Published May 18, 2022

Who Are the Illuminati?

Go behind the curtain on the secret team that has guided, and started, key events in the Marvel Universe!

The "Illuminati": a secret organization comprised of several of the world's most powerful heroes: Sorcerer Supreme Doctor StrangeBlack Bolt, King of the InhumansCharles Xavier, founder of the X-Men and mutant rights activist; Reed Richards, founding member of the Fantastic FourNamor the Sub-Mariner, King of Atlantis; and Iron Man (Anthony Stark), founding member of the Avengers. These six men worked together for an unspecified amount of time to mold and shape the status of the superhuman world and the world around it.

Cover to NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI (2006) #3.
Cover to NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI (2006) #3.

NEW AVENGERS (2004) #7 revealed to comic book readers that the Marvel Universe had been guided by the Illuminati’s previously unseen hands. Separate in their own right, this secret society came together to represent major heroic factions and teams. And, under alliance, they believed that they could better pool their resources in order to protect the Earth from both planetary threats and dangers from beyond.

The Illuminati came together with the best of intentions. They truly wanted to make the world a better place. But through their actions and even their hubris, greater threats emerged that tore the group apart. Sometimes, the Illuminati were even at each other's throats. That’s why it ultimately couldn’t last. They had to make the hard choices about whether their world would survive, or if countless other worlds would cease to exist.

Thanks to the power of Marvel Unlimited, there is a vast collection of issues that shows the very clear path that the Illuminati took from the beginning to their end. And it wasn’t always a happy story.


It turns out that the Illuminati had been at work for a while. In the aftermath to the original Kree/Skrull War, the newly formed Illuminati journeyed to the Skrull home world in NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI (2006) #1. Iron Man, Black Bolt, Reed Richards, Professor Xavier, Doctor Strange, and Namor made a united front to convince the Skrulls that they should never attack the Earth again. Unfortunately, this stunt quickly backfired on the Illuminati, and they were all captured and experimented upon. Despite the Illuminati’s subsequent escape, the Skrulls used what they learned to devise new ways of hiding their true selves from humanity’s technology. This led to the unfortunate events of SECRET INVASION, and the (near) total domination of the Earth.

The Illuminati arrive on the Skrull home world.


The Illuminati reunited in NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI (2006) #2, when Reed Richards revealed that he had come into possession of three of the Infinity Gems and the Infinity Gauntlet itself. It was Reed’s intent to destroy the gems and the gauntlet, but he needed the help of the other members to find the three gems that he couldn’t locate. However, the combined Infinity Gauntlet would not act against itself. In order to safeguard the power, each of the six members of the Illuminati were given an Infinity Gem for safekeeping with the Watcher present.

The Infinity Gems are distributed evenly.


After the Hulk lost control of himself in Las Vegas, the Illuminati convened in NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI (2006). With the exception of Namor, the Illuminati agreed that Hulk had become too much of a threat, and they made plans to exile him to a distant world. This set the stage for the “Planet Hulk” arc. In response, Namor angrily quit the group. However, the death knell of the Illuminati’s initial incarnation was Iron Man’s proposed Superhuman Registration Act. Reed went along with it, but the other members rejected it out of hand. In CIVIL WAR (2006), Reed and Tony’s plans created open conflict between the heroes. Almost everyone picked a side, and Iron Man’s faction emerged victorious.

The Illuminati address the Hulk problem.


When the Hulk finally made his way back to Earth in WORLD WAR HULK (2007) #1, he was understandably angry about the Illuminati shooting him out into space. However, the Hulk was even more enraged because he blamed the Illuminati for the detonation of the ship that brought him to Sakaar, which in turn ravaged the planet and killed his new wife, Caiera. Aside from Namor, Hulk systematically hunted down the Illuminati and exposed their actions against him. In issue #4, Hulk even forced the Illuminati to fight against each other in gladiatorial battles, just as the Hulk had to when he first crash-landed on Sakaar.

The Illuminati fight each other.
WORLD WAR HULK (2007) #4


In AVENGERS (2010) #7, street-level villain the Hood learned that the former Illuminati members still had possession of their Infinity Gems. Obsessed with gaining that power, the Hood began stealing the cosmic relics one by one in the hopes of reuniting the Infinity Gauntlet. With an assist from Red Hulk, the Avengers were able to take the gauntlet for themselves in issue #12. Iron Man pretended to destroy the gems. But instead, he reunited the Illuminati and added Captain America to the roster before dispersing the Infinity Gems between them once more.

Steve Rogers joins the Illuminati in AVENGERS (2010) #12.
AVENGERS (2010) #12


Although Black Panther had initially warned the Illuminati that they should never have come together, it was he who reunited them in NEW AVENGERS (2013) #1. Once Black Panther became aware of the Incursions which threatened their universe, he saw no other option but to reunite Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Namor, Doctor Strange, and Black Bolt. In place of the late Charles Xavier, original X-Man Beast joined the Illuminati as well.

At first, the Illuminati tried to prevent the destruction of two colliding universes by giving Rogers the Infinity Gauntlet and its vast power. When the gauntlet shattered in issue #3, Rogers was so adamant about finding a non-lethal solution to the Incursions that the remaining Illuminati members wiped his memory of the entire event and expelled him from the group. In his absence, the Illuminati took steps to ensure that their Earth survived at all costs, even if it meant destroying alternate Earths during these Incursion events.

Captain America reassembles the Illuminati.
NEW AVENGERS (2013) #1


In the wake of the ORIGINAL SIN event, Captain America remembered that the Illuminati had erased his memories, and he declared war on them. With only a small amount of time before a universe-ending Incursion, AVENGERS (2012) #35 revealed that Captain Britain, Amadeus Cho, and Yellowjacket had joined the Illuminati and taken sides against the Avengers. Meanwhile, Namor had formed his own Cabal with Thanos, Black Swan, Corvus Glaive, Maximus, Proxima Midnight, and Terrax, in order to destroy other universes before they could threaten their own.

But Namor was so disgusted by the Cabal’s bloodlust that he betrayed them to the Illuminati in AVENGERS (2012) #40. In return, Black Panther and Black Bolt left Namor for dead in a trap intended to kill the Cabal. Meanwhile, an alliance between the remaining Avengers and the Illuminati resulted in an imperfect plan to survive the final Incursion in a cosmic lifeboat. Of the Illuminati, only Reed and Black Panther were on the lifeboat when the remaining universes perished.

AVENGERS (2012) #40
AVENGERS (2012) #40


The Illuminati’s lies and manipulations resulted in the end of everything. Everything except Doom. In SECRET WARS (2015), Doctor Doom used the near infinite power he stole from the Beyonders to create a new Battleworld from the leftovers of the Multiverse, and he also declared himself God-Emperor Doom. Although disbanded, three members of the Illuminati were key to ending Doom’s reign.

In SECRET WARS (2015) #5, Black Panther and Namor put aside their enmity and formed an alliance. When they confronted Doom in issues #7-8, T’Challa brought an Infinity Gauntlet to help them even the odds. Their sacrifice allowed Reed Richards the chance to reach the source of Doom’s power: Molecule Man. From there, Reed defeated Doom and gained the power to restore creation. He later decided to explore the Multiverse with his family before returning to Earth-616 in FANTASTIC FOUR (2018).

The Illuminati have not reunited since these events, although Namor and Black Panther were recently teammates in AVENGERS (2018). And perhaps one day, the Illuminati will have no choice but to reconvene once again.


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