The first time Marvel Comics published a series titled “Siege,” Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel spun a tale that featured the Avengers joining Thor and his fellow gods to defend the mythical city of Asgard from an army of super villains.
In July, writer Kieron Gillen, artist Filipe Andrade and a team of guest artists add to the tradition of valiant heroes pitted against unbeatable odds with a brand new “Siege” set on the “Secret Wars” Battleworld. Based at The Shield, a fortification that divides the patchwork planet’s Northern and Southern regions, the series’ heroes find themselves under constant assault from a variety of mechanical and monstrous foes.
CBR News spoke with “Gillen” about the cast of “Siege,” how the series serves as his farewell (for now) love song to the Marvel Universe, the parallels The Shield has to “Game of Thrones'” Wall, and the double-page spreads by different guest artists that will be part of each issue of the project.
CBR News: With “Siege,” you’re going in a different direction than other “Secret Wars” titles in that you’re telling a story that’s more a literal definition of the title than a reimagining of an existing Marvel tale.
Kieron Gillen: Yes — it’s called “Siege” because it’s about a siege. [Laughs]
I went through several different titles that involved takes on existing Marvel ones. That’s part of the joy of alternate dimension fiction. Imagine if this was someone doing a movie version of the “Siege” crossover who never read the comic, “Oh there’s a siege! I’ve got this!” And they’re having fun with it.
I was in one of the Marvel summits, and Jonathan Hickman was describing the map of the Battleworld — what was going on, how it ran, and what its politics were. At this point, The Shield portion of the map was called The Wall. You might still see it being called The Wall in some of the early press releases. I was immediately interested in that idea. You’ll know more when we get into the universe, but it’s just an interesting Sisyphean task that its defenders are presented with.
I could see how it worked, and I immediately started doing the world building in my mind. Of course, the first step was figuring out that it’s not called The Wall. It’s called The Shield. If you’re in the Marvel Universe and you’ve got this enormous defensive array protecting this planet, it’s called the fucking Shield! [Laughs]
So that’s where it came from. There are different types of “Secret Wars” books. There’s the “Last Days” stories. Then there are tales that riff on or reimagine existing Marvel stories, and then there are books that kind of feed into the Battleworld. Those titles are really about what Battleworld is, how it works, and the overarching story of “Secret Wars.” The “1602” story Marguerite and I are doing with Angela is self-contained. It’s about Angela and her characters. “Siege” feeds into the major events of Jonathan’s “Secret Wars” story. That’s probably the best way to put it.
It seems like the most comparable point to your characters’ situation in “Siege,” especially since it was called The Wall at one point, is George R.R. Martin’s Knight’s Watch in “Game of Thrones.” Is that a fair comparison?
Yep! [Laughs] Imagine The Wall if it was populated by alternate dimension versions of the Marvel heroes, and they’ve got an even worse task. That’s sort of the core aspect to it.
I’ve got a weird love of siege fiction. I read David Gemmell’s “Legend” as a kid. It’s a single volume and it’s basically him doing a Thermopylae riff. Here are a group of heroes. They’re put on a wall and thrust into an impossible situation that they’re not going to win. How do they deal with that? Or can they? That type of heroism against infinite odds is really appealing to me.
This is about that type of heroism, but it’s also kind of my love song to the Marvel Universe and all its weird and obscure strangeness. I’ve sort of realized that I’m doing “Angela” with Marguerite and I’m doing so much with Darth Vader, and obviously I’ve got a lot of other stuff on my plate. I’ve got three books coming out at Avatar at the moment, and I’ll have three books at Image this year as well. So I won’t have the time to do any more work, and after “Secret Wars” I won’t be doing as much as I have in the Marvel Universe for a while.
I’m not saying I’m never going to work in the Marvel Universe again, but I don’t have really anything planned and I won’t have time to do anything until well into 2016. I might die before then! Or decide I don’t want to write comics! [Laughs] So I thought this would be a good time to have an end point on this period in the story of my career. If I never do another Marvel Universe story, this is me saying this place is great, here’s why I loved it, and I’m going to have some fun here. And if you ever liked any of my stories, I suspect you’ll have some fun too
I want to emphasize though that I’m not saying I’ll never do another Marvel Universe book again — just that I wanted to do a ceremonial ritualistic end to that who period of my writing. You can never be sure though can you? Especially since Jonathan is killing the whole fucking Marvel Universe. [Laughs]
I thought, this stage of my career started with “S.W.O.R.D.,” and “Siege” in some ways is a sequel to “S.W.O.R.D.,” so it’s almost a book end. It’s like if you’re doing the book of Kieron Gillen’s career, here’s an end to one point and another chapter will follow.
You look at the cast list, and it’s almost self parodic. I didn’t include Death’s Head, though! That’s probably the only actual thing I haven’t done.
Before we get into specifics about the cast, I wanted to get a better understanding of them as a whole. When it comes to defending The Shield, is your cast it? Or are they just in charge of defending one main section?
They are our viewpoint characters. Some of them are leaders, in particular Abigail Brand who is commander of The Shield’s defenders. Others are more ground level troops.
There are quite a lot of people on The Shield,so there are a lot of cameos. There might be an occasional appearance of a character in the background, or we’ll have a one-off panel where someone does something. That kind of stuff.
Basically, there are a lot of big battles in it, but I wanted to have character arcs. These characters go through some big moments, so that means I had to have strict limits on the cast who are key.
As I said, Abigail is the leader. She has her seconds, like Kang, and Leah of Hel. They’re both important characters. Then you’ve got people who are way down the pecking order, like our alternate universe, Robin Hood-style Kate Bishop, Katherine Bishop, and Ms. America, who are soldiers. We’ve got a variety of people in the book.
How did your cast end up on The Shield? Is this something they volunteered for, or was it something they were compelled to do?
It’s a bit of column A, and a bit of column B. I can’t really talk about why people are on The Shield until Jonathan has revealed much more about Battleworld.
I will say it’s a punishment, but it’s a punishment some of them want. That’s what makes The Shield clever as a punishment. The best prison is one you don’t want to escape from, and a good way to trap a hero is give them a task where they have to save people. They can’t leave The Shield, because people are going to die if it falls. So that’s the core genius of The Shield as a defensive structure.
The Wall’s defenders include a bunch of characters you’ve written before. What was it like reimagining them for this story?
When I took this assignment, it was like, “Okay, I’ll do this, but I’m going to make it a lot of fun.” I basically wanted to make it about the shared joy. “Nextwave” was one of the things I bring up, and you saw how great a time Stuart and Warren were having with that book.
So it was like, “Okay! We’re going to do this! And this character will be like that for this reason!” For instance, we have the Endless Summers, who are made up of thousands of clones of Scott Summers. [Laughs] There are also some characters I throw in there in passing. My Kitty Pryde is quite fun. We’ve also got two versions of Unit, and my Vitruvian Man, Leonardo Da Vinci. He’s basically Da Vinci as his Vitruvian Man drawing, so he’s got four arms and four legs. That kind of thing.
These are fun characters, and it’s almost like I deliberately wanted to do new riffs. The other way of doing this is going through the entire history of alternate Marvel Universe dimensions and choosing cool characters and putting them on The Wall. That would probably be the more traditionally commercial thing to do.
This is my love song to the Marvel Universe though, and my love song is about the joy of the unfamiliar as well as the familiar. So the idea is that you know the archetypes, but these are new things that you’ve never seen before. That was my thinking. If I’m going to say why I love Marvel, it’s not just the characters. It’s also the process of saying, here’s something new with them you never expected. It’s not just this nostalgia thing. It’s the House of Ideas. Let’s own that.
I understand one good example of that in “Siege” is your take on Illyana Rasputin and Colossus. It seems like a nod to classic Japanese pop culture stories, where you have a kid and a giant robot or monster that they’ve befriended.
Yeah, and a lot of this is me dancing through my own internal history as well. I’ve got a Leah sword-maiden character and — spoilers for “Journey Into Mystery” — Leah is basically Kid Hela. You saw her as a handmaiden, and she basically becomes Hela. This is her as a 21 year old, armed with a sword going between dimensions as an adventuring hero in full-length, green chainmail. So in other words, if Hela is King Conan, this Leah is Conan. I wanted to play with her timeline. All of that is fun.
You also get a chance to play with some characters I don’t believe you’re written before, like Kang, who serves as Brand’s second in command. What’s it like writing Kang? And how comfortable is someone who’s known as a conqueror with playing Brand’s Executive Officer?
He hates it! [Laughs] That’s the initial clash of characters. Plus, he’s also new to the situation and thinks he knows best. A lot of the characters in this project are my old favorites, but I’m also grabbing characters I’ve never written before. I’m picking up characters I really love, and there’s something about Kang that I particularly like.
I love his arrogance. It’s like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to travel through time and conquer stuff! Why? Because I want to.” Alexander the Great was annoyed that there were no more worlds to conquer, but Kang has ever more worlds to conquer.
I think my biggest influence was “Avengers Forever” Kang. I thought what Kurt [Busiek] and Carlos [Pacheco] did on that was really cool. I thought it would be a really interesting culture clash, and as I said, I’ve always wanted to write the guy.
Another character that appears in “Siege” that I don’t believe you’ve written much of, if anything at all, is Ben Grimm.
Ben is one of my favorite Marvel Universe characters. Obviously, Spider-Man is the archetypal Marvel superhero, but there’s a different argument that could be made for Ben Grimm. He’s got that level of tenacity, but there’s also a feeling of, “I don’t really want to save anyone, but I’m gonna!” I find that incredibly admirable.
I wrote about two panels of Ben in my “Thor” run, and he also made an appearance in issue #13 of my “Uncanny X-Men” run. We got to see him versus Namor, which was obviously fun to do.
Unfortunately, for fear of spoilers, I can’t really say anything about Ben’s role in “Siege.”
What kinds of forces are assailing your characters when “Siege” begins? How bad are things?
The best way to describe Battleworld is that everything north of The Wall is basically governable. People are in charge of areas, and it works. Everything south of The Wall is entirely ungovernable. It’s like, these are the people who are basically destroying people. I think it would be fair to speculate that there were more regions beyond The Wall, but these three particular regions destroyed them. Now, they’re in constant war with each other and trying to go over The Wall.
Those hostile forces are basically the Annihilation Wave of New Xandar, the Marvel Zombies of the Deadlands, and Ultron’s faction. So we have these enormous and multiplying forces, and I’m not just throwing Ultrons or zombies at people — I’m using those forces as devices to make up some weird shit. For instance, one of the devices of our book is, each issue, we have a different artist doing double-page spreads.
The majority of these spreads aren’t just, “here’s a Marvel Zombie attack,” or, “here’s an Ultron attack.” It’s more like, “here’s a very specific monster.” So I’m asking myself, “What interesting things can I do with Ultron or the Marvel Zombies?” In the same way I’m doing alternate dimension heroes, I’m trying to come up with really cool visuals for threats.
We have these great double-page spreads that people can look and see how fantastical both the defenders of The Wall are, and the threats they face. It’s a device where we try to throw as much imagination as we can on every single page.
You’re kicking off these spreads with one from “Orc Stain’s” James Stokoe, which is fantastic.
Yeah, it’s great! I don’t want to say much about what he’s drawing other than it involves these enormous ant creatures, but there will be a few captions on the page to give context.
I would have never suggested this idea to an editor, but Jake [Thomas] suggested it! So it was like, “Okay if you really want to organize almost a dozen extra artists, let’s do this thing!” [Laughs]
Earlier, I talked about how I chose characters that I loved and wanted to work with again, but I also chose characters I always wanted to write. These guest artists are kind of like that. There are some artists I’ve worked with before and have done some really cool stuff with, and there are some artists who I’ve always loved and here’s our first chance to play together.
I’ve always loved James and the incredible fleshiness of his designs. You get a James Stokoe page, and it’s almost like it’s seething. It feels like insects moving beneath your feet. The spread he did for us was wonderful. He did great stuff.
You also get to have some fun with the regular artist of “Siege,” Filipe Andrade. I loved his recent work on the Disney title “Figment,” and now, to see him go to a much more grim series like “Siege” will be fun and interesting.
Filipe is an incredibly stylish storyteller. I used “Nextwave” as a reference earlier, and “Nextwave” as a tragedy really is the mood of the book. [Laughs] So while it is very grim and all these people are doomed, there’s so much imagination and playfulness. That creates quite an interesting contrast, and he really gets that.
Filipe did the first opening spread of The Shield, and it’s got this vaguely European atmosphere. He also gave each member of our cast these great and incredibly stylish looks.
If The Shield falls, what does that mean for the rest of Battleworld?
If The Shield falls, Battleworld is in real trouble, and the death toll will be in the billions. Let’s just hope it’s not doomed or anything! [Laughs]
Doomed characters can create the impression that a story will ultimately be depressing, but I think siege-style fiction can also be incredibly inspiring, because you’re dealing with heroes making their own destiny, choosing to go out swinging and die on their feet, so to speak.
Yes, I would agree with that entirely. There’s a sense of fatalism to the book and, if we’re going to die we might as well choose the death we can. “We’ve wasted our lives and it’s our life to the waste,” to quote myself — I think. [Laughs]
“Siege” isn’t just a dark book, though. It’s also very much a comedy. I’m going back into “Journey Into Mystery” mix of the two. There will be funny stuff here and there, and there won’t be that many survivors. You just have to hope they get what they want in the end, whatever that means.
“Siege” will be a fun, dark, and joyous book where we’ll all have a lovely time together.
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