The term "Illuminati" can bring up a number of images in our minds, from the Queen of England being secretly behind the worldwide trade of a bunch of obscure drugs to the famous triangle symbol hiding in the videos of pop music's biggest stars.
What about comic book Illuminati, though? With the imminent release of Marvel Studios' Captain America: Civil War, which sees our favorite Avengers strongly disagreeing over their submission to the Superhuman Registration Act, it seems appropriate to talk about another kind of controlling body that's been set up in the Marvel Universe.
Only this time, we're not talking about humans fearing that their local superheroes intervene without any kind of supervision — Marvel's Illuminati are about watching over the entirety of the universe to make sure that alien heroes and mutants keep their business off of the Earth, thank you very much. So who are they exactly, and could we ever see them in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Who Are Marvel's Illuminati?
The Illuminati originally consisted of Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Professor X, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt and Namor — Black Panther having refused to join — and appeared for the first time in New Avengers #7 in July 2005. They even got a dedicated issue of New Avengers in May 2006, in which readers found out more about how the committee had been created: the Kree-Skull War, which started when the Kree-native Captain Marvel arrived on Earth and was captured by the Avengers, had such an impact on the planet that they decided it was time to protect it from alien conflicts.
Their intention to protect the Earth from outsiders also leads them to collect the Infinity Gems, in order to keep them from ending up in the hands of Thanos. The composition of the group, which later changed, was based on a very simple concept: representing each "category" of superheroes. Let's take a look at the founding members to understand this structure.
1. Mister Fantastic
Mister Fantastic, a.k.a. Reed Richards, is a founding member of the Fantastic Four. Not only is he able to stretch his body without limit, he also possesses extensive knowledge in any scientific field, which naturally made him the leader of the group. (He was recently portrayed by Miles Teller in Fox's big screen adaptation.)
So on the secret board of the Illuminati, he represents superheroes whose powers stem from science — clearly a major part of the superhumans that we know.
2. Iron Man
Iron Man is crucial to the Illuminati as he was the one who instigated their creation. We all know by now how prone Iron Man/Tony Stark is to superhero control: He trusts the government and believes in the benefits of supervision. He's not the type to complete some heroic action all by himself, and always favors collaboration. Originally, he even argued for the foundation of a superhuman government, but the rest of the Illuminati didn't agree to more than a discreet meeting now and then.
In the Illuminati, he represents those who don't have any natural or inherent powers, humans whose "super" attribute comes from equipment or experience.
3. Professor X
Professor X, whose full name is Charles Francis Xavier, is the founder of the X-Men. Being a mutant himself with incredible telepathic powers, he's reuniting mutants under his watch in order to help them master their abilities, but also to encourage peaceful collaboration between humans and mutants, the former being often weary of the latter.
Naturally, he's on board of the Illuminati as the voice of the mutants, but he refuses too much exposure because he doesn't want mutants to get any more hate than they already do. We'll get to see him soon in X-Men: Apocalypse!
4. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange protects the Earth from mystical threats, so he's obviously a part of this as a representer of the mystical side. However, his hermit lifestyle means that he's often not present when the conflicts that the Illuminati are meant to prevent threaten to arise. For instance, he stayed out of the Civil War entirely.
We'll get to know more about the character in his upcoming solo movie.
5. Black Bolt
Black Bolt rules the Inhumans, who we should soon get to hear of in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They're a race of superhumans with powers that are extremely advanced, Black Bolt's power being his voice, which can generate a massive shockwave.
He participates in the Illuminati by providing information about this rather recluse race that are the Inhumans. In an ironic twist of fate considering the Illuminati's attempt to protect Earth from the Skrull, he's thought to be a Skrull in disguise during the Secret Invasion. But the Illuminati kill the Skrull and discover that the real Black Bolt is being held captive.
Last but not least, Namor the Sub-Mariner, is a mutant with a variety of powers who rules over the Atlanteans. He's sometimes good-natured, at other times aggressive, and really tends to only act in his own and his kingdom's interest.
As such, his involvement in the Illuminati brings more of an antihero mindset to the table.
What Are Our Chances Of Seeing The Illuminati In The MCU?
Now, before we send any theories about seeing the Illuminati together on the big screen down the drain because of their belonging to different studios, let's take two things into account: The most important one is that this is obviously just wishful speculation, the second one is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in a serious phase of shaking things up. I mean, they got Spider-Man, didn't they?
Recently, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige teased Phase 4 of the MCU, saying that future movies will bring about "new beginnings that will mark a different, a very different, a distinctively different chapter."
Meanwhile, Deadpool director Tim Miller and producer Simon Kinberg, who also worked on the X-Men — both working for Fox — said they would love to "heal the rift between the world of X-Men and the world of Avengers." There's so much crossover in the comics that it would just make sense, so we can always dream about Professor X showing up alongside the Illuminati that already belong to Marvel Studios.
We've also been seeing more and more members of the Illuminati that hadn't been brought before to the big screen: Doctor Strange got his own movie, and Black Panther will also have one. It wouldn't be impossible for him to step in on the secret board, since he was there when it was first created. Other characters such as Ant-Man could also fill up the ranks if studio issues really prevented the founding members from appearing on a screen together.
We're not always aware of it, which probably means they did a good job, but the Illuminati had many roles that make them relevant to the Marvel Universe, starting with the Infinity Gems. When they work together, they seriously increase Earth's chances against hostile alien forces.
What makes them ultimately fascinating, however, is that they showcase the heart of each type of superhero, mutant, whatever they may be. In a way, the Illuminati table provides a stage for each superhero's interests, proving once again how hard it can be to reconcile them, but also making us understand what the world looks like from each perspective. Doesn't this sound like an awesome movie?