New York Comic Con was packed tighter than sardines in a tin can. Not only were all the seats filled, but attendees were also standing in the back of the room or either of the other two walls. Of course, this is what happens when it's Stan Lee on a panel at a major comic book convention; it's sure to attract attention.
"Hello, true believers!" Lee said into the microphone when he first appeared on stage, much to the enthusiastic delight form the crowd. Also on stage with Lee was BOOM! Studios Publisher Ross Richie and the publisher's Editor-In-Chief Mark Waid. Although the panel may have been only half an hour, the panel's vibrancy certainly made up for it, and a lot of which coming mostly from Lee.
"This man needs no introduction," Waid said, referring to Lee.
"I never get an introduction," Lee said with faux lamentation.
"When Stan came to us, he asked. 'Hhow do we reinvent superheroes?.'" Waid recalled as he reiterated BOOM! Studios' teaming with Lee's POW! Entertainment, an announcement originally made at San Diego Comic-Con in July. "How do we bring the best of POW!, and the best of BOOM! together?"
"We still haven't figured out the answer," Lee joked.
Richie recalled the "Stan's Back" viral campaign earlier in the spring that served as the catalyst.
"It got 4 million views on the internet, "Richie said. "It got people talking." Lee immediately added, "I heard from a lot of doctors who thought I was having back trouble."
Waid admitted his nervousness coming into the first few meetings with Lee, thinking this may turn into a case where a celebrity just stamps their name on a comic book, and has nothing really to do with them.
"Much to my surprise, Stan rolled up his sleeve in one of these early meetings," said Waid, but before he could finish that thought, Lee jokingly interjects.
"I was adorable!"
"There's the 10 year old in me that's still inside that's still crying because I got schooled," said BOOM!'s E-I-C.
"He's like this 99% of the time, but that 1% is when he sat down and wasn't happy about how one of the discussions was going," Waid said. "So he sat me down, said, 'All right,' and I got schooled."
Waid further added, "I've been doing this for 25 years, and I learned stuff in the next 30 minutes that I never learned about storytelling, about how to focus your characters and about what the audience really wants. Of course, I still cried at the end."
"You'll notice when he looks like that, I don't interrupt," Lee again poking fun at Waid.
Waid went on to stress just how involved Lee has been in the creative process, with everything from the scripts, to the art to word balloon placement, saying that Lee has been a collaborator in every sense of the word.
The first of the three comic series that was talked about was "Soldier Zero". Written by Paul Cornell with art by Javier Pina and character design by Dave Johnson, the series is set be released in late October. Waid describes the main character as a professor who is a wheelchair-bound veteran of the Afghanistan war that comes back from the conflict not entirely sure how he feels about war. When an alien weapon of destruction comes into his possession, it also becomes his salvation, lifting him from his wheelchair, essentially making him a superhero.
At one point, the character was supposed to just have some sort of lifelong spinal injury. However, in the late stages of the first issue's completion, Waid said that Lee thought to add the war veteran background. "If you give a guy an interesting background, it makes it more interesting to the reader than just a regular guy."
"This is the kind of collaboration I was talking about," said Waid.
"This is the kind of collaboration that makes them wish they never started with me," Lee said jokingly.
The second book talked about was "The Traveler" which is due out in November, and written by Waid and art by Chad Hardin. Waid praised Hardin as a soon to be a breakout star, and adding further, "I hope he remembers us five years from now when he wins his Eisner."
Waid also stressed that his favorite sub-genre of sci-fi stories tends to be time-traveling stories, and that this is his chance to dabble into that.
"I wanna write about a guy who doesn't want to change history, but if he's in Dealey Plaza and he sees JFK coming down in the motorcade, he'll intervene. He'll change history and not worry about the consequences. He'll deal with it later. He's not about to let an innocent suffer, no matter the consequence."
The name of the villains was revealed as the Split-Second Men, a group of time-traveling assassins.
"I used to have Dr. Doom, now I have the Split-Second Men," Lee joked. "But I like it. It's courageous. It's different, and you're gonna love it!" adding in a gravelly voice, "or you'll have to answer to me!"
"Starborn", the third of the three comics talked about, is written by New York Times best-selling author Chris Roberson and art by Khary Randolph. Waid described it as the most collaborative of the three comics, but Lee put it another way: "we fought like hell!"
Waid talked about the initial plan was to contrast this series from the other books, and to set it in the far reaches of space, but Lee felt otherwise. "I felt that there was something about it that readers wouldn't relate to it enough," Lee said. "It's okay to have aliens, and you can relate to them, but I thought these were a little too far out."
When brainstorming, the panelists said they've discussed Thor and how Lee came about with his creation of that character. "In Asgard, he was a god, but the relationships were human; his relationships with his father, his brother, and his friends. No matter where you set the story or when, you still need realistic feelings and emotions."
"'Starborn' is the adventures of a guy living a 9 to 5 job in an office cubicle in a nameless plain building," Waid said, describing the third Lee/BOOM! series. "But like me, like Stan, like a lot of people in this room have an imagination, this guy has been world-building for these alien worlds in his head ever since he was a boy."
Moreover, Waid revealed that this isn't necessarily the character's imagination, but rather, suppressed memories. He is heir to a throne somewhere out there in the deep galaxy and there is something drawing him back there. Waid hints that this harkens back to Thor's paradigm, with Lee writing the character sometimes on Earth or Asgard, and being able to show big explosions or alien races and monsters.
Richie discussed Lee's injection of the power of romance and the need to have the readers gravitate toward the pretty girl and then also understand why she's into this guy with that inevitably leading into why readers are into the main character. "This process of storytelling and working with Stan, it's just a blast," said Richie. "I'm working, but at the same time it's like this graduate school on learning how to do comic book publishing."
Closing out the panel, Lee complemented Waid on being a good explainer. He said he could see why Waid is such a good writer and such a good editor, ribbing, "I just think you tell them (the crowd in attendance) too much." Lee joked that the audience didn't have to be that wise tot he inside nature of the stories. "But you did you did a great job," Lee said of Waid
Waid immediately joked that he'd love to get a recording of what Lee just said, and Lee ribbed Waid by asking the audience to buy "Starborn" just to see if there was anything that Waid forgot to mention. Quickly thereafter, Lee praised Richie and Waid for being terrific collaborators. "I've learned as much from them as they've learned from me. I love them."