Friday, July 29, 2016

The Enemy Within!

There were at least two occasions when the Illuminati--the clandestine group consisting of Marvel's oldest super-heroes who would meet privately to raise concerns or handle matters without disclosure to their friends or peers--chose to part company and go their separate ways. One was after a falling out they had over the decision to send the Hulk away from Earth to another world; the other was when Iron Man sought to gain their support for the Superhuman Registration Act, in a meeting which caused deep divisions among them and led them to all but formally disband.

The events of the "civil war" that resulted from factions of the heroes forming to oppose each other as a result of the SRA are a matter of record, and have been for almost ten years (our time). Yet after the fallout of that conflict, and other upheavals that took place around the same period, the members of the Illuminati would find themselves called to a meeting once again--this time to discuss a threat that might already have reached the point of being too late to stop.

To gain some perspective for this story, it's helpful going in to know that it ties in with the 2008 Secret Invasion crossover event, where the Skrulls had infiltrated the planet Earth with operatives who not only had a considerable amount of knowledge about the planet's defenses, but also possessed the abilities of a number of Earth's super-human population--thanks to the Illuminati, who made the arbitrary decision to travel to the Skrull throneworld and issue a warning to the Skrulls to avoid any future invasion plans for Earth or face the consequences. That act led to the group's capture and intensive study of their abilities and powers, as well as Earth's security likely being compromised.

The Illuminati barely escaped with their lives--but now, it seems, their actions have come back to haunt them, as the first sign of a new invasion force is discovered, and the Illuminati are forced to confront the consequences of their actions.

It's interesting to see the turn this story takes from this point. The other members of the group explore the possibility that Iron Man is wrong--that this is an isolated incident, an isolated Skrull. Yet the tone of the room gives us the impression that they could easily believe otherwise, even though Iron Man has no hard evidence of a major Skrull incursion and his suspicions are raised because of this Skrull's ability to be undetectable. But there's also another question to be asked: Why would a Skrull be interested in infiltrating and making use of the Hand in taking control of the Japanese underworld? The worst case scenario would suggest that the Skrulls--assuming there were more Skrulls involved--are operating on a global scale and are involved in any number of covert operations involving key Earth organizations and groups, criminal or otherwise. As Namor notes, it's a big leap for Iron Man to make--but reasonable enough to open a discussion on.

So: Let's assume for the moment, for the sake of argument, that a Skrull has infiltrated this key group of individuals. The Skrull is undetectable, at least for the time being; and it sees the other group members coming to a probable consensus that this Skrull in the form of Elektra isn't necessarily indicative of a larger threat, despite Iron Man's fears otherwise. There's really no reason, then, for the hidden Skrull to feel a need to reveal itself and act--that is, unless this think tank of resourceful and scientific minds decides to pursue developing a method of detecting which and how many Skrulls could at this very moment be embedded at the highest levels of world governments and military installations. And when one of their number decides to speak up and raise an objection on that course of action, the source of that voice signals that the worst fears of the Illuminati have been realized.

It seems apparent that the Skrulls have used their research on the Illuminati members to take their methods of infiltration to the next level. Until now, with the exception of the Super Skrull, any Skrulls masquerading as heroes had to artificially reproduce the power(s) of any super-being they wished to use their shape-changing ability to imitate; now, however, they appear able to not only duplicate the actual power set of the individual, but combine the powers from several individuals into one operative. In this case, the Illuminati face (appropriately enough) an amalgam of themselves in the Skrull who had been posing as Black Bolt--catching them off-guard in more ways than one.

There are one or two holes that the co-writers have overlooked (or ignored) in this new method of the Skrulls manifesting the powers of their opponents. In the case of Dr. Strange, for instance, his abilities come from years of study and discipline, and you presumably don't become a sorcerer of his level--to say nothing of being able to sunder the bands of Cytorrak--just by adorning yourself with aspects of the doctor's garb. (We can only assume that Strange is shorthanding his incantations or omitting them entirely--e.g., "Cytorrak's crimson bands!"--to draw attention away from the fact that the Skrull isn't calling on the Vishanti, or the hosts of Hoggoth, or any of the other entities that Strange so stylishly invokes with his spells.) The Skrull's level of strength would also have been adversely affected by the inferno he's just been in the middle of, given the Sub-Mariner's dependence on water.

And speaking of Namor--with the other Illuminati members faring so poorly against the Skrull's withering attack, it falls to him to end this conflict, and he shows no mercy in doing so.

Given the potential of the Illuminati to rally and mount resistance to the Skrull invasion if allowed enough time, it makes sense for the Skrulls to send in their heaviest guns to take them out first thing. With their primary operative now dead, they now resort to two other specially-bred Skrulls--amalgams of the Avengers as well as the X-Men, which Iron Man decides must be dealt with by way of a scorched Earth response.

Incredibly, the "Elektra" corpse has survived this deadly battle, despite being at Ground Zero through it all. (Including her body bag! The Illuminati should give some thought to refitting their costumes with whatever that sack is made of.)

In the battle's aftermath, Reed makes an intriguing assessment--that the attack was designed to turn the group members against one another, which would suggest that the Skrulls needed the members individually for whatever reason. But how would getting the Illuminati to walk away from each other be accomplished? It wouldn't have been possible before the attack, since the members were assuming an investigative posture and were agreed at least in doing an autopsy on the Electra corpse; nor were the members likely to turn on each other during the attack, since they were united in defending each other, ending the threat of the Skrull(s), and staying alive.

For now, it's Namor who appears to do their work for them, in an ending which seems utterly without purpose, except for opening the door to other Secret Invasion stories elsewhere (with the allusion to the "Who do you trust?" slogan of the series about as subtle as a brick).

We have to assume at least that Stark or Reed gets the ball rolling on developing a detection method from further examination of the corpse (which Secret Invasion #1 indeed puts in motion).

And now for something completely different...
The Illuminati discuss their thoughts on--women!?

The New Avengers: Illuminati #5

Script: Brian Bendis and Brian Reed
Pencils: Jim Cheung
Inks: Mark Morales
Letterer: Cory Petit


George Chambers said...

Can I just say how much I loathed this event, even moreso than Civil War? Magically undetectable Skrulls driven by some kind of scriptural prophecy: if it wasn't a deliberate analogy of Islamic terrorism, then it sure did a good job of being so by accident. Never mind that it ended up putting known lunatic and criminal Norman Osborn in charge, because reasons... aargh. Let me just point out some silliness here.

Namor: "I don't trust any of you!"

Um, Namor... Stark and Strange just saved your life, so they're probably legit... plus, Xavier could have easily caused the Awesome Facial Hair Bros to fail, just by not linking their minds, so he's legit too... plus, why would the Skrulls have more than one plant in the Illuminati if they just tried to kill them?

...yeah, Namor isn't very bright.

Rick said...

I've never read this stuff. Never read Civil War. This is the dark, dreary kind of stuff that drove me out of Marvel Comics. Nice artwork, though.

Anonymous said...

I did think it was interesting how badly Namor and Iron Man got along. There was an intense dislike between those two, going all the way back to the beginning of the Avengers, and as often as not their encounters ended in fisticuffs.
Maybe it was because they were both control freaks, or at least Stark was, and Namor, being royalty, didn't dig that at all. I think he viewed Stark as an upstart in a tin suit, and relished cracking it open every chance he could get.
I have to admit I always rooted for Subby in these clashes, I dunno why!
He was definitely the most interesting character in THIS comic.

Comicsfan said...

George, I tend to cut Namor some slack here because the closing scene seemed to be using him as a plot device to drive the Illuminati apart and stoke interest in the theme of Secret Invasion, just because he's the hot-tempered and impatient member of the group. It never occurs to all of them that the best way to keep an eye on one another is to work cooperatively on the Skrull detection method; driven apart as they are only gives a Skrull spy the opportunity to conduct his activities away from the scrutiny of the others. What's been served by separating?

M.P., I think your assessment of the Iron Man/Sub-Mariner relationship is about as good as any. I still remember the knock-down drag-out between the two that had Iron Man exclaiming in surprise how Namor was his equal even without armor or weapons--as if that simply shouldn't be. It's always been a natural clash between the two--technological might vs. sheer, raw power--with perhaps only Iron Man feeling the need to prove the more reliable and superior of the two.

Rick, keep an eye out for a future post that will examine a little more closely the transition point between the Marvel that readers still found interesting and the "dark dreary stuff" that many perhaps still shake their heads sadly at to this day.