Playtime and her merry band of misfits are off to find and kill Stickman before the Insomniac this issue, which hands the focus over to self-proclaimed “criminal mastermind” Brain Tease. With the first issue giving the narration and flashbacks to Playtime, and Minor Threats #2 giving them to Braintease, you don’t need superhuman intellect to notice a pattern: it looks like each issue is going to put a spotlight on a different member of the crew. This format allows Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum to set up little hints about the backstories of other Minor Threats members before they presumably get their own issue dedicated to their point of view. I’m particularly curious what Snake Stalker’s deal is, as this issue features a brief bit where the hulking man in a snake costume takes out a photograph of himself with another costumed figure and muses, “Don’t need no luck when you got something worth killing for.”
All of the crew members get moments to shine, but as mentioned before, this issue specifically takes us into the oversized mind of Brain Tease. Like other “super geniuses” such as the Riddler or the Wizard, Brain Tease’s ego is the only thing that eclipses his wit. But what sets Brain Tease apart is that we get to see him wrestle with his overinflated sense of importance. His flashbacks reveal that his father abused him for being not achieving enough, the Insomniac stopped considering his elaborate death traps to be worth his time and sent his sidekick (Kid Dusk) to deal with them, and Stickman screwed him out of a villainous team-up that he’d orchestrated.
It’s all summed up in a painful, humiliating truth that Stickman shares with Brain Tease: “…What makes you special is your delusional resilience. In fact, some might say it’s your superpower.” Each glimpse into Brain Tease’s past just makes his desperate need to be taken seriously more and more gut-wrenching, as it’s not entirely his fault. It’s something fueled by a need to prove everyone who’s hurt him wrong. The way Minor Threats takes certain character tropes like “villain who is hyperintelligent but fails because of their ego” and turns them into genuine, personal tragedies is something I’ve always wanted out of superhero fiction but never really gotten. It’s the kind of thing that can only come from this place of sympathy for the underdog, no matter how much of a pain in the ass they might seem.
Brain Tease, eager to show that he has what it takes to find Stickman, deducts that Stickman killed Kid Dusk because he was tired of the other villains dismissing him as a loser D-lister. Brain Tease concludes that Stickman is now headed to “The Trophy Room”, a club for the most elite and infamous villains so that he can rub his victory in their faces. There’s a lot of projecting going on here. At the club, Brain Tease tries to convince the rock bouncer to let him in, as many of the “big time” villains like Automa-Tom, the Queens of Hearts, and Dr. Jackyl have all suffered their fair share of humiliating defeats. What’s interesting is that he has a point: no matter how many people they kill or buildings they blow up, A-list villains like the Penguin or Scarecrow eventually get knocked on their asses just as much as jokes like Killer Moth or Kite Man. Their ambitions might be a little bigger, but ultimately both classes of criminals are more similar than people treat them. Unfortunately, the bouncer just punches Brain Tease to the curb. The group gets into the Trophy Room via an alternate plan: entering Snake Stalker into the club’s D-lister gladiatorial death fights.
Penciler Scott Hepburn and colorist Ian Herring seemed to have immense fun putting together the Trophy Room. It’s certainly a delightful spectacle that sucks you in. The club is like the Legion of Doom mixed with Star Wars’ Mos Eisley Cantina, with a bit of Jack Kirby sprinkled in for an extra kick. The Trophy Room is completely stuffed with outrageous characters who you could easily believe have histories stretching back to the Sixties and Seventies: wall-to-wall outrageous freaks with a hundred unknown origins. I think that one of my favorites might be the bored-looking man in office attire, who would seem completely unremarkable if not for the four tiny, muscular arms coming out of his back. However, it is hard to beat the Gentleman Game Warden, a time-and-space-hopping big game hunter decked out in pouches and steampunk weaponry. And then…there’s Killpig. The whole creative team behind Minor Threats is pouring every ounce of their imaginations into this book, resulting in something familiar and alien all at once. Almost every page offers something new to obsess over, from tiny details to big character moments.
Minor Threats is changing the game, subverting decades of comic book tropes by leaning into them and letting them reach their natural conclusions. It’s got all the things that you never knew you wanted. Seriously, buy this book.