Ulysses arrives back home at the Short Stop, collecting the payment for his haul and turning the money over to Poppa Wheelie, with apologies for not doing his part to keep their home running. When LeGreed shows up again with police, everyone's worried Wideload will start another fight, but unknown to everyone else, she's still under the hypnotic trance of Midnight and instead calmly apologizes. LeGreed begrudgingly accepts the mortgage payment and decides to drop all charges, but leaves with a warning that he'll still gladly foreclose should payments slip behind again.
No sooner does he leave than Ulysses has to go and break up another bar fight. Checking on the truck, Poppa and Retread are also lashed into a trance by Midnight, who has them, along with Wideload, lure Ulysses out and hold him while she gets revenge by whipping him for real.
The entire issue has been narrated by U.S. 1, the semi truck, as he's gained a sense of awareness in his computer mind, but an inability to directly communicate with his friends, or take action. He's excited to see Ulysses go for the remote control coin, but it's knocked from his hand with another lash.
U.S. 1 suddenly revs to life, potentially through the charge of the whip striking the remote, or possibly just through the power of his growing will. He chases Midnight down, snagging her whip away with a grappling hook, driving her back with tear gas, and going after the tires of her bike. She races off into the night, but not before he lobs a few heat-seeking missiles after her.
Ulysses uses the whip to free his friends from their hypnosis, and they all realize they have a new teammate in U.S. 1. What they don't realize is that his detailed narration wasn't to us dear readers, but to the Highwayman, who's hacked into the computer to gather all the information he can to use against his enemies.
As Noel and I discussed in the comments section last week, "Iron Mike, King of the Bike" felt like a bit of a course correction. Not necessarily because it was a good issue (though Noel disagrees), but because, after a few weeks of increasingly random nonsense, it regained some semblance of focus. Not good focus, perhaps, but focus none the less. Turns out that focus was no fluke, as "Semi-Intelligence" picks up right where the previous issue left off. If nothing else, this gives the story a flow that was missing before and it finally feels like we're building toward something again. It also gives us our second cliff-hanger/tease ending in a row, which helps to build momentum. And wait, who is that? The proprietor of a fried chicken establishment? A German zeppelin commander? An alien? No. Wait... it's the Highwayman! You remember him, don't you? He was our villain, McGuffin, sole motivator for our hero before Al Milgrom began getting plot ideas from his pet cat*.
[* - I can't verify the above statement.]
So, okay, we're back to basics and we seem to have a direction. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, "Semi Intelligence" isn't much better than the more random issues that came before it. I suppose the first thing that needs commented on is the fact that the issue is narrated by U.S. 1 itself. This rather goofy contrivance is only partially saved by revealing that the Highwayman has hacked into U.S. 1 and is forcing it to reveal its secrets. I'm gonna play Kreskin here and predict that Noel will love this device.
"Semi Intelligence" also sees the return of Midnight, the whip-wielding villainess that we met waaaay back in issue #2. She certainly looks cool, and her unidentified anger suggests an as yet unrevealed connection to Archer, but once again, she's dispatched rather easily and we don't know any more about her than we did before. In a nutshell, it's not unlike the previous six issues. This "direction" is nothing but a facade. It may not be random any more, but this story is like a guy on a treadmill. It's not going anywhere, and it's not having any fun doing it.
I do have to say one good thing about "Semi Intelligence". The cover is fantastic. I lack the artistic vocabulary to describe it, but it's done in a completely different style than the ones before it. It's less cartoony and more like a movie poster. I can't help but wonder if this was done to cement the idea of a "new direction".
Despite all of my above negativity, I do head into issue #8 with a renewed sense of anticipation. The Highwayman is back and he has our hero in his cross-hairs. Could we finally get a one on one confrontation between them? Will some piece of important information be revealed? Only Al Milgrom's cat knows for sure.
I spoke too soon. Oh sweet cupcakes, how way too soon I spoke.
I thought this series was back on track in a big way with the last issue. They had a new formula they could milk for a while of U.S. taking jobs hauling cargo to towns troubled by the threats of the road, they brought in a fresh sidekick by sticking Wideload Annie in the passenger seat. They had a well constructed plot that moved, was a lot of fun, and really nailed the feel this book used to be going for.
With this issue, they've thrown it away and we're back in the crapper.
Even just from a pure story point, this issue is weak. All of the financial and legal issues laid in to motivate the last issue are quickly swept away. Every single supporting character has to be reintroduced to us in long-winded (and pretty insulting, especially to the women) captions. Wideload's hypnosis takes way too long to come into play, and even when it does, nothing comes of it until others are hypnotized.
Oh, and the entire issue is narrated by U.S. 1, the semi truck itself. Now, in and of itself, this is not a bad thing, nor would it be out of place in this type of a series. How it's actually implemented, however, is maddeningly monotonous, as he goes on and on and on about everything we already know, everybody we've already met, and every action we can clearly see happening in the art. There's no real insight (except for an odd moment of gender identity declaration) into the character of the truck beyond him just being a truck and loving our hero. Because he has no ability to speak, he's just observing alongside us, but not saying anything we aren't witnessing for ourselves. And when they reveal what they do at the end about how this all ties into the Highwayman, I felt more cheated than shocked. Really? That was their way of explaining all of this?
There are some nice moments in the issue. Springer continues to settle into the art well, capturing the lively humor and personalities. As uninteresting a villain as she is, and as late as she comes into the story, I was really gripped when Midnight started mercilessly whipping U.S. for real, and when the semi roared to life and chased her down, I was cheering. Even loved the hilarious final bit with his heat-seekers. Speaking of, as annoying as U.S. 1's narration is, the false hope of the remote control coin, followed by him finally activating himself under his own power and control, is a really neat moment. I have little interest in how it'll play out from this issue on, but they at least had me for a few pages.
But overall, it's a mess of an issue, and a boring, confusing mess at that. What should have been charming instead put me off, what should of been fun instead meandered, what should have been exciting was largely dull and uninvolving.
It's a stinker.