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Meet the Skrulls: Shapeshifting aliens take center stage in new Marvel title
Ever since their debut almost 60 years ago, the Skrulls have been working behind the scenes in the Marvel universe, plotting and biding their time, all in an attempt to infiltrate Earth. With Meet the Skrulls due in March, writer Robbie Thompson and artist Niko Henrichon hope to provide an inside look at the alien race through the lens of the Warners, a family unit of Skrull spies based in Stamford, Connecticut.
Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in the pages of Fantastic Four #2 in 1961, the Skrulls have had some major ups but mostly downs over their long history. They've conquered and amassed hundreds of worlds only to be decimated time and again, warring with the Kree, fighting the Annihilation Wave, and attempting to take over Earth. Now, in smaller numbers, hoping to return to power, the Skrulls have awakened their sleeper agents.
This week, Thompson and Henrichon spoke to SYFY WIRE about how they drew inspiration from The Americans, how deeply the Warners are embedded in the superhero community, and why we should all be wary of the infamous shapeshifters.
What kind of research went into preparing for this book? Were there specific issues/runs/art that stood out to you?
Thompson: Secret Invasion and the various spin-offs from that event, Skrull Kill Krew, Fantastic Four Annual #17 by Byrne, and of course their first and many subsequent appearances in the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four books. I also re-watched the pilot of Alias, as Sydney [played by Jennifer Garner] has a spy life complicated with and by family. Every book I went back to was super informative, but I think the Secret Invasion run and all of its various spin-offs stood out to me while working on Meet the Skrulls. There was a lot of fun exploration of who the Skrulls are as individuals, but also a lot of playing with spy tropes and not knowing who to trust and so on.
With your book launch and the Captain Marvel movie rapidly approaching, Skrulls seem to be going through a renaissance. Tell me a bit about what angles you wanted to take with this book, how the Skrulls fit into the current Marvel universe and whether or not they can be trusted.
Thompson: The Skrulls are such an amazing part of the Marvel Universe. Their design was so iconic, and they added such a fun wrinkle to the stories they were in because of their shape-shifting ability. And they've always been so ruthless and single-minded!
I think the first angle we talked about on this book was, what are they like underneath that shape-shifting skin? How can we shine a light on that and explore how, despite our differences, Skrulls may be more human than we imagined. Or certainly more relatable.
Family was another angle we wanted to take. It makes them more relatable, and also it was fun to explore a family of Skrulls since they were introduced by Marvel's First Family, the Fantastic Four.
As for the issue of can we trust Skrulls, that's another angle we wanted to explore. Bad guys never think they're the villain of the story, and we wanted to dig into what motivates Skrulls to do what they do, and how that motivation is complicated by living as a human family. How much has pretending to be like us made them human in the process?
It seems like this book could be the seed for something much bigger at play in the Marvel Universe in the future. Is there anything you can share or tease?
Thompson: With Skrulls there's absolutely always huge, world-shaking stakes at hand, and that's certainly the case here. But we root all that by focusing it through the lens of a family living behind enemy lines. The scale of their mission is enormous, but the stakes are grounded in their emotional journey to stay together as a family unit.
What can you tell us about Warner and his "family"? Have they been here since the Secret Invasion? Are they sleeper cells? Are they related?
Thompson: The Warner family are one hundred per cent related — the family consists of Carl and Gloria and their children Madison and Alice. Carl and Gloria are from different planets in the Skrull Empire. They were trained as warriors and spies and sent to live on Earth as a sleeper cell. Much to their dismay, they've raised their children on Earth, and fear the longer they stay on Earth, the weaker their children will become.
You've said this book was influenced by The Americans TV show. Can you expand on that? Will we be rooting for the Skrulls by the end of this run?
Thompson: It was part of my "elevator pitch" for the book, The Americans in the Marvel Universe. Unlike that show, everyone in the Warner family knows why they are on Earth and each of them has a specific mission to accomplish while they live undercover in the suburbs. As for rooting for the Skrulls, I don't know. But I do hope folks will root for the Warners. Despite their alien nature, and desire to take over the planet, they are not so different from us.
The art on this book looks amazing. Niko, can you tell me how you wanted these characters to appear and what inspirations you used?
Henrichon: For this book, I looked at current TV shows that display the daily life of teenagers, students, at high school. I've been away from high school for a few decades and needed to see how young people behave, how they dress and how they deal with fashion in general. Since we're giving this book a very 2019 feeling, I wanted to be sure I got the right tone. I'm a big fan of Kirby and loved the way he portrayed the Skrulls, but I felt I needed to move away from Kirby and "humanize" them a little, even in their alien form, since they are the stars of this show. And want the reader to empathize with them, to see them as if they could be your neighbors or the people you see at work.
Can you talk about how this book differs on "normal" superhero books you've worked on? What did you want to do with this book to set it apart?
Thompson: I write Spider-Man/Deadpool for Marvel, so this book could not be more different than that book! One of the many appeals of working on this was to tell a different kind of story in the Marvel Universe. I'm really grateful to Nick and Kathleen for being so open and supportive to a book like this, and then building an incredible group of collaborators like Marcos Martin on covers and Travis Lanham on letters. The variant covers, too, have been stunning. They've really put together a gorgeous book.
It's a different kind of book, not just because it's from the bad guys' point of view, but also because it deals with more grounded, domestic drama. Because we have adults and kids, too, the melodrama can shift into different tones and stories, even in a mini-series. Madison is a teenager and wants to be "cool," it helps her mission, but it's also, y'know, cool. And Alice is in her My So-Called Life years, where she's trying to find where she fits in in the family but also on this alien planet. And Carl and Gloria are trying to accomplish a dangerous mission but also be parents and hold their marriage together. So, while there's action and intrigue, there's also these rich characters struggling through a heightened reality, but with relatable issues.
Henrichon: It is special in the sense that family issues juxtapose the parts that involve the "mission." Robbie did a great job of articulating this in an organic way. On most books I've worked on, the action is the central element and we generally tend to display action scenes with splash pages and such. In this book I got a chance to show more "real-life" scenes.
How did this book come to be? Did you pitch it? Was it an idea floating around for a while at Marvel?
Thompson: I pitched it to Nick, I think at San Diego Comic-Con, and we just kept talking about it and coming back around to it. Then Kathleen came aboard and we started working on a pitch document. Even before I started writing, Niko took the bare-bones concept and designed the characters, and then it really started to come to life. Between those and Marcos' cover for Issue 1, I was really inspired, and the pitch really came together and then the scripts. The timing is wonderful with the Captain Marvel movie coming out, of course, but we've been talking about this story for a while.
Henrichon: On my side, I was told about the project by editor Nick Lowe, who had me working on Doctor Strange for a while. I was familiar with Robbie's work on Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme, and I really enjoyed the book. The original pitch on Meet the Skrulls already had a very unique taste, so they didn't have to work hard to convince me.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Thompson: We're double-shipping our first month, so the first two issues are out in March, on the 6th and the 20th. Really excited for readers to get their hands on the book, and looking forward to hearing what they think!