A big goon rolls into the Short Stop and starts roughing up the place. Poppa Wheelie, Wide-Load Annie, and their clientele hit him with everything they've got - fists, furniture, skillets - and when Ulysses Solomon Archer arrives, even he has trouble landing a blow that means anything. Until the goon injures his hand on U.S.'s steel skull, which the young man starts swinging around in a series of headbutts that sends the goon fleeing. As he stumbles to his truck, the goon is confronted by Midnight, a costumed villain in the payroll of the Highwayman. She used her hypno-whip to gain control over the goon and send him to learn what he could about how U.S. fights. This done, she sends the dazed goon on his way as she slips into the shadows and sheds her disguise.
As everyone's cleaning up the Short Stop, two women enter. The first is Mary McGrill, who works the kitchen of the truck stop. Next is Tanya O'Connell, a brash trucker with an eye for U.S. So does Mary, but she's much more reserved in her attraction compared to Tanya, who walks up and plants a kiss on the guy. He pushes her back and flees the room before they can continue fighting over him. Along the way, he grabs a stick of gum.
As U.S. 1 thunders down the road with U.S. at the wheel, Midnight appears, racing after him on her motorcycle. The pulses of her whip are having a painful effect on U.S.'s steel skull, so he tries to use as many tricks as he can to dislodge her: oil slicks, tire spikes, gas pellets. None of them are a match for her riding skills, and she finally uses her whip to gain full control over his mind and pull him over. She plants a kiss on him as she tells him it's time to die, and he asks if he can have a final stick of gum. Sliding the foil of the gum against his fillings, the affect on his signal-receiving skull allows him to shake out of the hypnotic influence, and when she tries to compel him into driving into a rock wall, he instead swerves, knocking her from her bike.
As she scurries back on and rides off, vowing revenge, U.S. enjoys another stick of gum.
With the lengthy origin story out of the way in the last issue, this one is all about letting us firmly settle into this world and among its characters. U.S. himself is still a bit bland, a bit goody-goody, but we see a spunk and a wit emerging that'll be fun to explore, especially when he finds himself hopelessly out-matched in the bar brawl (until, natch, using his head), and the clever bit of him foiling his foe with actual chewing gum foil. We don't see a whole lot of Poppa Wheelie and Wide-Load Annie, but I'm starting to come around on her nick-name. Before, she just seemed like an overweight grandmother figure, but here we see she's a stout slab of muscle fully willing and capable of knocking a few heads in, even as she reminds people to brush their teeth. So "wide-load" is a reference to brawn instead of weight, and I'll let that argument from my last post drop.
I love the atmosphere of the diner, where strangers from the road will drop in for a go at proving themselves against the fabled denizens within, with all the regulars not only used to the brawls that ensue, but eager to chip in a bit before settling and helping Wheelie and Annie clean up the place. There's a great exchange in the middle of the brawl:
"Why is it, whenever a fight breaks out in a place like this, everyone fights everyone else instead of just the guy who started it!?"
"C'mon! Where's your sense of high drama!"
Again, it surprises me that Al Milgrom is still a freshman writer, because this is littered with so many of those charming little moments that give a work life, which so many long-standing vets are incapable of delivering. Maybe it's through his inexperience that he's letting himself be loose and free. Either way, it's working.
The character of Midnight is interesting. I'll admit, when I first saw her on the cover (how the heck did they nab a top name talent like Bill Sienkiewicz for this book?), I thought the weapon she was wielding was a souped-up gas nozzle and hose, which sounds silly, but tell me how that wouldn't fit this world. It's much more simple than that, with her just being a hired assassin with an energy whip, but I like the interplay between her and U.S. on the road, and not only that her energy whip affects his metal, signal-receiving skull, but that she has a finishing move literally called "The Stroke of Midnight". And again, the way it's "foiled" is delightful.
I also like the game Milgrom is playing with who she may be, with not one, but two women from U.S.'s life walking into the same room just after we saw Midnight shedding her disguise in the shadows. We've got Mary McGrill, the aptly-named chef/waitress of Short Stop, and Taryn O'Connell, a feisty Irish trucker. Both have the hots for U.S. (Taryn much more openly about it), but he's more interested in being anywhere but in the presence of both because of the fights that always break out. Either one could be an interesting person to turn into his new foe, so I'm curious to see how this'll play out.
The art is still good, if clunky at times. Mike Esposito does some good work over Herb Trimpe's pencils, but Herb still does an awkward job of shading people at night, giving them a shiny plastic look, and some of his figures and expressions are a bit loose and flat. But it still works, with his strong page layouts and consistent vehicle action. He's also great at the little smirks and looks characters give, adding further personality to Milgrom's warm writing.
Overall, another solid issue. I'm still not arguing this is a great series that everyone must track down, but it's a tasty treat with a flavor all its own, and I'm looking forward to 10 more helpings.
Oh, final note, how can you not love that U.S. has made his road spikes "biodegradable", so they won't flatten any random joe to hit the road after the battle has already passed. Complete nonsense, but sincere, and that's why it works.
Breaker One-Nine. Ya'll got your ears on, come back? This here's Tee Willie comin' atcha with this week's review of U.S. 1 issue 2: "After Midnight!"
Sorry, just trying out some trucker lingo. You know, maybe add a little authenticity to my review. No? Fine.
*Takes off flannel shirt*
With all of the inevitably clunky origin set-up in its rearview mirror, issue two puts the pedal to the metal and takes the fast lane straight to Actionville! Okay, that might be overstating it just a tiny bit, but it does ramp up the somewhat leisurely pace of the first issue, and as a bonus, it adds some much needed humor from an unlikely source: our titular hero.
I really enjoyed the opening melee at the Short Stop. It was a humorous and fast-moving way to get us into the story. I especially enjoyed seeing U.S. Archer show a sense of humor. In the first issue, he came across a bit stiff, but here he's cracking jokes while cracking skulls in a way that's reminiscent of Peter Parker. Characters like Poppa Wheelie and Wide Load add a nice bit of flavor, but if this comic is going to work for me, Archer can't be another in a long line of square-jawed, tight-assed heroes here at the Showcase. I really hope they keep this aspect of the character going forward.
From there, we're introduced to the mysterious villainess, Midnight. She wouldn't look out of place in the rogue's gallery of a dozen other Marvel heroes, and that's the problem. Yeah, she's got her motorcycle, but I'd like to have seen her have a bit more of a themed look. Why not something a more biker-like? Whether that's a Harley type of biker or an Evel Knievel type, I just don't think Archer should be taking on villains that look like they belong in X-Men. It's not that kind of title, and it's not that kind of world. I do like her Hypno-Whip, though. Very cool. Oh, and before I forget, let me just say it loud and clear: "Mary the waitress is Midnight!" Oh, they try to make us think it's Taryn, but we know better, don't we? No matter, I'm still curious to see how it all plays out.
The climax is a bit anti-climactic and nothing is really accomplished here story-wise, but this is still a fun issue that's populated with colorful characters and tells its story at a brisk pace. I enjoyed it.
Ten-Four. Over and out.