There are many kinds of stupidity in old comics. I commented on The Essential Human Torch here before, but I hadn’t reached the bit where he refers to the Sub-Mariner as “webhead”, nor where the scriptwriter forgets that only one of the villains has been revealed and has the Torch casually name the other.

Then there are the universe’s dumbest alien invaders. The Skrulls were the first aliens in the Marvel Universe, all the way back in the second comic that began to limn than created cosmos, Fantastic Four #2. This lot are shapechangers, and in this introductory story approximately four aliens imitate our heroes in a crap bid to discredit them. Their implausibly extensive ineptness soon leads to defeat, and the FF head off to the mothership, the vanguard of an unstoppable invading force. They are taken for the quartet of Skrulls, and no one asks why they are still in the forms of the FF, or why they are speaking English. Mr Fantastic, the world’s most brilliant man, claims that “Earth’s defenses can defeat us! Here are actual photos of what we would face if we invade Earth!” (Obviously that “actual” should have been a clue that he was lying, one step from “real actual photos, honest”.) Enormous monsters, space weaponry and giant ants. The Skrull leader is terrified, and decides to flee.

Now you might think that the world’s most brilliant scientist would have been able to create pretty convincing pics, even decades before the age of photoshop. But that isn’t what he has done: he has cut pictures out of old comic books! This is explicitly stated. The aliens obviously failed to notice that these pics were drawings on cheap paper, with word balloons and cut-off ads for selling seeds and building muscles on the back.*

Incidentally, the stupidity doesn’t end there: obviously the FF don’t want to leave with the Skrull spacefleet, so they nobly volunteer to return to Earth in order to remove all trace of their presence. The fact that the main traces of their presence are clearly them and their spaceship is ignored here. On their return, Reed Richards hypnotises the Skrulls into becoming cows permanently. Decades later, John Byrne revisited this, spinning a tale from the fact that some poor villagers had been drinking alien milk for ages. Oddly, no one has ever (as far as I know) addressed the fact that before the trip to the spaceship there were four Skrulls, not surprisingly, but after the return there are only ever three. What happened to the fourth one? Best theory I’ve heard: this was a carelessly cobbled together comic, as was #1, and in these earliest issues the Thing was levered in at a late stage, messing up the numbers. The lovely irony is that the insane edifice of neurotically obsessive continuity that Marvel became is founded on such slapdash nonsense.

* I like to see this climax in this story by Jack Kirby, with its monsters particularly inevitably looking like Kirby creations, as meaning that Jack Kirby saved the world – it’s postmodern metafiction! Hurrah!

The Brown Wedge