Best Shots Review: MERA - TIDEBREAKER 'Engaging, Gorgeously-Drawn'

"Mera: Tidebreaker" preview
Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC Ink)
Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC Ink)

Mera: Tidebreaker OGN
Written by Danielle Paige
Art by Stephen Byrne and David Calderon
Lettering by Joshua Reed
Published by DC Ink
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC Ink)

Diving into the YA side of the pool, Mera: Tidebreaker proves to be a strong if imperfect debut for the DC Ink line, as writer Danielle Paige’s hefty script is given a wonderfully light touch by artist Stephen Byrne and colorist David Calderon. While this story is far from flawless as juggles so many different parts - a quality shared by the recent Aquaman film - you can’t deny that Mera: Tidebreaker doesn’t succeed at offering a compelling story for a brand-new demographic of DC fans.

Think one part Little Mermaid, one part Game of Thrones, and one part Nora Roberts novel, and you’ll be surprisingly close to what Mera: Tidebreaker is about - readers will be thrown into the deep end quickly, as we see Mera rail against the kingdom of Atlantis, as well as her father’s expectations that she marry Larken, a prince of the Trench. But where Paige has to strike a delicate balance is how sympathetic her heroine truly is. While it’s hard not to empathize with Mera wanting to make her own decisions, when the solution to Mera’s problems is to go to the surface to murder Arthur Curry, the prince of Atlantis, there’s an edge to this book that you might not be ready for. That said, Mera’s violent goals does provide a sharp tension when she inevitably meets and develops feelings for the good-natured Arthur - but Paige’s genuinely sweet subplot of this burgeoning romance sometimes feels a little off-balance when we’re regularly reminded that Mera is also packing a gruesome-looking knife on all of their dates.

Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC Ink)

But that said, that everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach helped keep the Aquaman film moving like a skipping stone, and given that Paige isn’t working with the traditional chapter breaks of a monthly comic book or traditional trade paperback, the approach gives readers a particularly meaty storyline to work with. Mera has a lot going on in her life, whether it’s frustration at how her homeland of Xebel is being lorded over by evil Atlanteans, or her conflicted feelings about her father, her mother, or her betrothed Larken. Sometimes there are some bumps in the page-to-page storytelling that might take you out of the story - seeing Mera and Arthur underwater on one page, only to find Mera talking with Arthur’s father on dry land on the next page being one example - and the ending of the story feels both too cramped with new information while also a bit too convenient. That said, that complex foundation also gives Paige a lot of narrative avenues to play with, with the Mera-Arthur-Larken love triangle generating some of the best beats in the story.

Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC Ink)

Of course, this would all be a moot point without artist Stephen Byrne’s contributions = it’s his work that provides the heaviest lifting for Mera: Tidebreaker, and he’s delivering some career-best work here. Bryne’s take on Mera is instantly endearing, a cousin to that omnipresent Disney cartoon style that consistently wrings a lot of drama out of Mera’s internal conflict. While there are some pages that drag a little more - the talkier, more expository pages of the script - Byrne really syncs into the young romance vibes that Paige is establishing, with Arthur and Lerken both seeming like compelling, even sympathetic love interests for Mera to navigate. Byrne also makes the physics of Atlantis look more balletic than I’ve ever seen them - while it’s the smart choice on a narrative level to bring Tidebreaker’s setting to the surface world, given how well Bryne has his characters float and interact in the water, you almost wish the whole story took place under the sea.

Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC Ink)

Of course, the color work by David Calderon is a bold choice that will be an acquired taste for some readers - which may run counter to DC’s stated goal for the imprint of bringing in new fans. This book is almost exclusively colored in shades of green, white and orange-red, which definitely reinforces this book as Mera’s narrative rather than as an off-shoot of Aquaman’s - that said, while this color scheme makes the kingdom of Atlantis really stand out as its own unique setting, it does occasionally hamper the panel-to-panel storytelling of the book, making readers have to really work to see where their eyes should be drawn to, rather than having the colors drive the action and energy of the book. Additionally, the lack of color sometimes makes certain characters start to bleed together - one shot of Arthur being surrounded by muggers, for example, might make you do a double-take on which character is which.

While not every component of the book works equally, Danielle Paige and Stephen Byrne prove to be more than up to the task of spearheading the new DC Ink imprint with Mera: Tidebreaker. As a longtime comic book reader, it’s hard not to appreciate the deliberate creative choices made with this book, but it’s also fluid enough to draw in new readers hot on the heels of Aquaman’s overwhelming cinematic success. While there are certainly some narrative setbacks to this fish-out-of-water story, but as an engaging, gorgeously-drawn product on the whole, Mera: Tidebreaker is a graphic novel that gives fans the royal treatment.

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