New Avengers: Illuminati #1-- ADVANCE REVIEW


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New Avengers: Illuminati #1-- ADVANCE REVIEW


  • Words: Brian Michael Bendis
  • Art: Alex Maleev
  • Inks: Alex Maleev
  • Colors: Dave Stewart
  • Story Title: The New Avengers: Illuminati
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Mar 29, 2006

Whose side are you on? Whichever one you choose, the road to Hell, and Civil War, will be paved with good intentions.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time—Earth’s heroes barely escaped defeat in the Kree-Skrull War, but many lives might have been saved had they been able to deal with it sooner, if they’d been able to share information and act collectively. From this belief was born what’s come to be known as The Illuminati, a brain trust comprised of Iron Man, Reed Richards, Black Bolt, Doctor Strange, Namor, and Charles Xavier, and since the war they’ve met periodically to discuss major events in the Marvel Universe. Their alliance hasn’t been easy, but it’s survived...until now. Recent events have instilled fear, the result of which is a move by Congress—The Super Hero Registration Act. The fault lines have been evident for a while, but the stress of this new development tears the group apart. And the divisions won’t stop there.

My one reservation about Civil War concerned the premise. It was hard to believe that an act of Congress could result in Marvel’s heroes lining up like the Blue and the Gray. Indeed, in a recent Superman issue, a similar set of circumstances was settled in the space of a few panels by a stern lecture from the Man of Steel. However, after reading New Avengers: Illuminati, there’s no way that Golden Age Supes could diffuse this one with a few words and some finger-wagging. To his credit, Brian Michael Bendis does a great job of selling the high concept. It’s not merely the Super Hero Registration Act itself, but the events in Avengers Disassembled, New Avengers, House of M, Secret War, and Decimation, which together have created a climate of fear, instability, and uncertainty in which such a move by Congress is not only possible, but perhaps inevitable. And once the reader considers the consequences of both going along like Tony Stark and Reed Richards, and resisting like Doctor Strange and Namor, the stakes get jacked-up even higher and add to the drama of the dissolution of their group. If the last few years in the 616 Universe have been nothing short of pure hell with the Illuminati there at the wheel, what’s the world going to look like with them gone?

This is one issue in which Bendis’ dialogue chops and keen sense of characterization are hitting switches like a California low-rider. There’s a hum-dinger of a scrap between Iron Man and Namor, but the great bulk of the issue is talking heads, which Bendis makes as gripping, realistic, and chilling, as a political thriller. The formation and existence of The Illuminati itself isn’t a black-and-white issue, with Stark and Namor on two ends of the spectrum and the others falling somewhere in between with defined positions of their own, all, except Black Panther, eventually realizing the need for such a group. Everyone has some kernel of truth in their individual point of view, and Bendis skillfully lines each position up with the character holding it. Namor is preternaturally paranoid and suspicious, Stark just as pragmatic in the face of an inevitable future, Richards rational beyond belief, T’Challa both kingly and his own man, walking away before the whole thing starts, perhaps the most prescient of them all. The very nature of The Illuminati is problematic, though, as T’Challa states, and Bendis, as he did with Secret War, gives us a glimpse of the dark side of super powers and super responsibility, asking "How far is too far?" and, in a time when a story like this has more than a few points of real world relevance, leaving it up to the characters and the reader to take sides.

Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev have worked together so long and play to each other’s strengths so well that by now they’re like the lead singer and guitarist of an arena-touring super group. Maleev’s scratchy lines captures the tension in Bendis’ script, the vibe decidedly more suspenseful and like a thriller than one typically finds in a superhero comic. His naturalistic style gets past superhero trappings—the masks, capes, and armor—and drills down to the men themselves, whose emotions and judgment, despite their abilities and experiences, are still all too human. The artwork in much of this issue reminds me of 13 Days, a behind-the-scenes look at the Cuban Missile Crisis. Playing on that same vibe of high stakes and imperfect knowledge, Maleev shows us that heroes who have saved the world countless times before could just as easily be mere men in suits now, huddled away in hidden places, deciding the fate of millions with the same character flaws and imperfect judgment we all have. And in bringing this out, Maleev finds the true drama in this story.

Though I’m growing weary of huge, title-spanning events and the hype that comes with them, New Avengers: Illuminati has enough to get even the most cynical of comics readers excited about what will surely be a long and very hot summer in the Marvel Universe.

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