Although the New York Times no longer has an individual chart keeping track of graphic novels and trade paperbacks, presumably every other comics publisher was haunted by the works of Raina Telgemeier dominating that list's top spots for a combined 4 years and change. Almost a decade after Telgemeier's astronomical success exposing a enormous market of middle-school and high-school girl readers, and with their own DC Super Hero Girls OGN line by Shea Fontana outselling every other book collection of theirs by a mile, DC finally seems poised to do something about it with the launch of DC Ink, a line of OGNs pairing superstar artists with notable YA authors (most new to comics) telling stories about teen versions of iconic superheroines.
The line's first release, Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige (the Dorothy Must Die series) and Stephen Byrne (Wonder Twins, Justice League/Power Rangers), might seem to have an odd choice of heroine... until you remember Aquaman is now one of the highest-grossing movies in history and that that movie made Amber Heard's Mara a co-lead.
Tidebreaker takes that positioning a step further and retells Arthur Curry's origin in the shadow of Mera's own coming of age. The book opens with Mera's home kingdom of Xebel, traditionally a separate magical dimension but recast here as an ill-treated colony of Atlantis, with the fiery princess carving anti-Atlantean graffiti into their embassy and then blowing it to bits with water magic.
Struggling with controlling her water magic and chafing under the combined weight of her father's expectations and an upcoming arranged marriage to her childhood friend Larken (drawn to resemble, in what one assumes is a massive coincidence, a slightly beefier version of Young Justice's Aqualad) from the other Atlantean colony of the Trench, Mera longs to make her own way and rule on her own but also have her father's approval. Accidentally eavesdropping on a secret plan to kill Arthur to destabilize Atlantis and win Xebel its freedom, Mera impulsively decides to kill the future king himself in order to prove she can rule as a queen and help her people.
But her plan of tricking Arthur so she can kill him goes awry when she has trouble adjusting to the surface world of Amnesty Bay, Massachusetts. Resting for days in his house and then slowly gaining his trust so she can kill him, Mera learns that Arthur has no idea of his heritage and is incredibly nice and courteous to everyone...and even with a girlfriend hanging around, is noticeably easy on the eyes.
Paige's script tells as much of the story as possible from Mera's POV, successfully conveying her bitter hatred at the Atlanteans who've trodden her people into the dirt, her aching want to both do her late warrior mother proud and find her own place in the world and her confusion turned elation over the surface world and her growing feelings for Arthur. Unfortunately, the landing doesn't quite stick. Key information and character names are held back until the book's almost over, which makes the ultimate resolution feel both disjointed and rushed.
But Paige's story, even flawed, is given gorgeous breath, depth and feeling by Byrne's artwork, which is as astonishing as ever, with great character poses and strong facial acting. David Calderon gives the book a gorgeously light sea-inspired palette that might look muted, but is really all about subtly reinforcing the spooky etherealness of Xebel and the freedom of the open ocean. Of all things, it recalls Jillian Tamaki's similar work in This One Summer, which used a similar washed-out-but-not-quite summery palette to underscore the emotional beats of that story in much the same way. The color tones aren't out of place once the story shifts onto land but a greater contrast between the two environments (such as, for example, adding more solidity and brightness in the coloring) could've really made things pop.
Perhaps a slightly longer page count would've allowed Paige to let things breathe more and given Byrne and Calderon the chance to stretch their art. But these are ultimately minor quibbles about what is, in the end, a very solid OGN that gives us a more enjoyable version of Mera than the pre-Rebirth DCU ever managed (I shudder recalling her time as a Red Lantern in Blackest Night). As a shot across the bow signalling the start of a long-overdue and much-welcome imprint, Mera: Tidebreaker is quite an enjoyable thing indeed. Here's hoping the other DC Ink books have just as strong an identity and look as this one.