CCI: Mark Waid on Stan Lee's "Traveler"

Today 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 Mark Waid about the "The Traveler," what it is like working directly with Stan Lee and more.

Given that Waid has fairly recently created his own superhero universe in "Irredeemable" and "Incorruptible," CBR News asked the newly-minted Chief Creative Officer of BOOM! how it felt to do it once more with Stan Lee. "It's vastly different, but similarly fulfilling and fun. Building with Stan is like taking a master class in storytelling. I can barely remember where my car keys are, and here's a guy who's nearly twice my age who still has a clarity of vision that's stupefying," Waid said. "Working with Stan hones my own skills at Keeping It Simple. At not overcomplicating the story with Byzantine plotting, which I am sometimes wont to do. And he never lets my spirits flag; there's no such thing as writer's block when you're jamming with Stan."

Though Waid himself is a veteran storyteller, he told us that he can still learn from the master. "I had just turned in detailed series synopses fleshing out Stan's concepts, adding things as I went, trying to be clever and maybe trying a little too hard to impress. And he sat down with me for our first plot conference, and he's all handshakes and charm and warmth, exactly the Smilin' Stan you expect...and then once we got down to business, he was all business. He schooled me," Waid told CBR. "He wasn't angry, but boy, was he intense and emphatic about zeroing in on the places I'd been too clever by half and had gone off the rails, and buddy, I was floored. I was being lectured by Professor Stan, and he wasn't just to-the-point...he was to-the-point and dead right and, I suspect, a little irked that I'd made some amateur mistakes. And then as soon as he was finished very rightly, very justifiably lecturing me...he became Smilin' Stan again and ended the meeting as brightly and charmingly as he'd begun it. He's been an absolute joy to work with, everything I ever could have dreamed of, greater than even his legend...but I gotta tell you, there's still a ten-year-old Mark Waid curled up in a fetal position inside of me from that morning."

Joining Lee and Waid on "The Traveler" is artist Chad Hardin, whose previous work has included "Farscape: Scorpius" and "Warhammer 40,000" covers for BOOM! "I've just finished going over the first issue breakdowns with Stan, and it's hard to tell which one of us is more enthusiastic," Waid said. "Chad's a major find. His storytelling skills are phenomenal. I hope he remembers us when he wins his Eisner."

As for the series itself, Waid revealed that "Traveler" will approach the new Stan Lee universe from a different angle than the other two titles. "Unlike 'Starborn' and 'Soldier Zero,' where we begin with the origins of the heroes, 'The Traveler' introduces us to a masked adventurer headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, who's a mystery to all around him at first. He appears seemingly out of nowhere to save innocents from a series of bizarre, time-traveling supervillains - but when he's asked if he can travel in time, too, he answers, quite accurately, 'No,'" the writer said. "And yet, he really does seem to come out of nowhere. How? Who is he? Why is saving certain specific people, and what's their mutual connection that even they don't know about? That's the enigma we'll be slowly unraveling over the first three or four issues."

While the other new heroes are still learning the ropes, "Traveler knows the limits of his power pretty well by now," Waid told CBR. "He can speed up or slow down time, with limitations - the smaller the area of effect, the longer he can sustain it. He can also 'see' glimpses of the immediate past and fragments of the near-future - sometimes diverging in a multitude of different paths right before his eyes, leaving him to choose which future 'feels' most likely to him. And he won't always be correct. And there's more - but, again, wait and see."

As to how the Traveler came by these powers and abilities, Waid would only reveal, "The best answer I can give you as to what bestowed him with these gifts is 'tragedy.' Tragedy, and a very wise, very heavy-hearted man we'll meet very soon, one who's charged Traveler with a weighty responsibility that makes him a hero to some but an enemy to many more. All we can tell you at this point, without revealing too much, is that if you're paying very close attention, you're seeing his origin play out right in front of your eyes."

Waid did tell CBR that the Traveler's origins intertwine with those of his main adversaries. "He refers to his enemies as the Split-Second Men - three different beings who come from an unnamed near-future, each with a different set of powers linked to one of the fundamental forces of the universe," the writer said. "Angstrom can control radioactivity. Splinter manipulates the bonds between atoms. And the third, whose name gives away too much, is the most powerful of all."

This set of characters will play a prominent role in the first few issues of "The Traveler." "In his first arc, he's preventing a series of assassinations by the Split-Second Men for reasons that will soon become apparent," Waid said. "Along the way, he meets Julia Martin, a Federal agent who's very interested in why this mysterious masked man and these superpowerful terrorists are suddenly running rampant across Richmond, suspiciously close to Washington, DC."

Waid's previous projects at BOOM! Studios have varied widely in tone and style, from the lighthearted all-ages wonder of "The Incredibles" to the extraordinarily grim "Irredeemable," and throughout his storied writing career he's had occasion to explore any number of aspects of the human condition, including, to a degree, an epic romance in the pages of "The Flash." Asked where "The Traveler" would fall on the spectrum, Waid said his new series would incorporate "all that stuff." "There's an undeniable lightness of touch that Stan brings out in all his ideas, and I'm not about to pass up an opportunity to banter with Stan Lee in script form or in plotting sessions - but if we do it right, we'll run the gamut of tone and emotion," Waid said. "Stan's impressed upon me how emotion is really the most important thing worth putting on the page."

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