June 22, 2014

U.S. 1, issue 9 "Big Mack Attack"

Our heroes continue to gape at Midnight, who stands over the lifeless body of Taryn and gloats at how she caused these friends to turn on one another. As a few civilians walk out of the Short Stop, U.S. shoves them into Midnight, sending everyone into the pool of oil*, where a big free-for-all brawl breaks out, during which Midnight's whip accidentally cracks into Taryn, the electric shock bringing the dead woman back to life. She joins the brawl.

[* Which was thoroughly spread and established in the previous ish --Know-It-All Noel!]

On a lonely road, LeGreed and his fellow bankers greet the arrival of Baron von Blimp and his heavily armed blimp. They all plot to begin a string of attacks against the Short Stop, which will drive all clientele away and guarantee that the trucking family will be unable to raise the necessary funds to make their next mortgage payment.

Watching all this on the monitors of his hidden lair is the Highwayman. All of his plans are falling into place, but he doesn't want everyone else to have all the fun. With a swish of his cape, he hops into his jet-black semi truck.

Watching all this on the monitors of his spaceship is our mysterious observer: revealed to be the alien trucker from issue 5, who eagerly awaits the victor of the upcoming conflict with a swarm of heavily armed battle ships locked in Earth orbit.

At the Short Stop, the tussle takes a turn in Midnight's favor when she gains hypnotic control over Poppa, Wide-Load, and Retread, but Taryn pounces on her and knocks the whip away. Which is right when Baron von's blimp appears, dropping a squadron of fully-dressed Nazis on the brawl. Everyone teams up to feed the Nazis their fists, and U.S. uses a beam of pure willpower from his C.B. skull to break the hypnotic effect on his friends. And when Midnight is revealed to be Mary McGrill, it's also revealed that she herself was under hypnotic control.

Just then, the Highwayman arrives.


Evil truckers. Aliens. Nazis. Either Milgrom and company are doing an homage to the works of Steven Spielberg, or they have done lost their damn minds.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't this start out as a rather straightforward story about a young man who uses his smarts to track down the mysterious trucker who may or may not have killed his brother? So when exactly did it become The Kentucky Fried Movie? And here's the kicker: the whole fighting Nazi's in a truck stop parking lot on the eve of an alien robot invasion thing isn't even the worst part of this issue. That honor goes to the incessant "the reader is too stupid to figure it out" callbacks. At one point, the increasingly useless Retread says, "Look, Poppa, they're falling into that oil slick that U.S.'s truck sprayed out while he was fighting Midnight before." Of all the totally insane stuff happening in this issue, it's Captain Obvious dialog like this that is the hardest to swallow. I understand why they do it, and I believe such things were a Marvel-wide edict from Editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, but come on, you can do it with a bit more élan than that.

As if Nazis and an impending alien invasion weren't enough, we still have Whitey McCapitalist and his cronies trying to seize the Short Stop, not to mention the reveal of Mary McGrill as Midnight. Anyone fooled by the latter, please say hello to Santa for me when you see him. Oh, and then there's The Highwayman. You remember him, right? The guy our hero is supposed to be chasing, only never does. He shows up, too, because apparently there were only nine pounds of crap in this five pound bag.

"Big Mack Attack" might just be the single worst comic book issue of all-time, but by God, I need to see how all of this insanity comes together. That, I suppose, is at least some sort of feather in its headband. Bring on issue#10!

Odds and ends
  • Despite the seal of approval by the Comic Code Authority, this issue features several characters smoking, and Nazis with Swastika fully visible on their armbands, proclaiming themselves "The master race". Ahhh, the 80s.
  • Once again, I must say that I like the new poster style cover art.
  • Catfight! Meee-ooow!


Oh Jesus trucking Christ.

In the last post, I talked about the whiplash (still not a pun) of this book as it just keeps yanking me back and forth from entertaining, fun issues I enjoy, to unbearably inept issues that drive me up the wall. Last week returned me to the camp of delight, and, sure enough, I've now been catapulted right back to the soaking drenches of mud creek.

And it shouldn't be this bad! You want to fill the stage with all the cast, go for it! That can be fun, having everyone drop out of the sky (literally), and see once solo figures now slipping all over (literally) the paths of one another as they're forced into a giant clustertruck stop battle. This could be a fun, zany time to remind us of the best of this book as they gear up for the end.

But it's not. It's dreck. Things just sort of flop into one another in a shrill, shouting streams of weak MAD Magazine one-liners at each other, and when a past character shows up again, instead of drawing from us the surprised delight of "Oh hey, it's that guy!", it's instead an enraged "WHY WOULD YOU BRING THIS LOSER BACK, WE'RE DONE WITH HIM, MAKE HIM GO AWAY!", and then the character would do something to remind us exactly why we hated them in the first place.

The blimp Baron dude. Why do we need him again? What does he bring to the climax aside from dropping a bushel of Nazis into the grease fight? The alien trucker dude. Why did that need a callback? Why are they wasting the mystery of "Who watches the watching Highwayman?" on him? Why is there an alien armada lining the Earth's atmosphere when this was just a dude driving a space truck running on chicken parts?

We obviously still have a few more issues to go to find out Al Milgrom's reasons (AND IT BETTER BE SOME DAMN GOOD ONES) for all of this, but dropping failed plot threads back into a story, in aggravating ways that remind us of why they were failures, is not a good way to invest me in the climax. Hell, all this painful reminiscence reminds me why so few people out there have ever gotten invested in the series as a whole.

Shoving all that aside and just focusing on the Midnight element, and this book still fails. Taryn's "death" is cheapened by the ease with which she's resurrected, only to fall into the old catfight tropes. U.S. not only fights Midnight by literally stopping her in the tracks with literal exposition, then LITERALLY SHOVING INNOCENT CIVILIANS AT HER, y'know, like heroes do, but then he deactivates the whip and frees everyone's powers from it through getting so frustrated that the LITERAL POWER OF HIS BRAIN flies out of his head and operates the machinery. LITERALLY! I gave you his psychic link with the truck, Milgrom, but not this. Never this. And as for Midnight, I knew it was Mary, Tony knew it was Mary, we all knew it was Mary, but I figured they could still pull some interesting motive out of the reveal that would deepen things between her and U.S. Nope! She was herself hypnotized the entire time! Totally under the control of her own whip! It was all the Highwayman! Why aren't you gasping in shock!

This comic sucks. Yeah, I know, Linkara yada yada. I went into this series defending the series from those who tore it apart, because at its best, it knows how to play silly right. But here, as with half the series, when it's at its worst and playing silly wrong, oh how very wrong it can be.

It also doesn't help that Allan Kupperberg's guest spot on art duties is really lousy, with awkward framing and layouts, lumpy characters, awful closeups, and trucks constantly sliding off model. I know I had my issues with Frank Springer at first, but man do I miss him here.

For me, this issue is absolute rock bottom. And it should not have been this bad. On paper, there are some sound ideas and a general framing of the curtain call that should work, but Milgrom has no idea how to balance the taste levels of silly between charming and off putting, and his slips keep derailing my ability to just plain care about this book, let alone take any of it seriously.


Tony Williams said...

I haven't looked at the cover for issue #10 yet, but I'm assuming it's just a picture of a kitchen sink, as that's all that's left at this point.

You're so right about the character callbacks. I wonder if maybe Milgrom knew the title was cancelled at this point and just didn't want to waste new characters on a series that was about to be put out to pasture?

NoelCT said...

Tony: I think they started saying around issue 4 or 5 in the letters pages that this was always meant to just be a 12-issue maxi-series, albeit with the possibility of continuing should it do well. I'm guessing it obviously wasn't by this point.

cartoonfan959: So tempting! I think we've ridden with it long enough, though, that we're just going to grit our teeth and take it for what's left. Pole Position still had 10 weeks of material sitting in front of us, this is just down to 3. :)

Tony Williams said...

Yeah, there's a certain masochistic pleasure in experiencing these really bad Showcases, but I think we're due for a winner.