Stephen Byrne (artist), David Calderon (colours), Danielle Paige (writer) and Joshua Reed (letterer)
DC Ink (a DC Comics imprint)
April 2, 2019
In March 2015, I hosted a Gotham Academy roundtable featuring five book bloggers. We discussed their limited experience with comics, if the series was great for newbies, and if they would go on to read more comics. The purpose of this exercise was to prove that DC Comics could reach a larger audience by making their comics more accessible. It’s been almost three years since that roundtable, and DC Comics is publishing graphic novels under their new middle grade and young adult imprints: DC Zoom and DC Ink. This ongoing series on WWAC, DC Youth, will follow these fledgling imprints and see how they do with reaching a new group of comic book readers.
Mera: Tidebreaker is the first comic to be published under DC Comics’ young adult (YA) imprint: DC Ink. Mera is the princess of Xebel, an underwater nation and a colony under the rule of Atlantis. Her father seeks to overthrow Atlantis by killing its long lost heir, Arthur Curry, a.k.a. the future Aquaman. Mera takes up the assassination mission herself in an effort to take control her life and prove her right to rule Xebel as her father’s successor. Of course, things get complicated when Mera finds out that killing Arthur is harder than she thinks, because she’s developing feelings for him.
I’m a big fan of Stephen Byrne’s illustrations on Twitter, and the cover immediately had me excited to read this book. I haven’t read a comic that featured his art, so it was interesting to see it used as interiors. I liked it for the most part, but I thought the facial expressions could have been a bit more dynamic. The colours were probably the biggest let down. The choice of muted colours like grey, pale green, light brown, and blue—save for the Mera’s fire red—was depressing. The cover is jewel toned and exciting. The interiors bring down a story that’s already being held back by its writing and to single out Mera’s hair visually doesn’t really do anything to heighten what we’re reading. It’s unfortunate, because the underwater world could be a vibrant place especially with the different types of sea creatures that live there.
The first part of the story, set in Xebel, could have been shorter and allowed more time for the Arthur/Mera scenes to play out a bit more organically. There’s also a lot of telling us who Mera is rather than showing us. So many times we’re told that she’s not defined by a dress and wants to have control over her own life, but those moments could have been told in fewer panels and through the art rather than the text. It sometimes felt like we were having that shoved down our throats rather than feeling like we were coming to naturally understand and relate to Mera’s struggle. I didn’t believe that she was in love with Arthur for a moment, and all the land scenes felt like a list of things being checked off.
I was intrigued by Mera’s mother and wished she was weaved into the story more, since she an excellent parallel to Mera’s struggle as a person and as someone with a responsibility to Xebel. She’s also the one other person who’s pale red hair is singled out in the book.
Overall, I’m disappointed, but I also understand that it’s Danielle Paige’s first time writing a comic. Like I said in my Super Sons review, a lot of these books under the new imprints are being written by young adult and middle grade prose authors. It’ll be interesting to see how things progress as I read more of the books. The colour choice was probably the biggest misstep, and although Mera: Tidebreaker is geared towards teens, the story wouldn’t have been less serious if it was a bit brighter and this particular story didn’t offer a strong case for its colour story.