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By Thomas Wheeler

Much as with other Marvel movie-based lines of action figures, the AVENGERS line has several branches. There are the Movie Series figures, which are derived directly from the cinematic likenesses of the characters. There is the Concept Series, which are figures that likely fit the cinematic universe, even if they don't necessarily appear in it, and there is the Comic Series, which is tied more closely to the comic origins of the characters, but still provides some interesting figures for the line.

One of these is the SKRULL SOLDIER figure. What's a Skrull? In basic terms, the Skrulls are a race of shape-shifting aliens that have caused a fair amount of trouble for Earth and its heroes over the decades, most recently in the so-called "Secret Invasion" mini-series. Frankly, the less said about that mess, the better, as far as I'm concerned. Fortunately, the history of the Skrulls and their involvement with the heroes of Earth goes back a good bit further than that. Let's have a look at it with a little help from some online research.

The Skrulls were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, which is a heck of a pedigree right there.

Millions of years ago, the Celestials performed genetic experiments on the reptilian ancestors of the Skrulls, resulting in three branches of Skrulls that eventually warred with one another. The Deviant branch — possessing the innate ability to shapeshift — were triumphant.

From that point, the Skrulls began to expand their territory. The Deviant branch later split into two more groups, the modern Skrulls and an anomaly called the Dire Wraiths, a parasitic race that could still shapeshift and had use of magic, but were not as technologically advanced as the Skrulls.

The modern Skrulls originate from the planet of Skrullos, in the Drox System in the Andromeda galaxy, and were originally a mercantile civilization, primarily interested in free trade and willing to share their technology with all races they deemed worthy. A Skrull delegation to the planet Hala, home to the then-barbaric Kree and the peaceful Cotati, held a contest between the two races to determine with whom the Skrulls would trade. The Cotati won, but the vengeful Kree massacred the Skrull delegation, took over the Skrull landing spaceship by force, and developed their own technology from it with which they began waging war against the Skrulls. Kree aggression forced the Skrulls to become a militaristic civilization, and the Kree-Skrull War continued for thousands of years with only brief interruptions.

The Skrull Throneworld is later moved from Skrullos to the more central Tarnax IV, with their empire encompassing over fifty worlds. The Skrulls also created the first Cosmic Cube, which later became the Shaper of Worlds.

The Skrull Empire eventually decided to conquer Earth, but failed to take into account the presence of the modern superhero. In 1958, Skrulls attempted to sabotage Earth's space program. An early scouting party impersonated the Fantastic Four and attempted to have them incarcerated, but was beaten through trickery. In retaliation the Skrull Emperor Dorrek VII dispatched Kl'rt, a Skrull known as the Super-Skrull, to Earth to defeat the Fantastic Four. Kl'rt possesses the powers of the entire Fantastic Four (in addition to shapeshifting and hypnotism), and he held the team at bay until Mr. Fantastic discovered the source of his power. The Super-Skrull posed as Dr. Franklin Storm and battled the Fantastic Four as the Invincible Man; he ultimately caused the death of Dr. Storm. The Fantastic Four later travel to Tarnax IV and find the Skrull responsible for the murder of Susan and Johnny Storm's father (which turned out to be Warlord Morrat).

The largest Skrull-related conflict involving Earth has been the Kree-Skrull War. The Kree Accuser Ronan had wrested control of the Kree Empire from the Supreme Intelligence and attacked the Skrulls, reigniting hostilities. The Avengers became involved once the Super Skrull kidnapped Captain Marvel, and in turn they battled a Kree Sentry robot, three of the original Skrulls that had fought the Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, rogue Inhumans and legions of Skrulls. The Supreme Intelligence ends the immediate conflict by revealing to Avengers' ally Rick Jones that he has vast mental potential, which is then used to freeze all combatants in place. The Supreme Intelligence announces that, while the Kree and Skrulls have reached genetic dead ends, the human race displays incredible untapped potential.

Years later the cosmic being known as the Watcher adjudicates a duel between champions from both races: Colonel Bel-Dann of the Kree and Warlord Raksor of the Skrulls. After one year of conflict the duel remains deadlocked and is ultimately abandoned with no resolution.

Years still later, during a conflict with Xandar that included the Fantastic Four and the Champions of Xandar, Emperor Dorrek VII's wife, Empress R'klll, stages a coup and kills him to become ruling Empress. Empress R'klll's reign is short-lived, however, due to the arrival of the World Devourer Galactus. After his Herald Nova annihilates the Skrull fleet, Galactus devours Tarnax IV, killing billions of Skrulls, including R'klll and the Princess Anelle.

Skrulls are meanwhile involved in numerous other activities. They were revealed to have conquered a medieval planet and abandoned it after its inhabitants perished. Skrull Prime Ten battled the Fantastic Four and Captain Mar-Vell. The Skrulls sent their own representative to witness the fate of the Phoenix, at her trial by the Shi'ar. The Skrulls sent their General Zedrao to give the dying Captain Mar-Vell the Royal Skrull Medal of Honor.

Galactus's consumption of Tarnax IV throws the entire Skrull Empire into disarray and civil war. Five warlords vie for leadership of the Empire, and the ensuing conflict sparks the second Kree-Skrull War.

Years later, the Skrull Empire is the first of the major interstellar empires to be invaded by the forces of Annihilus. The Annihilation Wave's superweapon, the Harvester of Sorrow, physically destroys dozens of Skrull planets.

In the Secret Invasion series, the Skrull empire, under the leadership of newcomer Queen Veranke, makes an all-out effort to infiltrate and conquer Earth. A series of Skrulls first capture and replace many of Earth's heroes, which is followed by a main assault spearheaded by a generation of new versions of the Super-Skrull, with each possessing the abilities of several different heroes. Their invasion ultimately fails, costing them the life of Veranke, and decimating their numbers even further. You'd think they'd figure out that they're just not going to get this planet.

As to their appearance, powers, and abilities, Skrulls are green-skinned reptilian humanoids with large pointed ears, red or green eyes, and corrugated chins. Skrulls are known for genetic and molecular instability, and genetic diversity, due to Celestial experimentation creating the Skrull "Deviants" (now the only surviving Skrulls). The Skrulls are known for their physical malleability and ability to shapeshift to any size, shape, or color at will, taking on the appearance but not the characteristics of other beings and objects within a volume range of .75 to 1.5 times the Skrull's original volume. Skrulls are able to assume virtually any form, be it organic or inorganic. As a result, the Skrulls excel at spying and infiltration. Skrulls are also able to use their shapeshifting abilities to form weapons, such as blades and clubs, with parts of their bodies, making them dangerous hand-to-hand combatants.

The Skrulls later developed the ability to render themselves undetectable when using their shapeshifting abilities, even from telepaths and those with superior senses.

Courtesy of their advanced technology, the Skrulls have also been able to augment their abilities in certain warriors, such as the Super Skrull and War Skrulls - an elite group who with special encoding are able to emulate the powers as well as appearance of their templates.

It is believed that Skrulls' eyes are incapable of subtle visual perceptions as those of Earth humans, e.g. Skrulls once mistook samples of drawn artwork for photographs. Personally, I've always had just a little trouble with that one. Okay, the original solution to the Skrull assault on the Fantastic Four, with the FF showing the Skrull commanders drawings of assorted fantasy monsters which the Skrulls somehow mistook for real images, was pretty hokey even in the 1960's. But it was John Byrne who came up with the explanation, decades later, of the limited eyesight. Now, with all due respect, does this even make sense? They're a race of shape-shifters! In order to effectively transform into the likeness of another person, creature, or object, you're going to need to be able to get a good look at it.

I've always been of the admittedly unofficial opinion that the reason the Fantastic Four's initial gambit worked was that the Skrulls were largely unfamiliar with how Earthmen recorded visual images. They saw the drawings perfectly well, but for all they knew, they were illustrations of real creatures. Given the range of beings Skrulls themselves can shape-shift into, it was not an unreasonable assumption.

And as I said, don't get me started on the events of Secret Invasion. As far as I'm concerned, that storyline did as much of a disservice to the Skrulls as most of the storylines leading up to it and immediately following it did to most of the characters in the Marvel Universe.

The Skrulls have certainly made their presence felt elsewhere, as well. They have turned up in numerous Marvel-based animated series, there have been other Skrull action figures, and the Super Skrull K'lrt appears as a playable character in the videogame "Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds."

Now, the question might be asked, do the Skrulls appear in the Avengers movie? Well -- sort of. In the movie, Loki does ally himself with an alien army in an attempt to overthrow and conquer Earth, or whatever. But the aliens in the movie are called the Chitauri, and at no point do they show off any particular shape-shifting abilities.

So who are the Chitauri? Basically, they're sort of the "Ultimate" Marvel Universe version of Skrulls, and it could be argued that some elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it has become known, are closer to the Ultimate Universe than to the main Marvel Universe. However, there is also an Ultimate Universe version of the Skrulls, who dislike being compared to the Chitauri, and regard them as terrorists.

I haven't followed the Ultimate titles, so I can't really tell you what goes on there. To what degree the Chitauri in the Avengers movie might resemble Skrulls is a good question, since they appeared totally armored, and we never really saw their faces. There did appear to be a Chitauri commander that Loki spoke to early on in the movie that seemed to have the distinctive ridged chin of the Skrulls, but some people are thinking that this might have been a disguised Thanos, who has a similar chin, and who appeared in a scene during the end credits. I personally disagree with that particular assessment, but I think I'll wait for the DVD to come out before I say anything too conclusive.

There is supposed to be a forthcoming figure in the Avengers' movie line designated "Loki's Army", which is presumably closer to the alien warriors from the film. I'm not sure why he's not called "Chitauri", unless someone is of the opinion that this name might be a little hard for kids to work with. That and the fact that the name didn't turn up all that often in the movie.

In the meantime, we have this Skrull Soldier figure, who is certainly representative of the Skrulls as we know them.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, and highly distinctive. Arguably the two most prominent Skrull figures prior to this one, were a Skrull figure in the Marvel Legends line that was packaged in a two-pack with a Kree Soldier, and a Marvel Universe Skrull Soldier figure.

The Marvel Legends Skrull Soldier was a moderate recoloration of a Super-Skrull figure from a previous line, but it was still a very impressive figure, and looked very much like a Skrull, dressed in the more or less typical black and purple uniform that most Skrulls seem to prefer. The Marvel Universe Skrull Soldier figure was also dressed in black and purple, but his uniform was far more ornate than his larger counterpart. Honestly, I thought it was a little too ornate for its own good. Cool figure, but still...

With this new Skrull Soldier, it seems as though the Skrulls have upgraded their uniforms somewhere along the way, and made them a little less dark. The uniform is predominantly blue, with what appears to be a considerable amount of armor plating, that is metallic purple with silver and black trim! If it wasn't for that rather ugly Skrull head sticking out of the top, you could almost call the design heroic.

But the Skrull head is definitely there. The headsculpt is excellent, although the shade of green chosen for the skin color, also evident on the hands, is a bit darker than I might have chosen. It does seem to me that toy companies all the way back to Mego have had trouble when it comes to green-skinned characters, insofar as giving the figure an appropriate shade of green.

In the case of the Skrull, a wash of watered-down and mostly-wiped-off black paint to accentuate the facial details did the coloration no favors. I seldom think this sort of thing is necessary, and I really don't think it was here. The sculpt itself is more than sufficient, and is a very nicely done headsculpt in and of itself.

The Skrull Soldier has a very prominent brow, deep-set eyes, a distinct frown, the furrowed chin, and very prominent, pointed ears that would probably make even a Vulcan stifle a laugh. The facial expression is not the angry snarl that has tended to be used in the past. The Skrull's mouth is closed, and the features are even. If anything, the expression is relatively neutral, if frowning, and makes the figure look that much more like a soldier as a result. The eyes are quite deepset, but the fact that they are yellow with red irises makes them almost seem to glow from underneath the brow.

As one would expect, the Skrull Soldier is wearing a black skullcap on his head, which tapers down to a black neck, which may be representative of some sort of black undersuit of some sort, instead of a more prominent color of the uniform itself. The only other black on the figure appears to be armored trim sections, including an elongated diamond shape on the back that seems to taper from the neck to the waist. The other black sections appear as a prominent piece on the right gauntlet, which may represent some sort of communication device or other technology, and a couple of oval shapes on the tops of the boots.

The Skrull Soldier is wearing a tight-fitting blue uniform. It's a somewhat dark blue, but not that dark. The Skrull's body shape is very humanoid, including the placement of musculature, but the blue suit also has narrow raised ridged lines on the arms and legs. It's an interesting bit of detail. Are these protective? Or perhaps guides for assuming human musculature a little better for a shape-shifter like the Skrulls?

The upper and lower torso, and abdomen and back, are armored. The upper torso piece is separately molded and attached during assembly, and includes the chest musculature, as well as slightly outswept shoulders. The lower torso piece is also molded separately, and includes protection for the front, as well as a belt that wraps around the figure, and includes what look like narrow equipment pouches of a rather alien design. It's really quite impressive. The armor is a somewhat metallic purple in color, this much in keeping with traditional Skrull colors, and is outlined in silver, an unusual color for Skrulls, but it looks impressive.

The Skrull's hands are not gloved, but they are very nicely done, especially the left hand, whose fingers are each separate from the others. The Skrull Soldier has thick silver armor around his lower arms, that has ridged detailing. And there is the aforementioned device on the right wrist. Similarly, the Skrull soldier is wearing silver boots, very extensively detailed with inward ridges, and treads around the soles, with black ovals near the tops of the front, and smaller black detailing near the top of the feet.

The end result is an extremely effective and impressive figure. One would almost think the Skrull Soldier should be wearing some sort of helmet, perhaps purple with silver trim like the rest of his armor, but who knows what sort of protective propertied his skull cap might have?

The figure is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, legs, upper leg swivel, and knees, including a rotation. There is no wrist or ankle articulation, but this doesn't really bother me that much. The only time a lack of ankle articulation bothers me is if the figure can't stand up on his own two feet all that well, and the Skrull Soldier stands up just fine.

The painted detail is superbly well done, and is quite extensive as you can imagine. I am especially impressed by the very small eyes. To get the yellow eyes and then the red irises that well painted on this small a head in such deepset sockets is some impressive work. As for the armor, I wasn't entirely sure if some of the detail, especially some of the silver and black, might have been hand-painted, but I don't really think so. I can usually tell that sort of thing, but if any of this was hand-painted, then they found some painters with phenomenal precision and endurance to turn out this sort of work in mass production.

The Skrull Soldier is not unarmed, although I'm a little surprised he doesn't come with some sort of high-tech blaster. Must have left it on the last planet he visited. Nevertheless, what he DOES come with is one of the most impressive accessories I've seen in a while. It's described on the package as a "double-bladed axe", but it's a good bit more than that. Indeed, it is a highly ornate double-bladed axe, that's so fancy you wonder if he didn't loot it from the Masters of the Universe line. It has a black handle, ornate metallic purple at the top and holding the blades in place, and the very fancy blades themselves are transparent green. What is this stuff, kryptonite? Wrong universe, pal...

This axe is so fancy it almost looks ceremonial. It also looks extremely effective, and something you wouldn't want to find yourself on the wrong end of. But even more impressive, the two blades actually snap off the handle, and can be used as a pair of hand-held bladed weapons!

In a word of action figure accessories dominated by spring-loaded, missile-firing something-or-others, this double-bladed axe is a nice change of pace, and a nice piece of hardware in and of itself. Much credit to its designers!

So, what's my final word? Traditionalists may have a little trouble with the Skrull's almost brightly-colored uniform, relative to what the average Skrull in the comics tends to wear. However, I like the design. It looks both high-tech and futuristic, which would be appropriate for an advanced alien army, and the armored-looking aspects of it look decently protective, and shape-changer or not, why take chances in battle?

Although the Skrulls didn't technically appear in the movie (although that might be open to a certain amount of debate), the Skrulls have certainly caused their share of problems for Earth, and as such the Avengers, over the years, so they certainly have a place in an Avengers line of action figures. And this is a most impressive and well-made action figure, that I believe will present a formidable foe for the cinematic Avengers, as well as a very cool addition for any Marvel action figure collector! And, as an army-builder, there's no reason -- other than price and availability, which are always factors these days -- why you can't have a bunch of them if you like.

The SKRULL SOLDIER from the Comic Series branch of the AVENGERS action figure line definitely has my highest recommendation!