Ink & Paint VIII: Schlock Mercenary

Take a little bit of Starship Troopers, a little bit of Futurama, and a little bit of Star Trek, mix it together with a dozen or so other science-fiction influences and the comic-strip art of Howard Tayler, and what do you get?

A really fun ride across the galaxy with one of the most unique crews of paramilitary space warriors ever conceived.

I’m a latecomer to the wonders of Schlock Mercenary, which spans in excess of 3000 strips, but it didn’t take long to make the adventures of Captain Tagon and his band of space mercenaries a daily appointment. Tayler puts out a four- or five-panel comic Monday through Saturday, and a full-page Sunday feature. The artwork is appropriately colorful and toony, the characters engaging and memorable, and the stories both funny and nail-biting, in the best tradition of space opera. There’s no job “Tagon’s Toughs” won’t take on–if the price is right. The last couple of episodes have spanned the galaxy, from engagement with a nearly-omniscient artificial intelligence and its unstoppable superweapon, to a stint as rent-a-cops in an interstellar shopping mall.

Did I mention the characters? Okay, but I didn’t say enough. You’ll find a host of the usual suspects–sentient AIs, clones, kid prodigies, aliens of various flavors, and superintelligent animals. Want to go up against a genetically-tweaked gorilla who’s smarter than you are? Didn’t think so. Tagon fulfills all the promise of the swaggering starship captain, and then some. Kirk? Picard? Sissies. At the other end of the spectrum is Sergeant Schlock, the embodiment of every NCO I’ve ever met, with none of the moral scruples. He’s also a shapeshifter, his natural form something like a big pile of sludge, with googly eyes. His favored weapon is a ginormous blaster (or anything at hand that goes boom). Other characters spend much time ruminating the question, “What would Schlock do?” The safest course of action is usually to do the opposite. Not to worry. Tagon’s staff includes both a lawyer and a chaplain to handle the legal and ethical fallout from his crew’s operations.

Somehow, just the idea of a mercenary chaplain is really funny.

Anyhow, drop by and take a look at Schlock Mercenary. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll probably get hooked too. The entire archive of Schlock strips, from the beginning, is available on Tayler’s website. I haven’t yet mustered the willpower to wade into that 3000-strip back history, but I will soon. Fortunately, there’s a quick-and-dirty introduction to the strip that will get you started. You can also purchase print digests of the comic, with six books currently in circulation, and five more in production.

Tayler’s site is worth a meander all by itself, as he posts frequent updates on his personal appearances and publications, as well as reviews of spec-fic movies, books, and comics. He also offers all manner of Schlock boodle, including signed sketches, miniatures, t-shirts, etc.

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