Who Arrests Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness? The Illuminati Explained

As promised by the title of the film, the official trailer for "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" is filled with utter madness. There's certainly a lot to unpack, but when it comes to THAT voice at 1:18, it kicks down whatever forbidden door was cracked open to let "Spider-Man: No Way Home" happen and introduces a plethora of possibilities for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be even more connected to the House of Ideas' films that existed before it's inception. Because make no doubt about it, that was Patrick Stewart's voice we heard in this trailer that premiered during Super Bowl LVI and there is an incredibly good chance that he'll be playing Professor Charles Xavier in the next chapter of Doctor Stephen Strange's story.

But if that's the case, why would Professor X be sitting in some kind of throne room with other mysterious hooded figures while a handcuffed Strange is being brought before them by what appear to be silver Iron Man drones? Either the X-Mansion hired a new decorator or a secret cabal of superheroes from the storied history of Marvel Comics are about to make their MCU debut. Enter the Illuminati.

Who Is The Illuminati?

While we could get into some wild conspiracy theories involving the name of this entity, right now we're solely focusing on the Marvel Comics group known as the Illuminati. Making their first appearance in 2005, writer Brian Michael Bendis brought together Iron Man, Black Bolt, Doctor Strange, Mister Fantastic, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and Professor X to form this brain trust in "New Avengers" #7 as part of the lead up to the massive "Civil War" crossover. Each member of the team represented a foundational part of the Marvel Universe: Charles Xavier represented the mutant community; King Black Bolt spoke for his people, the Inhumans, and generally the cosmic side of Marvel; Namor was the voice for the people of Atlantis; Stephen Strange handled the magic; As the leader of the Fantastic Four and one of the smartest minds in all the land, Reed Richards spoke for the scientific community; And finally Tony Stark represented the Avengers and the people of Earth since he himself didn't really have superpowers (at the time).

In this issue, we learn that this group had been convening since the end of the Kree-Skrull War. Stark originally pitched this group as a governing body for all of the super-powered individuals of Earth. He wanted to unite the X-Men, the Avengers, the Inhumans, and everyone else under one banner to protect their planet. While it's a nice idea, in theory, everyone declined for various reasons; Strange pointed out that most costumed heroes are anti-establishment, Reed Richards mentioned that something like that would be too large to manage properly, and Xavier said that the heroes will be as hated and feared as mutants if they join forces like that. Instead of a full-blown government, the group decided that they would only gather to share information that could help each respective group in cases of big events like an alien civil war that finds its way to their doorstep again.

What Did The Illuminati Do?

In the years that followed, the Illuminati operated in the background of the Marvel Universe and pulled various strings here and there in an attempt to do good. For instance, they convinced Kree warrior Noh-Varr to turn over a new leaf and work towards protecting Earth. They also kept an eye on Robert Reynolds AKA the incredibly powerful hero known as Sentry by adding him to a new team of Avengers while he works to move on from his checkered past. This team also travels to the Skrull homeworld to tell them not to attack Earth again.

Of course, that last thing was ill-advised as that trip actually gave the Skrulls what they needed to initiate their "Secret Invasion" of Earth years later. This is how most Illuminati missions went for a while. They would mean well, Tony Stark would be arrogantly confident that what they were doing was the right thing, then it would all go wrong. Another example is when the team (minus Namor and Xavier) tricked Bruce Banner into going to space to help them fix a satellite. Instead of a quick fix that only the Hulk could handle, they banished their friend and ally from Earth and launched him off into space for the greater good. They were trying to protect people from Banner and vice versa, but this backfired in a huge way when Hulk returned to exact revenge upon his former friends and teammates during the "World War Hulk" storyline.

This version of the Illuminati disbanded when Iron Man came to them with the Superhero Registration Act. With Xavier off-planet and everyone else choosing to stay out of it, Stark and Richards were left to face off with Captain America and his anti-registration faction. But before they went their separate ways, Namor and Strange both expressed their displeasure with Tony's plan of action because it all proved T'Challa right in that, eventually, their secret little club would commit some less than altruistic actions.

The Black Panther Era

Yes, the Black Panther also has a history with the Illuminati. Though he hosted the first meeting in Wakanda and was invited to be a part of this group, he declined the invitation because he didn't think that what they were discussing should be kept hidden from the rest of the world. However, he was the one that reunited the team in 2013 as part of Jonathan Hickman's "New Avengers." Set during the "Infinity" crossover and the "Time Runs Out" storyline, T'Challa assembled Black Bolt, Namor, Mister Fantastic, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, and Captain America to form the new Illuminati in order to protect their Earth from colliding with the other Earths of the multiverse. Their plan was to eliminate the other Earths that find themselves on collision courses with theirs before an incursion could happen. This time, Captain America played the part of the contrarian as he disagreed with the plans laid out by the Illuminati. Unfortunately for him, Doctor Strange erased the Illuminati from Steve Rogers' memory so they could continue with their extreme actions (which may or may not have paid off by the time "Secret Wars" happened, depending on how you look at things).

What Does This Mean For The MCU?

If Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange is indeed coming face to face with the MCU's version of the Illuminati, the group will likely be very different than the one introduced in the comics, since the power dynamics of the MCU are arranged very differently than the comics. So far, Atlantis hasn't really been a factor. Inhumans have been introduced to the MCU, but it's currently uncertain whether "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Inhumans" are even canon anymore. But with Wilson Fisk and Matt Murdock popping up again, does that matter? Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are now off the board. Mister Fantastic is scheduled to be introduced somewhere down the line in a "Fantastic Four" movie by director Jon Watts, who also helmed Tom Holland's trilogy of Spidey films. And Charles Xavier hasn't been introduced in the MCU yet.

Well, until now. And by bringing in Patrick Stewart's version of the powerful telepath, we solve the issue of having key Illuminati players absent from the Sacred Timeline so far. Those empty seats could be filled by variants from other universes, which is in line with what we've seen from the trailers so far. And "Loki" and "What If?" certainly laid a solid foundation for this house to be built. Plus, it's an opportunity for some fun cameos.

The members of this Illuminati also don't necessarily have to be a one-for-one trade-off, either. If you look closely at the poster for the film, you could see Captain Carter's shield. Could she be jumping from the Guardians of the Multiverse to the Illuminati? Maybe instead of Namor, we have Yondu from "Guardians of the Galaxy" or Ajak from "Eternals" or Odin from "Thor." We could even see alternate versions of villains we've encountered. Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger could emerge from a universe where he was a benevolent king. Or Tobey Jones could revisit Arnim Zola again. Villains like Absorbing Man, Enchantress, Titania, and The Hood all have a history with the Illuminati in the sense that they all were on a different team with that name.

There is a big what-if, however. What if Phil Coulson sits on one of those fancy Illuminati thrones? It would truly be wild to see some "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." acknowledgment from the MCU proper. An even bigger what if: What if CiarĂ¡n Hinds reprises his role from "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance"? That's right. What if Mephisto actually did have a role in all of this?! Seriously, the possibilities are endless thanks to the multiverse that Strange dipped his toes into courtesy of "No Way Home."

At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see what role this shadowy organization plays in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" and which members Sam Raimi, Kevin Feige, and co. have chosen to represent them. Furthermore, it'll be even more exciting to see what Professor X's appearance means for the future of the X-Men in the MCU. There are just so many possibilities! But I guess that's the point of the multiverse, right?

In the meantime, as we continue to speculate the days away, remember that "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" hits theaters on May 6, 2022.