BOOM! Studios kicked off its programming at Comic-Con International in San Diego with a press conference announcing the first three series of their partnership with Stan Lee. "Soldier Zero" by writer Paul Cornell and artist Javier Pina will launch in October, followed in November by "The Traveler" by Mark Waid and Chad Hardin and "Starborn" by Chris Roberson and Khary Randolph in December. Waid, Cornell, Roberson, BOOM! Publisher Ross Richie and Stan Lee himself were on hand for the press event.
Richie said that BOOM!'s "Stan's Back" internet campaign received 10,000 mentions on Twitter in its first 48 hours and was featured on more than 6,000 web sites. "It was very exciting, a huge success," Richie told the assembled crowd.
Asked how the partnership came about, Richie said that "we have mutual friends" between Lee's POW! Entertainment and BOOM! Studios. "This gave Mark Waid and I an opportunity to meet Stan," he added, "and the partnership formed from there. I couldn't believe he didn't kick me out of the room, because BOOM! is a very young company and Stan is very accomplished."
For his part, Lee joked that he signed on with BOOM! because "they offered me a lot of money!" Shifting to a more serious tone, he said, "I've liked the work that BOOM! has done for the longest time." Holding up a copy of the "Poe" graphic novel, Lee offered to recited "The Raven" after the press after conference. He cited other titles he enjoyed including "Irredeemable" and the Pixar comics. "These guys do really beautiful books," Lee added. "They're great to work with, they're creative and it's exciting to be an overall editor or butt-insky. They create the books, but then they bring 'em to me, say 'What do you think of this idea, how do you like this bit? How do you feel about this art?' It felt like I was back in the Bullpen again like I used to be at Marvel, and I've never had a better time."
Richie then invited the writers to talk about their series, beginning with Mark Waid.
Waid said that he and Lee share a love of time travel adventures, "so we started to talk about what to do with a time travel story that's not 'Terminator,' that's not 'The Time Machine,' that's not something you've seen a thousand times before." Waid described "The Traveler" as being very character-focused, saying that he learned from a lifetime of reading Lee's work that a story should have heart.
He said the heroic Traveler would be saving the world from the Split Second Men, "who have designs on how they would like the future to proceed." He added that the Traveler does not subscribe to any prohibitions about changing history. "This guy doesn't care whether he messes with history or not. If he'd been standing in Dealey Plaze in 1963, he wouldn't let Kennedy get killed. He'd worry about the repercussions afterward. What you'll see is, what are the repercussions if you're willing to tamper and how does it affect the world that we know."
Roberson then revealed new details about "Starborn." The hero of his title begins the series believing he is a normal man, but discovers he is heir to an alien empire. "As he goes out into space trying to liberate these oppressed alien cultures, he discovers that his dad, who he's taken the reins from, was the bad guy, and the guys he's fighting are the freedom fighters who overthrew his dad," Roberson said. "So it's basically a generation after the good guys have won." The "good guys," though, have grown corrupted, so the roles have been reversed.
When Cornell's turn to talk about "Soldier Zero" came, the writer began by saying "I'm incredibly pleased to be working with Stan Lee - this is basically the man who taught me how to read!" He added that it was the only exception to his exclusive contract with DC Comics. "I mentioned that I had the chance to work with Stan, and DC said, 'Yes, of course, that's entirely acceptable. Off you go.'"
Cornell was careful in discussing his character, who is a human in a wheelchair bonded to an alien warrior. "There could be a crass and awful way to do that, but this is not that." He said that he is talking to wheelchair users, including artist Al Davidson, for advice. "It's going to be the kind of book that represents that community to everybody," Cornell said. "Rather like Peter Parker is limited by his environment and escapes to be Spider-Man, Stewart is limited only by his environment, by the attitudes of other people, by the fact that there aren't enough ramps, by the fact that the world is not in the right shape for wheelchairs. He has to come back to his regular existence all the time."
Lee joked, "While he was talking, I thought, 'It doesn't matter what a guy with an English accent says - it sounds profound!'"
Later in the conference, Cornell said that he didn't want to show people on the street picking on his character, Stewart, but that speaking with Davidson heard that this would be a fairly common occurrence. "It happens to him twice, three times a week. It sounds over the top, but it's real, so we're doing it," Cornell said.
Waid then began discussing the opportunity to work with Lee to restore a sense of wonder to comics. "What comics have become is like WWE wrestling matches, with good guys and bad guys, but the humanity gets lost," he said. "The idea that Stan, who basically created the characters we know today, who are working selflessly, even though they make their own personal sacrifices - there's no sacrifice to being Superman, there's no real sacrifices to being Batman. But there are sacrifices to being a Stan Lee superhero," Waid added. Rather than being retro, the new titles are "a call to new times, for Stan to once again be inspirational as he's always been and rise us up and give us dreams again."
"If I had known it was that good, I'd have asked for a raise!" Lee said.
The panel enjoyed a question about whether working with the great Stan Lee added any pressure to their work. "Are you kidding?" Waid burst out, to laughter. "Loads, loads!" Cornell added.
"Do you think sitting in with Paul McCartney makes you more nervous when you play guitar?" Waid continued. "Are you nuts? Of course!"