Essays · Movies

Meet the Skrulls: The Much Anticipated New Enemy in ‘Captain Marvel’

These villainous aliens are an essential ingredient to the MCU’s past and future.
Marvel Studios
By  · Published on March 7th, 2019

In this series…

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Captain Marvel. The first female-headlined Marvel Cinematic Universe entry featuring Brie Larson whupping a whole lot of alien ass as a training exercise for taking down the Mad Titan Thanos in Avengers: Endgame being cause numero uno. A new power player is about to join the roster, and the superhero bullpen will never look the same again. That’s rad.

The fact that the alien ass that Carol Danvers is destroying is attached to the Skrulls is an unexpected delight that caused quite a stir in the fan community the moment Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige revealed it to be so at the San Diego International Comic-Con in 2017. These guys should not exist. At least, they should not be in the MCU. They’re Fantastic Four baddies and therefore licensed out to Fox. Ah, but things are changing, aren’t they? We might as well push whatever monopoly worries we have out of our mind and enjoy the bliss of geekdom. There is no stopping that train anyway.

Every cinematic universe needs a wretched hive of scum and villainy. For Marvel, that’s not just a backwater spaceport plopped atop an outer rim desert, but an entire planet thriving with shapeshifting ne’er-do-wells who occupy their time plotting and scheming galactic takeover. Are you ready for some comic book gobbledygook? Of course, you are, that’s why you’re here. I eat this stuff up. You eat this stuff up. Let’s chow down together.

Many, many years ago, ancient cosmic gods known as the Celestials (you briefly saw one of these giants as part of the Collector’s Infinity Stone slideshow in Guardians of the Galaxy) visited Skrullos to muck about with the inhabitants’ DNA. They bred three species branches: the Primes, the Eternals (coming soon to their very own franchise), and the Deviants. The last of them kept the good looks of their reptilian ancestors, sporting vibrant green skin, pointy ears, and ridged chins that share a remarkable similarity to the mighty purple jaw of Thanos (no relation beyond the Marvel house style).

War immediately broke out amongst the three parties. The Deviants arose as the dominant branch thanks in large part to their ability to manipulate their form and infiltrate their enemy. Not content with global domination, however, the Skrulls used their mastery over science to spread themselves across space, forming their own intergalactic empire. When they reached the barbaric planet of Hala, the Skrulls attempted to play Celestial with its residents.

The two tribes who called Hala their home, the Kree and the Cotati, were removed from the planetoid by the Skrulls and placed on two separate barren landscapes (the Kree got to play with Earth’s moon, and this would lead to the birth of the Inhumans). The Skrulls told both tribes that whoever terraformed their lifeless hubs into thriving civilizations first would gain entry into their kingdom. Despite constructing a wonderous metropolis upon our moon, the Kree believed that the Cotati were gaining favor with the Skrulls. Their jealous response was to slaughter their Cotati rivals, and this bloodshed sparked a Kree-Skrull War that would last for millennia.


The Skrulls made their first appearance in Fantastic Four #2, written by Stan Lee, illustrated by Jack Kirby, and published in January of 1962. All of those sci-fi shenanigans ranted about above would form over decades of neverending monthly publications. However, in their introduction, the Skrulls were simply little green men for our heroes to squash. Their original diabolical task saw four invaders impersonating Marvel’s first family, taking on their superpowers in an effort to ruin the reputation of the Fantastic Four so that they could eventually conquer Earth.

In that single issue, Mister Fantastic beats the Skrulls at their own game. He steals their rocket ship and flies it into space where he meets with their mothership. Impersonating one of the Skrulls, Reed Richards convinces the alien conquerors that Earth is too dangerous a target. He uses images from Marvel monster comics like Journey Into Mystery and Strange Tales as proof that dark horrors reside below. The Skrulls retreat in fear.

Reed returns to Earth, clears his family name by revealing the existence of the aliens to the military, and forces his Skrull prisoners to transform into cows whereupon he hypnotizes them into living out their last days in bovine form. Dude. That’s messed up. Hopefully, no one ever tried to milk those poor fools.

From this utterly ridiculous and bizarre foundation, one of the great comic book terrors sprang. The Skrulls would return time and time again. Over decades their threat would be molded and retconned into Marvel’s go-to intergalactic menace. Imagine the hell that shapeshifters could cause in a realm populated by Incredible Hulks, Invincible Iron Men, and Unstoppable Wasps? That’s a horror film worthy of a crossover event (Pssst! Read Brian Michael Bendis‘ “Secret Invasion”) or even a couple of MCU phases. Which is why, when Marvel Studios finally ventured into the cosmos with Thor, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy, it was a painful reality for fandom to be denied Skrull troublemaking at the hand of legality.

In the last 19 years, 20th Century Fox had varying success in terms of quality when it came to their X-Men franchise. A decent movie here, a few terrible ones there. Most of us can agree that Deadpool and Logan were definite wins. No one can deny that their handling of the Fantastic Four IP was an utter embarrassment. The less said about Galactus and the Silver Surfer the better. We should be thankful that they never bothered to muck about with the Skrulls.

When it appeared that deadly shapeshifters would never face off against The Avengers, a new alien race of antagonists was required. The task of inventing the Chitauri fell upon writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch when they reinterpreted Captain America and the rest of the Avengers for the rebranded Ultimates line back in 2000. These beasts struck a strong resemblance to the Skrulls minus the pesky copyright infringement. Naturally, they were the perfect army for Loki to wield in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers and the success of that film made the Chitauri a popular race of baddies in the 616-universe. Hmmm… 616 vs. the Ultimate Universe? Wha? Huh? Don’t worry about it; Marvel mostly fixed all those competing timelines in another retconning, rebranding mega-crossover event called “Secret Wars” which in turn was based on a previous mega-crossover event also called “Secret Wars.” Comics, man. Gotta love ’em.

For fans of the comics, the Skrulls represent a great deal of potential. Where can the MCU go after Avengers: Endgame? Is there a new Thanos whom Kevin Feige and team can build towards? We’ve anticipated an adaptation of “Secret Invasion” for quite some time, and my mouth froths at the possibility of an end credit stinger that features Chris Evans’ chiseled jaw morphing into a green, ridged atrocity. You’re telling me Captain America has been a Skrull since The Winter Soldier!?!?! Minds would blow. Tempers would flare. That’s damn good comics, though. Movie audiences can take it. Marvel Studios has already trained them for this moment.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)