The following story contains some light spoilers for Secret Invasion, through Episode 3, "Betrayed."
PART OF what makes for a good superhero story—or, really, any kind of narrative thrill ride—is a good villain. And one thing that makes a good villain is gradually revealing their motivations, ramping up just how unhinged they are while lowering their commitment to any kind of a personal code, and, if it can be done in an organic way, increasing their powers and abilities to make a truly formidable challenge for our heroes. This gives the developing conflict we're investing our time into watching (or reading) some seriously tense stakes.
In Marvel's latest Disney+ limited series Secret Invasion, Kingsley Ben-Adir has already been doing a great job playing Gravik, the show's scornful and powerful shape-shifting Skrull leader. At the end of the show's first episode, Gravik kills more than 2,000 innocent people after carrying out a terrorist bombing in Moscow. With such a violent and horrific initial act, how could the stakes possibly get raised from there?
The show has since proved that this was just the beginning; Gravik's plan is to turn America and Russia against each other, while increasing the power of the Skrulls. Nick Fury didn't follow through on his promise to get the Skrulls—refugees of their own world—a planet to call their own home, so his plan is to take Earth as a consolation prize, no matter the cost.
And while we've already seen that no character is off-limits for Gravik's violence—RIP Maria Hill, after 11 years of MCU duty—it's also clear that he's beginning to ramp his own powers up using supervillain science, and has plans to help more of his followers do exactly the same thing. Episode 3, "Betrayed," introduces, for the first time by name, the Super-Skrull program, and it's clear that this will play a major part in the remainder of Secret Invasion.
Does the Super-Skrull come from the Marvel Comics?
Yes! Super-Skrull is a long-running Marvel Comics character (co-created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) who first appeared in Fantastic Four #18 way back in September of 1963. Super-Skrull is also known by his Skrull name, which in the source material is Kl'rt. There's a lot of lore around Super-Skrull/Kl'rt, but what you essentially need to know about the character's comic origin is that he was a Skrull warrior who was cast astray from the galactic empire of his people, only to be imbued with the power of the Fantastic Four: he can stretch like Mr. Fantastic, fly and control fire like The Human Torch, has super strength like The Thing, and can turn invisible and control force fields like The Invisible Woman.
Throughout his nearly 60 years of existence, the Super-Skrull has appeared as both a formidable villain and a violent anti-hero who helps and takes the side of the stories' protagonists.
For instance, he's almost constantly battling with the Fantastic Four, and as you can see in the above Ms. Marvel comic, has come to blows with heroes like Kamala Khan and Spider-Man as well (in that particular issue, he takes on a Ms. Marvel/Spider-Man/Human Torch trio). But he's also been an ally to the heroes as well, siding with Nova to fight the Skrulls off during the 2008 Secret Invasion comic, and having a messy and complicated relationship with Hulkling, of the Young Avengers, due to his own Skrull heritage.
While Kl'rt is the character known as Super-Skrull, there are other Skrulls who have had similar hybridizations of the powers of others. For example, in Secret Invasion, a Skrull named Criti Noll had Black Panther's quick reflexes and agility, Quicksilver's superspeed, and Vision's ability to phase through walls and surfaces. Veranke, who was the main villain of the original Secret Invasion comic, was a copy of Spider-Woman and had all of her powers.
How do Marvel's Secret Invasion Super-Skrulls differ from the Marvel Comics source material?
Gravik, played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, is basically an MCU hybrid of Kl'rt, the warrior who himself becomes the Super-Skrull, and Dorrek VII, the Skrull leader and strategist who sends Kl'rt out to get supercharged int he first place.
The biggest difference here, though, is that because the MCU has yet to properly introduce the Fantastic Four (outside of the brief and unremarkable John Krasinski appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), they have to play the Super-Skrull powers a little differently.
In Episode 2, we see on an old computer screen that the Skrull's have been running experiments with four particular MCU characters/chemicals of note: Groot, Cull Obsidian, Frost Beast, and Extremis. Those in the know, however, will realize that these different powers essentially mimic those of the Fantastic Four: Groot (from the Guardians of the Galaxy series) can stretch like Mr. Fantastic, Cull Obsidian (one of Thanos' henchmen) has strength like The Thing, the Frost Beast (from Thor) isn't quite like The Invisible Woman but close enough, and Extremis (from Iron Man 3) is essentially like The Human Torch's firepower mixed with a Wolverine/Deadpool-esque healing ability.
But without the connection and reference of The Fantastic Four, it seems like a pretty random combination of four powers, does it not? But Secret Invasion has a few clever lines that basically introduce the idea that the Super-Skrulls of the MCU, whoever they will be and however many there end up being created, will all be individually created with purpose. "We no longer just change faces," Gravik tells his fellow high-ranking Skrulls. "We change powers. We're going to be unique programmed weapons of mass destruction. All of us. Super-Skrulls."
We've already had hints that Gravik has been increasing his own powers; in the first episode, he transforms into post-SABER station Nick Fury just from looking at him. And later in Episode 3, after Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) stabs a knife into Gravik's hand, he heals right up using the familiar Extremis ability seen in Iron Man 3.
Gravik already is the first MCU Super-Skrull—and he's dangerous.
Evan is the culture editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE. He loves weird movies, watches too much TV, and listens to music more often than he doesn’t.