About Hell’s Highway
Hell’s Highway relied heavily on the popularity of C W McCall’s single Convoy, and the craze for CB radio and big American trucks at that time. The premise itself is pretty laughable if it is analysed in any depth. A secret government organisation relied on a couple of ex-army truckers to carry out covert, truck-based ops for them on a regular basis.
Strangely, they weren’t the only truck-based covert ops team on government service, there were a whole gang of them working out of a covert business front called Acme Transcontinental Trucking. Were that not strange enough, our truck-based operatives regularly took on truck-based enemy agents working undercover in the US. The two ex-soldiers, and it was implied but never stated that they were Vietnam veterans, were first recruited by being bankrupted out of their own trucking business, then blackmailed into government service, before finally being framed for a murder just to make any chance of escape completely impossible.
“Hell’s Highway” was a series, much like “Dredger“, but the storylines were usually spread across three or four issues. After a favourable initial period, the stories began to lack belief and originality. Just how many government jobs needed an eighteen-wheeled truck anyway?
Steve and Danny, our heroes, became more rebellious against Hartwell and Meyer, their government paymasters. Once again, it appeared that Jack Adrian became bored with his creation and decided to end it.
Just before the ban, there was a bold move from the truckers to escape from their evil bosses’ clutches. Unused covers from the time of withdrawal do not list “Hell’s Highway” as one of the featured stories, suggesting that it would have ended shortly after the finale to the story running on 23rd October, perhaps after one final adventure. The withdrawal of Action changed all that. “Hell’s Highway” was cleaned up, and the current storyline concluded. Mike White was moved off the strip from January of 1977, to draw the opening episodes of the abysmal “Roaring Wheels“. Jack Adrian continued to write most of the new episodes, but the stories were more sedate, and the editorial censorship was apparent on the page. The new artist Jim Eldridge, from the British based Rogers Agency, was a regular on many other IPC titles. His work in comparison to that of Mike White was, quite frankly, terrible.
Everyone knew the strip was going nowhereand Adrian gave it the elbow, leaving another writer to find Steve and Danny a way out, having Hartwell defect to the Soviets with a stolen missile system. Our boys foiled Hartwell’s plot, lived the dream of killing their boss, saved Meyer, and were finally released from the frame-up. The pair returned for two ‘adventures’ in the 1978 and 1980 Action Annuals. Hell’s Highway had some outstanding moments if you could suspend disbelief at the ridiculous situation, and Mike White’s art was excellent during his tenure on the strip. If ever the US Government has need once again for a truck driving covert ops team, they’ll know who to call.
Ex-army buddies Steve Manning and Danny Kuziak invest everything they have into a second-hand truck. They work non-stop just to keep up the loan repayments. Driving through the Rockies to Seattle they come across a car, overturned on the road ahead. The driver is government agent George L. Doolly and he has been injured. Whilst taking Doolly to hospital, the truck is stopped by the armed men who caused Doolly’s ‘accident’. The truckers escape, and Danny jack-knifes the truck sending the men and their car over a cliff. With Doolly in hospital, they report the incident at the local Sheriff’s office. When the Sheriff goes to check on their claim, he finds the car and the two men, but no guns are in evidence. The Sheriff then takes Danny and Steve to see Doolly, hoping he will verify their story. On arrival at the hospital they are told that there have been no casualty admissions that day. The Sheriff books the truckers for causing death by dangerous driving. The court revokes their operators licenses and they are fined $1000 each. Unable to keep up the repayments or drive it, the truck is repossessed.
Danny and Steve are forced into a series of dead-end jobs until, down to their last 50 cents they are approached by Lestor Hartwell. Hartwell works for the government, he knows about Doolly but says he can’t involve the police. Hartwell offers to reinstate their licenses if the friends perform a job for him. Steve and Danny must transport a secret cargo to Cape Canaveral, Florida within five days. If they deliver in one piece, they will get their licenses back, plus the truck they use to do the job. They have no choice but to accept. As they drive away Hartwell is not confident they will reach Florida alive. En-route they are attacked and hi-jacked several times, and as the job concludes, Hartwell tells them they were just a decoy. The truckers are angry at being used but Hartwell tells them there are a few more jobs they can help him with before he will give their licenses back. These jobs include transporting plastic explosives, sneaking an agent into Canada only to see him killed, and wind up being framed for his murder by Hartwell’s partner Mayer, ambushing a truck load of illegal immigrants to aid an undercover drugs agent whose cover has been blown, fighting off the inhabitants of a town whose water supply has been poisoned by a lost consignment of contaminated waste and many others. The final job before the ban involved smuggling Cubans into Miami for political reasons. After the ban, the refugees were no longer Cuban, and we no longer cared.
When Action returned, the stories rolled on for a few months but lacked edge, eventually becoming ridiculous. Hartwell’s defection to a foreign agency couldn’t come soon enough. Having shot Mayer, he steals a missile system and intends to use it to destroy the Altmar Dam, flooding the research station below and setting the weapons project back ten years. Steve and Danny catch up with Hartwell, who happens to have fled in a truck rather than use the much faster option of a car or an aircraft. They punt Hartwell over the dam to his death. Back in Washington, Mayer, who has survived Hartwell’s bullet, hands over the photographs that implicate them in a murder, and gives them a huge cash pay-off. Danny and Steve decide to return to the trucking business.
Danny was the short-tempered firebrand of the duo, reacting with spit and fists without thinking first. This temperament normally lead to trouble for his partner and more for himself. His underestimation of Mayer on their first meeting left him wading in with fists and nursing a few bumps shortly thereafter. The combination of the calm, level-headed Steve and the hair-triggered Danny made for some interesting situations as the story progressed.
Steve and his buddy Danny were army veterans who sold everything they owned and got into horrendous debt to begin their haulage company. Steve was, by comparison, the more even tempered of the two protagonists, but was still capable of some very dirty fighting, as the incident with the cotton-mouth snake and that very messy affair involving the low bridge meeting that poor man’s face proved very well.
Lestor Hartwell was not a pleasant man. He schemed against, cheated, double-crossed and lied to those in his employ. Many times we saw Hartwell sell Steve and Danny down the river, or hang them out to dry. The metaphors or clichés that could be applied to Hartwell are innumerable and deserved. Eventually Hartwell gave it all up for a spot of treason in the pay of a foreign power, shooting Mayer and stealing some government secrets and a guided missile into the bargain. Steve and Danny hunted him down and Hartwell soon went to a watery grave.
Looking like a mild-mannered accountant, Mayer showed that he possessed some excellent unarmed combat skills when we first met him. As shady and dodgy as Hartwell, Mayer took the photographs that framed Stave and Danny for murder, leaving them in the blackmail situation that forced them to remain with their paymasters. After being shot by Hartwell, Mayer survived to return the incriminating photos to the two men who brought his former colleague to justice, proving that no-one is quite as bad as they seem.
Text © Moose Harris
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