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The Past Was Close Behind: The First Appearance of the Illuminati?

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This feature spotlights moments, exchanges, etc. from older comics that take on a brand new light when read in concert with later comic books. Here is the archive of previous installments.

Today, based on a suggestion from reader Rosendo V., we take a look at what could be seen as an early appearance of the Illuminati…

We first meet the Illuminati, the secret group of heroes who decided to sort of control the Marvel superhero-verse from behind the scenes (through information sharing and stuff like that), in New Avengers #7 by Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven and Mark Morales…




In the New Avengers: Illuminati special right before Civil War (by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev), we see how the group was formed after the Kree-Skrull War…




Okay, so that’s the Illuminati. Now, on the next page, let’s take a look at what sure looks like an early print appearance of the group…

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That is cool. And I just read the collection of Contest of Champions that was put out last year, and I missed this.

I’m not too surprised. When the Illuminati were revealed, my reaction was, “Of course these guys get together sometimes.”

Looking at that panel, it’s

Reed: Biggest scientist in the Marvel U.
Tony: Biggest Engineer/Tycoon in the Marvel U.
Xavier: Leader of the mutants
Dr. Strange: Sorcerer Supreme

It’s just natural to put them together.

The Illuminati thing is still kind of…whatever to my mind. The point of it seems to be that they overreach themselves and repeatedly screw up the whole “proactive threat management” thing, which is a fine story beat to use once or twice. But writers keep coming back to it, well after some of the characters are supposed to have “learned their lesson.”

Having them keep the lines of communication open makes sense. Having them repeatedly try all kinds of secret, unaccountable-to-others shenanigans that blow up in their faces is…well, it’s the argument that ends with Xavier disgraced and dead, Strange losing his Sorcerer Supreme title and his soul, Tony having to leave his own company, and Reed off in the margins of the multiverse.

As with the Guardians in the Green Lantern books, the theme seems to be that Silver Age patricians are, by 21st century standards, arrogant, manipulative creeps. It’s a fine point to make, but afterwards you really do have to either have the characters learn and grow or just write them out. And lo and behold….

What Omar said.

Plus while it’s logical for Strange to be in the group,neither Tony nor Reed seem to take magic seriously enough that they’d invite him in.

The Illuminati are one of several manifestations of the changed Zeistgeist as reflected on typical storylines.

Back in the 1960s it was taken for granted that the X-Men would have and follow the instructions from a FBI contact.

Back in the 1970s, that the Avengers and Fantastic Four would have shared databases and mutual access to their respective headquarters.

In the 1990s, it was taken for granted that superheroes they would attempt to kill as many foes as they could manage to.

In the 2000s and 2010s, it is taken for granted that they will perceive themselves as the natural leaders of everyone else and that of course they will kill their foes and conspire against their own allies.

I guess it opens new stories to the characters, but at this point they are not really the same characters in any meaningful sense.

I’m not claiming to be the first or only reader to make the connection between that page of Contest of Champions and the Illuminati, but I DID tweet this exact thing back in October of last year (tho was aware of it several years even before THAT.)

Check out @SanctumBlog’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/SanctumBlog/status/654104653542629376?s=01

So four men, all established as heterosexuals, choose to chat and disregard the barely clad Shanna the she-devil. Obvously they have a hidden agenda.

Wasn’t Namor still wearing his scaly green hot pants around the time of the Kree-Skrull war? Why is he wearing his Disco Vest in the retcon?

@InnerCircle Notice how Stark is not saying anything? Probably distracted….

“In this issue… Sitting around a table and talking ACTION in the mighty Marvel manner!”

If there is a true champion of bad and unnecessary Bendis retcons … then may I present to you Ladies and Gentleman: the Illuminati.

In that first Contest splash, did Falcon just wake up, or is he crying?

Based on the panels shown, I’m mostly intrigued by the side conversation with Luke Cage, Black Panther, Falcon, Dr. Voodoo, and … anonymous bald guy. Hmm….

Thanks guys, I thought you forgot about my suggestion.

@Tracer Bullet-The final issue of the Kree Skrull War, Avengers 97, was dated 3/72. Namor got his new costume in Sub-Mariner 67, dated 11/73. The Illuminati story takes place a few days after the Kree Skrull War ended. Even with the sliding timeline, 20 months becoming a few days is a bit much. OTOH, Xavier seems to be aware of Krakoa in this story, and he didn’t appear until 1975.

Talisman – an Australian created for the contest – rarely seen since

Yeah I saw that too. Back then it was a clever way of showing off their “diversity”, if they did it nowadays people would scream racism.

Hyperstyles— the bald guy is Talisman, an Australian Aboriginal hero with vaguely defined “Dreamtime” powers. One of several international heroes made up for the Contest.

Anonymous bald guy is Talisman, one of several characters created for Contest of Champions because they needed more international heroes.

Ah, Dylan beat me to it.

I think I tried to comment about Talisman just before Dylan … I don’t know if it didn’t appear because my dodgy connection
or if it was otherwise blocked as anonymous as I had forgotten to add my name and address following a change in browser

I believe the image of Falcon was supposed to indicate that he did not believe what he was seeing, wanted to be sure he wasn’t dreaming, etc.
(Though he should be used to this sort of thing by this point in his Superhero career)

“So four men, all established as heterosexuals, choose to chat and disregard the barely clad Shanna the she-devil. Obvously they have a hidden agenda.”

Perhaps because they are being portrayed a adults dealing with serious matters rather than as cosplayers at comic-con?

In Avengers #88 (cover date May 1971), Richards and Xavier (and an absentee Stark, though his name is mentioned), under the watchful eye of Gen. Ross, have devised a means to “contain” the Hulk with plans to later free Banner from his curse. This sort of thing never works out, of course, and hijinks ensued. I’ve long taken this as the first tentative appearance of what would become The Illuminati; given what the group later did to the Hulk, I’d say that the 1971 gathering underscores their future interaction. In fact, I sent Brian a scan of the panels in question a few years ago but what can you do when your inbox gets 50,000 messages/day?

Like many of Bendis’ basic ideas, The Illuminati was an interesting one. More than any other of his ideas, however, it ran up against long established continuity and quickly became very silly. When they confronted the Inhuman Mutant Beyonder I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Graham Chapman’s colonel step in and put a stop to it. I bought that mini principally for the art.

Based on this panel, I think it would be hilarious to do a version of the Illumaniti that included Shanna the She-Devil and Mockingbird. Shanna’s the Queen of the Savage Land and Mockingbird could represent SHIELD.

Also, look at the shadow between Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man:

Clearly, Batman is a member of the Illumaniti.

Mark J. Hayman: “When they confronted the Inhuman Mutant Beyonder I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Graham Chapman’s colonel step in and put a stop to it.”

Now you made me cry. How about John Cleese’s colonel? “Have you confused your readers recently?”

When you’re configuring your system.ini, don’t forget to set

Also, look at the shadow between Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man:

Clearly, Batman is a member of the Illumaniti.

Ha! Sadly, I suspect it’s Torpedo.

buttler- It’s actually Batman disguised as Torpedo. He is a master of disguise, after all.

This sort of thing is bound to happen; considering how many back-issues exist, and all of the nuances that can be re-interpreted when isolated and compared to modern context. Like the panel in Uncanny X-men#1 from 1963 where Iceman is notably, verbally, the only X-man who is not interested in Jean Grey when she arrives at the mansion, lol.

Inner Circle –

Notice that Iron Man is not talking, and is looking in Shanna’s direction. The other three are all gay, though.

Fraser –

I think this thing about Reed and Tony not respecting magic is a modern retcon. And even then, more applied to Tony than to Reed. Reed used to not be shy about contacting Dr. Strange when something magical was going on.

IRON MAN: I just found our fifth Illuminate – rules a mythical land, never wears more than a swimsuit, easy on the eyes – you guys know what I’m saying.”

(Turns up at first meeting)

IRON MAN: What the heck is Namor do… Damn it guys! Did you at least get Black Widow or Black Cat like I asked?

@Rene: Next you’ll be telling me that Tony Stark didn’t used to go on and on about being a “futurist”!

To be fair, Shanna appears to be topless in that panel. That would presumably draw at least a little attention from the people standing near her.

thanks for the heads-up on Talisman, good people. Now I’m eager for that character to show up again. He can be revamped and upgraded like Blade.

Isn’t the Unspoken another mutated Inhuman?

And on the panel above, I count SEVENTEEN male heroes without a single female. Don’t tell me Shanna can go around topless and everybody is supposed to behave in a strictly professional manner. (Mockingbird seems to turn away in disgust: “That b**ch…”)

Mockingbird’s also thinking of whipping her pair out of her costume.

You know, her pair of battle staves. In case she needs to defend herself.

No Rene, Tony was shown referring to Dr. Strange’s “repulsor rays” in an early Bronze Age Avengers because he didn’t buy the magic angle. Reed you may be right about.

Talisman was one of the better new heroes from CoC.

I always laughed when they had characters like Tony be surprised about stuff like magic when they live in a world with people like Strange running around. Or aliens. There are times where the characters are shocked when they see something alien related. tho that’s not AS common I remember there was a scene in iron man around 238 (v1 obviously lol) and Tony and Rhody were talking about the whole subplot of Tony making the orbiting satellite for international scientists to work on and Tony mentioned that he was making the satellite in hopes of making first contact with any alien life that might be out there. So it’s hilarious when the writers have characters not believe or not know about certain things that are common in their world like magic or aliens or whatever. And the newer suit on Namor isn’t the only off thing about that Illuninatti special. Iron Man has the rivet helmet he had before settling into the classic helmet he would have been wearing during the time.

Fraser –

Yeah? The only thing I remember, pre-Bendis, is Kurt Busiek in the Avengers with Captain America thinking to himself that Iron Man “hates” magic, not that he doesn’t believe in it. I mean, the dude travels to Camelot and meets Merlin and Morgan Le Fey in a classic storyline. Though I don’t remember that story too well, I don’t remember if Tony makes himself believe that Merlin is an early mutant or something.

The horse got sick with Disassembled, died with Civil War, and beaten by the Illuminati concept. These are simply not the same characters that existed before Bendis came along.

I always liked the fact that Hank Pym’s been consistently portrayed as the scientist-type who’s most comfortable with the idea of magic. (Okay, he wasn’t portrayed that way in his old TALES TO ASTONISH series, but it’s been pretty consistent since then.) He generally just accepts it, and has no trouble applying scientific principles to magic when necessary.

Frankly, the whole idea of the “science” versus “magic” dichotomy never made sense to me, in a universe where magic exists. Science isn’t a type of force, or an aspect of nature; it’s a system of learning about the world. In a world where magic exists (however you define “magic”), the scientific method should apply to magic just as well as to anything else- unless magic is some random, irreproducible process, in which case you wouldn’t have sorcerers and mages who could consistently use it the way they want to.

I absolutely agree with you Other Chris. I’ve been saying that for years.

@Alaric Shapli

“…the whole idea of the “science” versus “magic” dichotomy never made sense to me, in a universe where magic exists. (etc.)”

In Planetary, Warren Ellis has the Drummer (who “sees” information, including biological information) describe magic as “the cheat codes of the universe” which is as elegant an explanation as I’ve encountered. It’s simply a different way of manipulating energy; without “instrumentality” as Forbidden Planet would have described it.

At this point, Pym is essentially a part of the greater scheme of things that includes magic, since he was elevated to “Scientist Supreme” some years back. Even going back to Tales to Astonish, which is to say pre-Roy Thomas, he was always slightly bent (I mean, the whole talking to ants things for starters), and possessed that slightly insane quality inherent in true genius. Any truly negative character traits are entirely on Jim Shooter, not Henry Pym. If only Hickman could’ve ret-conned that idiocy away .

Why is no one talking about what Iron Man said? He says “We knew these alien races have been at war with each other for – forever”.

No, they didn’t. The Avengers found out the Kree and the Skrulls were at war during the Kree/Skrull war story. Wasn’t that one of the main points on the story itself?


What you have there, sir, is an object lesson in why the writer of those words catches so much flak from people who care in the least about continuity or characterization or simple logic. No one’s “talking about” it because it’s merely another tick on a very, very long list.

Reed Richards is the guy that hired a witch to be the nanny and protector of his firstborn son. He has (or had, in the classic Lee-Kirby stories) an awareness of and a respect for magic and the occult. I can see Tony as more of the hard-nosed materialist, though.

Mark J. Hayman –

I have respect for writers who know the continuity and disregard it on purpose because they have a great story to tell (Tim Truman in Hawkman, for instance), or even for writers who clearly don’t know the continuity in detail but are brilliant enough so that you don’t care (Morrison’s JLA). But Bendis takes ignorance of continuity to a new level AND his stories are not half as clever as he seems to think they are, at least since Alias ended.

Len Kaminski tended to plat up Tony’s dislike of magic as well; it was the basis of Kaminski’s huge revamp of the Mandarin (that didn’t stick).

Alaric, science as we now define it doesn’t mesh well with magic. Science is impersonal, magic (in the words of Jim Butcher) cares about who uses it (Dormammu and Satannish,for instance, chose who they bestow powers on). Magically creating light takes skill; any idiot can turn on a lightbulb (in the words of Lisa Goldstein).

And I don’t think it’s totally crazy to be skeptical, even in the DC or MU. It’s true there’s real magic, but there are also powers that are science-based but fake magic (e.g. the mutant Merlin impersonator). And there are complete frauds such as the countless phonies Dr. Thirteen busted in his own stories. So yeah, I can believe Tony being skeptical, possibly unreasonably so.

My favorite example of bad skepticism was a Brave and Bold story where Batman declares that a man can’t come back from the dead for revenge. I can believe in Batman being skeptical when encountering magic (he’s seen his share of fakes) but that’s an idiotic line from someone who’s teamed up with Deadman.

Fraser- I disagree. Science, as I said, is a process for learning about the universe. Light bulbs aren’t science, they were created using principles discovered BY science. Science is perfectly capable of discovering cases where it matters who’s doing whatever is being done- for example, discovering that the females of a given species will only mate with certain males.

I tend to agree with Alaric.

The thing is, people confuse science (a systematic enterprise to seek and organize knowledge), with reductionist materialism (a philosophical outlook that many – but not all – scientists subscribe to).

The Illuminati are Marvel’s equivalent to DC’s Identity Crisis: these people we’ve been admiring as heroes are actually manipulative and devious with an agenda thy don’t reveal even to their peers, let alone the rest of humanity.

Science is actually strongly biased against discovering magic. I presume scientists would apply the same principle they do to psi powers, “if there’s anyone it can be faked, then it isn’t scientifically valid.” Of course in the MU mages can do stuff it’s harder to fake–but then scientists have the tech to fake it better.

I agree with you science is a process, but one of the underlying principles is that the same rules work consistently: it doesn’t matter who does the experiment it works the same (assuming no error) every time. Magic doesn’t which would be prime evidence for declaring it false.

Fraser –

I agree with you, with only a few minor corrections (replacing “false” with “unproved”, for instance).

It kind of makes sense that Reed would develop a distaste for magic given all of the times Doom used magic against him.

But Reed hiring Agatha Harkness as their nanny is a compelling argument.

Opposing the Batman depiction in B&B was an old World’s Finest story where he instantly deduces his and Supes’ foe is a werewolf because his index finger is as long as his middle finger, an old superstition…

I think that panel is the one that keeps on giving. From topless Shanna, to randomly wandering Mockingbird. With all the little things and mistakes that have been “explained” by later writers, I’m surprised no one has jumped on that. The expanded Illuminati thing was a great idea. But then it couldn’t all be white men after Panther dropped out, so you KNOW they’re going to have to screw things up.

The magic discussion is a good tie in to the healing factor one in the other post. There are some powers and such that just completely defy science. But getting extra mass for anyone from the Hulk to Deadpool from another dimension is science (because Bruce Banner isn’t portrayed as a wizard), but getting some other energy from the Dark Dimension is magic. Unless Tony and Reed and all can explain super scientific powers that are basically only explainable by magic in everything but name only, not believing in “real” magic seems dumb.

I preferred the take that Reed and Tony types were uncomfortable around magic, because they saw it was unexplained science, and they didn’t like the idea of there being some science out there that they couldn’t yet figure out.

M-Wolverine –

I don’t claim to have a perfect memory for old FF stories, but I think Reed as uncomfortable around magic just isn’t there, even though it might make sense, as far as stereotypes about scientists in fiction go. Besides the whole thing about giving his son into the care of a witch, there are the times Reed interacted with Diablo, Mephisto, and Dr. Strange in the Byrne run (the one I remember best), and he isn’t really more uncomfortable than any other non-magical superhero would be. In fact, I remember him drawing some smart conclusions about astral forms and stuff.


March 1, 2016 at 11:44 pm

The concept of the Illuminati was a great one. Why NOT have an informal coalition of representatives from the various superhero/superhuman factions to coordinate knowledge and planetary defense?

The problem, of course, is that they proceeded to keep it a secret from friends and family, acted in stupid and short-sighted ways, screwed up just about every major task they attempted, and were jerks about it.

Rene, f it’s a “Comic Book Legend” it’s one that has worked it’s way into the general descriptions of Reed-

Despite the clear and obvious use of Magic in the Marvel Universe, Reed admits to having a poor understanding of magic. Often calling it a form of other dimensional science he doesn’t understand…”yet”


However, this intelligence can be a handicap in his dealings with magic, as it required an intense lesson from Doctor Strange and facing the threat of his son being trapped in Hell for Reed to fully acknowledge that the key to using magic was to accept that he would never understand it.


And Cap was full of righteous fury against the Illuminati and Tony in particular until they gave him an Infinity Gem and suddenly it was OK, teach me the handshake.

Hmm. I think Cap was still not ok with the Illuminati even once he became a member, no? That was the start of Hickman’s New Avengers, and Cap got the Infinity Gem, but was still not comfortable with the idea of the group. And then once the Gem failed with the one incursion, he was still upset, so they brain wiped him. If I’m remembering it all correctly.

There is an even earlier meeting of the illuminati in the middle of “heart of the atom” story lines in Incedible Hulk where Reed, Xavier, and Stark (off panel) creating a machine to subdue the hulk.

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