"Stan Lee's The Traveler," one of three BOOM! Studios superhero series from the mind of The Man himself, releases its fourth issue this week, and even at this early stage the quirky adventure comic has introduced, resolved and reopened a series of mysteries, all the while maintaining a decidedly lighthearted tone. The series follows a blue-clad hero called the Traveler (or sometimes Kronus, due to a damaged name badge on his chest) who arrives in the nick of time to save several seemingly-random people from an attack by the Split Second Men, four time-traveling villains with devastating powers. In the midst of each rescue, though, the Traveler tends to exhibit some annoyance at his beneficiaries and enjoys giving them strange instructions or performing some baffling trick. CBR News spoke with writer Mark Waid, who was BOOM!'s Chief Creative Officer when the Stan Lee projects began but has since returned to the world of freelance writing, about the latest developments in "The Traveler" and what's coming up for the hero.
Though there were some big clues to the Traveler's identity and how he came to be who he is revealed in issue #2, it also seems that things are less clear-cut than might normally be the case. Waid told CBR that the key to building and sustaining this type of mystery is "treading that fine line between being intriguing and being confusing." "I think we've done it well -- in no small part due to Chad Hardin's great storytelling chops -- but I think that's the secret. You have to feed the reader just enough information to keep him trusting that you know where you're going and that you're taking him on a surprising ride," the writer explained. "Too little information and he'll feel confused and angry; too much, and he'll feel talked-down to. We worked hard to walk that line."
At least one of the mysteries of the Traveler's origin was revealed in issue #3, but any number of questions remain with Waid telling CBR that this organization was due at least in part to the stories in the other Stan Lee-helmed titles. "Working with Stan to structure the other two series ('Soldier Zero' and 'Starborn'), I realized they were very linear in their storytelling approach. This being a time-travel series, however -- that suggested the freedom to take a more Byzantine path in telling the story," Waid said. "To be honest, I was very fond of the idea that, like the other two series, you're actually watching the origin spool out right in front of your eyes -- but with 'The Traveler,' you don't realize an origin is what you've been reading until the story reaches its climax.
Even as readers see the Traveler's face in issue #3, confirming what should have been suspected, we get the harder-to-pin-down Abaris, who seems to have a history with our hero. Waid would not reveal much more about the corpulent adversary except that, "clearly, his interests conflict with Traveler's. Or do they? Actually, that's a lie. They both want the exact same thing. And, surprisingly, Abaris may actually have the more noble goals. As you'll see."
In the course of the their dialogue, Abaris claims the Traveler is "in love with your own secrets" and rather likes being mysterious, a fairly dead-on assessment. Though the two beings' confrontation is full of allusions and ambiguities, Waid confesses that "it kinda is a Scooby Doo mystery, if you think about it. There aren't many candidates for the role of Abaris. Read closely."
Abaris seems to be the fourth villain, the worst of the Split Second Men, though as of the end of issue #3 his powers and skillset remain unknown. "I have a phrase that's popped up in recent real-world news that you'll want to Google," Waid hinted, "'quantum entanglement through time.'"
Regarding the Traveler's own powers, readers have seen the hero perform a number of time-related feats -- the "Relative Time Sheathe" being one memorably-named example -- but unlike the series' villains, Kronus cannot actually travel through time. Waid told CBR that feeling out the boundaries of Kronus' powers and decide exactly what he can do (and then naming it) is "kinda the best part of the gig." "But give Stan credit, too -- he's in on it!"
Waid said, however, that it is not difficult to determine whether the Traveler should or should not be able to perform a certain action, based on his powers, and that the only limitations are that he should not become redundant. "I'm trying to be careful to keep him from becoming too much like other, established comics characters," Waid said. "For instance, we'll see him move at great speed from time to time over the course of a panel or two, but we're unlikely to watch Traveler run a super-speed race around the world."
Though there are certainly tragic elements at the core of "The Traveler," there is a very strong strain of comedy in the series, as well -- a "brooding at home on the couch" scene is turned on its head when we see that Kronus is not actually in his own home, while the titular hero strikes a Batman pose to humorous effect in the third issue. It's also very clear that Waid is having a blast with the dialogue, with the Traveler regularly handling terrified would-be victims with withering wit and reveling in their incomprehension of his abilities. CBR asked Waid, then, if Kronus behaves as he would if Waid had superpowers. "With less actual crime-fighting, yes. I'd probably use his stop-time powers to catch up on my DVDs," the writer said. "But I really can't write any more dour, leaden, ominous super-heroes. It's just dull."
Despite the humor, the picture of a Stan-Lee-tortured-hero is also beginning to emerge, which Waid said he enjoys writing for the type of story "that can turn on a dime from comedy to tragedy, or vice-versa." "That keeps me and the readers on their toes," he said. "Suspense and surprise are what keeps you turning the pages, and adding some tonal unpredictability to a story is, I find, helpful."
As to what's coming up in "The Traveler" #4, Waid said, "it's engineered to make the strongest man cry -- and you've already seen one scene from it, though you don't realize it yet." And issue #5 begins "the next leg of Traveler's journey -- to a mysterious extraterrestrial realm called Anachronopolis, where time is out of joint and the past and the future are both under the command of Abaris -- but to what end? What does he want -- and what will Traveler sacrifice to stop him?"