If you look at online reviews and commentary about The Widening Gyre, you will often see it referred to, derisively, as “fan fiction.” What this means, of course, is that it is the work of an amateur, an outsider, a member of the fandom who only wishes he could be a “real” comic book writer. While I would argue that this label could be applied to any Batman story not written by the decaying corpse of Bob Kane, I understand what people mean. The Widening Gyre clearly is the work of an enthusiastic fan, who is chomping at the bit to oversaturate the book with oh-so-clever little nods to the DCU, often at the detriment of the story he’s trying to tell. But that’s mostly because Kevin Smith is insane. Today I am going to tell you about another celebrity-penned “fan fiction” vanity project, that happens to actually be really awesome.
Patton Oswalt is one of my all-time favorite comedians, so it’s not really surprising that I’d love his 2003 Justice League story Welcome to the Working Week. But I’d honestly love this story no matter who wrote it.
These kind of “fan fiction” stories are, by their very nature, going to be gushy and pandering. The difference between Kevin Smith and Patton Oswalt is that Patton realizes that if he’s going to write a story from a fan’s perspective, it makes way more sense to assign that perspective to an actual fan (rather than, say, a dumbed-down robophobic Batman). Hence, the lead character of Welcome to the Working Week is an actual fanboy.
The unfortunately-named Marlus Randone is a dude living in Portland who writes a zine about superheroes. I’m sure the concept of superhero fanboys existing within a superhero universe has been done before, but I think this is the first time I’ve encountered it, and I find it really charming. After all, if these guys really existed, they’d probably be on the cover of every issue of People Magazine and the National Enquirer, and they’d be worshipped and/or hated by everybody in the country! As the reader’s in-story avatar, Marlus is well-written, instantly likeable, and for many of us, embarrassingly relatable. His very first thought on superheroes: “I’m fascinated by you guys, and I’m frightened by you guys, and I envy you guys.” What sums it up better than that?
When Marlus’ neighborhood is attacked by a bunch of space monsters, the JLA decides to teleport its entire population to their Watchtower headquarters on the moon for safe-keeping, while they combat the threat. They kick ass and then beam their guests back down to Earth, but Marlus manages to escape the return journey, and stows away in the Watchtower for a week, with his camera and notepad in tow.
This set-up allows Patton to explore the story’s two main themes: the hilarious shit the JLA does during their downtime, and the way a fanboy like himself would perceive superheroes if they were real. This material is rich as fuck, and Patton takes advantage of it by squeezing a ridiculous amount of cool stuff into this little story.
Almost immediately, Marlus stumbles upon the Martian Manhunter meditating, and is reduced to slack-jawed wonder just by being in the presence of this motherfucker. “If Superman is Elvis,” he thinks to himself, “then this is Dylan.” Check this out:
What a cool little sequence! I just love this. Everyone can relate to getting older and finding their perspectives on heroism shifting and maturing, so why wouldn’t that apply to superheroes in a world that’s chock full of them? Not to mention that Marlus is totally right about the Martian Manhunter. The Martian Manhunter is the fucking coolest.
Some time later, Marlus stumbles onto Batman having a telephone conversation with the Weather Wizard:
Wow. I hate to keep slobbering all over Patton Oswald’s cock, but this is such a great idea. I bet a lot of professional comic book writers are insanely jealous of this concept, because it seems to me like it’s the sort of observation that is way more likely to be dreamed up by a stand-up comedian rather than someone entrenched in the vacuum of the comic book industry. But amazingly, Patton avoids making this seem like a parody or a cynical quip about the nonsensical nature of comic book villainy. He makes it fit. He makes it make sense. After witnessing this scene, Marlus jots down a theory that Batman might be some sort of corporate big wig in his other life. Patton seems to be saying: If Batman was real, and he was actually Bruce Wayne, this is the way he’d handle these types of situations whenever possible. And yeah, I agree with that.
Among the many other spectacles Marlus gets to witness is a huge superhero kegger, thrown by Plastic Man.
This results in a huge two-page spread depicting the party, that looks like a DCU Where’s Waldo, and is chock full of cute little in-jokes and gags. And of course Superman and Batman sit the party out, claiming it’s “not their scene.” Perfect.
There are a lot more moments like this, but those are my favorites, and I’ll let you discover the rest on your own. As you might imagine, when a threat eventually threatens the Watchtower, Marlus emerges from the shadows and gets to be a hero for a minute, fighting side by side with the larger-than-life figures he idolizes. Marlus gets the opportunity to understand the role he plays in this crazy world of god-men and world-eaters, and through his eyes, we are urged to think a little bit about how heroism works here in the real world. Instead of making fans giggle by winking and nudging as Batman pisses his pants, Patton Oswalt makes them imagine being dropped headfirst into the fantasy worlds they dream about, and that’s why this story, for me, redefines the concept of “fan fiction.” I really hope this isn’t the last time Patton visits the DCU.