Who or What Are the Skrulls, the Villains in ‘Captain Marvel’?

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Marvel Studios revealed some key details at San Diego Comic-Con about its first woman-led Marvel Cinematic Universe story, “Captain Marvel,” that has longtime fans intrigued. We know that Brie Larson’s superhero will face a scary band of aliens known as the Skrulls. (Here’s everything else we learned about the movie.)

If you’re not up on your Marvel Comics, though, you could be forgiven for not knowing who or what a Skrull is. Obviously, we’ve seen aliens in Marvel’s cinematic universe before: The Chitauri, who invaded New York with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in “The Avengers”; and the Kree, blue-skinned aliens who include the genocidal fanatic Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), main villain in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

The Skrulls predate both of those races in the Marvel ​Universe, facing off against lots of Marvel heroes over the years. ​And they’ve shown up on plenty of other Marvel productions, like various “Fantastic Four” cartoons, and the 1990s “X-Men” cartoon. ​​But “Captain Marvel” marks their debut as part of the MCU. So what’s their deal?

Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1962, the Skrulls are almost as old as the Marvel Universe itself. They first appeared in “Fantastic Four” #2​ –​ ​and ​the Marvel Universe ​only ​began with “Fantastic Four” #1 in December, 1961​ (Older characters like Namor and Captain America, who debuted in Marvel’s earlier incarnation, Timely Comics, were later imported into Marvel​.)​

The Skrulls are a bit like the Kree in that they have an interstellar empire, located in the Andromeda galaxy. They’re a race of basically human-looking folks, except they have green skin and pointy ears.

The thing that makes Skrulls especially spooky is their ability to change their shapes. They can morph themselves into just about anything that’s roughly the same volume as their bodies (they can get a little smaller or a little bigger than they naturally are), and they use that ability to infiltrate and eventually subjugate other species.

In the Marvel Comics backstory​, long ago the Skrulls​ were experimented on by the Celestials, a race of super-smart and super-powerful aliens who’ve been around for millennia. (Kurt Russell’s Ego of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is one such Celestial.) In their experiments on the Skrulls, the Celestials created three groups — one with extreme longevity, one with latent genetic enhancements that would come to fruition as the species aged, and one with extreme genetic diversity. The last group, the “Deviants,” overtook the rest of the species and eliminated the other groups. They’re the unstable shapeshifting guys.

Over the last few million years, the Skrulls have spread through their galaxy with the help of space travel technology, dominating hundreds of other worlds and bringing them into their empire. They’ve also figured out how to genetically modify some of their people.

While ​even average Skrulls can just change shape and mimic other creatures or objects, ​most of them can’t take on those other creatures’ properties. Put another way: If a​ joe sixpack Skrull shapeshifts to look like Spider-Man, that Skrull won’t have Spider-Man’s powers. But the empire is able to create Warrior Skrulls or Super-Skrulls that do have the ability to take on someone else’s powers. That makes them pretty dangerous.

With the Skrulls popping up in “Captain Marvel,” and that movie taking place before 2008’s “Iron Man,” it seems likely that a story of a secret aliens invasion of Earth could be in the offing. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is confirmed to be in the movie as well, and rooting out Skrulls hidden on Earth would definitely be a job for S.H.I.E.L.D.​ (It also makes for a nice callback to the end of “Iron Man,” when Fury told Tony Stark “Think you’re the only superhero​ in the world?”)

The Skrulls also have a long history of war with the Kree, and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige mentioned at Comic-Con that there are lots of comics dealing with the Kree-Skrull war that the movies haven’t tapped yet. So it seems that “Captain Marvel” might be contending with even more of the larger Marvel universe than we’ve ever seen before.

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