The Highwayman continues to gloat before the shocked cast of the Short Stop. Ulysses first tries to attack him with Midnight's whip, then the mind-controlled U.S. 1, but both prove ineffective, especially as the Highwayman also has a psychic link with his jet black semi. Ulysses demands to know what happened to his brother, Jeff, but just before the Highwayman can respond, Baron von Blimp swings out of his zeppelin on a rope ladder, sword between his teeth, as he personally joins the fight. Only to slip off a rung and hit the ground. As everyone looks down on him, he spots a shadow in the sky as a large flying saucer drops down and hovers over the Short Stop, the aliens within debating the outcome of the pending battle.
The Highwayman recognizes the aliens and bolts to his truck, with Ulysses hopping into U.S. 1 and roaring on his tail. Not only is the Highwayman outmaneuvering him, but every trick and gadget Ulysses has up his sleeve is deflected by the Highwayman's superior technology: tire spikes hit impenetrable wheels, heat-seeking missiles hit an electromagnetic force field, an oil slick dodged as the enemy semi casually lifts into the air and flies.
Unable to think of anything else, Ulysses pulls to the side of the road and steps out, and is met by the Highwayman, who trots down a beam of light from his still levitating big rig. Ulysses again demands to know what happened to his brother Jeff, and the Highwayman peels off his face, revealing Jeff himself.
I don't even know what happened with this issue. We've seen some bad stuff in the past, with Milgrom being unable to figure out how to block a story and just shoving a bunch of one-liners in place of dialogue, or Frank Springer unable to balance his tones and rushing through awkward angles and uneven figure work. We've seen the series as a whole show a clear lack of any form of direction despite a planned limited issue run, with setups that go nowhere, branching threads that drop off the road, completely random bullshit just dropping out of the sky because they couldn't figure out where else to take it and figured they'd just throw a laugh at us, despite their inability to deliver said laugh in a way that's actually funny. We've seen some very, very bad stuff.
This issue takes all of that and bakes it in a quiche with just enough oregano sprinkled in to kick the bad up to 11.
There was one good moment in the entire book, just one. As Baron von Blimp was climbing down a rope ladder, sabre in mouth as he proudly declared his intention to kick everyone's asses, he slipped on a rung, landing squarely on his, and everybody, even the Highwayman, just paused to look down at this excuse for a villain and roll their eyes at him for even making an attempt at trying. And then a massive spaceship shows up, completely dwarfing his own zeppelin and further negating the worth of his existence. Thank you, comic, for finding the absolute cruelest way to grind this character deep down into the dirt his ass is planted on. Thank you.
Otherwise, this is just a mess. It's a whole lot of everyone standing around gaping at the Highwayman as he tells them how awesome he is and how bad they all are, and then he spends the ENTIRE ISSUE demonstrating this as U.S. throws one thing after another at him, only for each to be deflected in increasingly ludicrous ways. You want to show how badass and unbeatable your villain is, I get it. Go for it. But just use one or two examples instead of the TWENTY you've crammed in just to pad out a reveal we should have had by page two, because by the time we get to the unmasking (it's his brother, gasp, surprise) we're so numbed by the monotonous pounding of his much bigger dick against the impressive but ultimately inadequate chubby of Ulysses, that I had far more of a reaction at knowing the issue was done than I did seeing Jeff's face.
I have nothing to say about Jeff being revealed, because they still haven't explained the whys or hows yet. I'm slightly curious to find out his tie to the aliens, but bummed that they've revealed the supernatural backstory of the Highwayman to just be more useless padding we could have torn out and discarded earlier in the run. Speaking of which, I believe this is the 6th or 7th time a full page has been dedicated to telling the backstory of how Jeff was "lost" to the Highwayman, with it dragged out to an additional page this time around, because that's totally what we needed.
This comic book is worthless. Mary McGrill is quickly cast aside as nothing more of her role as Midnight is dealt with. The rest of the supporting cast is just kinda there. LeGreed and his ilk have their entire plan go nowhere and seem to serve no further purpose. It's all anchored on a huge battle that's nothing more than "Anything you can do, I can do better" (I facepalmed when the Highwayman's rig straight up started flying). At the very least, von Blimp had his complete pointlessness acknowledged and confirmed. Shame the rest of the book didn't follow suit and just show everyone sitting around and pondering why they even tried to begin with.
There's still a possibility of this book pulling out a good ending, something worthy of the promising setup of the first few issues. I have absolutely zero faith in that possibility coming to light by this point, but I'll admit, it's still possible.
Despite all of its many well documented failures, U.S. 1 still had one ace up its pushed up red sleeve heading into issue #10: Who is the Highwayman? In fact, it had that exact tease on its admittedly awesome cover (the one thing that has improved as the series has gone along). A clever comic would fool us into coming to an erroneous early conclusion while simultaneously weaving subtle clues as to his true identity, and then hitting us with a surprise that was hiding in plain sight. But, as we know all too well by now, U.S. 1 isn't a clever comic. Just as Midnight was so obviously Mary McGrill that she couldn't possibly be Mary McGrill... only she was Mary McGrill... the Highwayman was so obviously Jeff Archer that he couldn't possibly be Jeff Archer... only he is Jeff Archer. Jeff freakin' Archer. I get that this was aimed at kids, but I have faith that 10-year-old Tony Williams would've seen this coming from a mile away, and 10-year-old Tony Williams was even more dense than 40-year-old Tony Williams. Chew on that for a minute. That makes this feel more lazy than simplistic, and the former is much harder to forgive.
Okay, so the "who" was kind of a bust, but that still leaves the "why", and if that's not exactly an ace up its sleeve, it's at least a face card. I'll admit, I'm curious, and this time I don't know the answer. I'm almost certain that answer will be profoundly disappointing, but I have to hand it to Milgrom, there's still enough bait left on this hook for me to bite. Who was the original Highwayman, and how and why did Jeff replace him? Was it Mr. Archer? Is the Highwayman some sort of family mantle that's passed down from father to son, like the Phantom? Did Mr. Archer fake his own death and pass it on to Jeff, the oldest of the two Archer boys, who then faked his death? And what about the aliens? They seem to like and respect U.S., but they're helping Jeff. What's their angle? Of less interest now are the schemes of Whitey McCapitalist and his cronies, which seem rather Dukes of Hazzard when compared to Nazis, aliens, and our hero's brother masquerading as an evil phantom trucker.
As for the issue itself, it's essentially one long chase scene bookended by four pages of the Highwayman telling us how awesome he is, and then his anticlimactic reveal. It's all just a bunch of *pew* *pew* *pew*, *bang*, *pow*, *bop*, illustrated with all of the visual flair of a Fingerhut catalog. All of this truck vs. truck action starts to feel repetitive after a while, particularly when it isn't broken up by anything.
Once again, though, I find my self in the peculiar position of ripping an issue, while still genuinely curious about what comes next. I can't remember ever experiencing anything quite like it here on the Showcase. U.S. 1, you continue to vex me so.