Marvel's big summer comic book event Empyre will finally fully kick off with #1 on July 15, following a delay of several months caused by COVID-19. With the prequel issue Empyre #0: Avengers having officially enlisted the Avengers in the conflict, and the Fantastic Four's lead-in coming up with Empyre #0: Fantastic Four on July 8, it's time to set the stage for the millennia-in-the-making cosmic conflict and break down the different factors and factions at play.
To sort it out, we’re playing hardcore historian and delving into the long history of the Kree and Skrull’s now ended struggle, the major players of the coming conflict, and what we know of where the chips might fall. (And for even more insight into what Empyre holds in store, check out our interview with series artist Valerio Schiti right here.)
In Marvel Universe terms, the conflict between the Kree and Skrull empires stretches back 10 million years, to the first meeting of the two cultures. The Skrull first encountered the Kree after discovering their homeworld, Hala. Transporting the Kree and their neighboring species the Cotati who also lived on Hala to Earth’s moon, the Skrull forced the Kree and Cotati to compete for supremacy — and for survival.
When the Kree discovered what was going on, they violently rebelled, slaughtering the Cotati and escaping the Skrull's experiment, sparking an eons-long war with Earth as the eventual centerpiece of the spoils. As their conflict spread across countless worlds, they returned to the proximity of Earth in the modern Marvel Universe, leading the Avengers to become directly involved in their feud.
This led to the 1960s story 'Kree/Skrull War', Marvel’s first big event tale, by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. Though confined to the pages of Avengers, the story brought in Captain Mar-Vell, a Kree warrior who had come to Earth as a superhero, and whose legacy directly defines Empyre (more on that in a moment). Though 'Kree/Skrull War' culminated with the Avengers and Captain Marvel driving the conflict out of Earth range, it was hardly the last time the Kree and Skrull would clash with the heroes of Earth with dire consequences — together or separately.
Though Mar-Vell died of cancer following a battle with the nuclear-powered villain Nitro, he left a longstanding legacy of heroism that was eventually taken up by his protégé, Carol Danvers, the one-time Ms. Marvel and now Captain Marvel (again, more on her shortly). But that’s not the only legacy he left behind.
During a period of captivity among the Skrull in 'Kree/Skrull War', Mar-Vell fell in love with the Skrull princess Anelle, daughter of Emperor Dorrek VII — with Anelle becoming pregnant as a result of their tryst.
The Skrull princess hid her son on Earth in the guise of Teddy Altman, a.k.a. Hulkling of the Young Avengers. First believing himself to be a shape-shifting mutant, Hulking’s heritage and true identity as Dorrek VIII is revealed when the Kree and Skrull discover him on Earth and each arrive to claim his legacy as the descendant of their great champions.
But the teen Teddy is naturally resistant to going off to lead either empire, promising to fulfill his destiny when he reaches adulthood — a time that seems to have arrived as of Empyre. While on a mission in space with a branch of the adult Avengers, Teddy uncovers the sword Excelsior, a cosmic blade said to belong to the leader who will unite the Kree and Skrull. When Teddy draws it from the stone in which it is ensconced, the sword’s guardians, the Knights of the Infinite, ascend him to his position as destined emperor of both the Kree and the Skrull.
In the midst of a murder mystery involving Kree and Skrull sleeper agents in recent Incoming! one-shot, Teddy is crowned Emperor Dorrek VIII after accepting an offer to leave his boyfriend Wiccan and even Earth behind to lead the united Kree and Skrull empires — a position that now puts him in direct conflict with Earth’s heroes as he leads his massive new army to conquer Earth.
And then there's Quoi, the son of the Cotati Swordsman (a plantlike clone of the original Avengers villain/one-time member) and Mantis, the Celestial Madonna. Quoi (short for Sequoia), is the so-called Celestial Messiah — a being fated to "end all evil in the universe." Under his power, the Cotati garden that once grew on the Blue Area of Earth's moon has once again blossomed, while his father Swordsman has enlisted the Avengers' help against the Kree/Skrull empire.
Despite the Avengers' history with the Cotati — and perhaps owing to her Kree heritage — Captain Marvel is skeptical of the Cotati view of the Kree/Skrull empire, reminding the Avengers that the Kree and Skrull interlopers who perished in Incoming! warned them "beware the trees."
Worlds at War
Empyre will engulf the entire Marvel Universe, but the conflict is centered on the classic enemies of the Kree and Skrull, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. But not all the heroes are on the same side.
Hulkling, a former Avenger, is of course now the leader of Earth’s greatest enemies which will almost certainly put him in conflict with his longtime boyfriend (but now ex) Wiccan, also an Avenger (and the son of Vision and Scarlet Witch, two Avengers who were central in 'Kree/Skrull War'). It's been hinted that Wiccan will trade sides in the conflict, with Empyre #4 specifically solicited to reveal at least one such turncoat on the Earth side.
Meanwhile, Carol Danvers — herself genetically part Kree though raised on Earth – will serve as the Kree Empire’s Supreme Accuser, dispensing Kree justice and splitting her loyalties in potentially Earth-shattering ways. She'll also apparently recruit more Marvel heroes to the cause — though it seems this may be part of her plan to defend Earth.
And the Kree and Skrull aren’t the only things complicating the galactic stage — the Celestial Madonna, Mantis, is also arising to claim her destiny alongside the Celestial Messiah of the Cotati, who once shared the land of Hala with the Kree but who are now limited to just a few in number.
All of this means Earth is in the balance, with only the Avengers and FF to stand in the way – and they don’t all necessarily agree on how things should go down.
Empyre #1 is due out on July 15.