Stan's back -- and he's bringing a trio of superheroes with him.
Teased months ago, it was revealed in March that Stan Lee would be teaming up with BOOM! Studios on three new superhero books. And now, with the San Diego Comic-Con looming, BOOM! has finally lifted the curtain, announcing the following three series: The Traveler, by Mark Waid and Chad Hardin; Soldier Zero, by Paul Cornell and Javier Pena; and Starborn, by Chris Roberson and Khary Randolph.
Of all the Stan Lee properties, the most mysterious seems to be The Traveler, which follows a man who is caught up in an accident that gives him the ability to warp time and space. Is the nature of heroism a relativistic act, or are there some hard-and-fast rules that not even this timetripper can break? With the book due out in November, and officially announced at the pre- Comic-Con International: San Diego Press Conference, we caught up with Waid to talk about how Stan's superheroes came to join BOOM!, what makes the Traveler a true "Stan Lee" character, and just how to make things challenging for someone who can run between the ticks of a second.
Newsarama: Mark, outside of the work you've been doing with Irredeemable and Incorruptible, BOOM! Studios has really seemed to steer away from superhero work, focusing more on thrillers or the supernatural. What made this the right time -- or the right properties -- to expand BOOM!'s superhero lineup?
Mark Waid: Well, the phenomenal and, at least to me, slightly unexpected success of Irredeemable and Incorruptible really opened that door. More than that, though, it was being approached by Stan to explore the possibility of getting him to do new work -- and while Stan can write anything, even a dummy like me doesn’t ask Stan Lee to write westerns or crime noir. He asks Stan Lee to write superheroes, because Stan’s name is synonymous with the genre.
Nrama: Now, tell us a little bit about the Traveler. Who is this guy? What's he like as a person?
Waid: He’s the kind of character Stan and I both enjoy writing the most -- a smart, clever man whose dry sense of humor hides some pretty dark emotions and tragic secrets. Unlike with Starborn and Soldier Zero, where we’re opening with the origins of the characters, The Traveler begins with our hero already in action -- and watching his backstory slowly unfold is the whole engine of the first four issues.
Nrama: A lot of Stan Lee's properties that have survived throughout the years have particular qualities that resonate with readers, whether it's "persecuted by a world that fears and hates them," all the way back to "with great power there must also come great responsibility." What do you think is the big "Stan Lee quality" about the Traveler?
Waid: “Man of science is redeeming himself for overstepping his bounds to tragic end.” Stan’s stories are full of the glories of science -- but also the consequences. The Traveler follows in that vein.
Nrama: You're no stranger to working with characters with huge power sets, and establishing some "rules" to them -- kind of like your recent take on Dr. Strange. For the Traveler, how do you work with this guy, so as not to make him omniscient or completely all-powerful?
Waid: It’s surprisingly easy in that his skill set is somewhat limited, at least at first, at least to the knowledge of the reader. He can speed up or slow down time, he can see pieces of the past and branches of possible futures, and he has an intimate, scientist’s knowledge of knowing how to use those powers smartly. Controlling the flow of time in a localized area, for example, allows him to move at great speed in short bursts -- but it also allows him to control the rate of a villain’s heartbeat, say, or the flow of blood to his brain. Within reason and with definite limitations, it gives him the power to accelerate the aging of matter or put falling debris into stasis. The smaller the area he affects, the longer he can hold the effect. There are definite limits.
Nrama: And spinning off of that, because this character has the ability to bend time and space, what sorts of storytelling opportunities does this afford you? Is this going to be a "Quantum Leap" kind of series, where it's jumping from genre to genre and setting to setting? How do the powers -- if at all -- impact the stories this character can run with?
Waid: Maybe down the road, more time-travel adventures, but Stan wisely thought that we should establish the character in our world first, our familiar, outside-our-door world. So we’re staying in the here-and-now for at least the first arc.
Nrama: Out of the three writers of BOOM! Studios who's working on the Stan Lee line, you're the one who's worked on the most of Stan's "properties" the most, having taken on Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Dr. Strange... yet in this case, you're operating with no backstory, you're really moving from the ground floor with Stan on this. With all that in mind, what's the back-and-forth between you two?
Waid: Lots of energy. Sometimes him having to remind me to keep it simple. Sometimes me reminding him that he’s hit certain ideas before. But I like the mutual chemistry. Man, that guy is going places.
Nrama: Let's talk a bit about the artist of the book, Chad Hardin. What made Chad the right pick for this book? What sorts of strengths does he bring to the table here?
Waid: Holy jamolies, this guy’s phenomenal. His art’s lush and powerful, his faces are great, his technique is stunning -- but none of that would matter if he weren’t a terrific storyteller, and he is. I’m looking at issue one pages right now, and they’re both beautiful and crystal-clear.
Nrama: Finally, for those who are curious about the Traveler, what would you tell them to get them on board? Are there any moments, any teases that you're excited to see hit the page?
Waid: I can’t wait to hear the point at which the readers can see what we’re REALLY doing with this first story. It seems simple and it seems straightforward at first blush -- but time-travel is at the heart of this tale, and not everything is as it appears!
Boom! Goes the Stan Lee!