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Marvel's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness introduces the Illuminati, a concept familiar to comics readers but that might have significant implications for the future of the MCU down the road.
This article contains major Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness spoilers.
For lovers of Marvel cameos and worldbuilding, the most exciting part of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness came about halfway through, when Strange is taken by Baron Mordo to face the Illuminati. First introduced in 2005’s New Avengers #7 (written by Brian Michael Bendis and penciled by Steve McNiven), the Illuminati consist of the biggest brains of the Marvel Universe. They exist to make difficult decisions about complex problems, such as sending the Hulk off-planet to prevent further destruction or ridding the Earth of a Skrull invasion.
The identities of the MCU Illuminati had been teased in trailers for Multiverse of Madness. but now that we’ve seen the Illuminati in full, we can now begin to imagine how they’ll affect the larger MCU.
In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the Illuminati consists of six members, some we’ve seen before, but in different variations. They exist on Earth 838, a universe in which most of the world believes that Doctor Strange sacrificed himself to stop Thanos, much like Tony Stark did on our Earth. So while the Illuminati in the movie lived and died on their Earth, counterparts likely exist in 616.
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Unlike his 616 version, Earth 838 Mordo stayed true to the teachings of the Ancient One and saw Strange as a brother instead of an enemy. After the execution of Strange, Mordo became the Sorcerer Supreme and guardian of the Sanctum Santorum. Only he survived the Scarlet Witch’s attack on the Illuminati.
On Earth 838, Agent Peggy Carter underwent the super soldier process instead of Steve Rogers. As her losing battle with the Scarlet Witch shows, she’s a brilliant tactician. But as throwing her shield at a bound Strange shows, she might be a bit of a wild card. Fans of Captain Carter from Marvel’s animated What If…? should take heart, as despite Peggy’s grisly end here, that isn’t the same Peggy that we met on the TV show, and who we’ll certainly see again.
Where Earth 616’s Carol Danvers was doused with cosmic energy when Kree dissident Mar-Vell’s invention exploded, her partner in the Air Force Maria Rambeau was the recipient of cosmic powers on Earth 838, and she saves the universe as Captain Marvel.
The smartest man in the world, Reed Richards leads the Fantastic Four. 1961s Fantastic Four #1 not only introduced the superhero team but also inaugurated the Marvel Universe, so it’s a big deal for a member of the team to show up in the MCU, even if it’s in an alternate universe.
Some people saw the King of the Inhumans before, in the little-watched ABC miniseries Inhumans. Both versions have extremely powerful voices and both are played by Anson Mount. However, the 838 Black Bolt dons the costume worn in the comics, in place of 616’s street duds.
While Patrick Stewart once again plays the founder of the X-Men, one shouldn’t assume that this Professor X is the same one who appeared in the Fox movies. That character died in Logan, while this one seems to have much more in common with the character from the 1992 animated series (soon to be revived on Disney+).
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No. As Mordo explains, the Illuminati formed on Earth 838 to protect its world from multiversal threats, which indicates that the group we saw was unique to their Earth. Furthermore, it isn’t hard to guess that the MCU X-Men will have a different Charles Xavier waiting in the wings, rather than use Patrick Stewart again.
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That distinction has the biggest implications for Reed Richards. As of this writing, no official casting announcements have been made for the Fantastic Four movie. John Krasinski has long been the fan choice for the role, with his real-life wife Emily Blunt playing Sue Richards, the Invisible Woman (Blunt doesn’t appear to be too thrilled with the idea, though). But Krasinski’s appearance may have been a fan nod, not unlike the Stewart return, and we could still get a different actor as the Mr. Fantastic of Earth 616.
The one complicating factor here is a character mentioned, but not seen on screen. In an attempt to talk down the Scarlet Witch, Richards mentions that he has children. Comic readers know that his children are Franklin and Valeria. While Valeria is a super-genius whose intellect exceeds even that of her father, Franklin is usually an omega-level mutant with reality-shaping powers. Franklin has rewritten reality more than once in the comics, which means that he could bring members of the Illuminati back to life and possibly into the 616 universe.  
Multiverse of Madness constrains the Illuminati to Earth 838. However, it seems unlikely that we won’t see a version of the Illuminati at work on Earth 616. In fact, the post-credit scene to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings gives us an Illuminati starter kit, in which Wong, Bruce Banner, and Captain Marvel begin to investigate signals emanating from Shang-Chi’s rings. When you add in the larger threats posed by the near hatching of a Celestial in Eternals and the incursions brought on by Steven Strange, Earth 616 could definitely use an Illuminati.
In addition to Wong, Banner, and Captain Marvel, the comics don’t give us too much guidance about the identities of the other members. The Inhumans might be the least well-remembered MCU property, but with Mount reprising his role as Black Bolt for Multiverse of Madness, chances are the King of the Inhumans will join the MCU Illuminati. Doctor Strange usually sits on the comic book Illuminati, so he’s a definite possibility (provided that the toll exacted by the Darkhold isn’t a problem the team needs to solve). But the other members of the comic book team are either characters who we haven’t yet seen in the movies – such as Namor, Professor X, and Beast – or those who would be unlikely to join the Illuminati – such as T’Challa the Black Panther and Iron Man.
Using the characters seen thus far, Nick Fury or Maria Hill has the best chance to join Wong, Banner, and Captain Marvel on the MCU Illuminati, as does Shuri or Okoye. As the King of New Asgard, Valkyrie would be a valuable member of the team, and James Rhodes could easily fill the Iron Man role (at least until Riri Williams arrives). Finally, don’t be surprised if Hank Pym joined the Illuminati, given the fact that his comic book counterpart was briefly a member, and Circe of the Eternals has shown herself to be a valuable defender of the Earth.
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Of course, these are just guesses. For right now, the identities and purpose of the MCU Illuminati remain shrouded in mystery. Which, if you think about it, is pretty appropriate.
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Written by
Joe George |
Joe George’s writing has appeared at Slate, Polygon, Tor.com, and elsewhere!
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