Aside from “Who would win in a fight?” nothing gets comic fans more heated than the question of whether or not superheroes should marry. In this mini-feature, former Bride Rebecca Henely-Weiss and her Maid of Honor Kayleigh Hearn take a trip down memory lane to the most significant times comic companies took the plunge and got their characters hitched! Did we like the couple? Did we like the dress? And more importantly… why did (or didn’t) the marriage last? Today we look at the wedding of Aquaman and Mera …
The Couple: Mera and Arthur Curry
The Issue: Aquaman #18
Published: December 1964
Today: Put them down for the “It’s complicated” Facebook status. Arthur Curry and Mera have been through separations, the death of their son, drastic origin changes and many, many, many reboots. As far as we can tell, though, they are at least engaged in the current DC timeline, making them more stable than most of the couples we’ve covered in this column.
Rebecca: The Justice League movie comes out this month and while this fact may not be getting as many headlines as the troubled production, the uncertainty of Ben Affleck continuing as Batman, or Henry Cavill’s digitally-erased mustache, the film will mark the first appearance of Mera (Amber Heard) and the first full appearance of Aquaman (Jason Momoa) in the DCEU. Here at “The Wedding Issue,” the King and Queen of DC’s Atlantis are definitely our biggest priority — especially considering this is the oldest marriage issue we’ve covered thus far.
Kayleigh: It’s very interesting to read Aquaman #18 because it was published when Aquaman and Mera were just characters, not major media properties with 75 years of history and certain status quos and #brands to uphold. So there’s a special freedom in how creators Jack Miller and Nick Cardy just tell the story they want to tell, and major events like Aquaman being crowned King of Atlantis, Mera leaving her kingdom, and Aquaman marrying Mera can all happen in a single issue, because why not? I’ve made my disdain for “marriage is wrong for superheroes” editorial edicts clear before, so this is refreshing.
Rebecca: Even among DC fans, Aquaman is a controversial superhero, often dismissed as a corny joke with a goofy power-set and/or maligned for the course-corrections which repurpose him as a dark, hook-handed, brooding badass. I’ve never explored the character or his longtime queen/often-wife Mera significantly beyond the odd Super Friends rerun, but I always felt this was unfair. I’ve lived near the Jersey Shore most of my life and still think the beach is fun. I would have loved to talk to animals whether on land or sea as a kid. Plus, between Superman’s Lori Lemaris, Supergirl’s Jerro and Wonder Woman’s Ronno, it seemed like quite a few DC superheroes were cool with trawling the ocean for dates in the Silver Age. Why not have a hero who lives there all the time? That being said, Aquaman’s marriage issue is some squirt-it-directly-from-the-can era-appropriate cheese, but unlike the marriage of Barry Allen and Iris West it’s cheese I actually enjoy.
Kayleigh: I can’t say I have any real familiarity with Aquaman and Mera at all–the fact that Mera is actually a queen from another dimension kinda blew my mind–but I never bought into all the lazy “Aquaman sucks” humor either. It strikes me as a remnant of macho superhero fans hating anything they deem too effeminate or camp, like Adam West’s Batman or Aquaman riding a giant seahorse on Super Friends. (Remember when an Aquaman movie was a running joke on fucking Entourage? Yeesh.) Does Namor get this crap?
Rebecca: Reading this issue I felt like I could see why Aquaman and Mera have been such a long-time comics couple but also why later writers often portrayed them as dysfunctional. The story begins with Aquaman being told he must choose an Atlantean wife in order to ascend the throne, which upsets him as he needs to break it off with Mera. Unfortunately, Mera just left her kingdom in Dimension Aqua to be with him and doesn’t take being dumped well. When Oceanus, her creepy supervillain admirer from Dimension Aqua, convinces her to become his queen after he overthrows Atlantis, Mera is pretty quick to turn Aquaman and Aqualad into palace slaves. Eventually Aquaman and Aqualad (with the help of some swordfish) plot an escape and coup but Oceanus tricks and tries to kill them with his hard-water constructs. Luckily, Mera — presumably bored with the despot life — remembers her love for Aquaman and threatens to kill Oceanus if he hurts them. Oceanus leaves Atlantis in exchange for his life, and Aqualad helps Aquaman realize that he can just give Mera honorary citizenship. The issue ends with Aquaman and Mera marrying.
It’s … a lot. I enjoyed the Silver Age goofiness, particularly when Oceanus takes over Atlantis through hard-water-construct torpedo-men with the most ridiculous angry faces. I also like that it’s a pretty solid adventure story that sets up the relationship for new readers and feels like a big, dramatic event in the Aquaman mythos. Yet even for the Silver Age, when most female characters whether good or evil basically had “love of a man” as their motivation, Mera’s ricocheting from dark to light plays as somewhat disturbing on a Watsonian level and like a sexist trope on a Doylist level. You can see why this character would become a Red Lantern decades later.
Kayleigh: I kind of love Mera here. Abandoning her kingdom and her entire world (with her people’s blessing, though, so…) just for Aquaman’s love is pretty extra. But compared to other thinly-written wilting flower love interests of the time period like Iris West or pre-Women’s Lib Sue Storm, Mera being a queen in her own right gives her a more equal footing with her husband, and even if she’s making some really questionable decisions teaming up with Evil Underwater Tom Jones, she’s displaying an agency that makes her an active character in the story, as opposed to being human wallpaper at her own wedding.
Rebecca: This is usually the point where we would talk about the guests and the clothes. Unfortunately, the wedding takes up a single panel in the story, but the big leagues of the DC Universe — Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, etc. — do show up for it. Mera’s wedding dress is basically just a veil pinned to her crown, but hey — the veil has nice trim. That didn’t leave me as unsatisfied as the single-panel wedding that Scarlet Witch/Vision shared with Mantis/A Weird Alien Tree, because everything that leads up to it is better. Still, I would have loved to have seen some Atlantean or Aqua couture to close out this issue.
Kayleigh: Let me just say the opportunity for Mera to wear a mermaid dress was RIGHT THERE, and DC didn’t take it, the cowards. Her gold crown with little fins is cute, though. Mostly I looked at that panel and thought, “Wonder Woman can breathe under water? Cool.”
Rebecca: Mera and Aquaman are basically a couple that met when one of them tried to kill the other, so it makes sense that their union would be similarly dramatic and full of heel-turns. Like all DC properties, Aquaman has been rebooted a lot — often in really bizarre ways — but the origin of their meeting, Oceanus’ involvement, and the couple being married has tended to eventually happen in one way or the other. I think as much as I dislike Mera’s characterization here, there are aspects of this story that are compelling enough that I can see why even in the anti-marriage environment surrounding comics, writers keep coming back to this couple again and again. I’m still not completely sold on the DCEU, but after reading this issue I’m interested in seeing what filmmakers want to do with them.
Kayleigh: This was my first Aquaman comic, and between the Silver Age wackiness (that great “WHaaaaaAAt?” Aquaman reaction shot!), hilariously perturbed torpedo warriors, Evil Underwater Tom Jones, and Mera’s “hell hath no fury” act, I really enjoyed it. This comic felt like it was about this couple more than some wedding issues do. It’s a bummer that later writers would use Mera’s emotional issues for stereotypical “powerful woman goes crazy” plotlines, but with their fresh start in the post-Rebirth era and Justice League about to bump their profiles, hopefully the tide has turned in Aquaman and Mera’s favor.