The Skrulls of Marvel’s comics have always been defined by their ability to mimic the physical forms of other species, but in this month’s issue of U.S.Avengers, we learn how the Skrulls’ natural malleability has had a profound impact on the kind of pop culture they consume.
Issue #12 of U.S.Avengers (written by Al Ewing and illustrated by Paco Diaz) opens with the titular team en route to rescue Cannonball, who’s being held prisoner on a strange Skull settlement in the Krall System known as Glenbrook. By all appearances, Glenbrook seems to be an old-fashioned American everytown plucked right out of the 1950s, much like Archie Comics’ original Riverdale. The people are friendly in Glenbrook and everyone knows the local popular kids, like Bugface Brown, Ritchie Redwood, Becky (the wholesome, blonde queen bee), and Vanessa (the rich, brunette queen bee.)
In a series of flashbacks, the Skrull known as Bugface explains that his people are unique among Skrulls in that their entire society specializes in the consumption and replication of cultures from other species—creating something like a Skrull melting pot for those who find no joy in war. But it isn’t until two of the Krall system’s princes happened to be wandering near Earth in space that the Skrulls discovered The Ritchie Redwood Show, a Riverdale analogue set in the past that followed the adventures of a group of teens with personalities very in-line with their counterparts from the vintage Archie comics.
“Redwoodism” takes the Krall system by storm and soon it becomes common practice for groups of Skrulls to live action role play as characters from the Earth television show by using their shapeshifting powers. It’s odd to think that Skrulls, a notoriously violence race of space-faring conquerors, would find joy in pretending to be milquetoast humans who spend too much time in the local malt shoppe. It’s especially curious to watch as schisms begin to form within the Krall sector after newer episodes of the Ritchie Redwood reboot make their way to the Skrulls, and everyone realizes that they don’t have to be stuck in the American ’50s anymore.
When the Skrulls learn that Ritchie Redwood eventually has run-ins with other characters like Sabine, the teenage sorceress, and Keith, one of the first openly gay students, they decide that they should be able to embody newly-discovered characters instead of the old ones. These forward-thinking Skrull LARPers are immediately labeled as subversive cultural traitors and imprisoned.
As funny as using Skrulls to send up Riverdale is, there’s actually something rather clever about what Ewing and Diaz are trying to say about nostalgia with this issue. Though Marvel certainly isn’t one to be pointing fingers at anyone for being overly-obsessed with nostalgia (see: Legacy), the Glenbrook Skrulls symbolize that part of fandom that struggles to accept that the thing they love has to change over time in order to survive. The renewed interest in Archie Comics can be almost entirely attributed to the company’s decision to update its comics across the board to tell stories better suited for a new generation of readers.
Everything from the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to The Hunger is specifically designed to transform Archie’s classic characters into versions that can have the sorts of adventures that today’s audiences want to read. Riverdale may be a far cry from the Archie that our parents grew up reading, but it’s that same distance from the source material that made it so easy for people to slip into the new show in the first place.
U.S.Avengers isn’t at all trying to make fun of Archie Comics with this sendup of its characters, but rather, it’s acknowledging that the company’s versatility with its IP is a kind of superpower. Change over time is inevitable, and that’s a lesson that even the Skrulls of Glenbrook should try to learn.