MARK RUSSELL & STEPHEN BYRNE Challenges Toxic Nostalgia With DC's WONDER TWINS Finale

Wonder Twins #12
Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC)
Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC)

“Wonder Twin powers, activate!” for one last adventure next week. And in this finale, the cult-favorite characters from your childhood tackle the very thing that makes them popular – nostalgia.

February 19's Wonder Twins #12 marks the conclusion of DC’s Wonder Comics’ limited series, and in this finale Mark Russell and Stephen Byrne take a deep dive into nostalgia, social isues, and the consequences of saving the world.

Newsarama spoke with Russel and Byrne on the themes they explored in the series, their history with the Super Friends Saturday morning cartoon and how it influenced the style of the book, and tease what fans can expect from the finale.

Newsarama: Mark and Stephen, what made you want to tackle the Wonder Twins to begin with?

Mark Russell: The Wonder Twins were my favorite characters on Super Friends because they were fuck-ups. They didn't have to be perfect. They were allowed to make mistakes. And because their superpowers were so underwhelming, you felt like they were in genuine danger. Plus, the fact that they were lower-tier heroes meant that I got to create a cast of sub-par villains to take them on. That appealed to me greatly.

Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC)

Stephen Byrne: The people involved! Brian Michael Bendis is arguably the main reason I started to read comics religiously. I had heard of Mark Russell and he had an incredible reputation but I hadn't read his work. As soon as I read some of his books, I was so excited about the idea of collaborating with him. Also, editor Andy Khouri who brought us all together had been so great to work with over the years, so I was excited about connecting with him again.

Nrama: Were you fans of Super Friends growing up?

Russell: I was. It was my favorite Saturday morning cartoon, back when they had Saturday morning cartoons. As an eight year-old, it was like my Breaking Bad or The Wire. After watching the frivolous consequence-free cartoons that came on early in the morning, the Super Friends felt like a serious high-stakes drama with a lot to say about the world. It wasn't something to just kill time as you ate cereal. You watched it with respect.

Byrne: I wasn't a follower of the cartoon but I was aware of it, and the Wonder Twins to me were just as iconic as Superman, Wonder Woman or Aquaman.

Nrama: Did DC (or Brian Michael Bendis) approach you. How did you hear about and land the project?

Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC)

Russell: I did a panel with Bendis at Emerald City Comic COn (Seattle's comic-con). After the panel, he approached to me and said he had a project that he thought I'd be right for. Then he sort of gave me this apologetic look and said, "Just hear me's the Wonder Twins" like he half-thought I was going to throw a drink in his face or something. He didn't know that I loved the Wonder Twins. I was immediately sold on the project.

Byrne: I was approached by editor Andy Khouri, who I had worked with in the past on Green Arrow. He gave me a very exciting pitch that I couldn't refuse.

Nrama: And you were off to the raises. As we prepare for the final issue, I have to ask... how did you come up with the concept for Colonel 86?

Russell: I think so much of what underlies the "Make America Great Again" movement is toxic nostalgia.

Specifically, the idea that "greatness" means massive military spending, forking all our resources to billionaires, and putting a cork in the gains that have been made in equality movements in the last few decades. Generally speaking, it's a movement fueled by older people who are nostalgic for an older time and tragically imagine that because they were at their best 35 years ago the country must have been so, too. Rather than adjust their understanding of the world to new realities, they're trying to adjust the world to their understanding of it. At one point it occurred to me that it was like we were being ruled by an old Commodore 64, and one that didn't even work that well, so the idea for Colonel 86 was born.

Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC)

It's a metaphor for toxic nostalgia and the tragic consequences of not updating your understanding of the world. 

Nrama: As characters of nostalgia themselves, why do you think it was important to tell this story in Wonder Twins?

Russell: A lot of what I wanted to do with the Wonder Twins is to warn teens and new adults of how badly my generation and the generations before us have mangled the world. I wanted to lay out the challenges they'll be facing in as stark and as blunt terms as I could.

Nrama: Stephen, I love the Saturday morning cartoon with a flare you bring to the title, how did you come up with this tone when breaking the series?

Byrne: I wanted to honor the memories that most people would have of the Wonder Twins from the old Super Friends cartoon series. My background is in studying animation so my art style naturally has a bit of an animated vibe, but I intentionally leaned into this style with the character designs, colors etc. while also updating it and making it feel contemporary, and at home in the modern comics landscape. I'm glad that comes across to the readers.

Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC)

Nrama: What’s been your favorite thing about drawing Wonder Twins?

Byrne: I think this comic is truly insane and random, so the sheer variety of things that I'm drawing is what makes it so exciting and interesting. I can go from drawing giant talking gorillas, to spaceships, to Z-list supervillains and the Justice League. That randomness and never knowing what is coming next is my favorite thing about this book.

Nrama: Who is your favorite character to script or draw?

Russell: One character I always look forward to writing is Repulso. He was dealt such a bad hand in life, but is still so upbeat and non-toxic that it gives me hope just writing things for him to say. When I'm feeling darker or more pessimistic, that's a good time to write scenes for the Scrambler.

Byrne: Probably Zan, because he's so silly and goofy. I can push his expressions and emotions to very exaggerated places.

Nrama: It’s been a blast to see the fun side of the Justice League with your title. Are there are any moments that stick out the most to you?

Russell: For me, one of the moments that sticks with me because it embodies so well what this series is about is the end of #1 when Zan has been thoroughly humiliated and doesn't want to go back to school, so Batman and Superman tell him about humiliating things that happened to them in high school to make him feel better. As Batman says, "High School is a buffet line of humiliations. Everyone gets a tray." I think I'm also going to really miss writing the scenes where Jayna is delivering the morning announcements and her deadpan wit.

Credit: Stephen Byrne (DC)

Byrne: I always like the parts where Superman gets to impart his worldly wisdom to the Wonder Twins. He is so purely Superman in those scenes.

Nrama: What can you tease about your last issue?

Russell: I'm really bad at teasing because too much and it's a spoiler, too little and it's a frustration. That said, here it goes...some characters from the past re-emerge, seeking revenge on the Wonder Twins, while the Wonder Twins' crisis in trying to act upon their conscience while working for the man comes to a head.

Byrne: Talking pug dog!

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