WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Aquaman #31 by Dan Abnett and Riccardo Federici, in stores now.
Aquaman and Mera have been at each other's side for a very, very long time. Although the characters have been through their shares of ups and downs over recent years (not the least of which involved DC Comics editorial deciding whether they're even married), Rebirth has really focused on these two as a strong and very stable couple. However, thanks to writer Dan Abnett's current storyline in the Aquaman title, the King and Queen might have just become viscerally separated by the elements themselves.
In fact, the latest issue confirmed what we feared from the previous issue's cliffhanger: Mera can no longer breathe underwater. This is, to say the least, a major turn of events for a character who is in part defined by her ability to live in the water.
Atlantis has been going through a terrible upheaval, of late. Arthur Curry is no longer the underwater realm's king, and is believed by most to be dead. In his stead rules a cruel tyrant by the name of Corum Rath, who employs the use of ancient Atlantean magics to maintain his hold on the submerged city and its citizens. One very large part of this magic is a very literal barrier known as the Crown of Thorns. This surrounds Atlantis itself, closing it off from the rest of the world while preventing anyone within from escaping.
However, there are ways for a select few to travel through this barrier. One need only a magical medallion that enables the wearer to move freely from one side of the wall to the other. When Arthur fell and the Crown of Thorns was summoned, Mera was on the outside, leaving the two of them literally separated. In hope of getting back inside Atlantis, Mera sought the help of the Titan's Tempest, who once studied the art of Atlantean magic. Thanks to his efforts, Mera was able to aquire a magical medallion. There was only one problem -- the medallion was damaged, making it a considerable risk to use.
But Mera didn't care. She used the medallion, crossed the Crown of Thorns, and instantly, once she was back in Atlantis, realized the effect the damaged relic had on her. Now, she is being kept alive thanks to a supply of oxygen delivered to her by way of a mask. This makes it impossible for Mera to stay in Atlantis, and to have any kind of life there. It's a massive shift for the character -- however brief it might be.
The truth is, we don't know if there are any long-term plans for this development. It's entirely possible that Mera's predicament will be fixed by the time this storyline concludes, especially considering that the character will finally be getting her first solo series, Mera: Queen of Atlantis, next February. But with writer Dan Abnett at the helm of both series, it's equally possible he has a very special plan for Mera in place, one that might involve new kinds of magic or science that could help her fulfill her duties -- even as a surface-dweller. In fact, this could be the very thing that drives whatever adventure she undergoes in her upcoming solo title.