The Middle Ground #63 | Stan Lee Presents

Believe it or not, there's not enough time in the day to read all the comics I want. I wish that wasn't the case, believe me, but it is; sometimes, it's so bad that there's not enough time to even get to the store on a given week, which generally leads to me forgetting that things have come out, and missing an issue, which leads me to miss another issue, and all of a sudden I'm miles behind and deciding to wait for the collection. Which is to say: I'm sorry that it's taken me this long to realize how great Boom!'s Stan Lee line is.

I read the first issues of each of the three books - The Traveler, Soldier Zero and Starborn - and liked them well enough at the time; I could see where the concepts had come from familiar ground (Soldier Zero is very much "Green Lantern" meets "Venom" meets "Blue Beetle," to me), but the execution was strong, and the writers in charge of the individual books (Mark Waid, Chris Roberson and Paul Cornell to launch, with Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning replacing Cornell later) some of the best superhero writers in the business. But I liked the books more than loved them, if that makes sense, and so, when I missed issues, figured I'd catch up with them later and moved on.

What I missed, I realized when I caught up by reading the first collections of both The Traveler and Soldier Zero was watching the books grow past that initial inspiration and turn into superhero comics that managed to embrace nostalgia and offer something new at the same time, in both ways presenting an alternative to the superhero lines of Marvel and DC. What the line does as a whole, I think is recreate the reading experience of things like the early Marvel Comics, where things were still unfamiliar enough - and creators used that enough - to make the stories feel full of possibility and potential without recreating the very stories that made us think that in the first place; we haven't read these stories before, and there's no status quo that we all know is going to come back eventually, because each series is still playing around with what its identity and status quo is eventually going to be (Which isn't meant to suggest that each book feels as if it doesn't have its own identity, because that's definitely not the case; Starborn, which I went back and caught up with in single issues, establishes itself most quickly, with The Traveler soon behind and Soldier Zero taking slightly longer). There's a welcome sense of "anything can happen" in these books which, I think, really belongs in superhero comics.

It helps, too, that each book goes beyond in terms of tone. Each series has a high concept hook that goes beyond superhero, and an execution that mixes superhero thrills with soap opera and humor (Again, like an updated version of the early Marvel Comics - I'd be surprised if that wasn't entirely intentional), with smart, self-aware writing and art that measures up to - and, in some cases (Come on down, The Traveler's Chad Hardin) surpasses - what you'll find in the Marvel or DC Universes these days.

Don't get me wrong; none of these books are doing anything so bold as "reinventing the superhero," but that's not their point - What they're about is fulfilling the superhero comic as we remember it, presenting it as something full of wonder, danger and the unknown, every month, and building larger stories as they go along, letting you come along for the ride. I'm enough of a Marvel and (even more so) DC fan that I sometimes wonder wish indie comics would go for all of the many other genres out there instead of try and compete with the market leaders, but these books are good enough that I'm glad that they did - and, occasionally, so good that they come out on top.

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