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Illuminati: Issue 0

illuminatiI’ve already given high praise to the ‘Civil War Essential Event Book’ but there is only so much depth that it can go into. I thought it would be interesting to examine the tie-in books in greater detail, which should be useful to anyone using the Event book.

To begin with I’ll be looking at ‘New Avengers: Illuminati’, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art provided by Alex Maleev and Dave Stewart. Combining Bendis’ talent for dialogue with Maleev’s ability to depict recognisable Marvel characters as real people this one-shot introduces the idea that there exists a secret group that discuss important matters within the Marvel universe.

The idea was popular enough to develop into a mini-series and the Illuminati still have a presence in current comics. Pages CW 32 to 33 provide a good overview of the group with suggestions of other members and providing Milestones.

They are an exciting group, consisting of Tony Stark, Dr Strange, Prof Xavier, Dr Reed Richards, Black Bolt and Namor. They disband temporarily during the Civil War but that still leaves plenty of adventures to explore with the group before and after.

The Illuminati perfectly suit anthology style campaign, allowing adventures to be set at various points in Marvel history, exploring how the Illuminati reacted. Were they carrying out their own agenda behind the scenes?

The very fact that the group maintains its secrecy allows stories to be told that don’t contradict published events.  Any event that involved the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Inhumans or the mystic world impact upon the group.

There is also a very good chance that they were having adventures between the major events. This provides a rare opportunity to run adventures with a very varied group of characters.

With that in mind let us explore Issue 0.

Tony Stark’s Proposal

illuminativoteFollowing the Kree-Skrull war those who would eventually become the Illuminati met in Wakanda. Stark used the opportunity to make a daring proposal. That their various groups come together under one banner, a delegation of heroes.

His idea was that with better organisation they’d be able to pool resources and share information. In addition they’d provide a united front, which would benefit such groups as the mutants who were currently mistrusted by the public.

The others weren’t keen on the idea, pointing out that they weren’t the establishment, they were counter-establishment. There were concerns that an organisation like the UN spends more time carrying out administration that it does actually achieving something.

Namor goes further, suggesting that forming such a group would put undue attention on them. The Avengers already had members who were former criminals and even terrorists, the X-Men accepted just about anyone who was mutant and Black Bolt’s brother had assisted in the invasion of the Earth by Kree.

Stark’s idea would eventually manifest in the 50 state initiative but what if the heroes had agreed with him at this early stage? What if they had put together a single delegation that would represent their interests and better allow them to protect the world?

History has shown that the heroes present can manage large organisations. The X-Men had numerous teams at the same time, with Xavier eventually launching a company that had branches across the world to help mutants. The Avengers has had several groups including the West Coast Avengers, Secret Avengers, Mighty Avengers, New Avengers and several more.

Black Bolt and Namor were rulers, used to delegating and maintaining kingdoms. Even the Fantastic Four were able to run a successful business and later establish the Future Foundation while still finding time to fight bad guys.

It is clear that is possible that such an delegation could be organised and maintained. I think, given the publisher, that such a coalition would have been called Marvels. Heroes wouldn’t be required to join, although I’m sure that those who did may receive a financial retainer to compensate them when their services are required.

The core members might have to step back to concentrate on running the group but then some, like Xavier, are used to not being on the frontline. This would allow other heroes to step forward and become more prominent in the public eye.

Diplomacy would be required to assure the governments of the world that the organisation was there to help, rather than act as a threat. The Avengers experience of working with government agents, such as Henry Grych, would be useful here, as is the good relationship that the Fantastic Four have maintained with the public.

In the wake of the Kree-Skrull war the public might actually feel more secure knowing that there is a large organisation of heroes there to defend them. The Marvels could use this good-will to help establish themselves and prove that they are dependable.

This would make a good ‘What-If’ scenario for a campaign, allowing players to assemble teams from every hero in the Marvel universe. In this universe they are all part of one super-team, regardless of what other affiliations they might have.

Adventures could focus on how well such an delegation might have worked or, in the tradition of many What-Ifs, show how it all goes horribly wrong. Marvels might develop into the best hope for humanity or bring the hero community to its needs as its aims are corrupted and its actions become unthinkable.

You might also wish to have heroes from Earth 616 encounter a reality where the Marvel organisation exists. Will they be treated as friend or foe? With the Marvels wish to establish a inter-dimensional pact with Earth 616?

Black Panther’s Objection

blackpantherWhen the group decide to form the Illuminati only Black Panther refuses to join. He says that the public mistrust the heroes because they always feared that they would form a group like the Illuminati.

Black Panther objects to the idea that they’ve decided that they will be Earth’s protector and that only they are trustworthy enough to be part of the group. He asks what will happen during a crisis if they disagree. He tells them to walk away.

All of this must be seen in the light of what we eventually learn about the Black Panther. He is a very secretive man, putting plans into operation without telling anyone else. Even joining the Avengers was a means to ascertain if they were potential enemies to his nation.

It could very well be that Black Panther wanted to prevent the Illuminati from forming because he worried about the power such a group would possess and how he would keep track of them if they were determined to meet in secret.

He could have joined them but as just one member he’d be powerless to stop them should they decide on a course of action he disagreed with. Tactically it would be better to stop them now.

It could be that his objections are heartfelt. A games master can use these concerns as a basis for adventures based on the Illuminati. This could focus on the Illuminati themselves or heroes who are unaware they exist.

For example an adventure could be based upon a conspiracy theory about the Illuminati or a group like it. Does the group try to discredit such a person? Would other heroes believe such a thing is possible, especially by their friends, or would they dismiss it as paranoia?

During an Event the Illuminati could be put at odds and the members forced to consider whether the group is a help or a hindrance. Is taking time to meet in private achieving more than if they had concentrated on running their own teams?

Over the years has the group considered adding more members to their inner circle? Who were likely candidates? What would the screening process be? Did they ever trust someone only to be betrayed?

After Black Panther leaves Iron Man says he will speak to him. Obviously he was unable to convince him but what did they say? Given that Black Panther knows that they didn’t break up did his opinion on the group change over the years?

Dr Strange in Wakanda

Before their meeting begins T’Challa mentions that some of the High Priests hoped to speak with Dr Strange. Stephen thinks the idea is lovely. Given how events unfolded we don’t know if he did accept the invitation.

Considering how important the mystical world is to Wakanda it would be interesting to explore what he may have discussed with the High Priests. What knowledge did they share of the natural world and the Panther God?

Placing Dr Strange in the jungles of Wakanda could be an exciting new environment for him. It could potentially be an exciting adventure for the newly formed Illuminati and Black Panther, a chance to demonstrate how they will work together.

Krakoa

At the end of their first meeting Stark asks if there is anything else anyone wants to talk about. Xavier uses the opportunity to discuss an island he has just discovered in the South Pacific, called Krakoa.

This is the island that the second group of X-Men are sent to in ‘Giant-Size X-Men issue 1’. This meeting takes place before that story, so what did Xavier say and what input did he receive from the other Illuminati members?

Reed Richards could certainly offer to research the island, perhaps learning of its sentient nature. Namor might also know that the island was actually alive and swam in the ocean.

Only a few minutes before Namor had spoken about mutant assassin working for the Canadian Secret Services and asked if Xavier would allow such a person on his team. This is exactly what Xavier does, when he assembles a team to rescue the original X-Men. Had he been unaware of Wolverine until Namor mentioned him? Did he know and only recruit him to defy his fellow Illuminati member?

It is difficult to say if this meeting takes place before or after the original X-Men are lost on the island. It would seem unlikely that he’d take time out after losing contact with his team, although this might occur while he is travelling the globe recruiting his rescue team.

An adventure could be based around the idea that the Illuminati travelled to the island themselves. Did Xavier decide that it was the perfect testing ground for his mutants or a means to recruit new members?

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that he had put his students lives in danger for the greater good. The morally dubious Illuminati might even have encouraged him to do this, foreseeing that the X-Men would become stronger for the ordeal.

The Hulk Vs The Illuminati

hulkillumantiThe story leaps forward several years to show the behind the scenes events that led to ‘Planet Hulk’. The decision to launch him into space was not taken lightly but did lead to Namor coming to blows with the others and leaving the group.

In addition we learn that they’d been trying to help Bruce Banner for a long time. In particular Reed Richards felt that if he could cure Bruce then he might also be able to help Ben Grimm.

This is an avenue of research that could include several other characters within the Marvel Universe. It gives Reed a reason to study people such as She Hulk, Mr Hyde, Sauron and Lizard. Learning about how they transform could help people like Bruce and Ben.

Some time in the past Xavier had a meeting with Bruce and learnt that he wanted to kill himself, if he could. This meeting could form the basis of an adventure, an excuse to put the Hulk and the X-Men together.

Namor accuses the group of wanting to punish Bruce because of what the Scarlet Witch had done to the Avengers and to the mutant population. They deny it but this is an interesting idea. Were the Illuminati removing those who people who presented an unacceptable degree of danger to the public?

Much of Namor’s anger must stem from the belief that they would come for him at some point. That they would tolerate his behaviour no longer. What actions might he have taken to protect himself?

An Illuminati focused campaign might develop this idea, leading to adventures were they target the biggest threats in the Marvel Universe, at least those ones on Earth. Who would make their list and what would they do?

You could also play this from the point of view of the heroes or villains that they come after. How would such people react when a secret group consisting of Iron Man, Dr Strange, Black Bolt and Mr Fantastic come after them and no one will believe them?

The Road To Civil War

Bringing us up to the ‘present’ Tony Stark gathers the members once again to warn about a proposed Super Hero Registration Act. His belief is that rather than fight it they should accept it, to prevent more severe legislation is brought in.

Only Reed Richards agrees with Tony, with Dr Strange also deciding to leave the group over the decision. Events are now set in motion that will lead to the Civil War.

Once again we can play ‘What-If’ exploring the idea of what would have happened if the group had gone along with Stark’s plan and come out in support of the Registration Act. The Civil War itself might have been averted, or at least diminished.

This would have occurred before Stamford and could potentially have prevented it. If the legislation had been brought in early enough the New Warriors would probably not have been allowed to make their reality show and attempt to capture Nitro so close to a school.

Without a need to punish the hero community there might have been no need for the Cape-Killers, with registration seen as a much softer option. The registration act might even have been toned down, not requiring heroes to give up their secret identities, allowing it gain further support.

It must be said that Tony Stark was absolutely right about what would happen and when Reed Richards, the smartest man in the room, agrees with him the other members of the Illuminati should really have agreed. In retrospect they only confirmed Stark’s worst fears.

On Earth 616 what did the members of the Illuminati do immediately after the meeting? We saw what Reed Richards did in ‘Fantastic Four Issue 536-537’ but what about the others?

Might they have spread the word? They are, after all, privy to information that will impact the hero community. Namor probably wouldn’t care, retreating to his ocean kingdom, but what about Dr Strange?

An adventure could be built around Dr Strange trying to recruit others to the storm that is coming. This could lead to a hitherto unknown incarnation of the Defenders. He may very well have tipped off Nick Fury, allowing him to put measures in place to fight against the registration act once it was formalised.

Similarly Tony Stark and Reed Richards might have started to recruit people to their cause early on. Many of those who joined the Pro-Registration side during the Civil War might have received a visit from one of the heroes or both, and been swayed by their argument.

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