Mera, Princess of Xebel, is a serious role model.
Before we get into why, I do need to be honest with you: I’m a Mera n00b. Sure, I’ve heard of her—she’s Aquaman’s wife, she has great hair, she has some real superhero skills of her own—but I don’t know her. And until I read Mera: Tidebreaker, the first in the new DC Ink line of Young Adult graphic novels, I didn’t really give much thought to her having a story all her own. (Serious shame on me, I know. I partially blame Jason Momoa and the inability of most people, myself included, to look away from him when he’s anywhere in eyesight.)
In Mera: Tidebreaker, Danielle Paige and Stephen Byrne depict a teenage Mera who’s never even met Arthur Curry. She’s a young woman who’s stuck in a position that’s familiar to many fairy tale fans: A princess whose father thinks she’s so precious, she shouldn’t do anything to put herself in situations that might lead to her getting hurt (or killed and spending the rest of eternity swimming circles in the Xebellian religious version of the Good Place). She’s the pride of a downtrodden nation—Xebel being an unhappy Atlantis colony—and the hope for her people’s future; she’ll eventually be
forced asked to marry a man who will become king. A lot rides on her shoulders, and she’s walking around slumped over a little under the weight.
But Mera wants more out of her life. Her mother, former queen of Xebel, was a powerful, fierce and respected warrior both before and while she was queen. Mera wants that kind of role for herself. She’s not content to be a figurehead or, even worse, just a pretty face beneath a crown, married to a man who holds all the true power.
Mera struggles with an internal war. She wants to make her father proud and be loyal to her nation. But she also needs to be loyal to herself, to make herself proud. And when the chance comes to prove her strength to everyone, she jumps at it, even if doing so is a rash and somewhat uninformed decision. She thinks that’s what she’s doing is right, and I applaud her “ask forgiveness rather than permission” mentality. Sometimes, especially when you’re a young woman in a situation without a clear escape route, it’s the only way to get what you want.
I also appreciate Mera’s willingness to listen to her heart and to trust in her gut (i.e., her intuition). It’s when she does so, when she begins to see and understand the truth about the situation she jumped into, eyes-closed, that she truly begins to shine. She looks past the things she’s been told all her life and listens to that little voice inside her head that’s telling her things aren’t what they seem, even though it’s hard to break through all those years of conditioning. In trusting herself, her eyes are opened, and she takes a giant step toward becoming the warrior she’s always wanted to be.
And all of this Mera does on her own, without Arthur Curry’s help. (Okay, he might help a little, but I won’t go into detail here on how, in case you’ve not read the book. #nospoilers) It’s a little awesome, in the truest sense of the word, to see a young woman put so much faith in her own power. Mera’s exactly the kind of princess young women (and not so young women, in some cases *cough*like mine*cough*) need to see in pop culture.
She’s smart, yet fallible, strong, yet flexible. She’s soft and hard in equal measure, and is willing to take risks and suffer the consequences of her actions. She knows when to stand up for herself, and doesn’t shy away from owning up to her mistakes. She knows when to stand up to the people whose opinions matter to her most—and whose opinions might change for the worse—because she knows that she’s on the right side of the fight. She knows that it’s okay to take a break in saving the world for a little swoon. And, if that’s not enough, she’s got a seriously amazing head of stunning red hair.
I’m super thankful that I got the chance to get to know Mera in Mera: Tidebreaker. I might not have known her before diving in (heh), but after reading her tale, I’m fully #TeamMera. (Arthur’s a very lucky man.)
When Mandy Curtis isn’t reading books by Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J. Maas, she’s dreaming of busting bad guys with Wonder Woman—if Steve Trevor’s there too, she won’t complain—and writing about YA fiction and pop culture at Forever Young Adult. Follow her on Twitter at @mandyannecurtis.