By Jim Beard
“And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth's mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born—to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand!”
As the Heroic Age dawns on the Marvel Universe and we prepare for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, each Friday Marvel.com will present a different column focusing on the one and only Avengers. From line-ups to costumes to villains to classic stories and beyond, we’ve got you covered on the history of Marvel’s most prolific team of heroes!
So let the call go out: Avengers Assemble!
While the Avengers fight in the light as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, another group lurks in shadow to share information and resources on a global—sometimes even interstellar—level. Known as the Illuminati, this group of major Marvel Universe players operated in secret through decades of catastrophic events only to crash and burn during the most recent Skrull invasion.
The Illuminati’s saga played out in the pages of NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI #1-5, illustrating their observation of events stretching back to the original Kree-Skrull War. Now, in AVENGERS #8—on sale December 29—the covert convention reconvenes and the Marvel Universe may never be the same again.
As introduced in NEW AVENGERS #7 and the NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI special, the group boasted Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, Professor X, Black Bolt, Doctor Strange and Namor the Sub-Mariner as members. Their coming-together stood as a prime example of clashing personalities and egos, but underneath the bluster lay an understanding that such a meeting-of-minds made a certain amount of sense. The Avengers could handle world-wide threats in the public eye, but sometimes the interests of Earth must also be served quietly from the threats they fear.
Founding Avenger Iron Man seemed to set himself up as leader of the Illuminati, with the Fantastic Four’s leader, Mister Fantastic, having his back. Namor represented the voice of opposition, while the others sat at the table in more low-key roles.
NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI #1 showcased the hubris of the group as they transported themselves to the Skrull homeworld and confronted the shape-changing aliens after their beat-down in the Kree-Skrull War. Warning them never to attack Earth again, the Illuminati actually suffered defeat at the hands of the Skrull and found themselves incarcerated for their sins. With Iron Man leading the charge, the group escaped but not before their captors compiled enough data to sow the seeds of a future invasion.
The Infinity Gauntlet, an immensely powerful artifact once again coming into play in the pages of AVENGERS, became a point of interest in NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI #2. Perhaps no other story showed exactly to what lengths the Illuminati would stretch to protect the denizens of Earth. Mister Fantastic revealed to the others his quest for all the Infinity Gems, in essence to will them out of existence; but as these things often transpire, all hell broke loose. In the end, each of the Illuminati took on a Gem to hide them away from those who would mis-use them, including each other, a decision that’s repercussions have only begun to unfold.
Perhaps the most controversial case for the Illuminati came in NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI #3, which called into question the very origins and motivations of the inscrutable Beyonder. The group beards the lion in his den and discovers that the seemingly-omnipowerful being, responsible for the so-called Secret Wars, began his existence as an Inhuman. Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans and member of the Illuminati, put the hard squeeze on his subject and forced him into a kind of exile. So many questions and mystery still swirl around the Beyonder and his impact on Earth’s heroes; the Illuminati’s mission to confront him only served to deepen the conundrum.
After Noh-Varr, a Kree warrior, rampaged across the globe and attempted to rule the planet, the Illuminati visited him in his prison in NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI #4. The group surmised that the mighty alien’s powers could be put to better use and practicing their own unique version of “scared straight” on Noh-Varr presented him with a challenge: become a hero like the deceased Kree warrior Captain Mar-Vell or rot in a jail cell forever. His heroic tendencies awakened that day, Noh-Var would go on to further explore his destiny in DARK AVENGERS and currently in AVENGERS.
In the final issue, NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI #5, the group’s time as a loose-knit consortium of the greatest minds and powers on Earth came to a close. The Illuminati somehow lasted through the events of House of M, Civil War and World War Hulk, but the weighty enigma of the Skrull invasion proved too much to bear. Once one of their own, Black Bolt, revealed himself as a Skrull infiltrator, their very reasons to meet came into question and with mistrust in the air the Illuminati broke apart.
Secret Invasion extracted a heavy toll on the members of the Illuminati and the world itself changed once the dust of battle cleared. Now, with new teams of Avengers in place, the return of the Illuminati seems a certainty. What form they’ll take and what role they’ll play in the shadow of the light cast by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will soon be known…