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illuminati 1 review comics

Joshua Williamson’s Nailbiter is one of my favorite comics being printed right now so when I heard he was doing a Marvel story I knew I had to check it out. I’m not sure what I was expecting from slotting the man behind the gory weirdness of Nailbiter‘s high polished trash detective story into the colorful superhero landscape of Marvel comics but one thing that’s not surprising at all is that it involves super villains. What I should’ve expected and what’s here in spades is a story that outwardly revels in its genre tropes and goofy elements and origins while, on a deeper level, is home to a palpable anger and intensity over an actual social issue that’s just using the format of a super villain comic to break free.

Illuminati is about, essentially, life as a super villain and the major difficulties that go into it. It’s most reminiscent of Superior Foes of Spider-Man from a few years ago in that the villains on hand are decidedly low level, these aren’t the kind villains you see headlining major events unless they’re henchmen. The lives of people working their way up the villain totem pole have always been fodder for great comics before but Williamson finds a wholly unique spin on things for his entry into the genre. The main exception to this is Parker Robbins, The Hood. A once obscure character The Hood exploded onto the scene during the so-called Dark Reign branding initiative when Norman Osborn and his villainy cronies in the Cabal took over the US’s superhuman community and organizations while also branding the real heroes as terrorists and villains. Back then the Hood was basically running the super villain fraternity, having organized the masses of Marvel villains into a deadly army. However, hitching his wagon to Osbron’s rising star proved a mistake as the end of the Dark Reign pretty much spelled the collapse of the Hood’s criminal empire. Now, the Hood is seeking to relaunch his criminal empire with a heist on the vaults of Asgard and to do that he’s conscripted a small strike force of the best villains that the D-list could provide him.

That alone is a pretty great pitch for a super villain comic, especially since the combinations of big egos and small reputations is a natural catalyst for comedy.   Add in the fact that of all these bad guys the Hood is the only one you might charitably refer to as a “Has been” and there’s plenty of bickering and resentment to go around. Where the series finds real depth and what takes up most of this issue is its emphasis on the idea that the super villains of the Marvel universe really don’t have any other option besides going back to the super villain well. The main star of this issue is Titania, a super strong female super villain from the original Secret Wars story who’s trying to turn over a new leaf after getting parole. Most of the issue is about how even though she was paroled out of prison and basically followed the system she’s been shunned and neglected by the world at large. More than that, there’s a major emphasis on how the world takes advantage of her status as an ex-con and how, in a very unsettling way, everyone kind of WANTS Titania to be evil. There’s a sequence near the middle where she actually stops a robbery only for Luke Cage and Iron Fist to show up and have more or less decided this is going to be a super villain smack down regardless of what Titania says or does.   It’s as if the world has just decided it’s going to punish Titania for being a super villain ever regardless of her actions or the punishment she’s already suffered. It all speaks to real anger and passion lurking beneath the quirky character designs and adventure of the story.

Speaking of which, artist Shawn Crystal does a great job with this issue. Crystal’s approach to artwork is decidedly stylized but in a way that really works well with Williamson’s writing. Williamson has always had major notes of lightness and comedy to his stories but Crystal’s artwork seems to bring that out all the clearer as a sort of spoonful of sugar with all that righteous anger over the mistreatment of ex-cons in society. Additionally Crystal favors visual sound effects in an amazing way and his visualization of superhuman powers like Iron Fist’s mystic karate is great. John Rauch is on color duty and he does a fine job as well. The sketchier style that Crystal employs calls for a lighter touch on the coloring side that Rauch manages excellently, never feeling to invasive or over-saturated, though his version of She-Hulk is a bit too forest green for comfort. Though where the comic really shines is when the two combine to give us awesome power uses. Every super hero and villain’s abilities come off as visually wholly unique and dynamic with a great blend of dynamic poses and complementary colors that brings ever action to incredibly life.

Marvel has put out a lot of stinkers as part of the All-New All-Different branding exercise but I assure you; this isn’t one of them. Illuminti is a real winner, a fun and enjoyable story about the minutiae of the life of a super villain that comes complete with both fun and dynamic artwork, well written and engaging dialogue, and a powerful beating heart bellow all the fun and zaniness that comes from a story with an issue it really cares about and has something to say over. This is one you don’t want to miss.

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