Monday, May 20, 2019

Mera: Tidebreaker

Aquaman is one of my favorite superheroes and always has been. When I was a kid, I watched reruns of his original cartoon series, had some cheesy toys, and have followed his adventures in comic books. These were my first introductions to him and his wife Mera, and right now with their hit movie they are pretty visible. They are so visible in fact that DC Comics decided to use Mera’s story to launch their new imprint DC Ink, which is geared toward a young adult book-reading audience. As you can see from the trade dress, they recruited successful young adult authors to write these books, and their names are displayed prominently across the top of the cover. The artists, even though these are comics that rely heavily on visual storytelling, are listed in smaller font toward the bottom of each cover. It seems pretty apparent to me that they are looking to make an impression in the young adult book market.

All of this business talk does not describe the book though, and still the question remains of how good it is. I am happy to say that I enjoyed reading it, and it is pretty dense but not in a bad way. Mera’s character has a long, complicated history that this book tells in a way that a new reader could easily get into. She has superpowers, and can control water via telekinesis. She is a princess of Xebel, an underwater region that is currently ruled by Atlantis. Her people do not particularly like this situation, and Mera takes part in covert acts of rebellion, which can put her father the king in serious hot water. Also, she is supposed to marry Larken, a prince from the Trench, as a way to unite their regions in an alliance. 
Although she has known Larken pretty much her whole life, she bristles at having these decisions made for her. In order to break out of these multiple constraints on her life, she decides to go behind her father’s back and assassinate the crown prince of Atlantis, Arthur (who comics readers know will grow up to be Aquaman). She feels that would free Xebel from Atlantis's rule and also prove her worthy of choosing her own spouse. There are a couple of complications in this plan. Arthur, it turns out, lives on the surface world and does not know anything about Atlantis. Mera has to find a way to infiltrate his life on dry land, which she does, but the more she learns about Arthur the more she finds him kind, noble, and innocent of the actions being perpetrated by Atlanteans. She starts to admire him, and feelings develop that make it hard for her to complete her mission. 
That is about as much of the plot I will reveal without spoiling things, and I felt that this book covered a lot of ground. I know young adult books often get dismissed as being light and breezy, but this book was substantive and weighty. There was much going on, a lot of work put into developing the character and the intricate plot. I enjoyed seeing how all the moving parts fit into each other, and I think this book would be great for both superhero fans, young adult book readers, and also those looking for a good action/fantasy tale. It also ties in well with the film’s version of these characters, if that might be the entry point. Although it does not feature the characters as I am familiar with them, it recasts them in a contemporary way that is attractive and interesting. This is a Mera who is her own person, a strong, complicated protagonist who I think would be popular with a new generation of readers.

This book was a collaboration between writer Danielle Paige and illustrator Stephen Byrne. Paige is known for her YA novel series DorothyMust Die, and Stealing Snow. Byrne is relatively new to comics, and he is currently working on the Wonder Twins mini-series published by DC Comics. His art is well detailed, reminiscent of animation, and the underwater scenes are especially well rendered and highlighted by the book's coloring. Paige speaks more about her work on Mera: Tidebreaker in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have been pretty positive. Johanna Draper Carlson wrote, "Although classically formulaic, evoking star-crossed lovers and those buffeted by fate and constrained by royalty, the journey here is deep and satisfying." Kirkus Reviews called the plot "a bit convoluted" and described Mera as "a sassy, take-no-prisoners heroine who may look like Disney’s Ariel but who is imbued with grit and substance." Ray Goldfield called it "a surprisingly mature comic, essentially a tale about child soldiers in a war they didn’t start."

Mera: Tidebreaker was published by DC Ink, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.

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