Continued from last week.
Not everything in Morrison and Millar’s rebuffed pitches to Marvel went to waste. The former’s dogged belief in the quality of the Apocalypse 2099 proposal would have only been strengthened by Marvel editor Tom Brevoort’s decision to develop just a tiny portion of its sweeping contents in the context of present-day continuity. (To Morrison, his and Millar’s line-transforming ideas had arrived “a year too late” for a belt-tightening, cash-strapped Marvel. Timing, and not potential, had been the problem, it seemed.) (*1) What Joey Cavalieri had rejected entirely for the 2099 line’s antiutopian future offered an intriguing collection of ideas for the-then self-proclaimed “low-ranking” editor Brevoort, who’s recalled being one of the few staff not at a convention when Morrison and Millar sent a “blind fax… looking for opportunities” at Marvel. (*2) With an eye to establishing his own credentials at the company further, Brevoort knew that he “didn’t really have cards to play in terms of securing popular characters for any project … so the best strategy was to come up with something new.” (*3) The most appealing such option was Skrull Kill Krew, which drew on a minor aspect of Marvel continuity while offering the potential for the kind of “part-parody, part over-the-top action/adventure” strip that 2000AD had long specialised in. (*4) Although a 1995 Wizard Magazine article declared it was Brevoort’s line manager Bobbie Chase whose eye was caught by the Skrull Kill Krew proposal, it seems inarguable that Brevoort had been absolutely central to the project’s initiation and development first. (*5)
The germ of the project had initially developed during a conversation between, it seems, Morrison, Millar and James Hallam, then of the Forbidden Planet chain of shops. (*6) Remembering the events of 1962′s Fantastic Four #2, they’d wondered what had become of its Skrull invaders, who’d been hypnotised by Reed Richards and made to transform into harmlessly mindless cows. In fact, the bovinised aliens had made several reappearances in the decades since. 1970′s The Avengers #93/4 showed a “hyper-beam from space” returning the Skrulls to their original form and sense of fiendish mission. In what was part of Roy Thomas, Neal Adams and John Buscema’s groundbreaking Kree/Skrull War issues, the restored Skrulls impersonated the Fantastic Four and attacked the Avengers. Defeated again and drugged into oblivion, the aliens then disappeared from the page for another 13 years. When next mentioned, they were presumed to have died in the same interstellar conflict that had framed their return. But in John Byrne’s 1983′s Fantastic Four Annual #17, the milk that the mesmerised Skrulls had produced as cows was shown to have infected the entire population of rural King’s Crossing, having “attacked and modified any non-Skrull tissue it encountered”. As a result, the citizens of the isolated town had become de facto Skrulls themselves, driven to slaughter outsiders while preparing to spread the contagion ever further. With the heinous “Skrull influence boil(ed) out of them” by the ever-insightful Mr Fantastic, the once more typical citizens discovered a distinctly advantageous side-effect of their contamination; not only hadn’t they aged a day since they were colonised by the Skrull genes, but they were now healthier than ever.
Byrne’s work would appear to have been a direct influence on Skrull Kill Krew. After all, he depicted Skrull DNA entering the food chain and inflicting terrible damage upon human psychology and physiology. Just as in Skrull Kill Krew, Byrne’s victims lost their minds while gaining the alien’s shape-changing capabilities. The parallels aren’t exact; the infected in Morrison and Millar’s tale aren’t swiftly colonised by alien biology and pushed towards communal heinousness so much as driven slowly insane as individuals. Yet the similarities clearly exist, and would become particularly close in Skrull Kill Krew’s final issue. (We will return to the remarkable similarities between Morrison and Millar’s reluctant swan song on their book and Byrne’s tale.) But for all of that, the Scotsmen’s claims to have never read Bryne’s story ring true. By 1983, and as we’ve discussed, Morrison was long estranged from the majority of Marvel’s books while Millar typically read only reprints of older tales.
But even if some kind of unacknowledged, and perhaps even entirely unconscious, influence had been at work, there were also significant and fundamental differences between the two approaches to the same situation. Most obvious of all was the way in which Morrison and Millar grounded their series in contemporary social and political events. In particular, a major spoke of the Skrull Kill Krew proposal drew from the epidemic of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, in the UK’s cattle herds that had first begun to be discussed in the press of the mid-Eighties. With up to almost half-a-million of the UK’s cattle infected with the neurodegenerative disease prior to the British government’s belated intervention in 1989, the infection had spread into the human population via contaminated beef. The results were appallingly catastrophic for those infected, with swiftly-onsetting dementia combining with serious and progressive physical deterioration to lead irrevocably to a terrible death. Drawing from this, Morrison and Millar proposed that the Skrulls were carrying “an alien type of virus similar to BSE which destroys people’s brains … (but) … gives you shape-changing powers for two years, or until it destroys your brain.” (*7) If the Skrull DNA that Byrne described had proven ultimately beneficial for its human hosts, the Skrull virus of Morrison and Millar’s tale was an implacable and irreversible horror. As such, Skrull Kill Krew carried with it the potential to touch upon several of the late 20th century’s most pressing issues, from the ethics of factory farming to the limitations of modern medicine, from looming ecological catastrophe to the morality and wisdom of meat eating. No matter how much of an “incredible blast” it was designed to be, Skrull Kill Krew was, it seemed, a book that simply couldn’t help but comment on real world affairs of undeniable importance. (*8)
To be continued.
*1:- *2:- Untold Tales: Grant Morrison & Mark Millar’s Apocalypse: 2099, Scott Braden, Overstreets Fan #18, December 1996
*2:- It’s a shame that Tom Brevoort’s post about Skrull Kill Krew no longer appears to be available online following a reorganisation at Marvel.Com. (I hope I’m wrong, it’s well worth the read.) It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes memoir that’s candid to the point of indiscretion, highly informative and, yes, joyful. It originally appeared under the title of ‘Formative Justice’ on 29/1/09.
*5:- You Are What You Eat, by Paul J Grant Wizard #46, 1995
*6:- as (*2)
*7:-”…so which one’s the lesbian”, interview of Millar, Morrison & Yeowell by Tim Pilcher & Steve Jewell, Comics Forum #8, 1995
*8:- as (*4)