Stan Lee’s new superhero universe expands this week with the debut of “The Traveler,” a new ongoing series making inventive use of the methods and mechanisms used to manipulate the very fabric of time – for both good and ill. Written by Mark Waid with art by Chad Hardin, “The Traveler” marks the second release at BOOM! Studios under Stan “The Man’s” direction, coming on the heels of the highly successful “Soldier Zero” by Paul Cornell and Javier Pina, and will in turn be followed in December by Chris Roberson and Khary Randolph’s “Starborn.” CBR News spoke with Waid about his latest superhero adventure.
“The Traveler” opens with a dramatic attack from an electromagnetic-powered villain, whom readers soon learn is one of the Split Second Men, a three-man team from the future. It’s up to a mystery man dressed in blue to combat their attacks, as Angstrom, the first bad guy to appear, is followed by Splinter, a man with the power to decay matter. As to the final villain in the trinity, the Traveler says, “I don’t even want to talk about the third one.”
Judging from the first two issues of “Soldier Zero,” on sale now, and “Traveler” #1, BOOM! Studios’ Stan Lee universe titles succeed in evoking a classic feel while telling entirely modern stories. Asked about the sensibility “Soldier Zero,” “Traveler,” and, presumably, the upcoming “Starborn” share, Waid said, “The mission statement was to somehow meld the charm and optimism of Stan’s style with a modern storytelling sensibility. Paul Cornell, smartly, likened it to what record producer Rick Rubin did with Johnny Cash a few years ago when Rubin got Cash to infuse his voice and style into a more contemporary sound. That was the goal – to find a voice with these books that was neither modern-cynical nor retro-innocent. And I think we succeeded. The overall sensibility is pure Stan – what’s it like to have power thrust upon you? How does that make the pursuit of your dreams easier or harder? And most of all, what’s it like to be a good man trying to affect the world around him in a positive way?”
Though the protagonist of “The Traveler” may be a good man, his attitude is a bit atypical for a super hero – in the first issue, he shows little patience for the people he saves, verbally berating the would-be victims and bystanders he pulls out of the fire. “He’s been around. He’s seen a lot. That accounts for some of his impatience with people,” Waid said of the hero’s disposition. “But more than that, time tends to move…differently around him, from his perspective. Sometimes too slowly, sometimes too quickly. When it’s going slowly and calmly, he tends to relax and be of good humor – but when things start to happen too fast and he loses control, he gets very testy. Frankly, I like his weird manic-depressive attitude.”
Another interesting aspect of the Traveler himself is the mystery surrounding his identity – he emerges, seemingly from nowhere, to fight off an attack by the element-manipulating Split Second Men. In the first issue, a woman calls the hero “Kronus” due to a damaged badge he wears on his chest, which surprises him, though= he seems to accept it ironically and dismissively. But, Waid says, who the Traveler is will not be a central mystery for the series – at least not from the Traveler’s point of view. “Oh, he’s solved it. He knows who he is,” the writer told CBR. “But you don’t, even though the clues are there. The damaged badge is a big one. Keep reading.”
The Split Second Men, the first and primary adversaries in “The Traveler,” are able to travel through time, though, oddly, the Traveler himself cannot. But, the hero tells us, “I can play some wonderful tricks with it.” Among those tricks are the ability to freeze time and speed it up, as well as one that, while less obvious, plays a significant role in the Traveler’s fighting technique – Time Vision. Waid described this power as “the ability to get glimpses of all a person’s (or thing’s) possible futures all at once, in one giant rush of vision, so he can better predict the optimal course of immediate action. But it’s something he uses very sparingly, because it’s like listening to every song on your iPod all at once, full blast, and trying to pull out one specific chord.”
Readers will also get an early glimpse into how the Split Second Men’s attacks are orchestrated in the first issue, but Waid said “it would tell too much” to reveal anything more about their motives or methods. He did say, though, that “there is a pattern to their attacks.”
The Traveler’s deeds may save any number of lives, but the spectacle and destruction that seems to follow him draws the attention of two dedicated federal agents. Meanwhile, the first person he rescues, a woman named Danielle, will have a greater role than she knows. “Danielle’s the one to watch. She’s the fulcrum upon which the entire series rests, even if she doesn’t realize it yet,” Waid said. “At Stan’s insistence, this is ultimately a love story and, frankly, a love triangle – but who’s vying for Danielle’s hand? The answer to that question drives everything.”
When “The Traveler” was announced at Comic-Con International, Waid spoke about working with the legendary Stan Lee – “he schooled me.” Waid, who is no novice writer himself, noted that those initial, humbling meetings set him on the right course. “Early on, because ‘The Traveler’ is a series that revolves around time travel and its paradoxes and complexities, I came bouncing into Stan’s office more than once with plot ideas so overclever that I needed a PowerPoint presentation to explain them,” Waid said. “Stan patiently disabused me of this tendency by repeatedly shredding the plots. Not picking them apart – throwing them out. Reminding me that he has to care about the characters and what they want more than about what they’re doing. And he was dead right. I mean, I know that. That’s basic advice. But when you’re trying to impress The Man, you find yourself trying a little too hard sometimes and forgetting basics. Stan hammered home the basics repeatedly and gave me a refresher course on the KISS method – ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid.'”
BOOM!’s first Stan Lee series, “Soldier Zero,” set new sales records for the company. Asked whether this give him something to live up to as the second series makes its debut, Waid said, “Oh, hell, yes.” “On the one hand, what we’ve built here, we’ve built with a true communal spirit, and I couldn’t be happier for Paul Cornell that he and Javier Pina eclipsed all BOOM! sales records. Seriously, I feel that way. Really,” Waid said. “Does it sound like I’m trying to convince myself? Okay, fine. I want Chad Hardin and me to bury those two guys. In the spirit of brotherhood.
“Kidding aside, I think we can rival them. I think we can maybe even top them a bit. But no matter what, we’ll have ended up with the best-selling BOOM! book ever and the second-best-selling BOOM! book ever, and that’s a win/win.”