Treadwater Gets Into the Swim of Things with Volume 2 Release

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When I saw the covers for Darkrose Studios' TREADWATER graphic novels, I knew exactly what I was getting into. Skin tight suits, strange flying crafts, mid-air explosions. Surely this was a space opera war along the lines of Michael Tierney's WILD STARS or Van Allen Plexico's LUCIAN.

I could not have been further off, at least in setting if not in flavor.

The titular Treadwater is an independent agency overseen by a retired billionaire technology genius. It's hard not to make a connection with Blackwater, given the nature of the missions taken on by the crew, but the near-future political setting takes the focus off of that. In the world of TREADWATER, the European Union has collapsed, and the nation states are in disarray. Some of them fall to the chaos while others turn inward, becoming more nationalistic as a form of self-defense. The latter explains the state of Germany, where General Heinz Kirklau sees the bulk of the German populace forging around his message of a strong Germany -- a Germany that will not wait to be attacked, and which mounts its own mission to steal a nuclear weapon from France, setting off a countdown to war.

This is merely the introduction to the world of TREADWATER, a rather more adult take on the concept of G.I. JOE, with terrorist group Children of Chaos taking on the role of the COBRA forces. Both groups are comprised of unique individuals with specialized abilities and distinctive histories, so the comparison is pretty spot on.

Unfortunately for the series, Volume 1 came with a fairly standard set of problems that beset new titles. It was a team book full of characters nobody knew. It featured artwork that vacillated from high-definition backgrounds to unattractive facial contortions. And it lacked a compelling hook (which says a lot about the world when a stolen nuclear weapon no longer intrigues a reader the way it should).

In Part Two, all of these problems melt away. The artwork, still by Mingchen Shen, shows a marked improvement and retains a consistent high quality. The writing also starts to address the readers, dealing with the characters on an individual level and revealing their motivations and personal development. Ideally, this would come much sooner in a story, and it's to writers Morgan Rosenblum and Don MacNab-Stark's good fortunes that the series survived long enough for this to come out. Seeing co-creator Nat Prinzi's name appear with writing credits in the second volume, I have to wonder if he brought some fundamentals to the team that might have been previously lacking.



The basics of a good graphic novel now in place, TREADWATER VOLUME 2 starts to really hum. We see the previously hinted at Children of Chaos and learn their motivations, as they prepare to coordinate a biological weapons attack. We are also introduced to the weapons dealer, Mr. Osi, who has a rather neat trick for acquiring the latest in cutting edge arms. And we start to learn more about the place of Treadwater in the world -- how they are viewed by others, including the United States government.

It was a slow start, but if TREADWATER can maintain its current level of quality, then I think readers will be well-satisfied with their purchase.

TREADWATER also has something else going for it that is seldom seen in graphic novels. It's a far more submersive experience than just a graphic novel or a website. The characters are based on live models (evident since the beginning of Volume 1, but rendered far more artfully in Volume 2), allowing the company to create multiple in-house ads, posters, and live spots with the "characters" of the universe. And they're not just pulling in your average cosplayers for this. The aforementioned Mr. Osi has been making convention appearances, and he's none other than Chad L. Coleman, whom we saw portray Tobias Church in CW's ARROW!

If I were reviewing the series on a whole, I'd probably be putting in a lower rating, based on the first part dragging down the score. So I'm restricting my grade on this review solely to the second volume, taking into account the drastic improvements in storytelling and artwork.

You can see more of TREADWATER at

4.0 / 5.0