Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Brian Reed and Jim Cheung
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So - is it just me? - but the whole notion of there being an Illuminati (basically: a secret organisation that controls everything everywhere) is pretty cool. I mean speaking as a confirmed fan of Lost: everyone likes a good secret - right ? And yeah (etc) the notion of control and meaning in a random and meaningless world is a comforting thought - however scary you might imagine the people with their hands on the levers to be.
Human beings are all about seeing patterns - that's how we make sense of the world: that's how we learn things: that's how we make them fit together . Conspiracy theorists are born when people's pattern recognition software gets broken or aimed in the wrong direction and they end up coming to the conclusion that two plus two equals five or that the moon landings were faked or whatever .
Except - well (blah): The New Avengers: Illuminati isn't actually about any of that kind of secret history of the world kinda stuff : rather it's a collective of five kinda completely separate stories (think of it this way: it's like each issue is a new episode of a cartoon) about a group of people who meet up to discuss the world: as far as I noticed at least - they don't actually call themselves "The Illuminati" (I guess maybe that would have been a step too far) but each of them is a the top of their chosen food chain: the best of the best - so that's: Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme; Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans (who live on the moon! True fact!), Patrick Stewart, founder of the X-Men and mutant-rights activist; Reed Richards, founding member of the Fantastic Four; Namor the Sub-Mariner, king of Atlantis; and Iron Man (aka Robert Downey Jr), founding member of the Avengers and star at the best Marvel movie (so far at least ). And (for me anyway) the first time I picked this book up I've gotta admit that I was impressed by such a raw display of power. I mean most of the time your typical superhero team is all about the mishmash of conflicting personalities and vastly different power levels (I watched The Avengers film with my girlfriend last night and throughout the whole thing she kept asking me: "so what is it exactly that Scarlett Johansson can do?" ) but this book - if all the other teams out there are more like street gangs - doing the best with what they've got and constantly just adjusting and responding to whatever trouble comes their way: The Illuminati are more like a corporate boardroom - everything's a lot more composed and they mainly spend their time being more proactive than reactive: and basically (trying at least) to fix problems before they can arise.
And frankly - I'm kinda surprised (just a bit) this book isn't more well known or didn't manage to kick start it's own series (or whatever) seeing how (some harsh truths coming people - so brace yourself): most of the time the people who read comics - well - let's just say that (according to the stereotype at least) they're not exactly known for their physical prowess or love of sports . So I would have thought that maybe they would have been drawn to a superhero comic where the heroes where more concerned about using their brains rather than their brawn (obviously yeah - the whole point of fantasy and escapism is that it's unlike your life - so it makes sense that people who aren't so good at fighting and smashing things would find some gleeful joy in watching characters do those very things - but still...)
The artwork is fresh-faced and clear and has that whole Bryan Hitch thing going on - which means that it's a doddle to read. The only note of warning I would sound is that - well - because it's a Marvel book (and it's not it's alone in this - all Marvel books are like this) it's not really a complete read - I guess it's more kinda like a trap to make you read all the other Marvel books out there (and here's the best place to start if you're planning on reading the Secret Invasion books - plus there's a little Marvel Boy coda too (so - really - you should read Marvel Boy before you read this) oh: and not forgetting the set-up for some stuff in the new 2011 Avengers series too!)... But still: I guess that's just the nature of the beast.
The real pleasure of the book tho is the fact that (because there aren't that many fights) there's loads of space for Bendis to do what he does so well - which is (basically) writing really nifty dialogue. My favourite part of the whole book is Issue 4 where (for the first half at least) it's just six guys hanging out in their own little boy's club talking about (what else?) girls, girlfriends and marriage (with a little bit about human nature and the nature of free will thrown in to keep things interesting - oh: and a brief little mention of the internet). And - if like me (thanks to a wasted life reading superhero comics) you know these characters pretty well: it's just really - well - great to see how they spend their downtime and how exactly they interact. So that's worth the price of admission right there.
 Less simply - well it turns out there's a whole different bunch of societies out there (both real and imagined) who have tried to lay claim to the name. According to the wikipedia entry the term was first coined back in 1776 in the superbly named "Ingolstadt" (located in Upper Bavaria - which (to me) sounds like a made-up Tintin kinda place - but whatever): and since then - well - it's become the best way to make any crackpot conspiracy theory sound (a little) more researched and methodical (compare and contrast: "They're running the world behind the scenes!" and "The Illuminati are running the world behind the scenes!" - I mean: things sound better when you give them proper names right?) - and if you're interested in any of this kinda stuff then may I recommend Jon Ronson's Them? It's really good about all this sort of things (plus: I really love Jon Ronson - so that helps too I guess...).
 Like it says in the Hitchiker's Guide to The Galaxy: "“All through my life I've had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was." "No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that.”"
 I tried to get this thought down properly in the post that I wrote about Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? but all I managed was: "The crux of human existence - looking for patterns and making order where there isn't any." which is pretty weak sauce if I do say so myself.
 Saying that: there is a strange sort of intellectual buzz that can come from watching the sorta higher-level conspiracy musings - and I will admit that I have watched the 9/11 "controlled demolition man" film Loose Change (and - man what a strange title for a film about 9/11 - no? Loose Change? Personally I would have gone for something a lot more bombastic - like: The Explosive Truth About The Buildings That Went Boom! or something): not because I believe that 9/11 was an "inside job" but (well) because I thought that it would be interesting to watch (and it was) as - no matter how incredulous you start out - there will be a bit of you (about midway through) that will pipe up and go "now wait a second.... maybe - no?" I don't think that's because the crazy things that they say are true: more like when you've been given a story and you're halfway through your mind (well - my mind at least: maybe you're different) just starts to buy in to whatever it is you're being told. A more recent example (and talking about the moon landing) came from reading this Grantland article about Stanley Kubrick that mentioned the documentary Room 237 and author, filmmaker, and self-described “hermetic scholar” Jay Weidner who has a theory that "Stanley Kubrick was hired by the U.S. government to shoot fake footage of the moon landing, in exchange for the leverage he needed to make his aliens-are-God acidhead epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. For Weidner, The Shining is Kubrick’s mea culpa, with Jack Nicholson’s unhinged patriarch acting as a doppelgänger for the distraught director, and the sinister Overlook Hotel doubling for the all-powerful feds that infiltrated (and presumably ruined) his life." And (yes) obviously that sounds like the ravings of a crazy-person who's lost his grip on what's real and what's not... And yet (and yet) alothough for much of his video (it's called Kubrick's Odyssey and you can watch it here: just brace yourself for the groaners at the start - I mean he calls his production company Cube Brick (to which I can only say: really? You really decided to go with that?)) you will just think that he sounds like someone who has way too much free time on his hands (he talks about people who think that the moon landings were a hoax with this manner (calm assurance) that just kinda makes you feel like he knows the terrain pretty well: almost like he's talking about his school friends or something...) and then: (I think it's round about when he starts talking about the shape of the pattern on the carpets in the Overlook Hotel and how similar it is to the shape of the Apollo 11 launch pad) and - yeah - like I said: it's not like you really think that he's true but you do - start to believe (let's say): or maybe I'm just more naturally susceptible to this kinda stuff (I dunno)?
 But if that kinda thing is what you're looking for then both: S.H.I.E.L.D. and Planetary can probably satisfy your needs... (and now I think about it all this conspiracy theory stuff would have made a lot more sense in the entries for one of those instead - but: oh well - too late now).
 Although it's all the bits where it's not in his costume doing all the superheroy action stuff - and basically just being all Robert Downey that are cool: which (well) isn't exactly what you want from a superhero action film is it?
 And to be fair: it's a good question. I mean - what? - she has a gun and she can pretend to cry? Big whoop. That other guy has a magic hammer.
 True story: During my first term at university we had a meet-and-greet thing were we met everyone else in the same year as us and were encouraged to mingle and make friends which is how I ended up talking to this blonde hulk from somewhere in Eastern Europe who towered over me like an Aryan superhuman / Arnold Schwarzenegger's distant cousin (twice removed). "So" I said (trying my best to make conversation) "what kind of stuff do you like?" His reply (instantaneous): "Sports." "Oh" I said "Ok then" (and - not knowing that much about sports - decided to maybe steer the conversation to film or music: where I always feel a lot more at home (and come on! - everyone likes films and music - right?)) - "Anything else?" He thought about this for five seconds - head turned to the side - eyes gazing into the middle distance until he (finally) replied: "No. Just sports." We never spoke again.
Further reading: The Avengers: The New Avengers (2005 - 2010), The Avengers: The Avengers (2011 - 2012), Civil War, The Authority, The Avengers: Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don't Get Seen, Save the World, S.H.I.E.L.D., Planetary, The Boys, Marvel Boy, Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters / Caged Angels.
Profiles: Brian Michael Bendis.
All comments welcome.