Set in the world of Overside, Vattu is the story of the eponymous member of a tribe of nomad hunter-gatherers whose lives are disrupted by forces of change. The story follows Vattu as she is taken to a foreign society, and gradually accumulates other characters — a struggling artist, a member of a secret society, a young apprentice in an alchemical enclave, and many more.
The webcomic consists of four books.
Book One, The Name and the Mark, develops Vattu's origins in her tribe of those marked in white, with the various struggles that can exist in that context. By the end of the chapter, she has been sold into slavery to the imperialistic Sahtans. Later, it introduces the War-Man and intersperses flashbacks to his story between segments of Vattu being taken to Sahta. Over the course of the chapter Vattu and the War Man become friends, get separated, and then are reunited.
Book Two, The Sword and the Sacrament, introduces a whole host of new characters, and the select stories of denizens from varying classes are explored. Having escaped servitude at a Sahtan house, Vattu now steals and hides to live, receiving further martial training in secret from the War Man and encountering many other residents of the city.
Book Three, The Tower and the Shadow, begins with a shift of focus upon the Emperor Arrius, and shows hints of the history behind the empire and how the present world has come to be.
Book Four, The River, follows the various factions fighting for control of Sahta in the aftermath of the death of Emperor Arrius.
Vattu contains examples of:
- A God Am I: Gasha declares himself to be Tirkatesh, the Grish god of the current.
- Action Girl: Vattu wields a sword nearly her height and don't even care! She also loots for her food and fights her way out of problems without hesitation. Played with by Dahm as she isn't physically imposing by far, but nor is her stature played up as anything special. Possibly a moot point considering Fluters have nothing to do with human cultural constraints - but since she goes from being 'it' to 'he' when a couple of guards catch her with her sword, there is at least basis for it within the empire.
- Gradually becomes more competent with her weapon, and eventually, proficient; rumours abound of the 'Fighting Fluter', and Calirus himself (in charge of the expansion efforts) is surprised/amused/respectful enough of her to allow her nightly pilgrimages.
- Almost exactly a year into her sparring sessions, Vattu easily disarms the War Man.
- Addled Addict: Velas' unweight habit, which steadily gets worse until the Emperor's death, at which point he's barely able to function without it.
- Art Evolution: Around the latter parts of book two, Dahm intentionally simplified his inking style, with thicker, smoother lines and less detailed shading. Compare the first appearance of Sahtan soldiers with their return to the Flutelands, 750+ pages later.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: The basis of Vattu's tribe's religion is the massive river they live by, known as Ata.
- Arranged Marriage: Marria with Lord Morrian, of the political sort. As opposed to the usual trope, the marriage itself isn't paid much attention; instead, it is used to set up Marria's affliation with the Sisterhood (see below).
- Batman Gambit: Junti's enlisting of Vattu in her secret research. "I hope you would not tell, but they would not listen if you did."
- Berserk Button: Kadarsh can't stand the sheltered Junti, who doesn't know a thing about the impoverished underbelly of the city.
- Break the Haughty: Emperor Arrius was an arrogant brat as a child, until in a fit of bravado he drank his father's wine in full view of his advisors. The wine turned out to be poisoned, and left Arrius permanently disabled and in constant pain. This and his later experiences in the city slums left him much more humble and empathetic, though constantly in doubt of his capacity to rule right up until he was poisoned again, this time fatally.
- Catchphrase: Otti:"You are an idiot."
- Category Traitor: Various people see Vattu as one after she starts living in the Imperial Tower and becomes an emissary. Deconstructed Trope since many accusers are considered traitors themselves, by OTHER people. In a story about colonization, few of the subjugated can really do much against the ruling power.
- Cigar Chomper: Bakrah is rarely seen without one. Averted later on when he switches to a pipe.
- Contemplate Our Navels: Velas' Unweight-induced high gets a little intense.
- Covert Group: The Sisterhood, composed of women connected to major political figures, who share information amongst each other. Although it is "not as secret as it was".
- Crutch Character: Junti to Vattu, in a sense, regarding her mission to scavenge Unweight; she is rostered onto the Honour Guard, and Vattu has to do it alone.
- Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: Junti. Her abundance of questions regarding the enclave, Sahta, and Unweight gain her more ire than sympathy.
- Decompressed Comic: The first scene. Lampshaded by Evan in the accompanying news post: "Dialogue will happen very soon! And it won't all be as ridiculously decompressed as this first scene, rest assured!"
- Descriptively-Named Species: The Fluters and the War-Men, reflecting how Sahta sees them.
- Don't Call Me "Sir": The small band of Surin who appear to be acting independently of the enclave. Is the first inkling that the higherups are not as singlemindedly devout as they seem.
- Early-Bird Cameo: Unweight and a Surin are first seen in one of Dahm's short stories, "The Tethered Isle".
- Emotionless Girl: Otti, though male, comes off as eerily affectless.
- The Exile: Seri in Book 1, after causing the events that lead to Vattu's temporary abduction by the Dead.
- Eye Scream: Bakrah gets an eye gouged out in a fight.
- Fantastic Caste System: Conquered races are subservient to the Sahtans by default. The Fluters and Grish largely reside at the bottom. The Surin are seemingly external to this, shutting themselves off from the world where possible. (Compared to the lowest castes, though, their living quarters elicit much envy.)
- Fantastic Drug: Unweight, the blue, paint-like fluid that forms the focus of the Surins' institute. Particularly well-off Sahtans may also get their hands on it.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Sahtan Empire, which is Roman in nature. They even have extremely similar armor and the famous "scutum" shields.
- Flash Back: When the chief of the war-men remembers the time before he was captured by Sahta, and when Arrius the Seventh remembers his childhood.
- Otti versus Vattu, the former assimilating into the slave system while the latter rejects it.
- Kadarsh, upon meeting Junti, represents the interracial hostility bred by an inequal caste system; Vattu has had little time to be inoculated with it, and puts it aside.
- Promptly subverted when she lockpicks a sacred room.
- The Ghost: The Emperor Arius is often referred to by many characters, but he isn't actually seen until book 3.
- God Before Dogma: The Sisterhood seem to be this with regard to the Sahtan religion.Carlae: It is said that when you are on the righteous side — the side of Tarrus Himself, no matter what the church says — these things have a way of falling into place.
- God-Emperor: The Sahtan emperors are considered to be the mortal hand of Tarrus, the Sahtan god.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: Though it's easy to assume the Sahtan Empire are the 'villains' as a conquering society, Dahm goes to great lengths to disspell such a clear-cut perspective — the Empire is very much as amoral as any civilisation in our own history.
- Hot-Blooded: Vattu — subtly, but pervasively so. This starts as early in the comic as her first dialogue, and then...
- Icy Blue Eyes: Calirus sports some.
- Inadequate Inheritor: There are many who feel that Emperor Arrius is not fit to rule Sahta due to his physical frailty. He doesn't feel he's right for the throne either, though not due to his physical shortcomings.
- Ironic Echo: On pages 769 and 771Junti: Who are you?
Bakrah: In this sort of work, one must accept a certain level of ambiguity.
Bakrah: Why are you having weapons made?
Junti: I'm sorry, but — you must accept a certain level of ambiguity.
- Insistent Terminology: It's Lord Morrian, Vattu. Get it right!
- Jump Scare: In-universe, when Kadarsh pops up to greet characters at the canal.
- La Résistance: Between Vattu stirring up the street population, the Surin plotters making ready for a coming change, and the members of the Sisterhood looking to gain political significance, the seeds for this have certainly been sowed.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Good luck remembering names if you're following serially! They're all distinct enough to be recognisable upon sight, though.
- Made a Slave: Vattu, sold to the Sahtan Empire.
- Fairly soon into her stint, she's not.
- Mood Whiplash: Junti, causing some trouble after snooping around the Unweight greenhouse, suffers a gruesome-looking fall during her escape.
- Vattu, also meeting trouble in the Flower Room, finds out she's learnt swordfighting a little too well.
- Naming Ceremony: Priestess gives fluters of Vattu's tribe their name and mark after their first turning-move.
- Outside-Context Problem: Sahta to the fluters.
- Pals with Jesus: Vattu considers herself the personal friend of Arrius the Seventh, mortal hand of Tarrus.
- Precision F-Strike: "Damn Ata."
- Public Execution: Book Two opens with one.
- Race Name Basis: The Sahtans who take Vattu to Sahta call her only "Fluter." She doesn't like it at all.
- Racial Remnant: The Surin's enclave is the last remnant of their once-great culture. Except they aren't, but their culture has stagnated enough to exile an entire enclave to The Empire as a peace treaty.
- Rags to Riches: Vattu goes from being forced into servitude to homelessness, living by a canal and stealing food to survive, to being taken into the Imperial Isle as an advisor to the Emperor.
- Reality Ensues: Asria tries to take charge of a deteriorating situation by disarming a defecting guard and ordering the arrest of the usurper for trying to buy the throne with drugs. Except everyone is more worried about the patriarchal succession crisis and immediately detains her.
- Rite of Passage: Surin girls visit the Weightless One when they are of age (or maybe later) in order to join the acolyte classes.
- Schizo Tech: Generally averted, but in a few instances it is shown that the Surin use lighters, in a society otherwise analogous to Classical Rome.
- Significant Wardrobe Shift: Each book has one for Vattu, as her status and role in life change.
- Starving Artist: Velas.Bread costs more than it did a year ago. Six flatters now. Paintings still cost the same, though.
- Sue Donym: "Va... nni."
- Take Away Their Name: After Sari hides a Sahtan game from the rest of the tribe and several fluters die as a result, Priestess takes away his name and mark. Vanni/Priest threatens to do the same thing to Vattu.
- Tempting Fate: Gasha, immediately after claiming to be immortal, gets shot through the neck and dies on the very next panel.
- The Blank: The War Men have no facial features.
- The Hermit: Oh, Velas. Struggles through formal (or even common social) etiquette... avoids opening the door... (His 'best friend' just lets himself in, really.)
- He does make an effort to be nice to that little street Fluter, though.
- The Quisling: Otti scorns the Fluter way of life and reveres the Sahtan empire, considering it to be the superior civilization even though he is enslaved by it.
- The Speechless: The War Man, and apparently everyone from his home continent.
- The Watson: Junti's late initiation allows lots of info on the Surin culture to be fed to the audience.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works
- Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Well averted; many species only demonstrate dimorphism through their costume, and the Fluters are distinctly ambiguous from our perspective - as well as everyone else's. Played with, as Fluters easily divine each other's genders.
- Dahm has said that male Fluters have more angular heads, and within their own culture, wear brighter colours.
- Tribal Face Paint: Indicative of a tribesman's name. A big deal in Fluter culture; when someone is dishonored and cast out, their name is forcibly washed off.
- Vattu clings to these standards in Sahta: when Otti berates her for repainting her mark, she claims that because he has none, he has no name — and she shouldn't even talk to him. As of Book 2, though, the mark is gone for more practical reasons.
- As beggars and street rats, for many of the Fluters, the memory of their name is all they have left. Vattu, as seen, is highly protective of hers. As she matures and finds new purpose, she lets her obssession go.
- Uptown Girl: Velas, a starving artist, falls in love with Asria, the emperor's daughter.
- Willing Channeler: A part of the Grish religion is a fighting ring in which the contestants are said to be vessels for the will of the gods.
- Later, Gasha claims the god of the current is speaking through him.