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Doctor Strange 2’s mysterious multiverse council has sparked Illuminati theories

Where Professor X, Tom Cruise, and the Fantastic Four align in Marvel

doctor strange standing in a doorway with christine palmer and america chavez standing behind him Image: Marvel Studios
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Marvel fans are spinning up their speculation engines today, after hearing a voice that sounded so very much like Sir Patrick Stewart in Sunday night’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Super Bowl trailer.

The new Marvel movie will see Stephen Strange dragged before some kind of mysterious tribunal, and those in the comic book-know already think they know whose butts go in those seven chairs: the Illuminati.

But not that Illuminati. The Marvel one that involves everyone from Professor X to Iron Man.

Who are Marvel’s Illuminati?

Doctor Strange, Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Professor Xavier, Black Bolt, and Namor — the Illuminati — sit around a table in New Avengers #7 (2005). Image: Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven/Marvel Comics

The Illuminati were created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Steve McNiven in the pages of New Avengers, but they were most active during writer Jonathan Hickman’s tenure on the Avengers, which eventually culminated in Secret Wars, possibly the best regarded Marvel Comics crossover of all time.

In the Marvel Comics universe, the Illuminati is what it’s purported to be in the real world, but with a superhero spin: a covert cabal of the most powerful superheroes on Earth who assemble to assert their own wills on the planet’s problems. In the Marvel Universe context, “most powerful” doesn’t mean the physically strongest, but rather intellectual and political power.

Members of the Illuminati typically break down as Earth’s greatest minds (Mister Fantastic and Tony Stark) and superheroic leaders of nations (mutant figurehead Charles Xavier and actual sitting monarchs like Black Panther, Namor the Submariner, and Black Bolt of the Inhumans). Doctor Strange, as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, also usually gets a seat at the table, while other members have included Beast of the X-Men (after the Professor’s death), and Captain America (who was voted out and mind-wiped after he swore to expose their unethical choices).

The comics history makes an Illuminati cameo in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness so titillating for Marvel fans: This could be the way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe for Professor X and Mister Fantastic. Patrick Stewart played Charles Xavier in the 2000s-era X-Men movies, and any hint that Marvel Studios might have finally pulled the trigger on putting the X-Men into the MCU is going to raise eyebrows.

And though a central Marvel Comics property, the Fantastic Four have never found much success on the big screen. Marvel Studios is currently working on a Fantastic Four movie with Spider-Man: No Way Home director Jon Watts, but little is known about it. If Mister Fantastic were to appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it would be the first appearance of a Fantastic Four character in the MCU.

Do the Illuminati usually judge people like Doctor Strange?

X-Men: Days of Future Past - young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) meets old Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart)
Patrick Stewart (right) as Professor X in 2018’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Alan Markfield/20th Century Fox

Not really, no. After all, dragging people before your secret cabal for judgment would mean it wasn’t so secret anymore. If the Illuminati think you’ve done something so wrong they need to do something about it, they’ll just pull strings in the background, like when they fired the Hulk into space.

Are we sure that it’s the Illuminati in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?

Nope — right now it’s just a sturdy theory. That said, it doesn’t seem likely that Marvel would make the first introduction of Professor X and Mister Fantastic to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in brief cameos in a Doctor Strange sequel.

With Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Loki sharing the same writer, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the two stories appear to have a lot of parallels. Doctor Strange and Loki are both hopping through alternate interpretations of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whether through time travel or the multiverse. Both seem to be facing off against variant versions of themselves, and part of the story involves them being cuffed and brought before a cosmic court.

The seven figures on those chairs could be any number of ideas. They could even be seven Doctor Strange variants — if Loki’s variants could be played by actors like Richard E. Grant, it stands to reason that Stephen Strange’s could be played by Patrick Stewart.

But fans are still enjoyable speculating about the idea of a full Illuminati lineup. Actors from all kinds of superhero vaporware projects are trending as fans chew on rumors and dredge up old fan-castings, like John Krasinski (a fan favorite casting choice for a “good” Fantastic Four movie, and once in the consideration to play Captain America), or Tom Cruise as a Variant Iron Man.

Is it possible that Marvel could have pulled all the strings to make this happen? Sure. But even if the studio did, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that these characters would be representative of Professor X or Mister Fantastic going forward.

For example, despite a frenzy of speculation about how Evan Peters could be reprising his role as the mutant Quicksilver in WandaVision, his character didn’t turn out to be from Fox’s X-Men continuity at all. He was an ordinary citizen of Westview, New Jersey who Agatha Harkness ensorcelled into believing he was a reborn version of Pietro created by Wanda’s magic.

Marvel Studios has shown that it’s perfectly comfortable playing around with the fanbase’s knowledge of the metatextual mess of the company’s film licenses — without actually making good on fans’ wildest crossover dreams.

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