NOTE: Spoiler Warning! This article discusses the events of "new avengers" #31 in detail. If you don't want anything spoiled read the issue first.
Trust is a rare commodity in the Marvel Universe these days. Two wars -- "Civil War" and now "World War Hulk"-- have erupted between heroes who all believed they were doing the right thing, but this week's "New Avengers" #31, an event occurred that leaves trust in even scarcer quantity. That event occurred when New Avengers member Echo stabbed Elektra and the Hand leader fell down to the floor dead . . . before reverting to the form of a Skrull! The race of shapeshifting alien invaders have, at least in one case, managed to impersonate people in the Marvel Universe and have done so undetected - until now. CBR News spoke with "New Avengers" writer Brian Michael Bendis about this shocking event and what it means for the Marvel Universe.
The secret Skrull infiltration has, it turns out, been in development for quite some time. "You first saw glimpses of it in 'New Avengers' #1 with the shadowy figure on the second page," Bendis told CBR News. "This has been cooking for a long time. It has been gone over at every [story/editorial] retreat for a couple of years now."
While the Skrulls have been lurking in the shadows of the Marvel Universe for an indeterminate number of years now, readers shouldn't think the shapeshifters have had their hands in everything. "People who spent good money on 'Civil War' and now 'World War Hulk' can rest assured -- as promised that those events happened unto themselves," Bendis confirmed. "There's no sinister doings that we did not reveal. Whatever the plan afoot is for the Skrull Empire 'Civil War' certainly helped it. They let it happen. They were sort of like, 'Oh you guys want to beat the shit out of each other?' Go ahead.' This was the case with 'House of M' and stuff that I wrote like 'Secret War.' Those events happened but what they did was represent a time and place for the Skrulls to implement their plan, whatever that plan is. The Marvel Universe at its most divided and divisive certainly is one of a lesser strength."
Readers are quite naturally wondering just how long the Skrulls have been on Earth, secretly looking for ways to further their mysterious plan. Bendis promised that would be discussed in further detail in issue #5 of the "New Avengers: Illuminati" mini-series. "The Skrull plan was hinted at strongly in 'Illuminati' #1," said Bendis. "For those looking for direct hints to this, they're right there. There's a lot to be said about what happened to the Illuminati when they were captured by the Skrulls. The Skrulls say, 'We got what we wanted.' What does that mean? Did they get what they want genetically? Did not everyone go home the same person they were when they arrived? Maybe it wasn't all five of them that went home?"
Bendis refused to reveal exactly what the Skrull's master plan was or when it began, but he was able to discuss what inspired him to revitalize the alien empire and turn them into a formidable and terrifying threat to the people of Earth. "The thing that is most important to express is that this isn't the Skrulls as they were," Bendis stated. "It always seemed odd when a shapeshifting society comes at you with laser guns and space ships. The Skrulls' great achievement as a society is the ability to shapeshift and get into places and it's written in their scriptures that Earth belongs to them.
"So stealing a page from 'Terminator 2', 'Buckaroo Banzai' 'The Hidden' and all these other films that include thoughts on shapeshifting, we're going to turn the Skrulls into a legitimate terrifying threat. Sometimes they were campy, green-skinned, laser gun-wielding aliens and that was a lot of fun but the story that's going to be told here is going to involve a much more sophisticated and hopefully terrifying threat. One inspiration was the way in which 'Star Trek' made the Klingons into a much more formidable race, or even the way the Cylons are portrayed in the new series of 'Battlestar Galactica.' They were originally silly robots and now look at them. All throughout the history of sci-fi, they've taken ideas that may have started off as a glimmer of fun and turned them into something truly terrifying and that's the attempt here."
The Skrulls' transformation into a terrifying menace to Earth doesn't mean Bendis and his fellow creators will be discarding or ignoring previous tales of the Skrulls' activities on Earth, like "Fantastic Four" #2, "Fantastic Four" #17 and even the mini-series "Skrull Kill Krew." "All Skrull references will be left intact," Bendis confirmed. "We're building not destroying here."
Is the Skrull infiltration organized, or is the Elektra incident isolated? If it is organized, then whom can you trust? How extensive is the Skrull infiltration, and does Marvel have a list of characters that are actually disguised Skrull?
"If there is a list, it's compiled and is locked down," Bendis said. "In issue #32 of 'New Avengers,' there's going to be a lot of finger-pointing, mistrust and a lot of what we're talking about here is going to be discussed by the team members. Now you go back and start thinking, 'who was acting Skrully? Who is not acting like themselves? Is anybody acting like themselves?'
"It will be fun for me to see people go back and start looking for moments and beats where things could have turned weird," Bendis continued. "Like with Elektra. She was lead down one path by stuff in Mark Millar's 'Wolverine' run but here she is down another path. Did it happen then? Did it happen when I was writing her series? Or was it when she was buried in the ground and the Hand dug her up? So there are all these questions and all these things worth investigating. Hopefully people will have a lot of fun with their comics."
Besides the question of when she was replaced by her Skrull doppelganger, readers are also wondering about the fate of the true Elektra. "That will be handled by me," Bendis stated. "I clean up my own messes. As much as I like to make a mess and not clean it up [aughs] this is on I'm going to clean up."
With the Elektra in "New Avengers" having been revealed as a Skrull, readers will almost gaze a suspicious eye in the directions of other popular Marvel characters. However, there is one character Bendis could say for certain was not a Skrull. "Captain America is dead, and, as we've shown, if you kill someone, when they plop to the ground they go back to Skrull form," Bendis explained. "So if Cap was a Skrull he would have Skrull-ed up."
Bendis was able to cast some doubt on the notion of another popular character being a Skrull. "As far as Iron Man being a Skrull, Tony did get turned inside out and into a mechanical woman," Bendis remarked. "Unless that was part of an elaborate Skrull cover up, He'll turn himself into a bionic woman and everyone will think he's not a Skrull."
Iron Man is part of Bendis's other Avengers book, "Mighty Avengers," and as fans may have guessed, the Skrull infiltration of Earth will be a big part of both titles. "What I've hinted at was that both Avengers titles were headed towards a story that is the same story told from different perspectives and this is that story," Bendis said. "What' you're going to see in the future is some people jumping ship off teams, some people going to other teams, and some people just leaving because they don't trust anybody. Big chapters of the story, which affect both titles, happen in both titles."
The Skrull invasion will also be connected to another large, developing story in the pages of "New Avengers," specifically the happenings in the supervillain underworld. "As far as things connecting with the criminal underworld, [the Skrull infiltration] affects them, too," Bendis explained. "If someone is attacking humanity, they don't delineate between a good human and an evil human. It's just people in the way of what the Skrull believe is religiously and rightfully theirs, which is the planet Earth. It's our world but it's been written in the scriptures of Skrull religion that it belongs to them, and if you've been following 'Annihilation' you know they have no [other] world. So it's not fucking around time, it's time to get down to it. All of this was planned and known as 'Annihilation' was being produced and leading us here."
"Young Avengers" fans know the Skrull's secret infiltration of Earth has big implications for the hero known as Hulkling, AKA Teddy Altman, who is currently a member of the Initiative. Bendis confirmed that Altman's involvement in the Skrull story will be depicted both in the pages of the Avengers books in the upcoming second season of "Young Avengers".
The Skrull storyline also has ties to another Marvel character, one who's been keeping a fairly low profile as of late. "Nick Fury's whereabouts are in direct connection to this storyline," Bendis said. "Nick Fury will be returning within the calendar year with information -- unless it's not really him . . ."
Issue #32 of "New Avengers" will find the team struggling to process and deal with the huge revelations of this week's issue. "They react like chickens with their heads cut off," Bendis said. "The next issue asks all the questions that will probably be asked right on Comic Book Resources' message boards before the thing even comes out. The initial reaction is pretty gigantic; a teammate betrays the team in issue #32. That's already been hinted at in solicitations and now you'll see what they betray the team over. Who is it? You'll see."
The treachery of a team member could be the result of the paranoia certain New Avengers were already feeling, compounded now by the discovery of the Skrull plot. "Luke Cage clearly said, 'I feel my strings are being pulled and I don't know who's pulling them and I'm pissed,'" Bendis explained. "Then Spider-Man said, 'Maybe that's because we're in the wrong. His argument was that maybe they've become bad guys. We're strings pulled to get the group where they were? Or have they got themselves there and the Skrulls are just using it to their advantage?'"
The Skrulls aren't the only green invaders from outer space the New Avengers will have to contend with. "New Avengers" may not tie directly into "World War Hulk," but once that epic story wraps, Bendis has plans to address the ramifications of the Hulk revenge saga. "There's a big moment where a New Avenger pulls something out of a box that he's not supposed to, and it will have direct ramifications to a character I'm in love with," Bendis revealed. "The character does something they are going to have to pay the price for. I'm very excited about it. That will be directly affected in 'New Avengers.'"
Some readers might be looking for Dr. Strange to pay another price for his actions in the pages of "New Avengers: The Illuminati" #5. "The Illuminati will be outed but that was a fake-out to tell people because the big reveal in issue #5 has to do with the Skrulls," Bendis explained. "Their discovery and the fact that it might be the Illuminati's fault is the big story that ties up the mini-series. The Illuminati will be outed later in the year, which won't help with the Skrull mistrust."
Bendis awaits eagerly fans' reactions to "New Avengers" #31 and he's prepared for the controversy the issue may cause. "Issue #31 is honestly one of Lenil Yu's greatest moments in comic book art, and I know I'm going to get yelled at a lot for this," Bendis confessed. "I know it's been hyped and here comes the screaming. I'm willing and prepared. Just hang in there for a couple of months and I promise you a hell of a ride that you haven't seen before with this material. I'm very excited to show people this. I've been planning it forever. It's been massaged and perfected."