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The webcomic Bad Machinery is John Allison's followup to the popular Scary Go Round, which itself is a followup to Bobbins. It takes place in the same strangely charming (and charmingly strange) British town of Tackleford three years after Scary Go Round and with some of the old characters from the prior comics.
It follows a group of secondary-school (for Americans: middle school) kids; The girls consist of plucky ringleader-sleuth Shauna Wickle, the endearingly simple Charlotte "Lottie" Grote, and wild child Mildred Haversham. The boys are Adorably Precocious Child investigator Jack Finch, justice-obsessed Linton Baxter, and the sensitive Sonny Craven. The kids attend Griswalds Grammar School and get into all manner of capers and hijinks typical of living in Tackleford.
Initially focusing on the group of children detectives as a whole, the stories have begun focusing on and developing one or two main characters for a story's duration. The supernatural elements are toned down slightly from Scary Go Round, though it retains John Allison's signature bantering character interaction and unique way with words, though he's said that the language is very complex than SGR's, partly because of the younger cast and partly because he'd grown out of it.
Bad Machinery provides examples of:
- Adorkable: Jack, very much so.
- Adults Are Useless: Played straight and subverted in turn. Notably, Shauna's stepdad Dan tries to help his daughter out when her coat gets stolen, and Glenys takes Archibald away from Mildred because whatever he is, he's obviously not a dog.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Mildred and Lee. Lee's one of the rougher boys, but seems genuine in his affection.
- Almost Pash: Mildred in detention.
- Audible Sharpness: Inverted; Clair's knife is so blunt it goes "BLUNT!" when brandished.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Though brought up to be a Granola Girl by very liberal parents who tell her to use their real names, Mildred is usually the first to suggest violence or causing trouble. Perhaps it's an outlet, or a form of rebellion.
- Big Sister Instinct: Jack's sister Jessica is always looking out for him, even when she teases him mercilessly.
- Bourgeois Bohemian: Mildred's parents.
- Brick Joke: This strip is the punchline to a set-up in this one, from nearly five months earlier.
- Buffy-Speak: The whole cast has a very unique way of saying things that borders on this.
- Caffeine Bullet Time: Well, more like Caffeine Hyper Awareness, the first time Shauna tries it.
- Character Collision: provides (part of) the trope image. Despite Erin Winters gaining an established characterization in Scary Go Round as a Gentle Giant Lovable Jock (so much so that the trope about such positive character turnarounds is named after her), her characterization in Bad Machinery as a Jerkass is how she is mostly remembered as.
- Chick Magnet: Jack. His sister's friends find him Adorkable. Shauna is quite fond of him, as well.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Shauna's older brother Darren from Scary Go Round seems to be suffering from this - as of the new series, Humphrey is the only sibling she ever acknowledges having.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Lottie's ideas aren't always the best, she has a habit of trailing off into odd things in her jokes and getting up to silly things.
- Jack is a daydreamer and is also prone to imagining and misinterpretation.
- Continuity Nod: Several, both to Scary Go Round and to itself.
- Mr. Beckwith, the girls' teacher, is (obviously) Ryan from SGR, and is now married to Amy Chilton. The two had expressed feelings for the other but by the end of SGR nothing had developed.
- Lottie mentions that Mr. Beckwith dated her sister before she left for University.
- Lottie and Shauna decide to do their first school assignment as a Zine, using the equipment Lottie's sister had left her at the end of SGR.
- Said sister pays Lottie a visit (starting here) and goes shopping with her.
- Mad Terry is never named in SGR but can be seen in the background, most notably as one of The Boy's co-workers.
- Amy is still an antiques dealer and seems to still be running out of her shop, Bric A Brac.
- Panel two of this comic even is a Continuity Cavalcade. From left to right, we have:
- Amy's dad Len Pickering, and Amy herself. Although his appearance has changed a bit (his hair is now grey, and there is more of it in his face), Len should be well known to avid SGR-readers.
- Judge Soap, a relatively obscure SGR character. He is the father of Amy's employee Melanie.
- Hamilton Percy, the last known employer of The Boy and Mad Terry from SGR. He also appeared in an early story arc as the victim of Zombie-Shelley's craving for brains.
- Shelley's little sister Erin, quite literally Put on a Bus to Hell in SGR, has returned to Tackleford. She even seems to have gained Shelley's old job as newspaper journalist.
- Elodie, The Boy's French exchange student, has shown up recently as French assistante for the school.
- Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Biscuits.
- Cool Pet: Archibald, for both Mildred and Shauna.
- Deal with the Devil: For Linton and Sonny, asking for help from Erin is this. Given that she makes them promise her a favor and sign it in blood, and was previously seen trapped in Hell, they may be more correct than they think...
- Delusions of Eloquence: Some of the children stumble into this now and then.
Charlotte: I'm bein' sophisticated, Shauna. Reversin' his psychology.
- Fan Nickname: Applied in-universe. Jack has names for all the shapes in Tetris. And he's written Fan Fiction for them.
- Flat What: Seen here.
- Forbidden Fruit: Mildred really loves chocolate, as her family doesn't allow her to have it.
Mildred: I'm not allowed computer games...on account of them promoting violent stereo tights. SO IT IS IMPORTANT THAT WE PLAY THEM ALL NOW.
- Free-Range Children
- Granola Girl: Mildred's family is vegan, although the trope applies more to her mother Glenys.
- Heel Face Turn: Colm rushes into a burning barn to help save the troll after helping to set the mob on him in the first place.
- Hidden Depths: Trophy Wife Yana Kropotkin turns out to be a expert hacker.
- Hot Teacher: Ryan is quite popular with his female students.
- Elodie is a French assistante rather than a teacher, but judging by Linton's reaction she seems to have the hot part down.
- Mrs. Lord fits the bill as well.
- Humans Are Bastards: Shauna seems convinced that this is the moral she's meant to be taking away from this story, but the facts keep getting in the way.
- Hypnotic Eyes: Lem.
- Interrupted Kiss: Mildred and a 4th year boy during detention.
- Just a Stupid Accent: Kropotkin and his wife speak Russian-accented English even when talking to each other, even though they presumably do it in Russian.
- Intrepid Reporter: Erin Winters, doubling as a Hot Scoop. She's better at this job than her sister was, but the kids hate her because she tends to omit their names when she uses their info for reports.
- Lighter and Softer: Bad Machinery has a lot of the same humor as Scary Go Round, but because it focuses mostly on pre-teens there is significantly less cursing, gore/violence, and sex.
- Little Miss Snarker: Pretty much any female character that you can find. Lottie may possibly have been influenced by older sister Sarah from Scary Go Round.
- Love Hurts: Colm is a thief and a bit odd with a suspicious hole in his backstory, but everything that gets him in trouble stems from his honest attempts to impress Lottie.
- Murder the Hypotenuse:
Mildred: All I want to know is if he has a girlfriend. And if he does, how I can destroy their love.
- And then the girlfriend finds out about Mildred and tries to drown her.
- My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad: The intimidating size of Shauna's stepdad convinces Jack that this is not so:
Jack: All I can think about when I meet her stepdad is...what if something happens and my dad has to fight him?
- Noodle Incident: "The case of Mad Terry".
- Only Sane Man: Linton is easily the most grounded of the boys. Same with Shauna and the girls.
- Planet Eris: Continuing on from Scary Go Round, the world is still full of ghosts, weird beasts, magical objects and strange goings-on. A satellite falls on a football pitch... in the middle of a match.
- Disguised Pilot: (The full trope name does a disservice to Mr Allison.) Shauna and Lottie first appeared in some of the last chapters of Scary Go Round, which were more like a Fully Absorbed Pilot.
- Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Lottie. "Grote women have naturally alabaster skin!" And Colm definitely thinks she's a beauty.
- Red Herring: Colm may be a thief and a creeper, but he isn't the Firebug.
- Relationship Upgrade: Ryan and Amy, friends from Scary Go Round, got married in the three-year gap between both series.
- Also happened to Shauna and Jack, at least for a while.
- Ret-Gone: Erin was sucked into Hell during the course of Scary Go Round, which caused all the people who knew her to forget about her completely. She's turned up recently (and mysteriously) and the trend seems to have kept, as Ryan had no idea who she was.
- The Reveal: Double layered in the first story, as Mrs. Biscuits is a "likho", a supernatural creature that curses people, but she isn't the cause of Kropotkin's bad luck.
- Russian Guy Suffers Most: Both Mrs. Biscuits and Mr. Kropotkin have led hard lives in Russia before coming to Britain.
Mrs. Biscuits: I come from Russia years ago. In Soviet Russia, you have nothing! Here I have home. Will Russia take it from me? No!
Kropotkin: In Russia, I make fortune mining lithium. Initially with bare hands. Then a teaspoon. Other miners laugh! They could not break my spirit. When I feel sad, eat some lithium, feel better. After a week, I earn enough money to buy shovel. Now I own many mines. Laughing miners? Today they are broken men, too tough to cry.
- Selkies and Wereseals: "The Case of the Fire Inside" features a selkie whose sealskin is unwittingly stolen by Lottie.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Jack is the quiet, sensitive guy, while Linton is a wannabe manly man and the only boy who really enjoys sports. Sonny is somewhere between the two of them, leaning more towards sensitivity.
- Serious Business: It's not as if firefighting isn't a really serious business in reality, but in this world, you have to have a maniacial hatred of fire to be in the Fire Brigade.
- Ship Tease: The makings of early-teen romance between Shauna and Jack at the end of Chapter 1.
- Sixth Ranger: Mildred was this for a while, before becoming part of the main cast.
- Self-Made Man: Kropotkin - see above in Russian Guy Suffers Most.
- The Smart Guy: Mildred is good with physics and quite clever in general.
- The cast page describes Shauna as "incredibly bright", and she has some surprisingly developed opinions on thing like architecture for her age and background.
- Speech Impediment: Claire hath a LITHP, which therveth only to emphathithe her DRAMATIC PROUNOUNTHMENTTH.
- Stalker with a Crush: Colm has a thing for Lottie. She just thinks he's a creeper.
- Torches and Pitchforks: Referenced in this strip. When the Tackleford townsfolk learn of a troll being about, they start stocking up on pitchforks.
- A Touch of Class Ethnicity and Religion: There's much more visible class and income differences between the characters than in Scary Go Round: Sonny is described as "living in wealth and splendor" and his cousin Mildred's family are also upper middle class; Lottie, Linton and Jack appear to be in the middle, and Shauna's family is working class. It's most obvious when Jack goes round to Shauna's house.
- Unfortunate Names Mr. Bough (pronounced "boff"). He's also heard just about every joke possible, so any more and it's detention!
- Unsound Effect: These appear quite often, such as the boys doing STUNTS! on their bikes, or Amy fixing Ryan's hair with the unsound "fuss fuss comb interfere". Don't you wish you could invoke the effect J'ACCUSE when you point at someone?
- Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: Their investigations are much more local than "saving the world", but the trope is still the thrust of the comic:
John Allison: The idea of Bad Machinery is that the supernatural mysteries are a distraction from the real dangers, which are personal. All through “The Case Of The Good Boy”, the actual manifest danger is how Jack is being victimised through no fault of his own, and he can’t really ask for help. He’s the good boy! No one has spotted this. I’m probably not doing my job very well, am I?
- What the Hell, Hero?: Shauna gives one to Lottie after her plan to help the troll find love gets him hunted down by a mob.
- Word Salad Title: If there's a reason for the name "Bad Machinery", Mr. Allison is keeping it to himself.
- Draw What You Know: Tackleford and Griswald's Grammar School based on the author's local area.
John Allison: I do draw the school I attended, and the town I attended it in. It just makes it easier to draw people walking around, I know what is round each corner! But my school wasn't co-educational, the girls' high school was separate, just up the road.
- Zettai Ryouiki: Jack's sister.
Murder, She Writes
A Closed Circle murder mystery featuring Lottie from Bad Machinery and Shelley from Scary Go Round. Shelley, now a children's author, is invited to a party in her agent's remote Welsh mansion, and brings along Lottie as her intern. When one of the author is murdered and several of the guests have motives, our heroines investigate.
- All Just a Dream: Shelley believes so when she wakes up, but is quickly disabused of the idea.
- Angst? What Angst?: Despite Shelley's fears, 12-year-old Lottie takes the bloody murder scene in her stride and immediately starts looking for the killer. She explains with a diagram that her "extreme love of mysteries" protects her "delicate lady-brain" from horror.
Shelley: This isn't normal for a girl your age. I'm going to freak out for both of us.
- The Big Board
- Can You Hear Me Now: Bad mobile phone reception because of the storm and the mansion's remoteness prevents anyone calling the police. Lottie and Shelley manage to call them after solving the mystery, surprising everyone by finding a landline - hidden in a cupboard because no-one uses it any more.
- J'accuse!: Emitted by Lottie, like Spidey-sense. She says it out loud once the truth is out.
- I Have to Iron My Dog: Derek attempts to get out of a long rant.
- One-Liner: Judy faces down the competition.
Shelley: Make a note, Charlotte. That was a zinger of the old school.
- Modesty Bedsheet: Played straight as a Scenery Censor; however, evidently fails in-universe as Lottie later mentions her "accidental willy sighting"
- Pop Culture Pun Episode Title: The title is refers to Murder, She Wrote, of course.
- Right Through the Wall:
Lottie: What do you think they were doing? Moving furniture?
Shelley: Um, yes. Feng shui is very important.
- Snowed In
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The "cover" splash panel originally described Murder, She Writes as "A Shelley Winters story", but Shelley appears to have passed out of the Competence Zone, and mostly takes a back seat to Lottie's investigating.
- Start to Corpse: the "corpse clock" is lampshaded in The Rant.