Webcomic / Drive


"The story is serious. The characters are hilarious."
Jeff Kapalka, The Post-Standard

Drive is a scifi webcomic by Dave Kellett, author of Sheldon. It takes place a few hundred years in the future, in which humanity has discovered FTL space travel in the form of the Ring Drive, and has a large intergalactic empire, ruled from Madrid, on Earth. They are at war with mysterious aliens, called the Continuum of Makers, who invented the Ring Drive humans "discovered".

The story mainly follows an amnesiac lizard creature, using the name "Skitter", with an impossible talent for piloting ring ships, which even the Continuum can't match. But we're also shown some of the politics of La Familia, who closely guard the secrets of the Ring Drive in order to keep in power, and the history of a certain individual of the Continuum, which for lack of a name will be referred to as the "Rogue Maker".

This series provides examples of:

  • Alleged Car: Machito, before the Emperor upgraded it.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Tesskans appear to be this.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The Ring Drive. Only the Continuum knows how it really works, and they aren't in the mood to explain.
    • The Fillipods have figured it out as well, but only their most important members know this for fear of retribution by La Familia.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Skitter loses a Continuum ship in one.
    • Subverted in that it's not your typical Space Is an Ocean Asteroid Thicket - they could easily avoid it, if they wanted to, and it's only dangerous because they're crossing it at FTL velocities.
  • Berserk Button: Nosh has a history with the Tesskans.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Nosh.
    Nosh: Show respect to my captain.
    Tesskan: ooOOooh...whatcha gonna do, pacifist? Punch me?
    Nosh: No...but I am very good hugger. [picks Tesskan up from behind with a "hug"]
    • Also, Veetans in general. An info page lists the Tesskans flash-bombing a Veetan planet as the critical error in the three year Tesskan/Human war. The resultant mobilisation of the Veetan Defence Force resulted in Tesskil being conquered a week later.
  • Big Eater: Veetans. There's an in-universe poem about the sight of a Veetan eating. It ends, "A Veetan eating is not joy, but more like abject fear"
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: La Familia won their way into royalty through their monopoly over the Drive. Naturally, this has lead to underhanded power struggles.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology:
    • The Continuum reproduce asexually, are born from silica-based cocoons with basic knowledge and motor skills after a 2-day term, and they feel nothing unusual.
    • Skitter's mohawk can detect gravity waves, allowing him to maneuver around obstacles nobody else would notice until too late.
    • Fillipods look kind of like caterpillars, and their legs/feet/stalks have an incredible grip via Van der Waals forces. They have a stinger on their head which injects its target with a sedative, which works even on the Fillipod it came from. Also, they're incredibly "huggable" to the point that pillow companies are trying to make pillows that feel like a Fillipod.
    • The Vinn are actually a number of species infected with a parasite, but this parasite spreads a number of useful genetic traits across each of those species. So most Vinn tend to have "bioelectrogenesis, venomous necrotoxins, chromataphore cells in their skin/hides, sharp vision due to minimal diffraction of incoming light, and shark-like electroreception".
  • Black Box: The first emperor was able to reverse engineer the ring engine, and duplicate it, but he had no idea how it worked. Apparently, it "pinches" space. It's likened to trying to flick a penny over a heavily clothed table, which could take hours. But if the cloth is pinched in the center, it only takes a fraction of the time.
  • Buffy Speak: Lots.
    Nosh: A Moebius is figure-eight that goes loopty-loopty-loop.
  • Common Tongue: A trade language named Hybrid has been mentioned.
  • Completely Missing the Point: Nosh, fairly often.
    Taneel: Wonderful. So they're bigger and faster...and I'm flying the dang car I had in high school.
    Nosh: Wait wait wait wait...you saying your car in high school smelled this bad? I find hard to believe.
  • Cool Ship: Machito, after the Emperor has it upgraded. Also, La Invencible, being the Emperor's ship.
    • And especially The Spark of Thought, on the Continuum side.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: More a Genius Ditz than moron, but Nosh fought off a bunch of mooks on his own.
    Nosh(mid-fight): Maybe you forget why you lost the war, Tesskan. You didn't lose because of the humans...you lost because you made my lovely, joyful, peace-filled people...PISSED OFF.
  • Cutting the Knot: The Tesskans, in their city-sized stolen Continuum ship, were attacked by another Continuum ship. The Tesskans still hadn't figured out the weapons systems on their ship, so they just drove right through the attacking ship.
  • Deflector Shields: Mentioned, but averted. Armada ships, at least, only have a sort of energy field which vaporizes small debris. Not nearly enough to be called a Deflector Shield.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: How La Familia deals with anyone who tries to steal the secret of the Ring Drive, because that would put their supreme power in danger.
  • Disturbing Statistic:
    Nosh: Our armada ships...have a 1-in-600 chance of catastrophic impact anytime we pinch space.
    Skitter: I...I'm gonna die in space.
    Fernando: Nosh, that number is a lie, spread by the royal family. It's not 1-in-600...it's 1-in-400...we lose five or six ships every week.
    Skitter: [slow clap] Wonderful. Awesome. Let's all thank Fernando for clearin' up the math, there.
  • Easy Amnesia, Laser-Guided Amnesia: Skitter woke up on a prison planet with no recollection of who he was or how he got there, and was informed he took a nasty hit trying to protect Nosh. Lampshaded.
    Nosh: ...You are like bad episode of "Gilligan's Island".
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The Enciclopedia Xenobiología, used to provide info-dumps on newly introduced races and institutions. Given it's written from the human perspective in the late 2300s (and the comic takes place largely in 2401 with flashbacks), it is occasionally wrong or at least lacking.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: A mix of the first and second varieties. The first Emperor, Conrado I, hypothesized it worked by pinching space together to hop across the top, so to speak. But in practice you still have to worry about running into stuff along the way, suggesting the Drive makes constant little jumps to achieve a warp drive-like effect.
    • "Near-light" drives are known to exist as well, as the Fillipods devised one for the Tesskans from captured Armada sublight drives.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: The Fillipod race in general are very good with technology.
    Cuddow: We went from zero manufacturing to space travel in two generations!
  • Genius Ditz: Nosh is the science officer of the crew, interested in all types of science, but lacks common sense.
    Nosh: I am researching lung capacity of common earth-wolf.
    Taneel: Good lord...why?
    Nosh: Pique of my interest, mostly. I read in earth story how wolf able to bring down house with massive lung capacity...
    Taneel: ...Did the aforementioned wolf happen to "huff and puff" before he blew said house down?
    Nosh: Yes! Amazing creature, no?...I research the pig construction techniques, next.
  • Genre Savvy: When the crew is investigating a distress signal on an alien planet, Orla and Taneel have their suspicions about what kind of story they just wandered into...
    Skitter: Nobody's picking up. It's just repeating the message.
    Nando: Creepyyyy.
    Orla: This will end with only one of us escaping the planet, won't it?
    Taneel: Bloody and crying in an improvised escape pod, yes.
  • Gentle Giant: Nosh, and apparently most Veetans. It's one of their hats, according to their entry in the Enciclopedia Xenobiología.
    Nosh: Is too much anger in Monopoly... Share the railroads! Everyone benefits!
  • Gilligan Cut:
    Skitter: What? What possible way could that help me defeat these jer-
    [cut to milkshake bar]
  • Impossible Task Instantly Accomplished: The Rogue Maker passed the Test of Tests, which was supposed to take nearly a week(if that), in an hour.
    • Largely out of petulance, no less.
  • Inherent in the System: La Familia has taken significant measures to ensure their family will always rule. La Familia's secret police ruthlessly crush insurrections. They carefully maintain a tight monopoly on the Drive, ensuring that all regions must obey them or risk getting cut off from the rest of humanity. They even took measures to ensure that reform could never happen from within. Familia members are taught from birth to believe that the current power arrangement is needed to prevent economic collapse. One popular Familia member who attempted it anyway was executed. Even a reform minded emperor, for all their power, would have to acquire the consensus of the rest of the family to attempt such a thing.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: The Fekk Dragon, or "Tranquin", is an enormous creature resembling, well, a dragon. The colloquial term "Fekk Dragon" comes from an In-Universe viral video of a human "fighting" one. It consists of the human completely breaking down and running around the arena screaming "Fekk! Dragon! Fekk! Dragon!".
  • Lightning Bruiser: By every indication, the Tesskans. They are terrifyingly fast and strong, as well as incredibly sturdy. The logistical advantage the drive imparts may as well have not existed when it came to a direct war between the Empire and the Tesskans, as the Tesskans were overpowering in actual battle - demonstrated handily by those captured by the Continuum, who swept the single largest ship in the galaxy before the Makers could manage even a token defense. The only thing that's stood successfully against them is the Empire-backed Mighty Glacier of the Veetans.
  • The Napoleon: The current Emperor Cruz.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: Averted viciously. If the space being pinched by a ring drive is occupied by a planet, then that planet will suffer massive tremors. The bigger the ship, the more severe the quakes. This has been taken to the logical conclusion.
    Maker: Prepare a leap directly above the planet. We shall crack it like an egg.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    Narration: Evolution is funny. Generation after generation of Fillipods were naturally selected for stalks capable of ever-stronger van der waals forces. Basically, for reasons of diet. The Winter Tilla fruit has an amazing combination of proteins, carbs, and vitamins... but has a tree bark that's glass-smooth, and impossible to climb. Hence the natural selection towards van der waals forces: the Fillipods who could climb... could live to breed. It's an ability that's kept them alive for thousands of years. And, oddly enough, did so again when their planet was cracked in half... and every Tesskan alive was flung 30 meters in the air.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Captain Taneel of the Machito. But don't call her "Granny".
  • Not the Intended Use: The Ring Drive can be used as a Doomsday Device by pinching the space occupied by a planet to cause an Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
  • Oh Crap!:
    Fernando: Captain, no! An asteroid field is certain death! Open space is bad enough... we can't intentionally fly into debris!
    Skitter: Wait—why not? Just turn on your doo-dads or shields or whatever.
    Nosh: What shields?
    Skitter: Don't you have some kinda... energy bubble that can... I dunno... push aside material or somethin'?... Like a snow-plow?
    Skitter: Or some kinda... reinforced hull thingy... that can survive impacts at speeds of...?
    Skitter: I'ma skip a step and launch my escape pod now.
  • Oh Wait!:
    Fernando: Do you know what my family will do to your people when they find out??
    Cuddow: What, crack our planet in half? Oh wait.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Nosh. Like most of his people, he has an insatiable desire for knowledge of any sort.
  • Planet Killer: Every single Drive-equipped ship can cause seismic events on a planet by pinching too close to it, see the Misapplied Phlebotinum entry above. When a ship is big enough, well...
  • A double whammy of Plot Time and Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale, in a way that negatively impacts the internal consistency of the story. The ring drive is the only way to travel FTL in this universe, and only humans and the Continuum have it. However, the Veetans somehow crossed lightyears in something less than a week to end the Tesskan war after one of their worlds was somehow bombed by Tesskans trying to attack Earth, hundreds of species come together to trade at locations like Slaughter, and there are multiple civilizations spanning tens of thousands of light years. And the crew just took a hop on a sublight freighter to Slaughter, where Empire ships are not welcome.
    • The only really bad example is the crew hitching a ride to Slaughter in a very short time. The Veetans were already part of the Empire by the time of the Tesskan War. Veetans also had centuries of spaceflight before meeting humans, enough time for sublight ships to get at least one colony between Tesskil and Earth. (Or for them to get such a world after human contact, too.) And we don't know enough about the distant, far-flung alien civilizations to say at all what they're like - the denizens' life spans or psychologies, or if those are more like meta-societies defined by what old species have settled where over millennia of travel. Drive would hardly be the first story to propose such a thing.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Literally. The language of the Continuum is so complex and nuanced, traditional translator devices can't decipher the whole thing. This leads a Tesskan to decapitate a Maker out of frustration.
  • Properly Paranoid: Standard procedure for all imperial ring ships returning to Earth is that nobody but the captain may steer the ship in to dock, and Earth's coordinates are to be top secret, and never recorded anywhere. This is because before this policy was implemented, the Tesskans captured a ship, and the Fillipods were able to recover Earth's coordinates from it. If not for the Fillipods keeping the secret of the ring drive to themselves, the Tesskans would have won the resulting war.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The hat of the Tesskans.
  • Quest for Identity: Skitter. Fortunately, he's been roped into a hunt for his own home planet.
  • Required Secondary Powers: The Empire and Continuum have FTL, but not Deflector Shields. This means they are vulnerable to micrometeoroid impacts that can destroy the ship. Skitter's people can sense gravity waves through the Mohawk-like comb on their skulls, which lets them pull off Deadly Dodging. The Empire now wants to recruit them as navigators.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Drive is serviced and run exclusively by members of La Familia, though they also take great pains to keep it that way; see Disproportionate Retribution above. Of course, this means La Familia is in fact very large to be able to maintain a multi-species interstellar empire's worth of ships - so large that only a small core has a realistic chance of being anywhere close to the throne, though the rest do still get perks to go with their responsibilities.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: The Continuum can be friendly under some circumstances, but if you offend their religion in the right way, such as by stealing their technology, they will attempt genocide unless and until you give it up.
  • Shout-Out: To Gilligan's Island, later Tetris.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: The Tres Primos do this to Fernando while he is alone on the Machito.
  • The Emperor: The current Emperor killed his uncle for the position, and framed Nosh.
  • The Empire, The Federation: It's technically an Empire, but it shares parts of both of these tropes. For example, they formed an alliance with the Veetans, which is a trait of The Federation. But anyone with blood ties to the royal family (La Familia) gets extra privileges, everywhere, which seems to fit The Empire trope more.
  • The Mole: Orla O'Malley is actually part of La Familia like Fernando, but only the reader knows this: She's here to keep an eye on the crew.
    • Taneel may be on to her...
    • It's recently been revealed that Orla is not Familia. She's worse: she belongs to the Jinyiwei, the Emperor's Secret Police. When this is revealed, Taneel is neither amused, nor unprepared.
  • Translator Microbes: Translator implants are implied to exist but are imperfect, shown by a Tesskan poking at the side of his head when he can't understand a Maker, complaining that the translation "ain't comin' through." Poor Communication Kills quite literally when the Maker refuses to speak another more easily-translated language, which angers the Tesskan.
  • Twitchy Eye: Nosh, upon learning the crew's next destination is Tesskil. More so when he finds they're being pursued by a Continuum Dreadnought ship.
  • Unfortunate Name: Skitter wanted to call himself Steve, but...
    Taneel: Well, lessee now... "Skitter" is a ridiculous name that sounds like an 18th century case of the trots... but "Steve" is the name of my jerk of an ex-husband.
    Skitter: ...Skitter it is?
    Taneel: Skitter it is.
    • Still, it might've been worse. Nosh's ideas were "Pablo Picasso", "Mr. Fancy Pants", and "Boopsie-Diddle".
  • Uplifted Animal: Fekk Dragons are usually barely intelligent enough to learn only a handful of words, and if one of those is "Food" it's all they'll ever say. But the one in the arena on Slaughter is also a Vinn, and is intelligent enough to speak fluently, and recognize Orla and deliberately intimidate her.
  • The Virus: The Vinn aren't actually a single species; they're at least 14 species all infected with the Vinn parasite. The parasite bonds to the nervous system and restructures the brain, resulting in an entirely new, unique mind. Most, possibly all Vinn are trying to spread across the galaxy in an attempt to find their "gods", who developed the parasite as a misguided cure for an unknown affliction.
    • It's implied this is an empty quest since their creators' homeworld was nuked into oblivion in a desperate attempt to wipe out the parasite - possibly by the few surviving creators themselves. Unfortunately, the parasite was already able to spread on its own.
  • Wham Episode: Every now and again, a page will reveal something shocking, even if the consequences of the revelations aren't apparent at the time.
    • The strips detailing the "Rogue Maker's" actions turn out to lead up to the events of the very first strips.
    • The "Tres Primos" came out of retirement recently. Their pilot happens to be the same species as Skitter. Not to mention they strongly hint that Fernando is the previous Emperor's true heir. "Pequeño rey," indeed.
    • Nosh is now a Vinn. "We've lost him. He's gone."
  • Wham Line:
    Maker: Prepare a leap directly above the planet. We shall crack it like an egg.
    • Also: "...we already know how your Drive works."
    • The Tres Primos calling Fernando "pequeño rey." Or, in English, "little king."
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Nosh spent 6 years stuck in Moscow when he ran out of cab fare, and so speaks with a ridiculous Russian accent.
  • When It All Began: "He has never piloted before. But then, he has only been alive for fourteen hours..."
    • On April, 22nd 2011 this came full circle.
  • Wretched Hive: Planet Slaughter.
    Taneel: You'll meet 100 species on that planet, and each one is a mob hitman.