Review: Wonder Twins Vol. 1: Activate! trade paperback (DC Comics)

 ·  1 comment

Wonder Twins Vol 1 Activate

If a writer like Mark Russell meanders, that’s not particularly a fault, as the meandering is partially why we’ve bought our ticket. Some of Russell’s most biting commentary in Wonder Twins Vol. 1: Activate! does not involve the Wonder Twins at all, which is a problem; at the same time, Russell is such a master of jabbing with his pen so precisely that the sheer brilliance of it is enough to forgive all other things. In terms of the Wonder Comics imprint, the first volume of Wonder Twins does not arrive with quite the same gusto as Sam Humphries' Dial H for HERO did, but in terms of viable concept and potential for impact on the DC Universe, Jayna and Zan steal every scene they’re in and I hope they continue to do so.

[Review contains spoilers]

What surprised me most about the first volume of Wonder Twins is that it is not, as the cover of this trade and the general early aesthetic of the series suggests, a parody of high school tropes and foibles (a Mark Russell-ing of high school, so to speak). There is some early talk of Clark Kent’s and Bruce Wayne’s respective high school days, Zan has occasion to earn an unfortunate nickname, and some of the action does take place within a high school, but Activate! is not the Clueless or Mean Girls send-up I might have expected, nor even a pseudo CW Stargirl — jocks, nerds, bullying, etc., is not Russell’s focus here.

Instead, as far as Jayna and Zan are concerned, Russell finds his humor and poignance in their “strangers in a strange land” approach both to superheroing and society at large. After an early win against Mr. Mxytzptlk, Jayna is let down by a prison system that takes advantage of its prisoners at best, ignores and abuses them at worst. Turning to Superman, Jayna wonders at how anyone can keep from getting discouraged in the face of all the world’s problems. The answer, more than once, comes in brother Zan, naive as compared to Jayna’s cynicism, but whose simplistic attitude more than once turns out to be right — that change is made simply by kindness, that long-term gains surpass short-term pleasures.

But, for better or worse, Russell gets stronger and sharper quite aside from the Wonder Twins. The third issue introduces Jayna’s friend and classmate Polly Math and her father, Filo Math, a scientist whom we find is indebted to Lex Luthor and forced to join the villains of Lex’s second-tier League of Annoyance. Whether it’s the great and biting one-page joke by Russell and artist Stephen Byrne in which Polly almost finds the cure for testicular cancer until she’s distracted by two catcalling construction workers or the scene where Filo is deemed qualified for a job on his resume but then not-so-subtly dismissed when the recruiters see he’s African American, the discriminations of gender and especially race come increasingly to the forefront in the rapidly sinking fortunes of the Math family.

This culminates in a six-page sequence in which Filo has refused to participate in an evil scheme to rearrange the world’s haves and have-nots, but is then shot (with a Phantom Zone projector) by the League of Annoyance’s “Cell Phone Sylvia,” who’s paranoid about Black teenagers in her neighborhood. In events that seem all too familiar, Sylvia is rushed through the 24-hour news cycle and out the other side, her reputation rehabilitated. It’s unfortunately all too timely, and the humor Russell uses underscores the outlandishness of sad situations well.

Again, this is Russell in his element, and what’s being said here deserves to be said (even in a bigger series than Wonder Comics' Wonder Twins). But what it lacks is Jayna and Zan themselves. The Maths are the friend-tagonists of the series, the Smallville-esque Luthors to Jayna’s Clark Kent, but the amount of space they get in what was originally a six-issue stint and even as a 12-issue miniseries seems lopsided. Russell has great points, but one wishes he could have made them with the Wonder Twins themselves, instead of the Twins being less likely to stick with the reader after the fact than the Math family.

As an related aside, I have enjoyed seeing the Wonder Twins cameoing in a number of places since this miniseries launched — Brian Michael Bendis' Superman and Action Comics, Batgirl, and I’d swear a bunch of others — basically every crowd scene or quick cut to chaos at the Hall of Justice. That’s fun; indeed when DC needs to show “trouble in the DC Universe,” the Wonder Twins looking concerned in front of a computer monitor is an easy shorthand way to do it. This has made them actually feel like real Justice League interns, a level of “realism” that I’d like to see last (it’s been a while since Oberon or Snapper Carr played this same role). I equally like Sam Humphries' depiction of Dial H’s Miguel and Summer as Daily Planet interns, but we’ve seen them outside their own title far less (almost never), vs. my perceived ubiquity of the Wonder Twins.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Wonder Twins Vol. 1: Activate!



In all, Mark Russell does fine with Wonder Twins Vol. 1: Activate!, not in the least the effortless manner in which he makes the Wonder Twins concept “cool” and as if they’ve fit into the DCU all along. I’m eager to read the second volume and wouldn’t turn down another “season,” though Young Justice’s pending cancellation feels like it makes all future plans uncertain. (I am hopeful, if rumors are true of a Jinny Hex one-shot, that means a second wave of Wonder Comics is in the offing.) I’ve not read Russell’s Flintstones, though I know I should, and also his Snagglepuss Chronicles; Wonder Twins makes me all the more interested to do so.

[Includes original and variant covers, Stephen Byrne’s character studies and cover sketches, afterword by Brian Michael Bendis]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. If there’s a problem with Russell it’s that his perspective was kind of exposed this year as less radical than it can sometimes seem. In comics, maybe, it might look unique. But when I was visiting Twitter literally everyone is exactly like this. It doesn’t come off nearly as clever or insightful. But at the same time Russell has been making concerted efforts to learn storytelling and not just commentary recently, so that’s been good to see develop. He was given Wonder Twins at all because it’s such a low profile superhero title. It’s like Morrison doing whatever he wanted with Buddy Baker, which clearly he took full advantage of. I’ve read later issues of Animal Man that didn’t include him at all. Just imagine Mark Russell in the prime Vertigo era. I say this because I’ve also seen his Swamp Thing work...!


To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.

Newer Post Home Older Post