a Wednesday Comics post
a Project 1983 post
From Marvel Comics, Al Milgrom writer, Herb Trimpe artist, Mike Higgins letterer, Christine Scheele colorist.
In 1983 the golden age of cross promotion was beginning. Previously brands could have a toy, a comic, a cartoon – but not all three. This was a government effort to not over commercialize children. A new administration came into office in 1981 and these laws relaxed. You can tell the difference from properties like Shogun Warriors or Rom that had toys and a comic but no cartoon. If these brands came along later they may be more fondly remembered in pop culture thanks to the inevitable cartoon. As any toy company that liked money discovered, they needed to get in the faces of children in any manner. No matter the toy. Thus the electric toy train company Tyco came to Marvel Comics with a request. Take our new electric truck line, US-1, and come up with a story. That story was going to be translated into a cartoon and in theory a new cross media hit would arise. Unfortunately, the toy and comic didn’t set the world on fire and a mentioned cartoon has never surfaced. While US-1 isn’t a huge nostalgic hit, it’s still a fun comic run to find in the cheap bins.
US-1 stars Ulysses Solomon Archer. “U.S. for short.” Ulysses and his brother, Jefferson Hercules, are the sons of a mom and dad trucking team. When their parents are on the open road, the kids stay with Ed Wheeler AKA Poppa Wheelie and his wife Wideload Annie. It was a different time. The Archer parents are killed in a car crash and the Wheelers raise the kids at their truck stop/home – the Short Stop. As they grow older Jefferson gets behind the 18 wheeler while Ulysses is instructed to stay home and study. He’s the smartest of the bunch. Well you don’t get a name like Wideload Annie with straight A’s.
During summer vacation, Ulysses is riding with his brother. Suddenly a black rig appears out of no where and forces them off the road. It’s the Highwayman! Their rig crashes and explodes. The Highwayman and his flunkies disappear. Jefferson’s body is never found. Ulysses sustains a head injury that requires major experimental surgery. The doctors attach a new metal cranium that is lightweight and undetectable under skin and hair. As Ulysses recovers he discovers that the new metal plate allows him to pick up CB broadcasts directly to his brain. He is the world’s first Bluetooth super hero. Ulysses uses his new found power of stealth CB plus outfits a new rig with more gadgets than a Bond car. He’s going to travel the roads looking for the Highwayman, and looking for answers. Ulysses briefly encounters the Highwayman as the issue ends but it is clearly not their last meeting.
Overall, it’s a well made comic. Good art, coloring, and lettering. No one phoned this in just because it’s based on a toy. If this was a little more successful it could have been right at home next to Marvel’s other long running toy based comics G.I. Joe and the Transformers.
Al Milgrom comes up with an original origin and creative world for what was previously just a toy truck. Good guy, bad guy, new power, accessories, supporting cast, a mystery. Plus the concept allows him to travel the country with no limits to potential stories.
I enjoyed the hell out of this first issue and as I end up at the cheap bins in the future I’ll probably collect the entire series. US-1 only lasted 12 issues, with the last one featuring the truck in space. Because, comics. While any original ideas are copyright Marvel Comics, the original US-1 is still owned by Tyco. Which means the chance of any reboot, reprint, or even the cartoon surfacing are slim.
However, a similar and completely Marvel owned (and the same character, but without the legal entanglements) named US Archer has appeared sporadically over the years. Once you take a big rig to space, it’s hard to keep a man down.