Fantastic Four #2

"The Fantastic Four Meet the Skrulls from Outer Space!"

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Inker: unknown*
Letterer: John Duffy
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Cover date: January 1962
Cover price: 10 cents
Current value: about $5500

"What is happening here?" wonders the narrator. The Thing destroys an offshore oil platform, the Invisible Girl steals a ten million dollar gem, the Human Torch melts a marble war monument, and the long arm of Mister Fantastic pulls a lever in the power plant which shuts off power to the whole city. Personally, I don't think the last deed was particularly dastardly, since the befuddled power plant worker who witnessed it could have simply flipped the switch back on and plunge the city back into light again. But all dastardly deeds can't be winners.

Soon enough this "Fantastic Four" is revealed to the reader to be a quartet of Skrulls. From Outer Space. Skrulls have an innate ability to change their form into anything they wish, and they used their alien technology to duplicate the powers of the FF. Their plan is to get the people of Earth to get rid of a discredited Fantastic Four. Stripped of its super powered defenders (keep in mind that all the other Marvel super heroes haven't been created yet), the Earth will be defenseless in the face of an invasion of technologically superior Skrulls. From Outer Space. Meanwhile, the real FF are hiding out from the authorities in an isolated hunting lodge trying to figure out what's going on.

"Prisoner of the Skrulls"

I guess it wasn't isolated enough, because the Army now has it surrounded. The FF surrender and are incarcerated in a federal prison in cells specially designed to contain their particular powers. But the design stage must have taken ten minutes, because Reed, Ben, and Johnny quickly find weaknesses to exploit in that design and use their powers to escape. Sue, however, simply turns invisible and runs out an open door. No cage can contain her.

Johnny, of all people, comes up with a quite clever plan to get to the bottom of this mess. They deduce that a new rocket test will be the site of the impostors' next sabatoge, and at that test Johnny pretends to be the impostor Human Torch, fooling the other impostors into driving him to their secret hideout, which is a generic looking apartment. There Johnny uses the FF flare gun to signal the others, but he is quickly subdued by the Skrulls. From Outer Space.

"The Fantastic Four Fight Back!"

One thing about the FF, they sure know how to respond to a signal flare. They appear pretty much instantly to save Johnny and tie up the Skrulls. From Outer Space. This time it's Reed's turn to come up with a plan, which is just as impressive as Johnny's. The FF will impersonate the aliens who were impersonating them in a desperate ploy to foil the impending alien invasion. They pile into the Skrull's shuttle, which is disguised as a water tower, and head towards the mothership of the Skrulls. From Outer Space.

Reed shows the Skrull commander pictures of Earth's formidable defenses. These "defenses", however, are panels from Johnny's monster comics, depicting giant ants, fearsome creatures, giant space mines, and so forth. (Product Placement Alert: the titles mentioned in Reed's thought balloon, "Journey Into Mystery" and "Strange Tales", were actual comics published by Marvel. Monster comics were a mainstay of Marvel's business until Marvel got back into superheroes, starting with the FF.) The Skrulls have never been depicted as particularly intelligent, but apparently this guillible commander can't tell the difference between a photograph and a drawing. So the aliens are about to flee, but what about the FF? After all, they're supposed to be Skrulls. From Outer Space. Reed volunteers his quartet to stay behind and remove all traces of the Skrull presence, I guess so the giant ants don't find out and pursue them through space. Impressed by their bravery and self-sacrifice, the Skrull commander (I love this part) awards them a medal. The Skrulls flee and the FF take the water tower back to Earth. But in the radiation belt, the Thing starts to revert to his human form…

"The Fantastic Four…Captured!"

The ship lands and the quartet is surrounded by cops when they emerge. Ben is surprised to find himself human again, but quickly reverts to his orange rock form, foreshadowing the angst and internal struggle Ben would have with his new body over the decades. But it's merely a glimpse of things to come, as the FF is headed for the slammer. Somehow, Reed convinces the cops to take them to the Skrull hideout, where he will explain all. At the apartment, the cops are immediately attacked by the Skrulls, who've taken the form of monsters. Apparently, no one told the FF that it was a bad idea to tie up shapechangers, but the Skrulls have politely waited for them to return so they can attack. The three Skrulls are subdued, and Reed reveals that the fourth one is back with the fleeing Skrull fleet. How Reed knows this and why that Skrull doesn't spoil Reed's plan are never explained.

But what to do with the shapechanging Skrulls? From Outer Space. Well, we've seen that tying them up is largely ineffective, and the FF have shown that federal prisons are pretty useless too. So Reed comes up with another clever idea. He has conclusively proven that Skrulls are quite stupid, and thus are no doubt especially susceptible to hypnotism. So Reed has them assume the form of cows and leaves them in a field to graze peacefully, until we meet them again a decade later. A clever ending, and its clever twists like those which redeem an otherwise silly tale.

So what's the deal with those four Skrulls? From Outer Space.

The Skrulls would appear again and again in Marvel comics, becoming probably the most frequently appearing alien race, tormenting Earth heroes, especially the FF and the Avengers. Thankfully, future stories didn't feel the need to point out that the Skrulls were from Outer Space. The Kree-Skrull War (Avengers 93-97, written by Roy Thomas) a decade after their first appearance, where they draw the Avengers into a war against their hated enemy the Kree, is probably the most famous old school Skrull tale. And it's there where we meet those original four Skrulls again.

Wait? Are there four or three? What happened? Well, in FF #2 there's clearly four Skrulls tied up just before the FF go to the Skrull mothership. Then they return and there's only three, and Reed says the fourth is back with the fleet. But how does he know? And how did the Skrull get back if the FF had the Skrull shuttle?

In Avengers 93, four of the Avengers, on the trail of Captain Marvel, are suddenly attacked by cows! The three Skrulls capture Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, but the Vision escapes to bring the cavalry. The hypnotized Skrulls were revived by a "hyper beam" and are working under the direction of the Super Skrull. The rest of the Avengers capture the three Skrulls, but the Super Skrull escapes with the captives.

In Avengers 97, the mystery of the fourth Skrull is solved, more or less. That Skrull was impersonating one H.Warren Craddock, head of a presidential committee who was scaring up all kinds of trouble for the Avengers with an witch hunt for aliens. Oh, irony. It is Rick Jones, using his mind power under the guidance of the Kree Supreme Intelligence, who reveals the identity of the faux Craddock. (Yeah, this stuff doesn't make any sense even in its original context). The Skrull is revealed while making a speech to an angry mob, who promptly beat him to death.

I haven't discovered what happened to the three Skrulls who were captured by the Avengers. Perhaps they appeared in a later issue. (FF Annual #17 mentions that "they were reported killed in the Kree-Skrull War", but does not elaborate.) You can also see the Kree-Skrull war if it had gone very differently in What If? #20.

Don't drink the Skrull milk

But we haven't seen the last of it. Fast forward another decade to Fantastic Four Annual # 17 (written by John Byrne), which revisits the trio of cow Skrulls. Here we find out that the cows were left in a field in upstate New York, near a town off of Interstate 90 called King's Crossing. The Skrull cows interbred with native cows, and the Skrull genetic material infected the entire town through milk, turning people into strange pseudo-Skrulls. The FF find out and save the day with some handy anti-Skrull antidote Reed whipped up. Also, during a brief retelling of FF2, we find out that it's Skrull eyes and not Skrull brains that are deficient, which is why the Skrull commander couldn't differentiate between photos and comics. Nice save, but it's 20 years too late.

The Skrull Cows feature in the backstory to Grant Morrison's infamous Skrull Kill Krew miniseries. I haven't read that yet, but I plan on buying it soon, so watch this space.

* The likeliest candidates are George Klein or Christopher Rule. See http://www.povonline.com/JackFaq2.htm.

For an affordable reprint of this story, I recommend the Marvel Masterworks series, which reprints FF # 1-10 in color in one volume for $12.95. (ISBN 0760737959)

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