Bonus Book #3 – Doom Patrol (June, 1988)
“A Life in the Day”
Writer – Steve Miller (probably not that Steve Miller)
Pencils – Randy DuBurke
Inks – Joe Alidetta
Letters – Tim Harkins
Colors – Elizabeth Kessler
Edits – Paul Kupperberg
Consulting Edits – Mike Gold
Wow, that’s a cover, innit? Pretty horrifying stuff… are we sure this is pre-Morrison Doom Patrol? How ya like Arani’s pose there? Part tortured, part seductive… eesh, it’s just really off-putting. If you followed during our ten-month Action Comics Daily endeavor last year, that art ought to be pretty familiar to y’all! Let’s see how good it looks on the inside!
This bugger was jammed betwixt the staples of Doom Patrol (vol.2) #9 (June, 1988).
We open with Celsius stood before a War Memorial. She is approached by an elderly woman in a wheelchair who seems to sense that she needs somebody to talk to. I’m not sure if the wheelchair is supposed to evoke Niles Caulder… but, I suppose that doesn’t really matter. Anyhoo, the old woman asks what’s up… and Arani hesitates before spilling her guts to this perfect stranger. She tells her all about the Doom Patrol and her missing husband. The old woman than shares that she recently lost a husband herself… and, she has decided that this day will be her “last day”. As in, she’s planning to die today. She introduces herself as Ellen and invites Arani to share in her company on this very important day. Since our Doomy has nothing better to do… and maybe figures she can talk this old bitty out of dying, she agrees.
Their first stop is Bryant’s Barbeque Restaurant, which is actually a real place in Kansas City! Ellen orders a pork sandwich… and Arani kinda does the spoilsport thing and says she ain’t hungry. Ellen takes it upon herself to order a sammie for her young tagalong.
Arani, unsurprisingly, loves the sandwich… and Ellen shares a story about the old owner of the joint, Arthur Bryant. She says he was so legendary in the area that when he passed away, a cartoonist drew him arriving at the pearly-gates of Heaven, with Saint Peter asking if he brought any sauce.
And, whattaya know…
Their next stop is to see the Kansas City Royals play. Ellen says she’s been a fan forever, and always watches them on television… but has never visited the park. Today, they’re playing the New York Yankees… so, why not? George Brett winds up hitting the game-winning Home Run… the ball soars right into Ellen and Arani’s section.
The fan who caught the ball graciously offers it to Ellen. She gleefully takes it, and suggests she and Arani head down and try to get George Brett to autograph it for them. Arani is quite confused about the direction this day has taken.
They get the autograph… turns out Mr. Brett is “such a nice young man”. Celsius is clearly beginning to lose her patience… and attempts to “call it a day”, because she’s got stuff to do… like, ya know, stare at walls, hoping that Niles’ location will just magically pop into her mind. Ellen tells her they’ve got just one last stop. Arani begrudgingly agrees to accompany her.
On their way to their final destination, our pair happen across a burning building. Firefighters appear to be having great difficulty dealing with this inferno… but Celsius doesn’t look to be all that interested in helping out. Ellen doesn’t give her the choice… if Arani can do something to help save some lives, then she damn sure better!
Arani gives in and uses her powers to create a tremendous ice-slide gimmick. That’s not good enough for our gal Ellen though. She insists that Arani inform the police and firefighters that she, in fact, assisted. Arani gives a flat-out “No”.
Well, if we know anything about Ellen… and, we don’t know much… but, we do know that she ain’t about to take “no” for an answer. Arani tells the Police about her helping-hand… and is absolutely bombarded with questions. Oh! So, that’s what all those Twizzler’s Mouths on the cover were all about!
Finally, Arani and Ellen arrive at the “final destination”. It’s a fountain at a park. Ellen asks Arani to look around and tell her what she sees. She responds with “people wasting time”. Ellen corrects her, explaining that they’re not wasting time… they’re “enjoying their lives”. She suggests Arani do the same… make friends, share her life with them. Life’s short and all’at. She hands over her George Brett ball as a memento of their time together…
… then, she dies. Arani kisses her on the forehead.
We wrap up back at Doom Patrol headquarters… where Arani has a little chat with Cliff. She even tosses him the George Brett baseball. It looks as though she learned something from her day with Ellen… and perhaps, tomorrow can be a new beginning for her. Ya know, so long as there isn’t some crazy alien Invasion! heading their way.
Ya know… I’m not sure what I was expecting from this Bonus Book endeavor… well, actually, I take that back… I know pretty much exactly what I expected. I expected, to be completely blunt… garbage. I expected throwaways… I expected halfhearted efforts. I guess, I expected “current year” DC Comics anthology fare. What we’ve gotten instead (at least to this point) is… very earnest, well thought-out little stories. These first three Bonus Books appear to have that one intangible we overly precious-types go on and on about… they’ve got heart.
It’s easy to look at this one, and… after the first handful of pages, sigh to ourselves and say “Oh, it’s going to be one of those stories”... a “final day” story, where someone is going to learn a valuable lesson about life. And, don’t get me wrong, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a trope we’ve seen time and again in fiction. The thing of it is, however, that it’s done just so damn well here! This really was excellent!
Now, it’s been… a very long time… since I’ve read any pre-Morrison Doom Patrol. This Kupperberg run, while not bad or anything, was always sort of a “Premack” situation to me. It was what I’d force myself to push through in order to get to the Morrison run. Could’ve just skipped it… and a lot of times I did. But, the times I did read it, it was out of some sort of weird obligation rather than any actual interest.
That said, I know the broader strokes of Arani’s search for the Chief… I mean, I guess it’s all broad strokes… she’s searching for the Chief. Done. Thing is, you don’t necessarily even need to be familiar with that aspect of that story to fully appreciate this. Miller does a fine job depicting Arani as troubled and focused on her mission… and shares what that mission is. I suppose what I’m trying to say here, but taking a rather “scenic route” is, you can go into this story cold, and you won’t be lost. You can (and likely will) still enjoy it.
I appreciated the nods to actual Kansas City locales and history. I’m sure had I not had a Google-Machine within arm’s reach at all times, I’d likely assume places like Bryant’s were just made up by the writer… and, I mean, while it doesn’t so much matter that it’s real… I definitely appreciate the effort. From the Bonus Book Bio page (included below), it looks as though our writer, (not that) Steve Miller might just be a KC native.
Let’s take a look at Mssr. Miller. If the DC Wiki is to be believed, he was (sadly) a one-and-done. This was his only story. That’s definitely too bad, because, I tell ya what… this was a damn good story. Trying to Google this fella, as you might imagine, is somewhat difficult. If I’m not pulling up that Steve Miller… I’m getting Frank! His career started prior to his DC try-out with a series called Rust from NOW Comics. From my (admittedly litte) research, it seems like he came up with the Rust concept… but might not have actually written the comics? He didn’t do a heckuva lot in the field after this though. That’s really too bad.
Across the table, we’ve got our artist Randy DuBurke. Chris is on Infinite Earths regulars might recognize him as the artist on Action Comics Weekly’s pair of Black Canary features! Now, I gave him a bit of grief during those runs… both for being “boring” and for being wayyy too experimental. It was a very bi-polar effort. Here, however, it would appear that DuBurke has found that “happy medium” between clean-clear-comics and Sienkiewicz-lite. It certainly helps that this more “talkie” story might best suit his style. From the DC Wiki, it looks as though Randy went on to do Action Comics Weekly, a few other things… then, poof… that’s that! He does have a website you can check out if you wanna see some of his more recent work… which, it rather nice! There are some amazing-looking painted pages posted there.
Overall… as if it’s not obvious… I really dug this one. Well worth checking out… or digging up, if you’ve already got Doom Patrol #9 in a longbox somewhere!
(Not the) Letters Page: