The room was packed as comic fans eagerly awaited the BOOM! Studios panel featuring the legendary Stan Lee on Saturday, July 24 at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The collaborative team up between BOOM! Studios and Pow! Entertainment will be bringing three new original super-hero books to the market later this year.
Unfortunately, Stan Lee was delayed from making the panel due to an emergency trip to the dentist. Breaking a tooth just a few hours earlier, Lee was en route back to the convention center when the panel began.
“I’m sure if anybody in this town can get some cop cars running interference on the way back from the dentist, it would be him,” said BOOM!’s chief creative officer Mark Waid.
One audience member suggested that Lee have a jet back, an idea that Waid quickly latched on to.
“Stan should totally have a jetpack, and I’m not going to rest until there’s a Twitter and Facebook campaign that gets him a jetpack!”
In the meantime, Waid introduced BOOM! Studios’ chief executive officer Ross Richie and writers Chris Roberson and Paul Cornell to the audience. As announced previously during the Con, Roberson and Cornell, along with Waid, are working alongside Lee to begin a new universe of super-hero comics to the market.
“It’s his acclaimed return to the super-hero genre and a chance for the man who co-created some of the greatest comic book characters in history to work hand-in-hand with two of those writers down there to try and figure out what a hero in the 21st century is like,” said Waid.
The first of the three new titles previewed was “Starborn,” which will be released in December.
Written by Chris Roberson and drawn by Khary Randolph, “Starborn” is the story of a typical guy who discovers that he is the lost son of an evil alien dictator and the heir to an alien empire.
“He will be fighting the rag-tag group of freedom fighters that overthrew the empire, but now they’ve just become the establishment,” said Roberson. “And then hilarity ensues.”
The next book featured was “The Traveler,” out in November, by Mark Waid and Chad Hardin.
“One of Stan’s and my mutual passions is history and time travel,” said Waid. “We asked, ‘How do you do a time travel character that you haven’t seen a million times before?'”
Unlike the other two books with rookie heroes, The Traveler will star a character already in action, saving people throughout time from a mysterious foe.
“Strange, super powered assassins from the future called Split Second Men start popping up here and there with different powers and weird agendas,” said Waid.
Finally, Waid introduced the first of the three new titles to be released. “Soldier Zero,” written by Paul Cornell and drawn by Javier Pina, will come out in October.
“Soldier Zero” will tell the story of a wheelchair bound astronomy professor who becomes bonded with an alien weapon of war, giving him strength and mobility he’s never known, along with all the troubles that come with it.
“Like all great Stan characters, that which seems to be a blessing also opens up a whole new world of problems and a whole new world of story possibilities,” said Cornell.
Consulting on “Soldier Zero” is wheelchair bound artist Al Davison, who is working with Cornell to represent that community properly.
“There is a terrifying way of doing this book that would be horrible and awful and insult people in wheelchairs,” said Cornell. “This is not that book. This is a Stan book for everyone, about the nature of heroism.”
After hearing about each of the books, one member of the audience asked if these three titles would take place in a shared universe.
“Why, in fact, the answer to that would be: yes they will,” answered Waid. “As somebody who has been on the ground floor of more than one truly cripplingly failed shared universe concepts, I know how to do it right and how to do it wrong.”
Waid was telling the audience how reading all three books would not be required to understand any one of them when the long awaited lost panelist showed up, inciting a roaring response.
“Sorry I’m late,” said Lee, telling the assembled audience about how a tooth had fallen out after biting into something earlier in the morning. “After the drill and the Novocaine, it’s a real pleasure to be here.”
The other panelists were quick to heap praise upon Lee for his involvement in the creative process of their projects, but Lee would have none of it.
“These guys do the heavy work,” said Lee. “They come up with the ideas, they do the writing, they do the drawing and I say, ‘I think maybe you ought to change that word, or maybe his arm should be this way instead of that way,’ and I get the credit for this thing. How can you do better than that?”
“How can you do better than that? You get the money too,” Waid joked.
As much as Lee downplayed his role, the other creators continued to emphasize how much he is contributing to the project.
“Sitting there with you in these meetings, talking with you about these concepts, rocking ideas back and forth – you have more ideas in five minutes than most of us have in a week,” said Waid.
“We’re working with the Stan Lee of 2010 who is still sharp, still has ideas, who is still clever, who still knows how to focus on characters, who knows how to get the most drama out of a situation. We’re also working with the Stan that wrote the comics we grew up reading,” continued Waid. “You taught us that a story is not so much about what happens, but who it happens to, what they want, and what they need.”
“Was I really that profound? I’m so impressed! Keep going!” joked Lee. “If I had known I was that good I’d have asked for a raise.”
Unfortunately for the audience and the panelists, Lee’s time at the panel was limited and his visit was short lived. He soon had to leave, presumably to recover from the dental work he had just received.
“I just want to make something abundantly clear so there’s no misunderstanding and no misinformation on the net; Stan had every intention of staying through the panel and frankly, he would have,” said Waid. “He really loves all you guys.”
Though Lee was gone, his collaborators continued to share stories of the influence that the legendary writer has had on their work.
“The big idea that Stan had is that the superpower would be an extension of an emotion or characteristic of an individual,” said Cornell. “Peter Parker doesn’t just get random powers. He gets powers that really reflect who he is.”
“If you didn’t start reading comics in the 50s and 60s and 70s, you don’t know what it’s like,” said Waid, talking about the innovation of characters with unique personalities and fantastic stories taking place in real life settings. “With the Marvel books, it was a place. You know how to get from Doctor Strange’s house to where the Fantastic Four live.”
For Roberson, Lee’s involvement in his work something he’s still excited over. “The mere fact that Mark Waid calls me at my house still freaks me out. The Mark Waid is calling me to give me Stan’s notes on my thing. The front part of my brain is able to have this conversation, but the rest of me is freaking out!” said Roberson. “Stan Lee knows who I am. He’s read my stuff and is giving me notes! And Mark Waid is delivering them!”
To close out the panel, Ross Richie told the story of how he first met Stan Lee while working as a marketing guy at the 1993 Comic-Con passing out flyers.
“So, I’m handing out flyers, feeling a little bit foolish and a little bit ashamed that I was the flyer monkey, and here comes Stan. Here’s one of my world’s greatest heroes, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is the most humiliating way to meet this man.”
Feeling ashamed, Richie began to shrink away, which caught Lee’s attention.
“Stan saw that and he turned around and said, ‘Give me one of those.” And I handed it to him, and of course he didn’t look at it, but he said, ‘I love it. I love it. I love it.’ He gave me a great big smile that made me two inches taller, and moved on. And that’s really what it’s like working with him day-to-day.”