Who are the Skrulls?

image from Secret Invasion
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Marvel's Skrulls have a long and complicated history.

In the MCU, Captain Marvel and Nick Fury have helped a group of refugee Skrulls who are desperate for a new home after their own world is blown up in the Kree-Skrull war. And in 2023, the Skrulls will return in the Disney Plus streaming series Secret Invasion, which adapts one of the biggest and most impactful events in Marvel Comics history.

But who exactly are these shapeshifting aliens, and why does their history matter so much to the Marvel Universe? Newsarama has the answers.

Who are the Skrulls and where do they come from?

art from Meet the Skrulls #1

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Skrulls are a species of shapeshifting aliens created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They first appear in 1962's Fantastic Four #2, but their first big Marvel Comics story is 1969's Kree-Skrull War, which appears in the pages of Avengers #89-97 written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Sal Buscema, Neal Adams, and John Buscema. 

In the story, which is also considered the first big Avengers epic, the team ventures into space, becoming embroiled in the ancient Kree-Skrull conflict when it starts to touch Earth. Though they don’t put a stop to the generations-old conflict, the Avengers do manage to steer it away from Earth - but the story Secret Invasion changes all that. More on that in a minute.

In their basic form, Skrulls are green-skinned, pointy-eared, reptilian humanoids with red or green eyes and vertical folds of skin covering their chins. They can shapeshift into any size, shape, or color at will, allowing them to look just like any other being or object they choose. Unfortunately for their enemies, Skrulls can also transform parts of their bodies into weapons like knives or clubs. 

Using advanced technology, Skrulls can sometimes augment their abilities, which is how they create the Super-Skrull, Power Skrull, and Warskrulls. These Skrulls can not only impersonate the exact physical likeness of an object or sentient being but also their powers. 

During Secret Invasion, the Skrulls develop the ability to become undetectable when they are using their shapeshifting powers, even when magic users or telepaths try to suss them out. When they die, however, they revert to their original forms, which is how Earth's heroes figure out what's happening at the start of Secret Invasion: the Skrull impersonating Elektra dies, and the body left behind is alien.

Although hundreds of Skrulls have appeared in Marvel Comics since their debut 60 years ago, a few have more prominent roles, like Kl'rt, the first Super-Skrull, who possesses the combined powers of the Fantastic Four; Empress Veranke, who leads the Skrulls' invasion of Earth after their homeworld is destroyed; Paibok the Power Skrull, who has an incredible combination of superhuman strength and stamina, flight, the ability to make his skin like steel, and the ability to project bio-electricity and bursts of his cold from his hands to create ice constructs; and Emperor Dorrek, the Skrull King who reigned during their first encounter with the Kree.

As for culture, Skrulls are warriors who can speak multiple languages and dialects, and their main religion is "Dard'van Sect," AKA "True Faith." The Skrull equivalent of Hell is called the Shapeless Wastes, as revealed in 2015's Deadpool vs. Thanos #3.

Skrulls come from the planet Skrullos in the Andromeda Galaxy, which was destroyed by Galactus during the Annihilation event in 2006. This was the main impetus for Secret Invasion, which is perhaps the most impactful storyline in their long history.

What happens during Secret Invasion?

Secret Invasion #1

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

After the first Kree-Skrull war, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Mister Fantastic, Black Bolt, Namor, and Professor X form a new group called the Illuminati to attack the Skrull Empire and prevent the aliens from invading Earth. The superheroes are captured and studied before escaping, which ultimately results in their attack plan backfiring.

Galactus destroys Skrullos, forcing the new empress Veranke to guide her people in an invasion of Earth to create a new homeworld. By capturing and impersonating superheroes, they are able to break through Earth's defenses. Because Skrulls can now make themselves undetectable when they've shapeshifted, it's basically impossible for S.H.I.E.L.D. and other agencies to sniff them out - and more Skrull ships are entering Earth's atmosphere every minute.

To make things worse, Veranke has kidnapped and impersonated Spider-Woman to infiltrate the Avengers, making it even harder for the team to figure out what's going on, how to stop it, and more importantly, who they can trust.

Eventually, Mister Fantastic manages to create a device that can detect Skrulls, though it's well after multiple battles have wrought destruction and chaos. With the new device, Earth's heroes and villains team up, wipe out the Skrulls, and stop the invasion.

How Hulkling unites the Kree and Skrulls in Empyre

art from Empyre #1

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The 2020 event Empyre finally unites the long-warring Kree and Skrulls under their newly-appointed emperor, Teddy Altman AKA Hulkling, who has been crowned as Dorrek VIII. Hulkling is a Kree/Skrull hybrid (his parents are the enhanced Kree warrior Mar-Vell and the Skrull Princess Anelle) created by writer Allan Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung in 2005's Young Avengers #1.

In Empyre, the heroes of Earth join forces with the Kree/Skrull fleet to prevent the Cotati from eliminating all animal life. The Cotati is a plant-like alien species who were formerly allied with the Avengers, and are now at war with the Kree/Skrull alliance because the Kree and Skrulls nearly wiped out the Cotati in the earliest days of their own war.

The Cotati attempt to ally with the Avengers once more to fight the Kree/Skrull alliance, but their plans are revealed and instead, they are defeated by the combined might of the Avengers and the Kree/Skrull empire. Meanwhile, a plot from inside the Skrull half of the new alliance with the Kree is rooted out so peace can continue between the two races.

Empyre ends in a wedding between Hulkling and his Royal Consort (and longtime boyfriend), Wiccan AKA Billy Kaplan, the resurrected warlock son of the Scarlet Witch.

How the Skrulls fit into the MCU

Skrulls in Captain Marvel

(Image credit: Disney/Marvel)

The Skrulls' first MCU appearance is in 2019's Captain Marvel. In a story set in the '90s that's thematically about true identities (mostly Carol Danvers figuring out who she is) and hidden motivation, Marvel Studios threw a curveball at longtime Marvel Comics readers. 

The Skrulls are played as the expected villains for the film's first two acts (up until that time they've been nothing but villains for their entire history), as Skrull leader Talos impersonates government officials with seemingly nefarious intent. But the surprise third act reveals they're war refugees being hunted by the Kree, and Talos is simply looking for his long-lost family. 

Eventually, Carol and Nick Fury work together to help Talos reunite with his wife and daughter and other members of his race. Then, Captain Marvel escorts the refugee Skrulls under Talos's leadership into space so they can find a new homeworld that isn't Earth.

The Skrulls also appear in the animated Disney Plus streaming series, What If...?, which explores alternative versions of Marvel Universe characters who exist somewhere in the Multiverse, as well as Loki and WandaVision. In the latter, a Skrull recruits Monica Rambeau at the behest of Nick Fury for an intergalactic mission in the year 2023.

Then in 2024 (in the MCU story timeline), as seen in Spider-Man: Far from Home, Talos and his wife Soren impersonate Nick Fury and Maria Hill while Fury takes time at a secret Skrull base in space for an unknown reason. Comic book readers have assumed Fury is establishing the intergalactic organization known as SWORD, though that organization is seen as already founded on Earth for several years in WandaVision. 

All this has been prologue to the 2023 Disney Plus streaming series Secret Invasion, which will ostensibly adapt the comics storyline, and perhaps The Marvels, which focuses on Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Monica Rambeau. 

Marvel Studios seems to be adding some nuance to the Skrulls' surprise hero turn in Captain Marvel by establishing a hidden faction on Earth with a more traditional villainous bent. While the live-action Secret Invasion does not seem like it will be as grand in scale as the comic book version that involved all the major superheroes, familiar MCU characters being revealed as Skrulls is a realistic possibility. 

Before Secret Invasion premieres on Disney Plus, here's how to read the crossover comic ahead of the new MCU show.

Samantha Puc
Editor, Newsarama

Samantha Puc (she/they) is an editor at Newsarama and an avid comics fan. Their writing has been featured on Refinery29, Bitch Media, them., The Beat, The Mary Sue, and elsewhere. She is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction at The New School.

With contributions from