2008's Secret Invasion event began with the Skrull Empire's greatest feat - but ended with its greatest defeat. But in the new limited series Meet the Skrulls, Marvel is putting a face to the secret Skrull agents living amongst us to start the invasion once more.
Writer Robbie Thompson and artist Niko Henrichon are uncovering a Skrull family living amonst human society - living as humans - as they begin machinations to re-start the Human/Skrull war. Meet the Skrulls offers espionage, but also a family drama not unlike the recent The Vision; who says you have to be human to show some humanity?
Thompson and Henrichon spoke with Newsarama about this startling series coinciding thematically with Marvel Studios' Captain Marvel, delving into ideas of patriotism, legacy, and - wait for it - furniture design.
Newsarama: Robbie, we actually haven’t met the Skrulls of Meet the Skrulls yet. What can you tell us about the Warner family?
Robbie Thompson: The Warner Family are a loving, tight-knit family living in Stamford, Connecticut. They just want to excel at their jobs, work hard in school, do their part in the community... and crush mankind/help the Skrulls take over Earth.
Carl and Gloria are the parents. They're both ruthless, lethally trained warriors that have raised and trained lethal and deadly children. Their oldest is named Madison and youngest Alice.
All of them have a part to play in their dangerous mission in... the 'burbs.
Nrama: Speaking of which, what is their mission here – what you can divulge of it?
Thompson: Post-Secret Invasion, life has not been great for the Skrulls. That event left everyone on high alert, and Stark developed a better way to spot and track Skrulls. Now, everywhere Skrulls go on Earth, they can be spotted, especially when they use their abilities. The Warners have to be extremely careful how and when they use their shape-shifting power. They've been tasked with finding out the truth about how this technology came into existence, and to figure out what, if anything, can be done about circumventing it so they can get back to the larger mission at hand: putting Earth in the hands of the Skrull Empire.
Nrama: Niko, you’ve got a unique task with this book, portraying aliens pretending to be humans. How does that duality inform your approach to drawing Meet the Skrulls?
Niko Henrichon: Yes, there's a bit of a challenge there. For the human versions of our characters, I tried to make them as generic as possible, as I suppose undercover agents would do, while avoiding the trap of them being kind of boring. The tricky part is all the morphings the Skrulls are capable of. In order to make that work smoothly and not lose the reader along the way, I focused on making the transformations very simple and easy to follow.
Nrama: And on that note, Robbie, what’s the dynamic for this “family"? How do their dual relationships function?
Thompson: Every family has static, and the Warners are no different. Carl and Gloria are from different planets in the Skrull Empire. Their kids were raised on Earth. Each member of the family believes in the Skrull Empire, of course, but how to achieve the Empire's goals can be a cause of friction.
Madison is ambitious, wants to prove herself and be a larger part of the Skrull Empire. She has spent her life studying humans and knows how to exploit them. Being raised on Earth had a negative impact on Alice, though. She's having mixed emotions about her place in all this. And her parents are worried that Alice is vulnerable to feeling the biggest and worst of human weaknesses: empathy.
Nrama: How do you make alien invaders who are ultimately here to conquer Earth sympathetic to readers?
Thompson: There's a great quote from Kurt Vonnegut, from his book Mother Night, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."
Everyone wears a mask in some form or another. A work face, a social face, or what have you. There are times when we play a part. The Warners are here to play a part in destroying mankind. But the longer they stay among us, the more they pretend to be like us, the more they become like us.
I think the Warners are also relatable because they're a family. They're a unit of spies, but it's a family unit. And they have all the trappings of a family; parenting disagreements, sibling rivalry, etc.
Obviously, The Americans on FX was an inspiration for the book, but so was the Fantastic Four. I love the adventures Marvel's First Family go on, and all the amazing characters they interact with, but to me, Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben are timeless and relatable because they're a family -- with all the good and bad that comes with that. The Warners are a family, too, and our hope is that dynamic reveals that maybe Skrulls aren't so bad after all.
Maybe they're just like us.
Nrama: Niko, without being too spoilery, what’s the last thing you were drawing for Meet the Skrulls?
Henrichon: I just drew a whole living room. And I can tell you I'm becoming pretty good at drawing furniture, dishes and all kind of decorative elements. Seriously, that's a story that has a lot of normal, intimate scenes, which works well when contrasted with heavy action scenes more typical of superhero comics.
Robbie did a fantastic job in articulating the two kinds of rhythms. Because I'm more accustomed to draw science fiction and crazy fantasy universes, I first thought it could become less interesting for me to draw a lot these "real life" backgrounds. But I realized it is, in fact, pretty fun. And even more challenging sometimes.
Nrama: Robbie, what’s your favorite thing Niko’s drawn for Meet the Skrulls so far?
Thompson: Honestly, every image from Niko is a treasure! I can't pick just one favorite!
We've never met in real life, but I've been a big fan of his throughout the years and I was thrilled that editors Nick Lowe and Kathleen Wisnewski teamed us up to tell this story. I think one of the tricky parts of putting together a book about shape-shifters is tracking their different forms. The Warners appear human, as Skrulls, as other humans, as some recognizable Marvel characters. And we have to track them all emotionally.
But right from the jump, Niko had a firm grasp on who these characters are and how to dramatize them in any form they take. In fact, he designed the look and feel of the characters before I wrote the first issue - and he imprinted a sense of history and life to each member of the Warner family in the process. I printed out those early sketches and posted them above my laptop. They've been a constant source of inspiration and story every step of the way.
Niko's sense of pacing is impeccable and his layouts constantly surprise. I love how he introduces the characters and really cements each of them in #1. I'm looking at his final colors on #2 right now, and there's a flashback sequence that is just incredible. It's a moment from Marvel history that we've seen before, but taken from our character's point of view and done in a style and manner only Niko can render. Then, a few pages later, there's a sequence of panels where Niko absolutely nails a fantastic character moment - one that wasn't scripted - in a very subtle way. It's the smallest of facial movements between two panels, but it conveys everything about the character's head space. And the last page of #2 is a stunner.
So, yeah, it's hard for me to pick just one favorite thing of Niko's drawn - I love them all! And I can't wait for readers to see his interior art and colors.
Nrama: The Skrulls are a key part of Marvel Comics history. How does that legacy inform the way each of you approach this story?
Thompson: From their first appearance, the Skrulls really popped in the Marvel Universe. I loved how devious and single-minded they were in their first appearance back in the pages of Fantastic Four.
But then there was that John Byrne annual, "Legacy" (from 1983's Fantastic Four Annual #17) that explained what happened to the Skrulls that they'd turned into cows that just blew my mind. It was so creepy and played on the established history. Brian Michael Bendis really took the Skrulls to the next level with Secret Invasion. And now, of course, they're about to be seen on the big screen in Captain Marvel. So, when it comes to the Skrull legacy, we're trying to honor what's come before, and hoping to add to the legacy that's been built thus far.
Henrichon: My main Skrull takeaway is Jack Kirby’s original depiction of them. While I have eternal admiration for everything Kirby has done, I think my version of the Skrulls is probably less cartoonish and closer to what has been done more recently on Secret Invasion and such.
Nrama: Skrulls always have secrets – what’s something readers don’t know about Meet the Skrulls?
Thompson: Possibly not secret, as the solicits are out, but Marcos Martin is drawing the covers for the book and they are absolutely incredible! He can take the smallest kernel from the book and expand it into something evocative and emotional. The cover for #3 is gold, and #4 is a stunner. Marcos is the best!
Nrama: Bottom line, what makes Meet The Skrulls a must-read Marvel story?
Thompson: Meet the Skrulls is a story about aliens, but ultimately it's a story about what makes us human, and what binds us together no matter who or what we are: family.
Henrichon: I think it's interesting to have stories dealing with the unexpected challenges of the "bad guys." Plus, if you want to see how good I am with furniture design, Meet the Skrulls is an absolute must!