Marvel’s Illuminati – Responsible for both Jay-Z’s Success and the Infinity Gems

The latest incarnation of the New Avengers (volume 3) seems to be focused on the so-called Illuminati.


Marvel Comics’ Illuminati are just the kind of shadowy cabal that once upon a time would have only been the provenance of villains. Born of Tony Stark’s plan to establish a superhero delegation to represent the Earth in the wider universe, this plot to form a kind of unified world government (of the kind feared by some hip hop fans)  was rejected in favor of just keeping things as they are and trying to manipulate the world from the wings.  While once bands of superheroes were either very public entities with a lot of power and some government oversight (like the original Avengers) or outsiders working in relative secret because they were already marginalized if not outright hated by society (like the X-Men), in this case this group of extremely powerful individuals works in secret and outside the law for their own vision of what the world should be like. Again, how is this different from Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants? Or Hydra or A.I.M. or one of a dozen other organizations in the Marvel Universe who try to do the same thing? The only difference I can see is that rather than trying to change the world, the “vision” of these so-called superheroes is just maintaining the status quo. They have the power, and they are the only ones who can be trusted with it. We know this because they say so, because if it wasn’t so they wouldn’t already have it.

NwAvgngrs-3Like Reed Richards making the brilliant deduction in New Avengers that if the chain reaction destroying parallel Earths could be stopped without destroying all the other alternate-Earths but their own it would have happened already, this kind of power is based on a tautology.

Whether it is tricking the Hulk into being shot into space, building a secret prison where superheroes that did not fall in line were indefinitely detained, to making a clone of Thor with all his power and none of his conscience that they thought they could control (and ended up killing Black Goliath). . . Don’t all of these sound like super-villain schemes? How about seeking out the Infinity Gems—the cause of many a cosmic fracas when others tried to get their hands on them—out of the hubris of being able to permanently keep anyone else from having them? What about using them? It’s like the U.S. shitting itself over Iran having one nuke when it has over 5000.

NwAvgngrs-1In the recent issues of New Avengers, in an effort to avoid a situation suspiciously similar to that in DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Illuminati knock their relatively recent and reluctant member (Captain America) unconscious so that he won’t keep them from preparing to destroy an alternate Earth in order to save their own. Not once does anyone think to mention that Baron Zemo and Red Skull have probably had to knock out Cap a time or two to follow up with their plans as well. The entire issue is essentially prolonged justification for being open to the act of destroying the world. I guess this is supposed to show a more nuanced moral universe than the stereotypical superhero comic mode, but mostly it strikes me as more post-9/11 worst-case scenario speculation, explaining the necessity to be prepared to do wrong. “Other people may do terrible things to us, so we must be prepared to do terrible things to prevent it.” Somehow this preemption of evil with evil is supposed to grant some form of moral superiority, Again, this is super villain territory. But in a universe where Spider-Man “water-boards” someone for information, what else can we expect?

These stories only reflect a sorry cynicism that passes for pragmatism, and thus not all that different from modern politics, but rather than comment on or critique those politics, it just reinforces that status quo, providing “only the illusion of change” which Stan Lee used to tout as the crucial element to the Marvel Method. We are to remain convinced that the only thing more dangerous than the power these men have is the possibility of that power belonging to someone else, thus justifying whatever it is they choose to do with that power.

13 thoughts on “Marvel’s Illuminati – Responsible for both Jay-Z’s Success and the Infinity Gems

  1. I think it should be canon that if Captain America opposes your plan, you might want to at least reconsider said plan. Seems like Marvel keeps him around as a demonstration that idealism is dangerously wrong. Makes me sad.


  2. The original Illuminati run was a good comic with some cool stories and they eventually paid for the hubris. Are you telling me Marvel brought the groud back and now they are all mass-murderers? When will we see this reflected on a film?

    This is just awful. No matter how shrewd the Illuminati members were/are, there was never anything in their characters to suggest they’d engage in mass murder. Sad.


    • I liked the original series, too (still missing one issue I can’t seem to find for cheap enough) and you are right that there was a sense that they paid for their hubris. . . but this New Avengers series that is basically about the Illuminati was pretty terrible. I am sure they made it so that in the end they didn’t have to destroy a world or if they did it “didn’t count” or was reversed with the Infinity Gems or something – but 1) they still seemed pretty willing to go through with it and 2) when everything can be undone or made to not count the stories really lose their weight. Personally, I would be happy for them to do away with the illusion of continuity altogether and simply tell different stories about the heroes, but have the results stick for whatever version that may be.


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  5. I haven’t read Hickman’s Time Runs Out or Secret Wars yet but based on all the Illuminati stuff, Cap’s Avengers and Infinity. Based on the preceding Fantastic Four run, Jonathan Hickman is a genious. He’s the next Grant Morrison if not even better.

    Hickman’s written a true classic, his FF and Avenger runs are the best mainstream comics I’ve read. His creator owned stuff is equally wonderful.

    Hickman pits the Illuminati against impossible odds, not even Cap’s plan of using the Infinity Gems works long term, it was never a long term solution like the A Perfect World stoyline shows. That arc by the way is perfect payoff. You have the team not being able to go through with killing a world. They ultimately remain the characters they are. Well, except for Namor. By destroying the world the story doesn’t pussy out or invent a deus ex machina that allows the heroes to save face. After that the heroes swear not to destroy worlds. Which leads to Namor’s Cabal picking up the slack.

    Yes, the Illuminati are acting like villains. They might not admit it but Hickman does by making Namor cut through all the bs. Time and time again he mentions the hipocracy. His presence gets T’Challa in trouble with his sister, so the Illuminati does suffer from being schemers. Doctor Strange literally tries to sell his soul at one point.

    I can understand for people wanting their superheroes, well, heroic. I love All-Star Superman and hate Man of Steel-like depictions of the character. But Hickman made it work. His approach is pragmatic, at least for New Avengers. It’s Death compared to his Avengers which is Life. Cap’s role as a leader during Infinity, his resolve during the Infinite Avengers run, now he won’t allow worlds to be killed. Heroic stuff. That said I’m not seeing any good ideas from Cap other than he hopes things will get better.

    Maybe reading Time Runs Out and Secret Wars will disappoint me, make me look back on his runs differently…but I highly doubt it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the long and thoughtful reply! Yours is perhaps the first positive review of Hickman’s New Avengers stuff that made me reconsider my thoughts on it and think that I should see if I can find a copy at the library.

      The repetitiveness and decompression of the issues I did read compounded my problems with it, but maybe not reading it month-to-month would help.


      Oh and one last question: How’d you find us?


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