Minor Threats continues to revolve its focus to a different member of the gang with each issue, and this time it’s Scalpel whose past is due for a checkup.
Scalpel fills an archetype in superhero comics that you’re definitely familiar with but probably can’t think of many examples. She’s a sort of villainous inversion of Marvel’s Night Nurse (a moniker shared by multiple characters), who treats superhuman injuries and is discreet about her patients’ identities.
Scalpel is the first to admit that she’s not an altruistic person, and flashbacks reveal that she’s truly only in supervillain medicine for the money, as a flashback shows that she once agreed to save Mr. Optix, the man who murdered her father. However, as much as Scalpel claims that she effortlessly separates her personal and private life, we see that’s not entirely true. Scalpel has tears in her eyes when her father’s killer leaves a stack of cash on her counter and walks out of her office: she could’ve avenged her father with a single cut in the right spot but chose not to just so that she could have a loyal customer. This little bit of inner conflict is enough to make you wonder how much of her icy persona is genuine and how much of it is a facade. Like with all of the other members of the group, the more we learn about Scalpel, the more questions we have about her.
In the present, Minor Threats gives a more literal look at how Scalpel sees things as she treats Playtime’s gunshot wound. There’s a stunning page depicting Playtime’s inner anatomy, where artist Scott Hepburn incorporates Scalpel’s notes on Playtime’s status into the shape of her veins and intestines. Scalpel also discovers that Snake Stalker is hiding a secret from the rest of the group. I was already eager to learn more about the big guy after the last issue delivered some cryptic hints, but now I’m even more curious about what his deal is.
The gang’s hunt for Stickman puts them in the crosshairs of the Searcher, a Superman-esque member of the Continuum briefly featured in the first issue. In order to escape the Searcher, the crew cuts through Broken Time Boulevard, a street where time and space were wrecked after a battle between a superhero and a Kang the Conqueror-type villain. I’d been really hoping to see this bit since it first appeared on the map of Dusk City last issue, and it did not disappoint. Hepburn and colorist Ian Herring go absolutely batshit crazy across a psychedelic two-page splash, where the Searcher takes many different forms as she pursues our heroes; a colossal zombie, a tiny army riding dinosaurs, a statue of some kind of deity atop a mountain, a massive robot, and even a character trapped in the pages of a comic book. Our heroes aren’t immune to this reality-bending mind-fuckery either, and we watch them melt and become babies, among other peculiar transformations. It’s a bizarre visual feast.
Naturally, everything went to shit when the group finally got to Stickman because he knew they were coming and set a trap. Stickman announces there is a traitor in the group, and this twist is genuinely satisfying because it could be any of them. Scalpel’s dialogue over this scene makes her seem particularly suspicious, but at the same time, there is no way that the character that seems the most likely to be the traitor is the traitor. Unless that is exactly the kind of conclusion that Jordan Blum and Patton Oswalt thought readers would come to, in which case the most unexpected betrayal would come from the character who appears the most suspect.
Of course, Minor Threats’ revelation regarding Snake Stalker makes him about as suspicious as Scalpel, possibly even more so. But then again, Jordan and Patton might be playing an even deeper mind game here, where they think that we think that they think that the most obvious betrayal would be the one that no one sees coming, so it actually would make sense to make the traitor someone who doesn’t seem like they would be the traitor. Is there a character that seems less suspect than Pigeon Pete, who just seems like a kindly old man who likes pigeons? It’s very possible that he is the Judas who has stabbed the group in their collective back.
But then again, it’s possible the answer lies outside of the logical binary of most and least suspicious. Hell, it’s possible that Stickman is lying about there being a traitor in the first place. But would it be shocking if the nefarious villain was doing something as nefarious as telling a lie to make our heroes overthink things and doubt themselves? Is that too straightforward in itself? WHAT ARE THE ANSWERS? WHAT ARE THE QUESTIONS? WHAT’S GOING ON?
Anyways: Minor Threats continues to be a delightfully creative homage to the underdogs of superhero comics. I love how increasingly intricate these characters and this world become with each issue. It’s so meticulously crafted, down to little details like graffiti on the Bite Burger bathroom stall referencing Shit Eater, the human/fly henchman from the Lower Lair Bar in the first issue who-
Wait a minute…Shit Eater…
That’s it. It’s so obvious now. He’s the key to all of this.
He’s the D-lister among D-listers. He’s the one with the most to gain and the least to lose.
Shit Eater is the secret traitor.
Check and mate, Jordan and Patton.