Given their simple beginnings as bug-eyed aliens, as well as their clueless nature as far as being easy to deceive, it's hard to believe the race known as the Skrulls went on to play such an active part in Marvel's history as formidable foes--over fifty years of appearances that ended up making them one of the company's most reliable menaces who ascended to play major roles in intergalactic affairs. Somehow, despite their best efforts and most devious plans, the conquest of Earth always eluded them--though like the Kree, Thanos, Kang, the Toad Men, and other would-be conquerors whose plans were foiled, it wasn't for lack of trying.
In fact, it's their talent for planning, rather than their armament, that's arguably been one of the Skrulls' greatest assets. With their inherent ability to alter their physical forms, the Skrulls made natural infiltrators, able to spy on alien worlds and manipulate events and governments over a period of time in order to lay the groundwork for their invasion. As early as 1962, with their first appearance in Fantastic Four #2, those assets were used to skillful effect, as four Skrull spies were sent to make it appear as if the members of the FF had turned against the human race, thus deceiving the military into hunting down the heroes and hopefully eliminating them and removing a considerable complication to the Skrulls' invasion plans.
Forced to go into hiding, the FF put their heads together to find and deal with the perpetrators who have trashed their reputation just as it was starting to come into prominence. The trap they decide to set is a little short on common sense--so much so that you almost find yourself wondering what Reed was putting in that pipe of his back in the day.
In other words, this plan depends on one of the four Skrulls being away or otherwise incommunicado when the other three learn of the sabotage attempt; obviously, if all four learn of the incident together, they're not going to mistake the saboteur for one of their own group, and instead they'll realize that the real FF are involved. Talk about a long shot on the FF's part.
Naturally, the plan works like a charm.
The fight which follows is incredibly brief, with the Skrulls folding like tents and not even making use of their shape-shifting abilities to take the FF on. Once hostilities have ceased--and the Skrulls sing like canaries, thanks to the threatening Thing's rage--the FF hatch a plan that proposes to beat the Skrulls at their own game. It's a plan that's more well-considered than their from-the-hip other plan, though it carries more risk, since they would be facing an entire ship of Skrulls if things go sour.
The ruse works, and the FF send the Skrulls packing--but while the method of its success makes a virtual laughing stock of the Skrulls as any kind of serious threat, now or in the future, the up side is that Marvel ended up with a free plug for a couple of their other titles, a talent for promotion that the Fantastic Four book would excel at.
(A later story would attempt to add more substance to the scene and avoid making the Skrulls such duped pushovers: "Reed's examination of the captured Skrulls had determined their eyes were much less complex than ours, rendering them incapable of more subtle visual perceptions." All well and good, though you'd think less detailed eyesight would make space flight a hazardous undertaking, to say nothing of the infiltration of worlds targeted for conquering.)
With the threat to Earth ended, it only remains for the FF to convince the authorities that they were framed, a task made easy when the police accompany the FF to where they were holding the captive Skrulls--who now decide to use their shape-shifting powers to attack, but are swiftly dealt with by the FF. Afterward, it falls to the FF to see that the Skrulls' activities are curtailed while they remain on Earth--but the scene raises a peculiar inconsistency in the process.
What a curious bit of sleight of hand--how did we end up with only three Skrulls here? And why? While aboard the Skrull ship, Reed (still believed to be a Skrull, along with the rest of the FF) proposed that the four of them sacrifice themselves and remain behind to remove all evidence of their presence on Earth, a decision which the ship's commander endorsed. Presumably Reed made the offer in order to maintain the deception and ensure that the Skrulls never returned; and naturally, the four Skrulls they fought had to remain on Earth in captivity while Reed made his play, otherwise the deception would have failed. Yet now we learn from Reed that one of the captive Skrulls is aboard the ship and has departed with the others. The question is, how and why did that come about--and why didn't that Skrull blow the whistle on Reed and his team?
Regardless, for whatever reason, there are only three Skrulls that are put out to pasture (so to speak) as cows. (Perhaps because artist Jack Kirby drew three cows in the final panel rather than four? Maybe it's as simple as that.) Good thing they had enough subtle visual perception to be susceptible to hypnosis, eh?
But is that the end of their story?
To find out, we'll have to graze our way toward another
Marvel Trivia Question
What was the final fate of these first Skrulls on planet Earth?
It would be almost ten years before the loose ends left from this story would be picked up again. The Kree-Skrull war was igniting, and the exiled Super-Skrull arrived and restored the three bovines to their original form so that they could be used to deceive the Avengers--posing as Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man in a trick designed to disband the active Avengers so that the mutants Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch could be captured separately and be taken with Captain Marvel back to the Skrull throneworld, Mar-vell being the main prize for his strategic knowledge of the Kree.
The Super-Skrull was forced to withdraw from Earth when the original Avengers uncovered the deception and returned with the Vision to confront and defeat our three Skrulls who were once again posing as the Fantastic Four ...er, Three. It seems that despite having spent the past decade roaming farmlands, these Skrulls still possess the mechanical means to duplicate the FF's powers (though we can likely thank the Super-Skrull for re-outfitting them, considering they also had to appear as Avengers); at any rate, their reappearance as the FF unquestionably made for a great cover shot for the Avengers issue that had them facing the heroes they mimicked.
Unfortunately, when the dust clears, our Skrulls have once again been abandoned on Earth--this time as captives of the Avengers, as the team begins putting together the pieces of the puzzle involving their captured teammates and the Skrulls.
It would be over 20 years before we'd hear from this trio again--yet we'd be reminded of them when their old stomping grounds are revisited in a Fantastic Four story from 1983, as the team receives a terrorized call for help from a friend of Johnny Storm, forced by a car breakdown to seek assistance in a town near upstate New York known as King's Crossing and suddenly finding herself in danger from those who live there. When the suddenly disconnected call is traced, the Fantastic Four find that the town's name rings disturbingly familiar.
We won't find our three Skrulls in King's Crossing, or even in this story, since, as Reed exclaims, they were casualties of the Kree-Skrull War--a confusing bit of information, since all indications were that they remained on Earth for the duration. We also learn that, in bringing us up to speed on the FF's prior encounter, Reed has changed his story regarding the fourth Skrull and now simply states that he "escaped" during the fight where the FF captured the other three--which is much easier to swallow than Stan Lee's cobbled-together explanation, but which also implies that he's been at large all this time. (It also helps to explain the number of Skrulls on the FF cover.)
The FF arrive in King's Crossing incognito and begin their investigation, with the Thing conducting reconnaissance in the town under cover of darkness while the other three search for Johnny's friend, Sharon, who noticed upon arrival that not only is the town's population very guarded in their manner, but that there also seems to be a preoccupation with the town's milk industry. Sharon is found restrained and locked in a room located in the hotel where the FF are staying--and as the investigation unfolds, Reed's suspicions prove to be correct, and it becomes clear that his solution to dealing with the Skrulls has had ramifications.
The members of the FF are then attacked by the townspeople, who are now grotesqueries with the same capability of taking other forms as the Skrulls. But they're held off long enough for Reed to put his plan into effect to save them and return them to normal.
It looks like all's well that ends well in King's Crossing, though it's a fair bet a lot of the townspeople may feel like avoiding dairy products for awhile. Before we leave with the FF, though, let's take a quick look at an assertion by the Human Torch that he's the natural choice to deal with any locked door that may bar his way:
Which must certainly come as news to Mr. Fantastic, who can stretch his digits into any shape that could penetrate and manipulate a locking mechanism.
With the damaging effects of the Skrulls' presence in King's Crossing taken care of, does this bring an end to our whatever-happened-to question regarding the whereabouts of our three alien cows? Unfortunately, no. The life of contentment that Reed promised for them was a bust--because while it turns out they didn't die in the Kree-Skrull War after all, they suffered a rather gruesome fate almost immediately after being captured by the Avengers. Thanks to what we learn in a 1995 story by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, whose Skrull Kill Krew series virtually tests the waters for a little event called Secret Invasion that would hit the shelves fifteen years later, it seems the military takes custody of the Skrulls, only to sanction their termination. And then things take a grisly turn, as our Kill Krew recite the chain of events.
No, I don't know why the Skrulls were slaughtered like meat, especially after resuming their original forms upon their death. Either the military, out of some twisted wish to treat their alien prisoners sadistically, was terribly ignorant of how the alien DNA would interact with human, er, consumers--or they intentionally wanted this "virus" to spread among the human race for reasons unknown. Believe me, you don't want to dive into Skrull Kill Krew in an attempt to piece things together, since the series appears to be little more than an exercise in execution-style murder.
A very long and winding road for our three malevolent Skrulls, one that took over three decades to be resolved. There's still the matter of the fourth Skrull, whereabouts unknown, just waiting for some enterprising Marvel writer to raise from obscurity. But what angle would the writer take with the story? Well, that Skrull would certainly have *ahem* a beef with our military...