Previously known as the wacky alien kids from the Super Friends TV show, the Wonder Twins are being introduced into DC's primary comic book universe on a much more realistic level, as high-schoolers who deal with common teen issues.
Introduced in the late 1970s as cartoon characters on Hanna-Barbera’s The All-New Super Friends Hour, Zan and Jayna are aliens who have the power to transform into water (Zan) and any real or mythical animal (Jayna). But their powers would only work after they touched each other and said, “Wonder Twin powers, activate!”
Although they’ve appeared in comic books before, this new Wonder Twins limited series introduces them as interns at the Hall of Justice who are also dealing with the trials of attending high school on Earth.
Mark Russell, best known by DC readers for satiric titles like Flintstones and Prez, is hoping his approach to the two characters is relatable, as they deal with things like dating and trying to be popular.
There will also be the sort of satirical humor for which Russell is known, as the writer said he believes the Wonder Twins serve as an “allegory for the post-millennial generation” and the very serious problems that “we’re expecting them to deal with.”
In fact, he described the personalities of the Wonder Twins as “one really well-adjusted person split in half, in two tragic parts.”
But the title will also feature Gleek, the twins’ pet monkey, who shows up in the second issue and is featured by #3. And although Russell indicated he’s only planned so far for a six-issue run on the title, he’s hoping it will find enough success to continue past his first story arc.
Newsarama talked to the writer to find out more about Wonder Twins, what artist Stephen Byrne brings to the title, and what readers can expect with the title launches later this month.
Newsarama: Mark, there are a lot of fans of these characters from the Super Friends show, including me.
Mark Russell: Yeah, me too. That was one of the reasons I took this. That was one of my first experiences with superheroes and loving any characters was the Wonder Twins.
It’s rare that I get to deal with a character that I’ve actually loved since I was a child.
Nrama: How are you approaching these characters, knowing that there are pre-conceived notions about them from their days with the Super Friends. How are you coming at this?
Russell: I’m coming at it sort of as a, as I like to describe, an after-school special that they never would have made in a million years but should have.
I want them to deal with very real issues that Earth teens have to deal with, like in the first issue, we deal with humiliation. And also dating and the feeling that nobody takes you seriously.
I wanted to deal with these very common teen issues, but I want to do it in a way that also speaks to the broader world.
I think in a lot of ways, this is what we’ve done to the post-millennial generation. We’ve created this world that is on fire and is broken, and we’ve basically handed it to them, expecting them to fix it.
So the metaphor of the Wonder Twins being these aliens who come to Earth and are immediately put to work in the Hall of Justice and are expected to sort of help solve the Earth’s problems, even though they’ve only been on the planet a few months.
I mean, it works really well as an allegory for the post-millennial generation and what we’re expecting them to deal with, the very serious problems of climate change and wealth inequality and the things that are the problems that are destroying human civilization.
Nrama: This sounds kind of heavy for a Wonder Twins book. You’re known for your humor — any humor to lighten this up a little?
Russell: Oh yeah. I find it almost impossible to write about the horrifying things of the world without being funny about it.
George Saunders once said that humor is the truth quicker than you expected it. And I’ve found that to be true. If you’re writing about something, and you’re telling the truth in as blunt and sort of as effective a way as possible, it sort of automatically becomes funny.
Yeah, I really want this to be, above and beyond everything, a really relatable superhero comic, but I also want it to be a lot of fun and funny too.
Nrama: What are Zan and Jayna like in the comic book?
Russell: Jayna is very witty and very smart but also tragically shy. Zan is kind of the opposite. He’s not very book smart, and he’s prone to put his foot in his mouth and embarrass himself. But he’s still really confident.
So in a lot of ways, together, they would make one good, well-balanced person.
But because they’re the Wonder Twins, they are split in half. They’re like one really well-adjusted person split in half, in two tragic parts.
Nrama: In the first issue, Superman is pretty involved in why and how they came to Earth, and as you mentioned, they’re interns at the Hall of Justice. How much do Zan and Jayna interact with the other Justice League characters?
Russell: The other superheroes seem to kind of feel like Zan and Jayna are underfoot. They don’t really want them getting in the way of their important work.
Superman sees them more as, like, kids. He’s like their foster dad, because he’s the one that brought them to Earth from their home planet of Exxor.
So his dynamic with the Wonder Twins is a lot different. It’s a lot more fatherly. It’s a lot more compassionate than maybe the other superheroes who don’t understand what they’re doing there and just don’t want them interfering with their work as they save the world.
But, as it turns out, the Wonder Twins have an important role of their own to play in the Hall of Justice and saving the world from the existential threats posed by the supervillains.
Nrama: Are there plans for them to interact with other teenaged heroes, or some of the kids in the other Wonder Comics titles?
Russell: They do interact with Beast Boy. I don’t have other plans in the first six issue arc, mostly because it was written before the other stories had come out, but perhaps if there’s a second arc of six issues, there will be more interaction between them and the characters of the other Wonder Comics.
Nrama: What kind of villains are they going to come up against?
Russell: They deal with the sort of minor league villains, because Superman doesn’t want to start them off dealing with really dangerous Legion of Doom-type supervillains.
So he starts them off against the sort of, really, more of the D-league.
They’re called the League of Annoyance.
So they deal with a half-insect, half-man guy named Praying Mantis, and an evil Mary Poppins-type who’s really wired and always energetic named Amphetamine. So they deal with some really quirky, off-brand super villains.
What I really wanted was the kind of villains you’d find at an off-brand department store in the toy section that they don’t own the licensing; they can’t use Lex Luthor or they can’t use the Joker, so they come up with some weird villain that makes no sense whatsoever.
When you see these villains, you can understand why they’re in the League of Annoyance instead of the Legion of Doom.
I want them to really have to cut their teeth going after some humorously minor villains.
Nrama: What about Stephen Byrne’s work on the comic book? What do his visuals bring to the title?
Russell: He does a fantastic job of making the artwork accessible, and it works both in a sort of cartoony level but also with some deep emotional resonance, which I think is why he’s such an excellent fit for this comic. A lot of it does deal with deeper, more emotional and more existential issues. But it does so in a sort of slapstick, cartoony way.
He brings a lot of gravity to his facial expressions and to his characters, but at the same time, it’s all very light and accessible.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell readers about what they can expect from Wonder Twins?
Russell: Yeah, I’d just like to ask people to take a chance on it. It will take them to places they never thought a Wonder Twins comic will go. But I hope that they like what they read.