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The secret history of Mera

Contributed by
Dec 26, 2018

Although longtime fans of comics will likely recognize Mera, at surface value she is difficult to fully differentiate from other comic book queens. Like most comic book royalty, she is terse, easy to anger, and sometimes condescending, from a world separate from the other superheroes, untrusting of their world. The general character traits associated with royalty in comics might read like a checklist more than a personality at times, and it is true that it took Mera some time to find her way.

Once she did, though, there would be no mistaking her greatness again. Over the last couple of decades, Mera went from a badly characterized disgraced queen with a tentative control over her actions to a regal warrior queen on par with Aquaman, at times even succeeding him. Without Mera, Aquaman would never have saved Atlantis or become its king.

Origins

Initially, Mera appeared fleeing the villain Leron to find assistance for her people, the mysterious place she referred to as Dimension Aqua. Once she enlisted Aquaman and they defeated Leron, Mera rapidly surrendered her crown as Queen of Dimension Aqua so that she might live instead in Atlantis as Arthur’s wife.

For years, Mera would appear mostly in the background of stories, caring for the child dubbed “Aquababy” while Aquaman and the adopted Aqualad would be off on heroic adventures. When Black Manta kidnapped Aquababy, however, Mera braved the deep trenches of the ocean to save him. Discovering Leron had not been defeated after all and had instead taken over rulership of Dimension Aqua, Mera ruthlessly fought and defeated him, but the time spent on the battle cost her dearly. She returned to Atlantis victorious, but her child was dead.

Mera was understandably a wreck for some time after that, and Arthur busying himself through his work with the Justice League didn’t exactly help her deteriorating mental state. He placed her in an Atlantean asylum rather than deal with her. Later, when she broke free and attacked him, he quite literally impaled and apparently killed her. At her funeral, she stood up and spat out a few insults before departing again for the sea. Even in her darkest moments, Mera is an absolute queen.

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For a time after that, Mera’s appearances were badly characterized to the point of incoherence. She temporarily had a son, she was briefly in Hell, she and Arthur reconciled for a short time before her instability overwhelmed her once more. She spent years in comic book limbo, seldom mentioned and never seen. Referenced only in passing by most fans, it seemed increasingly likely that Mera was to join the ranks of the comic book women who have “gone mad” and died or vanished for the benefit of her romantic partner’s character development.

Mera’s Return

Yet, as we have said before and will say again, that’s no way to treat a queen. Mera would eventually return to the DC Universe in a big way in Blackest Night, a crossover in which DC heroes were attacked by Black Lanterns, a small group of deceased DC characters. She and the former Aqualad, who was now known as Tempest, were attacked by the recently dead Aquaman. Tempest was killed in battle, but Mera escaped by keeping her emotions under firm control throughout the fight and refusing to allow her dead husband’s grotesquely reincarnated form to get a rise out of her. Calling the Justice League for help, her experience proved instrumental in learning how to defeat the Black Lanterns. She later fought Aquaman again as he attempted to leverage their dead child against her, but rather than experiencing grief, she became so unbelievably enraged that she not only defeated him but insisted on destroying him. Her anger leads her to become a Red Lantern temporarily until she sees Arthur alive once more and her fury eases enough to break her connection with her power ring.

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In Brightest Day, Mera’s origins were retconned. It was revealed that Dimension Aqua had been simply a cover for the penal colony known Xebel, so named after one of its prominent scientists. After one of Atlantis’ myriad civil wars, a portion of its people had been exiled to Xebel. Bizarrely, Mera has a twin sister known as Siren, and the two of them were trained as children to escape Dimension Aqua and assassinate whoever the king of Atlantis happened to be at the time. As it turned out, it was Arthur, and Mera fell deeply in love with him rather than murdering him.

Queen Of Atlantis

In the recent Mera mini-series, we discovered more to Mera’s character than perhaps had ever been revealed to us. During Atlantis’ most recent civil war, she had been wounded and named Queen, but in exile, healing from the magic-based restrictions that had been placed on her powers. She encountered Orm, Arthur’s half-brother known as the villain Ocean Master. He had found a life on the surface world, away from the pain and chaos of his life in Atlantis. He had adopted a family and was at peace, but the moment the chance to return to Atlantis came, he abandoned them.

Despite their significant personal differences, Mera and Orm chose to work together to go to Xebel and enlist Mera’s sworn enemies — her former betrothed Nereus, her grandmother Lammia, and the man who trained her to kill, Leron — in their battle against Rath. The people of Xebel formed a secret alliance with Orm, in which he allows for his sister Tula to be kidnapped and brought to Xebel for a forced marriage to Nereus. Realizing her brother has not changed and cannot be redeemed, Tula was eventually saved by Mera. Mera challenged Orm to a battle for the throne, and defeated him, shocking the people of Xebel. Leron appeared as a surprising ally to her, breaking down for a moment to tell her that he is proud of her. Mera rose up, her powers returned, and she returned to Atlantis with the armies of Xebel behind her.

This series made an excellent choice in separating Mera from Arthur entirely, showing her own work seemingly behind the scenes to bring peace to Atlantis. Rath makes no appearance, but he is the main foe, as Mera attempts to use her diplomacy to dethrone him while Arthur takes the more direct approach in his own ongoing series. United at last, Mera finally sees her place on the throne as the ruler over Atlantis.

Tougher Than Aquaman?

Although seldom emphasized, Mera’s powers are significant, and she is well trained due to her childhood and adolescence in Xebel. Unique among the residents of Atlantis, Mera possesses what is called aquakinesis, with which she can mentally form water into a hard object. She wields power over massive amounts of water with little effort, and her might is comparable to, if not greater than, Arthur’s. Recently, after Arthur was dethroned, she even joined the Justice League. This is notable, as it is one of her very few attempts at ingratiating herself to the denizens of the surface world. This seems small, as even many of the most minor characters in the DC universe have enjoyed at least a small stint in the JLA, but for Mera, it signifies a great deal of emotional growth.

Mera has fought Aquaman at times but generally lost due to a technicality (for instance being impaled by a careless throw on his part), but she has defeated his Black Lantern self on more than one occasion. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Mera is her duplicity, and her consistent willingness to lie to her husband to spare him her worries. Many times she goes off on her own, undertaking dangerous missions or even ending up in the Netherworld. While she doesn’t always make the wisest choices, her cunning and her ruthlessness make her a force to be reckoned with.

Other Takes On Mera

Besides her portrayal by Amber Heard in the Justice League and Aquaman movies, Mera has appeared in nearly as much media as Arthur himself has, but her characterization has been even worse than the traditionally flat Aquaman. Her appearance in Smallville might have been her best, as she had a brief stand-off with Lois Lane, who impressed and won her over in the end. Besides that, there’s been a number of brief appearances in everything from the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure to The Brave and the Bold to Young Justice. Although her appearances are generally entertaining, they leave something to be desired in the charisma department. In media, as in the comics, Mera typically comes off as being more or less interchangeable.

An exception to the typically lightweight portrayals of Mera is in Marguerite Bennett’s Bombshells, in which Mera is without Aquaman, and canonically queer. The on-again, off-again former lover of Wonder Woman, she helps Diana to free him but is trapped by the villain Nereus. Ultimately escaping and meeting and falling in love with that world's Arthur, she eventually leaves him to be crowned queen of Atlantis. Although the story takes place entirely out of continuity, it is still one of the most favorable and entertaining takes on the character.

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Mera might have started out an ill-defined concept, but she was never destined to stay that, and with Heard’s much-anticipated take hitting theaters soon, this isn’t likely to be the case going forward. A lot of very tired Mera fans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that. Regardless of where her story goes next, she is one character who has yet to see her own brightest day.

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