SDCC 2010: Cornell Goes BOOM! With Stan Lee's SOLDIER ZERO

Cornell Goes BOOM! With Stan Lee

The war is coming, courtesy of BOOM! Studios -- and the man on the frontlines is none other than Soldier Zero.

One of the flagship characters in BOOM!'s new Stan Lee line of superhero comics, Soldier Zero is being spearheaded by none other than Action Comics writer Paul Cornell, who will be launching the hero into his first adventures with artist Javier Pina beginning in October.

In a genre that views bionic limbs as almost passe, Soldier Zero follows the story of Stewart Travers, a wheelchair user who is transformed into a sci-fi warrior through the power of an alien symbiote. But what happens when a galactic battle ends up on his doorstep? We caught up with Cornell to talk about how he got involved with the Stan Lee lineup, how he worked his writing to better represent the wheelchair user community, and just how Stewart Travers is a "Stan Lee" character in the classic mold.

Newsarama: Paul, it's been a big month for you -- you got an exclusive deal with DC Comics, and now BOOM! has announced this series. For those who don't know the inside baseball, how'd you get involved with the Stan Lee line, and how are you able to navigate the deals between BOOM! and DC?

Paul Cornell: Mark Waid approached me at the Gallifrey One Doctor Who convention in LA, where we'd often hang out, and asked me if I'd like to work with Stan Lee. I bit his hand and half the table off, which he took to be rather an aggressive gesture until I explained it was a metaphor.  When the DC exclusive was offered to me, I asked for BOOM! to be an exemption, and they were cool with that.  

Nrama: Can you tell us a bit about your exposure to Stan Lee's work growing up? What were your thoughts on these comics?

Cornell: He virtually taught me to read.  I was hooked on black and white British reprints of his early Marvel work at an early age.  I think he's still undervalued as a storyteller, one of the great tellers of tales for children, our Brothers Grimm.  The way he takes a child by the hand and leads him into the fiction is timeless.  

Nrama: Now, let's talk a little bit about Soldier Zero -- for you, what's the appeal of a character like this? Can you tell us a little bit about this guy?

Cornell: He's a hybrid of an alien parasite that's used to having an alien host body to interact with, and Stewart, a wheelchair user.  The alien gives Stewart the ability, while it's expressing its armor, to be a superhero, but that only lasts so long, then he's back in the wheelchair. Rather like Peter Parker, it's Stewart who's the hero, and like with Spider-Man, the armor gives him the chance to experience a world where his environment isn't the limiting factor.   

Nrama: Something that stood out for me in what I had heard about the character was that he's in a wheelchair, but pilots an alien mech as Soldier Zero. I don't think I've seen a character that deals with disabilities -- outside of maybe Barbara Gordon -- that doesn't sort of shrug it off with a bionic limb or something similar. For you, how do you work that in your story? It sounds like it would be something that would really help define this person's world view...

Cornell: It's not quite pilots a mech, the two form a symbiotic relationship, of which Stewart is the conscience, making a warrior into a hero.  I'm very conscious that there's an incredibly crass way to do this book, but, by bringing in the great comics creator Al Davison, who's a wheelchair-using martial artist, as our advisor, and reaching out to other wheelchair-using comics fans, I'm hoping that instead it's a comic that'll represent that community.  Al's been giving us video, art advice, and script notes.  It was him who gave me the ethos Stewart lives by: it's only the environment that limits him.  That is, not just a physical environment that isn't designed for wheelchairs often enough, but the attitudes of other people.  Like his brother, who's cared for him since he was a kid, and who rather tries to run his life.  I was shocked, for example, to learn that wheelchair users get abused in the street, often and continually.  I didn't believe that until Al told me about his own experiences.   

Nrama: A lot of these books talk about "a galactic battle," and considering your character is Soldier Zero, I wanted to ask -- what can you tell us about the sorts of adversaries that Soldier Zero will be taking on? It seems like you have a whole universe to play with -- what contributions to it are you most excited about?

Cornell: I like the fact that we're setting up a classic villain out of the origin story, and that there's an ensemble supporting cast forming around Stewart's job as a teaching assistant.  There are both alien and human threats coming after this alien crashed on Earth, and it and Stewart have to rely on each other to survive.   

Nrama: And going back a little bit -- you're working with The Man himself. What's it like working with Stan Lee on this? What's the back-and-forth for you here? And what sorts of "Stan Lee" qualities do you see in this property?

Cornell: Stan's been giving us notes from the start, and this was written based on his format.  I always say this is rather like Rick Rubin's work with Johnny Cash: there's nothing retro or pastiche about it, we're just using modern techniques to let Stan's eternal virtues shine through.  When I saw his plan for this title, I could see that it was a very daring way to bring a Peter Parker style character bang up to date, and that, if done bravely and conscientiously, it could really work.  With a bit of outreach and Stan and Mark onside, I think it's going to be a great adventure.   

Nrama: Finally, for those who are still curious about Soldier Zero, what else would you say to try to get them off the fence? Are there any moments you're excited about that you could tease?

Cornell: I'm proud of the tragic story of Stewart's brother and their mom, which leads them to where they are now in a kind of Uncle Ben way.  I also like the hard SF I'm going to bring to the business of the suit: we're not going retro with that, though those looking for Stan Lee style will find, I hope, a modern take on it.  Come for the characters and tech, stay for the superhero.  And don't say 'worthy'.  Forget that.  Stewart Travers is the new Peter Parker.

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