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‘Minor Threats Volume 1: A Quick End To A Long Beginning’ TPB (review)

Written by Patton Oswalt & Jordan Blum
Art by Scott Hepburn

Published by Dark Horse Comics

 

I remember a bunch of body-swap fiction: Vice Versa, Switch, Quantum Leap, Freaky Friday, 13 Going on 30, 17 Again, The Hot Chick, Little, even Being John Malkovich and Big.

Leave it to the showrunners behind the M.O.D.O.K. cartoon series (RIP!) to devise something both delightful and dark.

We’ve had nearly 50 years of superhero comics that question the hero-villain dance stops of supervillain commits a caper, superhero solves the scheme, BAM-POW-ZIP and to jail.

As well as comics where superheroes butt up against things they can’t fix with a well-placed punch, cosmic weapon or gadget: social inequities such as racism or child abuse.

Minor Threats attempts to tackle both lanes while infusing it with Coen Brothers style blend of small-time criminals and gruesome misdeeds.

And, like its forebear Watchmen, the creators here posit their low-level criminal protagonists against a brutal serial killer as a way to place the Silver Age comics against the grim-and-gritty modern work that has turned the average mainstream superhero book into ones for teens and older rather than young children.

In walks Frankie, formerly the kid sidekick Playtime to the supervillain Toy Queen, who happens to be her mother. Frankie’s working at a bar for down-and-out costumed criminals when the word gets out that child sidekick Kid Dusk was killed by grinning psycho Stickman, setting the dark-caped vigilante Insomniac on the rampage.

Oswalt, Blum and Hepburn draw obvious parallels to Batman and Joker, using A Death in the Family as one of those turning points, when Joker killed Robin. (Stickman’s weapon of choice is a simple hammer, calling back to Joker’s use of a crowbar on Jason Todd.)

In the case of Minor Threats, Kid Dusk’s murder sets up a scenario similar to the classic noir film M, in which members of the underworld seek to find the killer because the manhunt by the authorities is bad for their business. Frankie and her collection of D-list villains seek to kill Stickman so that Insomniac’s superhero buddies stop turning Twilight City upside-down.

Of course, Frankie plays our villain with a heart of gold, a parolee who just wants to get custody of her daughter and leave the villain life behind – a life she was forced into by her mother. She sees Stickman as a final score: there is a rather large bounty on his head. How exactly would just getting a lot of money allow for Frankie to get her daughter back in her custody, I don’t know, just go with it.

Hepburn’s art reminds me of John McCrea, which is great, because the story has a lot of Hitman DNA. (If you’ve never read it, that is Garth Ennis’ better comic book about low-level super-criminals hanging out at a bar and fighting for respect.)

Hepburn goes emotional with great use of perspective and framing to tell the story. Large, immersive single-page illustrations that open with inset panels to shift time and space. Or the use of famous comic book poses and imagery to flip the script, such as our introduction to the behemoth Snake Stalker carrying a dying villain in his arms.

In four short issues, Minor Threats builds a world coasting off vast superhero knowledge such that we get the posh villain nightclub; a ghetto in the glittering Twilight City so neglected by the superheroes that they never cleaned up the remains of a kaiju they fought there; a time paradox zone from a Kang-like villain fight; a villain costume designer who looks like Karl Lagerfeld; or the sentient boar monster known as Prince Killpig. Brilliant, hilarious stuff despite the gore and carnage.

And there’s plenty of it in this book. I mean, this comes after Invincible and The Boys, so it knows it has work to do.

That said, Minor Threats goes races to a conclusion far bloodier than I thought this book would have gone and perhaps beyond its initial tone. But perhaps its extreme ending is necessary to restore the balance. For now, anyway.

Minor Threats  is a fun read, all in all, and while definitely not for the kiddos, it pays enough attention to the kid within you to smile, too

Grade: B

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