I keep getting reminded of more great comics that have gone out-of-print lately. And it’s pretty depressing that this is one of them, because it’s one of my very favorite comics of the past decade.
JLA: Welcome to the Working Week
This little prestige-format book came out in 2003, written by comedian and actor Patton Oswalt and illustrated by Patrick Gleason and Christian Alamy. It came at the end of the Morrison glory days of “JLA,” while the writers who came after him were still working hard to keep the brilliance of the series running at a high pace.
Our story is deceptively simple. The Justice League responds to an alien invasion of Portland by teleporting the entire population of the St. John’s neighborhood into the Watchtower. Once the invasion gets handled, the population gets transported back home — except for Marlus Randone, superhero fanzine writer, who sneaks off and enjoys a week of roaming the halls of the Watchtower and watching how the Justice League handles its off-the-clock time. Oh, there are a number of crises going on — Flash stops a hacker from launching a nuclear weapon, Green Lantern brokers peace between alien races, Batman solves plenty of crimes, and we get a number of ominous hints that something terrible is looming behind the scenes — and the whole thing ends with an attack by a team of powerful alien supervillains.
But by and large, most of the focus is on how the JLA spends their time when they’re not fighting evil, as well as Marlus’ observations, speculations, and memories of the DC Universe’s superheroes. Batman’s obsessions, Kyle Rayner’s and Wally West’s everyman qualities, Plastic Man’s fun-loving nature — it all gets examined in varying detail. Most of the story is pretty light-hearted, but everything wraps up with a series of lightning-fast super-battles, excellent insights, and inspirational moments.
Verdict: Thumbs up. The whole story is just great fun all the way through.
It doesn’t mean there aren’t moments that’ll make you scoff at everything going on. I can’t possibly imagine the Justice League letting Plastic Man throw a giant rave just to capture one supervillainess. I can’t possibly imagine Wally West being unhappy that Batman has gotten one of the Rogues to reform. I can’t imagine Wonder Woman inviting Lady Shiva, Killer Croc, and Cheetah up to the Watchtower to spar. I can’t possibly imagine security on the Watchtower being so lax that a guy can hide out among the world’s greatest superheroes for a week without getting caught. But frankly, that stuff didn’t bug me too much. Plas’ party is hilarious, Wally’s unhappiness with Batman is not particularly significant, and Wondy’s battle is one of the best moments of the book. And it’s so much fun watching Marlus spy on superheroes, it makes me think they should let people hide out here more often.
And everything else in the book is just so very good. If you just can’t stand light-hearted superhero comics, you probably won’t like this. But if you don’t like light-hearted superhero comics, you’re probably Dan DiDio and shouldn’t be reading comics anyway.
Marlus Randone is such an amazing character — hipster cynic crossed with gleeful fanboy, always with a great quip and observation, with his own interesting backstory and motivations. It’s really too bad we haven’t seen more of him in the DCU.
And Patton Oswalt’s writing is just so very, very good. Some of the stuff he writes here — about the Martian Manhunter, about Aquaman, about Marlus’ father — stands out for me as some of the best expository writing in comics. There’s one page toward the end with Marlus wandering around the Watchtower’s trophy room, musing on the nature of being a superhero, that still strikes me as one of the best descriptions of the superhero phenomenon, both in-universe and out.
Why is this out of print? I really don’t know. Patton Oswalt is still a pretty popular guy, both in and out of the geek community. DC should be waving this book from the top of the comic shops. DC and Marvel should be desperate to have him write more comics. I really don’t know why they’ve let this comic languish.
You can still find it, thank goodness, and you won’t pay a fortune for it. If you haven’t gotten to read it yet, shell out a little cash and enjoy it for yourself.