Et tu, Hussie? On Spades Slick & Bec Noir.
(Plus, Patreon announcement!)
While not particularly high on the Homestuck Saltometer, Spades Slicks’ death and Bec Noir’s survival is just one of the many details about Collide that seems to have left a sour taste in the mouths of many. And though it doesn’t bother me, of the common complaints I hear regarding Homestuck’s ending, this is the one I find most perplexing.
I don’t want to harsh on anyone’s views or feelings, don’t get me wrong! But upon rereading pretty much every section related to each version of Jack, I find my perspective is eerily reminiscent of the one I had with respect to Dirk and Jake’s relationship, which is that most of this sentiment seems to come from a fandom-built narrative that grew over time, and in actuality has…pretty much nothing to do with the canon of the comic.
The fandom rhetoric generally seems to consist of a simple position:
-Spades Slick was a better character/person than Bec Noir, so he should have lived, if any Jack was going to.
Held up by three pieces of logic:
- Allegedly, Slick liked or at least worked with the trolls, which Bec Noir never did…
- Or at least, he didn’t cause as much mayhem and destruction as Bec Noir did, thereby making him more readily redeemable.
- Or at the very least, that Spades Slick is aligned against Lord English makes him a readier ally than Bec Noir is.
In this essay, I’m going to present my evidence for why all of these pieces of logic are…pretty much flat-out wrong. I welcome criticism or questions, though! Hopefully, this can be the start of a new fandom conversation.
Without further ado, then. Let’s take a stab at this.
WHO ARE SPADES SLICK AND BEC NOIR?
Jack Noir is a recurring, key NPC who exists in every version of Sburb that gets played in Homestuck. He is one of the four Archagents of the Kingdom of Derse, and a sort of antagonistic right hand of the Black Queen’s prone to power grabs and treachery, making him a versatile character who can affect the course of a Sburb session in myriad ways, many of them quite sharp. (if you catch my drift) ((the drift is stabbing))
Bec Noir is the version of Jack Noir that originates from the Beta Kid’s session. By chance, he gets access to the bunny Jade made for John, which allows him to kill his own Black Queen early and steal her ring. After that, he receives the powers of a First Guardian through the prototyping of Jade’s dog, Becquerel. This puts him on a power level roughly comparable to Becquerel or Doc Scratch — two of the strongest characters in the story.
Spades Slick is the version of Jack Noir that originates from the Trolls’ session. He strikes a deal with Karkat to cooperate on exiling the black queen, is later exiled himself due to Terezi’s Operation Regisurp, and goes on to kill Sn0wman. After that that he eventually gets some robot modifications and some loot from LE, upping his power-level a little, but this Spades Slick is for the most part just kind of a regular guy who has a lot of knives and maybe some guns sometimes.
I point out their respective power levels now because it’s something to keep in mind throughout our exploration of each of their narratives. Before we get into that, though, here are some traits all Jack Noirs share.
- Comfort with violence and an appreciation for ruthlessness.
- A self-preservation instinct.
- Frustration, boredom, and annoyed tolerance of their co-workers.
- A desire for power.
- Red attraction to prospitians (either PM or Ms. Paint).
- Black attraction to their Black Queen.
Now let’s get into each of their narratives. First, I’ll cover Spades Slick’s narrative, chronologically, from his perspective — up until the end of Act 5. Then I’ll do the same in a more abbreviated way for Bec Noir. And then I’ll cover how they’re both presented across Act 6 in a final section, since after that, developments for either are few and far between.
Spades Slick makes his first appearance in Lord English’s manor, where he’s getting ready to stab — wait. Wait, no, that’s not right. Friggin’…goddamn Homestuck chronology, give me a second... Here:
Yeah! Much better. From his perspective, Spades Slick makes his first appearance in the trolls’ session, where he’s just finished stabbing Karkat.
Before this, we can assume he shared a lot of the same duties and status as we’ll see Bec Noir possessed before his ascent. Namely, command over Dersite agents, a lot of bureaucratic responsibilities, and some fenestrated walls. This put him in a position to find out (from Clubs Deuce) about the Black Queen surrendering her ring, due to Aradia prototyping her kernelsprite with a frog.
But this sequence is where people start considering Slick as rather different from Bec Noir. This is due to a pretty compelling sequence where Slick wins Karkat over — and along with Karkat, much of the audience, too. Karkat freaks out about his blood after Slick stabs him, resulting in a pretty moving little exchange:
When juxtaposed against Bec Noir’s murderous rampages, it’s easy to see why people think Slick is a subtly different person — more heroic or sympathetic in some way. But Slick isn’t acting in a particularly sympathetic light here.
The thing is, this moment IS a big deal…for Karkat. It makes a clear impact on him, and for much of the session Karkat looks up to Slick as a sort of role model. But for Slick…well. Let’s take a closer look at what he’s actually thinking about all this:
Oh. Right, That’s about it. Slick doesn’t particularly care about Karkat or what he’s feeling. He just wants Karkat to shut up about his problems so they can get a move on with Slick’s plan, operation Regisurp. And they do! Slick and the trolls work together for a good chunk of the session, and they succeed in exiling the Black Queen.
But for Slick, this is all strictly business. And Slick’s ultimate goal isn’t any better for the trolls than defeat, or even Bec Noir’s murderous intention.
He’s using them. But he isn’t the only one.
As an Exile, the trolls’ Black Queen meets Doc Scratch, and becomes Sn0wman. Doc Scratch somehow endows her with unique properties linking her life to that of the entire A universe, much as the trolls’ Genesis Frog is linked to the entire B Universe. Once given this power, Sn0wman exploits it as leverage over Slick and his cohorts and endeavors to punish him for his betrayal during the Trolls’ session.
She uses Terezi and Vriska to achieve this, and like Slick, she’s quite helpful to the trolls despite viewing them as a means to an end. She tells Terezi to Exile Jack Noir, and then tells her how to.
It’s worth noting that Sn0wman’s command works, implying Slick was indeed going after her ring. And as Slick’s tactical rival, we have good reason to think she knows what she’s talking about when she predicts his moves, particularly given that she’s already proven adept at catching him off guard.
Terezi takes the advice, but first she has to argue with Karkat about it, as he’s under the impression Spades Slick is trustworthy. Note that both Karkat and Terezi talk about how, even while they were working together, Slick repeatedly drew Karkat’s blood.
This would be abusive in the best of circumstances, but leniency could be given here based on the fact that, as Karkat himself states, the trolls are generally abusive to each other.
But Terezi rightfully points out that trampling over Karkat’s one very clear and intense personal boundary is a line not even she is willing to cross. More notably, it’s a line not even Vriska and Equius cross — both characters who are pretty low on scruples and even lower on regards for Karkat as an individual. Even so, they give Karkat more personal respect than Slick does.
Slick is not painted in a flattering light here. And both Karkat and the narrative later vindicate Terezi’s choice to exile him in the Alterniabound flash, after Bec Noir blows up the trolls’ Prospit.
What Karkat means by this is that he gets to say ‘I told you so’ because exiling Slick was a bad idea. Terezi gets to say it because Jack Noir was bad news to begin with. But only Terezi turns out to be fully in the right, since Bec Noir turns out to be a different Jack entirely!
But the actions of the one Jack are meant to allow us to consider the actions of the other. In a sense, Bec Noir is an answer to the question ‘What Does Jack Noir do when granted a boss ring?’, and that should color our perception of Slicks’ pursuit of the trolls’ ring. After all, what should the audience have expected him to do after getting the ring other than become a threat — hand the Trolls a victory parade?
Unlikely. He’s still an agent of Derse, who fundamentally opposes the creation of Bilious Slick. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Slick gained the power he was seeking and then would allow the creation of a frog under his domain, though I’d be interested in hearing them out if someone reading comes up with one.
The bottom line is, the trolls avert the disaster the kids face by exiling Jack, which puts him at the next stage of our timeline, here:
Where we Spades Slick, post exile, on the troll planet’s post-apocalyptic wasteland form. He builds an entire society from the ground up here, yet another point people claim sets him apart from Bec Noir. However, it should be noted that rebuilding societies is something all exiles are designed to do, in order to seed the next potential Sburb session on said planet.
And as we’ll see a little later, Bec Noir shows more indication of being capable of accomplishing the same task than people give him credit for. For now, it’s good enough to note that Slick’s performance, while impressive, is not particularly unique to him as an individual and move on.
That puts us back here. Hi again, Slick. At this point, he’s in a conflict with Lord English. This technically puts him on the viewers’ side in the story, and I think a lot of people ran with that.
But his motivations and context are important here, and crucially, Spades Slick pretty much knows squat about the larger context of the story, what Lord English has done, or what the stakes are. Slick thinks of Lord English as a rival mob boss, not a cosmic horror superfascist. He’s out to win a mobster dispute, and later, to get revenge. Nothing more.
What this means is: He’s not particularly any more allied with the kids and trolls now than he was before he heard of Lord English, and he never has any reason to be. His opposition to Lord English doesn’t render him sympathetic — it just renders him a neutral party who happens to be willing to stab whoever comes closest.
From this point, we can pretty much fast forward — a lot happens with Slick and his gang, but it’s mostly just a lot of murder, puns, and funny shenanigans as Slick murders the Felt with extreme prejudice.
At the end of his adventure, Slick finds a time-magic locked safe housing Lord English’s “treasure”, and cracks it with a crowbar that nullifies time magic. This is widely regarded as a bad move, and seems to leave everybody in both the Felt and the Midnight Crew dead except for Slick and Sn0wman.
Sn0wman shows up and emasculates Slick one more hilarious time before leaving him trapped in a room with a computer terminal.
And so Slick and Karkat meet again.
This is where the last of the arguments for Slick as a more noble/helpful figure than Bec Noir is born. Apparently, because he’s helpful towards the trolls as an Exile, he’s considered more sympathetic. There are only two issues with this argument:
A) Even if Slick was helpful towards Karkat here, he would have done so in a context where he had no other options, and interacting with Karkat was likely his only hope for escaping the safe.
B) He isn’t helpful to Karkat anyway.
Seriously. Of the trolls’ exiles, the only one who is implied to be even moderately helpful is Sn0wman. Hearts Boxcars yells at Tavros while he’s going through a traumatic ordeal. Clubs Deuce manages to piss Sollux off until he gets his computer blown up, despite trying to help. Diamonds Droog is implied to be the voice behind Aradia making Vriska Pay, but Aradia makes it clear she doesn’t need his help.
And Slick? We see Slick give commands exactly one more time.
Wheeere he yells at Karkat about how much he hates him a little more. While Karkat is going through a traumatic experience. It’s hilarious, don’t get me wrong — just not particularly indicative that Slick cares for these kids at all.
After that, we don’t see Slick again until he shows up in Doc Scratch’s manor. He makes out with Sn0wman, maybe kills Vriska???, gets beat up by the Doc, gets handed a gun and walks off to kill Sn0wman in Cascade.
As I’ve seen some point to the fact that Bec Noir destroyed a universe as a reason he compares unfavorably to Slick, I feel obligated to stress that Slick commits the same crime. Killing Sn0wman ends the Trolls’ universe, just as killing Bilious Slick ends the Kids’.
While the former has less direct impact on the plot, the total amount of lives lost is still roughly equivalent — somewhere in the “Countably Infinite” range. And the murders of both universal hosts are painted as symmetrical acts, carrying equal weight.
And while it’s true that there were extenuating circumstances, in that Doc Scratch coerced him into it…
…it’s also true that Slick fundamentally opposes creation anyway, and would have done it much more willingly if it wasn’t also tantamount to suicide in this case.
(Un)Luckily for him, it doesn’t turn out to be.
Spades Slick’s Metatextual Nightmare.
When we next see Slick, he has been rendered permanently ridiculous forever. Hussie seemingly goes back on his promise not to interfere with the story in any way further than the yellow yard, specifically to save Slick. Also he’s a cyborg now.
Pretty much immediately, Lord English arrives.
Hussie dumps Slick off the side of a cliff and then promptly gets murdered. Later, we find out Slick survived the fall, too.
But there is another layer of narrative being woven here. The relationship between the Narrator and Slick from now on becomes pretty much entirely about the Narrator’s fundamental unreliability, as the Narrator is uncommonly indecisive and flippant around Slick and Slick pretty much flies in the face of the narration to do whatever the hell he wants.
Here we get pretty much the last humanizing moment Slick gets — where he sounds sort of sweet on Ms.Paint and tries to calm her down. However, in the very next page, the narrator implies Slick doesn’t succeed at calming Ms. Paint down, and that doesn’t really stop him from asking her a bunch of questions and asking her out. Also note that the command for the second page uses the word interrogate.
To be clear, this stuff is all pretty facetious. I’m not suggesting Ms.Paint is experiencing some Deep Understated Angst here, just that insofar as we’re considering her feelings in all this, this is pretty underwhelming relationship building. Or it would be, if Hussie were trying to write a relationship. But he doesn’t seem to be.
And I know what you’re going to say: But oD! Hussie literally declared them canon! He said they’d make a good couple! And that’s true, but remember how I said this sequence is about Hussie’s unreliability as a narrator?
Once he’s murdered by Lord English, Hussie seems less able to directly control his own characters — or at least Slick. He also seems less able to make accurate claims about the nature of the story, at times even directly contradicting himself.
For example, right before the paragraph where he “declares them canon”, he makes a reference to how Slick’s cyber eye was probably useless and just an ordinary piece of red glass.
But just pages before, he makes a different statement — also implying the eye was useless, but pretty uncertain about it. And the confused narrator thing resurfaces again in the lead-up to Collide, where Jack’s cyber-eye turns out to be real all along.
My basic point being: Where Slick is concerned, at least, Hussie is explicitly presented as not knowing jack shit. And that presentation is purposeful and deliberate, even if I don’t for the life of me know what it’s getting at. And as Slick and Ms.Paint have no notable interactions in and of themselves, there’s nothing of substance that points to a relationship between them.
Anyway, there’s not really anything else to this arc. There’s some jokes as Slick walks around collecting all of Lord English’s loot and goons, and then Slick winds up coming out of the Lord English server floating in the void, which puts him right on course to the Alpha session where he participates in Collide:
And that wraps up Slicks’ entire character arc, basically. He does a lot that’s entertaining, but nothing particularly sympathetic or suggestive that Slick is kinder or more heroic than Bec Noir.
He tries just as hard to kill and maim — he’s just less effective at it. He’s more willing to work with others, but circumstance gives him more opportunity to, and it’s not like he’s all that nice to any of them.
But I don’t think Slick is all that worse than Bec Noir, either. I would say that Slick is our window into what Jack Noir is like when he’s relatively disempowered, and that when a Jack is unable to achieve his goals alone, he’s willing to be creative about collaboration and treachery. But even that’s a little less complicated than the reality.
To explain why, it’s time to ollie out from this particular spatiotemporal envelope. Before we talk about Slick any further, let’s go over Bec Noir.
I’m not going to go over Bec Noir’s history as closely as I did Slick’s, because the details of the Beta kids’ story are remembered much better than that of the trolls’, since they were core to the plot. Also because Bec Noir gets a lot more filler time in between plot beats, and most of it isn’t relevant as far as comparing him to Slick goes.
That said, it’s not hard to see why Bec Noir earns more fan ire than Slick. While Slick doesn’t succeed in causing us any major heartache, Bec Noir terrified both the cast and the audience during Act 5, and was responsible for the deaths of many a beloved character. So before we talk about Bec Noir’s nuances, let’s take a brief joy-ride down hellish memory lane and remember all his crimes.
Due to the kids’ shenanigans, Bec Noir gets access to John’s superpowered robo-bunny, originally a gift from Jade. He uses it to kill the Black Queen, who would ordinarily be far stronger than he is. After that, he ganks her ring, and shit quickly goes haywire.
From here, we can boil Bec Noir’s crimes into a list. Over the course of the first five Acts, Bec Noir:
- Kills the Black King, and goes on a rampage of destruction across the battlefield, devastating both the Prospit and Derse armies. WV is the lone survivor.
- Takes the White King’s scepter, and initiates the reckoning. Promptly flies to Prospit and thoroughly stabs the shit out of it, severing it’s chain and sending it’s Moon hurtling to Skaia below. This results in the death of Dream Jade.
- Does some flying around and fighting Bro before ultimately murdering him with his newfound First Guardian powers.
- Kills John in his sleep, then kills Mom and Dad, runs into John and Rose, kills John while he’s awake, kills Rose, and fucks off to blow up WV’s ship, causing WV to be exiled.
- Stalks Jade around her planet a bunch while he waits for Clubs Deuce to kill her, and essentially makes Jade kill Dave via bullet redirection.
- Kills CD once he successfully kills Jade (because Jack Noir is a shitty boss) and fucks off to Earth, where he kills the exiles, save PM and WV.
- Makes his way to the troll universe where, having been burned by the Scratch device already, he promptly blows up every trolls’ planet (killing their Sprite-Lusii, too) and their Prospit and Derse (killing all their dreamselves.)
- Kills Karkat and Terezi in a doomed timeline. And the rest of the trolls, too, I guess. (Does this count? Who cares let’s put it in.)
- Finally, he kills the Trolls’ Bilious Slick, destroying the entire human universe and causing the Red Miles that eventually show up on the Alpha Kids’ Earth and kill Roxy, also indirectly leading to Dirk’s self-decapitation.
It’s a long list, and all told, Bec Noir’s death toll technically numbers in the presumably-infinite range. It’s worth noting that Slick is guilty of Universe-murder, too, as killing Sn0wman achieves the same effect as killing Bilious Slick — even if it has fewer direct reprecussions on the narrative. Still, in terms of carnage wrought on our direct cast, Bec Noir’s path is definitely the bloodier.
I’m not going to argue that Bec Noir is a good guy. Like Slick, he’s an antagonist, through and through. But I’ve detected a sentiment that Bec Noir is regarded as some kind of omnicidal supermurderer motivated only by rage and hate, and while I do think that’s accurate, I also think it’s a portrayal that renders him a little less complicated than he actually is.
So what I’m going to do is list off certain points in acts 1 through 5 where Bec Noir exhibits some character wrinkles — some nuances that deviate from the popular understanding of him as a Simplistic Hypermurderer.
Some of these are things are underlying facets of personality we only see one Jack exhibit, but which we can expect all Jacks to share. These I’ll call Traits.
Others are abnormalities that Bec Noir developed over time, or which exist as a byproduct of Bec Noir’s nature. These I’ll call Deviance Points, because I have to cram these knife puns in somewhere. After that, we’ll compare both characters’ plots from Cascade onwards.
Trait #1- Jack Noir is a competent (if resentful) bureaucrat. Or at least, he leads one.
That Slick built a city post-exile is something generally considered unique to him, but that really isn’t the case. Jack Noir is introduced as being very experienced with government and management, although he’s also quite unwilling to actually do any of it. And while Slick built a society, it’s not likely to be a healthy one — it’s run by crime lords, after all.
And we’ve already gotten a sense of how the Midnight Crew governs. People seem to forget that they essentially ran the kingdom for a while after Jack’s ascent, even though Diamonds Droog had to do it pretty much single-handedly considering his cohorts were busy committing mass murder (Bec Noir) or being adorable (Clubs Deuce).
Considering Droogs ends up doing much the same in Universe C, too, it makes much more sense to give him the bulk of the credit for whatever degree of functionality either Bec Noir or Spades Slicks’ rules had.
What Jack Noir supplies to the group consistently isn’t typically planning, but rather immense willpower and and clever violence. In any case, the capacity to rule a society is something all Jacks seem to have— provided they have the right allies.
Trait #2 — Jack Noir has a code of honor.
Interestingly, Bec Noir demonstrates this trait more than any other Jack — including Spades Slick. Jack Noir seems to display a willingness to repay personal favors, even when he holds the advantage and the other party has no leverage. He first demonstrates this Dad, but the later example with PM is more interesting.
Jack offers her the box with the Bunny in it in return for the crowns of the White monarchs. This is before he realizes how valuable the bunny is, and before it enables him to cheat his way to ascension. Even so, after he ascends and goes on his rampage, PM delivers the crowns. And what does Jack do with the only thing left that can threaten him?
He gives it up willingly, just as he said he would. Again, this is the only thing left that poses Jack a threat, so he has no real reason to do anything but stab PM and fly away. But he does the right thing, and he pays for it — the bunny immediately poses a threat to him when it gets between him and John. Jack is forced to run away. So it’s a little surprising he immediately does it again.
The next we see Jack, he’s found his way to Bro on the Beat Mesa, where they’re engaged in a duel. They seem fairly evenly matched, but Bro forces a draw — he stabs his sword into the Scratch construct and uses the distraction to escape on his jetboard. Jack is left with Bro’s sword, his he takes.
Bro has proven a competent fighter, so it might make sense to deprive him of his only real weapon. But Jack doesn’t do that.
Instead, he tracks Bro down and returns his sword to him, for the benefit of getting a rematch. This implies that while Jack Noir certainly enjoys wanton violence against the defenseless, he genuinely seems to enjoy the challenge of battle. Whatever the case, it’s yet another example of Jack Noir exhibiting more nuanced motivations than wanting to kill and destroy.
Trait 3 — Jack Noir dabbles in vanity.
This one is only notable because of it’s consistency. It’s a method the narrative uses to imply that Slick and Bec Noir aren’t actually that different, and that given similar power and circumstances, Slick would pretty much be Bec Noir. Interestingly, this reference comes pretty late in Slick’s timeline — after he’s done pretty much all the stuff people think sets him apart from Bec Noir.
Point #1- Bec Noir shows remarkable restraint.
This seems hilarious to imply, considering the death toll Bec Noir allots throughout the narrative. But it’s worth keeping in mind that once Becquerel is prototyped and Bec Noir Ascends to doghood, pretty much nothing stops him from being able to just blow up planets 100% of the time.
Indeed, he later does this in the troll session without even breaking a sweat.
It’s takes as much effort for Spades Slick to stab someone as it does for Bec Noir to blow up a planet — Karkat draws this comparison himself.
Bec Noir even seems weirdly burdened by his newfound power, in that it renders the more sustainable destructive outlets he used to enjoy unsatisfying, which leaves him feeling bored and frustrated.
And it takes real work for Bec Noir to control himself. In the same way trolls have violent urges that can be difficult to keep in check and require a moirail, so too is Bec Noir’s destruction tempered by his moirallegiance with Diamonds Droog.
That Bec Noir even allows himself to be pacified when he’s got such a staggering level of power speaks to the fact that there’s more nuance in his actions than just indiscriminate murder, even if that is 99% of his motivation.
It speaks even louder, then, that Bec Noir allows himself to be thwacked with a newspaper by Jade. Again: Killing Jade would be easier than having a thought for Bec Noir, and he hates the players and creation and everything on display in this panel. But he doesn’t lash out. Which brings us to…
Point #2- Bec Noir feels genuine affection.
Many readers underplay this aspect of Bec Noir’s character, presuming that because the feelings he has for Jade are basically forced on him through Bec’s prototyping, they aren’t a ‘real’ part of him, or are somehow unworthy of considering seriously. I’d disagree — the feelings Bec Noir experiences for Jade may be artificial, but they’re only as artificial as the heightened power level that make him so lethal in the first place.
In a sense, Bec Noir is an inversion of most of the core cast. Like everyone else, he’s coded as having a sort of mental illness. He just so happens to be a character who’s baseline mental state is extremely, yet comfortably, negative, who then so happens to experience positive intrusive thoughts.
It’s as valid to say that there are a real part of his character that inform his actions as it is to say that any character’s particular mental health conditions or quirks inform theirs. In fact, since loving Jade is pretty much Becquerel’s sole defining character trait, it may be helpful to consider Bec Noir a kind of fusion between Jack Noir and Bec, who then has to reconcile these two extremely disparate identities.
This is especially true because as Bec Noir’s character arc continues, Bec’s influence begins to win out. Bec Noir is, after all, the only reason Jade goes God Tier. And from this point on, Bec Noir’s dog tendencies influence him more and more over the course of the story.
And there’s one more factor to consider. While Bec Noir’s feelings for Jade may be forced, they do lead him to discovering feelings of affection that are not. And it’s those feelings that play into a thematic conflict that spans the entirety of Homestuck.
It’s time to talk about PM.
Point #3 Bec Noir loses his desire for battle. Sort of.
Bec Noir and Peregrine Mendicant are, from the moment they meet, locked in a kind of dance. Where they interact, they are inverted mirrors of each other. Jack is initially willful, confident and on the offensive. PM is nervous, hesitant and on defense.
But their interactions change both of them. Over the course of the journey Bec Noir puts her on, Peregrine Mendicant grows tired, angry and determined. She learns to resort to violence in defending herself against Hearts Boxcars and grows ever more into her commitment to get the job done.
And at this moment, the point of Peregrine Mendicant’s Ascension?
PM and Bec Noir trade places for good. PM discovers black feelings — utter loathing, a negativity so intense that it renders her frightening and vicious. And Bec Noir discovers genuine red emotions, which leave him surprised, confused and defensive.
Up to this point in the comic, the forces of good and evil are represented by the Prospitian and Dersite armies. Right when those armies cease to be relevant, PM and Bec Noir emerge as perfectly equal thematic representatives of the battle between the forces of creation and destruction — a philosophical conflict that once spanned the entire setting, now compacted into two characters.
The imagery here isn’t subtle. Bec Noir and PM are established as a dichotomy, a yin-yang dynamic that continues until it’s resolution in Collide. And that each inspires in the other a hint of the emotion of their thematic antithesis is purposeful.
Thinking about Bec Noir brings a hint of darkness out of PM’s heart. Thinking about PM forces Bec Noir to confront the glimmer of light in his.
And this experience changes Bec Noir permanently. He spends three years intimidated by and running away from PM. Spades Slick got wrecked by Doc Scratch — also a First Guardian — with no powers at all, and he wasn’t a fraction as moved by the experience as Bec Noir is.
Bec Noir even seems to desire a truce, and a chance to get to know her at this point. This is a Jack showing an interest in another person that isn’t down to how hot they, how useful they might be, or how well their torso would work for stabbing in. No other version of Jack demonstrates that.
What’s more: After this point, Bec Noir never actually tries to kill anyone again. This is partly that he doesn’t get much of a chance, of course, but he doesn’t even seem to show a drive to. The only times he fights after this point are either with PM, who is the aggressor, or when John attacks him in the dream bubbles.
There’s not much to Slick’s character ending, so here I’ll discuss the last point in Slick’s defense:
That because the author character directly intervened to save him, Slick should have amounted to more. This is an argument that the writing surrounding Slick was sloppy or inconsistent, or somehow undercut the logic of his character and the integrity of the story.
I’d argue just the opposite: That Hussie’s commitment to the integrity of the story meant that Slick’s contribution from here on in would be limited by design. However, to get into the nuances of why would require an analysis of the story conflict that plays out along the fifth wall, between characters such as Hussie, Caliborn, Doc Scratch, Lord English, Vriska and John. Another essay for another time, basically.
What’s actually important here is that Slick’s actual character arc, as far as his personal motivations go, was successfully completed. Slick got what he wanted from the moment he was introduced, and Slick Only ever wanted one thing: Payback.
Slick’s entire character motivation boils down to getting revenge on Lord English, but not for any of his crimes against reality or against our general cast. Slick is just pissed about a casino Lord English tore down. This is a mob dispute from his perspective, and nothing more.
This reflects Slick’s general place in the story: He’s a somewhat chaotic neutral third party used for fun gags and violent shenanigans who opposes both of the main sides, but can benefit either one. And his final move in the story is a success, from his perspective. He finally gets his revenge.
In Collide, Slick willingly aggresses both parties. The kids are in the way, sure, but if Slick were particularly motivated to he could just ignore them and focus on Union Jack. Instead he attacks them, too — even killing Dirk one time.
But when he detects a real opening against Union Jack, he drops his focus on the kids and takes it. And holding Union Jack down gives Dave the opening he needs to take them both out, so this is kind of something Slick, Dirk and Dave all pull off together.
Once again, Slick helps resolve a major point in the story while remaining pretty much ignorant and uncaring about all the major forces at play, or about the implications of his and others’ actions. He died as he lived: Being a badass mobster and not giving a shit about stuff.
Once they reach the Alpha session, PM and Bec Noir actually succeed in working together for Jade’s sake. He’s only really motivated by his misguided attempt to save Jade in the Game Over timeline, and he and PM both kill Dave over it. But this is about the intensity of Bec’s devotion, not about Bec Noir’s inherent blood lust.
Post-Retcon, the role Bec Noir and PM play is different. They reach the Alpha session and mostly continue their years-long conflict, largely ignoring the rest of the cast. With nowhere else to run, Bec Noir finally turns and faces PM head on.
This is the final conflict between Prospit and Derse on a philosophical level, only instead of White being destined to lose, these two forces are perfectly evenly matched. The critical factor that sets them apart is their ability to cope with their relationships with others — in this case, Jade, who acts like a mediator and meddles in their affairs.
Jack is too ill at ease with his positive emotions to be able to think his way around them, even now. But PM has grown to understand nuance, and can put her feelings for Jade aside long enough to punch her out of the conflict. This also gives her an opening by shocking Bec Noir into going on the defensive. Just before and after the last melee that PM wins by severing Jack’s arm, we get these establishing shots for each character’s mental states:
Jade’s interference matters here, because PM doesn’t win arbitrarily.
PM wins because she is able to remain focused and committed in the face of her emotions, while Bec Noir is shocked and overwhelmed by what she proves to be capable of. He’s again put on the defensive, and this time PM takes him down for good.
Again: His inability to contend with his emotions and form complex connections with others is Jack’s downfall, and that is a thematic choice that is mirrored in almost every villainous figure in the comic — from Bro to Gamzee to Doc Scratch to Caliborn. I went over some of those themes in my first piece about Homestuck, focused on Act 7.
But like for most of the characters, for Bec Noir, there remains a small ray of hope. The last shots we get of him are here, where he seems to express…something for Ms. Paint’s tending to him. The reader is left to figure out what that is for themselves.
Maybe he just thinks she’s hot, like Slick did. It’s hard to imagine a version of Jack Noir that’s not pretty much a douchebag, so that’s an entirely valid interpretation. But it’s also possible that his experiences as Bec Noir changed him, at least in some small way, and this is a Jack recognizing kindness for what it is, if only for a moment.
And the fact that we can even ask that question is exactly why this Jack was the one kept alive by the narrative.
In the snapchats presented thus far, this Jack has already been used as an antagonist, which makes it clear why any Jack was kept alive at all.
If Homestuck as an IP intends to continue providing us stories about these characters past the ending of the comic proper, after all, it’s going to need sources of conflict.
And if it was going to pick one Jack to provide that conflict, it only made sense to choose this one. Because Bec Noir and Spades Slick just aren’t that different, except for the ways in which Bec Noir’s particular history and experience render him more complex and versatile from a writing perspective.
For example: Can we discount the idea that this Jack might have some residual feelings for Jade or PM, even after the loss of the ring?
If he does, how do those feelings manifest in a character that is now for all intents and purposes occupying the exact same narrative space Slick did?And if not, how does he feel about them now that he’s lost his powers? How would he interact with them, if given a chance by conflict or circumstance?
These are all open questions that a post-canon Homestuck narrative could choose to use in the future as a way to flesh out it’s world and context.
And crucially, Spades Slick doesn’t really pose any equivalent questions. There was no substance to his relationship with Ms Paint, and the story already told us how he would feel about the trolls: He doesn’t give a shit.
Good, complex stories are built on the backs of good, complex characters with nuanced and versatile, yet understandable motivations. Bec Noir objectively provides more options from that perspective than Spades Slick did.
And not only does that make it the better choice from a practical writing standpoint, but it lines up better with the comic’s overall existential and thematic philosophy, too.
Ever wanted an easy way to get your Non-Homestuck friends to understand the comic? A kind of content designed to be enjoyable for both complete newcomers and long-time fans?
How about a way to revisit older parts of the comic with a more analytical, inquisitive eye — without having to dig through text posts or the comic yourself?
If either of those sound appealing to you, then good news:
I’m doing this, bro. I’m making this hapen. And you can help.
Because I’m going on Patreon!
I’ve started a video series aiming to make a critical understanding of Homestuck accessible and enjoyable, beginning to end, to a casual audience.
If that sounds insanely ambitious to you: Well, it is!
But I have a strategy and a structure for pulling it off, and if you care about Homestuck and spreading it’s lascivious tentacles into more hapless victim’s hearts, then I want your help to see this vision come to fruition.
On top of that, I’m also planning to adapt analysis pieces like this one to video so that they can be enjoyed with better visuals and less effort on your end.
If either of those ideas interest you, check out my Patreon page for more details and an overview of how I got to this point, what my plan is, and how we can all work together to pull this off.