Captain Marvel will be in theaters March 8, 2019. That’s not too far away, but far enough that despite the years-long buildup typical of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Brie Larson appeared onstage with her “fellow heroes” a year ago at SDCC, without a frame of film known to have been shot) very little is clear about its story, setting or even the background of its main character.

Some of that is owed to the challenges in adapting the character: The “Captain Marvel” of the film, Carol Danvers, is the seventh hero to carry that mantle in the comics; and her origins are so bound up in the convoluted history of the brand (to say nothing of the infamous “Rape of Ms. Marvel” storyline, which Marvel would prefer we all forget happened) that it was a foregone conclusion that the character would receive a significantly different backstory for the film.

But as of this year’s SDCC, fans now have at least a few solid details to build their theories around: The film will be set in the 1990s, will involve a (still two-eyed!) Nick Fury, the shape-shifting aliens called Skrulls, and will incorporate elements of “The Kree-Skrull War,” a famous 1971-1972 Marvel story that rates as one of the most influential comics of the Silver Age, and which prominently featured the original Captain Marvel as part of its sprawling narrative.

The story itself is a landmark, the quintessential early work of writer Roy Thomas – the most prominent of the first generation of 70s Marvel writers to originate as 60s Marvel superfans – and showed off his affection for the Lee/Kirby/Ditko mythos through the 9-issue story’s weaving together of long-term plot threads not only from Avengers (the series where the story took place) but also Fantastic Four, Captain Marvel and Inhumans. In this respect, it served as one of the key ancestors of comic-crossover “maxiseries” like Marvel’s own Secret Wars, The Infinity Gauntlet and Civil War as well as DC’s various semi-annual “Crisis” events.

But what, exactly, was the story of The Kree-Skrull War? And how might a hero-filled crossover event from the early-70s fit into the plot of a single-hero (at least as far as we know) movie set in the 90s but made in the late-2010s? That takes some explaining – not just of the story, but of the players involved.

PRE-WAR: THE KREE

Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy Captain Marvel: The Kree Skrull War Explained

If you’ve seen the bulk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies (and at least one of the TV shows) you’re already familiar with the Kree. They’re a space-faring race of blue-skinned humanoid aliens who follow a techno-organic hivemind called The Supreme Intelligence and are really, really into war – Marvel’s Klingons, essentially. In the comics (where they date back to Fantastic Four #65) they have one of the more complex and convoluted histories of any corner of the Marvel Universe, largely because their originally simple origin (“bad blue people from space”) kept getting folded into the backstories of other alien/cosmic Marvel characters like the Inhumans (well after both had debuted) and the Celestials.

In the MCU, the connection between the Kree (whose most prominent MCU “name” figure was Guardians of The Galaxy nemesis Ronan The Accuser) and the Inhumans has already been established as of the second and third seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and largely reflects the relationship from the comics. Ever in search of new weaponry to fight their various intergalactic enemies (see below) the Kree experimented on prehistoric humans to create super-soldiers, resulting in a super-powered subspecies of humanity later known as Inhumans – the “modern” iteration of which are currently part of S.H.I.E.L.D’s main storyline and the O.G. version of which will have their own series hitting at the end of the summer.

PRE-WAR: THE SKRULLS

Skrulls and Super Skrull from Captain Marvel Captain Marvel: The Kree Skrull War Explained

Compared to the Kree, the Skrulls are a lot less complicated – particularly since they haven’t appeared anywhere in the MCU yet. They were, supposedly, at one point meant to be Loki’s henchmen in The Avengers, but were swapped out for the more straightforwardly soldier-like Chitauri. This was in part because of legal questions over how Marvel is able to use them as characters given that they debuted as villains in The Fantastic Four franchise, and are thus co-owned (in terms of movie rights) by Twentieth Century Fox.

The Skrulls are a green-skinned alien race distinguishable by their distinct ridged chins and ability to shapeshift into almost any other biological form – a power that Marvel has used to explain their way into and out of just about every kind of inconvenient plot point you can imagine. The first meeting of the Skrulls and the Fantastic Four ended when Mr. Fantastic tricked three Skrull advance-scouts into taking the form of (and then living out life as) a trio of common Earth dairy cows – and believe it or not, that’s an extremely important detail.

PRE-WAR: CAPTAIN MARVEL

Mar Vell and Captain Marvel Captain Marvel: The Kree Skrull War Explained

The original (male) Captain Marvel was an undercover Kree soldier named Mar-Vell who, after complications in his original mission, remained on Earth and adopted a superhero identity as “Captain Marvel;” fighting off alien threats (including those from his own people) alongside his ally Carol Danvers – who would later be discovered to have absorbed Kree Energy during a battle and become a hero in her own right as Ms. Marvel and, eventually, the seventh “official” Captain Marvel. Mar-Vell, meanwhile, later ended up gaining new powers (when Roy Thomas took over as writer) and entering into a “body-swapping” symbiosis with onetime Incredible Hulk sidekick Rick Jones.

Mar-Vell was created very quickly (even for them) by Stan Lee and Marvel in order to take advantage of a brief legal window wherein the rights to the unrelated mega-popular 1940s Captain Marvel had not fully transferred from defunct Fawcett Comics to DC. The character was never very popular, but in order to hold the trademark Marvel had to keep reviving him (or the name) every few years. Mar-Vell had his last self-titled original-run adventure in 1970, a little over a year before he re-appeared as a central figure in The Kree-Skrull War. This took place over nine consecutive issues of The Avengers which, because the concept of a full-on “maxiseries” hadn’t yet taken complete shape in the comics medium yet, were more like a series of individual stories linked by events and characters.

“THE ONLY GOOD ALIEN…” (AVENGERS VOL 1 #89)

kree skrull war mar vell Captain Marvel: The Kree Skrull War Explained

The story-proper begins in media-res with Captain Marvel back on Earth (after having been stuck in The Negative Zone and last seen there in Fantastic Four #109) confused and fighting Rick Jones and Avengers members Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision before flashing back to explain what happened: Rick, believing that the headquarters of the Fantastic Four held equipment that could be used to retrieve Mar-Vell from The Negative Zone (the way the duo’s powers usually work is that they swap places between Earth and the Zone, unable to occupy the same universe at the same time) had broken into Reed Richards lab – triggering a distress alarm that was answered by the only Avengers who happened to be home at the time because Avengers Mansion, in the Silver Age, was basically a superhero hostel.

Following an unexpected encounter with Annihilus, a Negative Zone-based cosmic villain who’s always kind of waiting by the door just in case things like this happen, it’s revealed that Mar-Vell has been poisoned by Negative Zone radiation and will die unless Rick, The Avengers and a set of NASA scientists can cure him. Said cure works, but results in both Mar-Vell and the Vision being knocked out cold. This is noticed out in the stronghold of the Kree Empire, where Ronan The Accuser (who really, really dislikes Captain Marvel) is attempting a coup against his leadership and remotely activates a Kree Sentry robot on Earth to kill Mar-Vell while he’s down.

“JUDGMENT DAY” (AVENGERS VOL 1 #90)

kree skrull judgment day Captain Marvel: The Kree Skrull War Explained

After the Sentry successfully abducts Mar-Vell to parts unknown, Rick Jones and the other the heroes are summoned to join three other Avengers (The Wasp, Hank “Ant-Man” Pym in his Yellowjacket persona and Clint Barton, aka “Hawkeye” but currently borrowing Pym’s Giant-Man technology and calling himself “Goliath” – read it again, it’ll makes sense) to investigate the sudden appearance of a tropical rainforest in the Arctic Circle. As it turns out, this is Ronan’s doing: As part of his attempted takeover of the Kree Empire, he schemes to de-evolve Earth back to prehistoric form – and has already managed to turn Yellowjacket into an ape-man along with several other humans, the main psychological effect of which seems to be making them lust uncontrollably for the Wasp once she arrives on the scene.

Page 2: The War Begins (Sort Of)

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