You Brought Me The Ocean
Written by Alex Sanchez
Art by Julie Maroh
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by DC
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
There are not enough LGBTQ+ comics in general, much less superhero comics, and so in that regard DC’s latest YA graphic novel You Brought Me The Ocean is a welcome addition to their roster. But as with some of their other recent YA offerings, this revisiting of Jackson Hyde’s Aqualad origins stumbles somewhat under the weight of its ties to the broader DC Universe. Featuring a script by Alex Sanchez, art by Blue Is the Warmest Color creator Julie Maroh, and letters by Deron Bennett, You Brought Me The Ocean introduces Jake Hyde as a high schooler struggling with the transition to adulthood against the backdrop of the dry New Mexico desert.
From the jump, writer Alex Sanchez packs a great deal of plot into a handful of pages. In short order we’re introduced to Jake’s overprotective mother (who’s definitely hiding something), his best friend Maria (who thinks they’re dating), his college goals (which Jake is mostly hiding from Maria), and the overarching mystery of his origins — along with a quick cameo from Superman, just to remind you this is a DC book. The plot gets busier as the book goes on, and while there is certainly a sense of delicate plate-spinning for anyone going through the high school to college transition, in the case of You Brought Me The Ocean it feels a bit more like a frenetically-paced script than a narrative choice.
Sanchez’s writing bounces from moment to moment without offering any time to breathe, and every scene feels as if it has the same weight within the context of the story. As a result everyone in the book, from Jake himself to Maria and Kenny (Jake’s eventual crush) to the homophobic gaggle of school bullies, feels equally flat. A bully making a death threat in class is given the same time to breathe as the reveal that Maria thinks she and Jake have been dating, and the eventual reveal about Jake’s parentage — characters are given so little space to respond to anything before the next beat happens that everything winds up feeling like “well, there’s that, I guess.”
Julie Maroh’s art does a great deal of heavy lifting in giving emotional import to these scenes with her expressive designs — but even Maroh stumbles at times, with the shapes of faces and facial features so inconsistent from panel to panel that the characters sometimes look like completely different people. This happens in particular with Maria, Jake, and Jake’s mother, to a degree (particularly with noses and mouths) that sometimes gets a bit distracting. The color work is stunning though, in moody earth tones with spots of blue that lend a great deal of grounding atmosphere to the rapid-fire clip of the plot. Letterer Deron Bennet does exemplary work here as usual — he’s at times given very little space to incorporate quite a bit of dialogue, and manages to keep the spotlight on Maroh’s art. The sepia-toned coloring and the choice to narrate without text box backgrounds makes some of Jake’s internal monologuing tricky to read at times though, as it blends into the background.
That’s not to say You Brought Me The Ocean doesn’t hit on some important thematic elements. The conflict between Jake and Kenny about where Jake is at in terms of his own sense of identity is deeply relatable, and there’s also something very refreshing about the various types of parental relationships Sanchez introduces in the script. Thanks to the number of things Sanchez is attempting to resolve by the final pages, though, we don’t get enough time to linger on any of these — everything moves at lightning speed, making the character shifts that take place over the course of the book feel perfunctory. The parental scenes, while sweet, stand in for what could have been expanded conversations between the younger characters; there’s an argument, a parent clarifies the situation, and the next time the two teens involved meet, everything’s basically okay now.
Jake’s DC connection feels similarly out of place. The climax of the book is Jake finding out — as everything else in his life seems to be falling to pieces around him — that his unusual birthmarks and affinity with water are because he is, in fact, the son of Black Manta. This has been a part of his origin story since his 2010 debut, but Sanchez (perhaps at DC’s request) throws in the jarring added twist that Jake’s powers are a result of genetic engineering in the womb that his mother did not agree to, which feels like an absolutely wild plot choice that gets no reaction and falls completely by the wayside by the end of the book.
You Brought Me The Ocean aims to be a superhero origin story and a queer coming-of-age tale all at once, and trying to balance the narrative needs of both of those winds up with Jake’s journey as a teen coming to terms with his sexuality feeling underserved and the start of his journey to understand his genetically engineered (?!!) powers feeling perfunctory. There’s a weightiness to the idea of something being a DC origin story graphic novel that has come through in very few of DC’s YA offerings so far, and having to hit those notes limits the space the You Brought Me The Ocean team has to flesh out the rest of the narrative in a fulfilling way.