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.

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