The latest Marvel movie, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness made Marvel lovers search for Marvel Illuminati, the 21st century’s one of the most fascinating comics supergroups. Here’s what you need to know before you—and Stephen Strange—meet them in the movie. However, before watching MoM, you may want to watch these to grasp the story better.
What is the Marvel Illuminati?
The first time the name was used was in Brian Bendis and Steve McNiven’s New Avengers no 7, which debuted in 2005, but retroactively established to have existed in the vast, convoluted history of Marvel’s superhero comics for years, it was meant to have been formed after the Kree-Skrull war, as depicted in the Avengers story arc of that name in Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Neal Adams, and John Buscema’s run in the early 1970s.
Outside of any other major super team in Marvel history, the Illuminati was formed by, of course, the Marvel universe’s brilliant egotist: Tony Stark, aka Iron Man.
In the aftermath of the Kree and Skrulls’ intergalactic conflict, Tony reached out to some of Marvel’s brightest heroes and made a proposition. Each of these individuals possessed information or could plan for the prospect of an extraterrestrial invasion of Earth by the Kree and Skrull. Because they could not act on that knowledge on their own or with their super-teams, all of the preparation could be for naught, so Tony realized “why not establish their own authority to govern superheroes as if they were citizens of a sovereign state?”
It’s an idea. And, to be honest, not a single one of the heroes that Tony reaches out to believes that creating a United Nations for Superheroes would be anything other than catastrophic.
Everyone rejects him, but instead of outright rejecting Tony’s plan, they decide to start a covert network to share information about potential threats to the planet on a regular basis, and devise strategies for dealing with those threats without involving the internal team politics of organizations like the Avengers. Except for one person: Black Panther, who simply looked at Tony’s crew and said, “I’m not getting involved in that drama,” anticipating that the clash of egos might be disastrous.
He was kind of right.
Who are the Marvel Illuminati members?
So that’s why it was set up, but who formed the Marvel Illuminati? Well, obviously the first is Tony Stark, Iron Man, who came up with the idea in the first place.
After the Kree-Skrull War, everyone else that Tony first contacted accepted to join: Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four and of course one of the smartest people in the Marvel Universe; Professor Charles Xavier, to represent the will of mutantkind; Namor, not just for his status as the king of the highly advanced Atlantean civilization but for his ruthlessness.
Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans, another royal representative but also crucial given the Inhumans’ connection to the Kree; and, of course, Doctor Stephen Strange, not just the Earth’s pre-eminent user of magic, but also a representation of the world of mystics among the group.
The third royal of the group, Black Panther, was intended to join the organization and represent Wakandan interests while also leveraging the country’s technological and surveillance advantages, he delivered a swift hard pass when offered. Finally, T’Challa joined the group at some point, alongside Beast (aka Henry “Hank” McCoy), who took Xavier’s place after he died during the events of Avengers vs. X-Men (he got better).
Only a few clear members of this team have been mentioned in the MCU Multiverse of Madness version. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo has been connected to the Marvel Illuminati in TV spots and trailers for the film, and we’ve heard and seen an appearance from Patrick Stewart as Professor X, complete with a very retro-looking X-Men: The Animated Series style hoverchair.
Hayley Atwell’s Captain Peggy Carter, an alternate universe version of the previous Agent of SHIELD who, in her reality, was given the supersoldier serum rather than Steve Rogers, has been rumored to be a possible member.
We met her in What If?, where she helped form her own pan-multiversal superteam with the help of the Watcher, but this would mark her live action debut. Finally, although only briefly seen in trailers, an alternate Captain Marvel, seemingly played by Maria Rambeau—and portrayed by Lashana Lynch—has been witnessed fighting Wanda Maximoff in the trailers, but her significance to the film is currently unclear, so it’s impossible to tell if she’s linked or not.
What does the Marvel Illuminati do?
So aside from information sharing, the Marvel Illuminati has attempted several times in the comics to use their intelligence, foresight, and a certain lack of moral fortitude to surreptitiously alter what they perceive as upcoming threats. Some of these backfired. The organization traveled to the Skrull planet shortly after the Kree-Skrull conflict came to an end in order to advise the species about dealing with Earth, but they were quickly captured and held for a time—eventually leading to the Skrulls invading Earth.
The Illuminati, given their secret nature, have had many links connected to seemingly unrelated events across their appearances in the comics beyond this.
It was the Marvel Illuminati who formed the plan to jettison a wild Hulk into outer space (and faced the consequences in part in the events of World War Hulk, when Bruce/Hulk returned to Earth), and Tony Stark first floated his plans for what would become Civil War’s Superhuman Registration Act to the council before it was eventually enacted. The Illuminati attempted to assist Reed Richards in gathering the six Infinity Gems in order to erase them out of existence, and when that plan failed, each member was assigned to safeguard one of the relics from being stolen.
Perhaps the most intriguing plotline for the Illuminati is also one with significant implications for the MCU’s current multiversal trend: In 2012, Jonathan Hickman’s run on New Avengers was the first time that the Illuminati became the main team of a Marvel comics series—now with Black Panther and Hank McCoy/Beast replacing Professor X as a precursor to the Marvel continuity. T’Challa made an offer to the Illuminati that would place the entire multiverse in peril. Realities were colliding with each other, wiping themselves out, and it wouldn’t be long before their own Earth was destroyed in an Incursion event.
The Illuminati initially wanted to protect Earth by recruiting Steve Rogers to use the reassembled Infinity Gauntlet to repel an impending Incursion but the Time Gem was destroyed in the process. Steve Rogers went “What the hell” about the whole endeavor of destroying entire worlds to save their own, only to have his mind wiped by a spell from Dr. Strange.
As the Incursion threat grew worse, the Illuminati splintered. Namor got ousted from the group for using an antimatter weapon to wipe out one reality when Black Panther refused to, eventually attempting to be a double agent with his own Incursion-preventing group of villains, the Cabal. After Steve’s memory of his brief involvement with the Marvel Illuminati was restored during the course of Original Sin, the Avengers tracked down the remaining members.
The Marvel Illuminati essentially dissolves when the Ultimate and 616 Marvel universes collided with each other in the events of Secret Wars, wiping out both realities, saving a handful of heroes, including Mister Fantastic and Black Panther, who rode out of the destruction in a life pod that transported them to the fractured multiversal reality known as Battleworld.
The Marvel Illuminati vanished into the ether following the universe’s rebirth to set the stage for Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” line-up, with no signs of reform since the events of Secret Wars outside of a knockoff group of supervillains led by Hood that included Black Ant, the Enchantress, Mad Thinker, Thunderball and Titania.
What could the Marvel Illuminati mean for the MCU?
The Marvel Illuminati, as some sort of dangerously unethical police force to prevent Multiversal disaster in the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe, could be quite intriguing. The concept of the multiverse has grown and exploded on a level never before seen in the MCU’s timeline, with series like Loki and What If?, as well as movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home. And now Multiverse of Madness, which sets the stage for not just their existence, but also the notion that their exponential growth and exposure to “prime” reality, which we’ve known about for over a decade of movies, might eventually be a hazard.
It’s natural to assume the Illuminati in the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be comprised of heroes from various alternate realities rather than the single “prime” on which the team was founded in the comics. It’s hard to say how much of the Marvel Illuminati will continue after Multiverse of Madness, though it’ll probably be some sort of team— and maybe an idea—that we meet in the new Doctor Strange film, and not a new lingering facet of the ever-expanding MCU multiverse. We’ll see in the future.