One of the most popular sections at libraries and bookstores is the young adult graphic novel section. When I was a young adult, this section was tiny and tucked away in dark corners. Now these sections are allowed to be in the light, and they are full of wonderful stories for young adults to read. DC Comics has noticed how popular graphic novels have become for young adults, and since 2019 they have been releasing graphic novels focused on young adult versions of their popular characters. It was a smart decision for DC to start writing for the young adult audience, and it was a great decision to hire popular young adult authors to write the graphic novels. These authors already have built in fanbases who will read these graphic novels, some of them possibly reading a graphic novel for the first time. Those first-time readers then might be interested in picking up more DC comics that feature these characters. For this article I chose to focus on the young adult graphic novels about Mera, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn. Each of these graphic novels has action, complicated families, romance, and friendship.
Mera: Tidebreaker is the first young adult graphic novel DC released. It tells the story of rebellious teenager Mera before she becomes the powerful warrior Aquaman fans know and love. It is written by Danielle Paige with art by Stephen Byrne. Paige is known for writing the young adult series Dorothy Must Die. In Mera: Tidebreaker, Mera is the princess of Xebel. Xebel has been controlled for years by Atlantis. Mera’s father wants her to act like a proper princess and get married to the man he has chosen, but Mera wants to be a warrior. She spends her days training to fight and protesting Atlantis’s rule of her people. To prove to her father that she is more than just a princess, she secretly takes on the mission of going to land and killing the prince of Atlantis, Arthur Curry. Mera: Tidebreaker is a lovely introduction to Mera. I’m surprised more people don’t talk about how powerful Mera is; her ability to manipulate water makes her tough to beat in a fight. If you’re a fan of romance, the graphic novel does show the beginning of the Mera and Arthur relationship. Mera might start off wanting to kill Arthur, but his kind nature starts to show her he might not be the evil prince she thinks he is. Mera and Arthur are shown as being similar people, they are both strong and protective of the people they care about. Mera is a fascinating character, and she can help young readers see the importance of standing up for yourself. She tells her father that she wants to do more than wear pretty dresses and go to dinners. She tells Larken, the man her father wants her to marry, that she won’t marry him because she wants to do more than just stand next to a man. Mera is someone who fights for herself and her people; it is not always easy, but she does it. Mera: Tidebreaker is a fun, adventurous, romantic graphic novel that shows how strong and powerful Mera is.
Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale tells the story of fifteen-year-old Selina Kyle before she becomes Catwoman. It is written by Lauren Myracle with art by Isaac Goodhart. Myracle is known for writing the young adult series The Internet Girls. Selina Kyle lives with her mom, Gayle, and her mom’s abusive boyfriend, Dernell. When Selina decides that she has had enough of Dernell’s abuse, she runs away from home and starts living on the streets. When Selina leaves home, she starts calling herself Catgirl, and she meets a lovable group of misfits who give her a place to live. As a big fan of Selina Kyle, I enjoyed seeing a younger version of her gain many of the skills she will later use as Catwoman. Part of the story focuses on Selina learning how to do parkour, she will use this to become a quick, graceful thief. The graphic novel does show the attraction between Selina and Bruce Wayne. They are clearly two people who care about each other, but Selina has trust issues and these keep her distant from Bruce. While Selina does care for Bruce, and she grows to care for the group of misfit teens who help put a roof over her head, in the end Selina views herself as someone who will be alone. I believe readers will appreciate Selina’s independence and will admire her strength when she faces challenging situations. Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale is the darkest of the three graphic novels I read. It has content that is challenging to read about, including domestic abuse, animal abuse, self-harm, and suicide. The graphic novel handles these topics with seriousness and shows the emotional challenges each can present. It is helpful that the end of the graphic novel provides resources for suicide prevention, stopping domestic violence, avoiding self-harm, and stopping animal cruelty. Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale is a powerful graphic novel about coping with trauma and learning to find your place in the world.
Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass tells the story of high school student Harleen Quinzel and shows her transformation into Harley Quinn. It is written by Mariko Tamaki with art by Steve Pugh. Tamaki is the first comic book writer to author one of the DC young adult graphic novels. Tamaki has written stand-alone young adult graphic novels, such as This One Summer. She has also written superhero comics, including Supergirl and She-Hulk. In Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass, Harleen Quinzell is sent to live with her grandma while her mom is away, but Harleen and her mom are unaware that her grandma has died. She ends up living with Mama, a gay man who performs as a drag queen in the karaoke cabaret he owns. Harleen quickly finds a home with Mama and the other drag queens he lives with. When an evil corporation tries to take away Mama’s home, Harleen must learn the best way to protect her new family. Harleen is an incredibly entertaining character to read about. She’s funny, energetic, smart, and kind. Fans of Harley Quinn will enjoy watching her slowly become the character they love.
As the story goes along Harleen starts dressing like a clown, causing mischief, and figures out she is powerful with a bat. The scene when a character calls her Harley Quinn for the first time is amazing, the art perfectly shows her eyes lighting up. The Joker does appear in this, and the graphic novel shows the strange relationship he and Harley have. I think readers will appreciate that the graphic novel shows Harley realize how manipulative the Joker is and she fights back. A teenage Poison Ivy plays an important role in the story. Ivy is an activist who loves spending time at the community garden. She is a loyal friend to Harley, and fans of the Ivy and Harley relationship will enjoy the brief hint that there might be more than friendship between them. The story shows Harley’s realization that the drag queens with whom she lives face prejudice. A cinder block is thrown through the window of Mama’s karaoke club. Harley also witnesses her friend Dali, who is gay, be told by a woman in a restaurant that his behavior is not appropriate for a “family establishment.” In both cases the characters do not allow outside voices to tell them how to behave; they stand up for themselves. The drag queens keep performing karaoke, and Dali tells the woman at the restaurant that being himself is perfectly acceptable. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass tells a beautiful story about friendship, finding family, standing up for what you care about, and not being afraid to be exactly who you want to be.
I wish these graphic novels had existed when I was a teenager. I would have loved reading about characters I admire dealing with similar issues to my own life. I would have appreciated seeing them struggle to talk to their parents, making mistakes at school, saying the wrong things to their friends, and being awkward around people they have crushes on. I feel that Danielle Paige summed up the importance of these graphic novels perfectly in her author’s note. Paige says, “whether you're 14 or 80, I hope when you read MERA and the other amazing titles in this line, you find your ‘superpowers.’ I want you to know what I didn’t always know: that you are capable of more than you think. You can be a hero, too.” I hope that people of all ages pick up these graphic novels and get the chance to learn from these amazing female heroes.
For more reviews from Kinsey, check out last week's piece "Meet Goldie Vance".