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 Paul Cornell about "Soldier Zero," approaching a delicate subject properly, and making music with Stan Lee.
Paul Cornell is one of three writers on the ground floor of Stan Lee's latest creative and publishing endeavor, along with Chris Roberson and BOOM! Chief Creative Officer Mark Waid, who are together building a new superhero universe. "I think this project is rather like Johnny Cash's albums with Rick Rubin. We're reminding the world of Stan's timeless skills (if anything, he's undervalued) by giving this material an entirely modern approach," Cornell told CBR. "No retro or kitsch here."
The opportunity to work on such an "American recordings"-style project is understandably something Cornell would not want to pass up, which is why his recently announced exclusive contract with DC Comics included an exception for "Soldier Zero." "It's the only title for which I was granted an exemption," Cornell confirmed.
"Soldier Zero" is the story of Stewart, a teaching assistant at a university, who's in a wheelchair, and of the alien creature that arrives to share his life. "Stewart always says he's limited only by his environment: not just physical spaces not designed for wheelchairs, but by the attitudes of other people, even the overprotective care of his older brother, who raised him," Cornell explained. "For short periods of time, when the alien manifests as armor, he can experience an unlimited environment, and escape the attitudes of others. But is that betraying the feelings of others in his situation?
"It's a classic Stan story, which takes a bit of modern bravery-and the advice of wheelchair users-to tell. We're all aware that there'd be a truly horrible way to approach it, and we all want to avoid that, by tackling the issues head on, without euphemism, and crucially, talking to those in Stewart's situation and changing the book accordingly."
The alien warrior who bonds with Stewart is fleeing from hostile pursuers, and his contact with this new human host is, Cornell revealed, "Pure accident, something done for sheer survival." That said, this is not the first time this creature has bonded with others."This alien is used to pairing with host bodies of another species."
The amalgamated entity known as Soldier Zero will display cha;racteristics of both Stewart and the being who is sharing his body. "Soldier Zero is a mixture of human and alien, a symbiotic entity that shares control of, for instance, a larynx. He's immensely strong and tough, and can use vastly advanced tech to attempt almost anything," Cornell explained. "The alien is a warrior, but with Stewart aboard, the shared being is a hero."
Aside from the struggles inherent in Stewart's new situation, Soldier Zero will be facing many external threats, as well. "There's a much less principled symbiote hunting the alien, and the intelligence community take an interest, resulting in the creation of a classic Stan villain, the nemesis of our hero."
The first arc will see Soldier Zero thrown into "an immediate and desperate battle for survival that makes Stewart reassess the people around him, and his own actions," Cornell said. "He's a bit of a Peter Parker, a hero in spirit who's limited by the people he has to deal with."
While production on the series is still in its early stages, Cornell said he's pleased with the preliminary artwork he's seen from artist Javier Pina for "Soldier Zero." "I've seen his character designs, and it's a pleasure to have such a classic superhero artist onboard," the writer said.
Cornell built his reputation as a writer on "Doctor Who" and other television series, but made a name for himself in comics with the short-lived but almost universally acclaimed "Captain Britain and MI-13," placing the spotlight on Marvel's British heroes. He has more recently turned his pen to American heroes, most recently and perhaps most prominently as the new writer of "Action Comics," starring Lex Luthor.
Asked upon which side of the Atlantic "Soldier Zero" would make his home, Cornell said that his latest series would be set on American shores. "This is set in main street USA, a less urban book than one in New York would be, letting me show my love for those small college towns," Cornell said. On the subject of writing American characters and accents, the writer said, "It's important to get the details and speech patterns right. As an American- o- phile (is that a word?) I'm aware that some British writers depict the States from a vast distance. I hope this is warmer."