The Illusive Man was one of the most enigmatic characters of the Mass Effect trilogy. All we knew about him was that his eyes glowed (What was up with that???), he had more money than God, and he always seemed to have a bigger end-game in mind that what he told Shepard. There are plenty of theories out there that the mysterious benefactor for the Andromeda Initiative was the Illusive Man. With everything we know about his drive to ensure humanity’s survival, it makes plenty of sense. Not that we’ll ever find out, but that’s not why we’re here today.
Of all the mysteries surrounding him, the biggest question is, where did he come from? What is his real name? What made him start Cerberus and his crusade against the Reapers?
All of these answers (and more!) lie within a comic series called Mass Effect: Evolution, written by Mac Walters and John Jackson Miller.
Remember Something About a First Contact War?
When humanity first discovered the Mass Relays, they set out to colonize planets immediately, not realizing that hey there are other species out there doing the same. They ended up in an eight-years-long war with the turians, called the First Contact War. The Illusive Man was part of the war effort for humanity. More specifically, he was a scout in a three-man team set to rescue colonists from the turians. They were also ordered to bring back turians if possible for military interrogation. Back then, his name was Jack Harper.
Now you have an idea why he’s a bit of a space racist. He and Ashley would have been perfect together, actually. Turians killed his friends and left one of his teammates for dead. Not to mention, they wiped out a lot of humans from their first colony. He has genuine bias against aliens, especially turians.
Going back to that mission, Harper was able to secure a turian for questioning. However, their plan to use the turian to find out why they were demanding this particular planet to be human-free went rather awry. Most plans do in these situations. Otherwise you’d have a seriously boring comic.
The turians were mostly a research team trying to secure a prothean artifact. If you remember anything at all about the original Mass Effect trilogy, it’s that bad things happen near prothean artifacts. In this case, it turned one of Harper’s teammates into a husk. When Harper pulled Ben away from the artifact, it affected him as well, but not as deeply. He wasn’t turned into a husk (obviously), but he gained the knowledge from the artifact. Turns out it was an artifact from the Reapers.
My Eyes Are Blue and I Know Things
As a result, Jack Harper set down a completely new path. He knows there is something ancient out there, ready to wipe out the human race as well as all civilized life in the galaxy. He also has a deeper insight into Reaper plans, hence why he was on top of the Collectors so quickly. In addition, he knows that the only way to stop the Reapers and save humanity is by technology. This is why he founded Cerberus, and this is why he’s been hell bent on acquiring as much advanced technology as possible. It’s kind of a shame that his contact with the artifact ended up being his undoing, as his obsession nearly brought him to husk-like status.
You should really read the comic in whole, because it sets the stage for the entire world of Mass Effect. It also happens to shed light on the years before humans were part of the Citadel, before everything was somewhat rosy. Not to mention, we get to see a completely different side of the Illusive Man, before he became so stoic and single-minded.
That is, before he was the Illusive Man and was simply Jack Harper, mercenary extraordinaire during the First Contact War. He stopped being Jack Harper that day, and the Illusive Man was born.
Now you know where the Illusive Man came from. Now you know the rest of the story.