“New Paradigms for the Super Hero Team Structure?”:

On Skrull Kill Krew #1-5 (The American Superhero Comics of Mark Millar, Part 45)

from Skrull Kill Krew #2, by Morrison, Millar, Yeowell & Ivy.

Continued from last week.

No-one could accuse Morrison of being blind to Skrull Kill Krew’s satirical potential. In 1995, he spoke enthusiastically of the book’s capacity to discuss the likes of “catastrophy in the 20th century, government failings, private industry’s rapacity”. (*1) But even as the title seemed designed to satirise the age, and even as its set-up appeared to demand a socially conscious approach, Morrison and Millar’s focus was on non-stop, hyper-violent, emotionally-detached japery. Skimming off the surface of the all-too-real fears about CJD, their scripts scrupulously avoided any discussion of either the facts of the matter or the issues that they raised. To have done otherwise needn’t have meant that Skrull Kill Krew was bogged down in worthy conceits and patronisingly serious storytelling. If anything, it might have helped avoid the sense that the comic was disappointingly hollow, as several otherwise-sympathetic reviews of the time would imply.

It’s one more example of the contradictions that undermined Skrull Kill Krew’s appeal. Another stemmed from the fact that this pointedly contemporary title was rooted in a peculiarly retrograde conceit. From the off, Morrison had, in Brevoort’s words, been “looking around for new paradigms onto which to paint the super hero team structure”. (*2) Determined to design both novelty and relevance into Skrull Kill Krew, Morrison, ever the formalist, rejected the standard models for aggregations of superheroes. Noting that the Fantastic Four were in essence a “family”, the Avengers a “football team”, the Doom Patrol a “therapy group” and the X-Men “a school”, he reached out for an as-yet unused metaphor; Skrull Kill Krew would be “a bike gang”. (*3) As source material, he and Millar drew from “imagery from Hell’s Angels, Straight Satans and all this ’60s, LA, Hunter S Thompson bike gang shit”. (*4)

cover by Don Snyder to the 1971 Penguin Books reprint of Hunter S Thompson's Hells Angels.

It was an oddly backward looking set of influences for a comic that wanted so obviously to speak to the present day. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs had been published in 1966 and referred to the events of the preceding few years.  Similarly, the Straight Satans, an LA gang associated with Charles Manson, were very much a phenomena of the Sixties. It was understandable that Morrison, with his fascination for the intersection between pop/rock music and the drug culture, would be long familiar with such material. Yet not only was he apparently drawing from the long-redundant headlines of a quarter-century before, but he and Millar also ended up bowdlerising their sources.  (If anything of more recent times was pressed into service by the two men on the subject, it was impossible to spot in the comic’s pages.) A peculiarly rosy-eyed vision of American bikers, Skrull Kill Krew presented a whitewashed, wanna-be celebration of a lifestyle that Thompson himself surely would have sneered at.  Though supposedly thoroughly bad-assed freedom fighters, the Skrull Kill Krew were no more evocatively dangerous than any other all-ages superhero team.  Beyond the purportedly heroic murder of hundreds of ugly, evil, and otherwise-uncatchable aliens, the Krew were anything but a threat to the status quo. Despite what were sketchily passed off as a few supposedly humorous peccadilloes, they killed no innocents, challenged no (human) communities, took care of baffled bystanders and engaged in little more radical than heroic trespassing and alien-slaying.  In short, the Skrull Kill Krew were, their bickering and blustering aside, an awfully nice, inclusive and somewhat unthreatening collection of bikers. Without the radical posturing, the comic would have passed as a pointlessly silly super-book. But with it, Skrull Kill Krew felt even more insubstantial and fatuous. Since even the book’s non-stop violence was presented in a distinctly PG light, the title often seemed indistinguishable from any other brawl-heavy, mainstream Dark Age title. If it quite deliberately pushed away the angst which saturated the superhero comics of the time, it hardly set itself apart in other ways.  In trying to create an alternative to the comics that they hated, Morrison and Millar had actually produced just one more empty-headed super-book. The best that might be said was that Skrull Kill Krew seemed, at first glance at least, pleasantly and undemandingly ephemeral.

from Skrull Kill Krew #5, by Morrison, Millar, Yeowell & Ivy.

As if a deliberately more polite and yet still fundamentally crass little brother to Big Dave, Morrison and Millar peppered Skrull Kill Krew with careless, glib references to a string of other late-20th century debates. It can hardly be a surprise that a comic co-scripted in 1995 by Millar should feature a derogatory reference to reactionary Republican Representative Newt Gingrich. (So too, as we’ve discussed before, would Millar’s solo story for the following year’s Swamp Thing 165.) But Morrison and Millar’s decision to people the Krew with frequently asinine stereotypes of various stigmatised social groups never convinced, let alone entertained. The cast were so broadly and unconvincingly defined that Morrison’s throwaway descriptions of them in a public interview with Tim Pilcher effectively summed up the whole of their presumed appeal. Amongst others, Morrison explained, the team contained “the babe one, because you need a babe in every team we’ve been told”, “a big black guy, ” and a “spunky New York woman who wants to be a lesbian but doesn’t have the balls”. (*5) It’s a casually grandstanding comment that shows something of how unreconstructed the Morrison of the period could sound.

from Skrull Kill Krew #4, by Morrison, Millar, Yeowell & Ivy.

It also suggests that Millar was being frank when he described the cast in the original series proposal as “fairly generic” and not “anything special”. (*6) Though the two writers would emphasise how they’d beefed up their initially “tedious one-dimensional” characters, the result was still notably flimsy and unconvincing. (*7)  The Krew were types and nothing more. Lacking the depth that Morrison had previously brought to originally paper-thin super-heroes such as DC’s Animal Man, they resembled nothing so much as typically glib Millar characters from his 2000AD strips. If they expressed anything of relevance at all, it was in the ill-informed and sometimes insulting clichés that Morrison and Millar were content to fall back upon. In that, they appeared more part of the problem than the solution. In the cast’s cartoon implausibility lay one more fatal contradiction. Too hackneyed a cast to be convincing as either people or standard-bearers for contemporary issues, the attempt to flirt provocatively with race and sexuality felt embarrassing and even disparaging. In short, it all seemed rather uncomfortable, as if some out-of-touch, corner-cutting writers had patronisingly attempted to tap into the modern era without knowing or caring very much about it at all. Nor had they succeeded in creating a version of reality that convinced despite its lack of real world roots. Because of that, Skrull Kill Krew’s cast of callow beach bum, indomitable Black American cell leader, racist boot-boy, spiky and yet insecure lesbian, and brave if petulant “top Model”  transmitted little at all of the sense of edginess and vitality that the comic’s premise demanded.

To be continued.


*1:- interview by Tim Pilcher & Steve Jewell, Skrull Kill Krew So ….. Which One’s The Lesbian – Comics Forum 8, 1995

*2:-Formative Crisis, Tom Brevoort, originally posted at Marvel.Com 29/1/09, now removed

*3:-Quotes from Pilcher – see *1 above – and Zap! Pow! Comics Aren’t For Adults Any More, interview of Morrison & Millar by Steve Holland, Comics World #40 June 1995

*4:-as (*1)

*5:- ibid

*6:-  ibid

*7:- ibid

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Colin Smith is currently Q Magazine’s comics columnist and blogs at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics and on Tumbler.

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Also by Colin Smith:

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