Every superhero has their villains. Maybe those villains are the “erase half of the universe’s population” variety. Or maybe they’re more about small-time crime. The new comic Minor Threats from writers Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum, artist Scott Hepburn, colorist Ian Herring, and letterer Nate Piekos focuses on the latter. The villain Stickman murders the sidekick of Twilight City’s premier crime-fighter, the Insomniac. So, the superhero team known as the Continuum, go all out trying to apprehend him. That means the Continuum shines the spotlight on anyone stepping out of line, and the c-list villains are over it.
Those villains form their own team: Minor Threats. They decide to take down Stickman themselves and solve the problem. They want to get back to their normal lives. But villains coming together to take down one of their own? Things get sticky. Nerdist chatted with Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum over email about the idea for Minor Threats, worldbuilding, villainous teambuilding, and more.
Nerdist: Everyone has to eat, so I like seeing minor criminals drive the narrative. They’re just trying to go about their business. How did the idea of centering Minor Threats on c-list villains come about?
Jordan Blum: Patton and I both have a deep love for the c-list costumed villains. The ones who treat villainy more like a job than a goal or a conviction. We’ve seen different versions of them whether it be The Rogues from The Flash or the cannon fodder at The Bar with No Name. We also love crime fiction like Fargo or Raising Arizona, low-rent criminals way in over their head bumbling their way through legit danger. So the idea of merging the two and making usually periphery characters the main focus of our story was really exciting to us.
Patton Oswalt: I had an idea for a Batman comic, a story I outlined called “J”, about the Joker breaking out of Arkham and the whole Bat-family cracking down, Gestapo-style, on the criminal underworld of Gotham City trying to find him, and how a group of C-listers are thrown together and need to capture the Joker themselves so they can do their day-to-day operations. These are clock-punching criminals who don’t have an “art for art’s sake” approach to crime. In fact, I think it was a literal C-list: Cluemaster, Crazyquilt, Crime Doctor, Calendar Man, and Copperhead. The more and more I thought about the “c” level of criminality in the DC Universe, the more I wanted my own.
Minor Threats has the titular villains, The Continuum, Stickman… what kind of stories and characters did you look to for inspiration in creating this very populated superhero world?
JB: The c-listers of both Batman and Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery were definitely inspirations. The Minor Threats couldn’t care less about hero/villain rivalries or devious master plans. It’s not personal for them, so we needed a villain like Stickman who thrives in the chaos, similar to the Joker or Bullseye.
PO: Well, I listed the analogues for the Minor Threats crew in the previous answer, but conceiving them led to building and populating the world—the elite of this Universe (“The Continuum”) to the more obscure (“Major Mummy”). I also looked to a lot of early 70s neo-noir—the trio of contract soldiers in Hickey & Boggs, Mr. Molly from Charley Varrick, and especially Warren Oates in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. These are the sorts of people who aren’t trying to take over the planet. They just want $50k so they can disappear into the suburbs.
Villains are not usually known for their, say, cooperative attitudes. So when they form the team to take down Stickman, I’d imagine it gets… interesting. What kind of dynamics come into play with this group?
JB: Almost all of them declare themselves the leader of the group. Most of them have unearned egos and don’t play well with others. They’ve never been team players so they’re constantly at each other’s throats. It’s not a question of “is one them going to betray the others?” It’s a question of “which one of them is going to do it first?”
PO: We were very careful about two things: that the villains in Minor Threats would 1) only work together because of expediency or desperation, and that 2) all of them are very aware—sometimes openly—that the other members of the “team” will betray them the moment a better opportunity comes along.
It’s a sick kind of honor and honesty, this unspoken knowledge around you that not only is everyone 100% corrupt, but that you will meet that level of corruption and opportunism yourself.
I feel like one of the most fun (and challenging) parts of worldbuilding can be coming up with the names. How did you and Jordan come up with hero and villain names like Kid Dusk and Playtime?
JB: I think we start with powers or gimmicks first. It’s really tricky with years of stories and hundreds of existing superhero universes. We also wanted different characters to represent different time periods in comic history. Playtime was supposed to feel bronze age while Snakestalker hopefully sounds like he walked out of an early ’90s Image book.
PO: Yeah, Jordan’s right. A lot of times the era in which a character is created has more to do with the name than the powers, circumstances or even the creator himself. When you hear the names “Captain Justice” and “Bloodblade” you know which one was created in the ’50s and which one came out in the ’90s.
The art blends this grimy world with vibrant colors. What was it like working with Scott and Ian to develop this universe’s aesthetic?
JB: All of Scott’s designs factored heavily into the voices of the characters. He made them just come alive and his art influenced the shape of the story issue to issue. Scott also came up with the idea of our setting, Twilight City, being a character unto itself. We discussed all these ideas of what a city that’s endured 60 years of comic continuity would look like—rotting fallen kaiju bones with housing communities built into them, time warp bubbles swallowing five blocks of our downtown, alien fungi growing out of the gutters. Some of these are relevant to our story while others are just background—or stories we might tell later down the road. Scott ran with this, building out a whole universe of Easter eggs and gags that I’m still discovering every time I read the comic.
PO: Scott and Ian are also great at figuring out the moments and remnants of humanity that shine in all of the squalor. Everybody wants something beautiful to look at every day, even if it’s in an environment of rot and greyness. So the little touches of personality and aesthetics that humans defiantly add to, say, a wrecked building or crashed, abandoned death machine? They’re testaments to the human spirit in the face of, sometimes, inhuman disaster and suffering. And Scott and Ian are masters at finding those touches.