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ROUTE 666 (revisited) — “Desperate times call for desperate measures”

Writer: Tony Bedard

Artists: Karl Moline, Nick Bell et al.

CrossGen Comics, July 2002 – June 2004

SHE DIES. You cruise along at a steady 66 miles per hour swerving around bad guys maybe take a short nap or let someone else drive if you manage to find someone else to stay alive long enough to drive this highway to hell with you on ROUTE 666 where the speed thrills and at last you have to know kills.

She is the only one who sees the monsters disguised as normal people. Now they know she sees them, things get dangerous. Others sometimes pretend to see them, going along for their own reasons. She needs help, but trust is not easy. Get away—hit the highway. This is where I found her, filling up at a service station in the middle of nowhere, before she took off again one step ahead of the dopey ghouls chasing her. Getting good help these days even in hell seems to be a chancy proposition.

The whole scenario was alluring. With bad guys like this she might never get caught. I had to start at the beginning and see the method to the madness. What monsters frighten her so, turn out to be a variety of spectral characters, just like villains in real life. Maybe the top boss, whoever that might be, is the most powerful, but the big boss still has to execute what it wants in the broad world through agents, and agents of agents, to localize the reach, so we have bozos out scouring the countryside to find a harmless human to bring her back to the boss with no idea what anything is all about but that someone told them to do it. How many petty tyrannies in our real lives operate just this way was probably in the mind of darkling writer Tony Bedard when he gave us this story.

The big boss in this case, when we finally meet, is less forgiving than most. First it eats you and shits you out the other end, to give you time to improve your excuse, why you have still not caught the girl. She knows. Others must not know.

The virtues of industrial production are now running full-bore outside the halls of hell, focusing on hospitals and nursing homes, where souls are ripe for the taking, given a little inside management. No more scouring the countryside like carpetbaggers making individual deals for a soul here, a soul there. Like all good enterprise, vertical and horizontal integration to control sources of supply, and channel profits upward, is making soul stealing a thriving business.

Summarized this way, the plotline sounds a lot like early sociologist Karl Marx drawing attention to the hell of industrial enterprise thrust on the people of Britain and America especially, not only extracting to the utmost the benefits and traditional social relations of a person’s workday, the spirit of their lives, leaving them impoverished materially and spiritually, but also extracting the object of their work from their own control, eliminating their sense of mastery as individuals: essentially stealing their souls as well. This is the direst, most dangerous position to place a people. No choice but to run, or fight; like our heroine.

Popularity of the theme of demons greedy for souls haunting our funny papers, leads me to suspect a more expansive interpretation. This seems somehow more immediate and prevalent, for all ages, than mere work relations, soul-stealing as they might be. Think of it this way.

Smooth relationships between I and you and objects makes a circuit of welcome that feels like freedom, an emotional charge that relies in good part on the circulation of the objects in between. Persons who know to wear a face good enough to pass, speak the same language, know the right words, may come closer than you like once you notice those are the only words they know, the only face they share; and none of the objects you pass between you really interests them.

Stay alert. You can see them. The fanged vortex of hell approaches in the shape of its minions, who display much concern and care, and say: “I desire no object but you. Come.”

In such a shape, predators easily blend in.

The road trip makes each of the twenty-two issues in this series a little different, like any good fugitive drama, though it did start to move into a rut, as in other experiences with author Tony Bedard over a long run. It did, however, look like our heroine was going to make it, challenge after challenge, to a final crescendo with the big boss. Let’s see who shits this time. A back page of the last issue shows an upcoming Issue 23, with our heroine riding a missile in flight like a cowgirl, and the title “Nuke ‘em till they glow!”

Maybe that issue exists somewhere in hell. CrossGen publishers disappeared. Our heroine disappeared. Her negotiations with demons in the final panel we last saw her, entreating them to tear apart her enemy first, not her, like unleashing “the people” to tear down this ugly civilization first, not me …

well, that apparently did not work out so well for her. She dies.

No nukes. Nowhere close to piercing the heart of her enemy, the soul-stealing big boss. So many die like this on the periphery, runners and fighters we never hear about, never know their fate, ones trying to reveal the demons among us every day, in every community, the faced faceless ones, who seem to always turn out powerful enough to crush resistance before the word gets out.