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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Of Skrulls, Reptiles, Shape-Shifters, and Xenophobia


After reading a copy of the free SECRET INVASION SAGA comic, something occurred to me in regards to the possible inspiration for Marvel's latest event.

In hardcore conspiracy theorist circles, one of the most prevailing and popular theories is that of the "Reptilians."

In brief, the theory goes that there are reptile-like "shape-shifters" who have infiltrated our society. The origin of these green shape-shifters depends on who's telling the tale. Some say that they are fairly recent visitors from another planet, others claim that they are indigenous to Earth and evolved from dinosaurs parallel to human development. But a key part of most of these theories circles around the creatures' ability to take the form of other humans.

Reptilian


Skrull

According to popular conspiracy theorist/new age dude David Icke, the Skrulls -- er, I mean Reptilians -- have committed their deception at the highest levels of government and high society. From the Wikipedia entry on Icke:

"In 1999, he published The Biggest Secret, in which he wrote that the Illuminati are a race of reptilian humanoids known as the Babylonian Brotherhood, and that many prominent figures are reptilian, including George W. Bush, Queen Elizabeth II, Kris Kristofferson, and Boxcar Willie."

The idea of the "Illuminati" is another quite popular both with Icke and conspiracy circles in general. It is also the name of the comic that more or less "officially" kicked off the SECRET INVASION event with the revelation that Black Bolt was secretly a Skrull.

It would seem that the Reptilian theory is quite similar to the crux of the SECRET INVASION plot -- that green shape-shifters from another planet have taken the guise of prominent world figures and plan to take humanity over from within.


Now, the Skrulls, as far as I know, were invented in the early 1960s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They predated the Reptilian theory by several decades. It might even be possible that the champions of the theory have simply been influenced by the comics of their youth but don't consciously remember it.


On the other hand -- or the same hand, just at a different angle -- the archetype of both the green invader from another planet and the shape-shifter have been with us for some time. In the end, unless you are a talented folklorist, it might be impossible to tease out where these ideas all started.

None of this is to say that Brian Michael Bendis ripped SECRET INVASION off of a popular conspiracy theory (though if he did, it would be nothing to be ashamed about -- Grant Morrison has been doing the very same thing for years). There are dozens of places Bendis might have gotten his inspiration from -- Battlestar Galactica, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, They Live, V, etc, etc, etc.


But, as with every major pop-culture phenomenon, I like to get a good sense of its possible influences and "contemporaries."

And if the more hardcore elements of the "reptilian agenda" theorists end up pointing at SECRET INVASION as some sort of "corroboration" for their tales -- as some have done concerning other science-fiction -- I would hardly be surprised.

Personally, I think these theories of evil shape-shifters from other world who secretly infiltrate society is a way for humanity to explore their own issues regarding xenophobia -- the fear of the foreign and unknown.


I believe SECRET INVASION also touches upon these issues of xenophobia. Skrulls are "evil," alien, foreign; they have a different skin color, different clothing, a different culture. They seem almost irrationally hostile, hostile without a good reason -- the perfect enemy for us to band together and fight. And seeing our most beloved and familiar characters as these alien invaders is shocking -- that was the whole point of Greg Horn's series of promos for SECRET INVASION.


The Skrulls could be anywhere, as "sleeper agents," across the country. It will be up to the heroes to root out the Skrullian influence in their midst; and in the process, many of their mistakes and sins might be explained away by "Skrull interference." After a couple of painful years filled with "Civil Wars" and "World War Hulks," things finally might get back to normal when the heroes make amends and team up to fight this common foe.

I am looking forward to SECRET INVASION, but my hope is that Bendis finds some sort of ironic twist in what might otherwise be the standard Cold War-era paranoia story. He's a smart writer; he could do it if he wanted to.

References for further reading:

On Cold War paranoia in pop-culture:
Science Fiction Films and American Society In The Fifties

On Conspiracy Theories:
The Ten Most Popular Conspiracy Theories
Crank Dot Net's Reptilian Links

Don't understand the concept of thinking critically about pop-culture?
I now include these links at the end of any pop-culture study I write:
Pop-culture studies: a definition
bell hooks on critical thinking (video, some scenes NSFW)
Resources for studying gender in popular culture
Resources for studying race and ethnicity in popular cuture
Racialicious -- a blog about the intersection of race and popular culture

16 comments:

  1. "Grant Morrison has been doing the very same thing for years"

    ...which reminds me again how very cool it would be if Skrull Kill Krew were somehow incorporated into the Secret Invasion story.

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  2. The real question for me is whether Bendis will explore these issues (xenophobia) at all. I think it's interesting that Secret Invasion seems to mark a reversal in the portrayal of Skrulls. Although they were first viewed as one-dimensional monsters bent on world domination, you started to see a more nuanced perspective in some of the Marvel Comics of the '80's and '90's (i.e. Lyja (the Human Torch's wife), Sybll(sp?) (empress of the Skrulls), and even the Super-Skrull). Now we seem to be moving towards the 'Skrulls as the alien enemy' theme again. I imagine one could link this to America's perception of external enemies during the post-Cold War, 'end of history' period as compared to our view now during the 'war on terror' period.

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  3. Considering how many conspiracy theories revolve around badly clich├ęd sci-fi elements, I have no problem with the fiction world stealing them back for their own purposes. Heck, just adding dialogue improves them.

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  4. The Cthulhu Mythos (Lovecraft and others) has lizardmen that lived in the antediluvian past, which were finished off by Kull (Robert E, Howard’s creation). A few degenerated Lizard men survived into the modern era but they hide themselves among humans by means of magic.

    So it’s my understanding that “Lizard folk among us” is a concept that at least as old as the pulp era (1920s- 1930s) but it might also include later mythos writers as well.

    Most of my info comes from the Call of Cthulhu game.

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  5. Mildly surprised the similarity between this and Icke hadn't occurred to me--I have an ex-girlfriend who was a "Biggest Secret" devotee for a while (I don't think she still is, anyway).

    Secret Invasion is the first of the modern Marvel crossovers that has me genuinely interested. The odd Avengers issues that I've caught and the Black Bolt reveal from Scans Daily have so far focused on the "it could be anyone" angle more than a fear of a specific other, but I agree that Bendis is a smart enough writer to really make something of this.

    Like Body Snatchers, the Cold War-type "threat in our midst" subtext is sort of inevitable, but those aliens had no non-humanoid form, unless you count their seed-pod form. Since the Skrulls also have a distinctly non-human form in addition to being able to look human, they also tap into the fear of the other and encroachment of the unknown inherent to that type of invasion story. The opportunity for the tension between these seemingly contradictory problems presented by "they're just like us" and "they're scary and different" in Secret Invasion is really promising (In something like Powers, Bendis has shown an ability to juggle some pretty obvious surface themes with more sublimated ones). If I had to guess, I'd say that, like in Body Snatchers, the former will give way to the latter.

    It is interesting, though, that unlike Body Snatchers, the discovery of the Skrull threat is the first indication the heroes have that there's a problem (In Body Snatchers people first have the vague and unsettling sense that people they know aren't the people they know anymore, and only later discover why). It's hard to say if that closes non-witch hunt avenues of storytelling or opens them. I have to say, this is engaging me in ways that the asinine politics trumped-up relevance of Civil War didn't.

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  6. As for connecting the Skrulls to Icke and his ilk, Bendis might've gotten the idea from Mark Millar, who did a pretty blatant fusion of the two concepts in Ultimates #7-13.

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  7. And Millar is also referencing popular conspiracy theories regarding "New World Orders" in his current FF run.

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  8. Even with the return to "Skrulls are a scary, irrationally violent race" thing, there are still "helpful" Skrulls roaming free--Secret Invasion Saga mentioned Jazinda in She-Hulk, but there's also Xavin in Runaways, which I guess Iron Man would have mentioned in his narration if he knew about her (and how those kids would elude Stark's tab-keeping, I have no idea--this may have been an oversight by the writers).

    What surprised me in context was that given Tony's raving paranoia at the moment, he dismissed Jazinda as a threat "as long as She-Hulk keeps an eye on her". I know Bendis didn't write Saga, but I'd be more impressed if in the series, he has the superheroes do what real humans would do, and go totally overboard with rounding up known or suspected Skrulls for little to no cause.

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  9. Lordy. David Icke. As someone who grew up in the UK watching him as a regular fixture on TV as a presenter, his abrupt left turn into nutjob (obviously your mileage may vary on the use of that particular description) still surprises me.

    It certanly has similarities that I hadn't twigged to before.

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  10. Take a look at Millar's second Ultimates 1 story - which takes the Icke-ian Reptoid theory linking directly to the Skrulls themselves (as revealed in Ultimate FF, the Chitauri were a "rival sect of Skrulls").

    There are the overtones of xenophobia cold war stories here, and I like it so far.

    I really find it funny that people are saying that Bendis is ripping off Battlestar Galactica, when it was done originally in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

    The paranoia these days is different. Sleeper cells of terrorists more than Communists influencing our kids, but it's still there.

    Here in Secret Invasion, remember that this is a response to the "Illuminati" series, issue 1 even. They have good reason to be angry with us, and want to invade.

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  11. Anonymous12:09 PM

    Good critical points - Cold War fears indeed, part of the ongoing discussion is how this or rather why this fits within the post 9/11 - post Civil War allegory

    The fit doesn't seem to be a perfect though as the sleeper agents blend in today well enough to hide but ...that is a measure of difference from being possibly - anybody

    That was the "threat" of communism as a multivalent ideology. Secret Invasion however seems to asking the reader to swap out ideology for identity.

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  12. Anonymous1:18 PM

    While I AM eagerly anticipating a (hopefully well-written) tale of paranoia, suspense, intrigue and shadowy identity-theft, from Bendis, I HAVE to say that I liked it an AWFUL LOT when it was done by the DIRE WRAITHS in the pages of ROM : SPACEKNIGHT (as written 18 years ago by Bill Mantlo).

    Oddly enough, the WRAITHS are an offshoot of the SKRULLS, and did the Secret Inavasion thing between 200 years ago to the 1950's (according to the story in ROM).

    They set themselves up as humans of all walks of life, from high-ranking officials to low-level "everyday" people and worked their plans to subjugate the Earth (and plan for their eventual renewed battle with ROM) in secret.

    Ah... ROM.
    That was good cheese.

    ~P~
    P-TOR

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  13. I loved this post. I am going to have to link to you on my blog, as I feel somehow we may be kindred spirits.

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  14. "Grant Morrison has been doing the very same thing for years"

    Not true, Grant Morrison's main inspiration for the Invisibles was Robert Anton Wilson's work - which is a classic work of conspiracy satire. RAW also "invented" quite a few conspiracy theories as editor of the Playboy letters page in the 60s.

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  15. "So it’s my understanding that “Lizard folk among us” is a concept that at least as old as the pulp era (1920s- 1930s) but it might also include later mythos writers as well."

    Oh, it's a hell of a lot older than that - there's a really old story in a book known as the Bible about a reptile in paradise - it's in the chapter called Genesis (snake, Eden anyone?).

    Also, much of the Illuminati/Lizard-people conspiracy theories are barely concealed anti-Semitism (it's still not clear whether Icke is an anti-semite or just crazy). Stories about the Lizards who control the world are simply coded Priory of Zion nonsense.

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  16. I think you have to consider that David Icke and numerous other accomplished people have down years and years of research about this issue of "Reptilian Agenda" and all came up with very similar information and conclusions. They all can't be just crazy. And that's a lot of work to dedicate yourself to if there wasnt at least something substantial behind it. "Where there's smoke there is fire." Its easy to dismise the paranormal as crazy nonsense, but it doenst make its existence any less prevalent or part of "reality". The truth exists without man's acceptance or belief. Im not saying that this stuff is real or not. But I certainly wouldnt dismiss it so easily based on this logic. A lot of people dont believe in Astrology, but astrology has managed to survive for as long as human history for some reason. Think about it. Many things can be "proven" to exist with not a whole lot of observable data.

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