Take a trip down Route 666

Route 666 is CrossGen's first horror title, and writer Tony Bedard couldn't be happier to be involved. "I think most of the very best comics that have ever been done were horror comics," says Bedard. "It gives you a chance to do more character-driven stories and really explore the character's inner life. Also, I used to edit for Vertigo. That's the sort of stuff that really hooked me on comics; Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and things like that. Some of the books that got Vertigo launched were some of my very favorite books ever.

But his influences don't stop at Moore. "Guys that I would like to be like include Garth Ennis, Brian Azzarello, and Warren Ellis. I'm not saying that I try to write like them, or that I even could. It's just that those are the folks that inspire me, that make me want to get up and do something good."

For penciller Karl Moline, best known for his work on Dark Horse's Fray, drawing a horror title is almost second nature at this point. "I've been typecast into horror roles my whole life," he says. "It's not a personal preference, but I certainly don't mind. I think because I tend to use a lot of blacks in my work people have cited it out as being good for horror-type books. I did stuff for Harris on Vampirella, I did a little one-shot thing with more monsters. Pretty much every book I've done has been a horror book of some kind or another."

So what can we expect from Route 666? According to Bedard, "It's a little different than most of the books in the CrossGen line for a few reasons. For starters, it's set in a world that is more like our regular, current-day earth than any other book that we do. For that reason alone, it'll be more immediately accessible for new readers. It's also not as involved with the over-arching continuity and backstory that is prominent in a lot of our other books. This one sort of stands alone the same way that Ruse does for us. It is linked to the rest of our universe in some very important ways, but that stuff isn't really going to be dealt with for quite a while.

"Route 666 is about a college-girl named Cassie Starkweather. Her world is very much like Earth around the 1950s or 1960s. There's a whole Cold War sort of setting. She lives in a country that's analogous to America and there's a Russia-type country as well. We have a lot of this Cold War paranoia; this whole McCarthyism, Red Scare sort of thing is pervasive in the story because it's a story about paranoia and hidden enemies. Cassie has a psychic talent, a gift, that she can see things, paranormal things, that other people can't. What she discovers is that there are some supernatural creatures disguised as people who have been stealing away people's souls when they die. Before their ghost can move "into the light," these guys come and snatch up those spirits and they steal them away to a place which looks very much like hell. Cassie's best friend dies in an accident and her soul gets stolen, so Cassie needs to find out what's going on and if there's any way she can rescue her friend. The more we get into the series, the more will be revealed about this threat. Because Cassie has a history of mental illness, nobody wants to listen to her warnings or take them seriously. So she winds up having to fight this thing by herself. She starts off as a pretty naive character, but it's a lot like the story arc you see with Sarah Conner in the Terminator movies; she's the only one who knows of this threat, and as she fights it, she will become a lot more of a driven and dangerous person. And yet everybody thinks she's just this escaped lunatic out killing people at random, even though the folks that she targets are these monsters in disguise."

Cassie won't be alone on this adventure however. "She will meet different allies and adversaries along the way," Bedard continues. "There's a father figure, this older Sheriff that she runs afoul of at first, but that she'll become friends with and who will help her. And there are some other folks too. But part of the mystery and the fun of the series is trying to figure out whether or not the people who would even believe her are kooks themselves. She'll encounter a cult sort of like Heaven's Gate that is talking about some threat that lives among them. A lot of things that they say match up with what she's talking about, but you have to figure out whether or not these folks are crazy or whether or not they could really help her. A lot of this is going to be psychological; trying to figure out what's real and what's not and whether or not this whole threat that Cassie's discovered is even real or if it's just in her head."

Route 666 is a bit of a departure for Moline from his work on Fray. "Storywise it's a little darker thematically," he explains. "Joss tends to be very tongue-in-cheek. He always finds the humor. Even in a dark show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer there's a lot to laugh at. We'll still have some of that, but it's a more serious approach to the story. Graphically, I think it's going to be a lot different because I get to use the talents of my teammates a little bit better because of the situation that we're in. John Dell, who's an amazing inker, is going to be working on top of me. And working in close quarters like we have in the studio here, I can allow him more freedom. I can tap into everybody else's potential. Nick Bell will be doing a lot more with the colors on this book just because he's here in the studio. He's a super talented guy. I think the overall look of the book is going to be a lot less me than Fray was, but otherwise it'll be the same fun drawings and lots of spot blacks."

Another interesting aspect of the book is that, thanks to the 50s and 60s influences, it will have a distinct style. "Karl's the one who really got us down that whole 50s and 60s track," says Bedard. "I talked to him about making it a contemporary setting, but changing a few things so that it's a little bit timeless. That's when he started talking about cars with fins and cool malt shops and things like that. Stuff that is very visually interesting. I think in some ways, this could wind up like Starman was. You know how Opal City had its own timeless style. That's sort of what we're going for. But where Opal City was more 30s-ish and Art Deco, we're trying to evoke a different era. Also, there's the matter of classic shows like the Twilight Zone, or even things like Father Knows Best or Andy Griffith, that presented this idealized view of what America should be. I'd like to have something like that, but it's rotten underneath. Spielberg does a lot with suburbia where it comes off that way. It looks very nice and ideal and plastic on the surface, but underneath there's a lot of bad stuff going on, like in Poltergeist. I got a lot of mileage out of that."

This style, according to Moline, "is something that I've been exposed to a lot in the last few years, and I've been a fan of, but it's not something I would call myself proficient at. I'm pretty much learning it all now. I'm picking it up as I go."

Bedard is also enjoying mixing Cold War-style paranoia with supernatural paranoia. "I think there are a lot of parallels there that are pretty easy to pick up on. I'm fascinated by that whole era anyhow. Growing up, I always figured there'd be us and them. The whole U.S./U.S.S.R. thing was gonna be there long after I died. Now that it's gone, I think it's a really interesting period in time. If you look at a lot of the 50s horror movies, they are really a reflection of what was going on societially. The whole obsession with invaders from space, or giant monsters mutated by radiation; a lot of that was just a reaction to what was really happening and people trying to get a handle on living with the bomb. That's why we're trying to mine that era visually and get some of that vibe. Also, there's a thing in the series about these monsters. They look like movie monsters, like the Wolfman or Dracula or something, and there's a mystery about why they do, but it gives us a chance to play with a lot of the visuals that are so great from that era and also from the horror movies of that era. There's sort of a campiness in there. It's not over the top funny stuff, but we definitely want to get that, because it's cool. It's just cool looking stuff."

So, does Moline have any input into the story? "Sure. It works this way with basically all of our teams here because we're all working under the same roof," says Bedard. "Before we even start the series, the writers write out an outline that goes at least a year, so the other creators the penciler, inker and colorist can read through that and give you some feedback, or make suggestions. Then, before each individual issue, we do the same thing and go over it page by page. We're just getting started on Route 666, but already Karl's had a lot of input."

Moline is rather modest about his contributions to the story. "I would say it's mostly Tony storywise. I may have some storytelling adjustments, but I think the main bulk of the story, certainly plotwise, it's just about all him. But storytelling I do have a little more play. I can go in and give my own take on what he's trying to say. He's a great storyteller so I don't need to do very much."

If you want to read more by Bedard, you need look no further than CrossGen's Mystic and Negation. "Negation is one that I think has really exceeded all our expectations," he enthuses. "We're really clicking on it as a creative team and, not to blow my own horn too much, but I have a feeling it's the favorite book amongst the folks here in the studio. A lot of people keep coming up and patting my back and telling us what a good job we're doing on it. Anyone who hasn't checked that out really should. We're having a great time on it."

After all is said and done, why should you pick up Route 666? I think Karl Moline says it best: "Route 666 will be super cool."