Love Will Save the Day
In any mythology, the love interest is as common an archetype as the hero or the villain. They often are a catalyst for action and a source of motivation for characters good or evil, and their presence and affection (or the lack thereof) is fuel for the main narrative. But within the context of comic book mythologies, the unfortunate truth is that superhero romances are notoriously tenuous. The nature of ongoing, serialized storytelling requires that nothing get too stagnant or too comfortable for the protagonists, lest all the urgency and intrigue of the book wither away. As a result, even the most iconic and long-term romantic relationships (Superman and Lois Lane, Batman and Catwoman, Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris) are broken apart and thrown back together frequently throughout their histories. In fact, of all the romantic relationships in existence before the continuity-resetting Flashpoint, only two survived, the most important of which was Aquaman and Mera.
Sometimes referred to as Aquawoman, Mera first appeared in 1963 in the pages of Aquaman #11, and quickly became a mainstay of Aquaman’s mythology. Their romance would eventually lead to marriage, with Mera becoming Queen of Atlantis and having a child with the King of the Seas. But where other love interests became stuck in their archetype, Mera displayed a remarkable degree of agency and independence. This is true even in her early adventures but especially the case in the modern age, where she developed an affiliation with the Justice League and played a key role in the Blackest Night. Part of this has to do with the fact that, as an Atlantean, she possesses many of the same superpowers as her heroic counterpart, but also vast hydrokinetic powers that are entirely unique to her. Likewise, her headstrong nature and warrior past empower her to take a more active role in Aquaman’s mythology as well as her own. And yet, despite her incredible agency and independence as a character, the strength of her mythos is rooted in her complicated relationship to her narrative role as Aquaman’s love interest. Specifically, she embodies the mythology’s truth that love is stronger than anger.
In terms of publication history, Mera was a romantic interest for Aquaman very early on, but within the mythology, this was something that happened over time. Originally, Mera intended to kill Aquaman. Revealed through retcon, she was a member of an exiled Atlantean tribe known as Xebel, trapped in another dimension. Using powerful magics to break the barrier between dimensions, Mera was sent to Atlantis to assassinate Aquaman and restore her brethren. But over the course of her mission she grew close to him and not only discovered that he was not the enemy she was made to believe him to be, but fell in love with him. This sounds simple but is an incredible testament to the power of love in the DC Universe. Growing up in the isolated Xebelian colony, she was taught to hate Atlantis and the Atlanteans. She was trained to hone her skills for the sole purpose of exacting revenge on Atlantis by killing their leader. And yet a lifetime’s preparation and indoctrination in rage and anger was undone by the love she felt for the man who embodied all that she was taught to hate.
Another such example involves one of the greatest tragedies ever suffered by the couple. As a result of their fierce rivalry, Aquaman’s archenemy Black Manta decided to strike at the hero’s heart by kidnapping and killing their son, Arthur Curry Jr. (more colloquially known as Aquababy). Following this tragedy, Mera’s rage resurfaced. She blamed Aquaman for their son’s death, as the hero had attempted to hunt down Black Manta instead of trying to save their ailing son’s life. For a long time following Aquababy’s death, the two were estranged, with Mera’s rage consuming her and affecting her mind in such a way that she was committed to one of Atlantis’ psychiatric institutions. Her mental health (as well as that of Aquaman) only showed signs of truly healing when the two eventually reconciled.
But the true vindication of Mera’s mythology – that love overcomes anger – is found during the events of the Blackest Night, when Black Lantern rings reanimated the dead across the DC Universe, feeding on the emotion-filled hearts of the living. In order to combat the Black Lanterns (including a reanimated Black Lantern Aquaman), Mera was deputized into the Red Lantern Corps and wielded the Red Light of Rage in the battle. She was chosen by the Red Lanterns because of the deep rage inherent to her – the same rage with which she left Xebel and which resurfaced following her son’s death – and in accepting the ring, the Red Light stopped her heart and kept her alive solely through anger. But at the battle’s conclusion, upon seeing a fully resurrected Aquaman, the love she felt for her husband shattered her red ring, and it was only the Violet Light of Love that restarted her heart.
When it comes to the nature of emotion in the DC Universe, the definitive mythology is that of Green Lantern, in which these various coloured corps each represent a segment of the Emotional Spectrum. Quite literally, this mythology demonstrated love’s strength over rage, not only shattering the red ring but also undoing its harmful effects. It is therefore extremely important that these events centred around Mera. Her own relationship to both love and anger is long and storied – prone to both extremes, her relationship with Aquaman has been every bit as tumultuous many other superhero romances, but where it differs is in its clear premise that a true and powerful love can overcome any obstacles, even one as volatile and insurmountable as rage and hatred.
By placing her in the context of the Emotional Spectrum, Mera is made the absolute embodiment of this premise. Within her mythology lies a fundamental truth of the DC Universe, and through her we learn the value and strength of the new archetypal love interest: not that love is constant or unbreakable, but that it can and will triumph over adversity.
All of which explains how and why Mera and Aquaman’s relationship survived Flashpoint, where others did not.