Who’s that sitting next to you on the bus? Who’s that nodding to as you await your latte? Who is that friendly theater worker tearing your ticket when you experience the arrival of Captain Marvel in your local multiplex? Beware, they could be Skrulls! Well, probably not, but in the Marvel Comics Universe they sure could be, and now, that unknown alien threat in disguise is also coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
Historically, Skrulls were basically Marvel’s version of Klingons, an ever present, militaristic threat that can strike at any moment. But unlike the Klingons, the Skrull don’t always attack head on. No, the Skrulls are shapeshifters and can literally be anyone. They are a reptilian species who have been a constant menace to the heroes of the Marvel Universe almost since day one. In fact, they were the second villains the Fantastic Four ever faced!
Now that the Skrulls have shifted their way into the MCU, let us take a look at the history of the Skrulls…
The Early History
The Skrulls first appeared in Fantastic Four #2 (1962) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The shape-shifting race was clearly inspired by Cold War paranoia and fear of communist infiltration. In this classic issue, a group of shapeshifting Skrull scouts disguise themselves as the Fantastic Four to sow chaos and pave the way for a Skrull armada to invade Earth.
Kids, this is where things get weird. Mister Fantastic fools the Skrulls into thinking the Earth is guarded by giant monsters. How does the stretchable hero do that? He shows the aliens images from issues of Marvel’s monster comics! Yes, the Skrulls, an advanced race of spacefaring warlords are fooled by comic book drawings. Then, Mister Fantastic hypnotizes the Skrull scouts into forgetting they are Skrulls. These behind enemy lines alien warriors are fooled into now believing they are cows. Wait, what?
The Skrulls could have been another one-and-done alien threat if not for Fantastic Four #18 (1963) by Lee and Kirby. Not taking the whole cow thing lying down, the Skrulls are moooooved to revenge (Editor’s note: Sorry. Very sorry). The Skrull Emperor sends his finest warrior, the Super Skrull, to Earth to take down the FF.
With the arrival of Super Skrull, the Skrulls went from a forgettable race of aliens to a cosmic threat. Here was just one member of the Skrull race, and he had the combined powers of all the Fantastic Four combined (plus shapeshifting and hypnotism!) He was defeated, but he would return and was responsible for the death of the father of the Human Torch and Invisible Girl. Now, it was personal as the Skrulls took their place in the firmament of the Marvel Universe. Not bad for a group of aliens once duped by issues of Journey into Mystery!
In Captain Marvel #2-3 (1968), writer Roy Thomas and artist Gene Colan present the Super Skrull going up against Captain Mar-Vell, the first hero in the Marvel Universe to be dubbed Captain Marvel. It was a cool couple of issues, but little did fans realize that this conflict between a Skrull and a Kree would foreshadow the greatest Marvel space saga arguably of all time (yes, it is on par with The Galactus Trilogy and Infinity Gauntlet. I said it, and I’m not sorry).
Before we get into the Kree-Skrull War, we must examine the origins of the Skrulls.
The Skrulls were created by the Celestials, godlike giants with immense power (created by Jack Kirby, also a godlike giant with celestial power) who perform experiments on the universe’s budding species. There were three branches of this Celestial created race: the Skrulls, the Deviants, and the Eternals. Which brings up the question: will the Skrulls introduced in the Captain Marvel film be connected to cinematic Eternals? That’s a question for another time.
Anyway, the Skrulls win the struggle due to their ability to shapeshift as the other two races settle on Earth. After the Skrulls develop intergalactic space travel, the seeds for the Kree-Skrull War are planted. At first, the Skrulls want to form an alliance with the Kree and visit the Kree home world of Hala. There, the Skrulls learn that the planet is inhabited by two races: the Kree and the plant like Cotati (they look like celery). Desiring an alliance, the Kree wipe out the Cotati. The Skrulls are so disgusted, that they cut ties with the Kree. Centuries later, the Kree develop into a universal power and take the fight to the Skrulls. The war was so long and so brutal, the Skrulls had to adapt from a magnanimous species to a warlike species that embraced savagery. That is where the Skrulls we know and fear come from.
The Kree and Skrulls fought on and off for millennia with the Skrulls becoming more savage. This brings us to the legendary Kree-Skrull War story arc by writer Roy Thomas and artists Neal Adams, John Buscema, and Sal Buscema and was featured in Avengers #89-97 (1971-1972). The story kicks off as Captain Mar-Vell arrives back to Earth after an extended stay in the Negative Zone.
The War begins when Mar-Vell breaks into the Fantastic Four’s headquarters to open a portal into the Negative Zone and free Jones, he is successful but the Avengers answer the alarm. They find an irradiated Mar-Vell, dying of exposure to Negative Zone radiation. The Vision saves Mar-Vell’s life and the bond between the Kree Captain and the Avengers begins to form. Enter our lady of the hour, Carol Danvers who questions the Avengers about Mar-Vell’s presence.
Now, this is where things get all Kree and Skrully. Ronan the Accuser (hey, he’s in the movie, too!) shows up with a plan to devolve Earth to prehistoric times and use it as a base of operations against the Skrulls (that…isn’t in the movie). This is the first mention of the Kree-Skrull War as an ongoing concern in the Marvel Universe.
To make a very long story short, during this classic arc, the Inhumans show up, as does Annihilus, a Kree Sentry, a crap ton of nearly forgotten Golden Age heroes, and the original four Skrulls hypnotized by the Fantastic Four into believing they were cows. A powerful US senator named Craddock is leading the charge against aliens and the Avengers and actually disbands Earth’s Mightiest Heroes during the course of the War. Of course, and important to our examination of Skrull history, Craddock is revealed as the fourth cow Skrull. This is actually important as it really plays into the Skrulls’ role as infiltrators into the most powerful levels of Earth’s governments. This is the role the Skrulls would take on for years to come, the infiltrators inspired by HUAC paranoia with a dash of satirical McCarthyism. Of course, they end up defeated, but the after effects would linger in the MU forever.
The Skrull legend culminated in Secret Invasion by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu (2008-2009). This mega-event features a desperate Skrull race making one last attempt to take down the heroes of Earth. After being defeated by the Kree, the Skrulls suffered further devastation when Galactus devoured the Skrull Throneworld in Fantastic Four #257 (1983).
The Skrulls were reeling as a race and made one last desperate bid to take over the Earth, the planet where they suffered their most devastating defeat. Led by the empress and religious leader Queen Veranke, the Skrulls develop a new form of warrior and sleeper agent, Skrulls that contain the power of Earth’s heroes. These sleepers are placed on Earth as the Skrulls begin their final gambit of slowly replacing some of the world’s greatest heroes and important government officials with Skrull infiltrators. This story rocked the Marvel Comics Universe to its very core, and perhaps future MCU efforts will incorporate more elements of it.
The Shape of Things to Come
Now, we can be here for days telling you about the great Skrull stories of old like the time a Skrull replaced Elvis Presley and fought the hero known as 3D Man in the 1950s (we’re not kidding, it was in Marvel Premiere #35-37, 1977), but we’ll leave you with the two biggies of the Kree-Skrull War and Secret Invasion and let you discover the rest for yourself. Because where the Skrulls go, awesome stories follow as these shapeshifting monsters have every ingredient that makes for great sci-fi.