US 1: A comic book superhero trucker with CB signals on the brain

Cover of 'US 1'

Happy, Oct. 4 -- a.k.a. 10-4, or as many call it CB Radio Day -- a time to celebrate that staple of almost every truck cab.

CB radios all but took over popular culture in the 1970s thanks to movies like Convoy and Smokey and the Bandit. Heck, even the First Lady Betty Ford took to the airwaves during her husband's presidential campaign. But, the CB radio's spotlight moment faded with the end of the decade. 

However, there came a modest return in 1983 from as unlikely a place as one can imagine: Marvel Comics.

In May of 1983, Marvel introduced one of the stranger additions to its stable of superheroes: Ulysses Solomon "U.S." Archer, a strapping young man with a somewhat convoluted origin story. U.S. and his brother Jefferson Hercules Archer are orphaned when their truck driver parents are killed in a tragic accident. The boys are taken in by Ed and "Wide Load" Annie Wheeler the kindly proprietors of the Short Stop diner.

Thus begins the 12-issue series of the comic, "US 1."

Jefferson follows in his parents' footsteps and becomes a trucker, while U.S. reluctantly fulfills his father's wishes and heads off to college, where he studies computer science. During a ride-along with Jeff one summer, U.S. is seriously injured and his brother seemingly killed when their truck is run off the road by a mysterious black COE driven by a menacing figure. 

Fortunately for U.S. he winds up in a hospital where doctors just happen to be working on the technology to replace his shattered skull with a special, lightweight metal alloy. Once fused to the intact portion of U.S.'s skull, the metal cranium implant allows the skin and hair to regrow naturally, and U.S. recovers.

But, this is U.S.'s redefining moment, like Peter Parker's bite from a radioactive spider.

During his recovery, U.S. hears a continuous buzzing in his head. Then, as he runs his tongue over his teeth with fillings in them, the buzzing becomes clearer and, his superpower is revealed. U.S. Archer's chrome dome has given him the ability to hear CB radio transmissions. Not exactly, X-ray vision or extreme strength, but not bad for a kid who has always been a trucker at heart.

Computer engineering whiz that he is, U.S. buys a tractor-trailer, outfits it with all sorts of high-tech capabilities, including weapons not unlike those on James Bond's various vehicles, and vows to avenge his brother's death. And, the rig can be operated remotely by U.S. from a silver dollar that contains microcircuits he created. 

Then, during the remaining 11 issues of the short-lived series, U.S. encounters other villains in his pursuit of the Highwayman, the mysterious driver who ran his brother's truck off the highway. He has to deal with Midnight, a villainess with a mind-altering bullwhip, who by day is the cute and unassuming Mary McGrill, a waitress at the Short Stop. There's also Baron Von Blimp, who, as his name suggests, wreaks highway havoc from a dirigible, and wants his namesake airships to replace trucks for hauling freight. And, fitting for today, U.S. also encounters a strange green alien who speaks in nothing but CB jargon.

Like its lead character, "US 1" the comic had an unusual origin story of its own. It actually came into being as a marketing gimmick for Tyco's line of truck-themed slot cars, US-1 Electric Trucking.

The series was created and produced by some of the top talent in the world of comics. It was written by Al Milgrom, one of Marvel's well-regarded writers/editors, and illustrated by several of their top artists including Herb Trimpe, Frank Springer, and Steve Ditko. And, it was edited by Ralph Macchio (no, not the Karate Kid), another of Marvel's top talents.

Sadly, "US 1" did not have the superpower of popularity. It ceased publication in October of 1984.

Still, for a brief while, trucking had a superhero of its own.