With all the aliens on display in theatres now in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, there was one glaring absence: the Skrulls. This particular alien has been around practically since the Marvel Universe as we know it was conceived. Well, almost. One month later, to be precise, as the Skrulls made their debut all the way back in FANTASTIC FOUR #2 (January 1962) in the very matter-of-factly named “The Fantastic Four Meet the Skrulls From Outer Space!” by Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby.
Our story opens with a surprising scene, of Ben Grimm swimming out to an off-shore oil platform and demolishing it with a single punch. Surprising not only because it seems out of character for one of our heroes, but also because one wouldn’t expect a dude made out of orange rocks to be such a strong swimmer.
Not to be outdone, next we see Sue Storm making off with a gem worth a cool ten million dollars:
Johnny Storm, meanwhile, is satisfied with mere vandalism, melting down a newly dedicated marble statue that took years to create:
As for Reed Richards, well, he’s not exactly public enemy number one: he just turns out the lights:
However, the reader isn’t meant to think these crimes were committed by the real FF for long, as on the very next page the truth is revealed: The faux Fantastic Four are actually alien instigators called Skrulls, sent to Earth to discredit the FF so as to clear the way for their forthcoming invasion.
How did the Skrulls manage to accomplish the FF’s amazing feats? Though a combination of subterfuge and clever use of their own natural superpower, the ability to shapeshift:
Forced into hiding by the Skrulls’ crimes, the Fantastic Four find themselves hunted and eventually captured by the U.S. Army, before they use their amazing powers to bust free of the military prison in which they’re held:
So what genius idea does the worlds’ smartest man come up with to catch their impersonators? Why, to commit their own act of sabotage in the hopes of luring them out. And it works, as the Skrulls approach Johnny Storm after he melts a launch platform at a government missile site.
After Johnny fires off the patented “4” flare (this being about 40 years before decent cell-phone reception would be available), the rest of the team comes a-runnin’, and the Skrulls are soon captured.
Stealing the Skrull’s starship, the “S.S. Water Tower,” the Fantastic Four head up to the Skrull mother ship, where they convince the Skrull commander that Earth is too dangerous to try and conquer, by showing him pages from comic books and convincing him that they’re “Earth’s most powerful warriors.” I know it’s only the second issue and all, but still, kinda weak.
As for the remaining Skrulls on Earth, Reed Richards comes up with a solution so arbitrary and one-sided, it makes you realize that the whole “let’s-fire-the Hulk-into-deep-space” idea is actually in character. He hypnotizes the Skrulls into believing they’re cows, and leaves them out in a pasture. Seriously.
The Skrulls wouldn’t show their shriveled green faces for another 16 issues, until FANTASTIC FOUR #18, “A Skrull Walks Among Us!” again by Lee and Kirby. Here we see the Skrull’s new plan for defeating the Fantastic Four and conquering Earth, the creation of the Super-Skrull, a Skrull warrior who’s been given all the powers of the Fantastic Four (stretching, super-strength, flames and invisibility), but to an even greater degree, as well as a power the FF do not have: hypnotism.
The Super-Skrull arrives on Earth and wastes no time in declaring himself to be in charge, as seen in this hilarious panel:
The Fantastic Four soon hits the scene and a super-brouhaha ensues, with the Super-Skrull fairly well mopping the floor with Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny. I especially like this bit where the Super-Skrull turns his head into a very literal battering ram:
Luckily, Reed Richards discovers the source of the Super-Skrull’s amazing strength: power rays being beamed to Earth from the Skrull homeworld and fed directly into the Super-Skrull’s body. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. The Super-Skrull is wireless.
Reed comes up with a jammer doohickey that will block the signal, preventing the power beams from replenishing the Super-Skrull’s strength. Now sufficiently weakened, Reed once again takes the law into his own big stretchy hands, ordering Johnny to entomb the Super-Skrull inside a rocky crater. Gotta admit, I feel kinda bad for the big lug:
Probably the most notable Skrull appearance following their debut was the “Kree-Skrull War” in the pages of AVENGERS #89-97, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artists Sal Buscema, Neal Adams and John Buscema.
Here the Skrulls face off against another intergalactic empire, the Kree, with Earth and the Avengers caught firmly in the middle. The Skrulls put their shapechanging power to good use here to turn public opinion against the Avengers, hoping to demoralize their potential enemies and keep them off the battlefield. For a story called “The Kree-Skrull War,” there’s actually not a whole lot of Skrulls in it, to be honest, or at least not as many as you’d expect. Still, a good, satisfying chunk of early ’70s Marvel.
There have been plenty of ups and downs for the Skrulls over the years, including the consumption of their homeworld by Galactus and the entire race losing their shapeshifting power, only to later regain it. But maybe the most infamous Skrull appearance came in a mid-90s FANTASTIC FOUR run. Follow along, if you will:
When John Byrne was writing and drawing FF in the ’80s, he made the decision to have Ben Grimm’s longtime love interest Alicia Masters fall in love with Johnny Storm while Ben was off-planet following the events of the SECRET WARS. While it was controversial, Marvel and successive FF writers stuck with it well past the Thing’s return to Earth, with Johnny and Alicia even getting married. However, when the decision was made to eventually return to the Ben Grimm/Alicia Masters status quo, guess how it was accomplished?
Yep, it was revealed that Johnny had actually married a Skrull, a sleeper agent named Lyja assigned to infiltrate the Fantastic Four, and when Ben was lost in space, she just went to the next member down the line. The real Alicia, it turned out, had been kidnapped by the Skrulls for years and placed in suspended animation, and was soon recovered by the FF and returned to her old life and relationship with Ben Grimm. Johnny, meanwhile, actually tried to salvage his relationship with Lyja the Skrull (who even joined the Fantastic Four for a spell), but never could get over his betrayal at being deceived.
The fact that she later tried to get him back posing as a human woman (with the hilariously on-the-nose alias of “Laura Green”) probably didn’t help either…