Written by: Danielle Paige
Art by: Stephen Byrne
Review by Stephanie Cooke
I’m going to preface this review by saying that I think this massive push towards YA graphic novels and working on making books actually for younger audiences is fantastic. I am beyond ecstatic that the industry is realizing the incredible need for this all to exist in the world.
Mera: Tidebreaker is the first graphic novel out from the new DC Comics imprint DC Ink. While DC Zoom is another new imprint geared more towards kids, DC Ink is meant to cater towards the YA audience out there. You might recognize the name Danielle Paige from the Dorothy Must Die series of books that garnered much attention in previous years. She makes her comic book debut here writing about a criminally underused characters in comics: Mera from the Aquaman comics.
This story acts as a sort of origin between Mera and Arthur (aka Aquaman). And it more specifically deals with how they met. There’s continuity from the comics that has tackled this, but the story doesn’t necessarily follow that. Like the DC Icons line of YA novels, these graphic novels seem to standalone in their own continuity, which I ultimately think is for the best. There’s definitely bits and pieces of what came before mixed into the story, but this largely stands alone and is requires absolutely no previous knowledge of the characters or the comic books.
While the story does revolve around the origin of the characters coming together, there’s definitely more to it than just that. The story is part Little Mermaid and part Romeo & Juliet. Mera longs to inherit her father’s throne and prove to her kingdom and people that she would be the perfect ruler – something that she wants to do to honour her mother. She wants to rule side by side with someone that she chooses to be with and to not have to pick one facet of her life to focus on. Her mother was a skilled warrior, ruler, and mother which Mera has always greatly admired. She resents the burden of being a woman and having to seemingly pick just one when she’s seen first-hand that it’s possible to have it all.
In an effort to prove herself to the king, her father, she goes off on a mission to kill the heir of Atlantis. Her people have been under the rule of Atlantis for a long time and they resent that they are no longer in charge of their own kingdom. With the heir of Atlantis dead, they could potentially gain their independence and freedom back. So Mera acts and leaves to find him…with the him being Arthur Curry – the future Aquaman that we will come to know and love.
The art within Tidebreaker is stunning. If you’re familiar with Stephen Byrne’s art at all, this will come as no surprise to you. The panels flow well and we are taken through Paige’s narrative easily. The muted colour palette works great here too – with the only vibrant colour popping off the page being the red of Mera’s hair. You can get a glimpse at what I mean in the preview page on the right.
Byrne does a good job of keeping Mera looking her age, which isn’t really outlined in full. She seems to be in her late teens and since the book is geared towards that audience, it makes the most sense to me. Arthur definitely looks a lot older than I think he’s meant to but overall, Byrne does a good job at constructing his version of the characters.
While Tidebreaker does boast a number of wonderful things that are a big draw (such as its art), it lacks in other areas. The book comes in at 186 or so pages long and in that time, it doesn’t do an excellent job of building a particularly believable story. I can get behind a rebellious teen who wants to prove her worth to her father and her people. I can get behind a love story that draws said rebellious teen to a mysterious, handsome land-dweller. What I can’t really get behind is how this story takes place over the course of less than a week.
There’s no time given for the characters to grow and make defining decisions. Mera turns on a dime with all of her choices that are life altering choices to make. Teenagers are brash, sure, but this is exceptional. The relationship and how it develops doesn’t feel plausible or remotely convincing in how it’s built either. It’s hard to go into further details without spoiling the book for readers but suffice to say that Mera and Arthur have one of the most rushed and unorganic feeling origin stories that I’ve read in a long while. They don’t just go 0 to 60…it’s like 0 to 10,000 and it really just doesn’t work.
Paige has laid groundwork to lead into more Mera books and I’m hoping maybe some of these feelings towards their character development can be squashed. The characters could’ve used some time to stew in their emotions and come about things in a different way than what was presented to us. Mera drastically changes her personality, life ambitions and goals all for Arthur who has been in her life for a few days. I don’t feel like this paints a particularly great picture for young girls – especially after building Mera up to be someone who doesn’t want to be like that. Paige tries to paint it as Mera being a good person but it doesn’t add up when everything that she was is changed for someone else in little to no time.
There’s a lot more to this story than just Mera and Arthur but it does become the primary focus at about the halfway mark. It’s hard to separate that from everything else since the rest of the story that was being built up doesn’t really come into play again for the remainder of the book.
The shorter page count for this graphic novel could be partially to blame for the pacing but I think the comics medium almost make it easier to do time jumps to help with the things here that I ultimately felt didn’t work. The character chemistry and timeline was a really big element that took me away from the bigger picture.
One of my big concerns when DC decided to bring on prose writers into comics was that they wouldn’t have a good feel for how to integrate the stories they wanted to tell into comic book form. I feel like I see a lot of those things that I was worried about here. DC wants to bring in that huge YA market to these books with established authors and I really get that. I want those readers to crossover too – I think we need those readers…badly. But the story Paige is telling feels like it could’ve been told better alongside an established comics writer to help navigate the medium.
While I think that Mera: Tidebreaker is flawed and not a particularly strong book to launch this imprint with, I still really believe in what DC Ink is doing. I hope that despite its flaws that it resonates with the audience that it’s meant to and this helps pave the way for the other books to come. Stephen Byrne’s art really is wonderful here and should definitely be enjoyed, even if the story isn’t exactly your cup of tea.
The books to follow after Mera: Tidebreaker are:
- Under The Moon: A Catwoman Tale (May 2019)– written by Lauren Myracle and illustrated by Isaac Goodhart
- Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass (June 2019)– written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Steve Pugh
- Teen Titans: Raven (July 2019)– written by Kami Garcia and illustrated by Gabriel Picolo