"U.S. 1, Part One"
My friends, have I got a real treat for you. U.S. 1 is a comic that I've had in my "must write a Longbox column about" stack for more than a year now, but I've been holding off in favor of more timely articles, and also I knew that this would be an ambitious venture best tackled for a later date. U.S. 1 is a 12-issue Marvel series published in the early 80s, about a truck driver with superpowers. Well, that is if you count a metal skull that can pick up CB radio transmissions as superpowers, but since our hero is a truck driver, let's not be too picky.
I was six when this comic came out, so it wasn't exactly on my radar at that time, not having any G.I.JOE or Transformers characters in it. I first became aware of this series years later when a local comic shop mostly frequented by college students had the first issue displayed on the wall behind the counter with a $10 price tag. This book is worth peanuts, but of course all the college students marveled (no pun intended) over how awesome it looked. I mean, just see for yourself:
See this picture? Put down those pills, Susie Q. These pixels just made life worth living again.
What part of that fails to be awesome? In the front you have our hero, who looks like he's dressed more to attend an aerobics class than to mingle with a bunch of no-nonsense truck drivers (also note the transparent "ghost leg"). Behind that a profile image of a man with a metal skull, and a villain maniacally posing on the side of a cliff during a torrential rainstorm, with a cape about three times his height flapping in the winds around him as he oversees a truck launching through a guard rail and plummeting to certain doom below. On top of that we have the hero giving us a wink and a thumbs up in the Marvel box in the top left corner, as if to reassuringly say "No, really. Buy my book. It's okay." And if the cover could pat you comfortingly on the shoulder, it would.
A cover image like this shows such cheesy promise, how can anyone not want to feast their eyes on the hilarity that doubtless waits inside? For the next several infrequent visits to that comic shop (not my regular one), the issue remained behind the counter, with its insanely over-priced though completely-without-irony price tag challenging anyone brave enough to purchase it. My friends and I laughed about it every time and wondered what awaited us inside, but there was no way any of us were going to pay $10 for such a comic.
Then one day, the comic was gone. Sold. To whom, I have no idea, but somebody finally decided it was worth it. And so, a couple years went by with me having forgotten all about it until I was at another local comic shop (also not my regular one) when they were having a sale, and in the quarter bin I found not just the first issue of U.S. 1, but all 12-issues. My patience had paid off! I immediately grabbed up all the issues and decided to save them for a rainy day.
And well, my friends, that rainy day is now. (Come to think of it, it actually is a rainy day outside as I write this). I'm going to detail the entire 12-issue series and share the awesomeness of this wonderfully cheesy book with all of you. Because it's such a long series and I feel that it deserves to be covered in depth, I'm going to break this into two parts. This time I'll discuss issues 1-6, and next month I'll follow up with the back half of the series. Besides, you can't handle 12 issues of this at once. None of us can.
Our first issue starts with the truck U.S. 1 tearing down the highway, with a portly, overall-clad redneck standing on the side of the road narrating some exposition about himself. He tells us that his name is Ed Wheeler, better known as "Poppa Wheelie", and he begins by telling us what a hero that young lad driving U.S. 1 is.
When I see this I really want that cigar to make "toot toot!" sounds.
He tells us that the boy's name is Ulysses Solomon Archer, or U.S. for short. He and his older brother Jefferson Hercules Archer (thank god, I finally have worthy names for my own sons) used to spend their childhood watching the big trucks driving by, and they would dream of the bright future day when they could follow in their parents' footsteps and drive big rigs themselves.
Even U.S.'s mom drove trucks for a living, but you'll note that she does not wear combat boots.
Their silly old dad wanted them to concentrate on their education first, and to "wait and see" what the future held. Well, what the future held was for their parents to both die in a horrible accident, leaving Ulysses orphaned and angry, until the day he decided to dress up in a truck costume and become Truckman, vowing revenge on cars everywhere. Okay, so that last part didn't happen (maybe if it were a DC comic...), but I promise that what does happen is just as cheesy. As the newly orphaned boys watch the funeral truck convoy procession (yes) roll by, the owners of the Short Stop truck stop, Poppa Wheelie and his wife" Wide Load Annie" offer to take them in and raise them.
What you don't realize is that all four of those hands belong to Poppa Wheelie.
The boys grow up, and eventually Jeff starts driving a big rig to help pay for Ulysses's schooling. When ol' U.S. asks why he can't drop out of school and start driving a truck as well, Poppa Wheelie basically tells him his brother was allowed to drop out because he's a moron and doesn't have "the head for book learning" that Ulysses does. So Ulysses follows the wishes of his dead parents and his adoptive parents and finishes his education, graduating with degrees in computer program design, electronics engineering, and more (just who does he think he is, Buckaroo Banzai?). After U.S. is done with his schooling, he's decided he still wants to be a truck driver, much to his brother's chagrin. He's telling his brother this while riding along with him on a trucking run during a horrible rainstorm, as they're going along a narrow cliffside road.
Suddenly, a tractor trailer black as pitch rolls up alongside them out of nowhere, and starts ramming them into the guard rail! Jeff glances over, getting a look at the driver, and begins freaking out that it's "the Highwayman".
"Yes, legend has it the Highwayman drives around the country honking his air horn and trying to get girls to flash their tits. He's a real jerk."
The Highwayman keeps ramming them into the railing, and eventually it gives and Ulysses and Jeff go careening over the edge to their doom below.
This is what happened when Optimus Prime heard that Michael Bay was going to direct the Transformers movie.
Somehow, U.S. is thrown free from the burning truck. He awakens and begins calling out to his brother.
"Jeff? Jeff! My god! The accident totally decolorized me! Help!"
As he's desperately trying to find his brother, he hears laughter coming from the cliff tops above, and looks up to see the Highwayman looking down upon him!
The Highwayman. So skilled that when he laughs he can catch the "HA"s and save them for later.
U.S. sees the Highwayman and his demonic-looking flunkies coming down into the ravine and approaching the vehicle wreck. But suddenly the truck explodes and U.S. is knocked out. The next thing he's aware of, he's in the hospital having just been operated on with a shattered skull. It seems there's a new technique that the doctors tried on him, wherein they replaced his skull with a new experimental metal alloy, which allows skin and hair to grow on top of it, so you wouldn't even notice that there's anything wrong with him.
"Ulysses, we gave you a lobotomy while you were out. It was the only way to get you to accept what's coming later in this story."
While U.S. is recovering from his surgery, some detectives come in, doubting U.S.'s story about the Highwayman, and they point out that his brother's body mysteriously disappeared from the wreckage without a trace. Gee, you don't suppose we'll see the brother show up later, perhaps as some kind of mysterious villain or shady antihero, do you?
If you read every instance of the name "Wide Load" as an insult rather than a nickname, the comic becomes much more fun.
As U.S. is recuperating at home, he realizes that he can pick up CB radio signals with his metallic skull. A bit more experimenting reveals that if he moves his tongue over different fillings in his teeth, he can pick up different channels! He decides that this will be an invaluable tool in helping him track down the Highwayman, upon whom he has sworn revenge.
Shit, that's nothing. When I rub my tongue over my fillings, I can download porn.
After U.S. has recovered, he gets Poppa Wheelie and Wide Load to help him build a new truck outfitted with all kinds of weapons and gadgets to help him on his quest for vengeance.
There may be lots of gadgets on this dash, but you'll find no cigarette lighter here, friend. Marvel Heroes just don't smoke.
This includes an oil slick release, tire-shredding shrapnel bombs, a smoke screen, ejection seat, radar for tracking vehicles, and more! And with a push of a button, it all rolls back behind a normal looking dashboard panel. But the most impressive device of all is the remote control drive system, which allows him to remotely drive the vehicle, all in the guise of a silver dollar!
Defacing United States currency is a crime, kids. Don't try to make a remote truck control out of legal tender at home.
I don't know what kind of control scheme he has set up to be able to operate the vehicle by merely holding a coin, but he takes them out back and demonstrates its use. Perhaps it works in a similar fashion to a Nintendo Wii controller? Or maybe it just works because it's pure bullshit.
"Man, I wish that asshole would stop doing donuts on my lawn."
U.S. sets out looking for his brother's killer, and on his very first night he finds himself driving along a cliff in a terrible storm, very reminiscent of the night that took his brother's life. And guess who just happens to show up to give U.S. a hard time?
Sorry, I'm not convinced a truck is evil unless it has a Green Goblin on the front.
Yes, it's the Highwayman, who's decided to show up and pull the same old stunts he pulled before, trying to ram U.S. off the cliff!
We'll have none of that "tailpipe" action here, mister! This is a children's comic!
The Highwayman pushes past U.S. to get to a one-lane bridge, forcing U.S. to take the alternate route that's closed because there's a big chasm right in the middle of it. Fortunately, U.S. is able to fire off his nitros and launch himself across the pit, and he even manages to pull out ahead of the Highwayman to get to the one-lane bridge, but just then he notices Poppa Wheelie standing like a moron right in the middle of the road. He pushes the Highwayman into the cliffside, who defies all laws of physics by driving up the side of the cliff and over U.S. 1, plummeting into the ravine below.
U.S. was so concerned with pushing the Highwayman out of the way that he failed to notice that he ran over Poppa Wheelie himself.
The issue ends with U.S. talking with Poppa Wheelie in the rain, and U.S. says that he somehow doubts that's the last they'll see of the Highwayman.
When a whip does that to a highway sign, you do not want to get hit with that whip.
Our second issue opens in the restaurant at the Short Stop truck stop, where a big burly truck driver walks in and loudly declares that he's heard a lot of "baaaaaaaad" truckers hang out there, but that he's pretty certain he's the baddest of them all. An all-out brawl results from this, as every trucker in the place tries to prove that they're the most badass. Wide Load Annie even starts throwing plates at people, not to stop the fight, but to participate!
Man, this totally reminds me of my 30th birthday party.
U.S. arrives to see someone thrown from the window of the Short Stop, but he's not surprised because fights are a regular occurrence there. He walks in to discover that everybody has been knocked out except for the "baddest trucker of them all" and Wide Load Annie, who warns U.S. how tough this guy is by hitting him in the head with a wrench.
"I've been hitting him for five minutes and he hasn't even noticed. But I think he may have shat himself."
The bad trucker says that some unknown "she" mentioned that he might find U.S. there and that he'd be a tough opponent, and he can't wait to see for himself just how tough he'll be. They fight for a while and things don't go very well for U.S. at first.
That is, until the bad trucker hits U.S. on top of the head and hurts his hand, giving U.S. the idea to use his head in the fight. He head butts the guy a couple times until he's out cold, and suddenly everyone else is awake and celebrating the victory.
I once saw that first move performed by a she-male hooker in a Thai bathhouse.
The bad trucker walks out in all the congratulatory commotion and soon encounters:
Also known as "Midnight and her ridiculous costume!"
She lashes him with the whip and he stands at attention awaiting her orders. Midnight tells him that he failed in his mission to beat up U.S. Archer and commands him to leave at once and forget he ever saw her. He happily obliges, and Midnight hides behind a truck and changes out of her crazy costume. A few minutes later, as the Short Stop crew is cleaning up the aftermath of that little brouhaha, Mary, the new cook comes wandering back in, declaring that fight was "quite a little donnybrook".
"Why, I declare that little donnybrook knocked my plastic tiara clean off my purdy little head!"
U.S. asks her where she was and she explains that she was out back fixing her hair, which got messed up in the scuffle. Hrmm. Very suspicious. Could she in fact be the mysterious lady known only as Midnight? Just then regular customer Taryn O'Connell (otherwise known as "Taryn Down the Highway") walks in and wonders what on earth just happened in there.
"Did anybody order a red-headed slut?"
Hrmm. Very suspicious timing on her arrival. Could she in fact be the mysterious lady known only as Midnight? Taryn walks up and kisses U.S., whom she knows Mary the cook has a thing for.
From this angle you just kind of assume she's kissing him. But she's really biting the shit out of his nose.
This upsets U.S., who doesn't want people to "get the wrong idea" about him and Taryn. This was the first inkling I had that U.S. might be totally gay, a fact which I am now utterly convinced of. More on that later. Mary gets jealous and starts arguing with Taryn, and U.S. has to break up the fight by announcing that he's leaving to go on a cargo run. On his way out he grabs a stick of "Sticko gum" for the road.
If Wide Load isn't revealed to be a man by the end of this series, I'll eat my own shoes.
U.S. gets into his rig and drives off, and we soon see that Midnight is in hot pursuit.
Gee, flailing a long whip around in the air while riding a vehicle with spoked wheels. Nope, I don't see how that's a bad idea at all.
U.S. drives along, thinking about how he can pick up CB radio signals in his head, when suddenly he picks up a signal that causes him great pain.
An unfortunate side-effect of having a metal skull that picks up CB radio
frequencies is that it gives you what is commonly known as "Stupid Eye Syndrome".
He looks in the side mirror and notices Midnight on her motorcycle, riding up fast to catch up with him. She shatters his mirror with her Hypno-whip, and U.S. realizes it's the whip that's somehow causing his horrible headache.
THERE'S STILL MORE MADNESS TO SEE!
CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE TO
PAGE TWO OF U.S. 1!
|in the quarter bin I found not just the first issue of U.S. 1, but all 12-issues.|
|Why is it that you always seem to find such great stuff in the bargain bins, Proto? My shop's bin only has obscure 90's comics.|
There was a Maximum Overdrive reference in this. Clearly someone wasn't reading carefully enough.
|The Highwayman. So skilled that when he laughs he can catch the "HA"s and save them for later.|
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