Mare Internum Review

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Started: Jan 2015
Pages: 247
Updates: 1-2 pages a week
Current status: Unfinished but actively updating
Genre: Sci-fi / Survival
Content: Abuse / Suicide / Violence / Gore (minimal)
URL: http://http://www.marecomic.com/

Mare Internum contains a number of scenes that depict some truly awful moments of somebody’s life and if you’re of a sensitive disposition to these sorts of things then this comic may not be for you. The scenes are not “graphic” in nature but it’s still clear what is happening.

Honestly, and personally, I think the subject matter has been handled with respect and makes sense in the context of the story. Too often these elements are put into stories as a cheap way to create a heightened sense of drama but I didn’t feel that was the case here.

So, while I feel comfortable recommending the comic, be aware of the above before reading.

The characters and comic concept

Set on Mars during the early stages of colonisation Mare Internum is a story about survival and the human ability to persist in the face of terrible adversity. It’s hard to say more than that about the comics overriding concept without giving any spoilers but it’s fair to say that things go somewhat wrong for the lead characters and they’re placed into a situation where their survival is … challenged.

The setting, an imagined future of our own world, is founded in fairly “hard” sci-fi, though it goes into more fantastical territory as it goes on. I don’t recall spotting a specific date but you would imagine it occurring in the next 20-30 years.

For most of the chapters our protagonist is Dr. Michael Fisher, an AI/robotics scientist brought to Mars to deploy his “artificially intelligent semi-autonomous geological survey robot”, Levi, in exploring a vast cave system below the surface of Mars. As seen from the outset of the story Dr. Fisher is a troubled man, struggling to keep it together. I found the portrayal of this character disturbingly believable, if not always one hundred percent likeable.

Also taking the focal point for at least one chapter so far is our main supporting character Dr. Rebekah Egunsola, who has come to Mars to replace Dr. Fisher but also specialises in entomophagy (the use of insects as food). She also has some issues to work through.

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The comic is as much a study of these two flawed, troubled characters as it is a sci-fi or survival story. It’s a highly emotive, to the point of being difficult to read at times, and the characters certainly engaged me from the outset.

My sympathies and loyalties towards these characters shifted a couple of times while reading, and re-reading, this comic which I feel is always a good sign of character development within the story.

The focus of the comic is very much on the two lead characters, but the other characters who appear briefly still give an impression of depth of personality.

Story

The story is played out in a mostly contiguous timeline over the course of a few, very intense, days. In “interludes” between chapters it makes use of the dreaded flashback to fill in character back story. However because the story is so character driven the flashbacks, which are kept fairly short, felt right to me in that context.

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Pacing is generally very good, particularly in the earlier chapters. I did feel like some of the more recent chapters (four-five) were slightly rushed. This may be due to the author needing to finish up this comic so she focus fully on her other webcomic The Meek (which I review here). The author was temporarily blocked from continuing on The Meek due to what I believe was a legal issue that is now resolved – Mare Internum was started as a shorter story that she could work on during that time.

The story is quite “serious”, has a very gritty real world feel to it and tends to be fairly dark in nature – which certainly made me happy . Thankfully the author does inject some humour into the dialogue along the way which helps to balance it out nicely. Its narrative is very much based around the characters surviving in, and potentially escaping, a very hostile environment and borders on horror in a couple of scenes.

Art

Done in colour and to a reasonably high level through-out the art is pretty likeable. I did however have some trouble with figuring out what was going on in some of the smaller frames during action sequences. Conversely there are some gorgeous “wider” scenes that could be poster art.

Author, publishing and timeline

The creator of Mare Internum is Der-Shing Helmer. She has a degree in biology but now works professionally as a graphic and comic artist. She has another web comic that I already reviewed call The Meek.

The creator has run a Kickstarter to publish the book which has now concluded but it’s likely that print copies will be available for sale in due course (as indeed has happened with The Meek which is now available in print following its Kickstarter run).

The author has previously posted (chapter five) will be the final chapter, followed by a final interlude and epilogue that will complete the story. This should mean that the comic reaches a conclusion in the next six months or so. But ending a story is hard, and in reality it may take a little longer.

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