Stan Lee is helping to build another group of super-powered kids. The legendary creator has teamed up with Disney Publishing, co-writer Stuart Moore ("EGOs"), artist Andie Tong and Executive Editor Nachie Marsham to create a trio of illustrated novels called "The Zodiac Legacy." The first book, fully titled "The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence" will hit stores on Jan. 27, 2015.
Moore and Marsham appeared on a New York Comic Con panel together to discuss the process of bringing "The Zodiac Legacy" to life, the overall feel of the series itself and how the creative team approached bringing Lee's ideas to the printed page.
The books themselves focus on a Chinese-American teenager named Steven Lee who's visiting a Hong Kong museum when the book picks up. Artistically speaking, Tong took a two-color inkwash approach to his roughly 65 illustrations in the book. Instead of fully telling the story like a comic, the art is meant to highlight specific characters or moments to bring in the power of illustration to the world of prose.
"We want it to feel sort of like a comic, but a reading experience like a novel," Marsham said. "We're trying to get some of the energy of Stan's other work."
"The series stars a 13-year old kid named Steve who is a third generation Chinese-American teenager," Marsham said. During the school museum trip, Steven hears some strange noises and wanders down a hall into a chamber "where an experiment is being run around these 12 pools."
What Steven doesn't know is that a man named Maxwell, the leader of a group called the Vanguard is trying to capture the power of the Chinese Zodiac. In the middle of experiment, Steven appears, the experiment is sabotaged by a woman named Jasmine, chaos ensues and Steven winds up being imbued with the power of the Tiger.
"Jasmine and Maxwell both get hit by the Dragon," Marsham said, explaining that they then share the powers. After Jasmine introduces herself and her tech Carlos to Steven she says, "I know you don't know what's going on, but we have to go on the run," according to Marsham.
For his part, Maxwell just wants to build power and not have to listen to anyone other than himself. "As the story opens, he's the leader of this group called the Vanguard that's kind of a private army with mercenaries all over the world," Moore said. "There's also a very, very personal history between him and Jasmine."
Steven and his new friends don't just need to get away from the Vanguard, but they also travel across the world in an effort to track down the four kids who absorbed the Zodiac elements.
"Many of the entities have disappeared in the sky and they have to go track down the four rogue powers," Marsham said. "They have to race against time and the Vanguard. ... There is a lot of action. The book itself has 65 illustrations. It culminates in a giant battle with the Zodiac versus the Vanguard."
Although Marsham revealed many details about the story during the panel, there is still plenty for readers to dig into. "This is the beginning of a three book series," he said. "The second book will be coming out next October." He added that, if everything stays on course, next year's NYCC will feature a preview of that book.
"The outlines that we got from Stan were a lot of story," Marsham said, adding that Lee basically handed them three years' worth of material from the get-go. "The third book will be June 2016, which is still really for away, so let's not worry about that right now."
"The adventure of these kids learning about their powers, dealing with Vanguard and what it means to have these powers inside are all themes in addition to the diverse cast and globe-trotting adventure," Marsham said.
Moore said one of the challenges of working on "The Zodiac Legacy" was the massive cast. "You're dealing with at least 12 or 13 main characters," Moore said. "Obviously they're not all central, but the way we dealt with that is that the core team is a group of five or six powered kids of different ages because they were all born under different signs." He added, "Putting the whole thing was a fascinating challenge because it's kind of the origin of the X-Men in the first quarter of the book and then they go on the run. I think we pulled it off."
Moore said that the kids are at a distinct disadvantage because the Vanguard members had been training for a while to take on these new abilities, while they had them drop in their laps.
"You're with Steven the entire way through," Marsham said. "The emphasis is on him as he's thrown into this situation and seeing this world unwrap itself."
That aspect is one that Lee brought to the table, Moore said. "What was always great about Stan is the idea of the ordinary person getting powers," he said. Marsham and Moore went on to explain that, since the characters won't be wearing traditional superhero comics, they decided with Tong's help that when they use their powers, the energy will take the shape of the corresponding animal. So, when Steven uses his Tiger abilities, readers will see the animal's form.
"I think the story itself really came together and modernizes what I love about Marvel comics," Moore said. "But, it feels a lot more 2014 than 1965."
Moore and Marsham then showed off character designs for all the characters from the youngest Rabbit to the data-dealing Pig and happy-go-lucky Ram from the Zodiac side.
They also revealed Maxwell's number two, Josie, who has Horse powers. "She's not evil," Marsham said. "She works for this guy ... but she has doubts about Maxwell." Josie leads the field operatives that include Ox, the werewolf-like Dog and perennial screw-up Monkey while Snake and Rat who handle black ops. "Even the other bad guys are scared of them," Moore said.
Before closing, Moore mentioned another huge influence that Stan Lee had on the project. Originally, the characters were all going to look fairly similar as far as body types go.
"In one of the very early line-ups the characters all had similar, sleight body types," Marsham said. "Stan said, 'If they're all in silhouette how are you supposed to tell them apart?'" Marsham and Tong soon switched gears, so that the bodies reflect the animals the characters become associated with.
All in all Moore was very satisfied with working together with this team. "It was a very nice back and forth process," he said.
"The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence" debuts from Disney Publishing, editor Nachie Marsham, writers Stan Lee and Stuart Moore and artist Andie Tong on Jan 27. 2015.