Review: Mare Internum GN
I was initially introduced to Der-Shing Helmer's work in her series The Meek, something I'll definitely review down the line. After finally sitting down and reading through Mare Internum I can say that she is one of my favorite comic creators period, and that her particular voice and storytelling skills are not only a refreshing injection of sci-fi brilliance into the comic world but also a high bar in the medium that puts the bulk of mainstream work to shame.
Mare Internum follows a disgraced geologist on Mars named Michael Fisher, the book starting with a failed suicide attempt.
As he puts off his attempt, it's revealed that he's due to be shipped off of Mars (basically he's been fired), and we're also introduced to Bex. Bex specializes in essentially setting up a form of cricket farming on Mars, breeding new species that will become a viable source of protein.
Within the first twenty pages we are given depths of characterization in facial expressions alone. I fell in love with Helmer's art for this reason in her series The Meek, but as Michael and Bex are slowly feeling each other out in the first chapter it was just a beautiful showcase of Helmer's skill at crafting strong characters that feel like real people with real emotions.
Michael takes Bex to one of the sites of their underground excavation digs, and after Michael has a nervous breakdown they accidentally set off an unstable shelf and they both fall deep into unexplored territory. The story splits, mostly following Michael at first with some flashback material as well. On the verge of death and slowly being changed by the environment around him, he comes across intelligent life.
A good portion of the story from here on is about the development of a relationship between Michael and the creature Kallakore, and as that progresses Bex resurfaces and we get a similar mixture of flashbacks against her attempts at survival. She's been dealing with a lot of different first contact encounters, including discovering that she can communicate with most creatures for some reason.
Helmer balances the storytelling elements perfectly, inserting just the right amount of humor where it's needed, backing off to let the sci-fi threads flow, and then reasserting the core character developments and the tackling of mental health issues into the mesh of the plot.
The book is beautiful as Helmer's design work, layouts, and coloring meld together to form a fluid and engaging visual treat. There's a personality to her style that brings everything to vivid life and a strength to her scripting and pacing that gives the world a strong lived-in feeling. You get a real sense of passion that goes hand-in-hand with it being a creator owned project, plus Helmer is also a biologist and educator so the science focus really shines through as well.
You can currently read the series for free online, but I fully recommend picking up a physical copy for a few reasons. Key among them is that the printed version has been edited differently with some significantly different lines of dialogue as well as new pages and some additional content. I was doing some comparisons of pages and I would say that while both are good, the final printed product is much sharper and some of the new lines of dialogue hit much harder. Plus, this is a pretty chunky 296 page beast for the $35 price tag, and it has some nice two-color foil accents on the cover. Finally, Helmer can maintain free access to her work with the more support she gets, so to that end please do check out more of her work at: