The teen heroes the DCU needs right now.
DC’s new Wonder Comics imprint has done a lot of good in a short span of time. DC has suffered from a dearth of great teen-driven books in recent years, with none of the numerous incarnations of Teen Titans living up to the classic runs. But just in the past two months, Young Justice has revived a venerated brand and Naomi has introduced a brand new teen heroine. Now Wonder Twins comes along to reboot two campy old favorites from the days of the Super Friends cartoon. The result is every bit as silly and enjoyable as you’d expect from this pairing of material and creative team.
Is there a creative team more qualified than writer Mark Russell and artist Stephen Byrne to reboot a property like this? Through books like The Flintstones and Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Russell has established himself as a master of re-energizing old favorites through a mix of loving tribute and self-aware satire. This series doesn’t serve as quite the dramatic overhaul Exit Stage Left was for Snagglepuss. Many familiar trappings from Super Friends are still in play, right down to the silly purple costumes. But at the same time, this series is more high school drama than it is superhero epic. It’s more concerned with how two teenage aliens from the most straitlaced planet in the universe adjust to life as high school students and Justice League interns.
It’s a combination that works very well in this first issue. Russell’s script finds that necessary balance between poking fun at characters who can’t be taken too seriously and treating them like real, complicated teens. This is a comic that speaks very directly to the nonstop cycle of awkwardness and frustration that is being a teenager. The clash in personalities between Zan and his twin sister Jayne is especially entertaining. Where Jayna is aloof and downright perplexed by her new home, Zan is utterly convinced of his ability to blend in and win over his classmates. His spectacular failure in that regard makes for this issue’s most memorable sequence.
I do wish issue #1 devoted a bit more attention to Jayna’s relationships with her fellow classmates. The opening scene makes reference to her extreme shyness around others, but we never really see that element explored elsewhere. Jayna barely shares a scene with anyone other than her brother here. Ideally this is something that can be addressed in future chapters.
It’s also easy to picture some readers being put off by the relatively silly approach to depicting the adult members of the Justice League. In particular, Russell writes Superman as a perpetually exasperated team leader, while his Batman is way more prone to chatting and imparting wisdom upon his teammates than normal. In another context this off-kilter characterization might be a problem. But given the series’ overall lighthearted tone and murky continuity status, it’s easier to view these elements simply as silly embellishments.
Byrne is just as critical in terms of establishing that lighthearted tone and that balance of wacky and earnest. Byrne’s cartoonish art style (and in particular, his colors) can make him an odd fit on more serious-minded superhero projects. That was always a problem with his recurring role on Green Arrow. But this material is much more in Byrne’s natural wheelhouse. He’s able to capture all the whimsy and old-school charm of the Super Friends era, while still making Zan and Jayna feel like real, organic characters with emotions and desires.