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.
Like 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.
In 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.