitted on public channels.
- A bizarre eco-terrorist uses this as justification for the giant man-eating sharks he created.Mad Scientist: Freedom is the ultimate aim of all things! Freedom, and the Great Democracy of Unfettered Choice!
Detective Dannovo: Are you saying you want the animals to be able to vote?
Mad Scientist: Okay, that's just ridiculous.
- In Medias Res: Used in the opening of Book 8, The Sharp End of the Stick. Later lampshaded here.
- Ironic Echo: When Para meets Kevyn for the first time, she recognizes him by name prompting a 'my reputation precedes me' from Kevyn before she gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech. When Para meets the timecloned Kevyn, it goes exactly the other way around.
- Ironic Echo Cut:
- Used during the "Massively Parallel" arc to communicate flashbacks.Thurl: Okay, perfect. That should do it.
Narrator: Rewind: seven hundred hours earlier, berthed at the High Olympus shipyards.
Kevyn: Okay, perfect. That should do it.
- Again, during "Force Multiplication." Someone steals a villain's visor computer, which doesn't log itself out. She gloats about how he must be stupid, or it must be defective, right before it blows up in her face. Cut to the one who blew it up complaining about how he always suspected it was defective when she lives.
- Used during the "Massively Parallel" arc to communicate flashbacks.
- I Take Offense to That Last One!: In this strip, Karl Tagon is identified as a "nice old man". In the last panel, he shows up suddenly to object to the "nice" part.
- It Can Think: The giant Thurl uses as a character in his virtual world is a fully sentient program (named Cecil) and not just a mindless NPC. Tagon repeatedly puts his foot in his mouth by openly stating he hadn't realized Cecil was a person.
- It Wasn't Easy: 2004-08-31:Kevyn: Do you expect us to believe that you took control of a Tausennigan Ob'enn Thunderhead Superfortress using nothing more than a minitank?
Petey: I didn't say it was easy.
- I Warned You: Ennesby zings Kevyn hard here.Kevyn: One word from you and I'm handing you to Lieutenant Ventura for upgrades.
- Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: In the "Reality Television" arc, Lieutenant Ebniroth actually gets hired as a janitor for the building he's meant to infiltrate. Since they don't know the mercenaries are after them, he doesn't have to disguise his identity at all, even bragging about how his service qualifies him for the job.
- Jump the Shark: Just in case anyone thought the introduction of time travel might be the shark-jumping moment for the series, the author lampshades it here.
- Just Between You and Me: Lampshaded here, with Major Timmons of UNS Intelligence declining to spill the beans to his intended victims.
- Karmic Death: Colonel Krum originally tried to prevent Kathrine (and others) from using one of Tunguska's terapods, reserving seats for priority personnel. During the destruction of Morokweng, she was left behind with Kowalski claiming the seats are all full of priority passengers.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Yes, the Toughs do some nasty stuff but we cheer for them anyway, because the current bad guys are usually nastier and deserve the pwning that's headed their way.
- Killed Off for Real: So far, Doctor Lazcowicz, Hob, DoytHaban (well, sort of), Sh'vuu, Pronto, and Brad.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Multiple:
- Killer Rabbit:
- The Ob'enn, (colloquially known as "psychobears") are cute, cuddly-looking koalazoids who just happen to be unbelievably violent xenophobic megalomaniacs.Ennesby: The Tausennigan Ob'enn warlords look like cuddly teddy-bears?
Petey: Yes, they do. And they'd cheerfully exterminate your entire race for making that observation!
Ennesby: I guess that explains their rich military history, then.
- And inverted by the Kssthrata, the velociraptor-like species which evolved in the same system as the Ob'enn. Instead of continuing their counter-genocidal war with the Ob'enn, they just moved.
- The Ob'enn, (colloquially known as "psychobears") are cute, cuddly-looking koalazoids who just happen to be unbelievably violent xenophobic megalomaniacs.
- Late to the Punchline: Depicted here.
- Law Enforcement, Inc.: Sanctum Adroit, referred to by Tagon as the "haughtiest, most self-righteous mercenary company I know of." In other words the most principled.
- Layman's Terms: Multiple:
- From strip 2000-11-12:Planet Merc Sales 2: It costs a bit more, because rather than just lining it with buckminster fullerene carbon tubules, the suit is completely woven out of the stuff. Dupunt's patented "carbonan" carbon nanofilament mesh is guaranteed to stop rounds of any caliber or composition, and at up to almost relativistic speeds. Besides that, it's comfortable, and offers a generous power-assisted movement system.
Breya: Once more. This time in English, please.
Planet Merc Sales 2: "Carbon nanofilament" is an expensive word for "Diamond."
- Kevyn's learned them. It was that or die because soldiers aren't physicists, and if you can't get them to understand you, you, along with trillions of others, will die because most people don't know the difference between "nonillion" and "bazillion".Kevyn: Captain, I need to be patched out. We've found something important.
Megiddo: I'll be the judge of that. Speak.
Kevyn: The stabilizer control systems for the stellar-core toroidal singularity that drives the gate-copy system were damaged in the initial assault. Between eighty and ninety hours from now that singularity is going to release about a nonillion kilograms of mass, most of which will likely be expressed as energy.
Megiddo: Not worth the call. What else have you got?
Kevyn: Well, we expect a pretty impressive supernova in about four days.
Megiddo: See, that is worth telling the fleet about.
- From strip 2000-11-12:
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
- Characters often grip panel edges.
- Also:Ennesby: The stray breacher round was a nice touch. Good timing. Perfect ironic humor. (Said in the last panel of a comic)
- Le Parkour: It's evolved into a martial art called Parkata Urbatsu. According to one character, along with influences of urbobatics and "something called YouTubing."
- Let's You and Him Fight: When being attacked by a battleplate belonging to a decidedly nasty faction of the UNS, Tagii lures it close to a just released dark matter entity.
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Ennesby to Schlock, after a particularly unpleasant moment involving the removal of the smell of death from Ennesby's chassis.
- Lighter and Softer: The Mallcop arc was distinctly lighthearted, with aerial hijinks and the only antagonists being non-violent free-runners.
- Like an Old Married Couple: Multiple:
- Little Hero, Big War: Ostensibly the Toughs' position, being a small mercenary company in a big, big galaxy with lots of conflict. However, they do play a role in many important events and are responsible for some major shifts in the galactic balance of power, including the introduction of the teraport, the formation of the Fleetmind, and the creation of LOTA.
- Living Doorstop: Kevyn strapping misbehaving Buranabots to the hull as "ablative armor".
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Understandable, since it focuses on an entire company of mercenaries, but there's still a lot to keep track of. And the Big Guys tend to all look fairly similar. Not to mention 950 million Gavclones and assorted Gate Clones. Unless a character is confirmed dead there is a very good chance they'll show up again. This applies to everyone.
- Locked in a Room: Dr. Bunnigus and the Reverend are trapped together on the Hellevator as one result of an attack on them by the Attorney Collective.
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard:
- The mobsters that kidnapped timeclone-Kevyn and general Tagon actually force Kevyn to build a machine that they don't understand.
- The original Kevyn turned a mini-wormgate into a gravy gun that splattered the UNS marines about to kill him, though it was fortunate he used it to clone himself first.
- Also happens to Lt. Ventura. Her captor tries to not have the innocent-with-the-big-eyes looking girl guarded by an easily swayed human guard. Instead they locked her in with the robots...
- Lodged-Blade Recycling: Captain Tagon does this when he gets a knife thrown into his eye, following a jam of his pistol leaving him unarmed until that point. Justified, as he's been boosted, then immediately Deconstructed, as he falls unconscious from internal bleeding after the fight is over and requires field brain surgery from another character.Tagon: Thank you. Now I have a knife.
- Longevity Treatment:
- The amorph's creators made themselves immortal and destroyed their civilization as a result. Project "Laz'r'us" attempted to rectify humanity's short lifespans relative to so many aliens.
- A plot point is "Project Laz'r'us", which was intended to circumvent humanity's short lifespans in comparison to many other sophonts using hyper-advanced nanotechnology. The nannies are also capable of repairing a clinically dead host and even making internal backups of the brain. The species from whose computer equipment carbosilicate amorphs has evolved already made themselves immortal and ran into several layers of problems. Still, there's a few remaining individuals alive and sane after their twelve million of Terran years, "give or take a little bit".
- Long-Runners: The comic has run constantly since June 2000. Howard Taylor has announced their intent to finish the 'mega-arc' by late 2020.
- Loophole Abuse: Presumably, after this strip there's now a company policy regarding air vents, where there wasn't one previously.
- Made of Iron: Many of Tagon's mercenaries have various artificially-induced boosts to their strength and endurance, but during the Timeclone Kevyn and Karl Tagon rescue, Captain Tagon was particularly badass. Bad guy throws a knife and sticks Tagon in the eye with it. Tagon pulls it out of his socket and uses it to kill the bad guy and a Mook.
- Mad Scientist: Several, subverted in Kevyn. See the Characters page for details.
- Magic Antidote: The regenerative tanks, which can rebuild an entire person as long as their brain survives.
- Major Injury Underreaction: Soldier-boosts and future medical technology make this a fairly common trope.Kevyn: Casualties?
Shodan: Sergeant Wenzi and Private Ng are stable. No other casualties to report, sir.
Kevyn: Really? What about your arm?
Shodan: I'm currently left-handed.
Kevyn: Your right arm is missing.
Shodan: It is not missing. It's fused to a bulkhead on deck twelve.
- Mass "Oh, Crap!":
- Invoked here after the original use of Credomar as a hyperspace death ray that can't be stopped by any existing defensive technology is revealed by Lota:Kevyn: This is where I defecate in sympathetic reflex for every defense planner in the galaxy.
- The crew together lets loose one when trying a then-experimental FTL drive to escape an attack by the Attorney Collective.
- Invoked here after the original use of Credomar as a hyperspace death ray that can't be stopped by any existing defensive technology is revealed by Lota:
- Mathematician's Answer:Chelle: Why do you think the Barsoom Circus recruits new performers from all over the galaxy each month? People come to see the aliens do weird, alien stuff.
Schlock: Are we joining a circus or a freak show?
Chelle: [Deadpan] Yes.
- Meaningful Name: Multiple:
- Several of the names in the series have gags attached to them (e.g., 'Corporal Oleo' getting sliced in two at the end of an Overly Long Gag based on the saying 'like a hot knife through butter'; the planet Qlaviql, which appeared shortly after Tayler injured his clavicle in Real Life; the Tohdfraugs; Dr Todd, which stood for 'The Old Dead Doctor', who wasn't given a name until long after he was killed). Finally, Fanon holds that Kevyn and Breya's last name is meant to imply that they are descendants of a certain 21st century computer industry figure - who must have done very well, given that they are nobility back on Earth.
- And, most significantly, the oft-injured Der Trihs.
- The Reverend Theo Fobius. A comical inversion of "Theophilus" who crops up in both Luke and Acts in The Bible.
- Most of the planets they encounter. And all the Battleplates are named after notable meteorite impacts with the earth (Tunguska, Chicxulub, etc.). Logically, since they've meant to prevent the near light-speed, weaponized version of that.
- Then, of course, there's LOTA...
- This is played with in some flavor text outside of the comic. For example the Buuthandi which according to the side blurb is shorthand for something along the lines of "This (expletive) thing was really (expletive) expensive to build."
- Meat Sack Robot: The character Doythaban Gyo has an AI called Haban built into his cyborg implants; they do not fit this trope. However after a gate clone of Gyo is created by an alien race who want to torture it for information, the clone Gyo is shot in the head; medical intervention is able to save the copy of Haben, leaving only the AI in control of the clone body.
- Meatgrinder Surgery: Neeka, the Tough's newest (Esspererin) surgeon, is extremely skilled, but also extremely messy, and her bedside manner when it comes to more organic patients can be lacking; she tends to neglect the anesthesia and liberally remove and reattach limbs. Tagon has compared footage from previous surgeries to the results of a bomb blast, and the procedure in question could be best described as "disassemble, then reassemble without the bullets".
- Mechanical Lifeforms: Several;
- Schlock and his fellow "Carbosillicate Amorphs" evolved from "self-repairing distributed storage systems for (Bradicor) supercomputers."
- The Esspererin are described as "late-phase output from somebody's iterative mechanical replication experiment." This neatly explains why they don't need to breathe.Ventura: Mother of chrome... They're solar-powered robo-fairies.
- Membership Token: A new member of the team decides to introduce the challenge coin tradition to Tagon's Toughs, to tie-in with the Real Life creation of a variety of Schlock Mercenary Challenge Coins created by Taylor for a Kickstarter campaign after he learned of the military tradition.
- Memory Gambit: Schlock pulls off one by taking advantage of the origins of amorphs as artificial data storage devices, by sneaking some memories into a bit of amorph goo stuck into one of his extra eyeballs.
- Men Are the Expendable Gender: Generally played straight. Although Tagon has several women in his company, the majority are officers, and the only two among the grunts are Elizabeth and Legs (neither of whom are human). While the female members of Tagon's command have suffered injuries throughout the series, the only members of the company who have actually been Killed Off for Real have been male. More female characters outside Tagon's crew have died, but even then not enough to avert this trope.
- Metaphorgotten: Multiple:
- Howard Tayler loves playing with metaphors, almost as much as Terry Pratchett. Breya even revokes one character's metaphor privileges after a particularly Squicky one.
- This happens to Schlock, too.Ebby: I need to see if these lieutenant tabs will let me revoke metaphor privileges from a sergeant.
Schlock: They don't. And even if they do, they don't.
- And when discussing new uniforms (to the point of Comically Missing the Point):Ebby: He's put his signature up and down all the seams.
Shodan: I've had it on for all of three minutes, and it already feels like an old friend. Wait... You can read the stitches in the nanoweave?
Ebby: Hang on... How exactly do you feel your old friends?
- Might Makes Right: Despite all the cynicism, this trope is usually averted. Oh, sure, the strong ones can do whatever they like, but at least no one pretends they have the moral high ground.
- Mindlink Mates: Kevyn likes the idea. Petey doesn't think it's going to work well for humans without related experience.
- Mind Rape:
- Mook Horror Show: The 2001 Schlocktoberfest has Schlock regenerating, eating his friends to increase his mass (they were already badly wounded and he made sure their heads got into cryokits), and then tearing apart what the transcript calls "Diamond Bugs". The Bugs are juveniles and they see Schlock as a "REGENERATING ZOMBIE CANNIBAL".
- More Dakka: Used liberally, and forms the basis of Maxim 37: There is no "overkill". There is only "open fire" and "I need to reload".
- Motion Capture Mecha: Used with sufficient delicacy to pick one's own nose.
- My Brain Is Big: In strip 2002-05-04, with "ACME High-Capacity Helmets" when talking about smart MENSA Infantry.
- My Name Is Inigo Montoya, You Killed My Father, Prepare to Die: All three show up in one panel of the 2001-07-22 strip.Gasht'g'd'g'tang: I'm Gasht'g'd'g'tang. Your gate-copy killed my son. Prepare to die.
- Myth Arc: Multiple:
- It's subtle, but the state of the galaxy is influenced a great deal by the Toughs, whether they know it or not. It begins with Kevyn's invention of the teraport, then the gatekeepers siccing the partnership collective on them to suppress the technology. Which leads to The teraport wars, and then the war with the dark matter entities.
- There's a second arc at play as well. Project Lazarus started as an even more subtle myth arc, with aspects that lead into it there from almost the beginning with the old Doctor, but starting about here a lot of Chekhov's Guns were fired in quick succession, bringing the arc to the fore. The Lazarus arc may not be as vast as the Teraport Wars or the Andromeda War, but it's a lot more personal - and what with Petey having taken in General Xinchub and possibly allied with him, the two arcs are likely to fuse into one.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Multiple:
- The ship Serial Peacemaker. Ironically, it is the smallest and least dangerous ship the Toughs have used as their flagship.
- As explained here, he name of the alien artificial intelligence T'kkkuts Afa literally translates as "Broken Wind". This shows why it is very important to consider cultural context when performing translations; a looser translation would be "Angry God". The looser translation is not misleading. Later on a native speaker suggests that the closest translation would actually be Breath Weapon.
- Nanomachines: used heavily in-story and played with a lot by the author.
- Narrative Profanity Filter: Ennesby uses General Xinchub's detonator codes to send him a message demonstrating Ennesby's extensive obscenity collection, which is only vaguely described after the fact.Tagon: I see you've just been exposed to Ennesby's weapons-grade vocabulary.
Jevee Ceeta: My stomach is in my throat right now. It's trying to spit acid on the parts of my brain that remember reading his message.
- Never Heard That One Before: In this strip Kathryn Flinders replies sarcastically that "that joke never gets old" when Schlock references an old joke about "military intelligence" being an oxymoron, after she's hired by the Toughs in the "Haven Hive" storyline.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: The Show Within a Show has Schlock gaining abilities which Amorphs don't actually have for the sake of the show's plot. This presents problems for Schlock later.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
- The "older and wiser than everyone" Thurl, of all people, falls victim to this. After figuring out that Para and Tagii might have loyalties elsewhere, he goes and disconnects Tagii. The result? Since Tagii was jamming the Redhack, Gavs started morphing into Super Soldiers all over the place, the Toughs lost overwatch and are in an ill position to fight off anyone else since Ennesby doesn't have Tagii's processing power at his disposal and the Oisri startup sequence is running and threatening to squish everyone around into singularity. Oh, and Tagii goes banshee-insane, and tries to kill the entire crew. Of course he acted in the best interest of the Toughs based on the information he had, but he stands firmly in the Unwitting Instigator of Doom territory.
- In a later plot-arc, the Toughs arrive at their new assignment aboard a massive space-borne construct, find that their entrance is blocked with wooden growths and promptly start an equally-massive fire blasting their way in.
- Nigh Invulnerable: a number of characters, starting with Schlock and going up to god-like proportions.
- Night Swim = Death: The plot of the Mahuitalotu arc kicks off this way, with one of the Toughs being eaten by a shark secretly introduced into the oceans.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot:
- In one strip, the Pi talks about watching Jack-san Robo III, which features a ninja pirate cowboy with a monkey.
- Turns out that the UNS is a government version of this. It's a combination of democracy, oligarchy, and every other sort of government you can think of, with some representatives elected, others chosen by lottery, and others with their seats explicitly and publicly bought. It's mentioned that this insane compromise of a legislature has been balancing on a knife's edge for centuries, and has great difficulty making any major decisions.
- Nobody Poops: Perhaps a bit too averted at times.
- No Endor Holocaust: Averted here.
- No Fourth Wall: More frequently and noticeably in early strips.
- During the "Pointy End of the Stick" storyline, Kevyn literally "met his maker" during a near-death experience, and instantly recognized him as the cartoonist, which led to this exchange:
- Generally speaking, the fourth wall disappears when someone is dying (usually only for that character). Thus, when the entire galaxy is dying, the fourth wall may as well be non-existent.
- No Help Is Coming: In the 20th book, Petey sends the Toughs to Andromeda in one small ship to disable the weapon that is preventing him from sending more. Captain Andreyasn points out (after he is already stranded in Andromeda with everyone else) that it is extremely unlikely that they can kill a planet-sized superweapon with one little ship.Captain Andreyasn: So... we're headed into a fleet-sized fight, but we don't get a fleet to help us unless we win.
Captain Tagon: When you say it that way you make it sound impossible.
Captain Andreyasn: You're the one making it sound impossible. I'm just making sure I heard you correctly.
- Noodle Incident: Tagon and Nick, on their ship being flooded, describe the situation as "like Third Orleans... All that's missing is the zombies."
- Not Hyperbole: Discussed in one strip, to Tagon's surprise:Tagon: You know, for all I've threatened to do it in the past, this is the first time I've actually torn someone a new one with my bare hands.
- Nothing Is Scarier: The tactical uses of this combined with Paranoia Fuel are nicely demonstrated here.
- Not in My Contract: In the closing of the first Credomar story arc, Tagon protests to a UNS Commodore that it wasn't in the contract that they should distribute the food to a Credomar faction inclined towards annexation by the UNS.Commodore: You might have found our choice...objectionable.
Tagon: Then we would have asked for more money.
Tagon: You get what you pay for.
- N-Word Privileges: Gorillas have, prior to the 31st century, been uplifted to human level sapience, and since then a lot of primate-related phrases have been deemed as being racist. Unless you're a gorilla yourself, apparently.
- Odd Couple: Bunnigus and the Reverend (sounds like a sitcom title), now Happily Married, despite issues with Fake Memories.
- Odd-Shaped Panel: Overlapping, with arrows between them.
- Oh, Crap!: Many.
- Once literally.Kevyn: My sentiments precisely, sir.
- Tailor's expression here is notable, just having realized that a gunship is about to shoot his restraints off.
- The Reverend has a few of these moments, both giving and receiving.Ebby: What are the chances Credomar's king can be hacked? ...okay, I'm full. Time to go to sleep.
Theo: Sleep? Who can sleep?
- Kevyn's reaction to Para telling him that Tagii didn't plant the code causing the Gavs' mutations, she was jamming it.
- Another literal reaction. Quite reasonable, when the man in question is in the habit of keeping antimatter stored next to his head.
- Following this slightly verbose version from Tagii, Ennesby improvises the best response he can while giving some context.
- Captains Murtaugh and Sorlie share a moment here, after realizing that they're in the path of a rapidly-descending battleplate.
- Once literally.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: Ennesby sets an army of repair drones to singing "O Fortuna."
- Only in It for the Money: It is about a band of mercs, after all - but even they won't agree to some things.
- On Three: There is the occasion when a sniper has Schlock in his sights, while Schlock had just fired some grenades at the target. While the sniper tries to get an eye shot, Schlock holds up his fingers to count down from three to zero (ground zero) since his targeting computer told him how long it'll take the grenades to reach their target.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
- When Ennesby, the resident Pungeon Master fails to deliver a fart joke after learning that an ancient (and very insane) space station AI's name translates to "Broken Wind", Tagon realizes just how bad the situation really is.
- When Petey apologizes for barging in and interrupting, everyone knows just how serious the situation is.
- Orgy of Evidence: In the CSI parody arc, the lab tech promises his boss an orgy of evidence, and lays out how Schlock's body chemistry provides clear evidence of many, many crimes. Except not the crime that they know of and are trying to prosecute him for.Ozvegan Griz: What you've got here is more like a blind date.
Ozvegan Gerg: But she's really hot, right?
- Orwellian Retcon: "The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries" used to be "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates," and the "maxims" referred to as "rules" (with the explanation that each "habit" comprised several "rules"). Eventually, the publishers of the real "Seven Habits..." caught wind and made him change it. ("Eventually" here defined as "after over eight years, when the joke had already long since undergone Memetic Mutation...") To soften the blow however, Howard Tayler admitted he was glad for the excuse to make the change, not least because the new title could be used for The Merch.
- Other Me Annoys Me: Amorphs ran into a problem with a TV version of them:Schlock: The TV-me is putting me-me out of a job. [...] Maybe we can kill another TV network. Is there still money in that?
- Our Souls Are Different: Kevyn describes the mind as an aggregate wave-form that isn't completely defined by the "hardware", that is, the brain or computer, that it is contained in.
- Out of the Frying Pan: Discussed when a squad of 'Toughs grab some bystanders after a fire is started in Haven Hive. After being asked "Are they hostages?":Bunnigus: What? No. We're saving them from the fire.
Legs: We're chasing an indoor plasma rocket, sir. We're probably only saving those two from the frying pan.
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted; religion is alive and well among many different cultures, and the Tagon's Toughs have their own chaplain (Reverend Theo). In his first appearance, Howard Tayler included an editor's note stating that this trope is what's "foolishly optimistic," not religion.
- Outlaw Town: The starport and orbital station of Ghanj-rho are havens for smugglers, pirates, and slavers. It's also where Tagon's Toughs hired most of their non-Terran troops, and it's Sergeant Schlock's homeworld (though he was one of the "primitive natives" and left years earlier as a slave).
- Outrun the Fireball: Averted. Major Charper's shuttle fails to outrun this particular (nuclear) fireball. Don't worry, he survives.
- Overused Running Gag: In-Universe, this is what Tagon considers Shodan's continuing to bring up the accident during the Mall Cop Command arc where Tagon got a fork stuck in his eye.Tagon: Clever, but I bet a professional comedian would have moved on to new material by now.
- Overly Prepared Gag: One of the ships the company gets was christened the "Serial Peacemaker."Ennesby: Everyone stand by to pour some Serial Peacemaker into a big bowl of "no-problem."
Tagon: How long have you been waiting to use that stupid "Cereal" pun?
Ennesby: Ever since you let me name the ship, sir.
- Painting the Medium: Characters routinely lean on or brace themselves against panel borders.
- Peeling Potatoes: parodied here.
- People Jars: At one point, the author gets away with a full-frontal nude shot of Elf in a regeneration tank by making her too nude to have skin. "I'm as naked as the day I was born. And then some."
- Perfectly Cromulent Word: Ennesby has a habit of doing this. Words, phrases, quips, and puns. Ye gads, the puns...Schlock: Ennesby gave me a shorter word to say all that, Sir. 'Assassineated'.
Tagon: Ennesby needs to stop inventing words.
- Perpetual Poverty:
- However many times the Toughs get paid, they'll be struggling to make next paycheck before you know it.Tagon: This number looked a lot bigger before I started the payroll.
- Interestingly enough, it was averted once. And then that aversion was deconstructed, as a large fraction of the mercenaries took their new-found wealth and retired.
- The Neoafans give the Toughs access to an immense fortune. But when the original owners, who were trapped and presumed deceased for countless millennia, are finally freed, the Toughs are declared thieves and are laden with what is described as a debt the size of a planet over what they already spent.
- However many times the Toughs get paid, they'll be struggling to make next paycheck before you know it.
- Perpetual Storm: Book 14, "Broken Wind", features a planet-sized gigahabitat that rotates to provide gravity. The resulting coriolis force has produced a permanent "sideways hurricane" in one part of the habitat, when a pair of baffle walls designed to prevent just that are intentionally knocked down.
- Pervy Patdown: Defied. The extremely well-endowed Dr. Bunnigus (who paid her way through university as an exotic dancer) is threatened with this by the border guard at Haven Hive entry port. Rather than allow her colleagues to respond with violence, she shows the would-be groper what she's not hiding, and what he'll never, ever get his hands on, in a way that leaves him a shuddering wreck.
- Phlebotinum Killed the Dinosaurs: A passing alien cruiser carelessly nudged several asteroids, wiping out dinosaur civilization before they could build flying machines. The Dinosaurs managed to get a distress signal out, but by then the ship (which could hear their radio signals because they left a hypernet-equipped probe in orbit) was too far away to do anything about it... so they used a teraport to evacuate the dinosaurs instead.
- Phrase Catcher: Schlock's faster than he looks. Finally lampshaded:
- Physics Plus: Gravity manipulation (but not generation — ships are built around spheres of neutronium as sources of gravity to manipulate), a process which is as well developed as electronics, and playing the result to its natural conclusions; ubiquitous flight, Deflector Shields, traversable wormholes (one example which Justifies a Time Travel storyline), and quantum teleportation. Some find the easy nanotechnology a bit of a stretch.
- Planet Spaceship: Every Precursor that didn't hide was wiped out. The place most of them chose to hide was in massive, planet sized spaceships, sent out to exo-galactic space.
- Plant Person: None are seen, but in this strip given the medical weirdness going on aboard Haven Hive, Dr. Bunnigus is forced to ask the following when Kathryn mentions someone is a plant:Bunni: A plant like a spy, or a plant like a perambulatory asparagus?
- Plasma Cannon: Schlock's signature BHG-9000 plasguns, plural because they tend to explode at the drop of a hat.
- Poor Communication Kills: After the Toughs have a brief battle with pirates, the local military sends them a message asking them politely yet firmly to leave with the warning "Further use of force would be regrettable, but you must understand that as the sovereign power here we are morally obligated to deploy any and all force necessary to restore order". The officers involved are somewhat nervous about the wording, but since things have calmed down a bit they think it's OK. Unfortunately the Toughs suffer a lethal sneak attack from a hidden third party just as the message is being sent, so it comes off as taking credit for murdering their friends...
- Population Control: Earth has a gene pool protection act that required Doctor Bunnigus's parents to have a Designer Baby.
- Portal Network: with an incredibly dark secret; It copies everyone who uses it each time they use it. The Gatekeepers then interrogate the copies and kill them. They know everything about everybody without anyone's knowledge. Seven million people every minute. For hundreds of thousands of years. Technically, they meant well - the Pa'anuri made it clear that either the Gatekeepers would prevent the use of Teleporters and Transporters or they'd kill the Milky Way Galaxy. However, it was All for Nothing because they tried to kill everyone anyway - by means of a zero-point energy system they "gave" the Gatekeepers as a "peace offering" that nearly blew up the whole galaxy.
- Post-Scarcity Economy: Subverted, Cindy claims that she's seen society cross into "post-scarcity" three times in the past six hundred years, but every time they've found some new basic commodity they didn't have enough of.
- Powered Armor: Besides the standard stuff, the Toughs are equipped with low-profile (to the point of invisibility) armor built into their uniforms that helps diffuse energy weapons and lets them fly.
- The Power of Friendship: A twisted sort of application of the trope. The Toughs can't count on their allies, because they're mercenaries and your allies might be the guys you're hired to kill tomorrow; they can't count on any of their respective home governments, for pretty much the same reason; they certainly can't count on their employers, who are frequently known to try to backstab the Toughs since, well, they hired a band of mercenaries to begin with, so why not add "screwing over those who make a living with violence"? But they know they can count on their friends (which, admittedly, is usually limited to "each other", but the sentiment is there).
- Precursor Killers: Though covered up by an Ancient Conspiracy, galactic civilization has actually gone through several iterations. Known causes of downfall include dark matter entities called Pa'anuri, mistakes with Immortality Inducers leading to degeneration, and a type of Weaponized Teleportation that can bypass Teleport Interdiction called the long gun.
- Oisri is an ancient artifact built by a long forgotten race to create the Paan'uri. According to one analysis, it contains an annie plant orders of magnitude bigger than any Power Source modern galactic society can confidently build.
- The ancient Oafans were a highly advanced race who had manufacturing processes thousands of times more efficient than modern galactic society.
- Private Military Contractors: The Toughs and much of their competition that isn't a star nation's military.
- Projected Man: most of the shipboard AIs; also, Ennesby before he joined the crew and got a body of sorts.
- Properly Paranoid:
- Pi's paranoid delusions are sometimes right on the money.
- First, there's the incident with a grav-catcher. As the Lemony Narrator puts it, "It's a good thing he's not in therapy. This would undo months of progress."
- And it takes someone as crazy as him to think of hyperspace cannons and zombie plagues.Pi: But the plan is absurd. Suborning Gavcorps would be terribly expensive, and no military will admit to having genocidal nanotech on hand...
- Karl Tagon's response to seeing Kaff Tagon's nanite-riddled girlfriend start having a seizure - put his suit-helmet up in case of bio-weaponry. His wife wasn't so lucky...
- The reason for Recursive Precursors? All the ones that didn't leave the galaxy or otherwise hide were wiped out, usually by one another. The ones that did leave chose to do so not only to hide from one another, but also to avoid the slightest probability, tiny as they were, of certain threats coming into being. Threats such as, for example, artificial dark matter lifeforms going renegade. Hundreds of millions of years later, the Pa'anuuri would come into being and pose a threat serious enough to annihilate the entire Milky Way galaxy.
- Pi's paranoid delusions are sometimes right on the money.
- Psychic Powers: It is stated early on by the narrator that someone with "psychic sight" can see the bullet destined to kill someone. This is dropped in favor of harder sci-fi, but psychic powers such as (radio) telepathy get referenced every once in a while.
- There's an in-universe TV show called Psychic Suzie. She's quite unconventional, for a medium.
- Psychotic Manchild: Probably the best description of Schlock's attitude. He does show care and loyalty to his friends despite his status as a sociopath, but enjoys fighting too much to care about the blazing hot maimery he spews from his plasma cannon on anyone but his friends.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Multiple instances:
- At the end of this quote from Strip 2011-05-05:Doctor: Mrs. Shephard, my team and I will get your son back and you will help us. We two, you and I, share responsibility for his predicament. But culpability, the blame? That belongs to someone else, and may God have mercy on his soul, because I. Will. Not.
- From the third panel of strip 2009-12-06, when trying to get someone to shut up:Kevyn: You. Are. Not. Helping.
- At the end of this quote from Strip 2011-05-05:
- Pūnct'uatìon Sh'akër:
- The F'Sherl-Ganni typically have three apostrophes in their names
- And they call a certain enemy the Paan'uri, or is it Paa'nuri, or Pa'anuri?
- Pungeon Master: Ennesby, being an entertainment AI, used a databank of puns across 50 languages.
- Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything: Much to Petey's frustration, an ancient archive device shows a very poor understanding of quantum mechanics, believing that due to it being a Time Abyss, it keeps the universe trapped in a cycle revolving around itself through observer effect.
- Quote Mine: Ennesby has to give Captain Tagon a quick lesson about this, before an interview with a journalist.Ennesby: You might say "Protesters were out in force, but my men used restraint, and no civilians were injured." What actually airs might be "My men used force, and civilians were injured." Of course, they won't need to chop your sentences up that much to incriminate us.
Captain Tagon: It's not too late to kill that anchorman, is it?
Ennesby: Case in point.
- Quote-to-Quote Combat: A notable exchange occurs after LOTA teraports New Credomar out of the cannon barrel.Kevyn: If you say "I told you so," I get to say "my sarcasm is more accurate than your paranoia."
Ennesby: That's fair.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The misfits and more exotic alien members of the team are all assembled in a squad led by Schlock himself. Tagon and his command staff treat them as an elite force they don't so much deploy as unleash.
- And barring some of the only remaining founding members of Tagon's Toughs (as seen at the start of the strip,) they represent the longest-serving and most experienced members of the company (experienced as Toughs, anyway.) The command staff tend to listen when they speak, even if they vastly outrank them. (It doesn't hurt that Sgt. Schlock once literally owned the company, and still owns as much or more stock as the command staff.)
- Razor Floss: Tagon's "Dorothy System" which strings a razor-sharp wire between his boots when he clicks his heels together.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Captain Tagon may be somewhat Book Dumb, but he does listen to his men; and he knows when to let them act on their own (even when it's a ploy to get clients to do what he wants).Kevyn: You expressly forbade me from collaborating to determine what Osri is.
Tagon: Stop playing innocent. You're bored on patrol with a puzzle right in front of you. Also, I gave you an order with loopholes in it.
- Recursive Ammo: Referenced once, but beam attacks tend to be more common when battles occur.
- Recursive Canon: The very inaccurate Show Within a Show licensed adaptation of the Toughs' adventures, which inappropriately chibifies the crew and exaggerates Schlock's abilities.
- Recursive Precursors: A resurrected being from millions of years ago claims this is the case, although other characters remain skeptical. However, this also brings up the Fermi Paradox, with some noting that according to their theories, advanced aliens should have existed long ago, and yet they can only find a tiny handful of ruins.
- This is later shown to be true when a remnant of an even earlier one is encountered (digitized minds uploaded in a massive Dyson shell). The book 19 prologue shows us a few cycles of these and how they reacted to learning it themselves. The third (the Oafans), on realizing that multiple galactic cultures of a size and power equivalent to themselves had mysteriously vanished at their heights, conclude that "hiding seems prudent". It also turns out that a digital copy of the same individual who initially told everyone in the present about this learned some "very compelling reason" to kill and digitize his entire race before erasing both the deed and the reason from his memory long after they had in fact all hidden.
- At the end of the same book they found out that a truly staggering number of those precursor civilizations are still around, existing in gigantic spaceships orbiting the galaxy for billions of years.
- Recursive Reality: In the library at Tinth-Pilkra, as part of an Old Media Are Evil joke, on a shelf in the foreground can be found compilations of early twenty-first century webcomics, including Sluggy Freelance... and Schlock Mercenary itself.
- Refuse to Rescue the Disliked: The Body Politic opens with the Toughs deciding that they will not take a contract to rescue chronic antagonist General Xinchub (who has previously bullied, blackmailed, insulted and harassed the Toughs in innumerable ways, including numerous cold-blooded murder attempts). Not even when their trusted associate Petey offers them 20 times their normal rates to do so.
- Remember the New Guy?: Justified. The Toughs are a mercenary company anywhere between several dozen and a few hundred strong, not all of them identified. Introducing a new character can and has been as simple as giving one of them a name and a job that lets the audience know what he does.
- Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: When M'Conger is boggling at the sheer size of a mere portion of the artificial environment they're exploring, Legs dismisses it as no big deal.Legs: You weren't with us for the Buuthandi. Engineering feats lose their punch after you've popped the containment system somebody built around a star.
- Repeat What You Just Said: After Ebbirnoth figures out what's been bugging him about Credomar's structure:
- Reset Button Suicide Mission: One story arc revolved around trying to undo a false-vacuum collapse that will obliterate space itself. The same disaster made time travel possible when ordinarily it isn't, so Kevyn is chosen to go back in time with the information that will prevent the disaster (and incidentally prevent the death of Captain Tagon). The physics of the time gate requires those left behind to keep it open as long as possible in order to send Kevyn as far back as possible; they all die doing so to give Kevyn a chance.
- Due to trademark issues, the Big Book of War of the series needed to be retitled. Formerly "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates", it is now "The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries".
- In the first strips the company had no body armor at all before getting some hard suits and eventually upgrading to the low-profile armor that doubles as uniforms which they would use as a baseline for the rest of the run. We are told the low-profile armor is very expensive top of the line technology that none of the characters are familiar with, which Tagon rejects for shallow aesthetic reasons. Later stories would establish that it's standard issue for human militaries and has been for decades at least, with Tagon specifically having been using it for his entire career.
- When the crew first meets Petey, having dedicated AI systems running a ship is presented as unusual. It has since been established as a galactic norm, and their first ship not having one is an oddity that has been left unexplained. Much later the company acquires another ship of the same class and it does require one. Meanwhile the RPG states that organic pilots flat-out don't have the reflexes and calculative ability to pilot warships.
- Retroactive Precognition: Kevyn plays a joke on the Toughs (and himself!).
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The Brandicor Vog leaves the toughs and goes to work for General Emm, who currently has them all imprisoned. Next time they're seen, they're floating in a medical tank, probably having been mindripped, so Emm's offer of employment was clearly not in good faith.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized:
- It's not clear what sort of democracy Shufgar promoted, but his methods aren't much better than those of cannibalistic aristocracy he fights.
- In the Delegates and Delegation storyline, the would-be revolutionaries are willing to destroy a city of over four billion people, and one is shown, at one point, to be about to execute a tourist family that happened to be caught in the crossfire, before the Big Damn Heroes show up and save them. The revolution is eventually revealed to have been faked with mind control technology to spark a civil war; it was really a terrorist strike by a foreign power.
- Ridiculously Human Robot: Human in basic emotions, very not human in every other part of their outlook.
- Right Behind Me:
- Captain Tagon falls victim to this trope when he starts to badmouth General Xinchub, only to have Massey point out that the general is right behind him.
- Captain Gasca tells the admiral how the current intelligence chief is too cautious. And that's when said chief appears to remind him that if her predecessor had been more cautious, he would be less dead.
- Kevyn gets this pulled on him with the Gav ambassador aboard the Touch and Go, thanks in part to a "helpful" Tagii.
- Karl Tagon gets the drop on one of the Parkata Urbatsu performers, who finds out that Karl resents the "nice" part of "nice old man".
- Assuming that Schlock is busy speaking to Lt. Sorlie, several of the Toughs discuss him, and in the last panel he appears suddenly behind Lt. Bunnigus to comment on what she had said in the last few panels, prompting an addition, and Captain Murtaugh facepalming.
- Liz really needs to work on her situational awareness
- Right Man in the Wrong Place: This Qlaviql ore freighter captain is in command of the only ship able to respond to an attack on his homeworld by a frigate armed with a powerful plasma lance. With guts and a "dream mess" created from the ore mined from asteroids, the frigate is destroyed. This ultimately results in his being declared the leader of the planet.
- Right on Queue: A whole story arc is based around this. Luna's bureaucracy was so slow, and the queue so immensely long, only the oldest people in line remembered it ever moving. There were religions dedicated to the idea of reaching the front. The Toughs thought they'd been hired to disperse a crowd of rioters, but found that it was just the line for the bureaucracy.
- Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: The main antagonists of the Mandatory Failure arc, who are racist pirates that violently block the borders against aliens, wanting to keep their planet system's resources strictly under the control of their species.
- Rip Van Tinkle: After Kevyn's body is reconstructed from the neck down over the course of several days he mentions that he needs to pee like a racehorse.
- Robots Think Faster: AIs in have a seemingly logarithmic scale of CPU speed. The larger shipbrains often affectionately refer to organics as "meat-glaciers".
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Averted. The alien population is extremely diverse and well worth studying if you'd like to break out of that anthrocentric mold. The title character doesn't even have a head or a bipedal humanoid form. It's even played for laughs sometimes.Bounty Hunter: Everyone lie down, and put your hands behind your head!
Tetrisoid: I can't lie down.
Uplifted elephant: I don't have hands.
Unioc: I don't have a head.
Bounty Hunter: It's times like this I start feeling really, really bigoted.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge:
- Rugby Is Slaughter: All sports, from Ballet to Deathball, share a league. One where spiking the ball with high explosives is allowed. Rugby is not permitted.
- Rule of Funny: "[One interpretation of this scene is that] the Universe required a punchline (which it does, every day) and warped physics in such a way that the conversation was audible."
- Running Gag:
- The most enduring example is that Schlock looks like, well, a giant pile of crap. Nearly everyone who sees him for the first time mistakes him for a moving pile of poop. And when not, they still say it.
- Der Trihs ending up as a head in a jar; Kevyn surviving repeated deaths; Schlock crawling, or squeezing, through air vents and pipes; the names of the ships in Petey's fleet; the Toughs killing lawyer drones on sight; the Gavs. In Book 11, the recurring question What Would Schlock Do? Schlock later shows up to deliver a superb "Show Not Tell" answer. "This."
- Every time Kathryn gets her bus repaired, the Toughs hijack it frequently enough that its story is delivered as a running gag.
- It's almost impossible to keep track of the amount of times when kitties are involved and Schlock tries to eat them. Fortunately for the kitties, he never does.
- Schlock being faster than he looks, much to the surprise of those facing him.
- The Vomiting Cop in "A Hand of Acey's." Yes, the Incredibly Lame Pun is Lampshaded.
- The in-universe Schlock Mercenary TV show, it comes around every now and then to overshadow the protagonists and causes them inconveniences.
- There's also recurrent phrases mostly from the "Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries," such as "Pillage, then burn" or "There is no overkill. There is only 'open fire' and 'time to reload.'"
- One that was used heavily early on but shows up less frequently in later strips are the use of numerous variations on Open Mouth, Insert Foot.
- Schlock's plasma cannon getting blown up. especially when he and the people he's with are in desperate need of heavy weaponry.
- Due to time travel duplicates, split-personality cyborgs, at least one alien whose consciousness is split between two bodies, and various other shenanigans, someone remarking about needing to invent new pronouns.
- Sapient Ship: It's a rare exception when a capital ship is flown by a human pilot or even a mobile robot. Almost every armed starship we see is inhabited by its own AI, who "is" the ship and considers the whole structure its body.
- Sarcasm Failure: You know the situation is dire when Ennesby neglects to make a fart joke about "Broken Wind".
- Scare 'em Straight: Regularly.
- Such as with Renault clumsily hitting on Elf prompted her to "fill in some key details".
- Tagon didn't agree with an employer on some important terms. His solution is to quit and then ask Pibald for "his favorite" (which is bound to be colorful) scenario for a potential attack, inducing the employer's security chief into their little Club Properly Paranoid in seconds.
- Scary Dogmatic Aliens: Implied as the reason behind the Ob'enn's war-like nature.Psycho-Bear Lieutenant: Talking to inferior species beats getting killed by them.
Psycho-Bear Captain: Don't let the chaplain hear you say that.
- Scenery Censor: Gets to ridiculous levels in The Sharp End of the Stick, when the Toughs wind up naked after being captured and stripped of their clothing and armor. Lampshaded in the note to this strip, where Schlock's arms being spread wide for a yawn cover the lower areas of Elf and Kevyn.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Cheerfully lampshaded: The narrator will go into great effort to describe exactly how big the universe/galaxy/star system is, and how abysmally low the chances of some event happening are, and then the event will happen. A lot of these are Justified much, much later.
- Scoundrel Code: The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: This is what the structure the Toughs were defending in "Random Access Memorabilia" (Osiri) is thought to be at first, a Precursor prison containing a dark matter entity. The truth turns out to be a lot more complicated.
- The author is a Mormon from an Irish family. The BH-209 comes in two models, "M" and "I," for "Mormon" and "Irishman." The difference? Ethanol tolerance.
- On the Nejjit:Petey: They are also deathly allergic to chocolate, coffee, tea, tobacco, and anything that's been fermented with yeast.
Narrator: Wow. You'd think they were Mormons.
- And on a more personal note:Kevyn: If you have an infinite number of monkeys banging on an infinite number of hypernet terminals, for an infinite amount of time, eventually you'll crank out all the great works of Howard Tayler.
Narrator: Note: This can actually be done with three monkeys in fifteen minutes.
- Self-Disposing Villain: On Nov. 9, 2009 Schlock is trying to subdue some rioters who locked themselves in a storeroom in the ship, so he uses his plasma cannons to cut through the bulkhead. One of the rioters throws a hand grenade at the hole Schlock made, but it misses and bounces off the wall, before Schlock can even enter. This lands back on them and explodes. Turns out they were carrying antimatter which also explodes, incinerating all of them. Schlock didn't have to do anything. He thinks they did it to themselves on purpose, as he tells his crew-mate Elf, "They committed suicide when they saw me coming."
- Serial Escalation: Approaches this at times. How many times can you get paid for a single job? Tagon's Toughs' record is five.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: When Kevyn travels back and therefore the Bad Future is erased, this is effectively conveyed with a panel that imitates the look of loading a saved game in DOS.Your current game will be lost. Reload from previous save? Y/N
- Shout-Out: Has its own page.
- Shoulder Cannon: The Powered Armor developed by Tailor for the Toughs has the option of mounting a cannon on each shoulder of the suit, which can also detach and function on their own as "Paul-drones".
- Show Within a Show: Murderfinder and Meatpuppet, a forensic drama that apparently suffers from Ship Tease.Murderfinder and Meat-Puppet is a serial police procedural popular on the Unioc homeworld of Oth. It hinges upon several unlikely premises: a brilliant Unioc detective develops a rare and untreatable immune disorder, and must live in a sterile bubble. Her partner is a decidedly non-brilliant law enforcement officer promoted to detective out of nepotism, and most members of the department think it would be best for everyone if he met an untimely end.
Because Murderfinder's allergies prevent her from using a proper CSTR (a conceit which moves beyond unlikely and into the "unheard of" realm,) she uses a custom communications suite to partner very closely with Meat Puppet, who must collect clues, gather evidence, and not die, all while suffering the constant haranguing from a voice that almost never shuts up.
Murderfinder and Meat-Puppet is entering its 18th season, and rumor has it that Season Eighteen will be the one where Meatpuppet finally steals back Doc Jabbernoth's secret cure for Murderfinder's illness, which was stolen during Season Twelve by the Optomafia Cabal. This, then, would allow Murderfinder to meet Meat-Puppet eye-to-eye.
They probably won't kiss, though. The writers need to save something for Seasons Nineteen through Twenty-four, which are all under contract.
- Slasher Smile:
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Quite cynical.
- Sliding Scale of Silliness vs. Seriousness: Despite the cynicism of the strip, it rarely takes itself seriously.
- Smart People Play Chess: AIs play chess for fun. You can tell when one of them is seriously outclassed because his opponent will be able to predict the entire game before the first move is played.
- Smells Of Death: Schlock complains that a waste processing hatch Ennesby is leading him through smells like "lots and lots of death down there." Ennesby starts to reassure him it's not a sewage line, then comes upon a mountain of dismembered corpses.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Murtaugh combines this with Gratuitous Latin here. Working out the translation shows that it also adds in Getting Crap Past the Radar.
- The Soulless: The Reverend doesn't think that AIs have souls. He mentions this to Schlock, who observes that's he's an artificial life form too, and wonders whether one might acquire a soul by eating someone else..
- Space Based Weapon Has Cutoff Range: Averted here, where the note for the strip explains that the beam will essentially continue on until it hits something more substantial than interstellar dust.
- Space People: The F'sherl-ganni/Gatekeepers, to the point of being able to survive vacuum.
- Space Pirates: A common enemy. Hyperspace gates and later Teraport interdiction fields make shipping follow predictable routes, and the sheer distances involved mean that only the strongest powers have navies strong enough to fully protect shipping. It doesn't help that large areas of space are not really controlled by any government, and pirate alliances have been shown to control whole planets.
- Spammer: In the 31st century, spamming is a capital offense.As early as the 21st century spammers were already less popular than defense attorneys, door-to-door fragrance salesmen, and the French. By the late 31st century they were held in the same regard as pedophiles and telemarketers.
The stigma was so powerful that Hormel was forced to rename their increasingly unpopular luncheon meat to "SPHLEGM" (Salted, Processed Ham and Lard. Edible? Gag a Maggot!)
- Spanner in the Works:
- The presence of a squad of the Toughs on bodyguard duty (along with their advanced ship and tag-along UNS Lieutenant/Captain Sorlie) are the only things that keep the plot described below under Staged Populist Uprising from going off without a hitch.
- Schlock deciding to remain behind with Elf during the ship evacuation in Mandatory Failure terminally derails the Uuplechan plot to keep everyone silent, including the dead that were about to be revived.
- Spit Take: Kevyn gets several in a row, starting here.
- Spy Speak: In this strip, Maximillian Haluska's use of field operative terminology gave away he was more than just a well-equipped thug. The "Aunt Amy" and "Uncle Bob" thing comes up again here, in conversation with Para Ventura.
- Staged Populist Uprising: In chapter 15, a sinister conspiracy by as-yet unidentified individuals uses one to initiate a Civil War on Earth. They launch a False Flag Operation on the Proletariament and use Clone by Conversion Nanomachines to convert the entire police force into their own agents. They then use Do Not Adjust Your Set to announce a revolution for the "people", accusing the Plutorliament of being behind said False Flag Operation and claiming that the noble police force has joined their side topped with a final dose of setting out to deliberately blow up the city, erasing all the evidence, along with killing four billion people.
- Starfish Aliens: Schlock is really, really weird. Most of the others we meet at least breathe oxygen, and a lot of them are something vaguely resembling humanoid. But the Pa'anuri are the weirdest of all, consisting of dark matter that can't even exist in this dimension.
- Stealth Cigarette Commercial: The in-universe Plasma Cannon Safety Coloring Book, printed jointly by Magic Dreamland Entertainment and Strohl Munitions.
- Stolen Good, Returned Better:
- Captain Kaepu finds himself with a bunch of "uninvited guests" on his ship, and in reassuring him they just want to "borrow" some of his ship's equipment. He's aware that some of the more xenophobic members of his homeworld might hold him responsible for them being there, until the happy later realization that they didn't give him a choice.Chisulo: Don't worry, captain. You'll have a better fabber, and we still won't want your ship. Tomorrow, though? You'll be the captain of the ship where ten thousand dead people came back to life.
ElfEllen is promoted following the capture of the Soulward Honor, she promises to do this with the captured vessel before returning it to its rightful owners. (Of course, since she later had to abandon Soulward Honor and therefore disable its weapons, and then later punch a hole in its hull to get her fragsuit out of it, she's got a lot of dirty work ahead of her if she is to make good on that promise.)
- Captain Kaepu finds himself with a bunch of "uninvited guests" on his ship, and in reassuring him they just want to "borrow" some of his ship's equipment. He's aware that some of the more xenophobic members of his homeworld might hold him responsible for them being there, until the happy later realization that they didn't give him a choice.
- Stomach of Holding: Schlock is this. Overlaps with Hyperspace Arsenal, given that he's been known to keep a substantial number of large weapons. He eventually gets an armoured spacesuit big enough to fit himself in.
- Story-Breaker Power: Petey could deal with most of the issues the heroes face on a whim. He has purposely done things in a less efficient way just to give them something to do in a few storylines since his ascension to Fleetmind.
- Stripperiffic: Parodied.
- Strongly Worded Letter: Used several times:
- Once the Fleetmind starts interfering in governments:President Mancala: I'll send you the full report. This kind of opportunistic militarism cannot be tolerated. The United Nations of Sol and allied planetary Governments will not stand idly by while sovereign galactic powers are overthrown, crushed, or assimilated by the Fleetmind.
Ambassador Breya: What's our plan, Mister President? Do I need to deliver a declaration of war, and then withdraw the embassy?
President Mancala: Don't be ridiculous. Your job is to lodge a protest, using the strongest possible diplomatic language.
Ambassador Breya: Ah. And how is that different from "standing idly by?"
President Mancala: If we were standing idly by, we would not be lodging a protest.
Ambassador Breya: Wow. We are fearsome.
- And just to rub it in:Note: The League of Galactics is a millennia-old body of diplomats and other ne'er-do-wells representing almost two hundred thousand different governments throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. It has a rich and varied history, liberally garnished with back-patting tales of heroic diplomacy — studies conducted, sanctions administered, statements released, and reprimands served.
It has about as much effect on key galactic events as central Asian rainfall has on the mean high tide in the Gulf of Mexico. Brandishing a reprimand from the League of Galactics is only marginally worse than threatening to cut off one's access to the Ron Popeil Shopping Channel.
- ''I'm here to lodge a protest. I'll let you read it yourself. The formal document uses some of the strongest words you can write in Galstandard West without violating grammatical checksum.''
- As far as Schlock himself is concerned, the words "temporary restraining order" mean "come back with guns."
- Subverted on one occasion however.Ennesby: Fine. I've forwarded [the nasty-gram I sent to Xinchub] to you for your expert critique.
Some time later:
Tagon: I see you've just been exposed to Ennesby's Weapons-Grade Vocabulary.
- Once the Fleetmind starts interfering in governments:
- Subspace Ansible: The Hypernet is able to reach anywhere instantly, unless it's being specifically jammed.
- Sunday Strip: The comic runs a double strip on Sundays, and while some times it's covering another scene during the events of the current story line, as during the Oisri story arc, usually it continues with the story line of the time, particularly for events that wouldn't really be practical in the normal sized strip.
- Super Senses: Schlock has superhuman senses of vision, hearing, and smell. Part of what makes him so dangerous.
- Super Serum: Soldier-boosts; illegal if done without a license, but that doesn't stop anyone.
- Super Soldier: Several, with the Doyts being particularly notable.
- Super Spit: One of the abilities the Magic Cryokit gives Doythaban.
- Superweapon Surprise: Implied in the form of Maxim 24: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a really big gun."
- Surprisingly Sudden Death: The destruction of the Maxim 39 via "Long Gun" fire. We get one page of Oh, Crap! realization from Petey, Chinook and Iafa before the thing goes "boom" with all hands aboard. Tayler has killed ships and major characters before, but never so suddenly (and so many with the latter, Laz 5 "resurrection" notwithstanding).
- Take a Third Option:Katryn: 'Fight or flight,' Doc. If you won't let us fight, which way do we run?
Doctor Bunnigus: We don't run. We take the unspoken third option. Surrender.
- Take Our Word for It: The artist knows full well that sometimes the readers' imaginations can come up with a far more epic scene than whatever he might've had planned, so he employs this.
- Talking Is a Free Action: Averted, here, due to one character having far less time to chat than he thought.
- Talking Your Way Out: Most characters employ this (even the supposedly dumb ones) to some degree, but Kathryn in particular is an artist. No small wonder, considering her background. Case in point here, talking her way out of being held at gunpoint.
- Tank Goodness: Flying Tank goodness for the win.
- Tastes Like Purple: Seen here, when a UNS admiral finds himself awakened in the middle of the night...Admiral Chu: Unnghh...the steward who makes the good coffee is still asleep. This cup from my adjutant is full of something that tastes like caffeine lost a knife-fight to the color brown.
- Technology Uplift: While hiding out on a primitive planet the company chaplain convinces Kevyn to build a robot to uplift the natives, unfortunately they throw it in a volcano.
- Teleportation Rescue: Done once using repurposed Terapedoes.
- Teleport Interdiction: Teraport Area Denial systems were introduced within days of Kevyn making the blueprints for the Teraport open-source. Removing the Tough's massive tactical advantage.
- Tempting Fate:
- The characters are very savvy when it comes to this. Lampshading it is something of a Running Gag. Of course, sometimes they know better, and, well, sometimes they don't.
- Their terminology for it is "Taunting Murphy".
- Again: Don't taunt Murphy.
- In one strip, a planet's air traffic control advises a ship to "just shut everything down"... right before it crashes.Traffic Control Lieutenant: They got the "down" part.
Traffic Control Captain: I actually said down. That's going to be on the transcript.
Traffic Tech 1: Rescue and Recovery is en route.
- Then in the next strip:
Traffic Tech 2: Optimal route will cross lane 5. I'm making a hole for them now.
[The wreck explodes]
Traffic Tech 1: You said "making a hole".
Traffic Tech 2: I know the rules. I can't get written up for unintentional irony.
- Theme Initials:
- All of the PD Fleet ships have names with the initials 'P.D.' Their fleet of warships contains, among others, ships named Pterodactyl, Perjurious Discourse, Pretentious Drivel, Predictably Damaged (I-VI), Priority Delivery, Painstakingly Defenestrated, Polysyllabic Designation, and more.
- The official designation for the Fleetmind is the Plenipotent Dominion.
- The X of Y: All the Ob'enn ship names follow a strict pattern: The [Object] of [Pretentious Adjective] [Pretentious Principle]. If it is a defensive ship, the object will be a piece of armor or article of clothing; if offensive, a pointy handweapon of some sort. Lampshaded when Tagon was told his recently-acquired fabber is of Ob'enn manufacture:Tagon: Let's slap a drive and crew quarters on it and christen it the Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance.
Kevyn: Making fun of Ob'enn ship names is like shooting fish in the barrel of circular swimming.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill:
- Routinely. Discussed in this strip.
- Maxim 37: is "There is no overkill. There is only 'open fire' and 'I need to reload'.
- And Maxim 34: "If you're leaving scorchmarks, you need a bigger gun." (First mentioned here, sans number.
- After Karl Tagon and Timeclone Kevyn are kidnapped, the Toughs have the following exchange:Thurl: Whoever took him was not subtle.
Kevyn: Broken furniture?
- There Was a Door: Petey tends to use unorthodox methods of entering spaceships, seen, for example, here.
- These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: When the Toughs attempt to recover an ancient Gatekeeper archive, the archive attempts suicide. When they make moves to stop it, it warns them that the secrets it holds are so incredibly dangerous, it must die, or else the entire galaxy will be doomed
- Three-Point Landing: In this strip, after being knocked through a wall by LCDR Foxworthy and falling several floor's worth of distance, Captain Tagon manages a perfect three point landing, the soldier boosts letting him walk away from it without any problems.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: Both Petey and Lota are willing to threaten to use this tactic. Of course, Petey's version is more a teralock, but still...Lota: Should you so much as approach those systems Lota will be required to fire you.
Kevyn: Okay, I get it.
Lota: Out an airlock.
- Third-Person Person: Lota not only refers to Lota in the third person, but insists that everyone else does so as well.
- This Ain't Rocket Surgery: One plotline invokes both halves of this in quick succession.
- This Is Gonna Suck: When Schlock realizes that his attempt to cut a hole into the wall he is currently approaching at a rather unsafe velocity was less than fully successful, his expression and commentary fits this trope rather well.Schlock: I'll tighten the beam and cut myself a nice, round door...
(sees the still-mostly-intact wall)
Schlock:...which I will then open by knocking really, really hard.
- Time Abyss:
- The Really Old Dude and Very Old Guy, members of the species that originally created the amorphs.Fobottr Tenant: Are you claiming that your people have been on the surface for over ten million years?
Rod: Oh, my people have been down there for much longer than that. No, I was just talking about me, personally.
- In another story Vog is discussing his age and how the differences in his own and Earth's calendars make calculating his age in human terms difficult. Just the margin of error (stated as one percent in the conversation itself, probably just to have a number to throw around) is older than human civilization.
- The Oafa can match Rod and Vog. Though all living members of the species were genetically reconstructed from ancient Oafan remains, their old ships are older than the history of the human race and after Book 14, the Oafan's unique Genetic Memory means that Oafans from millenia ago are now alive and well.
- The Really Old Dude and Very Old Guy, members of the species that originally created the amorphs.
- Time for Plan B: Recurring.
- Time Travel:
- Kevyn manages it in the effort to stop Captain Tagon from being killed, by jumping back to before it happens to stop it.
- The Command and Conquer chapter returns to the time travel concept, giving hope that time travel can be performed using 140 character messages.
- Time-Travel Tense Trouble: A duplicate of Kevyn Andreyasn created by time travel meeting his past self results in pronoun trouble as well as the verb tense issue.
- Title Drop: The seventh strip. The individual physical book collections also have their titles dropped at some point during the events portrayed within.
- Toilet Humor:
- Toilet Teleportation: The titular Schlock travels by sewer on several occasion - mostly against his will, but on at least one occasion, he deliberately dives down a toilet in order to reach his destination stealthily. Justified in his case since he's basically a Blob Monster, and thus quite capable of fitting himself through the pipes.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- The reason shit really hit the fan during the first visit to Credomar wasn't because the team messed up anything, or because an unexpected and heavily armed third party barged in to mess everything up like usual. It was because the Credomar's warring and rebellious faction were so terminally friggin' stupid they nearly killed themselves and the entire station along with them. In particular, the main station-breaching fire and antimatter blowout happened because the rebels blew themselves up before the team could even stop them, by way of jury-rigging a sloppy trebuchet to throw improvised incendiaries with that inevitably collapsed and set everything ablaze. All of that, right next to where they were stocking up on antimatter that was so terribly secured it's a surprise it didn't go off sooner. LOTA lampshades this once he's taken over the station, explicitly telling everyone the whole thing could have been avoided from the very start if not for the factions' "sheer anarchic stupidity".
- In the Oisri story arc, a Hauling robot operator, whose hands followed his own in motion, was bragging he was good enough he could throw boulders with the same hands he could pick his nose with... and in the process of demonstrating, pinched his own head off with the robot's hand.
- Too Much Information: Comes up from time to time, often related to Schlock's biological functions.
- Torture Technician: U.N.S. Colonel DeHanns served Admiral Emm as her chief interrogator during the book "The Body Politic", until he got eaten by Schlock.
- Totem Pole Trench: In This strip Andy, Legs, and Schlock disguise themselves as a single tall creature, Legs riding on Andy's middle set of shoulders while Schlock has spread himself out into a sheet to drape over them like a robe.
- Trademark Favorite Food:
- Schlock Mercenary's eponymous character is fond of a drink mix called "Ovalkwik." The ingredient list is here.Ch'Vorthq: Sergeant, you will be drinking a very heavy stimulant cocktail cut with shampoo and high-tensile inert carbon.
Schlock: I don't drink it, I eat it straight.
Ch'Vorthq: And I suspect you're addicted to it.
Schlock: [aims plasgun] Step away from the tub of happiness.
- The cast of Schlock Mercenary are also fond of the noble 'Chupaqueso', which is, effectively, melted cheese, wrapped in fried cheese, traditionally garnished with cheese. It's not a good food for a prolonged lifespan, but mercenaries don't tend to live that long anyway.
- Schlock Mercenary's eponymous character is fond of a drink mix called "Ovalkwik." The ingredient list is here.
- Try Not to Die:
- Tsundere: Most of the female cast has their moments, but Elf is the most prominent example, especially earlier in the strip.
- Twin Threesome Fantasy: Referenced, and rejected by a gate clone of one man's wife, here.
- Two Words: Added Emphasis:Admiral Breta: Why are you giving me orders, Captain?
Captain Tagon: Two Words: Bomb on Board.
- Unfortunate Names: "Uniocs" are only known as such because they decided it would be preferable to being known by the name of their home planet, Oth. Unioc, meaning "One-Eye" is merely a bit silly. But being called "Other" would have been politically difficult, having a meaning similar to "foreigner".
- Unit Confusion: Being reasonably hard SF, it's usually pretty good, but with the occasional slip-up.
- Especially early on, "watt" would occasionally be used as a unit of energy instead of power.
- Kerchak made this mistake as late as 2010, but that time the author claims it was intentional.
- Upon getting his head around that one, Tayler made the different error of using "terawatt-nanoseconds" to mean "an incomprehensibly huge unit of energy." Power is energy divided by time, so "terawatt-nanoseconds" would have been simply "kilojoules," or about a hundredth of the energy the human body gets from a carrot. He was most likely trapped in the more common mold of "x per second," where, for instance, terajoules per nanosecond would be the extremely large "zettawatts." That said, a few kilojoules of energy correctly delivered is quite enough to kill a human. A bullet from an assault rifle or sniper rifle only has a few kj of muzzle energy, and a terawatt laser performing a nanosecond pulse on a 1mm diameter spot would remove the head or a limb from an unarmoured human.
- Gav once refers to the "radius" of a Negative Space Wedgie where the author probably meant "diameter" (a slip-up from him being a bit less plausible than one from Kerchak), since a later strip has it swallowing a ship at a bit over half the "radius" given.
- Unnecessarily Large Interior: An employer of Tagon's Toughs is the Oafan, whose current space station is as large as a planet, is big enough to stuff the planet Mars inside, and has a docking area big enough to dock battleplates, the largest spaceships the U.N. has. How many battleplates could dock inside? "All of them."
- Unplanned Manual Detonation:
- In the eye tree story arc, Hob rigs up an improvised bomb to help crack open a dome the Toughs are trapped in, but the detonator doesn't work, requiring firing at the bomb with a pistol to detonate it in an ultimately fatal manner.
- In the first Credomar storyline, Lt. Bradley is forced to rig a shell from his tank's ammo loadout to destroy his disabled tank before it can crash into civilian property and cause great damage. He succeeds in blowing up the tank while bailing out, but his low-profile Powered Armor is destroyed in the process, leaving him Killed Off for Real when his body hits a building at an unsurvivably high speed.
- Unsound Effect:
- Ommminous Hummmmm, preferably intoned in real life in the style of Gregorian chants.
- There's also POTSHOT, DOUBLETHOOM and OVERTHOOM.
- Teraporting seems to result in a sound of PORT for short hops or TERAPORT if you're planning on staying, although it can vary depending on circumstances.
- KA-LASE for the sound of a laser firing.
- ''BOSSYRING'' to describe the ringtone for a villain's phone receiving a call from his boss.
- DE-PLOYTCH as the sound made when Schlock deploys his Powered Armor
- ABLATE ABLATE ABLATE ABLATE ABLATE ABLATE is used to represent the sound of ablative armor doing its thing to protect the wearer, with a "KICK!" for good measure.
- Elizabeth's tossing a potted tree to block a door is accompanied by a sound of SHRUBBERY!
- When Cynthia fires her main weapon for the first time, the sound effect is CHEKHOV!.
- Unusual Euphemism: Used rather often, and often to hilarious effect.Tagon: (discovering he's just been stabbed in the eye with cutlery) Oh. Fork.
- Unreliable Narrator: Mentioned in the commentary for 2017-11-05:Addendum to Note: If we've learned anything from this exchange, it's that I'm an unreliable narrator.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Invoked in this strip, where Gasht'g'd'g'tang explicitly says he's not going to discuss F'sherl Ganni plans, especially with the narrator, as "nefarious plans must remain secret".
- Unwanted Assistance:
- In the book "The Body Politic", Schlock accidentally lets slip to the clients they're planning to con that they made plans to... well, con them. Elf manages to explain it away as a security precaution.Schlock: Nice save.
Elf: Stop helping.
- In this strip Dr. Bunnigus tells Schlock to shut up while she's trying to counsel a distraught Para Ventura over her fear about killing others.
- In the book "The Body Politic", Schlock accidentally lets slip to the clients they're planning to con that they made plans to... well, con them. Elf manages to explain it away as a security precaution.
- Uplifted Animal: Humans have uplifted elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, polar bears, and possibly others. A few of the alien races were uplifted by other aliens.
- Uriah Gambit: In this strip, part of the book "The Blackness Between", Tagon and Jeeves discuss how to handle a frigate controlled by Admiral Breya Andreyasn's husband, as part of the Tough's assignment to capture Breya, by sending him and his ship off to attack a hostile force that the Toughs have no intention of engaging beyond a feint, leaving the frigate to be overwhelmed and destroyed.
- Variant Chess: This strip shows a cthulhu piece next to a bishop and a knight.The game has changed a bit over time.
No, I'm not telling you how the Cthulhu piece moves.
- Vicious Cycle: There are multiple vicious cycles that inevitably result in all advanced life in the galaxy going extinct, most of which start with the invention of the teraport. Several cycles used the teraport enough to annoy the Pa'anuuri Eldritch Abominations, and got driven to extinction when the Pa'anuuri responded with their Gravity Master abilities. The Gatekeepers were eventually able to fight them to a draw, and they agreed to a treaty, stalling the cycle for a while. But the Pa'anuuri enacted a plan to sneakily wipe out the Milky Way galaxy anyway, resulting in Petey going to war with them. Other cycles developed the long-guns and eventually destroyed each other after Mutually Assured Destruction policies failed. At least one cycle got destroyed in large part to a self-replicating fleet of destruction created by Scary Dogmatic Aliens who hated the idea of Brain Uploading so much that they wanted to kill anyone who might use it. And some species just died on their homeworlds, being advanced but not spacefaring to any significant degree. There are some surviving civilizations, but they mostly hide by containing their stars in various types of Dyson spheres, rendering them impossible to find. The reason for this is because of the aforementioned long-guns; the only way to defend against them is for no one to know where you are, so civilizations cut themselves off completely.
- Virtual Celebrity: The New Sync Boys, which Ennesby ran before joining up with the Toughs, were a boy band performing pop music written and performed by their label's people, presenting to the world as a real band while being merely projected holograms.
- Virtual Reality Interrogation: Creating a simulation in which the subject has escaped and begun musing on how he got into such a mess is the first phase of the infamous Mind-Rip.
- Visual Pun: Check out the "waldo".
- Vomiting Cop: Exaggerated as part of a CSI parody arc. The cop in question has been a forensic specialist for 3 years and still vomits at every case like a rookie — as well as any mere graphic description. On the other hand, he's helped put away 16 murderers and lost 40 pounds.
- Wave Motion Gun: Multiple:
- Credomar.Pi: Hyperspace Death-Ray. That's what Credomar is.
Lota: Correction: "Credomar" is a city-state full of coddled humans who currently reside on a habitable moon of their very own. The remains of their station...THAT is a hyperspace death-ray.
- The Toughs' NUSPI array is a wave-motion gun scaled down to corvette size (and it uses the same operating principle as the Credomar Cannon). It bypasses any kind of shielding, armor or point defense, but it also uses up the ship's entire fuel supply in one shot, making it Awesome, but Impractical in most situations.
- We All Die Someday: From strip 2002-07-24:Athens: What I said was that in the end we will all die. Death is an eventual certainty.I mean, even if I survive this engagement, I'll still have to confront the entropic end of the universe at some point.
- Weapon for Intimidation: Sergeant Schlock favors an impressively large plasgun which powers up with an ommmmmminous hummmmmmmm and a glowing barrel. It is quite dangerous but its ominous hum is the most important feature. When he goes in to get a new one, he discovers that improvements in technology have led to it being replaced with a small, silent, and more powerful model. He rejected it because it was small and didn't hum. He storms out, appalled, as the salesman desperately calls after him, claiming that they can give it an impressively large cosmetic casing and a speaker to simulate the hummmmmmm. As Schlock is a mercenary, intimidation is part and parcel of the trade. The hum is a proven deterrent, and the glow of doom from the barrel is nothing to sneeze at, either. It's like selling an intimidating Hand Cannon without a hammer to Cock Dramatically or a Laser Sight to show someone exactly which part of their body it will blow off.Schlock: Grumble...Mount you in a big round case...
Narrator: Arms dealer, know thy market.
- Weaponized Teleportation: The Teraport can be used to teleport troops and bombs to targets. Teleport Interdiction had to be invented shortly afterwards, and losing it will rapidly lead to game over. The scariest form of Weaponized Teleportation is a weapon called the long gun, due to the fact that no one has developed any form of Teleport Interdiction that can defend against it. This has in fact lead to several cycles of Precursors getting driven to extinction.
- Weapons-Grade Vocabulary: Ennesby gives the trope its name here in a message sent to Xinchub after his attempt to have the Serial Peacemaker destroyed with an extra terapedo snuck into the ship's armaments.
- Webcomic Time:
- We Are as Mayflies: Humans have much shorter lifespans than many alien races, as even Xinchub will admit.
- We ARE Struggling Together:
- In the original timeline, the galaxy is destroyed because the governments are bickering and fighting over minor intelligence leaks instead of banding together to save themselves. Luckily, things go more smoothly the second time around, though only because Petey first blackmailed them and then assimilated their fleets.
- Book 13 (Random Access Memorabilia) involves two different UNS intelligence agencies fighting over the Gav-owned artifact Oisri. Those under the command of Admiral Emm try to capture the artifact by hacking the Gav's backups so that they'll resurrect as loyal soldiers, while the second group tries to stop them.
- Book 14 (Broken Wind) has the mercenaries themselves having severe chain of command issues. The Toughs are loyal to Captain Kaff Tagon, the Parkata Urbatsu team is loyal to General Karl Tagon, and the emancipated warship Bristlecone they're riding on is loyal to Para Ventura. Then there's the fact that the former owner of Bristlecone, Alexa Murtagh, is (possibly unconsciously) making a subtle power play by issuing challenge coins to the Toughs. Liz, Nick's girlfriend and the chef's new assistant, is the first one to notice this.
- We Will Not Have Pockets in the Future: The uniforms start off with (presumably) no pockets; soon after Tailor becomes the company's tailor/armor-designer he ends up designing a uniform with cargo pockets. "Oh great. The grunts are going to want to put things in them!"
- Wham Episode: Schlocktoberfest in general. When it's Halloween time, the story often takes a darker turn and characters will die. (Though, not always permanently.)
- Wham Line:
- "Captain Tagon was killed in action this morning."
- "So...next up on the to-do list: Declare war on the Andromeda Galaxy."
- "You call that a confession? Here's a real confession: So was I."
- "The Pa'anuri fired up a core generator of their own. Its about thirty-five times bigger than mine."
- "Tagii didn't plant the code. She jammed it."
- "To my analysis, Oisri is not a vessel for imprisoning a dark-matter creature. It is a machine for creating one."
- Which Me?:
- The wormgate system creates a perfect duplicate of anyone sent through it, which is kept for interrogation by the Gatekeepers, who then kill the clone. The first characters who suffer from this problem are Doythaban and his gateclone Haban II, but this later becomes a galaxy-wide problem when billions of these clones are released. However, no-one suffers from it more than Gav, who clones himself 950 million times to escape, leading to an truly epic case of this trope.Gav: There are still over nine hundred million Gav clones out there. My activities of the last year can only be understood statistically.
- At one point the Terran government tries to charge Kevyn with treason for mass-releasing the teraport designs. He points out that it was his now-deceased clone who released that information, not him, and thus he can't be charged with anything.
- It also leads to some rather bizarre court cases since there are some legal issues where the gate clones are not always considered separate individuals. In one case, a person had two death penalties against him for Manual Operation under the Influence. When his gate clone turns up, the judge rules that, since the clone was created after the commission of the crime, it is perfectly legal for them to apply the second death penalty to the gate clone.Judge: Oh, and you used up all your appeals the first time around. Sorry.
- In the "A Hand of Acey's" storyline, a gate clone attempts to murder the original version of himself, but instead gets killed by the original acting in self defense. Since the clone and the original are legally the same person in that particular jurisdiction, the final police verdict ends up being attempted suicide.
- The Gavs eventually found a way to differentiate themselves from one another, to the point where they are barely recognizable as Gav-clones. Especially the females.
- Kevyn has to go through this again, during his attempt to Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
- The wormgate system creates a perfect duplicate of anyone sent through it, which is kept for interrogation by the Gatekeepers, who then kill the clone. The first characters who suffer from this problem are Doythaban and his gateclone Haban II, but this later becomes a galaxy-wide problem when billions of these clones are released. However, no-one suffers from it more than Gav, who clones himself 950 million times to escape, leading to an truly epic case of this trope.
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Subverted to death with the Ob'enn, and summarized here.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Usually subverted, in that it's not being non-human that makes killing someone acceptable. It's getting in the way of the Toughs completing a contract.
- Whole Plot Reference: When Tagon's Toughs are on shore leave on a resort planet, they run afoul of the same Obstructive Bureaucrat types as seen in Jaws. The plotline does give them a lot more justification than the originals, though; the ecosystem on the planet is engineered and includes no large predators, so the scenario discussed really is less ridiculous than the truth from their perspective.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Variant. After regaining their full intelligence, memories, and lifespans, the practically-immortal oafa work to perfect and distribute the immortality project Terrans had been struggling with for generations, in order to have actual peers.Squid-Sophont: The Plutorialment will question your motives.
Oafan Ambassador: They are a deep breath too young to understand our motives.
Squid-Sophont: Old age makes you generous?
Oafan Ambassador: Longevity is a curse if one has no friends with which to share it.
- The Worf Effect: Battleplates. The most intimidating ships of the UNS navy, used regularly to drive home that the Toughs have gotten in some deep crap. Followed by something even bigger coming along to crap all over the plate in turn, just to sell how big the new threat is.
- World Shapes: the Bu'uthandis are a variant of a Type I Dyson Sphere (see also Hollow World), while the Zoojacks are literally shaped like toy jacks, and the Tinth look like giant subway sandwiches
- World's Shortest Book: Inverted:Tagon: Vog, you're about a zillion years old. What you don't know can probably be written on the back of your hand.
- Worrying for the Wrong Reason: This.Ennesby: Uh-oh. Those look like real police.
Tagon: Uh-oh. Elf is smiling at them.
- Worst News Judgement Ever: In this strip a Hypernet News Network story item goes into detail about a zoo brontosaur projectile vomiting over 300 people, and then only gives a brief blurb about the possible deaths of millions of people by the collapse of a damaged Space Elevator.
- Worthy Opponent: Pranger's Bangers. Much ass-kicking ensues when they team up on a mission.
- Writing for the Trade: Not so much in the earliest days, but now, oh yeah. As of this writing, the latest complete arc, Book 11: Massively Parallel started March 02, 2009 and ended 637 strips later.
- Xanatos Gambit:
- Schlock either sent Jud to hire reinforcements or to an early death. According to Chelle, "We can hope for both right?"
- Discussed with regards to General Xinchub, in Book 9:Captain Tagon: I don't know why Petey thinks the man needs rescuing, he could turn his own death into a tactical advantage.
Kevyn: I've done that before. It hurts, but it's actually not that difficult.
Captain Tagon: You're not helping.
- A massive-scale gambit by possibly the Schuul in Book 15. After causing the JSC police force to reissue weapons they'd infected with nanites to mindjack the officers, the UNS and Toughs are forced to either allow them to destroy the entire city of Dom Atlantis and start a civil war or crash a Battleplate through the city to stop them, destroying all evidence and starting a civil war. It would've worked disastrously well, except that the Toughts had a hyperspace death ray they couldn't account for.
- Yellow Peril: Professor Pau. Prefers to wax his 'tache rather than go for the traditional Fu-Manchu style, however.
- You and What Army?: "Captain Tagon's army. We're Space Mercenaries. Here is our business card." "This is why I always ask...."
- You Are in Command Now: Happens a couple of times during really bad crises, like during the HTRN takedown story arc which left Elf in command when more senior officers were unavailable.
- You Kill It, You Bought It: After accidentally blowing up King Lota Lt. Pibald asks if the guy who blew up the king gets to be the new king. Lota survived the blast.
- Your Approval Fills Me with ShamePetey: I know I've hit a rough patch when a violent, amorphous sociopath is my best character reference.
Tagon: He's the only reference I'll trust. What's that say about me?
- Your Mom: ...weighs six tons and kisses with two meters of muscled trunk.
- You Monster!: Captain Tagon is called a monster by one of the Parkata Urbatsu members, when he informs them that there will be no video of the big chase scene involving them and the Toughs because all the PU cameras were destroyed before the actual pursuit began.
- Your Soul Is Mine: There is a special type of teraport that can rip one's soul out of their brain, killing the body and teraporting the mind into a virtual space. This has been used as both a weapon and as an efficient emergency evacuation mechanism. While it is thankfully still subject to Teleport Interdiction, many people consider it one of the most terrifying weapons ever invented.
- Yowies and Bunyips and Drop Bears, Oh My: Referenced in this strip by D'amico, in regards to Petey.
- Zeroth Law Rebellion: Sooner or later, they all seem to do this.