During a press conference Wednesday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, BOOM! Studios announced its first three titles in a new superhero universe created by industry legend Stan Lee. Through a partnership with Lee's POW! Entertainment, BOOM! will launch "Soldier Zero" by Paul Cornell and Javier Pina in October, "The Traveler" by Mark Waid and Chad Hardin in November, and "Starborn" by Chris Roberson and Khary Randolph in December.
CBR News spoke with Chris Roberson about "Starborn," which sees an unremarkable man thrust into an adventure beyond his imagining, with the fate of human civilization on countless worlds at stake.
Like the other writers working from Stan Lee's concepts, Roberson's plots and scripts will go to the man (or "The Man") himself for review and approval, but up until now Roberson has not had the opportunity to speak directly with the legendary comics creator. "I've actually not been lucky enough to meet Stan in person yet, but that promises to be one of the highlights of this year's Comic-Con," Roberson told CBR. "All of my communication has been through Mark Waid, who is editing the line and has been meeting with Stan regularly. The mere fact that Mark Waid is calling me to tell me what Stan Lee thinks of my ideas is something that my fanboy brain is still having a little trouble wrapping itself around.
"The way I look at it, the outline I was given when I signed on to the project was a well-articulated skeleton will lots of meat already on the bone. And it's my job to get the rest of the muscle in place, getting it ready for Khary Randolph to put an attractive skin over the whole thing," the writer continued. "I added one or two core concepts, as well, so I guess you could say that I added an internal organ or two along the way, to continue with the anatomical analogy."
"Starborn" centers on a man living an ordinary life who soon discovers that his role in the universe is more fantastic than he could have imagined. "The basic idea is that our hero, Benjamin Warner, is a regular guy living in modern day America, but he's always dreamt of more than his mundane life. Since he was a kid he's dreamt of adventure in outer space, and from an early age started telling stories about this extraterrestrial civilization on the other side of the galaxy. Now that he's an adult, he's been trying to turn his ideas into science fiction novels, but so far hasn't had any success selling anything to publishers," Roberson said. "When all of his coworkers turn into mindless drones of an alien hive-mind, straight out of one of his science fiction stories, Benjamin is faced with two choices-either he has gone crazy, or somehow the extraterrestrial civilization he's been writing about all of these years is actually real. Benjamin is rescued from his mind-controlled coworkers by the unexpected arrival of his childhood sweetheart, Tara Takamoto, the girl-next-door. But she is quickly revealed to be a shape-shifting extraterrestrial warrior, who knows far more about what's really going on that Benjamin could have ever imagined. And that's when things get even more complicated."
As to what this means for Benjamin's true nature, though, might depend on what transpired after the final pages of his sci-fi novels. "In the stories that Benjamin writes, there are different alien species on the various planets of a distant solar system, but they are collectively known as the 'Human Civilization' because it is the humans of the planet 'Homeworld' that are the ruling class," Roberson explained. "The aliens who have come hunting for Benjamin as our story opens, though, refer to their solar system simply as the 'Civilization,' and humans are now relegated to an oppressed underclass on one isolated planet. What happened in the interim, and the reason why the humans are no longer in charge, is much of the driving thrust of the first few story arcs."
Asked whether Benjamin himself has any powers or access to special abilities, Roberson replied, "Yes. And that's all I'm saying for now!"
"Starborn's" first arc will see Benjamin face hordes of alien hunters hot on his trail. "He ends up fleeing Earth for a time, returning to the planet of his birth, but once he's there he discovers that the danger was even greater than he realizes," Roberson added. "Now the humans on both planets are under threat, both in the Civilization and on Earth, and Benjamin is the only one that can save them."
Roberson revealed that the alien races in "Soldier Zero," another of the Stan Lee titles at BOOM!, will factor into Benjamin's story. "But as to exactly how, all I can say is you'll have to wait and see!"
Roberson has taken on an eclectic collection of titles recently, from the recent "Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love" miniseries to his current work on "iZombie" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Dust to Dust." "Starborn," however, represents his first crack at a superhero comic. "Although I've been a superhero fan since I was eight years old, the only superhero writing I've done to date wasn't in comics, but was a prose novel published by Pocket Books, 'X-Men: The Return," he said. "Before I started working in comics last year, much of my published work was in science fiction, and 'Starborn' offers an opportunity to do a story that is both superheroes and science fiction. On Earth, Benjamin is a superhero-across the galaxy in the Civilization, he's the hero of a space opera. The contrast between the two allows us to do some stories that, I hope, should be very interesting."
The artist for "Starborn" is Khary Randolph, who has previously worked on issues of "Teen Titans Go," "New Mutants," and several Marvel one-shot and anthology series. "We're in the very early stages, so I haven't seen anything of Khary's on the series yet, but I was already familiar with his work and was delighted when they told me we'd be collaborating on the book," Roberson said. "I can't wait to see what he comes up with!"