In 1926, the U.S. government established its most famous stretch of highway, a roadway dubbed Route 66 which ran from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles. Route 66 was removed from the U.S. Highway system in 1985, but in the years’ preceding that, it captured the imagination of the nation. In 1946, songwriter Ron Troup penned his ode to “Route 66,” a song which had since been covered by over 40 different artists, and from 1960-1964, CBS broadcast a “Route 66” television show about two young men exploring the titular highway. To many, it seemed like almost anything could happen along that famous stretch of road — and it probably did.
This February, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Peter Nguyen (“Detective Comics,” “Fear Itself: Black Widow”) will explore the darker and more fantastic aspects of America’s favorite highway when they launch “Route 666,” a four-issue re-imagining of the horror-themed Crossgen series. The project was announced by Marvel Comics yesterday at their panel at the Fan Expo Canada convention in Toronto. We spoke with Aguirre-Sacasa about the project, which is set in the 1950s and chronicles the exploits of two U.S. Marshals tasked with investigating supernatural events and crimes that happen along the historic highway.
Fans of the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man know Aguirre-Sacasa from his acclaimed runs on “Marvel Knights: 4” and “Sensational Spider-Man,” though the writer’s body of work includes its fair share of horror stories. In addition to penning Marvel’s monthly adaptation of the “Stand,” Aguirre-Sacasa has written a “Nightcrawler” series that focused on the supernatural and “Man-Thing” miniseries for Marvel’s MAX. It was that attitude and love of horror stories that lead Marvel to approach him about taking a drive down “Route 666.”
“I’m a big buff of Americana stuff. I love period pieces, and the idea was to do a series right around the time the old Route 66, which was the mother road for drive-ins, old diners, old motels and tourist attractions,” Aguirre-Sacasa told CBR News. “That started to die because of things like the super highway and air travel. It seemed like it would be kind of an interesting backdrop to do an occult American Gothic type story along Route 66. It would be a story about America and the demons that it has. The first issue is set around this massacre that happens at an old drive-in just outside of Chicago. Its got a feel similar to the Bill Paxton and Matthew McConaughey movie ‘Frailty.’ There’s a country-gothic feel to it. Another comparison might be the TV show ‘Supernatural.'”
The original “Route 666” series took place during the 1950s on an alternate world that was very much like our own. It starred a troubled young woman named Cassie Starkweather who had a talent that allowed her to detect supernatural evil. In Aguirre-Sacasa’s series, Cassie is still part of the action and she still has her ability to detect the supernatural, but the book is now set on our world during the ’50s with Cassie now the co-star of the book — she’s the deputy of the book’s other protagonist, U.S. Marshall Evan Cisco.
“This is set on our world in the ’50s, not an alternate Earth. Even saying it’s an alternate world because the supernatural exists feels too weird. So, it’s set in the ’50s, on our planet, in America,” Aguirre-Sacasa explained. “Our protagonists are haunted characters. Both of them have dealt with personal tragedies in their lives. Cisco’s marriage is sort of unravelling and Cassie has lost her family.”
Cassie’s life is further complicated by the fact that she’s only 18 and already a Deputy U.S. Marshall. “That’s one of the many ways in which Cassie is haunted,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “She’s missing that part of her life that other girls get to experience. She’s had her childhood taken from her. She pretends that’s not something she grieves for, but she misses it quite a bit.”
When “Route 666” begins, the dynamic and partnership between Cassie Starkweather and Evan Cisco has already been established. “There’s something very taboo about the way they interact with the supernatural. In fact, these two cops are sort of like drifters. They ride the lonely highway, and when people first meet them, they’re not sure if this is a father and daughter. Is this a husband and his young wife? Is this a guy and his mistress? There’s something about these characters themselves that feels very mysterious and evocative, which I find really, really interesting,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “At the beginning of issue #1, they’re in the middle of a case. They have been tracking a serial killer who may be a werewolf or may be something else. As the bigger story unfolds, which is about a cult that operates throughout the American heartland, we’ll unravel how they became partners and what demons drive them. So it’s sort of an origin story, but the origin is parsed out instead of telling it all in the first issue or two.
“Readers will get glimpses of both Cassie and Cisco’s past as our larger story unfolds,” Aguirre-Sacasa continued. “It’s a story that takes them down the entirety of Route 66. We begin things in Chicago, Illinois, then we travel through four different states for a climax that will occur in California.”
Cassie and Cisco’s cross-country expedition needed to have a very special look to it, which is why Marvel asked artist Peter Nguyen to bring the book to life. “Because it is a period piece and sort of a crime story, the book needed to be a very stylized piece. The dialogue is stylized, and the locations in the story almost make it a Midwestern noir in the vein of ‘The Killer Inside Me,'” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “We wanted an artist with a very strong styling who could handle the crime stuff and the rural stuff, and the editor who started the book, Charlie Beckerman, recommended Peter — and his stuff is just beautiful.”
“Route 666” is a four-issue miniseries, but the book focuses on a stretch of road that spans over 2,000 miles. If fans take to the book, of course, there is plenty of room for Aguirre-Sacasa and Nguyen to continue their travels with Marshall Cisco and deputy Cassie Starkweather.
“I would absolutely love to come back and do another miniseries,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “In doing stuff like these Crossgen books and other titles, Marvel is really making an effort to put out different kinds of products in order to bring in new readers and have something for everyone. That’s a great thing. Everyone is talking about the dire stituation that the comic book industry is in, but I think these kinds of initiatives are really really smart and really really fun. It’s exciting to me, both as a writer and a reader of comic books.”