I’ve been really excited for You Brought Me the Ocean. When I first read the DC Universe Rebirth special back in 2016, I was immensely excited at the reintroduction of Jackson Hyde version of Aqualad into the comics. Not only was this a character I liked a lot in the Young Justice show, but he was also revealed to be gay. He appeared for a short time in Teen Titans, but then vanished when the book was relaunched. I was quite upset to see him go, as I felt the character had incredible potential.
Here we enter You Brought Me the Ocean, an original graphic novel in DC’s new young adult line written by Alex Sanchez with art by Julie Maroh. The book stars Jackson and directly deals with queer identity and romance. To say I was excited was an understatement, and I’m so happy to say the book exceeded my expectations.
The most immediately stunning aspect of this story is the incredible use of art. Julie Maroh is truly a spectacular fit for this book. Her scenes of emotional tenderness and longing are so beautifully constructed. The characters are incredibly expressive and distinct. The writing steps out of the way in places to let the art shine, and it makes this book an incredibly strong visual showcase.
There’s also much to be said about the use of color here. Jake’s story takes place in a small town in New Mexico, far away from the ocean. Jake’s world is filled with these varying shades of tan and brown that characterize the desert, but they’re contrasted beautifully against images of water. Water is used as this metaphor for Jake’s identity and expression, and the way those blues are contrasted against the beiges of the land around him makes for incredible visual storytelling.
This is clear from page 1 of the book — right out the gate, the first image we see is Jake floating over a magical undersea city, dreaming of a world where he finds belonging and identity. A similar image really struck me throughout the book: Jake has a fish tank in his room and the blue of that water cuts through everything else and is repeated as this dominant image. The way Jake interacts with this fish tank hits on this incredibly real sense of longing. It’s this sensibility that defines the book’s visual beats and it’s a spectacular success.
You Brought Me the Ocean is a romance book rather than a traditional superhero comic, and an engaging one at that. There’s a great, diverse cast of characters here. Our main three are really well characterized and each have a defined arc. Jake is this great dorky guy going through this incredibly engaging struggle with his identity. There’s a very specific sense of claustrophobia I associate with my own experiences as a gay man that this book hits on unlike any other. It’s such a well done and true queer narrative that’s a testament to the strengths of having an all queer creative team.
Jake’s love interest, Kenny, makes a great contrast. Where Jake is reserved and unsure, Kenny is out and proud. He’s incredibly vibrant in a way that Jake isn’t, at least not yet. Jake is someone who doesn’t have the confidence that Kenny has — they’re different people and it manifests in their relationship in really interesting ways. Jake’s friend Maria rounds out the main cast, and she plays into the dynamic in an interesting way. She has different life priorities than Jake, and those affect the way the two interact. Like Jake and Kenny, she has to find what’s best for her. These characters give the book a strong sense of heart and provide a lot of engaging conflict.
You Brought Me the Ocean is the kind of book I’ve been desperately wanting. It’s not just a book about queer characters — it’s a book that is queer in the truest sense. These experiences are so authentically rendered in a way that I rarely see in superhero comics. I’m really hoping we get to see more of this incarnation of Aqualad in both the main DCU and other projects like this. The success of this book is a testament to the possibility of DC’s new YA OGN line. I’m deeply excited to see what this line has to offer in the future, a sequel to this book especially.