That Time Patton Oswalt Wrote a JLA Comic

Two main factors went into the selection of today's topic: “M.O.D.O.K.” is premiering on Hulu this week and most of my posts thus far have been about Marvel.

I killed both birds* with a stone I picked up in a dollar bin at the last comic/collectible show I attended before the pandemic hit: JLA: Welcome to the Working Week. The 64-page one-shot was written by the voice of M.O.D.O.K. and co-showrunner Patton Oswalt, with art by Patrick Gleason.

Welcome to the Working Week hit shelves June 18, 2003 (thank you, Mike's Amazing World of Comics), while Joe Kelly was writing the main title, following the legendary run of Grant Morrison and the momentum-maintaining stretch by Mark Aid. The League was made up of the Big 7 (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter) plus Plastic Man in that era, though Aquaman was out of the picture temporarily because of the events of The Obsidian Age.

Oswalt was known to me at that point as one of Doug's friends on “King of Queens,” but in that era where Hollywood was still just dipping its toe into comics, any celebrity connection raised my eyebrows. I remember reading about Oswalt's story but never got around to getting it until 17 years later.

The story follows Marlus Randone, a freelance journalist from Portland who self-publishes a superhero-centric magazine called “Save Us.” He gets the chance to produce a first-person account when the JLA teleports him and a host of bystanders aboard its Watchtower when aliens attack the city.

The others are sent back once the threat is over, but Randone stows away on the Watchtower. With his disposable camera and notepad (remember, this is just after the turn of the century; no smartphone-asssisted blog for this would-be ace reporter), he sets about documenting the activities of the League.

The premise is not unique, but Oswalt does a great job imagining what happens between the panels of comics. If you're troubled, like I was, that this normal guy can sneak around undetected while Superman, Batman and Martian Manhunter go about monitoring and saving the world, don't worry; Oswalt thought of that too.

A few concepts I haven't seen in other stories include Wonder Woman offering villains reduced prison time to help her train, Batman negotiating the Weather Wizard out of another attack on the Flash and Plastic Man throwing a kegger on the Watchtower (although it included a really uncomfortable sequence where Plas captures an infiltrating Poison Ivy).

(Pictured: Community service)

The focus is on Randone and the other side of the action he's witnessing, but not far below the surface another story is brewing, a threat to the word and the entire dimension. Oswalt's writing suggests this is a landmark occurrence, but from Randone's point of view, it's just another day at the office for the League. That's not really a disconnect though, as universe-endangering threats are so common in comic book universes that this IS just what the heroes do.

Some of the action and art gets a little hard to follow, but that's not uncommon for big, trans-dimensional, cosmic stories. It could just be me.

This is a story about the little things, and Oswalt captures them well, from Batman testing how long he can survive in a vacuum (27 seconds, a scene reminiscent of his quick answer to the question of how long he can hold his breath in JLA #4) to some resentment from the younger Flash and Green Lantern over Bats' skepticism about them.

Action-packed enough for you?
How 'bout now?

“JLA: Welcome to the Working Week” is an interesting story that provides much more than just a bit of curiosity over its Hollywood connection.

* - No birds were harmed in the creation of this post.