In the vast, diverse structure of the fantasy genre, there are few concepts more straightforward than that of royalty. Whether it's part of the vast world-building carried out by the likes of J. R. R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings or the bloody feuds that fuel Game of Thrones, the roles associated with royalty tend to be the simplest part of the narrative. There's a king who rules a kingdom with a queen at his side. If there are any princes and princesses involved, then chances are that'll be a source of conflict.
In recent years, thanks largely to those same blood feuds that play out in Game of Thrones, these structures of royalty are getting an overdue dose of complexity. It's no longer enough to just craft stories around a king who rules, a queen who supports him, and bratty children who whine about who's in line for the throne. It's now more likely to see queens fighting to play a more active role in royal affairs, often beyond those of just managing said bratty children.
Few queens enjoy a greater sense of equality with her king than that of Mera, the wife and companion of Aquaman. There are plenty of jokes about Aquaman, his role in the Justice League, and his ability to talk to fish. Few, however, dare to joke about Mera. She's not just a queen, a lover, and a spouse. She's a powerful character in her own right who has always been able to hold her own against the many threats that plague the DC universe. She won't just support her king. She'll make him stronger while showing off her own strength.
Given these trends in the fantasy genre, Mera: Queen of Atlantis #1 is coming along at the perfect time. Between Disney movies featuring more princess that don't need rescuing, Mera is in prime position to show that she's the kind of queen who can hold her own in any kingdom, from Mount Doom to Westeros. Dan Abnett and Lan Medina put her in a position where she does not have the usual resources, privileges, and servants of a typical queen.
However, she still has the kinds of roles, responsibilities, and vulnerabilities that plague all levels of royalty. There are no dragons or magic rings involved, but Mera's tenuous predicament helps flesh out why she's better-equipped to handle royal responsibilities than most. The story surrounding that predicament spin right out of the ongoing events of Aquaman. These aren't trivial events either. Atlantis is in the midst of a civil war that has already stripped Arthur of his crown and Rath, a man who treats royal power like cheat codes on a real-time strategy game, is now king.
The events of that conflict are still unfolding, but Mera finds herself stuck on the sidelines due to an injury that forces her to remain on the surface, away from the battle, and away from Arthur's side. It's a difficult position, one that requires more than just waiting. Due to the same royal traditions that make civil wars so common in the first place, Mera is still the official queen of Atlantis while Arthur is technically deposed. That technicality means Mera is more vulnerable than most royal figures with one too many jealous siblings.
Abnett and Medina don't give her much time to heal or enjoy her time away from the civil war. She's the target of assassination almost immediately, requiring her to defend herself at a time when she's severely weakened and without support. Even so, she still manages to hold her own. She still shows that she's every bit as capable as Aquaman, even when he's not there to support her. She proves that she's the kind of queen that every idealistic princess wishes hopes they can be before they end up having to marry their cousin.
Mera surviving on her own, at a time when powerful people have more incentive than usual to kill a queen, also provides greater insight into the kind of character she is. Throughout the story, these insights explore Mera's burdens and ambitions. For those who only know Mera as the redheaded mermaid woman who fights beside Aquaman, it provides layers and complexity to a character who rarely gets a chance to shine outside of being a wife and queen.
At her core, Mera embodies the old royal traditions of duty to the letter. She starts out as an assassin on behalf of Xebel, a hated rival of Atlantis. She ends up falling in love with Atlantis' future king, only to take on the role of a queen. She acknowledges these duties and the burdens behind them. However, she never whines about them or uses them as an excuse to become bitter. She's the complete antithesis of every evil Disney character that goes onto become an evil king or queen. The burdens of royalty do put stress on her, but they don't break her spirit.
In another testament to her royal strength, Mera doesn't let others do the fighting for her. When Superman and Wonder Woman show up to offer help, she refuses. It never comes off as an act of royal snobbery either. She understands how royal conflicts need to be resolved. Bringing outside forces into the mix only tends to create new complications and new conflicts. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the fantasy genre or a marginal understanding of the history of Medieval Europe can appreciate that approach.
The narrative in Mera: Queen of Atlantis #1 makes abundantly clear that Mera is the kind of queen everyone can root for. She's someone who deserves that title. It's not necessarily a question that needed to be asked or answered. While that undercuts some of the tension, it's still worth reinforcing, especially with the major reveal at the end that promises to test Mera even more. How this plays into the ongoing events in Aquaman remains unclear, but it ensures she'll remain a target.
At the same time, it ensures that much of the conflict in Mera: Queen of Atlantis will remain linked to the civil war playing out in Aquaman. While that helps provide a sense of context to the series, it also hinders certain aspects of the story. It's a story that really can't stand on its own without a basic understanding over those events. Abnett and Medina make a concerted effort to fill in some of those details, but while they help provide connective tissue to those events, they don't necessarily carry the same weight.
In a sense, Mera: Queen of Atlantis #1 is very much a metaphor for Mera's character. Her story is closely tied to that of Aquaman's. As a character, she stands on equal footing with him in terms of strength, spirit, and ability. In terms of her own personal story arc, though, she's still dependent Aquaman's narrative. That still doesn't take away the substance of the story in Mera: Queen of Atlantis #1. Mera is still very much the kind of queen that anyone would be happy to serve. In an era where evil queens and sadistic kings are more prevalent than ever, it's pretty refreshing.