New Avengers: Illuminati

By Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed, Jim Cheung & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2436-8

The remodeling of the Avengers franchise continued and expanded with this tale (originally released as the five part miniseries New Avengers: Illuminati) wherein the intellectual and factional powerhouses of the Marvel Universe form a clandestine cabal to guide and dictate the future of the world.

Writers Bendis and Reed spin back to the end of the Kree-Skrull War (relatively recent in story-terms but the epic from Avengers #89-97 was first published in 1971-1972) as a battle between intergalactic rivals nearly destroyed our world. And here the story begins with Charles Xavier of the mutant X-Men, Black Bolt of the Inhumans, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Iron Man of the Avengers, the mystic Doctor Strange and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four materialize in the Skrull throne room to threaten the recently defeated emperor, warning him that no further attacks on Earth would be tolerated.

The confrontation leads to massive bloodshed (an attitudinal and moral shift that would appal older fans) before the earthlings are captured and intensively “studied” by the shape-shifting aliens. Although the humans eventually escape back to Earth the damage has been done; the Skrulls will never rest until our world is theirs and now they have a keen understanding of all types of Terran super-humanity…

Safe on Earth the elite star-chamber of champions resolve to meet whenever necessity dictates: the next recorded incidence being after the Thanos Quest/Infinity Gauntlet affair (1991 for us) as the heroes brave overwhelming terror and temptation whilst trying to put six gems which can control all of time, space and reality beyond harms reach. The third mission deals with the secret origin and final fate of the Beyonder (Secret Wars I and II – 1984-1986) whilst the fourth tale is a more intimate exploration as this disparate group of older men discuss love and loss whilst deciding the fate of Kree invader Marvel Boy who had declared open war against all of humanity.

The final chapter leads into and kicks off the publishing event Secret Invasion (2008). The cabal fragments when Iron Man reveals that Skrulls have replaced an unknown number of Earth’s super-humans as a direct result of their failed first mission. The shape-changing invaders are not only undetectable even to Professor X’s telepathy but they have also duplicated all the unique powers of their long-time adversaries…

The habit of strip-mining and in-filling the history of Marvel’s universe has had some high and low points in the past, but I’m happy to say this intriguing idea is one of the better ones, however a fairly good knowledge of the referenced material is predicated so if you’re a bit of a newbie, best be prepared for some confusing moments. For older fans, myself among them, the real shock is the casual abandonment of such abiding principles as “all life is sacred”: oddly, I always thought this was daft and impractical as a young reader, but seeing the obverse operating is disquieting: aren’t your heroes supposed to be better than you?

Still, this is a cracking good read, wonderfully illustrated by Jim Cheung with inkers Mark Morales, John Dell and David Meikis; cohesive enough that it can be read independently and satisfactorily without further reference to the greater Secret Invasion saga.

© 2007, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. Marvel Publishing, Inc., a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.