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Route 666: Highway To Horror

It’s been months since Crossgen became the failed experiment that it is, maybe a year since the comic reading community saw them announce the changes that trumpeted the final days of the company as anything other than another entry in Previews. One of those changes included the canceling of a slew of Crossgen titles, of which I will miss Meridian the most. We are left with an interesting dilemma now that these titles are gone: do we keep buying trades from Crossgen?

What’s the point of collecting a series that may not have finished its run, but was cancelled for business reasons? Will uncollected issues get collected? Are the stories worth the money if they end openly? I’ve always felt that the premature cancellation of a monthly hurt the chances of the trade considerably because I want a story that ends. While this is antithetical to almost every tenet of the serial medium we all love, it seems more satisfying to at least have a small sense of closure after I read something. It’s the reason most series are told in story arks, or why we have mini- and maxi-series. Hell, it’s the reason we have television seasons; even if the ending is far off, I like to know that it’s there.

Route 666 is a Crossgen title whose shipping status I have no clue about. My gut says it’s been cancelled, but I could be wrong. (cancelled, with promises of a relaunch.- Derek) I’m evaluating it as if this will be the only trade that will cross my desk because I need to know if I can take the lack of certainty cancellation can mean. So, here I go, evaluating…


It’s good.

Cassie Starkweather is a college student and gymnast who, for a while when she was young, saw dead people and had tea parties with them. A few years of psychotherapy later, and she was fine, that is, until the night her dead friend visited her dorm room. Cassie watched as two shadows came and took the soul of her friend and dragged it off into what can only be described as a satanic landscape. Believing she’s had a relapse of her morose childhood, Cassie checks into a mental hospital.

For anyone who doesn’t watch horror movies, this is just a bad idea.

And it is. Cassie encounters violence, death, and the sticky, scary, dark part of the afterlife, and it seems that every beastie in the world is after her. Now she’s out on the run, with little clue as to what’s going on, and no one to turn to.

Tony Bedard writes a surprisingly eerie horror comic, especially compared to most the other Crossgen books. Where most of Crossgen’s titles were good, most were directed to all ages and carried little in way of adult themes. Route is pure horror; there’s numerous instances that feature gore and grotesquery, with people getting crushed under, impaled by, or shot full of various objects. Also, Bedard doesn’t always use the visual aspect to get the horror across, but using Cassie’s fears and reactions to both keep the reader identifying with the protagonist, while at the same time making Cassie’s fear palpable to the reader.

Bedard isn’t a perfect writer though, and it shows in the beginning of the book. The scene where Cassie is having “girl time” with her roommate, painting each other’s nails, rings hollow. The dialogue is about as intelligent and realistic as an episode of Friends, at times decaying even further into inanity with phrases like “as if!” getting chucked in as Bedard tries to add teenager authenticity to a scene between two college students. This very bad scene is right at the beginning of the graphic novel and I almost put it down. Luckily, there’s a mangling soon after.

Some aspects of the book have me intrigued. Bedard is definitely trying to sneak in some 1950s era nostalgia. McCarthyism, communism, and other political –isms are peppered throughout the background of the book, to help establish Bedard’s world. The world Cassie inhabits is not a typical Crossgen world in that it is the first to basically mimic modern day, right down to mining American history and McCarthyism to give this familiar yet different world a reference that readers can point to and almost place it. It kind of weakens the book, since it could easily have been set in our world and had no story elements change, but it also gives Bedard more room to play in a world he creates.

His characters are just good. Cassie is no Buffy; she’s not out there destroying ghouls and ghosts because of duty, or some sense of purpose. She’s scared and scrambling to survive in almost every panel, and it doesn’t allow for much in way characterization, but Cassie’s terror is what the book is about. Her fear becomes the reader’s fear, and it’s more important to get the fear across than anything else, so it can be forgiven.

The artwork is very good. I’ve always enjoyed Karl Moline’s work, especially on Joss Whedon’s Fray, and he brings the same level of intensity to the horror in this book that he did Fray, as well as the detail of his background and character work. Moline also knows how to frame a sequence; stepping out of the traditional left-to-right, page-to-page format we’ve all grown up with, when it accentuates the story. The inking is well done by John Dell, and the coloring is an interesting contrast to the darker elements of the story, as Nick Bell uses bright and vibrant colors to offset the horror. Plus, the blood is really red.

I can say that even with the unlikelihood of getting another trade of Route 666, I have to recommend this comic. It’s good horror, which was in short supply in comics until recently, and is still an underused genre. It’s pricey at $15.95, but it’s good, and maybe the sales will allow Crossgen to print more volumes.

Highway To Horror (Route 666, Book 1)

Robert Sparling

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