Minor ThreatsMinor Threats: Volume 1

Script: Patton Oswalt + Jordan Blum
Art: Scott Hepburn
Color Art: Ian Herring
Letters: Nate Piekos of Blambot
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Why do we make fanfiction? What compels us to play in an established sandbox, but name the pieces after our own headcanons, and rewrite existing relationship triangles?

This is not a question posed by Minor Threats creators: Patton Oswalt + Jordan Blum [writers] and Scott Hepburn [artist]. This is a question answered by Minor Threats volume 1— what compels us to be someone somewhere else?

For Frankie Follis, our protagonist C-lister, it’s a means to assert control on her seemingly unwinding life: separated from her husband and daughter, estranged from her career criminal mom, and subject to the Insomniac’s [read: Batman] post-A Death in the Family wrath. For Brain Tease, it’s legacy and ego-feeding. For Scalpel, it’s just business. For the other C-list street-level villains that make up our Minor Threats, it’s because they’ve been pushed too far.

So off the Minor Threats tread against the Justice League stand-in, “The Continuum,” in a Warriors-esque journey through aged, historic, and consistently preyed upon [by capes] Redport. What follows is a winding dive into enclaves and corners dreamed up by Blum/Oswalt/Hepburn as they finally get a stage to play with established IP in their way, in their world, in their rules.

It’s been said everyone has a backpocket Batman pitch. This is Team Minor Threats’ pitch. Only it’s more what if the Superior Foes of Spiderman tried to survive an edge-living Batman in a Batman War Games scenario…though more violent. That level of post-modern elevator pitch nearly requires analogues to fully flesh out the narrative, and it works wonders.

Hepburn is able to play with verticality in his layouts, seamlessly establishing hierarchy in the Minor Threats capes/villains caste system. The frayed edges of our Minor Threats help when framing squeezes them to all but a silhouette. When fanfic goes professional, the lack of house style turns familiar designs [Batman, Joker, Superman, Night Nurse] into new haunts, able to live and act in ways unchained from the Big Two’s prerequisite structure. Truly a tiny haven for Hepburn to express superheroism as vigilance and small-time crookery as a means to an end.

What certainly helps is Ian Herring’s colors loading the palette with only traditionally villain colors. The heroes, black, grey, white, a primary color, but never the full RBY experience. The villains, purple, green, orange. Imagining Redport in such vivid colors not only remarks its superhero story, but brightens a seedy, established world with, as Hepburn puts it, “60 years of superhero history.” To maintain a distinctly pulpy feel, or rather to ground our Minor Threats in silver-age superheroics, Herring uses orange and orange-browns to blowout background/foreground elements to distance the visual hierarchy along Hepburn’s eyelines/layouts.

Aside from feeding us lurid detail through character-coded captions, letterer Nate Piekos mounts the task of fielding sfx in easily crowded layouts and significantly designed color moods. Where Insomniac turns up the violence, a scarred brush slashes KLUDDs and SHRAAKs. Where superheroic classics require a familiar sfx — like their Superman-analogue, Searcher, blasting into a building with a KRAKOOOM — Piekos answers with homage rather than cliche. All together, another way to alter and/or play with the house style’s toys in a newer, more-Minor Threats way!

For many, Minor Threats exists as an exhaust pipe for similar, but different fumes. Fumes the US comics reading market would love to smoke from their favorite Big Two creators and artists, but otherwise cannot, because of event tie-ins, sliding timelines, and house style. Thankfully, in this era of fanfic superheroism establishing sandbox universes to spinoff into at indie pubs, Minor Threats is a real threat to be taken seriously [in a fun way].

Verdict: BUY

Read a new entry in the Trade Rating series every Thursday at The Beat.

Minor Threats, Vol. 1 is available now.