During the dawn of comics we usually learned the origin story of female characters through the point of view of their male counterparts. Lois Lane exists in relation to Superman, and the same goes for other famous women in comics—it has taken a long time for female characters to have their own autonomy.
DC Ink is changing this in a large way. The new imprint geared towards YA audiences has launched an entire series of graphic novels with all-new origin stories, written by women, starring women.
The first to launch the entire series, is Mera, written by Danielle Paige, the New York Times-bestselling author of the YA series Dorothy Must Die. Paige’s book is one of the rare times we have seen a graphic novel entirely focused on Mera’s origin from her point of view—which is kind of crazy when you come to think of it, since Mera may be even more powerful than Aquaman. Aquaman can speak to all the fish in the oceans, but Mera can control any liquid. Any. Liquid.
Paige’s take on Mera’s origin story is focused on her being heir of a throne that has been colonized by Atlantis. The Princess of Xebel, Mera is trained to speak politically and fight like a warrior. However, sea monarchies seem to be as outdated as land monarchs. Princess Mera is seen as a “the future wife” of the ruler of Xebel’s, instead of its rightful heir and ruler.
She overhears her father offering his throne to whomever can bring down (murder) the prince of Atlantis who lives on land, Arthur (who will later become Aquaman). Of course, he overlooks his own daughter Mera. She decides to take her fate in her own hands, leaving the ocean in order to bring down Arthur and become Xebel’s rightful ruler.
Paige has written an epic worthy of any hero. Of course, murder is easier said than done: Mera finds herself grappling with ethics of killing someone she barely knows in order to gain her throne.
When Paige was first approached by DC Comics, she pitched an Aquaman “Little Mermaid” story. The editors at DC felt Mera’s story may have been a better fit, since Paige wanted to tackle colonization under the sea and Mera came from a colony. (It is also super important to note the latest author of the Aquaman series is female comic author Kelly Sue DeConnick who also wrote Captain Marvel).
Mera is targeted towards a YA audience, but Paige doesn’t shy away from real world politics and little bit of Game of Thronesinspiration. “When I was writing this story, so many political things were happening in the world and I wanted the world under the sea to reflect our world,” Paige told BUST. “I wanted Mera to have to deal with those things. Also, I love building worlds like that.”
Many outside of the YA community may think this is radical, but for YA audiences, this is not surprising. By focusing on real world issues, Paige was not only writing about the world, but was also acknowledging the role young people have been playing in shaping our politics.
“I think that kids are very concerned about the future right now. They are very active, and they’re activists, even. I think that [Mera] reflects what’s going on in our world, under the sea,” Paige tells BUST.
Paige is also setting an important trend with the Mera story. Prior to this book Mera was mostly known as Aquaman’s girlfriend, but Mera has her own struggles and is a badass, too.
“Mera has a lot of agency, and usually when we look at the Aquaman story, in the versions I’ve gotten to read, she’s always the catalyst of his story. So I think having her as an assassin in this case and doing it for her own land made a lot of sense,” Paige tells BUST.
It is also a hero’s journey from the perspective of a woman, which we so rarely get. “I gravitate towards strong female characters. With Dorothy and Amy in my books I want to empower girls, but I also want boys to see how powerful women are as well. Also, when I was growing up and I was reading comics I never thought there would be a place for me in comics. And on a very personal note, the fact that women can be the writers of comics is special.”
DC Comics have recognized the power and importance of girls and women in the industry. We are buying movie tickets, selling out merch, and hell yes, we read comics. We want more female-centered, feminist stories. “I literally think of it as the creation of a superhero, and finding who you’re going to be. And I feel like it’s something kids are doing right now. That’s part of the arch of adulthood,” Paige says.
Making sure that Mera had a strong story was essential to Paige, but what was equally important was the need for the pages to be ethnically diverse.
“It was very important to me, and we worked very hard with the artists and the colorist to make sure there was color on the pages. As a woman of color, I think that it’s really important that there is representation,” she says.
This representation also mirrors who gets to become a creator. What’s amazing is that Paige, an author who never thought she’d be able to write comics, now has a book that’s launching an entire series of comics written by women and starring DC’s most famous females.
“This entire line is very female driven and the more you see yourself on the page and in a powerful position, the more you’re going to feel there is a place for you behind the page. I think DC is making a huge effort to reach out to writers of color and to women,” she says. “When I was kid, I used to never think of myself writing a comic. I loved reading things and watching things in the comic book space but I never imagined that there was a place for me, and now there is.”
Mera is currently available in bookstores and comic shops.
Photos courtesy of DC Comics
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Isabel Sophia Dieppa is a writer and actor. She is a part of the performance duo Of This World in Chicago, IL. Dieppa is the recipient of a 2018 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant, which she has used to report on property rights in Puerto Rico. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She loves archaeology, kitties, and dancing. The next big adventure may include an archaeological dig in Peru. Follow her on twitter @isabelsdieppa.