Looking strictly at a plot outline, “Illuminati” #1 is fairly predictable; as each story beat occurs, you can see it coming. Fortunately, though, this comic is more than just its outline. Joshua Williamson, Shawn Crystal and John Rauch’s comic ultimately moves itself onto the “come back for another issue” pile through sheer charm, as we watch the travails of super-villainess Titania.
A certain inevitability hangs over “Illuminati” #1, as we see paroled Titania talking to her longtime boyfriend the Absorbing Man about how she’s going on the straight and narrow now that she’s out of jail. From that point on, you can almost see the doom clinging to her sleeve, and we’re not talking about the arch-nemesis of the Fantastic Four. From Titania explaining to She-Hulk how difficult it is to find any sort of job because of the restrictions put on her to what happens when she does finally get a job as pawn shop security, you just know it’s not going to end well. But you know what? That doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is how Williamson and Crystal tell the story, and that’s what’s going to bring the readers back each month. Titania has an inviting nature about her; even as you know things are going to end badly, you’re rooting for her to succeed. Williamson gives her a matter-of-fact demeanor even as you can see her frustration when things go wrong, and her desire to get her life back on track feels genuine. She really is doing her best, even though it’s obvious where her decision-making is slightly awry. (If you aren’t allowed to use your superpowers, being the muscle at a pawn shop is a recipe for disaster.) When things go south, Williamson really brings across the idea that she’s exasperated with every failed plan. By the time the larger plot kicks in — the Hood returning to build a new secret group of super-villains — you can see how she’s backed up against the wall and has nowhere to go but back to being a villain. While the final page reveal is fairly obvious, it’s sold here thanks to the overall enjoyment of the comic and how the characters come across on the page.
Part of that fun is courtesy Crystal, whose stripped-down art style is simply adorable. I love the peeved look Titania has when the pawn shop is attacked, for instance; paired with the “son of a butt” dialogue, it’s hard to keep from laughing. While ticked off is a familiar expression by the time you’re done reading this comic, Crystal is also good with the softer moments, like the genuinely-trying-to-help look on She-Hulk’s face at the end of their conversation. It works in no small part because it’s a perfect contrast to the cat-who-ate-the-canary, sly expression She-Hulk serves up when she first appears; Crystal successfully shifts from a sneer to sympathy and nails the moment perfectly. I also found myself really loving the crazy designs for the guys who do attack the pawn shop, as they look straight out of a Kevin O’Neill comic with the big goggles, fanged collars and more muscles and thigh bands than you can shake a stick at. It’s silly and deliberately over the top, and it’s wonderful. Top it all off with some soft colors from Rauch, and it’s a good package.
“Illuminati” #1 really only has one surprise, and it’s how inviting the comic is. Eventually, it will need to throw us some real shockers in the plotting department, but — for the moment — it’s landing the punches just fine. Williamson and Crystal hook you on “Illuminati” through sheer storytelling charisma. Try it. You’ll be back for more, too.