Everyone knows that the government is hiding the existence of genetically enhanced lifeforms. But the webcomic Skin Horse reveals the government agency you never suspected: Black Ops Social Services – complete with transgenic and undead social workers.

In Narbonic Shaenon Garrity took a look inside the workings of a mad scientist's lab. In Skin Horse, she teams up with Jeffrey Channing Wells to reveal what happens to the living (or unliving) products of mad science. Project Skin Horse (named for the character in The Velveteen Rabbit) is a shadowy government organization, albeit one with a (you'll forgive the term) humanitarian bent. Skin Horse provides services and resources for nonhuman sapients, from the irradiated silverfish living in the shadow government's basement to sentient weapons liberated from the US military.

There is, of course, an appropriately eccentric team of social workers behind Skin Horse. Captain's Fancy Valentine Sweetheart, a transgenic battle dog created by a Canadian mad scientist with a beef against the American Kennel Club, serves as the field commander and the team's most stable member. Unity is a rageholic Frankenstein-type monster – you can call her a zombie, and she might even oblige by eating your brains. Tip is the group's token non-enhanced, cisspecies human, a former Army captain and CIA profiler whose preference for women's clothing belies his penchant for bedding every human female he crosses paths with. The project director Gavotte is a literal hive mind:


Garrity and Wells have a knack for playing with monster and mad science tropes, and piling absurdities onto absurdities without overcrowding their stories. All of the more monstrous characters have rampage stories in their backgrounds – although Sweetheart's definition of rampage is a bit more liberal than, say, Unity's. Anthropomorphic sapients have their own anti-defamation league. (A word of advice: never ask bears to prevent forest fires; they don't take kindly to that sort of stereotyping.) The government really is out to steal your brain – not to mention chop up your body for MREs. When you give a pair of civil servants an irradiator, you're going to end up with a building full of talking centipedes and xenocidal crystalline entities. Sometimes, though, the day is saved through good old-fashioned government bureaucracy (though violence tends to help).

Yes, there's a goofy fun that runs through Skin Horse. The mad scientists revel in their madness. There's zombie-on-panda violence. There are adorable baby cobras who just want a hug and a talking helicopter whose attempts to swear are thwarted by his programming. But Garrity and Wells know their genre well, and they do a neat job of twisting classic tropes to fit a world where monsters and bioweapons join the civil service and fight for equal rights and respect within their government bodies. Skin Horse's investigations are ripe for the X-Files, but instead of ending up dead or locked in a government facility, these sentients get job training or a nice home in the cybernetic kitty sanctuary.


Of course, if you're just in it for the panda fighting, you've come to the right place.


[Skin Horse]