The currently unfolding “Avengers: Standoff” crossover isn’t just affecting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, it’s also putting a damper on the plans of some of Marvel’s greatest villains. Across the first five issues of “Illuminati,” writer Joshua Williamson and artist Shawn Crystal have explored the mercurial and unreliable nature of a group of super villains who have become unlikely — and perhaps untrustworthy — teammates. Assembled by The Hood, the fledgling super criminal syndicate was repeatedly sabotaged from within by backstabbing members and tempers flaring out of control. With the group currently in shambles, the Hood tries to fulfill a promise to one of his remaining team members, Titania, to break her husband, the Absorbing Man, out of prison.
Of course, this is no run of the mill prison. The Absorbing Man is currently being held in the S.H.I.E.L.D.-built Pleasant Hill facility, currently famous (or infamous) for its roll in “Standoff.” Thanks to the reality-altering powers of a being known as Kobik, the super villains of Pleasant Hill have forgotten who they are and believe themselves residents of an idyllic small town. This being the Marvel Universe, this small town with a big secret won’t stay quiet for long, and the jail break just might invigorate the Hood’s new gang, precisely what “Illuminati” #6 by Williamson and artist Mike Henderson explores as the series becomes embroiled in the Avengers crossover.
Though “Illuminati” was absent from Marvel’s June solicitations, Williamson tells CBR News there are plenty of upcoming developments for his team of ne’er do wells, starting with With Issue #7 where he’ll explore the aftermath of “Avengers: Standoff.” The writer talks about working with his “Nailbiter” co-creator on the “Standoff” tie-in issue, shifting the focus from Titania to Absorbing Man, and why he considers “Illuminati” #6 the best script he’s written for Marvel. We also discuss how the events of tie-in and the following issue impact his cast’s perspective on the changing world around them.
CBR News: “Illuminati” #6 brings your cast into the “Standoff” crossover in a big way. How did it feel to get to the chance to be a part of the crossover? It seems like the world Nick Spencer set up with Pleasant Hill and its cosmic cube-inspired prison intersected with the story you’re telling in a pretty organic way. Is that how it felt for you as well?
Joshua Williamson: It did. When I was working on “Illuminati” #1, I knew that the prison we were sending Absorbing Man to was Pleasant Hill.
It was a lot of fun working within the crossover. Talking with the other creators about ideas for the issue and how it would tie in. A large chunk of the issue came from an idea that Tom Brevoort threw out into the group that I grabbed and ran with it. It gave a strong emotional beat for the whole issue.
While you’re tying into an event in issue #6, the story you’re telling is also pretty personal for Titania. What can you tell us about her perspective on Pleasant Hill? And what was it like finally getting a chance to write Titania and her husband, Absorbing Man, together?
It’s not a happy reunion. I don’t want to get too deep into the issue but what happens to Absorbing Man, and how he was manipulated puts some extra strain on their relationship.
But I love writing the two of them together. They have both gone through some changes and need to talk a few things out, which is really difficult since communication is not one of their strong suits.
Titania has been the reader’s primary P.O.V. character in “Illuminati.” Why did you decide to change that up with Issue #6?
This issue really focuses on Absorbing Man’s time in Pleasant Hill. He’s clearly the star of the issue. Who he hangs out with in Pleasant Hill — and who comes to save him?
What about who Carl Creel tangles with? Can you tease the obstacles and adversaries Absorbing Man will face in the issue?
My issue is a much more personal take on what happened in Pleasant Hill for Absorbing Man; what it was like living there for the inmates and how their new happy lives really messed with their heads. But the main person that Absorbing Man has issues with is… Elektra.
If Titania catches Elektra or anyone else messing with her husband I imagine there will be a confrontation. There’s a good chance that confrontation might go bad for her opponent too considering “Illuminati” #5 hinted that Titania’s powers are getting stronger. Will we find out more about what she’s capable of in these next couple of issues?
Yes, but remember she got those new powers from the Hood, and they are not on the best of terms right now.
“Illuminati” #6 was drawn by Mike Henderson, your collaborator on your creator-owned Image Comics series “Nailbiter.” What’s it like working with Mike on a Marvel book?
Mike and I really get along and I knew he’d kick ass on this issue. He gets the kind of storytelling I was trying to do with that issue. Mike has the ability to nail the atmospheric feel we both wanted, the pacing and emotions of the issue.
I feel like “Illuminati” #6 is my favorite script that I’ve written for Marvel. It hit all the beats that I like to write and I think Mike did an awesome job with it. I hope people dig it. It’s probably not at all what they are expecting.
Will Shawn Crystal be back for “Illuminati” #7?
Yes, Shawn Crystal returns with Issue #7 to draw an issue best called “Hood vs Titania,” and he draws an amazing fight between the two. I’ve always enjoyed the heart that Shawn has added to the story, the bit of humor and lightness that was needed on such a dark story.
It sounds like the like the fallout from “Standoff” will impact your cast in a big way. What’s waiting for the Hood, Titania and some other villains in “Illuminati” #7?
The Hood sees the fallout from Standoff as a recruiting opportunity, a chance to rally the troops against the heroes. The Hood feels like S.H.I.E.L.D. and the heroes went too far this time messing with the villains’ heads — and a lot of the villains agree. And they’re all looking for revenge…
Thunderball and the Young Master’s Enchantress are still dealing with the events of the first story arc. For Thunderball he saw the Illuminati as a way to get away from his old life, but it showed him something differen, that maybe he needed to take a completely different path.
“Illuminati” #6 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.
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