The alien shapeshifting race known as the Skrulls have been part of the Marvel Comics universe for a very long time. Their first appearance was in 1962’s The Fantastic Four #2, which saw the alien race copy the team’s likenesses and powers in an attempt to discredit the heroes, paving the way for a full-scale invasion. They would appear again 16 issues later and continue to develop across hundred of appearances over the next 50+ years. But over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, their first appearance is set for next week’s Captain Marvel. Previously, the character concept was believed to be part of the 20th Century Fox library of intellectual property alongside the Fantastic Four, but the situation has changed, and the arrival of the storied alien race could mean big things for the MCU. And looking at their history within the pages of Marvel Comics, we have a few guesses as to what their appearance could mean in Marvel Studios’ output in the years to come.
As Marvel’s own cosmology began to solidify, the reptilian Skrulls became connected to the Celestials, an impossibly powerful primordial race that is the seeming source of most Marvel superpowers, thanks to their manipulation of genetics across the universe. If you’ve ever watched Ancient Aliens, they are similar to the Sky Peoples the “experts” on that program claim altered human evolution, except the Celestials have more thrilling headgear. (In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Kurt Russell’s Ego claimed to be a Celestial, signaling the first appearance of the race in the MCU.) The initial Skrull peoples were split into three distinct groups: Prime, Deviant, and Eternal (Keep the latter two terms in mind as they will matter later). The Deviants hunted the other two groups into virtual extinction. The last surviving Eternal married into the Deviant royal line while the last remaining Prime Skrull fled to Earth and, surprisingly, leaves our tale.
After the Deviants won the war for supremacy and became the only Skrull race remaining, they set aside their warring ways, using their shapeshifting powers to infiltrate and assimilate annexed planets and cultures. Cooperation was the order of the day until the Skrulls met the Kree.
As part of an initial diplomatic mission to the Kree homeworld of Hala, the Skrulls set up a delegation of Kree and Cotati, the planet’s other advanced species, on separate worlds to determine which of the two would represent Hala in the Skrull Empire. The Kree killed the Cotati when it became clear the latter species would be chosen. Stunned by their behavior, the Skrull ambassadors banned the Kree from trade with the empire, which prompted the Kree to simply kill the ambassadors and appropriate their technology. Eventually attacking the Skrull homeworld of Skrullos with ships reverse-engineered from that initial encounter, the Kree engaged the Skrulls in a protracted war across millennia that saw the latter reorganize into a militaristic society. This war would continue into the 20th Century (or the relative present, as Marvel’s timeline scales between the 1960s and the present day in strange ways), during which time the Avengers would become part of the conflict.
After Earthling superheroes got involved, there was relative peace marred by occasional skirmishes. But any semblance of a ceasefire ended when planet-eater Galactus (who we expect to enter the MCU soon) devoured the Skrull throneworld and its central leadership. Scattered factions turned on each other before resuming their war with the Kree.
Earth, as it turns out, is in a prime strategic spot for both the Kree and the Skrulls. And thanks to Celestial intervention in its past – which the Kree would later mimic by developing the Inhumans on Earth – it was full of superpowered people ready to defend it from any open invasion. The Skrulls had an advantage thanks to their shapeshifting abilities, infiltrating the planet on a number of occasions, like the aforementioned Fantastic Four #2. Defeat often came at the hands of Skrull defectors who came to enjoy the human way of life.
After the Galactus incident and a few other shocks to their sense of superiority, a waning Skrull Empire went for broke, kidnapping prominent superheroes as a prelude to an all-out invasion of the planet. In Secret Invasion by Brian Micheal Bendis and Leinil Yu, their plan comes to fruition as Skrull agents destabilized the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the planetary defense force known as S.W.O.R.D. They also attacked Tony Stark directly, disabling him and the various Stark technologies used around the globe.
But as nothing ever goes right for the Skrulls, the heroes they kidnapped made their way back home and help the remaining heroes on Earth defeat the Skrulls after a lot of fighting in and around Manhattan. The resulting fallout saw Tony discredited and Norman Osborn given a leading position in the S.H.I.E.L.D./Avengers defense apparatus. But seeing as Osborn — one of Spider-Man’s most well-known adversaries — has not shown up in the MCU yet, that is a story for another day.
Thanks to the complicated rights situation between Marvel and Fox, the Skrulls are something of a late addition to universal politics. As the MCU developed without them, the Kree debuted in both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Guardians of the Galaxy in an independent fashion. In Guardians, their ancient animosity with the Skrulls appeared to transfer to the Nova Corps of Xandar, but from what we have seen of Captain Marvel, a Kree-Skrull war definitely occurred in the 1990s, the time period in which the film is set.
Thanks to some pre-release featurettes, we know the Skrulls are the Kree’s deadliest and most ancient enemy. Their war has been ongoing for generations, and the Starforce is an elite group dedicated to preventing Skrull aggression in Kree space. We also know the Skrulls are infiltrating Earth, with squad leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) making his way into part of the planet’s power structure. When Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) first arrives on Earth, a sense of paranoia grabs her as she cannot detect Skrull from human. That paranoia may become a bigger problem for the MCU in the years to come.
While it appears Captain Marvel’s main job is to introduce Carol ahead of her appearance in Avengers: Endgame, it also seems to be setting up a number of details for the cinematic universe’s fourth phase and firming up some ideas already introduced in previous Marvel Studios films. In terms of the latter, it will presumably explain why we have not seen Skrulls in the present day MCU and why they are not a continuing threat to the Kree Empire in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Of course, it’s always possible we have seen Skrulls without knowing it. Thanks to their shapeshifting and power-mimicking abilities, they could be hiding in plain sight. Going back to Secret Invasion, a whopping number of characters turned out to be Skrulls. Spider-Woman, for example, turned out to be the Skrull Empress, which shocked fans of the character, as she had been on a year-long journey of self-discovery that was undone by the event series. Tony Stark’s butler Jarvis – who is a conventional human man in the comics – also turned out to be a Skrull who kidnapped the real Jarvis and replaced him for at least two years prior to the invasion. As the miniseries pointed out, the Skrulls need to keep the people they are replacing alive to make the duplication viable. Thanks to a direct connection with their captives, Skrulls can possess their memories and can even act as sleeper agents unaware of their Skrull nature.
Because of this, we suspect at least a few of MCU characters who survive Endgame will turn out to be Skrulls. Back in the comic book, Hank Pym turned out to be an active Skrull agent, while dupes of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Invisible Woman, and many more were unleashed during the open invasion to confuse the heroes. Considering the Skrull-Hank’s importance to the scheme, it would not surprise us if the MCU’s version of the character (played by Michael Douglas in Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp) was replaced between films. It is even possible he was replaced before the first Ant-Man film, with the sleeper agent as dedicated to retrieving Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) as the real Hank.
This makes an infiltration scheme – should it survive the plot of Captain Marvel – all the more insidious. People who disappear for long stretches like Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) seem like prime candidates for duplication. Curiously, none of those three were replaced in Secret Invasion, but they would certainly seem suspect in a post-Endgame world in which the Avengers begin to wonder who is friend or foe. Then again, the same could be said about nearly every member of Team Cap, since they went off the grid after Captain America: Civil War. But also consider Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision’s (Paul Bettany) weekends away from the Avengers complex. That is plenty of time to replace either or both. Of course, we’re going to assume Vision was never replaced, as the Skrull ability cannot presumably replicate the powers of the Mind Stone. Plus, he’s, well, you know.
And should Robert Downey Jr. decide to stick around for another few films after Endgame, learning he may have been a Skrull replacement would certainly give him some new drama to chew on and quip at.
Then there are supporting characters like Luis (Micheal Pena), Shuri (Letitia Wright), General Ross (William Hurt), Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and even Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) to consider. In Secret Invasion, the replacement of Jarvis was actually key to toppling the Avengers, so replacing close friends and relatives could prove equally effective in an MCU version of the story.
This all presumes, of course, that the debut of the Skrulls is leading to a phase-long meta-narrative based on that comic book storyline. It is also possible that the Skrulls, with their connection to the Celestials, may come into play within the confines of Chloé Zhao’s upcoming Eternals film. Both early humans and Skrulls — and primitive Kree for that matter — were altered by the Celestials to create separate breeds of Eternals and Deviants. While the Skrull Eternals and Deviants ultimately became one Skrull race, the human Eternals and Deviants continue a secret war away from Earth. Perhaps one side or the other will reach out to their Skrull cousins for aid.
But then, all of this assumes the Skrulls were not completely wiped out in the 1990s, which is still a possibility until Captain Marvel settles the matter. We’re presuming they will stick around for a while in some form or another after all the dust settles.
Do you think the Skrulls have already invaded the MCU? Who do you think might possibly be one? Let us know in the comments.