Greetings, Legions of the Unspoken! It’s an exciting time here at The Unspoken Decade as we gear up for our very own Dean Compton’s favorite character to make a first appearance on Netflix’s Daredevil! And no, folks, I’m not talking about Elektra. It’s none other than Mr. Frank Castle, the one and certainly the only, Punisher. And what better way to get psyched for his debut than Six Weeks of Punishment?
This weekend Mr. Compton will bring you Punisher and Batman: Deadly Knights, and I, Emily Scott, will take a look at Punisher 2099 shortly after that. We are kicking off Six Weeks of Punishment, though, with the event that launched the short-lived Marvel Edge imprint, Over the Edge, a showdown of Castle versus Nick Fury that includes Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider, and Hulk’s titles. Take a listen to mine and Dean’s podcast below, take a look at some sweet very 90s covers, and take another trip back to the Unspoken Decade this weekend for more punishment. For the next six weeks, we’re all gluttons.
Greeting, Legions, and welcome back to Madness Month here at The Unspoken Decade! I don’t know that I truly understood the meaning of the word “madness” until I experienced a certain ongoing basketball tournament Dean Compton-style, complete with days of games on multiple screens and more junk food than anyone in their right mind would ever consume, but now I am well prepared to take a look at some lunacy in the comic book realm. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to take a glance at Dean’s take on Ghost Rider #33 and Darry Weight’s Venom: The Madness, but if you’re in the mood for madness of a slightly more irreverent nature, there’s no better place to turn than 1995’s Skrull Kill Krew.
Created by writers Grant Morrison and Mark Millar and artist Steve Yeowell, Skrull Kill Krew was published under the short-lived Marvel Edge imprint, which included many established Marvel titles like Ghost Rider, Punisher, and Daredevil. As the name would suggest, and since it was practically the law in the mid-90’s that things be made more extreme, Marvel Edge trafficked in edgier fare, and Skrull Kill Krew is nothing if not on the fringes of normalcy. From the first cover, it’s obvious this comic is going to have some fun and not be too concerned with how it goes about doing it.
We first meet Krew members Ryder and Moonstomp, who bust in on a history class, blow away the teacher, making the “she’s history” joke you totally see coming but would be disappointed if it weren’t there, take out a student, announce they were aliens, and dismiss class more flamboyantly than anyone since Alice Cooper. It’s a fitting introduction for this motley Krew because it’s exactly what you’ll get a lot more of in the rest of the books. Not to say that there is no depth to this series, but it doesn’t deviate far from the pattern of find Skrulls – make snarky quips – violently dispose of Skrulls. It’s entertaining, but anyone looking for something more probably wasn’t paying much attention to the cover up there when they picked this up.
One other thing the Krew does is recruit new members, but considering their recruitment techniques don’t look terribly different than their Skrull extermination techniques, their potential members can be a little reluctant. Dice, a surfer dude who has been experiencing strange visions and mood swings, runs from them, quite understandably so, as the Krew has shot his girlfriend after announcing themselves as “two seriously violent individuals” and started chasing him down with all the subtlety you would expect from people who mow down alien infiltrators in crowded public places.
The smarmy blonde British guy is Moonstomp, who we learn is a white supremacist who likes to deal out his violence with a claw hammer even though he could morph himself into any weapon. The black guy is Ryder, who we infer hates Skrulls enough to work with a white supremacist to take them out. The title doesn’t last long enough for them to get much character development beyond that, but the story doesn’t particularly demand any more of them.
Their partnership exemplifies some of the best and worst of humanity, something simultaneously beautiful and ugly. One on the one hand, it’s comforting to think that if there were an outside threat, we would put aside our differences and work together as a species to ensure our own preservation. On the other, it’s disheartening that it might take something decidedly more foreign than people of other races to make us finally set aside those prejudices and come together as one human family. I said that this story was not without depth, but this is the sort we get – not really examined in any meaningful way but there if you care to look for it.
In the second issue, we get an explanation of the Krew’s origin and powers. The gist is that in the 60’s, the Fantastic Four defeated some Skrulls impersonating them. Reed Richards, demonstrating what Ryder rightfully calls a “highly idiosyncratic sense of humor,” hypnotizes them into thinking they are cows and left them to graze. (You know you’ve read too much Greek mythology, when you find yourself wondering if Mr. Fantastic planned on boning any of the bovine.) During the Kree-Skrull War, they were changed back into Skrulls, but this time when they were defeated and turned back into cows, the Alien Activities Commission decided to do something weird and gross and send the cows to the slaughterhouse.
Those cows were turned into burgers, and some of the people who ate them died, some were unaffected, and some, our protagonists, were infected by the Skrull meat in a way that gave them powers like shape-shifting, ability to detect Skrulls, and near indestructibility, as well as an increasingly violent and irrational urge to off the Skrulls. The unfortunate side effect, though, is a bad case of dying soon, as the virus eats all of someone’s brain tissue in a few years. (This comic was created at the height of the Mad Cow Disease scare in the UK, and while it doesn’t necessarily have anything profound to say about media-induced panic or the horrors of mass food production, it capitalizes well on that panic, and using the cows was a clever way to integrate an older, fairly minor idea into the modern world.)
Just as the Fantastic Four all got different powers as the result of their exposure to cosmic rays, so too do the Skrull Kill Krew get unique powers from their Skrullovoria Induced Skrullophobia that reflect their personalities. Spiky haired punk rocker Riot, named because she is a Riot Grrrl and this is the super 90’s, transforms into a huge prickly insect. Dice’s powers manifest at random. Catwalk, the supermodel, turns into a giant cat. The most compelling affect of their powers, though, belongs to Moonstomp, who appears to be the only one exhibiting any of the degeneration yet. He has multiple dark patches on his body that are spreading, and it would have been interesting to see if a fairly flippant book would have handled a white supremacist turning black with any kind of subtlety.
It’s not just playing on the idea of Mad Cow that makes this comic feel so much like a product of its time. In fact, of all the 90’s comics I have looked at for The Unspoken Decade, this might feel the most 90’s of all. It’s more than the “edginess,” the over the top violence, or the fact that the Krew all look like they stepped straight off the set of Hackers. There’s something about the anything goes, nothing-to-lose, nihilistic tone that transported me straight back to the mid-90’s, but it’s hard to separate how much of that is the comic, about a group of invincible feeling young people, and how much of it is a product of the fact that the height of my own invincible feeling growing up took place in the mid-90’s watching movies like Natural Born Killers and talking about how nothing really mattered.
Something decidedly un-90’s in this comic is an appearance by the Man out of Time himself, Captain America, which feels incongruous for a number of reasons other than time. Not only does Captain America have a completely disparate mood from Skrull Kill Krew, but, as Dean pointed out when we were puzzling it over, if they were trying to use a big hero to sell more books, someone like Wolverine would have been a better option in 1995. It’s possible they used Cap just because he would have been such a random choice. It’s also possible they use him specifically because he represents an old-fashionedness and supposed conformity they were trying to flout.
The last reason would make the most sense to me because it would explain the diatribe below by Ryder that doesn’t really fit into the rest of the book otherwise. I can tell I’m no longer my younger cynical 90’s self because instead of thinking, “Yeah, you tell that old jingoistic bastard!” I just wanted to yell at Ryder not to talk to Captain America that way. I also want to balk at the idea that he could handle Cap so easily, but I suppose this is his comic and all.
The actual storyline involving Captain America doesn’t seem especially important, but the book gives the impression that it might have led to something significant had it continued. Basically, the President of Slovenia is flying into America, and Cap is at the airport to greet him. Baron von Strucker has other plans, though, and intends to take the president, and Slovenia, for himself. The Krew show up looking for Catwalk, who happens to be on the same plane, and realize the president is a Skrull. Strucker buggers off when he sees how many superpowered people are about, and the Krew, realizing the president is Skrull, tussle with Captain America, who thinks he is just protecting an important person. Oh, those wacky superhero shenanigans! Cap tells Nick Fury what happened, and Fury divulges that he knows exactly who Ryder is.
That revelation seems to be the most important part of the whole story, since it teases an even bigger reveal about Ryder, but I suppose that reveal will have to forever reside in Speculation City. At least we get this great moment with Strucker. Take that, fascist:
The other big cameo in these issues is the Fantastic Four, which makes sense, since Reed Richards’ actions caused this whole chain of events in the first place. The only problem is that it’s not the Fantastic Four at all; once again, those menacing Skrulls have impersonated them. There is some nice Twilight Zone-esque stuff at the beginning of the comic as we see a town completely get taken over by Skrulls from the perspective of a traveling salesman, but otherwise, there isn’t much in the way of plot to get in the way of multiple pages of the Krew beating up on the Fantastic Four replacements.
Once the Krew have dispatched with the Fauxtastic Four, they turn their attention in the last issue to the town, which has been entirely replaced with Skrulls. This title was originally meant to be ongoing, but when it was cancelled, editor Tom Brevoort convinced Marvel for one more issue, making it into a mini-series. While it’s always nice when series get a resolution, Skrull Kill Krew has so little going on in terms of plot or character arcs that it’s really a resolution in name only. But when the majority of its action involves the killing of as many aliens as possible, I suppose there could be no better resolution than the all out mayhem that accompanies the mass slaughter of an entire town of them.
I hope when I keep saying that there isn’t much going on plot-wise that it doesn’t come off too disparagingly because the other thing completely lacking in Skrull Kill Krew is pretense. It never once tries to be something it’s not, not for a moment, so while it’s most decidedly not a masterpiece, it most certainly is what it sets out to be, which is a rollicking good time. The sort of comic where you can kick back and enjoy some wanton destruction and not bat an eye because someone’s powers, which they acquired by eating ground up alien, cause them to turn into a human slot machine whose jackpot is becoming pure energy. Yes, that happens:
It might not be a huge letdown that the series didn’t go on longer like some other comics I’ve read recently, but it is nice to know the Krew made a reappearance in Secret Invasion and got a second mini-series in 2009. What was even more intriguing, but also slightly disappointing, was learning that there was talk of making a Skrull Kill Krew television show, which would be the perfect medium for this bunch of freaks. Had it been made, I’m sure it would have held a plum spot on the list of shows from my adolescence that were cancelled too soon.
I hope you’ve been enjoying Madness Month here at The Unspoken Decade, which will conclude with the maddest thing yet! Dean Compton will be allowing an interloper into our midst, one Mr. Paul O’Connor from Longbox Graveyard, to discuss his view on 90’s comics. If you don’t know some of Dean’s thoughts already, you might have forgotten what website you’re currently on, but Paul is a Bronze Age guy, so opinions may vary wildly! You don’t want to miss it!