Or – “What Happens When The Smartest Heroes Are Neither Smart Nor Heroic…”


The first two issues of The Illuminati miniseries can be boiled down pretty succinctly by saying this: Overconfidence and arrogance nearly costs them all their lives. In the first issue, it’s a miscalculation as to the competence of the Skrull Empire, in the second, they overestimate their own ability to resist the phenomenal cosmic power of the Infinity Gems. Every time we see this grouping, they have done something incredibly stupid because they presume to be smarter than everyone else on the planet, and that hubris will, apparently, continue forever…


Previously on Illuminati: Bad ideas abound. The team gets together in the wake of the Kree-Skrull war, nearly gets themselves all killed and causes the Skrulls to declare a blood feud on their planet. An experiment to capture and control the powers of the Infinity Gems nearly goes pear-shaped when Reed Richards almost succumbs to the power. The Illuminati actually broke up BEFORE this miniseries, at the dawn of the Civil War (so sick of typing THAT phrase) when The Iron Dictator decided to try and convince them all that they needed to back the Superhuman Registration Act because, apparently, it might affect his profit margin. This issue begins soon after the first Secret Wars, during which an alien called the Beyonder (who has, BEFORE this volume, had no fewer than FOUR origins of which I’m aware) gathered heroes and villains from Earth to fight for his pleasure. Professor Xavier was there, and he reports to his fellow manipulators what he saw:


It’s important that Wolverine dominate the entire page, after all, because… oh, wait. Wolverine isn’t a character in this book. I suppose there’s NO reason for Wolverine to dominate the whole page. And as for “One psychic command, and I could have made every ONE of them go to sleep”? That sort of high-handed arrogant B.S. is what makes me hate Brian Bendis writing Marvel’s heroes. Certainly, it’s an interesting take on the character, but I don’t want to read about a bastard and his bastard friends secretly engaging their plans of bastardry behind the backs of the heroes of the world. That’s why I have ’24’ on Monday nights. But during the conflict that he could have stopped (Really he could! That’s not just hyperbolic crap like the time he thought he could end the threat of the Skrulls or that he could control the mind gem!) Charlie X got a good look into the mind of the Beyonder, and found something startling.


Well, of COURSE he is! He’s certainly not the sum total of Molecule Man’s real powers, or a Cosmic Cube, or an alternate dimension given form. He’s just some schmuck with awesome abilities that just showed up! Because it’s more realistic that way. It’s been a while since I touched on my “Realism in Comics” rant, so buckle up, Spoilerites. I don’t know about you guys, but Reality (as I perceive it) is made up of equal parts boredom, tedium, drama, exhilaration, and goofiness. “Dark and brooding” doesn’t mean more realistic any more than “humorous and fun” means unrealistic. Marvel editorial apparently believes that in order for a book to be real, you have to take all the wonder and unexpected out of it, and just chronicle the dark and depressing lives of a group of people who slowly become less and less interesting and less and less unique. There are now officially two classes of people in the Marvel Universe: The underdogs, and the sonsabitches (also known as “New Avengers” and “Mighty Avengers.”) Sadly, this title is populated by the people Bendis deems sonsabitches, and so, it’s really unpleasant (and more than a little insulting) to read. The assembled Machiavellian jerks decide to seek out and confront the god-like power of the Beyonder, because they’re confident that they’re soooo clever… Of course, they have to go to find him riding in a tangible reminder that they’re all just Bozos on The Bus.


This scene bothers me because it seems to imply that Reed and Tony wouldn’t be as successful without having stolen from the Skrull technologies in the spaceship. It lessens them both, making them into scavengers who profiteer from someone else’s property to make themselves look more impressive. Stark is, by the way, at this point in time a drunkard, living in an abandoned building with a pregnant wino, so he won’t be participating in the latest Illuminati fiasco. After several hours in space, the Professor and the good Doctor find themselves receiving painful sensations from an asteroid belt, in which they find a perfect replica of the island of Manhattan. Apparently, at least PART of the events of Secret Wars II (which IS and HAS BEEN in continuity) now took place here, and NOT in the “realistic” Marvel Universe.


I know Reed can stretch, but doesn’t it look like his eyes are about to pop out of his head there? This scene is one that crossed over Spider-Man and Power Man/Iron Fist in the early issues of Secret Wars too, where The Beyonder transformed the Heroes for Hire building into gold (after Luke explained the long-outdated ‘gold standard’ for currency.) Being essentially godlike, The Beyonder quickly recognizes the immense powers of Professor X and Doctor Strange and teleports to see them. “You have your own molecules? Did I surprise myself and make myself forget I surprised myself?” The Illuminati stand before him, as the Beyonder looks at Black Bolt, and suddenly bows. “Lord Boltagon!” he cries, remembering his newly-fabricated true past. So, having gotten the attention of the nigh-omnipotent being, what is the I-Team’s plan to deal with him? Apparently, they’re going to give him what for, in a firm and manly tone of voice.

You can almost hear Peter Venkman giggling… (“Get her? THAT’S your plan?”) Ol’ Yondie makes the relatively valid point that all of them are interfering in the history of humanity at their whims as well, but the Mighty Hubris Avengers aren’t having any of it. Beyonder then draws upon their fantasies, to create the world that they want for themselves! Doctor Strange, hilariously, wakes up in bed between two women (One is Clea, the other looks like Victoria somebody or other that he used to date) and hears the Beyonder crowing outside. Even though Iron Man isn’t present, apparently somebody thinks that having Iron Dictators of all shapes and sizes floating around like Sentinels would be a GREAT idea. One presumes that thought didn’t come from Charles Xavier.


Oh, good, the Atlanteans are here to take over the world! Hooray! Beyonder babbles about the wonders he can achieve, all in the name of his glorious king, Black Bolt, and how the world can truly be good and wondrous again. Having seen what good their arrogance has done them, Namor and Black Bolt have to choose a new tack. They decide… to do the exact same damn thing that didn’t work a minute ago, only louder. “Hmm! This milk is sour! Better try again tomorrow!” The irony of having the “Ugly American Speak Louder and Slower Until They Understand You” theory coming from two men from totally alien cultures is funny, in a twisted sort of “this characterization doesn’t work at all” sort of way.


This also reminds me of the tack that Jim Kirk seemed to take on a biweekly basis when faced with unusual new worlds. “You… don’t underSTAND! We… are HUMAN!” Then, he secretly orders Spock to shoot to kill while nailing the best looking women. The Beyonder is essentially tricked into calculating the value of pi to the final place, as his body turns to dust, and starts to blow away, and his entire island paradise starts to crumble. The assembled heroes rush back to their stolen spaceship, and hightail it out of Dodge. Rather than focus on the fact that they just sent a nigh-omnipotent being off to his own devices, having given him a reason to get even with them, they decide to turn upon one another.


Which begs the question: how are we to believe this origin is any more real than the previous ones? If the king doesn’t recall him ever having existed, can we really buy for a second that he’s really a teenage mutant ninja inhuman? By the way, Namor’s “Not today…” is the line of the issue, by a wide margin, though there really isn’t a lot of competition. There’s much shouting, and a whole soliloquy that makes Professor X a lot less heroic-seeming than he’s been in the past, and that’s really about it.

The whole issue, indeed, the whole SERIES, comes across as self-indulgent to me. It feels like a question of a writer wanting to put their spin on stories that have ALREADY been told, to make the characters better fit their new conception of them… “No, Reed and Tony have ALWAYS been this way! See these stories which we just made up? They PROVE it!” The very existence of the Illuminati is steeped in dishonesty and this issue especially feels mean-spirited. The Beyonder is the most sympathetic character in the book, even in his innocent ignorance, as he just wants to help people fullfill the dreams they keep hidden inside. The Illuminati, on the other hand, represent the status quo even more than your usual superhero fantasy: Five or six men of power, working behind the backs of the idealists like Hawkeye, Cyclops, and Captain America, deciding of their own accord how the entire community of the supernature is allowed to advance. Frankly, it’s a hateful concept, with an underlying distrust of anyone with authority or referent power, and a stronger-than-usual vibe of ‘Adolescent Power Fantasy.’ “Y’know what I would have done to those dirty Skrulls?” I didn’t enjoy this issue at all, it confused the issue of the Beyonder’s convoluted origins even more, and seems to have made the head-spinning claim that SOME (but not all) of the events of Secret Wars II weren’t actually genuine events at all. In a word, this issue was dreadful, earning 1 star out of 5 for the sheer bald-faced (no Professor X pun intended) contemptuousness of it all. For the first time in a long time, I’m rooting for another retcon.



About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. Sean Curley on

    The other woman in Strange’s pimp-fantasy is the Scarlet Witch (you can see her tiara-thing on the nightstand).

    I’ve enjoyed this series a lot so far, although this issue isn’t as good as the first two. The first two played fairly lightly with continuity (using the Illuminati as a clean-up crew post-old-story); this one is a lot more difficult to parse.

    Firstly, though, I’m pretty sure we aren’t meant to take this origin seriously. It’s never seriously examined; next, the issue spends a lot of time establishing the Beyonder as setting up elaborate games; and, as you note, it is repeatedly emphasized that Black Bolt has no memory of him. I don’t think this is meant to be anything other than an elaborate game on the part of the Beyonder.

    Bendis (and Reed, I suppose) writes one of my favourite takes on Namor.

  2. The fact that Secret Wars II didn’t occur in this issue lends a lot of credence to the theory that the Beyonder could be screwing with the Illuminati. (BTW, does anyone know why they’re called the “ilumunati” in the first place?) Didn’t SW II happen in Marvel continuity? Or did the “we” all imagine it like we’re supposed to buy that at one point The Sentry and all memories of him were wiped from Marvel history. Ugh. Typing that sentence gave me a headache…

  3. Matthew Peterson on

    The fact that Secret Wars II didn’t occur in this issue lends a lot of credence to the theory that the Beyonder could be screwing with the Illuminati. (BTW, does anyone know why they’re called the “ilumunati” in the first place?)

    Because somebody at Marvel thinks it’s clever?

  4. No, no, no. He’s a mutant Inhuman from the future. Hence the bit he’s surprised Lord Boltagon (god, I hate the Marvel staffer who thought they needed real names and came up with them only after his lobotomy) is still alive.

    And why would Bendis and Reed only partially retcon out some events of Secret Wars 2? Could they have some upcoming plan where this info will fuel another story?

  5. Because none of you asked…straight from the dictionary!

    il·lu·mi·na·ti /ɪˌluməˈnɑti, -ˈneɪtaɪ/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[i-loo-muh-nah-tee, -ney-tahy] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    –plural noun, singular -to /-toʊ/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[-toh] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation. 1. persons possessing, or claiming to possess, superior enlightenment.
    2. (initial capital letter) a name given to different religious societies or sects because of their claim to superior enlightenment.

    [Origin: 1590–1600;

  6. Jeremy Taylor on

    I think it would be easier for everyone who actually cares about continuity to simply dismiss this series as even being canon. I got fed up with Bendis and his toady Reed after the spiderwoman origin miniseries and promptly stopped buying any book either one of them writes. Bendis just thinks he can change whatever he wants to fit his mold, arrogantly disregarding past writers stories. Of course the EIC at Marvel will let him do it. He doesnt care either. It makes you wish that Shooter was the EIC again. He set things straight with the creators and had a spine to boot! So, to me, anything written by these clowns is considered to be in the Bendis-verse, not Earth 616.

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