From affordable housing built in the corpse of a dead kaiju to the difficulties of navigating the unemployment line as a retired supervillain, Minor Threats from Jordan Blum, Patton Oswalt, Scott Hepburn, and Ian Herring is bursting at the seams with big, relatable ideas.
The story here is a compelling one, taking the kind of “supes can’t be trusted” approach that has worked for series like Irredeemable and The Boys and largely focusing more on the human and down-to-earth elements. These characters are all capable of incredible things, yes, but many of them are ultimately after the same things most of us want: respect, love, and the ability to just get by without losing themselves. We don’t learn what the lead character’s powers even are until closer to the end of the book, because the most important thing here is getting to know her heart first. Even the superheroes, who are depicted as being entirely out of line and reactionary in the face of a new threat, are also characterized as “running scared.” Everyone is human and fallible, no matter how powerful they may be, which makes the heroes vs. villains dynamic feel even more nuanced.
There are some odd approaches to how the book lays out its narrative that slightly muddle some of the finer points of the story, however. The book jumps around in time on multiple occasions, sometimes without a clear mark between moments in history. The result is a book that definitely entertains and resonates with me on an emotional level, but occasionally feels unnecessarily jumbled in its delivery.
Even so, the characters all shine through as fully-developed people with their own foibles and insecurities. Even one-off villains and heroes who are seen for one panel have so much life to them, with little gimmicks like run-on speech for a speedster and a house full of deadly keepsakes telling us a good bit about their personalities in a brief window of time.
Playtime in particular presents a harsh look at life after supervillainy. In this case, she spent years as a rampaging baddie out of obligation towards her mother, who looks back on those days with fondness. The resulting years of larceny and destruction have made it impossible for Playtime to find gainful employment or have a meaningful relationship with her own family. In much the same way a child star may have trouble coping with the real world, Playtime has found herself stunted in how she interacts with authority figures and even other villains. These feelings of alienation and responsibility are where the heart of the story lies, and I found myself hoping for the best for Playtime and those closest to her.
Hepburn and Herring’s work is colorful and dynamic, bringing a punk rock energy to the action and balancing out the climactic super powered elements with the more grounded human moments with ease. The color palette not only makes the big superhero bits feel otherworldly in spots, but it neatly delineates the present action from flashbacks and occasional daydreams, particularly in the scenes that feel like traditional superhero comics. There’s a kind of grain to these flashback sequences that make them feel of a piece with more retro books. Here, the lighter colors, bigger action, and bolder declarative dialogue tie these scenes to a more innocent in time in more ways than one. It’s easy to see how a kid like Playtime could get swept away by the simple “us vs. them” of it all. It makes it all the more heartbreaking when we rejoin her in the present day, seemingly one more setback away from crying in her room and never coming out again. We can see it all over her face. We can also see that those exciting glory days are over when the aftermath of a superhero beatdown is seen early in the issue.
The central mystery of the book and the underdog nature of its lead make this feel like a classic superhero comic with a twist. Minor Threats cleverly plays with recognizable character archetypes and turns them on their head by reminding us that there are human beings under those masks.
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