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What are Skrulls? The history of the aliens Captain Marvel will battle

Let's look at the shape-shifting aliens that have plagued Marvel Comics heroes since 1962.

We finally got our first look at 2019's Captain Marvel and its villains, the Skrulls, last week. And while we already have an ongoing guide to the titular heroine's history, you may be asking what a Skrull is. Let's take a look at the comic book history of this shape-shifting alien race and how it will affect the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the MCU enters a new phase. (Update: We finally have a Captain Marvel trailer too!)

The Skrulls first appeared in Fantastic Four #2.

Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four

Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Skrulls first showed up in 1962's Fantastic Four #2. Preparing for an invasion of Earth, they believe the Fantastic Four stand in their way, so four scouts impersonate the hero team and try to turn the public against them.

The Fantastic Four thwarts the effort and the Skrulls scout team ends up transforming into cows. Then Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards hypnotizes them into believing they're real cows and leaves them to live out their lives in a field -- nullifying the threat in the weirdest way.

Marvel Comics of the '60s take some gloriously strange turns. (Did anyone drink Skrull-cow milk?!) It's unlikely they'll be defeated like that in Captain Marvel… but we can dream.

The Skrulls strike back by sending Kl'rt, better known as Super Skrull, after the team in 1963's Fantastic Four #18. In addition to his regular Skrull abilities, he has all of the Fantastic Four's powers -- Mr. Fantastic's stretching abilities, Invisible Woman's manipulation of light waves (aka invisibility), the Thing's strength and Human Torch's flame -- making him a major threat.

Moo. The Skrull-cows got revenge in the Avengers' Kree-Skrull War storyline.

Marvel

Kree-Skrull War

This 1976 storyline is found in Avengers #89 to #97 and written by Roy Thomas (who would succeed Stan Lee as Marvel's editor-in-chief), with art by Sal Buscema, Neal Adams and John Buscema.

It sees the first Captain Marvel (a Kree named Mar-Vell) arriving on Earth, resulting in the planet and the Avengers getting caught up in an intergalactic conflict between the Skrulls and the Kree.

The Skrulls use their shape-shifting abilities to sow fear of the Kree in Earth's populace, and both the scouts who turned into cows and Super Skrull play roles in the event. Ronan the Accuser -- the extremist Kree seen in the first Guardians of the Galaxy and the photos from Captain Marvel -- also tries to devolve Earth to a prehistoric time so it can be used as a base in the war against the Skrulls.

In 1975's Avengers #133, we learn the Kree actually started the war millions of years prior when the Skrulls came to their home planet and sought a relationship with its dominant race. The Kree shared the world with another race, the Cotati, but slaughtered them and the Skrull visitors when the Skrulls decided that the Cotati would be better partners.

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Secret Invasion

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Secret Invasion sees Marvel's heroes taking on Skrull infiltrators.

Marvel Comics

This 2008 event, by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Leinil Yu, revealed that the Skrulls had infiltrated Earth over a long period by kidnapping and replacing its heroes. Their leader, Queen Veranke, had taken the place of Spider-Woman (who'd been an Avenger for years at that point) ahead of a straight-up invasion by an attack force.

A number of new Super-Skrulls display the powers of various heroes and villains during this conflict. They're beaten after Mr. Fantastic (who else?) builds a device that can detect the aliens. Veranke is killed and the Skrull population is left greatly diminished.

For a while now, there have been rumors that Secret Invasion will become a part of Captain Marvel and Avengers 4, and perhaps even open/continue/be the center of Phase 4 of the MCU. Those rumors were revived last week when EW published the first details about 2019's movie: "Before long, Carol finds herself back on Earth with new questions about her past. And she's got a formidable enemy in the form of the Skrulls — the notorious Marvel baddies made all the more dangerous by their shape-shifting abilities. Ben Mendelsohn plays their leader Talos, who spearheads a Skrull invasion of Earth."

Ben Mendelsohn, left, is leader Talos.

Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Talos

We know Ben Mendelsohn will play Skrull leader Talos in Captain Marvel, but it seems he'll be quite different from his comic counterpart.

That version of the character, who first appeared in 1994's Incredible Hulk #418, lacks the Skrulls' ability to shape-shift due to a birth defect. As a tradeoff, he has superhuman strength and endurance, to such a level that he can take on the Hulk.

However, the MCU's Talos will be able to shape-shift and has infiltrated a powerful organization on Earth, as revealed by Entertainment Weekly and reported by our sister site Comicbook.com.

"We gotta deal with the Kree. The Kree are punks," Mendelsohn told EW. "And the Skrulls, I mean, we're just misunderstood. At the end of the day, the Skrull is really misunderstood. Look, I don't want to curse in print or anywhere else, but if I could, I would about the Kree."

Rights issues

Fans thought Skrulls couldn't be used in the MCU because Fox holds the cinematic rights to the Fantastic Four and that's where they originated.

In 2017, however, since-fired Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn revealed on Twitter that the race could be used by both Marvel and Fox -- only specific Skrulls like Super-Skrull were strictly considered Fox properties.

Of course, Disney's $71.3 billion merger with Fox may see more Skrulls entering the MCU sometime soon. Perhaps Mr. Fantastic will even get to defeat them on the silver screen.

This piece was originally published on Sept. 10; it has since been updated with a trailer, and will be update as we get more info on Captain Marvel.

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