Throughout the history of the Marvel Universe, costumed champions have banded together to avert cataclysmic events. Usually these assemblies of heroes have included all of the MU's premier super teams like the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, but unbeknownst to many heroes there was often a secret team of Marvel characters assisting them either through direct covert action or subtle manipulation. The membership of this secret cabal of Marvel heroes was revealed (in the pages of "New Avengers") to be Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, The Sub Mariner, Professor X, and Black Bolt.
Earlier this year, readers got to learn more about the group's history and witness their break up in the pages of "New Avengers Special: The Illuminati," but if you think you know all there is to know about this secret faction, you're wrong. Beginning this December, in the five-issue " New Avengers: The Illuminati" mini-series, writers Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed and artist Jim Cheung will reveal what roles the group played in shaping the history of the Marvel Universe and show how their actions in the past will come back to haunt them in the present day. CBR News spoke with Brian Bendis about the mini-series.
The plans to reveal the secret history of the Illuminati actually predate the "Illuminati" special. "It was during pre-'Civil War' Marvel that the germ of it was on my list of things to do in 'New Avengers,'" Bendis told CBR News. "I was going to go back to it and I was thinking it might be my summer for 'New Avengers.' But 'Civil War' completely changed the Marvel Universe. The place for it and what it would do in 'New Avengers' was kind of inappropriate because there are new stories being told there, but it was definitely a story I wanted to tell.
"So, the special came out and thanks everybody for making it such a big hit. It's in its second printing now," Bendis continued. "Marvel was like, 'Hey! Do that thing you we're going to do!' I was like, 'Oh, let me think about it' and Tom Brevoort said, 'Why don't you and Brian Reed write it together?' We had been writing a lot of stuff together. We did the 'Ultimate Spider-Man' video game together and we did 'Spider-Woman: Origin' together, which worked out really well. He's a really good guy and we work well together. Particularly in those heavy Marvel continuity projects because I think when you're dealing with the shared history of the Marvel Universe, sometimes it can be better to have more than you and your editor looking at it. It's nice to have someone who has a different point of view and that way all points of view can be looked at more carefully. It's definitely a plus to have a co-writer on something like this especially with so much research that needs to be done by both of us."
Bendis and his co-writer Reed were looking to collaborate on something, but it was the availability of artist Jim Cheung that turned "New Avengers: The Illuminati" into a reality. "That was the clincher," Bendis said. "He had these months to do it between 'Young Avengers' arcs. Initially it was going to be different artists each issue and Jim was going to be doing the first issue. But Alan Heinberg needed a little break for some TV stuff so now it's all going to be done by Jimmy Cheung. I'm just a huge fan of Jimmy's. We're getting his pages in on "New Avengers' #25 which he's doing as well. They're gorgeous. It makes you just want to steal him away from Alan. We can't steal him away from Alan, but we can borrow him for a little while."
"The Illuminati" will contain a revelation that many readers have been waiting a long while for, ever since the secret group first appeared. "The series covers a great deal of time. It covers certain time periods of Marvel history, but it also takes place in modern day," Bendis explained. "The hook of the book – the reason it kind of garners its own mini-series – is the Illuminati will be outed to the other groups. They will become known. Their shenanigans will go public and that's a juicy story especially in a post 'Civil War' climate. The image in my head of the Avengers, The X-Men, the Inhumans and everyone else circling the group going, 'What the fuck are you doing?' That's worth the price of admission alone."
Readers worried about paying the admission for "Illuminati" and getting a story full of talking heads should be pleasantly surprised. "I think it's more action heavy than people will expect," Bendis stated. "It's not all talkiness. The 'Special' was almost like a play. It's kind of fun guessing what people might expect. I'm actually pleased to show people the first issue; it's almost kind of like 'Star Wars' or something. It's a real space adventure."
The Illuminati's space adventure takes place shortly after the group first formed in the aftermath of the Kree-Skrull war. "The Special showed what happened right after the 'Kree-Skrull War," Bendis explained. "So we show you what happens right after that scene; once they decided to get together, then what did they do? We're going to show you what they actually did and why it stayed a secret. We'll see what the Illuminati did to make sure another Kree-Skrull War never happened because another one never did happen. We've had Skrull and Kree skirmishes but they've never both tried to take over the Earth.
"What will also happen in the first story is that something won't go well," Bendis continued. "It will start something that's actually going to be building within the pages of 'New Avengers.' Everything will either tie to something in the past or start something that's going to tie into something in the future."
Readers will learn that the Illuminati's methods varied depending on what particular "something" they were up against and what they were trying to accomplish. "They actually were like a secret super group," Bendis said. "Sometimes they acted together directly. Some things were more conspiratorial. Some things were happening behind the scenes in other events. Just to give hints: the events of 'Atlantis Attacks' and 'Infinity Gauntlet.' We've found places in stories that the Illuminati fit into quite nicely without retconing anything or changing the meaning of the story. The behind the scenes stories that we can tell are kind of like, if anyone is familiar with this play and it was a movie called 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,' which follows those two characters as the main story. A couple of our scenes have the feel of that, where we know this famous event is happening in the next room, but here is this other thing going on that you may not know about. So hopefully it enhances the situation."
The Illuminati came together as a way of defusing potentially explosive situations, not because they liked each other. As readers of the "Illuminati" special saw, there is a lot of tension between group members, but in the mini-series readers will find out why Reed Richards said the group was fun while it lasted and why the group stayed together for so long. "Because of necessity," Bendis explained. "They are the power brokers of the Marvel Universe. They all represent something very sincere and they all benefit greatly. They have some legitimate triumphs together and a lot of stuff happens.
"Also I think on a more personal level, because this is Marvel Comics and you always get more personal with the characters, you see guys like this and who else are they going to talk to about shit like this?" Bendis asked. "Who else is going to even comprehend? I did a little thing with Carol Danvers talking about this once and she said if you have civilian friends how could you even tell them you met Thanos? They couldn't even understand what the fuck you're talking about. So who can relate? It's nice to have a couple of guys you can talk to."
When the guys in the Illuminati gathered to talk in the past they had one member who could make sure everybody stayed honest, the telepathic Professor X. "That's the thing – no one can lie," Bendis explained. "That's also an interesting aspect between him and how Dr. Strange uses his powers, so no one can fib. They have to be honest with each other, which will be great for some things and terrible for others."
The members of the Illuminati can not keep secrets from each other, but over the years they've tried to keep the secret of their existence from others and readers will find out they haven't always been successful. "There's going to be little bits and pieces there," Bendis said. "But by the end it of course everyone is going to find out."
When Bendis says "everyone" he and his co-writer Reed are doing their best to make sure they do mean everyone. "Almost everyone in the Marvel Universe appears somewhere in the story," he said. "That's no joke it covers so much ground; between cameos, walk-throughs, and legitimate moments."
It won't be just the individuals of the Marvel Universe that play a role in "The Illuminati." Bendis and Reed also have plans for the organizations of the Marvel Universe. Bendis revealed that SHIELD will definitely play a role in the series.
Large organizations like SHIELD and many Marvel heroes will have roles to play in "The Illuminati," but that doesn't mean Bendis and Reed forgot about roles for the villains of the Marvel Universe in the series. "They will have some of the biggest roles," Bendis said. "The point of the group is to deal with the bigger threats, if they can, before they happen. But a lot of the time, when Doctor Doom shows up blasting. they don't know ahead of time. They deal with the aftermath. So, maybe the aftermath of something like 'Infinity Gauntlet' or what's going on during the elaborate plot of the 'Atlantis Attacks' event was bigger than you thought or didn't end just because the fight was over."
Bendis is overjoyed that the response to the original "Illuminati" special was bigger than he thought and has had a great time following it up with "New Avengers: The Illuminati." "It's one of those things that came together so nicely," he stated. "It's like, 'Oh, good artist! Oh, stuff I really care about it!' I was thrilled that we got tons of mail about the idea of the secret group even from the get go. Sometimes you come up with ideas and you hope people like them and they don't seem to care at all. It's so nice that this one was one that people seemed to be interested in. Just the grouping seemed to spark imaginations. The letters we got were all, 'What about this? And what about Onslaught?' So, we were like, 'You know what? We should do this story. This will be fun.'"
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