“Wait. Are you asking me out?”
The teenage years can be a hard time. An onslaught of changes and growth striking you as you’re rapidly trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be and trying to forge your path. Now add being superheroes on top of that and it gets a whole lot more complicated. Top that off with a dash of alien-hood and you have the lives of Zan and Jayna, the Wonder Twins, interns of The Justice League.
In every installment thus far, the team of Mark Russell, Stephen Byrne and Dave Sharpe have addressed and touched on one key idea or two, getting the perspective of youth on the world they’re in and how they wish to navigate it. And this issue tackles relationships, especially in the heightened context of that age. There’s a lot of pressure that tends to accompany these things and looking at those around them, it can be hard on a lot of kids. Digging right into that, in classic Mark Russell fashion, the book sees both the leads get dates respectively for the day and sees them dealing with dating. It’s the classic “bad date” story, as one might expect. Jayna, who’s the smart but shy one in contrast to Zan’s more cocky attitude, is fairly nervous and pressured, like a lot of people are. Zan on the other hand, is ridiculously excited and pleased with himself about the whole enterprise.
Jayna’s date proves to be a supervillain in training, an intern of sorts for The Legion, much like the Wonder Twins are for The League. Blessed with a deliciously on the nose name like Red Flag, the supervillain wannabe lives up to his supposed title. Consistently talking about himself and the women he’s been with and how much better he is than everyone else, he’s an absolute nightmare. White, misogynistic, obsessed with sex, part of a violent movement and bent on cruelty, he’s certainly a Red Flag. Throw in some awful comments about people on welfare and you have the perfect package of terrible that must be avoided at all costs. Jayna somehow makes it through the date, unsure of things, pressured and full of low self-esteem.
Zan, meanwhile, does shockingly better. He has a much more healthier view and approach to things and while his date ends with the girl getting back together with her ex, Zan is a ball of joy and smiles, glad that he’s made a friend. When Red Flag calls him a “loser” and drops terms like “friendzone,” Zan informs him that he’s just 17 and he has a lot of time and there’s a lot of people, so he doesn’t need to rush. And the great thing? He made a friend, which is way better and most important in his book. It’s a striking display of maturity from the character that subverts expectation and proves heartwarming. Zan is a great kid with a good heart, for all his buffoonery. Zan’s words here really aid his sister. They help Jayna see sense and she, in the end, ditches Red Flag by literally running at top speed in Cheetah form. It’s a hilarious sequence and much like the rest of the book, the comedy is nailed perfectly by Byrne, Russell and Sharpe.
Wonder Twins, in a lot of ways, feels like a blanket of comfort and a hug of hope. It’s the thing that looks at struggles of young people now and tapping into the universal experiences that make up teenage life, it wants to provide perspective. It’s going to be okay — that’s what the book wants to let you know. But at the same time it won’t be okay just be believing it will be, you look at the hand you’re dealt and do the best you can, with as much wisdom as you can muster. And more than anything, it’s okay for things to not go right. It’s okay to mess up or make choices you regret or have those moments you wish you can take back. And it’s okay because you can learn from things and go about better, nicer, kinder and smarter. Thus even the title, “A Date Which Will Live In Infamy.” It’s okay to have such things happen; what’s important is that you learn and grow and move forward with a healthy attitude, never letting things stop you or hold you back.
Alongside all of that, the team also packs in a good deal of commentary, going beyond the dating and relationship subject, speaking in regards to the internet and what the youth of now might have to contend with and consider, which the adults are unable to, mired in their petty conflicts of the now. The character of Polly Math really touches on this, as she contemplates and almost comes upon a wild discovery that will save all men from a terrible illness, she’s disturbed by two men making creepy comments. It’s sad, but rings with terrifying truth as to how so much damage has been done and how those who could help are prevented from being able to.
Accompanying that, there are also the usual bits of deconstruction, touching upon the entertainment we consume and the stories we tell ourselves, which includes superhero narratives. Zan sees the film Guncop and informs everyone, in a particularly memorable line, that while he was afraid because the bad guys were very good at murder, the good guys turned out to be even better at murder! It’s a joke, but it’s also depressing. The humor which Byrne so skillfully lands with his expressiveness, balancing the real and heavy with the silly and stupid, which Sharpe letters to great effect (The balloon of an ex being mentioned being ice cold, with ice dripping is a brilliant comedic touch, for instance) and which Russell scripts works because it comes with weight. It’s funny because there’s truth in there and the book uses humor to get across and make these points about culture and society, which youth has to contend with, in much the same way Prez, Flintstones and Snagglepuss did.
Wonder Twins #4 is another home run in a book that is proving to be depressingly true and yet strangely comforting and hopeful all at the same time. Russell, Byrne and Sharpe believe in people and their potential, but also have a lot to say on the systems, interactions and patterns they’re stuck in. From the narratives they buy, to the pressures that youth is sold and the narrow-minded awfulness that prevents us from moving forward, it’s all in there. Zan and Jayna don’t have all the answers, but they’re figuring it out, much the same way a lot of youth is.