Friday, June 26, 2015

An Enclave Among Us!

Whenever the Illuminati meet, it's interesting how you often come away with the impression that they're not likely to meet again, given that their activities raise doubts among them about their decisions and methods, and their cooperation with each other is at times reluctant. It's these very aspects that make you perk up at subsequent meetings, because you know the issues raised and the level of intrigue are going to make for a page-turner. There's also the fact that, until now, the Illuminati have been left to police themselves; even after the events of Secret Invasion and World War Hulk, their activities and meetings remained under the radar. And since they're the only ones holding each other accountable, let's just say their judgment calls could have used an ombudsman.

Thanks to the legislation which led to the "Civil War," the group has ceased meeting regularly in an administrative capacity where they would compare notes and subtly manipulate events behind the scenes; currently, they only meet on rare occasion, and only when the need requires it. But however infrequent their conferences, the Illuminati's comfortable cloak of secrecy is about to be yanked away--in a story that introduces Medusa to the group, attending in place of the deceased Black Bolt, and under circumstances that require their immediate attention.

As Medusa learns, this group had taken custody of the Infinity Gems, each member taking a gem and placing it in a secret, secure location--and, if possible, unreachable, even by themselves. But, as is sometimes the case with this group, a mistake has been made, a step overlooked. In this case, the "reality" gem, in the custody of Black Bolt, has been located and stolen by Parker Robbins, a/k/a the Hood (who's turned out to be one of my favorite villains)--and to make matters worse, he begins a search for the other gems, the combination of which would make him virtually all-powerful.

With Black Bolt dead, the gem's theft doesn't immediately come to the attention of the other members of the Illuminati. Things come to light when the Hood brutally throws down with the Red Hulk, who finds that even his might is insufficient to withstand the assault.

Afterward, the Hulk is barely able to make it to the Avengers, in order to warn them of this new threat. And after the use of the "power" gem is revealed, the swift departure thereafter of one Avenger in particular raises the eyebrow of Steve Rogers, currently the government's head law enforcement agent:

Realizing that one of the Infinity Gems is no longer safe and sound, Iron Man calls the members of the Illuminati together, who are surprised to learn that Reed intended to call the group together to report that his own gem (the power gem) had likewise been stolen--by someone likely wielding the reality gem.

Investigating the former site of the Inhumans' Great Refuge in the Himalayas, Stark and his group discover that someone has been there before them when they come across several dead bodies, killed by advanced A.I.M./Hydra technology. Descending into the catacombs, the evidence points toward Black Bolt as the likely security glitch in their overall plan to keep the gems hidden:

It's rather curious that Black Bolt would leave something as potentially dangerous as an Infinity Gem behind when the Inhumans left Earth, a fact that is too swiftly brushed aside by this story in order to move to the focus of the true answer behind Robbins' actions: Ertzia, an Inhuman inadvertently left behind on Earth, who has ended up in the same prison complex as Robbins and who in ignorance divulges the reality gem's existence to his fellow inmate. From that point, Robbins bribes a guard to assist in his escape--and we're now up to date on the Hood and his plans.

But for Steve Rogers, there's a great deal more information to be gathered, when he tracks Iron Man to the Himalayas and discovers him involved with several major core power players of the super-human community:

And so the existence of the Illuminati is about to be laid bare for all to see, and to deal with. The conversation between Rogers and Stark promises to be a dramatic one; but the other members of the Illuminati must also bear the stares and reactions of friends they have known and worked with for quite some time, friends who knew nothing of their covert meetings that may well have discussed their fate over an open table.

As for Stark and Rogers, it comes as little surprise that Rogers is outraged more by the continued secrecy of Stark than he is by the actual existence of the Illuminati--a whole other subject that needs far more exposure and discussion here than it will receive.

Imagine how this little tête-à-tête would mushroom if Rogers were told of the Illuminati's initiative to conduct an unauthorized mission to confront the Skrulls with a warning to never attack Earth again--a mission which resulted in the group's capture, Earth's security being compromised, and an invasion by Skrulls who had used the secrets they discovered to make themselves even more formidable. He'd likely slap the 'cuffs on Iron Man and his cohorts then and there.

But there's the clear-and-present threat of the Infinity Gems to be immediately dealt with, and Rogers knows where his priorities are. Yet he also knows it's important to convey the message to Stark that there will be consequences.

Logan's method of getting to the truth of how the gems were discovered results in no leads, though, since there's no information that brings Ertzia or his association with Robbins into the picture--unless the investigation were to backtrack to Robbins' days in prison, and there's no time for that. For now, the presumption is made that the information concerning the gems was possibly stolen from one of the group without their knowledge--which, indirectly, is close to what happened.

Once all present are satisfied that there is no one among them with a hidden agenda vis-à-vis Robbins (well, beyond the hidden agenda of the Illuminati themselves, that is), the Avengers set to work in mapping out a plan.

The pregnant pause of that last panel is priceless: a group that's based its existence on secrecy confronted by the fact that it's necessary to not only divulge information, but to trust in these others to do the right thing with it. Rogers may have been onto something with that crack about ego.

To make a long story short, Robbins makes headway in assembling the gems to form a new Infinity Gauntlet--but the Avengers prevail against him, and the time once again comes to decide on the gems' disposition. But even robbed of the gems, Robbins has a few parting shots for the Avengers, whose methods may be different from his but who he mistakenly believes would nevertheless make use of ultimate power.

And, given who's wound up in possession of the Infinity Gauntlet, there's a chilling feeling that Robbins could well be right in this case:

It seems that Iron Man has surprised us all--though as an Avenger, his decision falls in line with who the Avengers are, and it's an ending to this tale that makes it an Avengers story to remember.

It's probably safe to say that Rogers isn't about to kick Iron Man out of the Avengers at this point, with this founding member making a decision which resonates so strongly with the entire team. But Iron Man's decision goes beyond what we've seen here--and when it comes to appearances being deceiving, we need to return to the one group that hasn't yet relinquished its self-given role in conducting its activities away from prying eyes. A group that's pulled up a chair for its newest member:

It's almost like a new cell of (forgive the phrase) "secret Avengers," isn't it. It's anyone's guess how the Illuminati will conduct themselves from this point on--or even if Rogers will sign off on their continuing to meet and go on with "business as usual." It's the beauty of the ending that we just don't know. But that final page supplies us with enough giddiness to tide us over until this clandestine group assembles once more.

(The events here cover scenes from Avengers #s 8-12.)

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