Siege: IGN interview with Bendis

IGN Comics: This is going to be a bit of familiar territory, but in our priorSiege interview we couldn't really discuss Siege in-depth. I wanted to quickly re-visit the origins of the storyline, how you came up with the concept and how that developed throughout the life of Dark Reign… 

Brian BendisWhen I disassembled the Avengers I knew I would at least be in part the author of a journey these characters would go on, and that at some point something enormous would have to bring them back together. And I remember when Civil War was being planned out I said, "Well, now it's going to have to bereally enormous. If we ever get these guys back together, it'll really have to be about something." So half of it was planned and the other half was sort of moving the pieces around the Marvel Universe, which is sort of this giant, multi-pronged instrument that shifts and turns by the voices of dozens of authors every month. But much like Secret Invasion, the shifts and turns I wasn't in control of only accentuated the direction I was going in. 

So at the time of Secret Invasion, I did write down a plan that would involveNorman Osborn taking over… but I wasn't sure how long that would be. That sort of thing is never up to me, so I never write that down. I don't write "And for a year…" That's more Joe [Quesada] and Tom [Brevoort] and Axel [Alonso]'s department. And I didn't even have the name Dark Reign, that's something I think Joe came up with. But I wrote down the idea that as the invasion ends, someone surprising gets the kill shot, the shot heard around the world. While you're expecting it to be Thor or Iron Man, you turn the camera and it's Norman. And that was inspired by the work Warren Ellis had been doing in Thunderbolts. Here's this character that's still on the periphery, but it wouldn't take much to get him "there." You know what I mean? It's not that big of a logic jump to make him the new Nick Fury. We definitely have seen how a moment of media spotlight can propel someone to a heroic status in our society. 

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So the pitch included the idea that the Avengers have to deal with what Peter Parker always goes through – that when you win you still lose. And Peter is a very special kind of cat who can take that kind of abuse. But maybe Luke Cage and Clint Barton aren't those kinds of people. And these heroes can't seem to win – but not because Norman is doing a "bwahaha" sort of thing, but because he actually seems to be doing a pretty good job. He's actually pretty effectual except he has this mental illness. And I've known quite a few people in my life whose genius gets them to a certain place… they're crazy enough to ascend to a high level, but that crazy then gets them shown right out the other door. They blow it, they're out. And I said I wanted to tell that story, and I created the Cabal so that it wouldn't just be Norman every month. So it was just creating a twisted, darker version of the Marvel Universe that has Norman's point of view. And he's saying, "You know what… the Hulk isn't a good thing for the world. The Punisher isn't either. Heroes shouldn't be running around. Fury is a terrorist." And his view is a very understandable and logical one. Even if you don't agree with it, you still see where he's coming from. Kind of like Magneto. That's the kind of villain I like. And Norman puts together a more ruthless version of the Dark Avengers, because he thinks that is what will work – and they've been very successful. 

But because of the ticking clock of his mental illness; because he puts himself in situations where he burns the candle from both ends, almost dooming himself to fail; because of the people he surrounds himself with, who would rather take advantage of him than help him… Norman is starting to make more and more dangerous and rash decisions. And in a fit of arrogance, he brings a call to war that he believes should be done, that he does not have the right to do. Instead of waiting for that inciting incident, he fabricates that. And there are many of us in this country who believe we've been victim of that. So it's not that hard to fathom something like that could happen, that pieces would be moved in favor of a profitable or arrogant war. 

So that was what Siege was going to be. To me it was about getting the "Holy Trinity" back together on the same side, after all they've been through, after all the death, fighting and rage. What could remind them that they are friends and excellent partners? And it seemed to me that Asgard would be it. Not just because it was Thor centric, though that was definitely part of it since the thing that would bring Tony Stark and Steve Rogers together would be Thor, but the conceit of having Asgard on Midgard is dangerous. It's dangerous for Loki, it's dangerous for Thor, it's dangerous to us. We don't understand it. And after JMS was done [with his run] then I was like well that's it, that's what they would go to war over. Imagine if Afghanistan or France were floating over Wisconsin. That would be trouble. Someone would bomb it. It would be considered a hostile situation. 

And so that was my proposal if the pieces would come together. And they were able to, so that's what Siege became. 

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IGN Comics: You just mentioned how Norman has actually been acting in the best interests of the people, actually doing good works in his semi-wicked ways. Does that mean his actions against Asgard are truly noble? Or is he more about self-preservation? 

Bendis: Well, it's a few things. Loki has been a giant help to him, and he's a very powerful ally – who could easily turn into someone else's ally or his enemy. And the question is – is Norman being duped or tricked or controlled? But as far as Loki's point of view… I think he's actually being very sincere in this matter. Asgard does not belong here. It's wrong. Thor and Loki are children of the Nine Realms, they believe in their father's throne. That belongs in a certain place. If Asgard is here… then what's there? Loki believes that to be true, so I think he's legit here. In the prologue Norman even asks, "How can I trust you?" Loki's response is that he's the God of Mischief, and similarly his brother is the God of Thunder and uses that as a weapon, he isn't just mischievous to be mischievous. He uses mischief and trickery to get what he wants. 

IGN Comics: With regard to Loki, do you find it difficult to write him because readers instantly assume he's lying? My first inclination with this whole Asgard business was that Loki was scamming Norman… 

Bendis: I actually like that about the character. This is a situation where I've benefitted not only from JMS's excellent interpretation of the character, but from going into all these Thor movie meetings, and meeting and consulting with Kenneth Branaugh and the producers. I'm sitting there for hours thinking about nothing other than Loki's motivations in the world. That's what I like in a villain or antagonist. Loki is the hero of his own story. And Loki, of all the Marvel villains, has been interpreted as a mustache-twirling villain. And there have been some great stories, and that's fine, but there's something very interesting about digging into what's motivating him. You don't sympathize with him, but you empathize with him. And a story like this benefits a great deal from that empathy. 
   IGN Comics: You also mentioned we've seen real world applications of people stretching… truth/reality/evidence to justify these sorts of actions… 

Bendis: And sometimes people get politically cranky when things like that are said. I'm saying that it doesn't matter if you believe it to be true or not, you are aware that in this world that the controversy exists, that people do believe it. I mean people even believe that 9/11 was perpetrated by this country. So we have situations where people believe in these sorts of things, so it's easy to imagine a fictional world that builds upon that kind of idea. 

IGN Comics: One thing that struck me about the opening moments of Siege#1 – and the closing ones of the Cabal special – was how you had the characters acknowledge the parallels between Civil War and Siege and how these scenarios started. Was that sort of construct deliberate as you planned the event or did that sort of strike you as you were developing the story? 

Bendis: No, it was in the very first pitch. These guys realize Civil War was instigated by a particular event. But instead of waiting around for one – which is basically what the heroes did before Civil War. Many of them were saying something bad might happen. Tony Stark, the futurist, was saying they should do something now to avoid that type of event. He was smart enough to know it was coming. And then we got to see how easy and horribly it happened. 

So people who study history said, "Well, we can wait around for something to happen, for Asgard to do something to justify an attack… or we can just do it. We can just poke a stick in it." They're very aware of this and they want to go to war. That's what many people feel what happened with the Iraq situation. They wanted to go out there and looked for any reason to go. They were looking for something – anything – and that's what Norman did – the superhero version of that. 

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IGN Comics: I wanted to talk about this being the third event you have handled, and also a back-to-back one with Siege and Secret Invasion. 

Bendis: Well, there were things like Utopia. There was stuff in the middle. 

IGN Comics: Well true but strictly in terms of the big-scale, dedicated mini-series concepts. I chatted with Tom recently and he said one of the things you guys were very conscious of was making sure Siege treaded new territory and not replicating what had been done for these in the past. So, this being your third event like this, did you approach it differently? Were you consciously trying to make this feel different? Obviously the length played a part… 

Bendis: Well, I was scared for a minute that it wasn't going to stick to four issues. I came in and said, "We've got to get in and get out – boom boom boom – and get to the good stuff." Looking at all of Dark Reign, and what was a prolonged Dark Reign – I thought it would last six months – I asked and everyone agreed that the audience for these loves them for about four months. And then they like them again right at the end. And I totally understand that, and I approached it accordingly, and am making sure that a lot happens in every issue. And I'm not trying to deliver what everyone wants, because you can't really do that, but [all three events] are very different genres. And this one is taking us from a darkness to a light. So I said we should get right to it. 

Story-wise, the reason it should happen so quickly is that no one involved with this would be messing around. It all happens in the same place at the same time. There's not a lot of sub-plots going on, it's all on the battlefield. And that's cool and completely different from what we had going in the other ones. In the other ones it was really about a band getting together for the end… but in this one, they get together quickly. It's not whether they will, but how quickly they do. And what will they do when they are together? … And will everyone survive it? 

IGN Comics: This first issue felt very much like Norman's issue, from the overall execution of the first phase of attack plus the scenes of him basically coercing his team into action. Will subsequent issues change perspective or is this event very much focused on Norman? 

Bendis: No, it's equal parts. It's very much about the Dark Reign versus the Marvel Universe. So you'll get the two points of view. 

IGN Comics: I found it interesting that the Dark Avengers have been very willing participants up until this point, in what Norman has been wanting during his tenure. But it seemed that the mere mention of Asgard had everyone saying, "Oh heeeeellll no!" Was that something you really wanted to establish, the idea of Norman pushing them too far, of them hesitating in this new demand, that they don't believe in this cause? 

Bendis: You know, it kind of seemed like… math? That's a big target. These other things they dove into they didn't know much about or weren't too worried about walking out the other side. There's a deal – serve time and you can go. So they have a vested interest in getting out alive, and they started to do the math and said, "I might get hurt!" And even Hawkeye, in the back-up conversation transcript we have, says, "You know, I'm scared of Ares. And he's just one god." 

Then of course Norman drops the bomb that they can walk after this. And this is a very intriguing prize… but it does raise the notion that… he doesn't care if they walk out of there! –laughs- So it's the ultimate Dark Avengers-type deal, you know? 

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IGN Comics: When you guys pulled back the curtain on invading Asgard, there was one thought that really stuck in my mind. And that's the idea that Norman and his guys are going up against, um, gods? And potentially hundreds or thousands of them at that. And Norman's got guys with bows and arrows. Granted, he has a couple powerful guys but… did you have to contemplate how to demonstrate Norman would have a fighting chance in a scenario like this? 

Bendis: Oh yeah, you have to make a plan that you can see executed on panel. So it's a surprise attack. It's an attack at two primary targets – Heimdall and Thor. If you shut down that observatory, no one is getting in or out. And if you shut down Thor, there's less leadership. Even though Balder is king, Thor is the son of Odin. So down he must go. So even in script form, the argument was "How many Dark Avengers does it take to take down Thor?" So I had to kind of figure the math there. But doing this book I realized that this was one of those books that will be great for fans wondering who is stronger. And I love those books! I know I'll take a little s**t for it as the fight continues, but that'll be fun. It's nothing outrageous. You're not going to see Hawkeye punch Heimdall on his ass or anything. But it's going to get bloody, and I'm curious to see what people think of it. 

Remember Norman has a lot of stuff up his sleeve. He has a lot of allies. Hood still has those Norn stones, and there are a lot of things to be considered. There are a lot more players coming. It's a lot like Ron Burgundy. Have you seen that? It's like that anchor man fight where more and more and more show up. It's just like that. And The Hood is Ben Stiller.  

IGN Comics: I was curious about your selection of the U-Foes… 

Bendis: Yeah, the U-Foes! Those guys are great villains. We dusted them off for the Hood's gang. I think C.B. Cebulski recommended them because he's a huge fan. There are dozens of really powerful villains in the Marvel Universe that don't really get a lot of airplay and then just sort of float away into the handbook, never to be heard from again. One of the best parts of the Hood was to be able to dig up some of these guys from the past. I was thinking of the Wrecking Crew, but C.B. brought up the U-Foes and I thought they be great. 

IGN Comics: Well the one thing that really stood out to me is that… throughout all of Dark Reign we've recently started to see the cracks in Norman's armor, particularly with perception and some of the ways the heroes have managed to expose him. So the U-Foes are present at the incident at Soldier Field with Volstagg, and then they're also on camera assisting in the takedown of Thor. Will we see an impact because of that, because of the fact that known villains and Hood associates are not only seen at the "incident" but assisting Osborn's siege as well? Are people going to start making that direct connection? 

Bendis: Well Norman has started to see himself as being above the law, doing whatever he thinks he needs to do to get things done. "I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do." And with that comes the arrogance and bad decision-making. He's also not a well man. I'm not saying I'm just writing him as crazy, because that would just be easy. He's making some brass decisions that will come back to bite him in the ass. And his arrogance makes him think that they're not going to. He literally thinks at this moment, and he may be right, that he's going to do such a good job that the President and the country are going to kiss his ass. And we know many people who do that – I'm going to do the wrong thing but you'll love me when I'm done. Numerous times over Dark Reign he's done this and been rewarded. 

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IGN Comics: When we were discussing Siegea few months ago, there wasn't much you could say because even just adding two words "Siege of Asgard" hits the concept completely and entirely on the nose. Was it a challenge while developing the story to come up with twists, turns and surprises without doing them for the sake of it? Were there enough organic rollercoaster moments, basically? 

Bendis: Eh, you know what I did? I looked at all the other surprises from all the other events, including Blackest Night, and I just stole those. Spidey is going to get a power ring! And it just happens very quickly, so it's very easy. You just line them up! 

No, but once the pieces lined up and I was lucky enough to have all the characters alive – that was a bit important – the pitch of this was greeted very strongly. There were so many great moments that needed to happen just to make the story happen. And these weren't for shock value. I mean just in the first issue, to have Norman knock Thor on his ass, which has to happen, is an eye-opener. And then you turn to the last page and Cap is there. All of these things were very exciting and we're just in the first act – and that's just a hint at what's to come. This thing is full of images I've not seen before. There are things we've teased, that you've seen in teasers and things that have come out… And also, because we're contained to four issues, there was never a lot of stress about doing something crazy in each issue. If anything it was how would I get all of this into four issues. 

IGN Comics: Okay so one thing I had to ask you… why pick on poor Volstagg? The dude just wants to make his flapjacks and find his way in the world… -laughs- 

Bendis: You know, that was a happy accident actually. I think my initial pitch involved Balder. And I think JMS, in his last year, had a similar idea, with Volstagg saying he was going to go out and kick some ass. And then he sort of left that plot point alone to do some other stuff. And I thought that Volstagg was such a better choice – it's the same idea with a better choice. And it's not that Volstagg is an idiot – he's not – but it's that idea that Thor is a superhero, so he wants to try and be one too. 

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IGN Comics: He's far more sympathetic than Balder, really. 

Bendis: Yeah exactly, he's just a much better choice. And when JMS created that idea I thought I'd scrap Balder and use Volstagg. It's cool for the nerd points because it's already been set up and there was also just the idea that he really wouldn't know his own strength. He wouldn't know how hard he was hitting. It wouldn't feel that different to him, and it would take him a second to realize how bad things were. He's just not used to that because of the way he was raised. 

And don't worry about Volstagg. He's not done yet. 

IGN Comics: I wanted to also ask you about Sentry, particularly because he's been a focus as of late and he takes on Heimdall and Thor directly in Siege. What I'm wondering is… the character strikes me as still being very controversial amongst fans… 

Bendis: He is, and I totally understand it. He's a very different flavor than you're used to seeing at any company as far as superheroes go. Here is a superhero who if severely, mentally ill. And let me just say that this will be completely revealed, described and analyzed in the next few issues of Dark Avengers. By the time we're done with this storyline, I think the people who love the Sentry or his journey will be satisfied. So we'll see. There's a very satisfactory, very well-drawn by Mike Deodato, story on the way. He just handed in some pages today that everyone was talking about. 

IGN Comics: You know, Tom and I were talking about Sentry earlier. He theorized that one of the reasons people challenge the notion of the character is because he's… a bit of a poser or imposter in the sense that he's a very new character, one created in the last 10 years or so, and he's hanging and fighting with the likes of Thor and Iron Man, these big names that have been around for 50, 60-plus years. Do you see that attitude in the fans? Do you think that's part of this reaction? 

Bendis: No, because no one cares that Echo or the Hood were just created. The concept of the character is very disturbing. The idea of a Superman being like this… we were all raised to think differently about our Superman. 

And maybe they're all afraid this is what I think of Superman. That someday I'll go to DC and this is what I'll do. Just the idea of that is so disgusting that they take out their hatred on the Sentry. 

IGN Comics: -laughs- When you see fans react like this, does that push you further, to explore and develop the character more? 

Bendis: I'm fascinated by the reaction to him. I'm not surprised by it. William Goldman, for years would analyze Best Picture nominees and tear them to shreds. And he pointed out that the movie As Good As It Gets, with Jack Nicholson, was a failure because the road trip that the characters go on – they all go with Greg Kinnear as he goes to get some money from his parents – was false, that the audience didn't want these characters to do this. The audience was uncomfortable with him going to get money from his mother, they found it unappealing. So… in that sense, we don't want the Superman to be nuts, to kill us. 

So I get that, but at the same time we have hundreds or thousands of superheroes that do live by a code and do have their faculties about them. I'm fascinated by that one who has just f**king lost it. We don't know if he's Sentry or Void. We don't know what the Void is. We don't know how deep that goes. But what's funny is that ever since he joined the Dark Avengers, everyone has said, "Oh, well there's the fuse, and Norman just lit it!" And we know it, and maybe Norman doesn't, so readers have some fun because we know any second the bomb is going to go off. And I know a lot of readers, myself included, like knowing things the characters don't know. You always like to be one step ahead. 

IGN Comics: Do you think the Sentry would start to lose any of his inherent appeal and edge if and when you start to explain more about him? Does that mystique help? 

Bendis: No I think that's what's been maddening about him too. The more that has been explained, the more circular it gets. I think we've all been in a situation when you suddenly realize you've been talking to a crazy person. You ever do that? You think you're talking to a normal guy and then you're like, "Oh my god, I'm talking to a crazy person!" So that's where we are with the Sentry. We're stuck in his origin and it's circular. And that's got to be frustrating. But here's the good news – there is a payoff and it's coming very, very soon. 

IGN Comics: Is that coming in Siege or is that more of a Dark Avengers thing? 

Bendis: Both. I think physically it's in Siege and metaphysically and mentally it's in Dark Avengers. If that makes sense?           

IGN Comics: Sure, it does. We touched on this earlier, but Norman is really being assaulted on a number of levels between Loki and any plans there, Norman's insanity and his increasing overreach of power. I'm curious what you think is the biggest threat to him at this point? 

Bendis: Oh, his greatest threat is himself, absolutely. The question is if he can control or contain himself in time to do that which needs to be done. And if he can't, if your answer is that there's no way he can do that, then you have to wonder how much damage – serious damage – will he do to the Marvel Universe before they get their hands on him. 

IGN Comics: I wanted to ask you about something we saw just prior toSiege in Dark Avengers. Osborn basically confronted Molecule Man and we saw Osborn basically have his brain toyed with in that battle. Did that accentuate his instability? 

Bendis: I think more than anything he's just been putting himself in harm's way, both mentally and physically, over and over again. Victoria Hand represents the voice of reason saying, "You don't have to go. You don't have to do this." And yet he continues to. And it's his fault that happened. And while you don't have to have read Dark Avengers to read Siege, you'll see that he's damaged himself. 

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IGN Comics: I wanted to touch upon Dark Avengers and New Avengers during Siege. Can you give the readers an idea of what to expect? I know there's some Sentry stuff in Dark Avengers, but if you can talk about what else will be there and how they relate to Siege? 

Bendis: Sure. What's very cool is that there are a lot of other pieces flying around. At the end of the last arc of New Avengers, Norman gave the Hood's gang permission to go hunting for New Avengers. So that will be happening in the first two issues, drawn by Stuart Immonen and Daniel Acuna. Really cool looking stuff. What's cool, what people will like for those who are invested in it, is that there are a lot of players in the battlefield of Siege. And while the main ones will be dealt with in Siege, there are some big New Avengers characters, like Carol Danvers or Luke Cage, will be followed in New Avengers. You don't have to read them, but if that subject matter is of interest to you… there's something for everyone. Oh, and the Hood's storyline will be coming to a big conclusion there as well. 

In Dark Avengers, the big question is going to be how Sentry is even alive. Didn't we see him get his face blown off a few times? So we're going to rewind the clock and show you exactly what happened - why and how. We'll also show you a couple scenes from Dark Avengers that will surprise you greatly. For example we'd end a scene on page 13, but if we showed you page 14, staying on the scene, you'd say that's scary. So we're going to get into a lot of that, and the Sentry's future and fate will be handled in the pages of Dark Avengers. 

And for those who want to know exactly who the mystery bodyguard is and what he did to Doctor Doom, you will find out in Dark Avengers. 

IGN Comics: I wanted to bring up Olivier Coipel before we wrap up. I know you carefully consider who you bring aboard your projects. What made you return to Olivier for Siege and what does he bring to Siege that made him the ideal choice? 

Bendis: Well Olivier and I had a great time on House of M. And I know this sounds weird when I say this, but it's like breaking up with a girlfriend for no reason. Like she just leaves? Hey, but we had a nice night! But that's what it's like. And we talked over the years and we both felt we were on the cusp of something special towards the end of House of M. And I was really getting into his circular page designs. Then he went off to do his thing and I went to do mine, and I was watching as he worked on Thor, as he kicked ass every day. So when this was coming about… I wasn't even sure he'd want to do it, maybe he'd be tired of Thor? 

But [the editors] said putting that notion aside, who would I want to be on the series? And I said, "Well, Olivier, right? Don't we all agree? Who's drawing Thor and Asgard better than he is? It's his, he designed it." Who better to beat the s**t out of it? And he said yes, I think, when he found out it was four issues. House of M was killing him a bit at the end there. We also have Mark Morales, who is amazing, and Laura Martin, who I never thought I'd hear from again after she had to color Secret Invasion. But they're the team of Thor and I've worked with them all before on different projects and they're amazing. So everyone said they were in and it couldn't have worked out better. Honestly there were no others in line so I don't know what I would have done if they had told me to go f**k myself. 

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IGN Comics: You briefly mentioned this earlier, but the first issue has a cool little transcript from the Dark Avengers strategy mission in the back. Are we getting more extras like this in the next three issues? 

Bendis: Every issue of Siege will have back matter that is very story important. I did this in Secret War, and years later that's all that people talk to me about, the stuff that's in the back. And I liked it because it does two things – one, it relieves my $3.99 guilt, and I feel very strongly about that and two, it gets across lots of little stuff like funky war planning minutiae without holding up Olivier's schedule. I picked very specific scenes that didn't need to be drawn, that I thought would be stronger as a text piece. So I think overall it's a pretty sweet package. 

So two other things having seen the printed issue. One, Joe put his "Cup of Joe" thing in between the issue and the transcript. Don't miss the transcript. The book isn't over! But it's okay I guess since Joe is plugging a lot of my trades… Two, the transcript that printed, there was some sort of file upload mistake, and page one and three are identical. It's the very, very rarest of printer f**k-ups at this level. It's a recurring nightmare I've had over the last 20 years of my life. Every time I had a book that was about to ship – I swear to god I've had this dream – I'd wake up, go downstairs, open up my box from the printer and it'd be my cover with an upside down issue of Cerebus inside. This is a recurring dream I've had, and it finally happened. I don't know what happened, but Marvel's going to fix that and put the right transcript online or in issue #2 so you'll be able to see what was said. So I apologize about that though I had nothing to do with it. Believe me, no one is more bummed out about that than I am. 

But yeah you'll see more. Next issue is Nick Fury and the Secret Warriors, and it goes from there. Issue #4 is pretty packed too. 

IGN Comics: Last question – anything you can and want to tease regarding next issue? 

Bendis: Big death. Big, scary death. A I'm-going-to-unplug-my-computer death. I wrote it and we had a serious conversation about it at Marvel. For some reason Olivier enjoyed drawing this more than anything else he's ever done for me. It is the craziest drawing I've ever seen. And Laura went nuts on it. When I saw it I was like, "Ooooh boy…" –laughs- Again I'm not trying to piss people off but I might get some mail on that one… might need to hang up the computer for a bit. 

IGN Comics: -laughs- That should be interesting. Well, Brian, thanks so much for taking the time to discuss Siege. I'll be in touch when issue #2 rolls around, I'm sure. 

Bendis: No problem, Rich. We'll talk soon.