Avengers — Kree/Skrull War!

Longbox Graveyard #46

I’m four decades past my own personal comic book Golden Age, so I don’t expect everyone else to attach a lot of importance to many of the books I’ve examined here at Longbox Graveyard. Titles like Ms. Marvel, Micronauts, The Defenders, and Deathlok were obscure in their day — I’ve celebrated them here but I am fully aware few of today’s fans share my enthusiasm for these moldy oldies. But there are some titles from my heyday that I would expect to resonate with “kids these days” — titles with characters that are still active today, with events that form the historic underpinnings of continuing comic book universes.

I thought the AvengersKree/Skrull War was one of those events, especially with an Avengers movie due any day (and with the movie featuring an alien invasion of some sort). But no dice. My twenty-something office pal — who loves comics, and previously borrowed my copy of Avengers #196 to read the origin of Taskmaster — had never heard of the Kree/Skrull War!

What are they teaching in our schools??

Listen up, you whippersnappers! Before Avengers vs. X-Men, before Secret Wars, before Crisis on Infinite Earths, before even the Avengers/Defenders War there was the Kree/Skrull War! This was a mega-crossover in the old school style, the natural evolution of storytelling in a single book — not a mandated summer crossover, not some bloated high concept that poisons an entire comics line for six months of the year, and definitely NOT an imaginary story!

The Kree/Skrull War story arc ran from issues #89-97 of the Avengers (though when Marvel reprinted the saga in 1983, they restricted themselves to just the final five issues of the run). Nearing the end of his iconic six-year stint on Avengers, Roy Thomas — along with artists Neal Adams and Sal & John Buscema — delivered what was up to then arguably the longest and most complex continuing story in superhero comics, as Earth became a battleground between the warring Skrull and Kree star empires. Nowadays, company-wide meta-stories sprawling over dozens (hundreds?) of issues are a recurring summer plague, but in 1971 any story running more than a couple issues was a big deal.

The tale is deeply enmeshed in Marvel continuity but in the style of the day, it’s easy to jump on board as a new reader, thanks to liberal flashbacks and recaps of what has come before. Summarizing the tale makes it seem more complex than it reads, but I’ll give it a go anyways.

The action kicks off with Captain Marvel cracking out of the Negative Zone, then racing off half-cocked (and leaking radiation) on a mission to steal a rocket to return to his Kree homeworld. But no sooner do the Avengers lay him out cold than everyone is attacked by an awakened Kree sentry, acting on the orders of Ronan the Accuser, who has staged a coup against the Kree Supreme Intelligence and is seizing the moment to settle old scores with Mar-Vell and everyone else on Earth. The battle with the Kree sets off a worldwide alien panic, aided by a Skrull agent provocateur masquerading as a Joe McCarthy-style Senate investigator, and suddenly our heroes are facing some classic, shades-of-grey Bronze Age comic book hard choices as they decide whether or not they should turn Mar-Vell over to the authorities.

The public turns against the Avengers while Mar-Vell, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver become hostages of the Skrulls. The series climaxes with the Avengers facing down the Skrull warfleet, while Rick Jones — captured and brought to the Kree homeworld — is empowered by the Kree Supreme Intelligence to end the battle via a (frankly disappointing) deus ex machina. The story ends right when it should be getting started, offering an unfortunate and arbitrary end to what had been a superior run.

Despite this disappointing climax there is a lot to like here. The series is broad and ambitious, and there’s always something impressive about watching the Avengers fight in outer space, as they would later do in memorable issues of Captain Marvel and Warlock. But those later battles were all-hands-on-deck affairs for the fate of the universe. This battle was just a few Avengers in the lonely void of space against an entire Skrull battlefleet, made to feel underplayed and epic at the same time through Roy Thomas’ borderline-purple prose storytelling.

One of the strongest elements of this run is the way Roy Thomas handles the Vision. Introduced by Thomas in the classic issue #57 of Avengers, the Vision would evolve from android assassin to one of the most unique and fascinating members of the team. It’s hard to overstate what a superstar the Vision was during the 1970s (and one of Marvel’s great sins is how they so thoroughly worked over this character for no real gain in their late 1980s-era “Vision Quest” storyline). It is in this arc that we see the Vision’s soul well and truly begin to evolve, first by brooding on his sense of separation from and yearning for human emotions …

… then finding himself prey to all-too-human emotions as the long-simmering romance with the Scarlet Witch come out in the open in issue #91 (which also featured the debut of the Vision’s characteristic “rounded rectangle” word balloons, though they wouldn’t be yellow until issue #93):

What follows is the right kind of comic book soap opera, where the characters spend several issues coming around to what the reader has already accepted — that these two characters are made for each other. Roy Thomas gives us a master class in superhero romance.

The run is also kind of haphazard. Thomas admits he didn’t have a masterplan for the Kree/Skrull War, and the event really is more like a continuing subplot than a world-shattering event. Reading these issues today, you might be disappointed that there is so little waring between Kree and Skrull in the Kree/Skrull war! The event is largely off-stage, and while Earth is threatened with becoming the key battleground in the war between the empires, that event never materializes, as our heroes head off the worst of the war before it can get started. Likewise, issues devoted to the Inhumans and an (admittedly very cool) issue where Ant Man explores the innards of a deactivated Vision distract from the war, but it is important to remember that this was almost an accidental event, and that unlike the top-down editorial events of the present age, the point wasn’t to replace the rhythms of the host book so much as it was to provide context and color to the usual Avengers adventure of the month.

the Kree/Skrull War begins (and also rescues the Avengers from a tight spot in issue #91)

It’s worth noting how Roy Thomas assembled pieces from all over the Marvel Universe to create a story that was greater than the sum-of-its parts. Always a fiend for continuity, Thomas reached all the way back to Fantastic Four #4 to find the Skrull secret agents central to his story, and the Kree — who had been kicking around Marvel stories since 1967, mostly as the heavies in the pages of Captain Marvel — suddenly seemed more interesting, coherent, and purposeful than we’d seen them in earlier books.

The art, too, deserves mention. Even Sal Buscema — whom I’ve damned with faint praise here at Longbox Graveyard — turns in notable work, with clear storytelling and a bit of visual flair.

a nice three-panel sequence from Sal Buscema in Avengers #90

John Buscema is his reliable self here, coming to the end of his legendary Avengers tenure, but it is Neal Adams who is best remembered from this run, and it is easy to understand why. Adams’ realistic approach to composition and anatomy set him apart from most artists of his day, giving the Adams Avengers a kind of rooted and believable quality more akin to film than comic books.

Also deserving accolades is Tom Palmer on inks, who handles the final issues of the series, and smooths the transition between alternating John Buscema and Neal Adams chapters.

So what do you think? Am I living in the past by insisting events like the Kree/Skrull War form an essential part of the Marvel canon? Should I have picked a more recent Avengers event to celebrate here on the eve of the movie’s release? Or is this Avengers run a classic despite my callow twenty-something office mate’s ignorance of these mighty events? Assemble your Avengers reactions in the comments section below … and join me here next Wednesday as I offer my reactions to the Avengers movie (and practically every other Marvel movie, which I will view in one sitting!)

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #47 Avengers Assemble For The Ultimate Marvel Marathon!


About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published every now and then at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on May 2, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 63 Comments.

  1. This is one of my all time favorite story arcs! Great stuff, and way ahead of its time. I re-read Avengers #1-300 a couple of years ago (thanks to both Essential Avengers and my own back issues) and I think Roy Thomas’ run on the Avengers was probably the best Avengers run, though there were actually several really good runs on this title.

    My one criticism of the arc is the ending, which seemed a bit flat to me. However, since you wrote that Roy Thomas didn’t really have a plan for the Kree-Skrull War, I guess it’s not surprising that the ending wasn’t that great. Still, the buildup to the end was excellent. The art was very good too, though they did shuffle artists more than I’d like.

    Regarding Neal Adams, he is my second favorite artist after George Perez, so it’s always a treat to see his work.


    • Adams and Perez are kind of cut from the same cloth, with their realistic anatomy and detailed scenes. The Grim Reaper story that Perez penciled around issue #160 of so of the Avengers is a personal favorite.

      I think the best single run of Avengers stories is the Thomas/Buscema Ultron/Vision/Yellowjacket arc starting with #54. Maybe I’ll use the release of the Avengers movie on DVD as an excuse to review those later this year.


      • I was thinking that, of the Roy Thomas run, that particular story was my favorite. “Even an android can cry” is forever burned in my memory.

        Your mention of #160 reminds me that #161 was my first even issue of the Avengers. It’s the one with Ant-Man battling the Avengers on the cover. I can picture the Scarlet Witch writhing on the ground with ants crawling all over her as I type this!


        • And of course George drew every … single … one … of those hyper-detailed little ants. That guy must go through two pencils every page.


        • Avengers #160-162: The Bride of Ultron saga.

          One of my favorite Avengers stories.

          Jim Shooter really understood these characters. Wrote some amazing stories before he became Editor-in-Chief.


          • There was an Oedipal undercurrent to the Ultron story right from the get-go, and as I recall that Bride of Ultron story took all that subtext and put it on the outside. Normally I’m put off by that kind of “reinvention” but I did like those stories and now have an urge to read them again.


  2. “This was a mega-crossover in the old school style, the natural evolution of storytelling in a single book — not a mandated summer crossover, not some bloated high concept that poisons an entire comics line for six months of the year, and definitely NOT an imaginary story!”

    This is lost with modern comics. And, it’s a reason why I don’t buy (endorse) them anymore.


    • Yeah, I took a long look at Avengers vs. X-Men, but ultimately decided I couldn’t tumble to $3.99/issue for a digital book (or print, for that matter). Secret Wars and Crisis were exciting in their time but they’ve left a pretty foul legacy. I left comics shortly after Crisis so I missed the worst of them. I might try House of M or Fear Itself — just because they’re sitting there in my Marvel Digital Unlimited sub — but right now I’m having too much fun reading classic 1960s Avengers.


  3. Great summation of Avengers #89-97, Paul.

    Nice that some people are actually looking at the comics in anticipation of the film.


    • Hits have been good both for this post and my Avengers Assemble panel gallery last week, so I am definitely getting a little bump from the movie coming out. And I didn’t even have to linkbait CHRIS EVANS NAKED! (whoops, I just did)

      For my part, I am committed to the Marvel mega-movie marathon tomorrow … five superhero pictures in one sitting, then Avengers at midnight. It’s hard to calculate how it has come to this … that the Avengers, of all things, is tracking to be one of the biggest movies of all time. From a pre-Star Wars, 1970s perspective it’s practically incomprehensible to accommodate to what degree we happy geeks have won the pop culture war. Revenge of the Nerds indeed.

      Here’s an interesting factoid for you, though. The sales of Avengers in 1979 outdistanced today’s book by a factor of two or three. That’s right … the Avengers movie could crack $500M worldwide gross this weekend — superheroes are bigger than ever before — but the comics business is still struggling. It’s like they’re starving to death in the middle of a supermarket because they can’t figure how to use a can opener. But I’ve already ranted about that.

      For now I’m just looking forward to seeing the movie tomorrow. My twelve-year-old, Jack, has consented at the last minute to join me for the movie marathon, too. Should be fun, will report here next week on all the gory details.


      • Horace Austin


        The sales numbers for the title are fascinating.

        Starting in 1976 (coincidentally, the year I got into comics), the numbers for paid circulation and subscribers grow by leaps and bounds until the peak year of 1983.

        The growth in these numbers from 1976 to 1979 is eye-popping. What factors went into this? Despite the occasional fill-in and clunker, the late 70’s was a strong period for the title. Young, rising stars like Perez and Byrne put in time on the book. Starlin’s Avengers Annual #7 really clicked with readers (and still does). It won 2 Eagle Awards in 1977. The beginnings of the Direct Market as well? There must be other factors I’m missing.


        • I think you answered your own question — Avengers was a top-quality book in the late 1970s. I recall the book benefiting from frequent cross-overs with other titles, and I expect many kids of the day (myself included) saw Avengers as a chance to get a bunch of superheroes for one quarter, rather than having to pay just as much for a single-hero book.

          The article accompanying those sales numbers notes only that sales jumped dramatically in 1979, without noting why, but also says that sales declined after the readership was split with introduction of “West Coast Avengers” in the 1980s. I don’t remember much about West Coast Avengers but I have a vague sense that it was an inferior book that devalued the brand. Certainly those 1980s Avengers books didn’t have the “must read” feel of 70s Avengers, which really felt like Marvel’s “event” book.


  4. I love Shooter’s work on the Avengers, but his run was short and irregular, so I’d rank Roy Thomas’ run ahead. Hoewever, yeah, Bride of Ultron is awesome, and the Korvac Saga is double awesome,

    To echo Horace Austin, you do a very nice job of summarizing several issues worth of events in a concise blog. Good job!


    • I’ve still got all those Korvac books — haven’t read them since they came out, I recall thinking the storyline overstayed it’s welcome, but I should give them another chance. So much to read! (I’m also hip-deep in a Batman run right now, preparing for a review to come out when Dark Knight Returns hits theaters later this summer).


  5. Horace Austin

    “It’s hard to overstate what a superstar the Vision was during the 1970s (and one of Marvel’s great sins is how they so thoroughly worked over this character for no real gain in their late 1980s-era “Vision Quest” storyline). ”

    Yeah. For most of the 1970’s, the Vision adorned the corner symbol on the Avengers comic book covers.

    And, I’ll say publicly that I NEVER liked “Vision Quest.”


    • I don’t have the letter columns close at hand to prove it but my memory of the era was that there were frequent calls for the Vision to have his own series. Marvel was wise to resist — the magic of the Avengers was in their ensemble nature, and it was always the characters native to that book (rather than outside headliners like Iron Man and Thor) who really made the series tick. Spinning Vision off on his own would have required that they develop a supporting cast and series of hooks independent of what made him work so well in Avengers — being the perpetual outsider, the objects of scorn and prejudice … the Vision was like all the X-Men in a single person.

      The Vision did get his own title in the Vision & Scarlet Witch mini-series but I don’t recall liking it much.


  6. I re-read the Korvac Saga, as part of my Avengers journey, and for me, it held up after all those years. I foud it touching that Korvac was essentially defeated by love. And I’m with Horace on Vision Quest. I like a lot of Byrne’s stuff, but not his Vision.

    I know what you mean, Paul. I’m re-rading through my old comics too (I wish I’d had the idea to right a blog about it but I’m probably too lazy anyway) and I’m a little over halfway through my Fantastic Fours. It seems like I might never get through all of them, plus I’ve been buying the occasional trade paperback.


    • I am inching closer to a big Fantastic Four project. There’s no movie on the horizon to give me a deadline for the blog so I suppose I’ll just have to commit to it, maybe later this year. I’ve just about filled in the Byrne run. This blog does help keep me on track to read/organize/sell my stuff, and I’m glad it’s developing a little bit of community for folks who find it a worthwhile read in its own right. Thanks as always for reading and commenting.


  7. It’s good to review the Skrull history: This saga, when their homeworld got eaten by Galactus, and when they got frozen in whatever shape they had by the gene bomb – all classics.

    Many people are asking “What Avengers trades should I get?” because of the movie. This story makes the cut, even if Marvel’s reprint cut out some of the early issues. Other than the Thomas/Buscema days, we also endorse Ultimates 1 & 2, the Stern/Buscema/Palmer run from the 80s, the “Red Zone” storyline featuring Dell Rusk from 2003, and the Bendis/Finch run on New Avengers. The Byrne and Perez stories had some real highlights, too – like the birth of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in the Wundagore story.


    • I know about half of those, Mars, and will check out the rest. After seeing the film yesterday (review coming next week) I am still enthused for Avengers, and will likely do one more series review here at Longbox Graveyard, possibly to coincide with release of the DVD.

      I do think it was an error not to use the Skrulls in the movie … with all the alien races kicking around the Marvel universe, why invent a new one for the film? Ah, well …


      • They did use the Skrulls. They just left out the “shapeshifter” aspect. The movie calls them Chitauri. Chitauri was Mark Millar’s name for the nasty shapeshifting aliens in the first Ultimates series circa 2002. There’s a panel where the lead Chitauri scumbag explains to the captive Wasp that they have been given many names throughout the universe, and one of them is Skrulls. The scene where Captain America uses psychology to goad the Hulk into beating the snot out that guy is just priceless…


        • A Skrull by any other name … I missed their name in the movie, and wouldn’t have connected it to Ultimates in any case. Good detective work, Mars!

          Now, if you want to drive hits for your excellent site, you should put up an info page on the mysterious villain we see at the very end of the picture — you and I both know who it was (and I am not naming here as the film is still rolling out and I don’t want to spoil the surprise), but I know you have the material on hand to do a full dossier on the guy and there will be plenty of casual fans out there wondering just who the heck it was …!


          • Right you are! In fact, we got called out for saying it on our site last week and took down the spoiler. We read reports from Marvel fans that their friends have no idea who it is, and are saying things like, “Dude, it’s the Red Skull!” BBZZZTT No dice. Thanks for playing.


            • In the past week the Avengers have gone from a private club of obsessives to a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Gonna be plenty of guys tromping through our clubhouse getting all the details wrong now! “Avengers” is suddenly the most lucrative superhero brand in the world — bigger than Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman.

              It’s a crazy world, my friend.


  8. I love cosmic comics (see what I did there?) — SIlver Surfer, GL Corps, Krees & Skrulls, the Legion, Adam Strange, etc … but I have not read many Avengers.

    This is where my DC-centrism has certainly led me to miss some great stories, and Avengers has so much continuity, it is intimidating to know where to start. But with the existence of reprints / essentials / masterworks, the early issues are available.

    By nature I am an OCD-hindered completist, and would need to start at the beginning. Is Avengers worth the effort — considering it, or maybe FF instead. Advice?


    • Personally, I think the Avengers are worth it (either they or the Legion are my all time favorite comic) but if you’re really into cosmic & sci-fi stuff, the FF might be a better bet.


      • If you follow Thanos you’ll get the best of Marvel “Cosmic” stuff, for the most part, and plenty of Avengers along the way (and also Warlock, Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel, and the Guardians of the Galaxy). Mars Will Send No More has an excellent guide to Thanos; to dip your toe in you might try the recent Thanos The Final Threat one-shot reprint, which is one of my favorite Starlin Thanos tales (and half of it is an Avengers Annual, so there’s plenty of Avengers stuff too).

        Fantastic Four is more along the lines of “old school” Cosmic — the Galactus story, of course, sets the bar for all of Marvel’s Cosmic stories, and the Negative Zone stuff is pretty cool, but overall I like the FF tales less than the Starlin stuff from the 1970s and later (and it might just be down to being less enthusiastic about the FF, overall).

        On the DC side, I never much warmed up to their cosmic tales. Green Lantern Corps was OK, for awhile (and I like the animated show). New Gods was fun but flawed and of course cut off in its prime. I’m reading Legion of Superheroes Archives Vol. 1 right now and it is nostalgic and fun but very much a relic of the 1950s.


        • Oh, I agree. I don’t like the FF stuff as much as the Starlin 70’s stuff.

          As far as DC, I liked the Green Lantern Corps stuff from the 80’s, but I absolutely love the Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s my all time favorite DC comic. However, I don’t like the warly stuff as much as the Bronze Age stuff, so if you’re reading vol 1, I’m not surprised you’re not blown away. It pick up when Jim Shooter takes over in the mid to late 60’s, but really hits it stride with Paul Levitz, so you may want to pick up Legion archives in the double digits rather than vol 1.


          • I’m enjoying this first Archive edition just fine — my filters are set for “Silver Age Goofy” and by those standards this collection is a cut above. I love the Eisenhower-era rationality and safe atmosphere of these Superman Family titles. The stories are bright, clear, and optimistic, and it’s fun to watch the Legion characters in their first appearances.

            The Legion is (Mostly) a hole in my comics knowledge and I will gradually fill it in. I see Shooter comes aboard with the fifth volume in the Archives series so maybe I will jump ahead.


  9. The good news is Marvel released a collected edition with the entire Kree Skrull war run included, not just the last 5 issues. Not long after your blog post either.

    And let us know how the viewing of the animated Avengers – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in going. I noted Netflix added season 2 recently so you can watch the complete run. Marvel/Disney is rebooting the series as Avengers Assembled.


    • I’ve been filling in my missing Kree/Skrull wars with selected digital reads; the Marvel Digital library pretty closely shadows what they put our in collected form, in fact I think they send stuff to digital only after they’ve first formatted it for collection. The advantage to digital of course is that everything remains in print, something Marvel’s had trouble doing with their actual printed collections.

      We watched the first episode of Earth’s Mightiest but it didn’t spark. I will try again. Supposedly Young Justice and Green Lantern are starting up again so maybe I can sneak it into that rotation.


  10. Reblogged this on Reggie's Blog and commented:
    Avengers-Kree/Skrull War!


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