May 31, 2014

U.S. 1, issue 6 "Iron Mike, King of the Bike"

As U.S. pulls up to the Short Stop, he's greeted by the familiar sight of someone being flung through the window. Only instead of a brawl, the man is banker Phil LeGreed, who's threatening to foreclose on the property to a fuming Wideload Annie. As the man flees, U.S. and Retread overhear as Poppa Wheelie and Wideload talk about their financial woes, having put all their money into U.S.'s medical bills and retrofitting U.S. 1 in his battle against the Highwayman. U.S. is furious at himself for having overlooked their sacrifice, and admits it's time to set his journey aside for a bit.

LeGreed returns with a squad of cops, insisting assault charges be pressed against Wideload. Another actual bar brawl breaks out, with neither the patrons nor the cops wanting to see the beloved Annie in cuffs, and she's rushed off to join U.S. in his wonder truck. Retread tries to tag along, too, but falls behind in the fracas.

Since they need to lay out of town for a while, U.S. and Wideload decide to drive some loads to gather cash. While hitting up "Jobber" Carosella for a gig, they learn of Peaceful Vista, Arizona, where a biker gang led by Iron Mike has taken over the town and raids all trucker hauls coming in.

Showing up in Peaceful Vista with a full haul, the two find the streets deserted and the populace spooked. With the roar of engines, Iron Mike and his biker gang swoop in. After introductions are made, U.S. realizes his punches do nothing against the slab of muscle, so it's back to the truck as they start knocking around the bikers with hair-pin turns and tear gas. The people are rallied and start standing up to the biker gang, which finds itself surrounded in the town square.

Iron Mike refuses to give up, and challenges U.S. 1 to a race to decide who controls the town. U.S. 1 revs up, and just as Iron Mike speeds off, suddenly detaches from its trailer and jets right up behind him. Now matter what he does to throw it off, it matches him move for move, so when he reaches the turn at the midpoint, he draws a gun to shoot out its tires. It shoots right back with a jet of gas, knocking Iron Mike off balance and into a lamp post.

By the time Iron Mike returns to town, he finds everyone celebrating around the victorious U.S. 1. And when he starts yelling at the driver, it's revealed U.S. wasn't behind the wheel, but Wideload Annie (though U.S. did help a bit with his silver dollar remote control). The thug is thrown out of town and the people cheer.

Ducking away from the excitement for a breather, Wideload is suddenly caught by the stroke of Midnight's whip, the hypnotic powers of which take over her mind.


After a few clunkers, this issue is exactly the breath of fresh air I needed, and I hope it's a promise of things to come as we move into the second half of the book's run.

What this series has lacked is a motive and stakes. U.S. wants to nab the Highwayman, yes, but he has these wonderful tools he's doing nothing with and a whole world of stuff going on around him that he's ignoring. Here, the stable setting of the Short Stop is (if even just temporarily) taken away from him, and he's forced to hit the road and do some hauling jobs. We get a nice new element of "Jobber" Corsorella, who assigns gigs to drivers, as he not only gives U.S. work, but becomes a source of information for what delivery destinations are being hassled by baddies that a red, white, and blue vigilante in a souped up remote-control semi can be used to combat. This is great as it gives Tony and I exactly what we've been asking for: U.S. hitting the road and actively looking for (NON-Highwayman) threats to thrust the five-fingered fist of justice at. Extra emphasis on non-Highwayman as, a tasty tease at the end aside, it's very refreshing to step away from the big bad now and then. Not everyone Superman fought was tied to Lex Luthor, nor Spider-man to Kingpin, etc etc, so showing baddies on the road who are just bad on their own terms is great.

Also, love the unexpected twist of leaving Retread behind at the short stop, and having U.S. team up with Wideload Annie, who's largely been a background character who popped up for a joke now and then. Here, they make one heck of a team, with great banter and his level-headedness nicely balanced by her unpredictability. And how often do you see a book where the lead essentially takes his grandma along to fight crime. A brawny grandma who likes to throw people through her own window and threatens to beat their head in with a car battery, sure, but it's still an unconventional dynamic I'd like to see more of.

Even Frank Springer is starting to settle into the art duties, with a more expressive issue here which doesn't get lost in his repetitive static wide-shot. There's great bits like the biker gang first rolling into town, or yet another bar brawl, or even just the moments of U.S. and Annie talking. I don't know if it's him settling into the material, Milgrom figuring out how to write to his art style, or both just bringing their A-game all around, but I like it. It doesn't even fall into the same trap of earlier issues of just making the second half a single, drawn-out action sequence, as there's multiple chapters to the action and conflicts, giving a nice variety to how it all plays out.

I genuinely dug this issue, and if they can keep up this momentum and give me more of what's working here, then I might be getting excited about this book again, instead of being all set to write it off like last week.


If you've ever been to a picnic and watched a fly frantically zipping around from dish to dish with no rhyme or reason, then you know what it's like to read the increasingly unfocused U.S. 1.

Here's what our hero, Ulysses S. Archer, is supposed to be doing:
  • Using his super hi-tech semi to travel the highways and byways of America in search of the mysterious Highyway, the man who may or may not have killed his brother.
What he's been doing instead:
  • Sitting around his adopted family's truck stop.
  • Racing zeppelins.
  • Sitting around his adopted family's truck stop.
  • Meeting aliens.
  • Sitting around his adopted family's truck stop.
If "Iron Mike, King of the Bike" doesn't exactly - or even remotely - return the focus of the series back to its original intent, at least its wheels are back on terra firma. I like the idea of Papa and Wideload struggling with their bills because they depleted their savings paying for Archer's recovery and his subsequent building of U.S. 1. Unfortunately, it becomes nothing more than an excuse to get Wideload out on the road with U.S. and is quickly dropped. Don't get me wrong, Wideload Annie is my favorite character, and she livens up the story with her two-fisted spunk and one-liners, but once again, none of this goes anywhere until the last few panels tease us with the promise of a return to the story we were promised before being waylaid by aliens and other assorted nonsense.

Speaking of nonsense, Iron Mike is yet another in a line of lame, non-threatening enemies. A gang of bikers sound like a much more natural foe for a truck driving hero than, say, a German zeppelin commander, but once again, a good idea is undermined by bad execution. Instead of the Hell's Angels, or even the Dreadnocks of G.I. Joe fame, we get something akin to Eric Von Zipper, and the Ratz and Mice from those 60s beach movies. I did enjoy the idea that Iron Mike is defeated by being emasculated by Wideload, but even that's undermined by revealing that Archer was controlling U.S. 1 the entire time. Why, Al Milgrom? Why?

"Iron Mike, King of the Bike" is another pointless issue, but it still managed to squeeze a few chuckles out of me thanks to the presence of Wideload Annie. Here's hoping that, when they get back to the Short Stop, they discover that Poppa Wheelie and Retread have run off together, leaving Wideload as Archer's new sidekick.


Tony Williams said...

I'm a little surprised you enjoyed this issue as much as you did. After a few clunkers I think most of the enjoyment I had was relative.

NoelCT said...

This one felt like everyone involved realized the book wasn't working, so they buckled down and tried to make a fresh start of it, by satirically commenting on the absurdity of their setup with the opening foreclosure bit, then setting up a new direction for the book which gives it the focus it was lacking, and shaking up the cast a bit by swapping out the sidekick. This all depends on where we go from here, of course, but this showed me they were aware of their problems and attempting to address them, which gives me some hope for our remaining issues.

I'll admit Iron Mike isn't much of a villain, but he's enough to get the job done, as they build enough story into this issue that it still gets by without making him more colorful.

For me, at least. :)

Tony Williams said...

You're right, this definitely felt like an attempt at a course correction. Why they didn't just go straight back into the Highwayman storyline I don't know.

As long as we can avoid an extra-terrestrial activities from here on out, I'll be okay :p.

NoelCT said...

After all the Highwayman we've gotten so far, we need to step away from him for a break. Or at least more of a break than the break from reality that was issue #5. :) Not everything needs to be about him, and I'd much rather have a series about U.S. taking on other threats to the road and only swerve back to the recurring mission against the Highwayman from time to time.

Tony Williams said...

I'm all for mixing it up, but thus far the Highwayman arc hasn't gone anywhere. I get the sense they (Milgrom & Co.) don't know any more about where this is headed than we do at this stage.

I think they painted themselves into a corner by creating a Fugitive style "One armed man" villain. I'd much prefer Archer out on the road taking on a different baddie from week to week than chasing shadows.