Thursday, 1 December 2016
The New Avengers: Illuminati Review (Brian Michael Bendis, Jim Cheung)
Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, Professor X, Mister Fantastic, Namor the Sub-Mariner and Iron Man are the Illuminati, a secret group that shapes the superhero world, in theory for the better, behind the scenes. But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions…
Brian Bendis and Jim Cheung’s New Avengers: Illuminati is an ok comic. It’s a collection of five short stories some of which are better than others.
The book opens and closes with Skrull episodes that are Secret Invasion lead-ins. The first issue gives some background on the Skrulls’ decision to invade and seeing the Illuminati escape the Skrulls’ torture camp was really entertaining. However, having recently read Secret Invasion, I had a hard time giving a fig about the closing issue considering how bad that event turned out to be. Not a whole lot happens in it either: the team battles a Super-Skrull - meh.
I would’ve liked to have seen some background on the group’s formation because we don’t get any of that here. Why create this clandestine group and why them - if the qualification is intelligence like it seems to be with Richards and Stark, why not Hank Pym or Beast, why limit it to just six? The moral question is never really addressed either: what gives them the right to make these decisions and who pays when these decisions - that affect BILLIONS of lives - backfires?
Bendis addresses man’s fallibility in the Infinity Gauntlet issue when it looks like Reed Richards is about to go full Gollum with the Gauntlet, as well as the nature of absolute power in the Beyonder issue, but his treatment feels shallow and rushed. A more cerebral writer like Grant Morrison would’ve excelled at this type of story which the more populist-minded popcorn entertainment Bendis can’t quite pull it off.
Jim Cheung’s art is good throughout and at least half the stories were entertaining enough: escaping the Skrulls, the Infinity Gems quest and meeting the Beyonder, and even having the characters just sit around and talk about their other halves is exactly the kind of thing Bendis does so well (and can overindulge in). But the Noh-Varr issue did nothing for me nor did the Secret Invasion prologue (which you don’t really need to read as the dead Elektra Skrull appears again in the full event anyway).
Props to Bendis for creating this team/concept which, though underdeveloped here, is solid. But I recommend Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers, particularly the first volume, for a much better Illuminati comic that also really does them justice. Hickman raises the stakes enormously and shows readers just how powerful this small group really is and the scale that they operate on, as well as the impact of their decisions. Bendis’ New Avengers: Illuminati though is by no means a bad comic and serves as a decent jumping on point for this group.