When the Illuminati first appeared in the Marvel film Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, it was difficult to fully appreciate their significance, especially in the wake of their battle against an out-of-control Scarlet Witch.
Fortunately, this mysterious group has a long comics history, and that has given us all the info we need to know about both who they are and why they’re important. Time to get comfortable inside your own personal Cerebro helmet, because we’re about to explain everything you need to know about the Illuminati across various Marvel media.
The Illuminati were first introduced in the Marvel comic The New Avengers #7
The Illuminati were first introduced in the underrated Marvel comic The New Avengers #7, written by Brian Michael Bendis. The exact purpose and nature of this group wasn’t immediately clear, but readers could tell the Illuminati had a lot of pull as they began questioning fellow member Iron Man about restarting the Avengers.
Through a one-shot leading up to the original Civil War event and their own short series and beyond, we learned more about the group’s history and purpose.
Originally, the Illuminati were formed when Marvel characters Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, Black Bolt, Professor Xavier, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange all convened to discuss the recent Kree-Skrull War.
Realizing they might have averted the war altogether by sharing information with one another, they created the equivalent of a superhero United Nations, with each of the members representing different factions. While the team was understandably worried about the potential for trust issues and other major problems, everyone reluctantly agreed to keep meeting in secret in order to discuss and ideally prevent various catastrophes.
The original Illuminati are Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, Black Bolt, Professor Xavier, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange
Unfortunately, the Illuminati occasionally caused catastrophes in the Marvel universe even as they worked to prevent them. For example, they almost immediately traveled to the Skrull homeworld to threaten the villainous aliens, but when the heroes are caught, these shifty villains get a chance to analyze their unique biology and technology.
As we find out in New Avengers #44, the Skrulls use the info they have gathered to become nearly undetectable, making them deadlier foes than ever before.
The Illuminati also became major foes of Marvel hero The Hulk: we find out in the Illuminati One-Shot that the group is responsible for the plan to shoot Hulk into space, causing him to land on an uninhabited world where he can finally have peace.
But Hulk lands on a different planet altogether, which is chronicled in the excellent Planet Hulk series. Following the tragic ending to that series, Hulk comes back and essentially takes on the entire world in the World War Hulk series, showing once more that the Illuminati might be doing more harm than good.
Before Hulk returns, though, we see the Illuminati take part in the lead-up to the original Civil War series: Tony Stark presents his controversial idea to make superheroes register with the government. When Mr. Fantastic embraces the idea and everyone else (minus an absent Professor Xavier) rejects it, the group ends up dissolving.
This didn’t keep the group from being targeted by the Hulk upon his later return, though the not-so-jolly green giant spares Namor because he was the single group member who opposed launching Hulk into space.
Still, the Illumanti’s past decisions would continue to haunt with controversial Marvel group: at one point, Reed Richards recruited everyone’s help in gathering the Infinity Gems, giving each member one of the stones when their plan to wish the gems out of existence failed.
The Illuminati reformed to take on The Hood in Avengers vol.4
Later, the group would reluctantly reform to deal with The Hood, who we see in Avengers vol. 4 #8 is seeking to complete the Infinity Gauntlet and regain the cosmic powers he once lost. The group foils his plan, and they once again each hold onto an Infinity Gem (including Captain America, since Black Bolt was no longer available).
Unfortunately, the Illuminati having the Gems didn’t wasn’t enough to combat one of the biggest Marvel catastrophes: different universes colliding with one another, leading to the loss of countless lives. Captain America tries to keep a colliding planet at bay with the Infinity Gauntlet in New Avengers vol. 3 #3, but he fails and the gems are destroyed.
Cap understandably objects when the Illuminati plan to build a weapon to preemptively destroy other colliding planets in order to save the Earth, and the controversial group wipes his memory.
All of this comes to a head in the lead-up to the Marvel event Secret Wars. Captain America’s memory is restored and he works with S.H.I.E.L.D. to track down and arrest the Illuminati, who are once more splintering after Namor decides to destroy a colliding planet after Black Panther loses his nerve.
The two can’t fully complete their grudge match, though, because they must soon face a godlike Doctor Doom in a bizarre Battleworld where the supervillain rules.
And the Illuminati arguably redeem themselves at least when members Mr. Fantastic and Black Panther, with the power of the restored Infinity Gems and Gauntlet, finally defeat Doom and restore the multiverse to order.