Let’s talk about that New Avengers: Illuminati One Shot
Okay, I am gearing up to talk about mid-2000’s Marvel Event Cycle. You know: Civil War, World War Hulk, Secret Invasion. That good stuff. Before I get into that I decided to revisit 2006’s New Avengers Illuminati One-shot and, sweet Christmas, that still rocks. This one issue will set the foundation for two major Marvel events and one of Hulk’s evergreen storylines. Not only that it solidifies the concept of the Illuminati that will prove critical to Hickman’s masterful Avengers run. So how does it all begin? Let’s talk about it.
New Avengers: Illuminati #1 (2006)
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Pencil and inks by Alex Maleev
Colors by Dave Stewart
Lettering by Chris Elipoulos
Coming off the lucky victory in the Kree-Skrull War, Tony Stark calls a meeting with some of the most powerful and brightest superpowered hero team in attempt to create some semblance of a United Front to represent Earth on a Galactic Scale. Invited to this meeting are Blackbolt (King of the Inhumans), Dr. Strange (Sorcerer Supreme and Master of the Mystic Arts), Reed Richards (Smartest Man, member of the Fantastic Four), Charles Xavier (Leader of the X-men, Premier Mutant Authority), Namor (King of Atlantis), and T’Challa (Black Panther, King of Wakanda, and Host to the first meeting). Well, this proposal gets as much air as a lead balloon with the heroes citing logistics and general mistrust of each other.
Bendis is someone known for his speech patterns. He is a conversational comic writer, for best and worst. Here he is ON POINT. Bendis captures the voices for each of the characters and finds the interactions that work wonderfully. Setting Namor as the foil to Iron Man was great decision. They are both strong minded characters, but both are antithetical to each other. Namor is very much an isolationist and Iron Man is one to integrate with all of the heroes. Bendis plays them off each other masterfully.
During the bickering Namor proposes the group just consists of those in the room and not involve anyone else. This was the first major mistake of the team. This decision leads to Black Panther walking away from the group and creates precedent for rationalization for corrupt and opaque decision-making.
The one-shot proceeds to jump to another time-period and location. This time at the Hydro-base. The Illuminati is meeting to discuss the Hulk problem. Earlier, Hulk goes savage and destroys a large swath of Vegas. The meeting is called by Stark all due to him being called out by Commander Hill.
This does bring out a problem for the story though. Maria Hill’s case against the Hulk and blaming the heroes is based on the Batman-Joker problem but reframed to fit Marvel’s Corporate IP. So, it’s the Spider-man and Green Goblin problem. For those unfamiliar to the argument, it goes something like this “When does it become the hero’s fault that the villain is constantly killing people? They capture the villain, but they all escape only to kill again. Creates a vicious cycle.” There are some faults in this 1) Don’t poke holes into how comics are published. You don’t want to start making the entire narrative structure. 2) this is trying to justify extra-judicial killings! I know you work for a fascist entity of the Police State, Maria Hill, but GEEZ. Either way this is what motivates Tony to come up with his dumb plan.
The plan is to send Banner into space to an uninhabited world. This is without Banner’s consent or any input for that matter. They just go and do it. Obviously, this is a VERY BAD idea. This takes place shortly after House of M and the good guys are out here taking near unilateral decisions trying to kill or isolate their friends. This is a product of the Ultimate Universe’s “What if Heroes were real” influence flowing into the mainstream 616-universe. While this was the trend of the time in comics by the Big Two, it was the primary direction of Marvel’s main narratives.
Well, this plan angers Namor leading to him having a large brawl with Iron Man in New York Harbor in which he nearly kills Iron Man. Namor storms off and the rest agree to send Hulk into space. Only thing missing here was a caption saying, “Follow Hulk’s Adventures in Planet Hulk in Incredible Hulk #92 On Sale NEXT MONTH!” Again, this plan ends poorly and results in World War Hulk.
One more time jump and we get the Illuminati meeting in an abandoned warehouse. The gang is all here including Namor. Why does Tony keep inviting this man to these events. Dude tried to kill Tony and Stark is still inviting him to the clandestine gatherings. Who does Tony think he is, Ted Cruz?
Anyway, Stark introduces the first draft of the Superhuman Registration Act to the group. Tony then begins to predict the events that will lead to the Act being pushed through Congress. Closely predicting the Stamford, Connecticut incident that ignites the Civil War. Namor laughs it off and says peace out. Well, he says good. Surface world will kill itself over this act and Atlantis will be stronger for it. Blackbolt signs Tony a very PG-13 statement and gets out of there. Strange says it is too shady for him and bounces. Reed Richards, who hasn’t ever heard a fascist idea that he would turn down, is intrigued but leaves after managing to read the room.
In a powerful image, Iron Man is left all alone sitting on a chair. Foreshadowing the events to come from this terrible act. We will discuss the merits of the act in the Civil War article (coming in around 2 weeks!) but this is an interesting end to the story.
This comic is a lot of event set up and explaining some weird narrative quirks. That much is true. Yet this was a surprisingly entrancing piece of comic work. Bendis pulls off talking head issues so well and knows how to play characters off each other. Yes, Bendis schtick can grow tiresome after some time but every now and then I read an issue or arc and remember what I loved about him in the first place.
I haven’t spoken about the art in this comic, but it does need to be said Meleev is a phenomenal artist. His cartoony yet realistic character work does a lot of the heavy lifting in this issue. The character work is subtle in its actions and phenomenal in its impact. Meleev’s free-flowing style allows for more dynamic body language and gives some great moments especially in Blackbolt’s send off to Tony Stark. The fight scene between Namor and Tony is beautiful and really caps off the emotions that have been boiling throughout the issue. Meleev takes the fight underwater and it looks stunning. There isn’t much fist fighting in this comic about various meetings, but darn if he doesn’t make the most of it there.
Illuminati features looser inks than most comics, but I appreciate that style and gives it personality. The way Meleev uses costumes to set the periods apart along with the set design makes the time periods visually distinct. The colors by Stewart aide in this. The tones and shades used in the past segments help visually signify to the reader the time jumps. I do appreciate when comics do simple visual cues for the readers.
Illuminati is one of the most important comics to come out in 2006. It was in large part an event primer for the upcoming storylines of the next couple years, but it also sets out to create the notion of the Illuminati that will be used in Marvel for years to come. I am a really large fan of the team in Hickman’s run. The sequel to this was 5-issue mini-series that explores the Illuminati’s impact on the history of the Marvel Universe, including the decision to give each member an Infinity gem. That will pay dividends later in Hickman’s run.
It is one of the few single issues of this era of Marvel that I find myself revisting time and again. It is griping entertainment in its simplicity and execution.
Next time in the Marvel Event Cycle, we will take a look at the lead up to Civil War in “Mr. Parker Goes to Washington” (Amazing Spider-man #529-531) and “Hammer fall” arc (Fantastic Four #536 and 537)
It’s been Extremely Uncanny, have a great day.