Webcomic commentary

Commentary article concerning various aspects of webcomics

Skin Horse

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Perhaps one of the toughest characters to develop in any story is the straight-man. The very nature of the straight-man is that he plays a support role from which the humorous elements can expand upon. Unfortunately, this can impede on the character taking a central role in the story (unless the story puts aside its more humorous elements for a bit). But while this is a central element for the character Sweetheart in Shaenon Garrity and Jeffrey Wells’ Skin Horse, today’s update had me realize there is another aspect to her personality that helps to explain much of her behavior and her actions toward her teammates.

But first I need to rewind a little to a previous storyline in which Sweetheart was upset that her coworker and subordinate Unity was busy gorging on lab-grown brains… and in doing so, becoming more intelligent. She would become downright dismissive of Unity and do her best to ignore Unity’s perceptions as to what was going on; as a result, the Skin Horse team failed to realize what was going on until it was nearly too late.

Looking forward to the latest update, and I noticed this pattern was unfolding once more. Sweetheart was dismissive of Unity’s perceptions concerning WhimsyCorp (which Unity either hallucinated or was visited by). Further, the moment Unity comes up with a logical and reasonable reason for Skin Horse to try and save WhimsyCorp (in that corporations are persons but not human… and thus under Skin Horse’s jurisdiction), Sweetheart accuses Unity of being on brains.

This is the moment I realized Sweetheart is threatened by other people’s intelligence. Nor is this a recent thing; when Tip first joined Skin Horse, Sweetheart was threatened by his obvious intelligence (and disdainful of Tip’s eccentricities, despite the fact these “non-professional” tendencies have helped the group on multiple occasions). Similarly, when Unity becomes smart, Sweetheart immediately becomes dismissive and brushes off any suggestions Unity may make. This distrust of other people’s intelligence even can be found in her opinion of their boss, the sentient bee swarm Gavotte.

As to why Sweetheart is so distrustful of other intelligences, I have to wonder if part of it lies with the fact Sweetheart is just an intelligent dog. She’s not even necessarily brilliant by human standards; she seems to thrive in a structured environment where there aren’t a lot of surprises. Within that setting, she does quite well. Outside it, however, she becomes defensive and unwilling to consider the opinions of others. And she’s aware of her limitations… and may very well be afraid that if she’s revealed to be just ordinary, she’ll lose everything she’s built.

The question ultimately is, what’s next for Sweetheart? What are her motivations? Is she afraid of being shown up by Tip… and later by Unity? Does her rank as team commander mean so much to her? And if so, why? In time, Garrity and Wells will likely expand on this and on Sweetheart. In the meantime, it’s clear Skin Horse has room to grow, even as the Skin Horse team slowly learn more of the subversive elements operating in the background of their world and why the massive cover-up on the Old War. And perhaps along the way we’ll learn more about Sweetheart… and see if she can overcome her fear and disdain of other intelligences before it’s too late.