Session Fifteen: D0uble Tiime

6/22/10 – 7/3/10
pages 2072 – 2154

Finally! Today we’re going to cover all of the Sollux stuff! Well… almost, I’m avoiding discussing class and aspect during character introductions. There’s also points about dream selves and plot development that I’m saving for later so… Today we’re going to cover most of the Sollux stuff. At least some of the stuff. Probably there will be a lot of the stuff left over for future entries. That’s just how I write, catchy recurring phrases aside.

Sollux Captor is near and dear to my heart. I’m not the only one who feels this way. He strikes a chord with many fans and yet he’s considered, at best, a second tier character. If you go on MS Paint Adventures forums you can find threads (closed) discussing the symbolism associated with him and threads discussing his profound uselessness right alongside. Those are some very mixed signals for one character. So which is it? Well, can’t it be motherfuckin’ both things? (I’ll stop, I swear.)

In all seriousness though, it is motherfuckin’ both things. Explaining why is going to get complicated, so I’ll try to keep it concise. There is a lot going on with Sollux. He has personality and identity crises, psychic powers that are special even by troll standards, super l33t haxor skills, an incredibly dark backstory that gets worse with the introduction of Sgrub into his life, and he stands as a symbol for a major plot point. He performs two heroic sacrifices, and it’s implied that he’s instrumental in other life and death situations. Furthermore, he is the stated best friend of our resident deuteragonist, Karkat, with whom he has a relationship that borders on downright toxic (more on that in a moment). His ex-girlfriend, whose death he considers himself at least partially responsible for, is the impetus behind a huge portion of the action in their session and his current girlfriend is the former princess of Alternia, making him the third point in two separate love triangles. Any one of those roles carries the embedded cultural subtext “important character”. And yet, he’s hardly in the comic. Most of what he does is done off screen and only mentioned by the characters, or even the captions, later. Worse, moments when it seems like he’d be the perfect guy to solve a problem, Hussie brings in some other random fortuitous item or development to do the job instead (more on that another time). It’s almost like Sollux is a protagonist in a story we aren’t watching.

I am in two minds about this. On the one hand, the fact that all of Sollux’s issues and abilities are treated as no big deal by his peers tells us about troll culture by itself.  He’s a supporting character in the sense that everything about him is used to build up another concept or another character. Focusing on him might ruin the magic, he needs other characters to bring him to life. On the other hand, that very trait is what would have made more scenes about him interesting. He has so much chemistry with Karkat, Terezi and Aradia that the few conversations we do get to read are some of the most memorable. There’s a great deal about Karkat and Terezi that we don’t find out until late in the comic, when we get it all in great gloopy globs of monologue, that could have been established more efficiently and thoroughly if they’d been given a greater opportunity to interact with their friends. Poor Feferi only gets one speaking scene with her own boyfriend.

Remember when I said that we learn about the four main kids in the best way possible, by seeing them interact with each other in the face of new challenges? There is none of that in Hivebent. There’s no time for it. Though given the tangents the comic goes off on later (*coughVriskacough*), I wish we could have spent that time with the rest of the cast instead. There are times when you have to tell, but there should be a balance. There’s a corollary to the old saying “seeing is believing”, what viewers don’t see they tend to disbelieve, and that is how Sollux can die saving the day, twice, and still get called useless.

Metatext aside, who is Sollux Captor? He’s just a kid, and I mean that in the best possible way.

You are apeshit bananas at computers, and you know ALL THE CODES. All of them. You are the unchallenged authority on APICULTURE NETWORKING. And though all your friends recognize your unparalleled achievements as a TOTALLY SICK HACKER, you feel like you could be better. It’s one of a number of things you SORT OF BEAT YOURSELF UP ABOUT for NO VERY GOOD REASON during sporadic and debilitating BIPOLAR MOOD SWINGS.

Part of the reason Sollux tends to sink into the background is his own desire to avoid the limelight. His hacking exploits come from a drive for mastery rather than power, and while he longs for the approval of his friends, that alone isn’t enough to fulfill him. The caption describes him as “bipolar” but this comes off as more for the sake of the “bi” prefix than anything else, for one, we never see him in a manic phase. The two states Sollux oscillates between are sullen and angry. He doesn’t fit the diagnosis of bipolar, but he’s the dictionary definition of the word “moody”. Given what we learn about him, that he’s subject to visions of doom and the machinations of his peers, both emotions are entirely justified. Aradia asks him what he needs to be happy and he can’t give her an answer until the end of Act 5, when we see that what he really wanted all along was peace and freedom from the pressures associated with his own capabilities.

Do not under any circumstance eat the mind honey.

Introducing Sollux takes awhile as we see his powers and build some atmosphere. Hivebent is another shining moment for the caption writing, at points becoming something more akin to an illustrated novel than a webcomic.

Bug based technology, love it.

Sollux proceeds to recruit Terezi as leader of the Blue team. Side note, Sollux made the decision to go for two teams in an attempt to streamline the entry process and increase the odds of success, though he also mentions that competing to see who wins first might be kind of fun. He picked red and blue because they’re his favorite colors; they’re also recurring arc colors for the first five acts of the comic. The exchange between these two prospective leaders hits multiple notes, touching on Sollux’s visions and knowledge of the future, the past between Terezi and Aradia, and a lot of teasing that culminates in Sollux and Terezi borrowing each other’s typing quirks, demonstrating how much they care for one another.

Terezi and Sollux just seem to click. They’re an easy buy as old friends who have been through hard times together. I’m avoiding any classpecting, but I feel obligated to mention that the word “doom” comes from the old English word for “judgement” or “law”. King Alfred’s Doom Book is a code of law. “Doom very evenly! Do not doom one doom to the rich; another to the poor! Nor doom one doom to your friend; another to your foe!”  Something to keep in mind.

Random notes on this conversation: I like to think that Sollux’s font/blood color tastes like honey mustard, sweet and sour. Also, his visions of the game saving his species aren’t wrong, the fulfillment of that prophecy just comes about in a very circuitous manner (or will come about if Kanaya and Karkat make it to the conclusion of the comic). Finally, trolls think of angels as horrible demons, which makes sense because angels are humans with bird wings and trolls evolved from bugs.

We segue to the spooky girl causing a little meaningless destruction. Sollux messages her with updates. Aradia is the organizing force behind the troll session, and we learn that Sollux has some personal motivation for going along with all of this.

TA: 2o ii gue22 you 2hould be pretty happy when we fiinally get out of here?
AA: i d0nt kn0w ab0ut that
TA: oh.
TA: wiill you at lea2t be able two leave the voiice2 behiind?

He wants to make her happy, and if he can’t, he’d do anything to ease her suffering. Farther down we see:

AA: s0llux i actually w0uld like it if you were happy
TA: ok. thank you for 2ayiing 2o.
AA: y0u seem sad and angry all the time
AA: what d0es anger feel like
AA: i f0rg0t

Ouch. It can be hard to tell if anything in Homestuck is meant to be taken straight, but the way these two characters represent different aspects of depression really hits home for me. Sollux has the resentful, too aware, sadness that makes accomplishing anything a tremendous struggle. Aradia’s gone even further into emotional shutdown, and the thing that’s hard to grasp about that until you’ve experienced it is how boring it is. These two want to help each other, but neither has the resources to do so.

TA: why dont you a2k karkat, he2 way angriier than me.
TA: for that matter why dont you get on HII2 ca2e about iit iin2tead of MIINE.
AA: i think his anger serves a greater purp0se
AA: its part 0f his destiny and thus 0urs
AA: it will help him t0 sab0tage his 0wn designs
AA: which are very much in 0pp0siti0n t0 the br0ader purp0se
AA: and will s0w the seeds 0f 0ur failure
AA: a failure which will ir0nically pr0ve t0 be missi0n critical

This catches my attention because it echoes something Vriska will say much later. Both Aradia and Vriska blame Karkat for their team’s failure, but for different reasons.

AA: i have t0 be t0tally h0nest
AA: th0ugh at n0 p0int did i ever lie
AA: but thr0ugh 0missi0n
AA: this game will n0t save the w0rld
TA: the fuck??
AA: and th0ugh it is still very imp0rtant even in 0ur defeat
AA: unf0rtantely it is much cl0ser t0 serving as the instrument 0f 0ur pe0ples demise than that 0f their salvati0n
AA: and we twelve will behave simultane0usly as the pawns and the 0rchestrat0rs of the great und0ing
TA: ii dont want two play anymore then.
AA: y0u will th0ugh

Speaking of phrases with ominous future echoes, we all knew what was coming even if Sollux didn’t so it’s easy to dismiss. The next time a character claims lies of omission don’t count however…

This scene is not without emotional impact. Sollux wanted to save his people. That’s another aspect of his character that I didn’t touch on earlier. This is what Sollux shares with Jade, heroism. His visions show him doom and his friends neither believe nor understand him, and still he sacrifices himself to do the right thing, repeatedly. In spite of his gloom and general pissiness, Sollux is the first character to demonstrate a true commitment to acting for the greater good. His efforts to undo what he’s been tricked into starting are subsequently heart breaking.

Sollux and Karkat want each other’s respect, as we might have expected, this is a recipe for disaster.

TA: oh god.
TA: no you iidiiot, ii dont care about the game anymore.
TA: ii ju2t quiit, iim not playiing, you 2hould two.
CG: AMAZING.
CG: YOU’RE EITHER BEING REALLY PERSISTENT WITH THIS TRANSPARENT RUSE, OR YOU REALLY ARE JUST THAT SAD AND INCOMPETENT.
CG: NEITHER CASE DESERVES MY RESPECT OR MY FRIENDSHIP.
CG: IN FACT, YOU KNOW WHAT, FRIENDSHIP CANCELED.
CG: THERE IT’S OFFICIAL, BYE BYE FRIENDSHIP!
TA: oh liike you havent 2aiid that liike a biilliion tiime2.
TA: you arent iin any po2iitiion two que2tiion my competence.
TA: youre the wor2t programmer iive ever 2een, you dont know anythiing about computer2, why do you bother.
TA: the only thiing youre good at ii2 yelliing and makiing huge mii2take2.
TA: and beiing UGLY AND HORRIIBLE IN EVERY WAY, AND HAVIING 2TUPIID LIITTLE NUBBY HORN2.

CG: NO IT’S ALL SO CLEAR NOW, YOU WERE A FRAUD ALL ALONG.
CG: WHAT DOES ALL THIS NONSENSICAL CODE YOU WROTE EVEN DO?
CG: IT’S ALL NONSENSE.
CG: LIKE A BLUFF. YOU JUST SAY, OH KARKAT WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT I WROTE IS BULLSHIT BECAUSE HE’S TOO DUMB TO FIGURE IT OUT.
CG: WELL YOU’RE BUSTED, THESE VIRUSES HERE I BET DO NOTHING AT ALL.
TA: waiit, KK…

Well, on a side note, this is the first time Sollux uses his special nickname for Karkat. What a moment for it. I stand by my assessment that this is not some troll quadrant BS, this is hurting your friend in order to hurt yourself. The saddest part is that they both have what they want. Karkat knows, on some level, that Sollux sends him codes in an attempt to win his respect because that’s what he threatens to take away in order to start the fight. Sollux hits back by confirming all of Karkat’s worst fears. Karkat responds by saying “Fine, if I’m so awful I’ll just trigger this virus on myself, look what you made me do.” He shoots himself in the foot because he knows watching him bleed will make Sollux feel terrible. Worse, the Mobius Double Reacharound Virus contains a curse that affects all of their friends.

The curse kills the lusus of every troll player. The caption tells us that this curse will affect every player they meet in the future. We have been warned, the kids’ Guardians are not long for this world.

Each lusus ends up prototyped with a kernelsprite, meaning the enemies gain the powers of twelve monsters, making the troll session a particularly challenging one. However, there is a mitigating factor, for the first time the trolls are able to converse with their beloved custodians. This is classpecting at its worse, but I have to point out that this is a common circumstance with Sollux related doom, good is smuggled in with the bad, there is a balance being kept.

Sollux, in an act of atonement, deletes all his viruses. In among his files is something strange he found, a program set to trigger with the end of the universe.

But Sollux, even with his vision twofold, does not have the perceptional luxuries of our vision omnipresent.

When executed, the subprogram will summon an indestructible demon into the recently voided universe. This monstrous being with the power to travel through time is inconvenienced very little by his arrival upon THE GREAT UNDOING. He has the entire cadaver of the expired universe to pick apart at his whim. From its birth through its swelling maturity and tapering decay. In a reality he is known to have marked for predation, he will go about assembling followers through various epochs, even going as far as personally establishing the parameters for his future summoning.

Sollux couldn’t know that the virus is essentially a formality.

The demon is already here.

Better and better, right? I didn’t think the kids would end up facing Lord English the first time I read this. I made the connection, but the description of the demon made him sound like a force of nature, something you might prepare for but not an event anyone could hope to prevent. I thought this bit was here to establish the nature of ~ATH programming and tie it in to things like the Sburb game discs. This is why I need to revel in my moments of insight when I have them.

An ominous grumble from the roof interrupts Sollux’s self-flagellation and he wonders what’s disturbing his Bicyclops.

Aradia’s horns curve whichever way looks coolest.

We still can’t play as Aradia though. Trying to “Be the other girl” brings us to one of the five other girls.

This too is a tease. We soon stop being the other girl and thus end up with a new dude.

Tavros Nitram is special, and by that I mean he’s unique among the trolls. Soft-hearted and soft-spoken, Tavros doesn’t want to hurt anyone and refuses to kill or fight. In a world predicated on might making right, Tavros has managed to keep himself and his little Tinkerbull alive in the face of steep (no pun intended) opposition. Unlike most of the trolls we’ve met so far, he feels no need to self aggrandize. In fact, he takes it too far the other way, letting more forceful personalities walk all over him. As I pointed out earlier, he’s one of the few trolls who will give assistance without making a spectacle of it. Furthermore, he’s willing to accept and even ask for help, a trait that makes him unexpectedly powerful. He has a strength that Alternians can’t see because it flies in the face of everything they believe. It sure would be great if the comic acknowledged him for it.

There are problems with the way Tavros is treated by the comic. And no, I do not mean there are problems with the way Vriska treats Tavros (well, obviously there are, but they’re in-story problems). No, what I’m saying is there are problems in the way Homestuck treats Tavros. Fortunately for us, most of those problems don’t come up until later so we don’t have to talk about them now. Let’s talk about card games instead, that sounds like fun.

Tavros starts playing a game called fiduspawn. I’m not sure whether it should be pronounced fidus-pawn or fidus-spawn, both seem fitting.

It’s like Alien but with Pokemon.

Moments like these are what make Hivebent great. It’s awful, strange, funny, sort of cute somehow, and topical all at once, the troll arc in a nutshell. The point of this exercise was to demonstrate Tavros’s ability to psychically commune with what I’ll broadly call “animals”. He uses it to put the horserooni he… summoned, created, birthed… pick your own adjective and his “opponent” Tinkerbull to sleep.

Everybody wins!

It’s interesting that Tavros’s introduction comes between that of our two gloomiest characters. He has a psychic power, of sorts, but rather than being burdened by it, it serves as a much needed means of escape, for us as well.

We check out the rest of Tavros’s room. Turns out he barely ever gets any sleep because the Alternian’s don’t make recuperacoons for trolls with big horns. They also don’t make wheelchairs with brakes.

Alternian design engineers are dicks. And no, this wasn’t what I meant about Homestuck mistreating Tavros earlier. Go ahead and giggle, it’s fine to acknowledge that Tavros faces physical impediments in his life. We laughed at the swords and Dave’s fridge too, remember?

Tavros’s weapon of choice is the lance and he likes to practice jousting.

Kind of a Don Quixote vibe.

Tavros is a big fan of “Pupa Pan.” To be honest, I’ve always hated Peter Pan, and the references to it are not going to make what’s to come any easier to bear. However, I want to point out that Tavros’s love of it is no different, or weirder, than Terezi playing courthouse drama with her dolls, or Nepeta’s internet role play, or Vriska basing her whole life on pretending to be a famous pirate, or even Karkat’s love of romance. More on that in a moment. There’s one of the more poignant quotes in the caption here.

You have had this interest far prior to your accident. Being paralyzed isn’t what made you want to be able to fly. That would be dumb and would make no sense.

Being paralyzed does sort of make you want to be able to walk, though.

Wishes do come true.

This glimpse of the future is more about the build up for Kanaya and (especially) Equius than it is Tavros though.

Unfortunately though, we’ve arrived at our first Tavros and Vriska conversation. Sigh, I’ll add it to the tags. But we can get through this one quick. She makes fun of his disability, she makes fun of him for naming his self esteem Rufio in an attempt to build his self confidence (because the mature thing to do is pretend to be a pirate), she complains about Kanaya, she brags about being on a team that hasn’t gotten any players into the Medium yet, and then she’s out, thank the tentacled gods.

Have an adora-horrible Gamzee and Tavros rap-off to cleanse your palette.

Meanwhile, Terezi is off past the flames and through the woods to meet her lusus.

I find this panel rather beautiful.

Deep in the woods is a giant doomsday scale and resting on one side is a blue egg, counterbalancing the skull of a mother grub. Inside the egg is a baby dragon who communicated with Terezi in her dreams, teaching her to use her other senses to detect the world after she was blinded. The egg hatches in the heat of the burning forest and the baby dragon flies… only to be struck down by a meteor thanks to Karkat’s curse.

Another side note, this species of dragon is only blind until maturity. Hmmm…

The doomsday device would display the amount of time you had to get back to your hive and enter the Medium before the forest was destroyed.

At the time, it wouldn’t occur to you to wonder whether the device was directly responsible for the apocalypse, or merely served as its precisely calibrated harbinger. And it certainly wouldn’t occur to you to cast doubt on any perceived difference between those two things.

It wouldn’t until later, when you better understood the game you were about to play.

Paradox Space and Skaia are definitely no longer being treated as benevolent. However, the words “perceived difference” are an interesting choice. The suggestion here is that these things are forces, and you can’t ascribe a moral alignment to a natural force.

On that note, it’s time to meet Aradia.

Aradia Megido is awesome. That’s really all there is to say on the matter and yet I’m going to continue typing. The trouble with describing Aradia is that she’s almost a force of nature herself, especially early on. She is the impetus for the action on screen and her behavior reflects the will of fate rather than her own motivations or desires. She’s so broken as to have forgotten them. Her introduction is the third to make reference to a horrible “Flarping accident” we will learn more about later. She’s the quintessence of all the gloom expressed in Hivebent, that sense of characters mechanically going through the motions before inevitable failure.

One of the reasons Sollux and Aradia are good additions to the cast is how they bring out the characteristics of other trolls and express the nature of their situation. Compared with the human kids, Terezi and Karkat seem creepy and nihilistic. Pair Karkat with Sollux and suddenly the former begins to look a bit more like a rugged knight determined to finish his quest, if you squint. Next to Aradia, Terezi’s habits of acting out executions and engaging in bloodthirsty teasing make her seem lively and cute, isn’t it nice that she has interests and a hobby. That’s the point of this arc. Once we see where they’re coming from, we begin to feel for the five trolls who harassed the kids in the beginning simply because they continued to act even in the face of despair.

It’s not up to you to decide what you retrieve from you sylladex.

Aradia, it has been observed, has quite a bit in common with Jade. Usually the comparisons are reserved for later in the story, but they’re apparent even now. Jade too spent the early bits of her story running around as an agent of destiny, and it’s worth remembering that the Ouija (I hate spelling that word so much) Modus was one of her options. But for the grace go Jade, to paraphrase an old saying. The similarities in their manner become apparent from this first conversation with Kanaya. The grimAuxiliatrix brings out a different facet of Aradia’s personality than Sollux, much as Jade does for Rose.

This conversation is really worth reading.

GA: Hi Again Aradia
AA: 0h n0000000
GA: So I Guess Tonight Is The Night You Blow Everything Up
AA: 0_0
GA: Is There Nothing I Can Do To Change Your Mind
AA: n0
AA: 0r yes
AA: yes theres n0thing
AA: and n0 y0u cant
AA: but y0u sh0uldnt pretend as if y0u believe this has anything t0 d0 with the state 0f my mind
AA: 0r the decisi0ns it will make 0r has already made
GA: Yeah I Guess Not
GA: I Thought Id Be Friendly Though
GA: And Remind You That You Do In Fact Have A Hand In All The Terrible Things That Are About To Happen
GA: Because Thats What Friends Are For
GA: And The Fact That What Ensues Will Be Terrible
GA: Is An Immutable Fact I Am Stating For The Record
GA: And The Fact That We Will Not Be On The Same Team Is Similarly Immutable
GA: It Does Not Mean That Teamwork Is What Isnt Taking Place Here
AA: s0rry i didnt f0ll0w that
GA: Ill Be Here To Help
GA: If You Need Me
AA: 0k
AA: thanks

This is a rare moment of defensiveness for Ghost Aradia. Even dead to the concerns of the larger world and her own sense of identity, she doesn’t want to face Kanaya’s disapproval. That is some first rate guilt tripping. The “immutable fact” line is one of the memorable recurring troll phrases. I want to say it comes from Karkat but of course, temporally, he doesn’t say it until just before calling truce with Jade. These phrases have no one origin point, they serve to bind the trolls together as a unit. This one seems to get pulled out when a troll is deciding to help, whether you wanted to be helped or not.

Bored, Aradia gets in touch with Sollux and the two of them have their disagreement. Aradia decides to take a hand in matters.

But before, she can do anything, she’s pestered by Vriska. I wonder if this conversation is meant to set up Kanaya and Vriska as opposites, GA and AG. If it was, I don’t think it was carried on for very long.

AG: Araaaaaaaadiiiiiiiia!
AA: 0h b0y thats way t00 many of the same letter in a r0w twice
AG: I know!
AG: So we’re a8out to get started right?
AG: Have you tricked Sollux yet?
AG: Do you have Mr. Two Eyes all 8efuddled and flustered in your we8 of lies?
AG: Or Mr. Four Eyes?
AG: Hmmmmmmmmm.
AG: I don’t know. Which nickname do you think would 8e suita8ly derogatory in this case Aradia?
AA: h0w ab0ut
AA: eight eyes
AA: minus seven

Pro-tip, don’t make fun of Sollux in front of Aradia. It’s just not smart. This conversation mostly serves to build up the backstory between Aradia and Vriska, the only one of the characters speaking even cares at this point.

AG: Man, it’ll 8e great. We’ll 8e unstoppa8le. Surely you must admit it will 8e nice to re8ound from the Team Charge de8acle!
AA: i never think ab0ut that anym0re
AG: Oh maaaaaaaan, I’m so dum8! Here I am running my mouth and opening up old wounds, while at the very same time trying to make amends! What an idiot.
AA: its 0k
AG: Hey speaking of which, that loser isn’t going to 8e on the 8lue team is he?
AA: which l0ser
AG: Your old team 8uddy!
AA: n0
AG: Oh thank fucking goodness! Talk a8out dead weight. You made the right choice, leader! I mean co-leader.
AA: i didnt exclude him f0r that reas0n
AA: 0r at all
AA: y0ure just n0t getting it
AA: y0u never listen

What I take from this: never listen to anything Vriska says. She only hears what she wants and she never knows what she’s on about. Got that? Remember it, it’s important.

I’ve always liked this next scene between Aradia and Sollux. I’m not entirely sure why, possibly because I see it as an act of mercy on her part even though it has dire consequences. Aradia knows Sollux is going to twist himself up about everything. How can he not when his mind is so overwhelmed with whispers of doom? So she sends him to somewhere he can see a brighter future.

Sollux’s much needed nap makes him the last player to enter the Medium rather than the first. We’re told the dreams he had would prove essential to the support of his teammates, I believe it. Now he’ll need to get in touch with the first player to get off Alternia. But unfortunately…

There’s another recurring pattern with Sollux. He is continually used as a vehicle for destruction against his will. First when Aradia tricked him into converting Sgrub, then again when Karkat unleashed his curse, and now…

DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE EAT THE MIND HONEY

And with that, we conclude another successful session of Let’s Re-Read Homestuck! Join me next time when we add another three trolls to our roster.

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Session Fourteen: The Thresh Prince

6/12/10 – 6/22/10
pages 1989 – 2072

Elsewhere in paradox space…

No one was expecting this from the beginning of Act 5. I remember being mystified, but amused, by the old naming gag being done on an entire planet with an alien alphabet. My bemusement lasted until I clicked over to the next page and…

Oh no! Not this asshole again!

Incredulity, rage, disgust… I quit reading and went to bed, and when I came back I clicked to the beginning of the comic and reread it simply because I didn’t feel up to dealing with this. I enjoyed CG’s conversations with John, but only because I liked seeing him messed with. I missed the kids. I wanted to know what would happen next. I recognized the character introduction pattern and I couldn’t believe the story was going to come crashing to a halt now, of all times. This was worse than Jade!

Or so I thought. Actually, this is the perfect moment. Slow builds and long fuses are a mainstay of Homestuck. We’d come through a whole series of explosions: doomed timelines, Jack Ascend, the paradox clones, Descend, the death of Dream Jade and the bunny reveal… It was time to rebuild. Nobody wanted to hear it, least of all me. That pause to reread helped a lot. By the time I was back, I could see that the moment had come and that the conversations in the ectobiology lab had been leading to this. My mind was open, ready to be changed.

The few friends I had who were reading along quit when the trolls were introduced; they couldn’t tell them apart, they didn’t have time for this. The introduction of a new planet and a new session with its own cast of characters was a major shift in the story. This is the moment Homestuck became something too big to be controlled. This also feels like the moment the audience became a lot younger. I stuck around though. I love the Alternian trolls. They are twelve precious gems embedded in a beautifully wrought chalice. Sure the chalice functioned fine without them, but what sort of chalice doesn’t have gemstones?

Why it wouldn’t be a very proper chalice at all.

Hussie pointed out on the Formspring that this isn’t a story that could be told well anywhere else. If you wanted to write a novel about aliens playing a game you’d have to stop and set up the alien planet, culture and biology before you could even get to the game mechanics. Here, we’ve already established that background so we can focus on finding out about the trolls, which leads us back into learning about the endgame of Sburb. This is very important. If we didn’t have this glimpse (and I’m afraid a glimpse is all we ever get) of what a normal session should look like, we wouldn’t understand how off the rails the kids’ game is about to go.

We enter this story on the 12th bilunar perigee of the 6th dark season, which is the day of this troll’s larval awakening, known as his wriggling day. For convenient reference, six sweeps is the equivalent of thirteen Earth years. Also for convenient reference, Earth is a planet that does not yet exist. Later on, there’s going to be so much that I didn’t see coming, so I’m going to take this opportunity to say that I suspected that the point of Sburb was to create a new universe. This opening here confirmed that suspicion for me. In other words, called it!

The troll in question grows tired of shenanigans in record time and the caption informs us that the expected pattern will indeed be picking up the pace somewhat, there are twelve of these motherfuckers after all. On that note, I will be covering three troll introductions per session since I need some logical way to break up this arc for analysis.

In so much as I have a favorite character that character is Dave Strider, but the existence of a favorite suggests a second favorite. Karkat Vantas barely misses the top rung. In fact, I’m not sure he isn’t somehow sharing a rung with Dave, both of them tottering up there together, holding onto each other and trying not to fall. I described Dave as pathetic. Well…

I cannot describe Karkat. That is to say, I cannot describe Karkat and keep this post within a reasonable word count range. I love him. I love that I can love him and still understand why anyone in their right mind would despise him. I can understand why he despises himself. I can see he’s his own worst enemy and the source of all his own suffering and the troubles of so many others. He makes everything worse. He makes everything better. He is troll Jesus, a role that fits him like a personally tailored kid leather glove and yet makes him not one whit more competent or less odious. A character like this a masterpiece, a filthy mouthed, obnoxious, shambles of a masterpiece.

Getting right into the spirit of exploration, Karkat climbs into his recuperacoon for no reason.

Isn’t he cute.

This nonsensical action nets us the information that trolls sleep in this pods full of sopor slime in order to calm their visions of carnage and blood lust. Given what I know now, I wonder if Beforan trolls use this stuff or if this sort of drug abuse is symptomatic of the dark dystopia that is Alternia. I note this because Karkat immediately spaces out and starts studying his movie posters, getting lost in the pure magic of it all, which is rather a Gamzee-like sentiment.

I had to look up who John Cusack is after this page. Never say I didn’t research this thing.

Likewise, we’re told trolls think fashion is stupid. Consider the following points: trolls have a society based around a color oriented caste system, and we see that they evolved from insects. I bet the trolls are tetrachromats who can perceive a wider range of color than humans, and yet their dwellings and dress are (with a few notable exceptions) very drab. The Beforan trolls wear a range of colorful styles except for Meenah, whose outfit matches the typical Alternian uniform. This troll disdain for fashion is actually yet another repression of their natural state forced on them by the Condesce, and by extension Doc Scratch. It’s all rather sad when you think about it.

Karkat wonders over to the other side of his room to examine his Sandler poster. I don’t have to look up who Adam Sandler is, I only wish I could forget. We get to see his fetch modus when he captchaplogues his sickle, the endlessly hilarious Encryption modus which leaves behind a card vault that needs to be hacked into. He trades this modus with Sollux later, though we don’t ever (I believe) find out what his new modus is. I suspect it’s something boring and practical such as Array.

*snicker* Ah, the good old days.

With that in mind, Karkat decides to just pick up his ~ATH manual and read it. Trolls, it seems, know how to pick things up and put them down again after. Truly, they are the more advanced species.

~ATH is a thing I wish had stuck around longer. I love the idea of a computer language capable of casting curses and altering reality. It fit right in with Sburb and gaming tropes being applied to ancient myths. The comic makes such a point of pointing out that ~ATH loops have to be tied to the death of something, a person or a universe, that I thought it was setting up a critical pay off. I’m shocked Sollux didn’t have a whole bunch of these programs tied into his own death simply for convenience. Dying and coming back so many times must have played hell with his files.

We step outside and get a look at Karkat’s hive, which we’re told he designed himself with the aid of some droids. Extraterraneal landing slats are not things, by the way, but more alien words Hussie made up. I didn’t even notice until now. I want to speculate about what the desire to put in so many open air terraces says about Karkat, but I suspect he was simply copying off the other buildings around. We see yet more color coding not so subtly associating Karkat with red. The construction of his hive must pre-date his self-consciousness on the subject.

The wordy intro page starts up but Karkat drags it to a halt. If you don’t get distracted by the meta mockery, you notice that the caption mentions blood skimming the voids in his porous cranial plates. This is a reference to his aspect obviously but… Are porous cranial plates the troll equivalent of ears? Look, I know those photoshopped movie posters are canon proof that trolls have actual human ears but the human characters are drawn with ears, to my memory the trolls never are. Maybe they grow them when they get older? I just don’t see it.

Anyway, the note for Karkat is agitation rather than desolation. This is a joke and yet… John is haunted by a feeling of emptiness and loneliness. Karkat is wracked with a nervous anxiety and a sense that there’s some purpose he should be fulfilling and he only needs to find it, somehow. These are two states I’m familiar with from my own adolescence. They’re both miserable and not unrelated to one another.

RED!!!

Instead of poetry we get a statement of ambition.

Frankly you don’t know about things skimming voids or grazing hollows or whatever. You’ve got AMBITION. You were meant to be a bigshot. To be in charge of something huge and really important, and to be totally ruthless about it. You just haven’t found the dominion in which you’re destined for greatness yet. Or even a vague concept of it. You haven’t found your purpose. But you will tonight.

Karkat is confused about his aspect and it hasn’t even been announced yet. He tells us what he intends and then the caption reneges that by pointing out that he doesn’t have a clue. He’ll find his purpose, but will he recognize it when he does? The next paragraphs slips back into the usual tone of our narrator.

We meander back inside to continue our tour of Karkat’s bedroom while he pretends he’s not waiting on a message from one of his friends. He goes through his DVD collection which has this.

That’s right Huss, you didn’t break the rules of the setting for the sake of a throwaway joke, you keep telling yourself that.

This throwaway joke is important for a secondary joke about troll blue bloods literally having blue blood. This is about to be much more important than it seems.

Finally, another trolls messages Karkat.

TC: wHaT iS uUuUuP mY iNvErTeBrOtHeR?
CG: WHAT IN THE SWEET ALMIGHTY TAINTCHAFING FUCK DO YOU WANT.
TC: NoT a MoThErFuCkInG tHiNg BrO.
TC: oThEr ThAn I bE cHeCkIn OuT hOw My BeSt MoThErFuCkIn FrIeNd Is At Yo.
CG: I REALLY CAN’T STAND YOU AND I HATE HOW YOU TYPE, IT JUST BOTHERS ME SO MUCH, HAVE I MENTIONED THAT?
TC: YoU SaY iT pReTtY mUcH eVeRy TiMe We TaLk YeAh.

You didn’t ask but I’m going to tell you my favorite five Homestuck handles in no particular order: terminallyCapricious, turntechGodhead, apocalypseArisen, twinArmageddons, and arsenicCatnip.

Aside from that, this conversation is interesting for two other reasons. First, there’s what Karkat and Gamzee say about friendship.

TC: It’S sUcH a BeAuTiFuL tHiNg.
TC: ThIs TrOlL dIsEaSe CaLlEd FrIeNdShIp.
CG: FRIENDSHIP ISN’T A DISEASE SHITSPONGE.
CG: IT’S LIKE…
CG: A MISTAKE.
CG: A BIG JOKE OF NATURE.

Gamzee’s coming down on the side of friendship but his first thought is still to call it a disease. Karkat says it’s a joke. A joke on who?

They start talking about Gamzee’s religion and Karkat tells Gamzee he ought to get “schoolfed” sometime instead of drinking nasty soda. I wonder if that’s a typo or if it implies that learning on Alternia has something to do with physical consumption, possibly of slime, everything about trolls comes back to slime eventually. I’m guessing the latter since the drinking interferes with the process.

Karkat says that if he ever meets a kid he hates more than Gamzee, he’ll convert. Given Karkat’s love/hate dynamic with Gamzee and his future relationship with John, I’m tempted to place this statement under the “rash promise” trope again. This must be a Knight thing.

As a side note, the first time I read this conversation I thought the horns in question were on Gamzee’s head. How wrong I was.

This might be a controversial opinion, but I don’t hate Gamzee. In fact, I’m sad he’s been fridged. And I’m saying that as a person who has had actual nightmares about the guy. The fandom forgives the other characters their every trespass but poor Gamzee is just fucked. It’s the clown thing isn’t it. People hate clowns. The truth is, he’s sweet. Even after his face heel turn we see shreds of his former character lingering in the way he cares for the cherubs. I wouldn’t want to meet him down a dark alley, that’s true, but the traits that make for a good character are not necessarily the same as those that make a good person. He’s made me laugh. He’s made me scared. I’m glad he’s here. (Also, I’m permanently stuck hearing his voice like this.)

We learn about Gamzee’s religion, all of which is going to turn out to be horrifyingly relevant. He uses the Miracle modus. I bet the tagline on the box it came in was something like “It’s a miracle you can manage!” He drinks faygo, collects horns and rides a unicycle (not well). We get another one of those half joking tidbits about Alternia as the caption informs us that it’s dangerous to leave the house unarmed. Gamzee brings a juggling club for protection against hostile sea dwellers.

The watermarks in the sky were always one of the weirder elements of the comic.

There’s some faffing about with his inventory that ends up with his soda in the drink but his husktop successfully deployed on the beach. It’s time for our second troll to troll conversation.

GC: H3Y G4MZ33Z YOU W4NT TO PL4Y G4M3Z3Z W1TH M3??
TC: hEy YeAh ThAt SoUnDs LiKe ThE mOtHeRfUcKiN sHiT’s BiTcHtItS!
GC: >8\
GC: 1T SUR3 1S H4RD TO 1GNOR3 TH3 W31RD TH1NGS YOU S4Y SOM3T1M3S!
GC: BUT 1M GONN4

It’s easy to forget how unkind Terezi is. She tends to get overshadowed by her best friend. Taking into account Octopimp’s assessment of Gamzee’s character however, I’m going to say that she has her reasons. He forgets that she’s blind and doesn’t have a family for example.

Karkat is busy messing around with ~ATH code. He’s contemplating using a code that terminates on his death to send out a will or release a doomsday virus. He spends a lot of time thinking about creating viruses. He checks out a loop Sollux sent him that’s set to terminate upon the death of two universes. He’s pondering that when the hacker in question messages him.

The first conversation between Karkat and Sollux is packed with super weird troll teen awkward. Given what we learn about the quadrants later, this exchange could look like flirting, but I don’t think it is, not overt flirting anyway. Trolls might be default bisexual but the Alternians have stigmatized friendship instead. Later the captions will claim that the trolls don’t even have a word for friendship (which makes no sense since every conversation we see is in English) but we get the idea. Karkat idolizes romance, but his most successful relationships are strictly friendships. His ability to make friends, in spite of himself, is his strongest attribute. Part of him knows this and hates it. A lot of his vitriol is him lashing out against his own feelings. Sollux more or less rides it out. He’s used to this.

TA: thii2 ii2 2o iimmature, iim ba2iically ju2t laughiing here at how iimmature you are.
TA: liike ii really giive a fuck who the red leader ii2.
TA: you want two be the leader fiine talk two GC about iit.
CG: I GUESS THESE CONVERSATIONS WE HAVE DO GET KIND OF EMBARRASSING IN RETROSPECT.
CG: ARE WE NOT FRIENDS ANYMORE BECAUSE OF STUFF I SAID.
TA: eheheheh you LIITERALLY a2k me that every tiime are you jokiing.
TA: ii cant even tell anymore.
CG: IT’S A JOKE MORON.

Terezi’s hive is one of the exceptions I mentioned earlier. We head there next. It’s time for proper introductions.

Terezi’s a dynamic character with many sides. She’s marvelously cruel and manipulative and cleverer with it than Vriska could ever dream of being. It’s hard to say if her energy and playfulness tempers or enhances the previous two traits, both seem to be true. She can be off putting and endearing in the same instant, which is what makes her click with Dave since he’s exactly the same way. So often intelligence is an informed attribute but Terezi’s is real and active throughout the comic, even during her downward meteor spiral we see it at work. She has a true understanding of the mental and emotional states of the other characters and often she tries to use this knowledge to help people, though we know from what we hear of her past that this is a new practice that she’s been working on. Hers is an empathy born of intellectual thought and observation, and sometimes it falters. A youthful drive for justice put her on a path divergent from everything society taught her to believe and we’ve had the privilege of watching her take that journey.

Also, she likes dragons. Dragons are awesome.

Lemonsnout Turnabout starts playing in my head when I see this panel.

There’s a password prompt here now. I find it kind of distracting and irritating. I wonder if someone reading the archives for the first time would be bothered by it.

For everything I said about Terezi’s cleverness, the case she makes up hinges on the defendant walking into court with incriminating evidence on his person. The bit about requesting a recess so that everyone can go outside and puke is a nice touch. If there’s ever an animated series based on Homestuck, I hope they pay special attention to the RPing. I like the contrast of trollish cruelty and childlike imagination and innocence that these games showcase. They remind us that even with everything we see them do, the trolls are very young.

Terezi introduces one of her standard practices, the irrelevant coin toss. More on that later. With that out of the way, she punishes the perpetrator and moves on.

But not before we establish that red is the most delicious color.

Scrolling through her chumproll, Terezi decides to try talking arsenicCatnip into playing on her team. An interesting aspect of the trolls is, unlike the kids, some of them meet regularly in actual meatspace while others have never met in person. Terezi and Nepeta are internet friends who like to roleplay via chat. The caption specifies that Terezi’s interest in online RP is strictly facetious. To which I say: honey, you just executed a stuffie and licked chalk off a wall, glass houses.

The exchange between Terezi and Nepeta is mighty cute, as is only fitting. There is this troubling bit towards the end.

AC: :33 < well it does sound like it will be a lot of fun but i think i should get purrmission first
GC: BL4R!!!!!
GC: TH4TS SO STUP1D
GC: H3S NOT TH3 BOSS OF YOU
AC: :33 < i know!
AC: :33 < but still im kind of scared of him and i think purrhaps its best to just run it by him first so there isnt a kerfuffle about it or anything
GC: TH1S 1S STUP1D 1N SUCH 4 T3RR1BL3 MYR14D OF DUMB W4YS
GC: YOU SHOULDNT B3 4FR41D OF 4NYON3
GC: YOU K1LL B1G 4NIM4LS W1TH YOUR B4R3 H4NDS!
GC: 4ND 1N 4NY C4S3 H3 L1V3S NOWH3R3 N34R YOU SO TH3 WHOL3 TH1NG 1S 3XTR4 STUP1D
AC: :33 < i knooow
AC: :33 < but i dont think itll be a big deal
AC: :33 < ill just mention it casually and itll be fine im sure and then we can play in just a little bit!
GC: >XO
GC: F11111N3
GC: 1N TH3 M34NT1M3 1 W1LL GO ROUND UP SOME MOR3 P3OPL3 TO PL4Y
AC: :33 < k!

I like how Terezi jumps to Nepeta’s defense. Her sense of justice is real, not simply something she playacts at. Next we get context for the earlier conversation with Gamzee, though it’s not important to read it again. Then Karkat interrupts, much to Terezi’s frustration. She was only planning to ask him as a last resort.

Karezi 4ever

This is a set up. Terezi was never going to ask Karkat to play. Karkat was making a big show of not caring. Sollux put Terezi in charge of the red team to get her excited about playing and then let the news slip to Karkat knowing he’d storm off and demand to be leader. He manipulated them both. He so ships it.

GC: W3LL 1T M4Y SURPR1S3 YOU TO KNOW TH4T 1 DONT G1V3 4 CR4P WHO G3TS TO B3 L34D3R B3C4US3 UNL1K3 YOU 1 4CTU4LLY H4V3 4 FUCK1NG SM1DG3N OF M4TUR1TY 4ND S3LF R3SP3CT
CG: THAT’S A LIE, YOU’RE MORE OF A MELODRAMA SPAZ QUEEN THAN ME AND YOU KNOW IT AND THIS STUFF YOUR SAYING IS A PRETEND STUNT.
CG: YOU’RE LIKE A ROCKET PROPELLED SPAZ MAGGOT SPRINGLOADED UP THE ASS OF A PSYCHEDELIC FUCKING FREAKOUT WEASEL ON IDIOT DRUGS SO LETS NOT PLAY MAKEBELIEVE GAMES HERE.
CG: LEADER.
CG: ME.

Karkat knows he’s a melodramatic spaz queen and yet it does him no good, this is an on-going problem. He has a lot of self-knowledge but it only makes him miserable. Interesting that he calls Terezi melodramatic. Her RPing certainly is, but we don’t see the full extent of her drama for quite some time. With so many pages, especially if you read this serially, it’s important to remember the time frame and how much we don’t see. The characters know each other better than we know them.

That aside, this is the first mention we get of a lusus. Terezi tells us about the lusus she does and does not have which talks to her in her dreams about mythical creatures like babies. Terezi plays Karkat like a harp and we cut to Karkat’s hive in the future.

On television they’d call this a Gilligan cut.

We get the reveal of Karkat’s title and land as part of a joke. He’s the Knight of Blood and he resides in the Land of Pulse and Haze. I always thought “haze” must refer to the weather, but upon further considering it could well be the second definition of the word: “a state of mental obscurity or confusion.”

Our proud traditions continue.

GC: SM3LLS PR3TTY T3RR1BL3!
CG: THAT’S BECAUSE YOU JUST TOOK A HARD DRAG OF MY LOAD GAPER WHICH FOR SOME REASON I HAVE DISCOVERED OUTSIDE ON THIS LITTLE ISLAND.
GC: YOU M34N YOUR TO1L3T?
CG: WELL OOH LA LA.
CG: EXCUSE MY DISDAIN FOR YOUR BLUE BLOODED VERNACULAR.
GC: WH4T COLORS YOUR BLOOD?
CG: WHOA NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!
CG: SERIOUSLY WAS THAT A SERIOUS QUESTION?
CG: UNBELIEVABLE.
GC: 1 W1LL F1ND OUT SOM3 D4Y

I like how only low class aliens use Hussie’s made up alien vernacular. I wonder if Karkat gave in and just started using human words during the meteor trip. I think calling Terezi a blue blood bugs her and that’s why she goes for a question that she knows will upset him, or curiosity overwhelms her, could be both.

We go back in time to see some future characters teased.

Aradia gets a full on establishing character moment.
Complete with a Problem Sleuth reference.
Meanwhile, Eridan picks up litter.

We head back in time to see Karkat deal with his crabby customer.

Look at the fridge.

Karkat’s lusus is more of a centipede thing than a crab to be honest. It’s still kind of cute. I like having the lusii because they’re one of the few things that make trolls seem like aliens. All the stuff about troll morality and quadrants is smoke screen, for the most part, trolls are like humans in grey face paint.

My theory is that trolls were originally parasites. They injected their eggs into Mother Grubs and coopted the subterranean monsters of their world to support their young. Over the eons, their relationship evolved into something truly symbiotic as the troll children bonded with their partners and began to take care of them and adult trolls turned their efforts to breeding diverse strains. Trolls without lusii just aren’t themselves, no wonder the Condesce made such an effort to transplant them to Earth.

There’s no time to dwell on this though, we’ve got to keep moving, on the double.

Yeah!

One more troll will take us over my arbitrary troll introduction limit however. We’re saving this guy for next time.