Minor Threats, from Dark Horse Comics, is one of the year’s best new comics. Co-written by comedian Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum (who worked together on Hulu’s excellent M.O.D.O.K series) with pencils by Scott Hepburn (Deadpool/Drax, Spider-man and Deadpool), Minor Threats tells the tale of a bunch of low-level supervillains who in an effort to take the heat off the criminal underworld and themselves, get together to take down another much more dangerous, murderous villain (The Stickman! Great name!) after he has killed one of the cities beloved heroes. The creative team was awesome enough to take some time off their uber-busy schedule to talk to us at Monkeys Fighting Robots. So check out the chat below and make sure you add Minor Threats to your pull list. Special thanks to series editor Daniel Chabon and Anthony Mauro from Dark Horse PR for making this interview possible.
Monkeys Fighting Robots: Guys, for our readers who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this book, can you give us a classic elevator pitch?
Patton Oswalt: Low-level costumed villains try to take down a high-level villain to score points with the high-level heroes.
MFR: What’s everyone’s comic book origin? How did you get into comics?
PO: Comics were always just…there. Spider-man on The Electric Company and then the animated show, and all of my friends read them every week. I kind of fell out of comics for a while in middle school — Dungeons and Dragons and just sci-fi, in general, came along, and then of course, girls. But by the end of high school, you had Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. And by the time I got to college, there was Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and that was it. I was back in for life.
Jordan Blum: My dad learned to speak English by reading comics. They were always just there. Like a pile on my highchair. I also came up during prominent toy tie-ins so I’d read Super Powers and Secret Wars and then go buy the action figures. I grew up loving Superman, Batman and Captain America but I think it was X-Men in the late 80s early 90s that made something more – where it went from hobby to lifelong obsession.
SH: I’ve been a comic book collector from a young age. At 8 or 9 I was arranging my bagged books like art on my bedroom walls. By college, the animation industry was in a full resurgence and one of the very few schools offering animation was up here just outside Toronto. So I cut my teeth drawing, designing and storytelling at entry-level tv animation gigs but always with the intention of drawing comics once I had built up my skill set. And then a quick decade or so later I was a regular artist for the Big Two.
MFR: Is this the first comic you have written?
PO: I’ve done work for DC, Marvel and Dark Horse, but this is my first creator-owned title.
JB: I’ve written a few projects for the Spidey office and have some other Marvel work coming down the pipeline. This is [also] my first creator-owned book.
MFR: Did you learn anything about comics by writing your first comic?
PO: Yeah — don’t be so wordy. Give the artist room to show, rather than you telling.
JB: World building is intoxicating and also a trap. We worked really hard to make the first issue focus on Frankie and lead us through Twilight City from her perspective. There’s so much history we want to cover but luckily Scott’s art did most of the heavy lifting so our words could be about Frankie.
MFR: I know this was based on a pitch you did for DC Comics using some of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. So when you changed it did that change anything in the story or narrative? Did anything new come from having to create the characters?PO: Oh absolutely. With their different backgrounds, and being able to build them from the ground up, we were able to expand this entire universe, instead of just keeping it Gotham-centric. Twilight City is the setting but we were able to add hints of much larger things that were going on in the world itself.
MFR: As a punk rock fan, I gotta ask; is the title Minor Threats a nod in any way to the great 1980s DC hardcore band Minor Threat?
PO: We ran through a LOT of possible titles but when we landed on that it felt so right.. I’m a huge fan of the band so I was very aware of the comparison.
MFR: When you had to retool this by creating your own characters, where and how did you start that process? How did you start creating the themes and concepts for each character? And what made you choose those particular themes, costumes and personalities? Was there a first character creation that set a tone?
PO: I think the themes are more or less universal when you’re talking about crime, privilege, class structure and poverty. We just had way more fun smuggling all of that into a superhero narrative.
JB: I had written a screenplay many years ago about super villains so I pulled some elements from that to create the dynamic of Frankie, her relationship to her mother Loretta, their legacy of villainy and wanting to protect her daughter Maggie from a similar fate. We wanted to bridge the silver age into the modern age so we landed on toys as a gimmick for Frankie. We discussed with Scott that the toys could lose a little of their innocence, be half-built little Terminator-looking teddy bears and he ran with that. The rest of the characters sort of fell into place. Patton had a great take on a low-rent Riddler-type that has succumbed to his own personal demons so we ended up with Brain Tease. We knew we wanted a muscle character who felt more 90s so Snakestalker came from that. In wanting to explore the culture of blue-collar villainy we started asking where they get treated for bullet wounds and broken bones and Scalpel was born out of that conversation. In discussing the code of villainy and some of our crooks holding onto the “good old days” we started to talk about an older villain refusing to let go like Pigeon Pete. I think the biggest thing was giving them really different voices, voices that would clash and fight with each other. This led to us switching narrators every issue to let those voices come through
MFR: Scott, Did you have a favorite sequence or character to draw?
SH: I mean… all of them? It’s really about treating everyone in the crowd like a full character. And every location is like a place that’s been around and changing for a long time.
MFR: As much as this is a pretty dark story you guys are telling, there are a lot of moments of levity and humor. You both obviously come from a comedy background, but what made you want to inject that into the story? Why was adding humor so important?
PO: I think even in real life, in real life “dark” situations, fate or the human psyche reacts with humor. Otherwise, I think the overall fabric of reality would have been torn to bits decades ago.
JB: I think the comedy comes out of character. These aren’t hardened a-list criminals, their c-listers who want to be taken seriously which in itself is inherently funny, especially when they’re dressed in snake costumes.
MFR: Does either of you have a favorite character? Is there one you loved to write more than the others?
PO: I have this weird affection for Pigeon Pete. I mean, Playtime is obviously charismatic and fascinating and is our protagonist, but someone who’s kind of their own ghost always lands with me.
JB: I mean Frankie is such a classic noir character and a blast to write but Scalpel really emerged as a favorite for me. I think Scott’s art and acting for the character really influenced how we wrote her. Once we cracked her origin I really fell for her complexities.
MFR: Are there any specific comics you looked to for inspiration for Minor Threats? Any story arcs or creative teams you had in the back of your heads?
PO: Astro City, for me, obviously.
JB: Yeah, Astro City. Spider-Man and his Superior Foes. In general, for me it’s always been the Rogues from Flash.
MFR: What made you go with Dark Horse as the publisher?
PO: It was such a no-brainer. They’re this wonderful combination of tight storytelling within expanded universes — Black Hammer and Hellboy and The Umbrella Academy and especially Mind Mgmt, which I’m now re-reading.
JB: They have an amazing track record for building universes from scratch and successfully launching them. Especially our editor Daniel Chabon who edits the Black Hammer line.
MFR: Did you guys ever work together before the M.O.D.O.K. show (which was amazing!) and Minor Threats?
PO: We did a pilot together for FOX that didn’t go — more of a working-class superhero rather than a villain. But imaginary realms are where we operate the best. We worked with Scott on our M.O.D.O.K. comic and the way we were fighting over who’d get to own certain pages, just the way we were instantly fan-boys of his look and style. Again, another no-brainer.
JB: Patton and I met years ago on a [that pilot]. It was the first thing I ever sold and I was absolutely fan-boying out when Patton came aboard. We realized very early that we speak the same geek language and our ideas mesh perfectly together. We fell in love with Scott’s talents in our M.O.D.O.K. book so we knew we wanted to create something new with him. Scott had worked with our colorist Ian and Nate came through Dark Horse and we had been fans of his work. It’s an absolute dream team top to bottom. Every choice they make just elevates the book.
SH: I really lucked out and got connected to Patton and Jordan early [with that] M.O.D.O.K mini-series. We just fit well together as a team. I think we all have a shared love for the range of craziness that comic book stories carry so well.
MFR: Scott, A series like this, which includes so many analogue characters and references to other well-known pop-culture stores presents some challenges. But you certainly nailed it. How do you and did you go about creating something that will remind readers of a character they know, yet still keep it wholly its own unique thing?
SH: Yeah we are creating a lot of new worlds, but the depth of inspiration is so deep. It’s really about treating everyone in the crowd like a full character. And every location is like a place that’s been around and changing for a long time.
MFR: What was the creative process like? Patton and Jordan did you write a traditional script first or did you maybe use something like the Marvel method or any other more comic book style writing?
PO: We’d get together and hash out the overall story and then start writing script pages. A lot of times I’d overwrite stuff and Jordan, who’s so good at character and focus, would tighten things up.
JB: We tend to break the story and heavily outline together. Then we’ll sometimes break up scenes, pass them back and forth or write specific ones together. It’s always just suggestions for Scott, just to get him thinking. He’s such a genius and we absolutely trust him to build off the script and make it better.
SH: The three of us are in a pretty constant state of communication, with text threads and emails and the odd zoom meeting to go over scripts
MFR: Any consideration of further exploring this world?
PO: Oh my goodness yes. And that’s all I’m gonna say.
JB: We have SOOOOOO many stories to tell within this universe. Every time we get a new character design back from Scott, no matter how insignificant the character, we start hashing out entire arcs for these bit players.
Scott Hepburn: I like to think of Minor Threats as a rapidly expanding world like Marvel in the sixties but seen from the gutter!
MFR: Minor Threats#2 starts to delve more into the past and motivations of some of the characters, like Brain Tease. What makes villains so captivating to explore and read in more detail?
PO: Well, every villain’s origin is about how does someone react to trauma, abuse or insult? Do you rise above or decide to become a bigger abuser? And who’s to say that a hero, given a slightly different set of circumstances, wouldn’t have become a villain?
JB: We want to subvert expectations. Here’s a disturbed maniac in a brain helmet obsessing over puzzles, how do we make you care about him? I think all of these characters are born out of tragedy, why else would they end up at that bar. Brain Tease is also a bit of an unreliable narrator so it’s fun to write voice-over for him as it conflicts with the flashback moments Scott is drawing.
MFR: So what can readers expect in the rest of the series? Wanna drop some juicy teases without spoiling the fun?
PO: I’m keeping my lip ZIPPED!
JB: Issue #3 has the craziest chase scene we’ve ever written which allows us to see more of Twilight City, specifically the effect 60 years of superhero continuity has had on it. Eventually, our heroes will find the Stickman and they will absolutely come to regret that decision. The death count in this book gets quite high. Also, The Insomniac is still out there, I wonder if he’ll come back?
Minor Threats #2 is scheduled to be released on October 5th, 2022, and is available at your local LCS!