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Minor Threats #1: A Loving Superhero Deconstruction

D-Listers have never been better.

The pieces of Minor Threats are all familiar: a beloved group of superhumans, a nocturnal caped crusader with his boy wonder sidekick, and most importantly, outlandishly dressed crooks whose plots are foiled so frequently that they’re reduced to punchlines. The two biggest superhero universes are filled to the brim with these kinds of characters. D-listers with unrequited rivalries. Would-be geniuses shackled to their dedication to silly gimmicks. Losers whose sole existence seems to be built around robbing banks, getting beat up by do-gooders, and thrown through a revolving door prison so that they can do it all over again. They’re constants in the status quo that is the never ending battle between good and evil. They’re the Killer Moths, the Kite-Men, the Paste-Pot Petes. Minor Threats’ main ingredient is something that we’ve seen a million times, but it treats its costumed criminal underdogs with so much sincerity and empathy that it feels brilliant and new.

Minor Threats #1 by Patton Oswalt, Jordan Blum, Scott Hepburn, and Ian Herring | Dark Horse Comics
Minor Threats #1 by Patton Oswalt, Jordan Blum, Scott Hepburn, and Ian Herring | Dark Horse Comics

That’s not to say this territory has never been approached before. 2021’s The Suicide Squad got audiences invested in obscure DC characters like Ratcatcher and Polkadot Man. Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum themselves have already explored the bottom of Marvel’s barrel in their M.O.D.O.K. series for Hulu, which featured the titular character forming a crew out of more obscure villains like Melter, Poundcakes, and Tenpin, all of whom he eventually grows closer to. But the thing is, there’s never been a piece of media that’s built its universe around the D-List supervillain the way Minor Threats does.

There’s so much effort that goes into every part of how this world works, from cityscapes built on the ruins of cosmic-scale battles to the delicate ecosystem that the superheroes and villains form. You get a sense that this community has found comfort in the repetitive nature of their lives, and the book begins with the end of all of that. There are rules that keep the game running, and we get to witness the chaos that occurs when someone breaks them. Suddenly, this familiar comic book world is hurtling towards change, and it’ll be interesting to see how this affects our protagonist, Frankie (AKA the Toyman-esque “Playtime”), who seems trapped in a generational struggle. Oswalt and Blum put the focus on a character who had a life of villainy thrust upon her, preventing her from having options or a future. It’s a bold exploration of how some comic book characters choose to be villains, while others find themselves in circumstances where their fates are chosen for them, and it isn’t possible to just walk away to a normal life.

Artist Scott Hepburn and colorist Ian Herring breathe so much life into Twilight City and its inhabitants. Like the premise of the story, it takes things you’re used to seeing in superhero comics and gives it a little bit of a twist. Jack Kirby-esque costumes are worn by characters that have a more modern expressiveness to them. Twilight City is Gotham if it were infected by some of the more colorful, fantastic elements of superhero comics, like some kind of Morrisonian playground. Flashbacks have highly saturized, simple colors and play out on yellowing pages, like they were torn from some decades-old issue fished out of a longbox. Every panel has a madcap pop art feel to it that simultaneously pulls from the past and the future of the medium itself.

Minor Threats #1 by Patton Oswalt, Jordan Blum, Scott Hepburn, and Ian Herring | Dark Horse Comics
Minor Threats #1 by Patton Oswalt, Jordan Blum, Scott Hepburn, and Ian Herring | Dark Horse Comics

This is definitely a title that lives up to the early buzz. In a desert of cynical, shallow Watchmen wannabes, Minor Threats is an oasis: a deconstruction of the superhero genre made from a place of love instead of being disgusted by or apologetic about its own existence. It melds the dark and melodramatic with the goofy and bizarre with beautiful precision, and I’m excited to see what’s next.

By Quinn Hesters

Quinn is a vat-grown living advertisement created by the LEGO Company to promote their products. When he's not being the flesh-and-blood equivalent of a billboard, he's he's raving about the X-Men on Twitter.

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