June 14, 2014

U.S. 1, issue 8 "Heart-Brakes"

Poppa Wheelie and Retread are running like hell as the cab of U.S. 1 roars down the road behind them. No matter where they turn, it sticks to their heels, and just as it's about to run them down, pulls a dime stop with the help of a grappling hook. U.S. pops out of the cab, thrilled at how even more finely tuned and responsive the controls have become now that his CB skull has formed a link with U.S. 1's computers.

The three head into the Short Stop, where they join Wide-Load Annie for a cup of Mary McGrill's coffee. As they ponder over the fate of Midnight, who hasn't been seen since a rocket took out her motorcycle, Taryn O'Connell walks in, covered in bruises and brushing them off as the result of a near accident with her truck. The usual shenanigans ensue as Taryn forces a kiss on U.S., which causes Mary to leave the room in a jealous huff, and everyone ponders over whether they can use Midnight's whip, which is sitting on the counter, to track down either her or the Highwayman.

Mary suddenly storms back in, throwing Midnight's wig and costume on the floor and saying she found them in Taryn's cab. When Taryn's says it's not true and that she'd never do anything to hurt U.S., she's met with nothing but doubt in their eyes. She grabs Midnight's whip, fights them off, and goes out the window. U.S. notices that she's just using the whip in the normal way, seemingly unaware of how to activate its hypnotic controls, but joins the others as they chase her into the lot.

Elsewhere, banker LeGreed is meeting with his bosses. He assure them that he's taken steps to guarantee the Short Stop will miss its next mortgage payment, allowing the bank to foreclose on the land and sell it to a condo company.

Back at the Short Stop, Taryn uses the whip to snag a biker and makes off on his bike. Through the power of his mind, U.S. flares U.S. 1 to life and hops in as it races after her, hitting her with tear gas, snagging the bike back with a grappling hook, and spraying oil on the road so she lands without being injured.

The Highwayman watches all of this on the monitors in his lair, unaware he's being watched on the monitors of another mysterious figure in another mysterious lair.

U.S., Poppa, Retread, and Wide-Load all rush Taryn at once, just barely managing to wrestle her down as she fights back. They go for the whip in her hand, just as her finger brushes a control and FLASH. Some sort of feedback has knocked Taryn out, and unable to find a pulse, the others go to call for an ambulance.

Just as the real Midnight steps out and retrieves her whip


You may think this is my attempt at an obvious pun, but I legitimately mean it when I say the way this book keeps bouncing back and forth between losing me and winning me over has me aching from some serious entertainment whiplash. Last week yanked me to the losing side of things, and this week snaps me back to the winning side again. There is a note in the back of this ish about how all of the books the month before were edited by the assistants, as the main editors were on the road hitting conventions, but I don't know that that explains the sudden shift. Though it's worth pointing out that Ralph Macchio's assistant at the time was Bob Harras, a man now notorious for such rabid editorial oversight that there's lists of top name talents he's driven away, first when he nearly steered Marvel into bankruptcy in the late 90s as its Editor-in-Chief, and again as he seems hell bent on doing the same to DC as its current Editor-in-Chief and Vice President. I'm still not going to drop all the blame for last month's book on him as Milgrom & Springer were still at the wheel, but it's always worth pointing out Harras is a man who shouldn't have his job.

Anyways, as much as Tony and I have complained about Midnight being a tepid villain and how U.S. really needs to hit the road instead of anchoring himself at the Short Stop, Milgrom & Springer have hurled those two threads together in a very interesting way, which makes for an exciting and surprisingly heartbreaking issue. After going through the usual motions of lingering too long on everyday business at the joint, and Mary and Taryn pulling their usual uncomfortable Betty and Veronica bit as they fight over U.S., the focus narrows on Taryn as she's gaslighted into taking the fall as Midnight. Yes, I know who Midnight actually is, and will save any comments on that until the actual reveal, but I like that it reveals to us the readers pretty early on that she isn't, which makes it all the more gripping and traumatic as we're seeing her fight for her innocence, even as the fight convinces her friends more and more of her guilt and continue to try taking her down.

It does get a bit brutal at times. Taryn is already bruised up from a truck accident (meant to be a red herring tie to Midnight being caught in that explosion), and she's being wrestled down, fighting and kicking, jumping through windows, and even when she tries to escape on a motorcycle, U.S. 1 is hitting her with tear gas, ripping the bike from under her, and sending her skidding down an oil-slicked road. On the one hand, it's interesting that they didn't hold back, didn't soften the blows against Taryn nor the dramatic impact it has, and showed her fully holding her own as she fights back and leaves the others just as battered. Also, I appreciate the lack of falling into "cat fight" tropes when she and Mary are duking it out. On the other hand, it really is quite brutal, especially when it's all being thrown at a gaslit woman who's already got a split lip and a shiner, and has a heaviness which feels out of place in what's supposed to be a silly and fun series. It would fit much more comfortably in DC's present line of books. By the way, have I mentioned that DC's current Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras was the assistant editor of this issue?

But it's still not bad stuff, and is very nicely executed. By staying away from the rule-lined vehicles, Springer is forced to push into the struggle between the main characters, and there lot's of great focus on the tension on their faces as they've all been tricked into a situation none of them wants to be in, even as they try resolving it in any way they can think of. Springer has really settled well into the book after his initial awkwardness, and instead of hoping for him to be replaced, I've come around to fully accepting him and look forward to the rest of his run.

One area they fumble on with me is U.S. 1, the truck. The last issue was all about how the truck has gained a level of sentience and now has the ability to take control of itself when the situation calls for it. We seem to have a callback to that here, but they instead write it off as Ulysses having now formed an almost telepathic link with U.S. 1, so he can take control of it purely by the will of his CB signal metal skull. I don't like this. Get rid of the remote-control silver dollar, sure, but if you're going to go to all the trouble of making U.S. 1 a distinct persona with his own agency, stick with it. I'd much rather have him and Ulysses having to work together than U.S. 1 just robotically responding to thoughts coming directly from Ulysses brain.

In a better thread, I like how they're expanding on the LeGreed subplot, with plans in place for U.S. to hit more jobs to collect for future mortgage payments (so glad that hasn't just been dropped), but we also get into LeGreed and his bosses as he assures them his own plans are in place to guarantee no future payment will be made, allowing the bank to absorb the property purely for the cheeky reason of expanding on its own wealth. Hey look, U.S. 1 is still relevant to modern issues! Who knew! :P

And then there's the further thread of the mastermind Highwayman being unknowingly observed by a further mysterious mastermind, but we don't get much beyond that tease, so I'll save comment until it's expanded upon. Though I will say, they do have me curious.

Overall, another swing back to the right side of the road, pulling its nutty cast into a strong, brutal story (though maybe too brutal and problematic), and setting up interesting threads as we lead into the final four issues. I was all set to pack up and leave last issue, now I'm back in a chair, waiting to see how it goes. Which is a flip I've become all too used to with this book, so who knows where I'll be next week.


U.S. 1 has finally reached the summit of Mt. Nonsense. Let's take a few moments to drink in the view. Hey, look down there. Isn't that discarded logic? And a little further down. That's gotta be basic storytelling. It all looks so tiny from up here doesn't it?

Let me tell you something you probably already know: this comic is pure dreck. For a while, it was good natured, well-intended dreck, but it was dreck none the less. Now it's just a weekly joy crucifier. No one involved with this seems to have had the first idea what in the hell they were doing. Sure I don't know what in the hell I'm doing, but I'm not getting paid for this.

This issue is so random that I had to double check to make sure the pages weren't stapled together in the wrong order. It bounces around from the Taryn/Midnight stuff, to a bunch of old white guys plotting to foreclose on the Short Stop and build condos, to a new super villain who is watching the Highwayman watch Archer and company. And none of it ever goes anywhere! Ever! U.S. 1 is increasingly becoming like a chess match being played by postal mail. On different continents!

Look, we don't need this domestic drama with Whitey McCapitalist trying to foreclose on the Short Stop, and we sure as hell don't need an Arch-Arch Villain when the one we already have has had fewer pages in the last four issues than Kool-Aid, Cracker Jacks, and Monogram Model Kits. And this whole "Taryn is Midnight" fake-a-roo isn't fooling anyone. We've all known that Mary is Midnight since issue #2, and the longer they drag this stupid ruse out, the more annoyed I become.

This midstream refocus hasn't made U.S. 1 any better, it's only served to rob it of its last shred of entertainment value. I head into issue #9 with only the flimsiest bit of "Who is this new villain?" curiosity to cling to.


Tony Williams said...

I didn't think you'd be as harsh as I was, but I really thought we'd more or less see eye to eye on this one.

BTW, I'm going to assume this "Ralph Macchio" isn't the Ralph Macchio, 'cuz if he is, I'm going to give this issue a Karate Kid saving roll against nonsense.

NoelCT said...

Never let our chain of unpredictability be unbroken! XD

No, different Ralph Macchio, though this one was often nicknamed as "Karate Kid" as a result. Our Ralph came into comics through copious letters page and fanzine submissions (did some work for FOOM, the same official Marvel fan magazine my dad worked on), and was one of the primary editors at Marvel from the mid 70s to his retirement in 2011. Did a little writing, too.