Guest contributor Gene Selassie is back with his latest retrospective of Marvel‘s The Avengers. He started at the beginning and he’s back discussing the classic Kree-Skrull War!
This is it, fellow Avenger aficionados. It’s here that we discuss the first official (or unofficial) event story in Avengers canon. The Kree-Skrull War is an epic that I’ve not gone back to read in almost 25 years. There are elements to the story that stuck out with clarity (the changes in art throughout the story did make for a slightly unharmonious visual flow, Rick Jones being such a centerpiece to the story, when he hadn’t factored much into Avengers continuity in the year or two leading up to this story did make the climax not hit as powerfully as it could have). Other elements did catch me off guard (I mistakenly thought Wanda and Vision’s romance was hinted at before this story, the grand cosmic side of Marvel was more interconnected back then than I’d realized). Here, I’ll be doing more of a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Let’s begin our trek through the Kree-Skrull War.
- The cover of issue 89 is almost one of my favorites as the striking image of Captain Mar-Vell getting the electric chair is a cover that I never thought would fly. My only qualm is the tagline “The Only Good Alien Is a Dead Alien”, which has some unsavory connotations.
- Sal Buscema, who has been the “swing artist” for the book the last few years, is who illustrates this opening chapter.
- The story opens up with Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and the Vision chasing down Captain Marvel. He evades capture for a while, but he’s blindsided by Rick Jones. Rick fires a ray gun at him, disabling the Kree warrior.
- Through flashbacks, we see that Rick Jones became a singer and guitarist. We also see that when Captain Marvel and Rick Jones swapped bodies, once the adventure was done, it was the Negative Zone that Mar-Vell’s body returned to. Mar-Vell showed Rick an image of Reed Richards exploring the Negative Zone and then escaping. Both men figured that the key to Mar-Vell permanently escaping the Negative Zone resided in the Baxter Building. Mar-Vell broke in while the Fantastic Four were away. This alerted the Avengers. Mar-Vell activated Reed’s dimensional gateway and Rick was able to make it through. Unfortunately, the ruler of the Negative Zone, the living death that walks, Annihilus, followed them through.
- The powerful being, possessor of the Cosmic Control Rod, was more than a match for the team, even shrugging off Wanda’s powerful hex bolts. Vision lured Annihilus into a trap and they shunted him back to the Negative Zone.
- Yet, before they could catch their breath, Mar-Vell fled the scene, stealing the Avengers’ Quinjet in the process. His destination, Cape Canaveral in Florida, so that he can find a ship that could make the journey back to the Kree Empire.
- The team discovers that during the time he spent in the Negative Zone, Mar-Vell absorbed ungodly amounts of radiation, to the point where it threatens his life.
- Once Rick and Mar-Vell separated the powerful weapons, known as the Nega Bands, dissolved from Mar-Vell’s wrists.
- When the flashbacks are done, we see that it’s not an electric chair that Mar-Vell was put in, but a decontamination device to siphon off radiation, in the hopes of saving Mar-Vell’s life. The machine lacked sufficient power, so Vision nearly sacrificed himself to power it, saving Mar-Vell’s life in the process. I wonder how much of this plot point may have factored into the eventual Death of Mar-Vell, a decade later, given how Mar-Vell died.
- The story then cuts to the entity that rules over all of Kree civilization, the Supreme Intelligence. A coup is staged and the Intelligence’s guardsmen are all killed. Ronan the Accuser, who was imprisoned in Captain Marvel issue 16, is released. He forces the Intelligence to cede power. Ronan also activates the titanic automaton known as the Kree Sentry, which laid dormant for months at Cape Canaveral. Its mission, to kill the still unconscious Mar-Vell.
- Issue 90 begins with the Kree Sentry breaking through the walls of the facility to get to the comatose Captain Marvel. Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and a still weakened Vision attempt to hold off the enormous automaton. Despite their combined power, they’re not able to repel the attack, and the Sentry escapes with Mar-Vell. The Sentry states that the Kree are to enact Plan Atavus, which freaked out a revived Mar-Vell so much that he shouted “No! Kill me here, Sentry. Don’t use that!”
- As the Avengers proceeded to leave, they were stopped by the head of Cape Canaveral security, one Carol Danvers, future Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel. She demanded a full report of the incident…at a pretty inopportune time, as the team was trying to rescue Mar-Vell.
- Rick Jones went on to recount the history of the Kree that he gleaned from Mar-Vell. It also explains Mar-Vell’s original mission, to spy on Earth and determine if it’s a threat to the Kree. Over time, he learned that Earth was a noble species, worthy of saving and he all but defected from the Kree.
- One of Roy Thomas’ favorite lines is “You win the Kewpie Doll”. I’ve seen that line nearly forty times since the beginning of this run.
- The Avengers return home, only to be greeted by an emergency message from Goliath, letting them know that Hank and Jan are in trouble up in Alaska and for the team to rendezvous with them. Storming out, they all accidentally knocked down poor Jarvis, who was bringing them tea and snacks. He gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield.
- Jan explained to Clint that she and Hank were exploring an unusual phenomenon, a jungle in the middle of Alaska. Hank freaked out and made a dive for it to investigate while sending Jan back to their ship. Clint decided to go it alone to search for Hank, stating that he “can’t work with women around, not since he and Natasha broke up”. Good grief, the sooner I get to the modern era, the better. The casual sexism has overstayed its welcome.
- There were quite a few spelling errors in this book; from Jan’s “What have you done with the I love?” to Quicksilver’s “That blast, if it had struck where the Wasp was standing“. They made for quite a discordant reading experience.
- The other Avengers arrive and find Clint under the control of Ronan the Accuser and the Kree Sentry and so they do battle.
- Ronan reveals to the captive Mar-Vell what Plan Atavus is. The Kree feel that humanity will become a threat to them in a short while. They plan to use a machine to devolve humanity back, millions of years. The test subject on this, a now Cro-Magnon Hank Pym, set out to kill an unconscious Wasp.
- Issue 91 continues the fight, with the prehistoric Pym somehow stopping himself before he hurts Jan. The three other Avengers were able to knock out Goliath as well.
- However, the Kree Sentry seems to have adapted to Vision’s ability to alter his mass. As Wanda attends to the temporarily disabled Vision, he unknowingly releases pent-up energy and they both are incapacitated.
- Quicksilver is forced to flee with Rick Jones in tow until they could come up with a new battle plan.
- The captive Avengers have an emotional moment when Wanda attempts to kiss Vision. His self-loathing nature wouldn’t just let it happen though. MAN, I don’t remember the first move coming from out of nowhere like this.
- Rick Jones going from the gee golly character in those early Avengers issues to the wise-cracking smart aleck was also a bit jarring if you didn’t keep up with The Incredible Hulk or Captain Marvel comics to see the evolution of his character.
- Ronan adjusts his plan and decides to juice up his devolution device to revert mankind to the primordial ooze from whence it came.
- Quicksilver and Rick mount a rescue and free their captive teammates.
- Before the fight can really get underway, Ronan receives a scrambled transmission from his home galaxy with a warning, “The Skrulls have invaded”. Ronan quickly abandons all plans on Earth and transports himself away. The Sentry and the secret Kree installation are both buried beneath the reformed ice caps. The humans affected by the devolution device also revert back to normal.
- Hank feels he was pretty useless in the fight. He decides that he’s retiring from the Avengers for good. Jan joins him.
- Issue 92 starts off with a seemingly relaxing day for the team (along with chauvinistic remarks from Quicksilver). This was the first time I’ve seen Vision wearing plain clothes, like in the MCU films. He rarely did so in the 80s-90s, so I completely forgot this was a thing in the comics as well.
- Their tranquility is upended when they see a news report about the incident in Alaska, an incident that all involved, including the scientists that Hank was working with, were sworn to secrecy over. It appears the scientists broke their silence and a worldwide panic about an alien incursion has started. Also made public was the fact that Captain Mar-Vell was a Kree, which turned the public against the Avengers fairly quickly. A government oversight committee has been formed (headed up by one H.W. Craddock), which resembles a McCarthy-era witch hunt.
- SHIELD aircraft were ordered to circle the skies over Avengers mansion. There were a few continuity errors, one very noticeable one is that Fury had no eye patch in the first few pages he was on, but later did.
- Carol Danvers arrives at the mansion, offering Mar-Vell a place to lay low while all of this blows over. They escape in a Quinjet.
- Craddock contacts Fury to let him know he’s monitoring all law enforcement AND SHIELD activities around the mansion. He feels Fury intentionally let them escape. Fury shuts off communications, but Dum Dum Dugan asked him why he let them escape. Fury tells him that after the war, he saw some of the relocation centers that Japanese Americans were forced to live in during World War II. He saw what it did to people. He says he didn’t allow the escape for Mar-Vell; he did it for America, or what America is SUPPOSED to be.
- Rick Jones’ mind drifted back to simpler times when he was a kid and only read about superheroes in his comic books. Heroes like the Whizzer, the Destroyer, or even ones he met like Captain America, all come from a simpler time when there was a clear line between good guys and bad guys. Now, as Rick has grown up, he sees that line isn’t as clearly defined as he once thought.
- The Avengers are served a summons to appear before an oversight committee about the incident in Alaska. As the proceedings occur, it’s obvious that Craddock is trying to use fear to incite the public.
- In the courtroom, Rick Jones relives what he thought was a dream. In actuality, he had a vision of Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers arriving at the farmhouse that Carol offered to Mar-Vell. The noble Kree warrior was then attacked by some green monster. The sight was enough to make Rick flip out and flee the courthouse.
- The rest of the team returned to the mansion, which was vandalized by protestors. Jarvis shut off the security measures, as all they needed was for some idiot rioter to get accidentally injured or killed by them.
- At the same time, the big three (Cap, Iron Man, and Thor) show up. They’re concerned about how the team sheltered Mar-Vell and how he avoided going to the hearing. Due to their by-laws, the big three have the power to disband the Avengers and do just that. However, their tones were so condescending, especially Iron Man’s, that it was pretty obvious that something was amiss.
- The magnificent pencils of artist extraordinaire, Neal Adams, graces the book in issue 93. The intense character poses and dynamic camera angles make it obvious why he was such a huge influence on megastar artist, Jim Lee.
- The big three are at the mansion when Vision shows up. The synthezoid fell unconscious right inside the front door. The team doesn’t know how to help him. Hank Pym arrives, in his original Ant-Man costume, as all of the founders were called in by Iron Man.
- Hank figures the only way to determine what is ailing the Vision is to shrink down and go inside of him to do a diagnostic.
- This is a fantastic trip through hard sci-fi land, which some of my favorite Avengers tales are. Hank and his ants are attacked by perceived monsters, but they’re only defense measures within Vision’s android body. They’re eerily similar to the human body, but still noticeably different. It’s fascinating how, unlike in humans, Vision’s mental impulses don’t have to travel through winding nerves, but dart directly to and from his brain.
- Hank makes it to Vision’s brain and repairs some things. Although Hank finds something odd, which the readers aren’t made privy to, he has to haul tail as more antibodies show up. Hank makes his way out of Vision’s nasal cavity, ending, as the narrative caption so eloquently put it, the strangest rescue mission of all time.
- Hank tells the others that he really has resigned from active duty, but if they ever need help, he’ll be there.
- Vision and the big three talk about the awkward ending of the last issue. Thor and the others have no recollection of the incident, meaning that the ones who disbanded the team were imposters. Vision also recounts that the other Avengers, after leaving, tried to track down Carol and Mar-Vell. The farm they found had no one but a few cows. These same cows shape-shifted into the Fantastic Four and possessed the same powers as the team. While Vision was incapacitated, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were abducted. Vision’s body, on autopilot, returned to the mansion.
- The story shifts to Mar-Vell and Carol, who are prisoners of the shape-shifting Skrulls. Those Skrulls were cows due to the actions of the Fantastic Four several years earlier. They’ve been lying in wait all this time.
- Given Carol’s military background, I had hoped she’d come off not as weak-willed as the other women featured in this comic the past eight years. I was disappointed in how she almost cowered when she asked Mar-Vell to not intimidate their captors.
- The Skrulls depart momentarily to deal with the arriving Avengers. While gone, Mar-Vell escapes and uses his uni-beam weapon, along with stolen Skrull tech, to create an omni-wave projector and send a message to the Kree about the Skrulls being here on Earth. Mar-Vell also figures out that her fellow captive isn’t the real Carol Danvers, but Kl’rt: the Super Skrull. While they do battle, Kl’rt activates thrusters for his ship, which was hidden in the barn.
- Goliath grows to skyscraper size to stop the ship. However, he suddenly starts to shrink. He hadn’t had the opportunity to take any Pym Particles recently. Thor saves him, but Clint is pissed off at feeling like a fifth wheel AGAIN. As the Skrulls escape with Mar-Vell, Pietro, and Wanda, Rick notes that this is probably the lowest point he’s ever seen the team at.
- Issue 94 sees the Avengers coordinating intel with the Fantastic Four about the incident last issue.
- Vision secretly stowed aboard the Skrull craft. Their next destination was the city of Attilan, home of the Inhumans. Before the Skrulls could launch their attack, Vision engaged them. Vizh and Super-Skrull were at a stalemate. However, Kl’rt wasn’t interested in fighting. He activated a superweapon, which rained down a nuclear-like energy upon Attilan, enough to topple mountains and melt ice caps. Fortunately, the energy barrier, which protects the great refuge, went up at the last moment. Vision then faced off once more against Kl’rt. His words were touching when he explained why fighting was useless; “I could accomplish nothing, save perhaps the death of one whom—I—.” Vision is starting to exhibit feelings for Wanda. Vision’s only option was to escape to warn the other Avengers of what has transpired.
- Neal Adams draws the definitive Silver Age Vision. He feels wraith-like, yet more human simultaneously.
- When Super Skrull and his party arrives back on the Skrull throne world, they are hit by shots from the Royal Palace. Kl’rt is still technically in exile, ordered by the Emperor himself. He even had a failsafe to ensnare Super Skrull if he ever returned.
- The Emperor locks Wanda and Pietro into a holding chamber with other imprisoned species, making the two Avengers have to fight for their lives. The Emperor tries to barter the lives of the two Avengers if Mar-Vell gives the Skrulls the secret of Omni-Wave Projection. Having no alternative, Mar-Vell agrees and the Avengers are spared.
- The story shifts back to Earth, within a secret facility, where Craddock is using a new alien detection device. His first test subjects, the three scientists that reported what happened in Alaska. The scientists begin to regret being so forthcoming with information on the Alaska incident.
- Craddock also forces SHIELD’s hand and we see the first appearance of their Mandroids, agents in power armor that rivals the Iron Man suit. As their fight begins, Triton (of the Inhuman royal family) arrives on the scene.
- Issue 95 continues the pitched battle against the Mandroids. Iron Man uses his power pods for precision strikes of electricity to disable them. Thor found it curious that Iron Man knew specifically where their enemies’ Achilles heel was and even brings up his concern, but Iron Man brushed it off.
- Triton relays why he’s here. Tying into Amazing Adventures issues 5-8, the Inhuman royal family are all in search of an amnesiac Black Bolt, who is wandering the United States. His mind, tampered with by the new ruler of Attilan, Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus the Mad. Before Iron Man can state the team will help him, Vision immediately rejects this plan, pointing out that they have an interplanetary war to stop and fellow Avengers to rescue. Vision acquiesces to splitting into two teams. He almost shows guilt for sending the heavy hitters on the space mission, because he secretly loves Wanda.
- YEEESH, Maximus had the gaudiest costume I’ve ever seen. I don’t remember him ever wearing that gold and red eyesore.
- In San Francisco, a group of armed men chases Black Bolt into an abandoned building. Their purpose, as one of the pursuers so ineloquently put it, “We just wantcha to help us go on a lootin’ spree—same as you did them Blacks a while back.” Uggh. Mega cringe. Cap, Goliath, Rick Jones, and Triton arrive to assist him. Black Bolt, whose memories have returned, motions for the team to help him as they’re all needed back in Attilan.
- We see a retelling of Black Bolt’s younger years. He overheard young Maximus speaking with a Kree soldier in private, making a deal that if the Inhumans assist the Kree when the time comes, Maximus would be handed the throne to rule over all of Earth. Black Bolt tried to run for help but was cornered. With no other options, Black Bolt was forced to use his deadly voice, which could level mountains, to down the escaping Kree ship. Doing so in such close proximity to his brother also damaged Maximus’ brain. Black Bolt has harbored that guilt ever since.
- The reunited team converges on the dome surrounding Attilan. Nothing can penetrate the dome, not Iron Man’s repulsor blasts, Vision’s intangibility, or Thor’s mighty hammer. Only Black Bolt is able to collapse the dome and does so with a mere whisper. When he does, the Inhumans from within the dome all attack. Black Bolt adjusts the modulation of his whisper and it’s enough to snap everyone out of the mind control that they were under, courtesy of Maximus.
- The Avengers, Black Bolt, and Triton storm the citadel. The Kree spy working with Maximus escapes, but with Rick Jones as a hostage.
- The cover of issue 96 brings us the new design for the Avengers logo, the one we all know and love today.
- The team is on an orbital platform, evidently run by SHIELD. Nick Fury offered them a long-range shuttle but had to pretend that he didn’t know they took it, otherwise he’d face consequences from H.W. Craddock’s commission.
- The team enters hyperspace (not sure how they knew what direction they were to head in), but when they exit, they’re greeted by the Skrull armada. The Avengers take on the flagship of the fleet in separate attack pods. Iron Man did battle just in his armor. It would be several years before Stark has specialized armor for deep space.
- As they tear into the flagship and order a surrender, the Skrull emperor comes on screen to let them know that they still hold Mar-Vell, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver hostage and that Mar-Vell is working on an Omni-Wave weapon. However, as one of the guards goes to grab Mar-Vell, he sees it’s a hologram. Mar-Vell duped the guards and frees the Maximoffs.
- Vision, no longer able to hide his worry over Wanda, or his anger at the Skrulls holding them captive grabs one of the Skrulls and begins to beat him within an inch of his life, trying to get the location of the Skrull throne world. It took Thor and Iron Man to pull him off. The Avengers honoring Geneva Convention, even in an interstellar war, felt a bit truer than say, them murdering Skrulls left and right in more recent event stories.
- The Skrull ship fires a rocket with a hyperspace weapon that will turn Earth into a smoldering crater. Clint, who is manning one of the ships, pursues after it, being of more use there than in a fistfight with no more Pym Particles. Clint boards the rocket, only to find four armed Skrulls…and him without weapons or powers.
- Rick Jones is brought to the Kree homeworld of Hala, before a disappointed Ronan, who was expecting a more superhuman hostage. Rick swiftly grabs an energy staff from one of his guards and fires it at Ronan. Not only did it have no effect, but Ronan smacks Rick across the room for good measure. I don’t know why, but in that moment, I envisioned Ronan yelling “CHARLIE MURPHY!!!” Ronan explains that Earth is at a strategic staging point between the Kree and Skrull empires, so it must be taken or destroyed. Rick again tries to escape and gets blasted. Ronan cannot understand the futility of his actions, since he will be the only survivor of his species. I gained a newfound respect for Rick when he responded with this line; Y-yeah, I’m lucky, all right…’cause that means that someday, someway, I’m definitely gonna kill you, creep. And the only way you’re gonna lessen those odds, buddy, is to waste me NOW!” Dude has grapefruits, I’ll give him that.
- Rick is locked away in the same prison that now houses the former ruler of the Kree, the Supreme Intelligence. He explains that even with his mental powers weakened, he reached across the cosmos to nudge H. Warren Craddock to hound the Avengers, he implanted the dream-like memories in Rick’s head and he influenced the Kree soldier in Attilan to abduct Rick. He states that Rick is integral to this entire conflict. Unfortunately, to get him to realize his true potential, the Intelligence teleported Rick away and back into the Negative Zone, right at Annihilus’ front door.
- Regular series artist, John Buscema, returns to illustrate the finale to this saga.
- Just as Annihilus grabs Rick by the throat, going for the kill, a bolt of concentrated psionic energy comes from Rick’s mind. He sends Annihilus hurtling across the stars. He’s temporarily safe but still stranded in the Negative Zone.
- Mar-Vell used the Omni-Wave to contact Rick and he believes that is what sent Rick to the Negative Zone. Mar-Vell destroys it, realizing that it’s too dangerous to allow the Skrulls to have possession of it.
- Rick escapes through a portal, only to return to the Supreme Intelligence, but now Ronan is onto them. The Intelligence tells Rick that he has unlocked the potential of humankind that it may possess one day. To protect them, the Intelligence has Rick create mental projections of the heroes he read about in comics as a youth, Captain America, Namor, the original Human Torch, the Blazing Skull, the Golden Age Vision, etc. Controlling these heroes proved a great strain on Rick’s mind and he was only able to hold it for a couple of minutes. With the Kree forces regrouping, Rick concentrated and unleashed an incalculable wave of psionic energy, one powerful enough to freeze every Kree in the facility like statues and, through mental contact with Mar-Vell, every Skrull engaged in battle as well.
- Rick releases another bolt, across the galaxy, to Earth. He reveals that H. Warren Craddock was a Skrull all along. The same mob in which he whipped into a frenzy beat him to death, which was poetic justice.
- The Supreme Intelligence explains to Rick that both the Kree and the Skrull have hit the zenith of their species and will not evolve any further, whereas Earth has nearly limitless potential. As he further explains this, Rick passes out. The strain on Jones’ mind was too much and he laid in critical condition. When the Avengers arrive, Mar-Vell is given the option to save him…by once again merging with Rick. Not seeing any other alternatives, he agrees to do it.
- The Supreme Intelligence, now at full power again, returns the team home
- Upon arriving home, the team is greeted by Nick Fury. He lets them know that the real H. Warren Craddock was imprisoned and the Skrull impersonating him had done so for months.
- The Avengers notice that all of them were transported back to Earth…all except for Clint Barton, who is missing in action.
Upon reflection, while I do really like the story, a few minor tweaks here and there could’ve made this the definitive epic for the franchise and for Marvel in general. The Kree and Skrulls actually doing battle in minor skirmishes could have visualized the hate between the two species more so than just talking about their feud. Little hints about Wanda and Vision’s feelings for each other were a bit too subtle in previous issues and needed to be a bit more apparent for the emotional stakes to have had more weight. Less time spent on ancillary plot points (the search for Black Bolt, the battle with the Mandroids, and maybe Ant-Man’s journey into the Vision being done elsewhere) could have freed up so much more room to tell the actual “War” side of things. Most importantly, Rick is featured in the main Avengers book (instead of just in Captain Marvel’s book or The Incredible Hulk) in the 12-18 months leading up to the Kree-Skrull War could have made his near-sacrifice towards the end of the story resonate with readers more.
As we return to our regularly scheduled programming in the coming months, we’ll see familiar faces return to the book, new (and questionable) costume choices, more Barry Windsor-Smith awesomeness, and a milestone that unites every person who had been an Avenger up to that point. Until next time, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!