On September 1st, 2008, Michael Schwarts introduced the world to his webcomic Oceanverse. I stumbled across it on December 28th of 2009 while searching for a sonic screwdriver, but I quickly forgot about my initial search and was drawn into the underwater world that is Oceanverse. Come with me and take the plunge.
Story and Art by: Michael Schwarts
Updates: Every Monday and Thursday
Taking place in an alternate Earth where the human race has made amazing strides in the exploration and colonization of the world beneath the waves, Oceanverse is one of the more unique webstrips I have run across. In a nutshell, it tells the story of an aging adventurer, Clayton Hemmings, and his quest to uncover the secrets of the ocean. No longer a young man, Hemmings has three different submarines to help him on his mission; Black Shark, Blue Whale and Red Herring. The strip itself follows Hemmings and the crew of Red Herring as they set off to explore the depths of the ocean. The crew itself consists of young, eager archeology student Ben Hampshead, marine biologist Meg Montgomery, inventor/pilot B.R. Cooper and the ship’s captain, Arkona.
In the first arc, we are quickly introduced to another member of the crew, Virginia. The reason that I left Virginia’s introduction out of the previous line up was because she is a rather unique character. Virginia is the ship’s cook, as well as having other duties, but she is also a cow. No, that is not a remark on her physical stature or on her attitude, she is an actual cow in the vein of Elsie. A talking cow, that can cook. Go ahead and laugh, the character works and quickly became one of my favorites of the series thus far!
After several episodes of set up and some nice panel gags, we finally jump into our first story arc. It seems that the undersea colony of Bay Reef Cove has been attacked and practically destroyed by a group of creatures that are at first a mystery. While all the residents of the colony where evacuated, there was one that has gone missing, the famous inventor, Neptuvar Objectif. Neptuvar also happens to be a friend of Clayton Hemmings. Hemmings and Hampshead quickly don underwater gear (which looks like self propelled diving helmet era gear) and go off in search of him. But Hemmings also tells young Hampshead that they are looking for a map as well as his friend. As they hunt throuogh the ruins for clues on Objectif and the map, they find out what attacked and destroyed the colony: swordfish, giant swordfish. After a harrowing battle with the beasts, the pair experience a narrowing escape to return to the Red Herring. But, the Red Herring quickly becomes the target of their assault, and it is only through the skill of Red Herring pilot B.R. Cooper and Captain Arkona that the ship escapes, eventually discovering that the swordfish where working for/in conjunction with a large sea monster. Ironically, the sea monster is also guarding Neptuvar Objectif. A great battle with some more ingenious moves follows, and the crew of the Red Herring successfully rescue the inventor. Upon returning Objectif to Bay Reef Cove refugees, he rewards the crew of the Red Herring with the map which Hemmings was seeking, a map that contains the locations of hundreds of underwater cities, trade routes and empires. They crew quickly uses the map to find a repair station for the Red Herring, and another adventure begins.
One of the most interesting things that I noticed about the series right off is the fact that it has a timeless quality to it. That is to say, while it has a thirties or forties feel to it, it at times makes you realize that it is a modern era tale. When I first read it, the simplicity of the art really caught my eye, but it is somewhat deceiving. A few of the entries are real marvels ofÂ panel design, and one in particular, from September 8th, 2008, strongly reminded me of Eisner’s The Spirit work. The strip is in black and white, and the line work is clear and easy to understand. Characters all have unique, distinctive looks, and are easily identifiable over the course of the series. There is a cartoon quality to it, but it fits. As fitting to any comic strip, Â there is some great gags, but the real beauty lies in the story itself. With a style that combines 30’s era bijou serial features, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, and some of the great adventure newspaper strips of the early days of sequential art, Oceanverse is a great read that contains laughs and adventure in equal quantities.
There are little imperfections, though. One, what time does this take place in? At one point it feels like the mid 20th century, and then you see something that makes you think that it takes place today. What exactly is the mission of the Red Herring, and why does Hemmings have three separate ships traveling the globe. Will we get to see those ships? This is a world where the pulp-style adventures are still around, so the little issues above really don’t affect my enjoyment of the story. It is just plain fun.
While you can read the series on the website, www.oceanverse.com, you can also check out print copies of the series through Indy Planet. Personally, I went and read the full series on the website and am probably going to order hardcopies at some point in the future. If you want a great read in Â a unique world, I strongly sugget Oceanverse. Michael Schwarts has created something really special here, and I give it 4 out of 5 stars.