This past weekend's Fan Expo convention in Toronto brought word of two additions to Marvel's CrossGen lineup: Route 666 and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The books are the fourth and fifth pre-existing CrossGen titles to be revived by Marvel, following Sigil, Ruse and Mystic. CrossGen existed as an independent publisher 1998 to 2004, and has been under Marvel control since their purchase by Disney in 2009.
CrossGen has always been about publishing comics beyond the superhero genre, and the two new titles are no exception: Route 666 is a horror book, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a spy story. Specifically, Route 666 tells the tale of U.S. Marshall Evan Cisco and 18-year-old deputy Cassie Starkweather, investigating paranormal activity across Route 66 with the aid of Cassie's abilities to detect the supernatural.
Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Peter Nguyen are helming the four-issue Route 666 miniseries, and with the first issue scheduled until February 2012, Newsarama talked with Aguirre-Sacasa via email to learn more about how this new series relates to the original, the two main characters, and why he feels it's important to keep working in comics despite his busy TV and theater schedule.
Newsarama: Roberto, let's start with what's become kind of the traditional first question for someone working on a CrossGen revival title at Marvel. When you took on Route 666, how familiar were you with the original CrossGen line as a whole, and Route 666 in particular?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I was familiar with the original Route 666 — I'm a big fan of Tony Bedard and his writing — but truthfully, I remembered the title more than anything else. (Great title, by the way.) I knew it was a horror series and that it was critically acclaimed and a fan-favorite, but when Marvel approached me about this project, it was more or less an opportunity to start with a clean slate.
Nrama: While some of the past Marvel CrossGen books have deviated pretty heavily from the initial concepts — the Mike Carey-written Sigil being a notable example — this looks pretty similar to the original, at least in regards to general premise, genre and main characters. How close is your book to what's come before, and how did you decide which elements were essential to keep?
Aguirre-Sacasa: The basic concept was: Take these two characters, Cisco and Cassie, and make them, essentially, highway cops. Patrolling a very particular (and peculiar) highway, Route 66, which is (for various reasons) the main artery of weird phenomenon in the United States. A haunted highway. The mother-road of the damned.
If this were a high-concept Hollywood pitch meeting, the pitch would be: Chips meets Angel Heart. And let's set it at a time when the real Route 66 was still being used, but was just starting to lose its currency, its mojo, too — the 1950s — when American innocence and optimism was fading fast (yet again). So there is some overlap with the original, of course — how could there not be? — but we're absolutely taking off in a different direction.
Nrama: So with that in mind, what are some significant ways that this new series is different than the original incarnation of Route 666?
Aguirre-Sacasa: First and foremost, it's set on our Earth. In the past, the late 1950s, like I said, but we're treating it as though it's our past. This planet's past, and not Erebus.
Also, the take on this series is a little leaner and meaner and more streamlined, in terms of mythology and backstory. You know how with The X-Files, there were some episodes that were about Mulder's sister's abduction and some episodes that were, simply, about monster-hunting? If the original Route 666 was more about the conspiracy and slowly-unfolding mythology, this series is much more about: "There's some kind of demonic mass-murderer-type-of-thing cruising the highways of America at night, and we have to catch him or her or it before many more people die."
Nrama: Let's talk about the main characters of the book. Cassie Starkweather is the lead of this book as she was in the original series, and still with the ability to see things no one else can. What can you say Cassie as we find her in Route 666 #1?
Aguirre-Sacasa: She's a survivor. She lived through a horrible tragedy — the wholesale slaughter of her family – and has somehow figured out how to compartmentalize her feelings so that she's not, well, a complete basketcase. She has forged herself into a functioning human being. Who, yes, can see things normal people can't — auras and psychic traces and shadow-selves — which makes it very, very difficult for Cassie to not go insane on any given day. That's part of her struggle, her burden. Shut everything down, including your own emotions, so that you can process everyone else's. Shut everything down so you can get through the day. Shut down so you can close your eyes and sleep at night and not be swallowed by the madness and the nightmares.
And remember, like in the original series, she's still a teenager, so this is some heavy stuff.
Nrama: The character of Cisco seems to be evolved from sheriff Cisco in the original comic, but distinct, and also with a completely different relationship to Cassie than before. What can you tell us about his character?
Aguirre-Sacasa: He's a bit of train-wreck. Though he's much older than Cassie (almost inappropriately so), she's his caretaker. He's the one who goes on binges, who loses his temper, who acts without thinking — knowing, perhaps, that Cassie will be there to keep him grounded. (Until she isn't.)
Like the best cops, he's got a dry, ironic sense of humor, which is helpful (and fun to write). He's a man wrestling with demons, still in love with his estranged wife, unconsciously trying to build a surrogate family with Cassie... (For good or ill, she sees him as a father figure.) He's a good guy who hit a very bad patch of life and hasn't completely recovered. Flawed, but those are the best characters to write.
Nrama: You've got a pretty solid background in the horror genre in your comics work. What attracts you to that territory? In some ways, horror in comics seems like it can be a unique challenge to pull off compared to other genres, since you can't rely on some of the techniques — music, for instance — that elevate suspense in live action.
Aguirre-Sacasa: Obviously, how horror is invoked in comics is very different from how it's invoked in movies and on television shows. Absolutely, there are different tools. Sound being the big difference. But they're both visual mediums, and we have cutting and camera angles in comic books, too.
And, of course, there's a great tradition of horror comics, from the EC classics to one of my all-time favorite horror series, Stephen Bissette's Taboo (Remember? From the late 1980s?) Actually, tonally, Route 666 feels like it falls somewhere between the old Tales from the Crypt comics and Taboo. There's some Clive Barker in there, there's some Bill Gaines there.
Nrama: The CrossGen label has historically had a stellar reputation when it comes to artists, and for Route 666 you're working with Peter Nguyen. It's way, way (like six months!) early, but what excites you about collaborating with Nguyen?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Peter's great. He's a terrific storyteller, but a strong stylist, too, and he just gets what we're trying to evoke with this series, which is: A dark version of the American heartland. (The American "darkland," I guess you would call it.) Lots of lonely, foreboding landscapes, lots of Americana turned on its head, lots of sky.) It's dangerous, it's spooky, it's m-o-o-o-o-o-d-y.
Nrama: Clearly, you've got a diverse background as a writer, from TV shows like Big Love and Glee, to vast theater work and your recent involvement in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Yet you've continued to remain working in comics pretty consistently for the past several years. How important is it to you to keep working in the medium?
Aguirre-Sacasa: important. I've been writing for Marvel since I finished grad school in 2003. And listen, it changed my life. It was the first time I was able to support myself as a writer and has since opened many, many doors for me — for instance, I know I would've have been hired to work on Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark if I hadn't written the Sensational Spider-Man comic book — and it has been a blast.
I'm as proud of the work I've done for Marvel as I am about my plays and the episodes of television I've written. Like I often say, I was a playwright before I became a comic book writer, but I was a comic book fan before I was anything else. It's a core part of my identity, so believe me when I say: I hope to keep writing comics for a very, very long time.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!