Over the past few years, DC has been branching into new avenues for young fans to delve into some of their most iconic heroes and villains without having to navigate the complicated history of these characters to understand the stories. DC Icons, standalone young adult prose novels featuring teenage versions of characters like Wonder Woman and Batman, launched in 2017 and in 2018 came the announcement of two graphic novel lines DC Ink and DC Zoom.
Mera: Tidebreaker, the first in the DC Ink line of standalone young adult graphic novels. The story centers around Mera the rebellious and reluctant Princess of Xebel. Her land, an Atlantean colony, is under occupation and while there is currently an uneasy peace, all-out war doesn’t seem far away.
Mera is a very relatable character. She’s stubborn, hot-headed, and not great at listening to her friend Pilan and mentor Hikara when they try to reign in her more destructive urges. She cares a lot and wants to do more than just be married off to the next king of her kingdom. After finding out that the crown will be handed to whoever assassinates the lost prince of Atlantis, Mera decides that this is her chance to be in charge of her own destiny and be a ruler in her own right.
Except when she finds the prince, Arthur, she realizes that he doesn’t even know his own heritage and is innocent in every way. Written by Danielle Paige and illustrated by Stephen Bryne, Mera: Tidebreaker tells a story of duty and expectations and finding your limits. Colorist David Calderon and letterer Joshua Reed round out the team that brings Mera out of Aquaman’s spotlight and centers her in her own story.
It’s a familiar story, featuring the rebellious princess, the overprotective father, the political match, and the sweet prince but there are some attempts at commentary with themes about living under occupation, the strictness, and the consequences of acting out. But there’s little follow through as Mera swiftly leaves and the story switches from a potentially interesting underwater political tale to the typical romance.
There’s a clumsy moment where the story tries to make a distinction between Atlanteans as the dominant group and Xebels as minorities by having Mera say “Atlanteans think all Xebels look alike” when her friend is concerned she may be recognized but since there is no distinction between the two in the art it doesn’t quite land.
The love story between Arthur and Mera is very rushed. When she gets to land Mera fakes drowning and Arthur saves her and brings her home and within two days he’s broken up with his girlfriend and they’re already in love. While Mera being conflicted about the assassination because he’s innocent and knows nothing of the underwater political climate makes sense and because they love each other feels very forced especially when things come to a head between Xebel and Atlantis.
The art is beautiful though. It is soft and ethereal which makes the whole story feel like a fairy tale and in fairy tales, of course, true love can happen in two days and fix relationships between opposing forces. There are some lovely scenes, especially when Mera first gets to land and is taking everything in and noting the strangeness of what landwellers get to do, like mess around and casually show affection in public, but everything is too condensed.
Overall, this story probably would have been better as two books, the first with Mera cleaning up the mess she made from her rebellions at the beginning of the book and exploring more about Xebel and then the second her going to the surface and meeting Arthur.
It really could have focused on the teenage activism that gets touched upon in the first part of the story as well as rounded out Pilan and Hikara who seem like great characters. It also would have firmly cemented Mera in her own story rather than rushing her off to be a part of Aquaman’s origin. As it is Mera: Tidebreaker tries to be too many stories at once and doesn’t quite land any of them.
Mera: Tidebreaker is available in comic and book stores everywhere now