Connect with us
Marvel's Illuminati
Marvel Comics


‘Marvel’s Illuminati’ review

The men behind the scenes…of more interesting stories.

When Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness first hinted at the presence of the Illuminati, the shadowy cabal of Marvel heroes that were ostensibly behind many of the major events in the 616 universe, there was much excitement in the fandom. Short of the novelty of seeing new (and dare I say – Forbidden!) characters appear in the MCU for the first time, there were some rumblings of what impact the appearance of this group could potentially have on the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It turns out that they didn’t really do anything and had little to no impact on the film in which they appear. Naturally it was a little disappointing, but after reading the collected trade of the 2005 Illuminati series by Brian Michael Bendis, I was reminded that this is actually par for the course for this team of “men behind the scenes.”

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!
Marvel's Illuminati
Image Courtesy of Marvel Comics

The trade collects the one-shot New Avengers: Illuminati that details the group’s decision to send the Hulk into space (setting up both the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk crossovers, and introducing the group to the 616 universe proper) as well as the five-issue mini that tied the group to several other major storylines frog the past 30 years of Marvel continuity.

Overall the series is fun, if not terribly memorable. It’s well written, but can easily be skipped to no detriment of the reader. I say that to get the overall TL;DR of this review out of the way, but lets get more into the nitty gritty.

To do that, let’s start by looking at what is included in this book storyline wise. The intro one-shot covers the group coming together and the decision that splintered the group and led to the Hulk’s excommunication. This makes sense, as the group is integral to what was (at the time of its release) a huge contemporary event that had wide-reaching ramifications and tied into virtually every book being released at the time. Similarly, the series proper picks up with some background noise to the Kree/Skrull war, which ties into the finale of the series as well. This too makes sense, as both provide some interesting context for the then forthcoming Secret Invasion event. So far so good.

It’s the other stories that don’t really resonate that much. One issue sees the Illuminati, the “most powerful minds in the Marvel Universe”, beat up Noh Varr for some reason, another has the team assembling the infinity gauntlet shortly after the event that bares its name, and yet another has the Illuminati seeking out the Beyonder to convince him to leave the universe alone. Now none of these issues are actually bad; they’re just curious inclusions that seem to be pretty random and (barring the gathering of the Infinity Gems) seems a bit beneath this assemblage of characters. 

Doctor Strange Xavier
A few panels from ‘New Avengers: Illuminati’ #4. Credit: Marvel

Art wise, the one-shot suffers from comparison to the miniseries. To be clear, I don’t have much negative to say about the pencils of Alex Maleev, barring his depiction of Namor as Christopher Meloni with Vegeta’s hairline. He’s great at milking pathos, depicts action well, and suitably supports the story being told by Bendis. If he were the sole artist on the book, I wouldn’t really have much to say about it. It’s just that the bulk of this trade is drawn by the (in my opinion) far superior Jim Cheung.

Cheung’s artwork is just so much more crisp, his action more dynamic, and the amount of complexity he can wring from the page just makes for a much stronger experience. Cheung wasn’t yet the superstar artist he would eventually become, but his work was already exquisite and a clear highlight of this series. The switch in colorist between the one-shot and mini makes for a similarly disappointing comparison, as Dave Stewart’s muted tones just don’t resonate as well as the vibrant hues of Justin Ponsor.

As for the writing, it’s Brian Michael Bendis so you likely know what you’re getting into. The overarching storylines are strong, and each character has their own unique voice, even if some feel a bit stock. Namor, for example, is just aggression with little else in the way of characterization. Still, it’s all entertaining and with a cast this size, no one character lingers too long at any point, so any flubs don’t last long.

As previously stated, this book is overall fine. It’s fun but forgettable, ties into major (and minor) events, but not in integral ways, and is well rendered enough to stand out on first read, but brisk enough that it won’t stay with you for long. In many ways it’s the ultimate model for event tie-ins. Does it provide fun background to an event? Sure. Do you need to read it to enjoy said event? Not even a little bit. 

Marvel's Illuminati
This is a fine book, and a decent companion piece to the Planet Hulk and Secret Empire storylines. Yet as a standalone piece, it feels like watching the Star Wars prequels. In theory you're excited to learn more about something you already enjoyed, but in practice it's kind of low stakes and bland. Nothing here is done badly, it's just that the concept only allows these issues to be background to better things.
Reader Rating1 Votes
As a companion piece for Planet Hulk/World War Hulk and Secret Invasion, it's some pretty interesting background.
Jim Cheung's artwork is always a treat.
Bendis does great with character voice, with the team discussing their romantic challenges being a particularly fun section.
Much of the story provides background for events that don't stand out.
Alex Maleev's take on Namor is more widow's peak than man.
Buy Now

Join the AIPT Patreon

Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:

  • ❌ Remove all ads on the website
  • 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
  • 📗 Access to our monthly book club
  • 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
  • 💥 And more!
Sign up today

In Case You Missed It

Marvel Preview: Spider-Woman #6 Marvel Preview: Spider-Woman #6

Marvel Preview: Spider-Woman #6

Comic Books

Marvel reveals details for new X-Men series 'NYX' #1 Marvel reveals details for new X-Men series 'NYX' #1

Marvel reveals details for new X-Men series ‘NYX’ #1

Comic Books

Marvel sheds light on Jed MacKay and Ryan Stegman's 'X-Men' #1 Marvel sheds light on Jed MacKay and Ryan Stegman's 'X-Men' #1

Marvel sheds light on Jed MacKay and Ryan Stegman’s ‘X-Men’ #1

Comic Books

8 8

DC Preview: Wonder Woman #8


Newsletter Signup