A LOOK BACK AT THE WONDERS THAT ONCE OCCUPIED THE SPINNER RACKS
Comic Book companies have always been keen on publishing anything to keep up with fads and tie-ins with toy lines. Here, The House of Ideas had the best of both worlds. Marvel was mocked for this more notably than anyone back in the day due in large part to books like the one I’m about to write about, U.S.1 Issue #3.
Apparently, trucking made a pit stop in popular culture back in the 80’s. Enough so that toy manufacturer Tyco had a “U.S. 1 Electric Racing Set” to perfectly pair with a licensed comic. I must have missed the hoopla as a kid although I was hip enough with the times to rock a painters cap.
“Sure beats tinfoil to keep the voices away and ladies at bay”
Before I get into this wreck of a comic, let me get you up to speed on America’s fascination with asphalt. Films like Smokey and the Bandit, Coast to Coast, and Convoy among others, prompted viewers to imagine free spirited life on the open road. I mean, I get it. I couldn’t tell you how may times I’ve wanted to trade in my troubles for a Trans-Am with Dom DeLuise riding shotgun. But, I suppose, like any far fetched fantasy it’s more than what it’s cracked up to be. Hell, it lead Robert Blake, star of the aforementioned Coast to Coast, to the sauce….and ahem, murder.
U.S.1 has made the rounds as a property to point a finger and enjoy a good chuckle at over the years. What may surprise you is, the book lasted twelve issues. Oh yes, a story about a trucker with a cybernetic brain, “C.B.” for short, had enough gas to survive an entire year. I can’t say if it was cancelled in ’84 because trucking gave way to Karate Kid, the toy was made with lead paint or Marvel discovered it’s dignity. I’ll take my chances and blame Ralph Macchio for this one.
“These are the cold eyes of a genre killer! Aww shit, he’s got sunglasses on.”
Now that I’ve examined the nations desire to hop into a flat bed with an industry associated with gnarly beards and overalls, let’s hit the road with U.S.1 #3 “Rhyme of the Ancient Highwayman”!
“The Waze app really porked me this time”
The cover is actually pretty cool and implies a serious adventure awaits the reader. A big rig skidding off a molten cliff in Hades! But forget that, focus on the corner box. The image of our titular character looking more like a hitch hiker that lost a contact lens is the true indicator on what to expect here.
This book was written by comic legend Al Milgrom. There’s rarely a long box out there without some form of his work in it. I can only chalk up his involvement with this as “just a gig” or blackmail inspired his decision to jump aboard.
The pencils were handled by accomplished artist Frank Springer. This guy did it all. A veteran who drew “pictures, charts…that sort of thing” for the Army in the 50’s, his career spanned decades. Working in comics, animation and newspaper strips. Like Milgrom, you can only assume the electricity bill was due, so U.S. 1 it is.
We open with our hero Ulysses S. Archer, aka U.S. of A ( go grab a flag and a cold one, I’ll wait…) barreling through hell in his tractor trailer pursued by the heinous Highwayman. Hey, the story is like the cover after all, groovy! Nope. This only lasted for the first page as appearing out of nowhere is a woman wielding a “Hypno-Whip”. She proceeds to beat the ever living snot out of him, to the extent his brain gets exposed. No better time to introduce newcomers to what makes him so damned special, that C.B. skull. The narration box gets a little randy here and made me question if this script is safe for work.
“Louder, Harder, Throbbing…gotta get me one of those Hypno-Whips!”
This whole scenario proves to be a wet dream disguised as a nightmare. I had planned on skipping ahead in the plot but something made me take pause. How 80’s action hero is it to sleep with your headband on? It’s equally grody as throughout the issue he NEVER takes it off. Hey buddy, no shirt, no shoes, no service..wait…that headband is proof you can kill a man with your bare hands. C’mon in!
It’s also worth mentioning, if you are a first time reader of this title like I was, it’s fair to wonder who the stogie chomper is at his bedside, tossing bad Eskimo puns around. Even worse, who the heck is he calling “Wideload”? Seems dickish but we’ll get to that in a little bit.
“The gun show is open 24/7 baby”
Nothing cures rattled nerves better than caffeine, so U.S. decides to get a cup of coffee at a diner that also serves as his base of operations named the Short Stop. Because his problems are more important than you enjoying a breakfast omelette, he loudly recalls his origin for all the customers to hear. The Highwayman caused the crash that crushed his melon and is responsible for the disappearance of his brother Jeff, which was a given as he couldn’t be bothered to wear a bandana.
An old man in a booth decides to get his Large Marge on, piping in that he knew a tale of how the Highwayman came to be. In the early days of hauling, there was a man who could “drive long and hard with the best of ’em”. Yeah, let’s revisit that safe for work thing.
No one can escape Father Time and this wagoner had whippersnappers hot on his tracks. Unlike most people with performance issues he opted to skip Canadian mail order supplements and look for a solution within the dark arts.
“Dude…I don’t even wear pants”
Spurned by every creep with a candelabra, he finally finds a willing trade partner. A demon grants his request for the small asking price of his soul AND spending eternity in servitude snagging spirits on the Interstate. Good deal dingus!
The stranger displays some giddy up by finishing his yarn and bolting out the door. U.S. stands stunned then makes chase, but finds he was pretty spry for an old guy and is long gone. Returning to his java, our hero pines to hear more and wishes aloud (thought balloons need not apply) to hear more about the Highwayman.
Hopefully someone has been oiling the hinges because the door swings open again and someone proclaims “Why not hire a private detective?”. At the entrance stands a living embodiment of a Bad News Bears bowl cut named Retread. He’s new on the scene and remember the whole Wideload thing from earlier? It’s introduction time!
Here comes some marvelous monikers! The owner of the diner is Ed “Poppa Wheelie” Wheeler, his wife is Wideload Annie and it sucks to be the waitress as her name is Mary McGrill. That must be Scottish for living off tips.
Retread explains he once worked for a P.I. firm but completely sucked at his job. This is all U.S. needs to hear and a sidekick is born. They hit the road in his based on a toy signature Semi.
“Whats your name sweetheart…Lot Lizard?”
Despite only meeting U.S. nine panels ago, Retread is the only character allowed private thoughts by the writer. Good thing as he’s man crushing on his new best bud. He aspires to be like U.S. and believes “this is the beginning of a long lasting friendship” Good god, I can’t wait until this guy bites it.
They quickly come upon a convoy led by a Mack in Black… The Highwayman! Put on your Yee-Haw helmets and leave caution on the curb, here comes the action. Gunfire, twisted metal and Blimps dropping bombs. That’s right, a blimp. don’t believe me? The radar scope never lies.
“Too bad this thing doesn’t have a logic lever”
They fake their own demise with the aid of a smokescreen. A plan is devised to sneak up on the goons who are just chilling in a canyon. Don’t ask me, I didn’t write it. While surveilling the situation, U.S. notices the man from the diner standing in the middle of the crowd. Sweet baby biscuits! Even though they are standing around like brain dead baboons, they must want to kill the old bastard for sharing the secret of the Highwayman! Who needs a private eye with those dazzling deduction skills?
Retread is given a flare gun and told to create diversion once U.S. takes the low ground. This numbskull with something flammable? Sweet, he’s finally going to blow his own ass up! Well, not quite. He does manage to play the role of clumsy cohort tumbling down the ridge but only burns his britches. Worse part is those warm wranglers also prevent him from getting whacked.
“Witness the invention of FLARE-FU”
Outnumbered, U.S. pulls his “Lucky Silver Dollar” out of his pocket. This is no common currency. It serves as a remote for his 18 wheeler and sends it speeding into the brawl making everyone scatter. Here’s what bugs the ever living crap out of me. Recall that snappy C.B. cerebrum he has? WHAT DOES IT DO? The guy has every doohickey you can think of in his cab but why can’t he just use that circuit board attached to his noggin? What’s that you say? Ahh yes, it’s there for sound effects while he gets punched. Makes all the sense in the world now.
“Let’s see what sound effect his chin makes…OOPS!”
There is a tug of war for the old man and faster than you can say ZOINKS, his wrinkled skin peels off to reveal he is the Highwayman. Surprise, surprise. U.S. is left holding some geriatric goop and the reader is promptly opening a garbage can.
“If the Highwayman had a headband his face wouldn’t have peeled off. Just saying.”
Back to reality. This was a banal turd. I’m not going to leave you empty handed though, that’s not the type of guy I am. Get ready for a take hotter than Retreads tighty whities.
They need to relaunch this series.
Before you pump the breaks on me here, no… I’m not hopped up on glue. This concept was so utterly ridiculous, imagine a writer like Garth Ennis in the drivers seat. He could flesh out that supporting cast and navigate it into so many wild directions. It would be balls out fun. Not your cup of nitrous? Alright here’s another one for you. How about Jason Aaron and some of his Southern Bastards grit taking a ride on the rumble strips. Admit it, that would be fucking amazing. If you’ve read comics for as many years as I have, you realize anything can work with the right creative team.
Marvel should be all over this. They love to roll out #1’s on covers. So much so, they even slapped them on just to announce the beginning of a new story arc. Now you have a title that ALWAYS has a one front and center. Makes it easier to trick the kids into believing they have a collectors item.
So while I recommend avoiding the original series like the plague, I urge you to petition Marvel for a revival. Tyco can bring it’s little toy too.
All U.S.1 images are rights of Marvel. All others images/video clips are rights of their respective owners. No Junk Buzzards were harmed during the writing of this column.
Special Thanks to my friend Jeromy Gordon for the editing assist and reminding me Johnny from Cobra Kai ripped off U.S.’s look. Eat shit Macchio.