Following an action-packed initial arc that both introduced and radically changed a new cosmic hero, writer Paul Cornell hands over the reins of "Stan Lee's Soldier Zero" to the team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. And the incoming writers -- often referred to as DnA -- have plans to shake things up once again for their debut outing, issue #5, on sale this week from BOOM! Studios. CBR News spoke with the writers about what's coming up and how a brand new character changes everything.
The story thus far has seen Stewart Trautmann, an Afghanistan war veteran now confined to a wheelchair, become the reluctant host to a powerful alien symbiote called Soldier Zero and immediately find himself the target of still-more powerful aliens. During a struggle with Soldier One, a similar entity that insists Stewart's new friend is not what he seems, Stewart's brother and self-appointed advocate James had his arm sheared away. Though Soldier Zero emerged victorious, his adversary's clever strategy cast protector in the role of monster, and now Stewart must cover his tracks to maintain his secret power.
Paul Cornell left our hero in quite a difficult situation, but Abnett and Lanning immediately escalated the situation by introducing a new character, one whose agenda remains both mysterious and not at all good news for Soldier Zero. "He’s a very cool new character with very, very cool SF powers," Abnett said of the new antagonist. "We call him Application Nine, and he seems to be able to do anything. The big question is...is he friend or foe. Who is he working for?"
"App 9 has a really cool set of powers and abilities and will be playing a major role in Stew's next adventure," Lanning added, "but, like Dan says, it remains to be seen if he's working for Stew or against him.
"App 9 is a wildcard element who quite literally explodes into the action and will permanently shake up the status quo," Lanning continued, with Abnett chiming in, "Exactly! Is he going to make things worse or better? The story starting with this character’s arrival really blows the roof off. No, really."
Application 9 seems to be a nasty piece of work, using his extraordinary powers to get the job done through whatever means necessary, yet he goes about his business in a pretty lighthearted manner. Asked about the appeal of such a charismatic bad guy -- or, at least, antagonist -- Abnett said, "There’s a real slick charm there. He’s so powerful, so skilled, he makes things look effortless. He knows he’s got the power set to pull off anything, so he just walks into things with supreme confidence."
"We liked the almost arrogant self assurance he displays, it makes him very memorable in a creepy-cool sort of way," Lanning added. "He's extremely capable and, like most highly trained professionals, makes it look easy. It gives him the edge as his implacable nature unnerves his opponents."
Issue #5 also sees some interesting fallout from Stewart's brother James losing an arm in the first arc, once again shifting the dynamic between the brothers. "Their already complex relationship is getting really churned up," Abnett said. "They’ve clearly reversed roles -- which were themselves clearly reversals of their roles when they were young. The power of the issues involved here is going to become one of the major engines driving the character drama in this series."
"Their relationship is one of the core foundations of the story so far, and we'll be developing it further during our run and hopefully taking it into areas that are unexpected and exciting," Lanning said.
Stewart himself is clearly being pulled in a few different directions, caught in the middle of a conflict he doesn't understand. Asked how the hero views his own role in the events so far and his relationship with the alien symbiote Soldier, Lanning told CBR, "Stew's been swept up in events so far and is almost a back-seat driver in his own body. Over the course of the next few issues we'll see him really assert himself, and exactly how that tension plays out forms mush of the dramatic content from here on."
Though Cornell shared some of his thoughts and plans for "Soldier Zero" with the incoming writers, Abnett and Lanning said that they are very much making the series their own from the start. "Paul kindly handed over the series like a baton in a relay race, with lots of storyline possibilities. We wanted the take-over to be smooth. We’ve actually brought in more new stuff of our own faster than we were anticipating, but the basic characters and their outlooks stand, and we weren't going to scrap what he’d established," Abnett said.
"Paul's a fantastic writer and left us with some really cool stuff to play with. We've added our own take to much of it, but the solid foundations of story and character that he's laid down make our job so much easier," Lanning said. "It's been a fun transition that the guys at BOOM! have made even smoother by letting us have carte blanche about throwing crazy and outlandish ideas at them. We're really excited about where we are heading with the 'Soldier Zero' story and how it fits into the overall BOOM! universe."
Abnett and Lanning are certainly familiar with cosmic heroes, having driven Marvel's space-faring adventurers for years and currently serving as the architects of IDW's multi-dimensional "Infestation" crossover. Abnett said the book's "very strong SF themes" help define "Soldier Zero" and make it distinct, as do "the fundamental strengths of it being a character engineered by Stan Lee." "To be working on concepts and ideas that Stan has originated is a childhood dream come true," Lanning added. "One way or another, we've been playing with Stan's 'toys' for years now, but always at the distance of time and continuity. Here, we're in the creative trenches with him and it's a blast to be working at such close proximity to a true living legend! Stan's the Man, 'Nuff said!"
"To be honest, it’s terrifying because we hold him in such high regard," Abnett said of Lee, "but his feedback has been generous, positive and very complimentary."
As to what threats Stewart and his alien armor might face as DnA's run on "Soldier Zero" continues, Abnett was coy. "All we can say if is if you think issue 5 ends with a bang, just wait for issue 6!"