During the first couple of years of the superhero revival in the 1960s, Marvel Comics featured so many “alien invasion” stories that one is forced to wonder what the heck was going on in the Marvel Universe to make the earth such a tempting target. The second issue of nearly all Marvel’s new features was given over to an alien invasion storyline, with more to follow in subsequent months. Although the alien invasion had been a staple of adventure comics for many years, Lee & Kirby and Co. threatened to wear it out through overuse. Nevertheless, it is interesting to put these various stories into a coherent chronology and look at them from the aliens’ point of view, to give us a different perspective of the earth’s place in the cosmos at this critical juncture in the history of the Original Marvel Universe.
Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.
January 1962 – After a skirmish in the ongoing Kree-Skrull War gives new strategic importance to the planet Earth, which is rich in exploitable resources and located conveniently close to a natural space-warp, Skrull Emperor Dorrek gives the order to launch an invasion. However, upon arriving at the planet, the Skrull fleet monitors reports of the recent emergence of a team of superpowered champions called the Fantastic Four. The decision is made to send four agents down to impersonate and discredit the heroes, using a combination of the Skrulls’ natural shape-changing ability and advanced technology. The Skrull spies are initially successful, and the Fantastic Four are arrested and detained by the United States military. However, before the agents can signal the invasion fleet, the Fantastic Four escape and trick the Skrulls into revealing themselves. The Skrull spies are taken prisoner and then, posing as the impostors, the Fantastic Four board the fleet’s flagship and use faked photos to convince its commander that Earth’s defenses are too formidable. Volunteering to remain behind, the Fantastic Four return to the planet as the Skrull fleet withdraws. Though one of the spies has managed to escape, the other three are made to change into cows and are hypnotized to forget their true natures. They are left grazing in a pasture while the fugitive Skrull goes into hiding.
February 1962 – Learning of the Skrulls’ embarrassing defeat through his contacts in the Kree Empire, Torkon, Emperor of the Tribbitites, decides to invade Earth and thereby score a strategic coup. To determine the true nature and extent of Earth’s defenses, Torkon orders the interrogation of the most brilliant scientist associated with Earth’s military forces, which leads his advance team to capture Dr. Robert Bruce Banner of the Air Force installation known as Desert Base in New Mexico. Banner is taken aboard their ship, which returns to high orbit. However, before Captain Torrak can begin the interrogation, Banner transforms into a rampaging green-skinned monster with incredible strength and easily commandeers the vessel. Just then, the ship is blasted out of the sky by a barrage of surface-to-air missiles with nuclear warheads. After it crash-lands, the crew escapes capture by tunneling under the wreckage. They then signal the rest of the armada to begin the invasion. Emperor Torkon cuts into all electromagnetic broadcasts to demand planet-wide surrender. To bring the earthlings to heel, the armada activates a device that disrupts the orbit of the moon, resulting in earthquakes and floods that cause a global panic. Within hours, however, the armada is attacked by a ground-based directed energy weapon that disrupts their systems with powerful gamma rays. The Tribbitite ships spin out of control and are forced to retreat. Torkon is humiliated and Captain Torrak is sentenced to the treadmills. Earth’s governments cover up the invasion by claiming it was an elaborate hoax.
April 1962 – Having witnessed the previous two failed invasions from their observation platform on one of the moons of Saturn, an expeditionary force of Kronans from the planet Ria initiate their own invasion plan that they believe will be successful. A single ship lands outside a fishing village on the coast of Norway, where the crew tests their weapons in Earth’s environment. Facing no significant opposition, the Kronans signal their fleet to enter the atmosphere. The ships are met by a squadron of NATO fighter jets, but the human pilots are easily fooled by a holographic illusion of a giant monster. The surface-to-air nuclear missiles that were so effective against the Tribbitites are shrugged off by the Kronans’ force fields. However, after the Kronans land and disembark, they are attacked by a lone human wielding a war hammer who routs their forces and smashes every weapon they employ against him. Terrified that the earth has armies of such invincible warriors, the invaders abort their mission and flee the planet. Outraged by the appalling lack of actionable intelligence, the Kronan high command orders the observation platform orbiting Saturn shut down.
June 1962 – Oblivious to these events, members of a race of unidentified green-skinned aliens arrive in a single flying saucer with a plan to conquer the earth using mass hypnosis. They construct a giant lifelike robot in the image of the Neanderthals whom they studied on their previous visit to Earth 80,000 years ago and set it down in the small town of Granville, New York. While the flying saucer hovers overhead, concealed within an artificial cloud, the robot enslaves the inhabitants with its hypnotic stare and directs them to construct a wall encircling the town. However, a champion soon appears wearing a suit of high-tech armor and destroys the robot with powerful magnetic devices. When he exposes the flying saucer and turns his magnets on it as well, the aliens quickly leave Earth in search of easier conquests.
July 1962 – A lone alien invader, exiled from the planet Astra a few thousand light-years away, attacks Desert Base in New Mexico, using his psychokinetic power over metallic molecules to easily destroy the weapons he finds there. Calling himself the Metal Master, he declares his intention to conquer the earth and issues his ultimatum. Though he is challenged by a green-skinned powerhouse called the Hulk, the Metal Master is able to defeat him in battle. Feeling unopposed, he then roams the earth wreaking havoc upon whatever metal structures catch his eye while awaiting the planet’s surrender. However, just before the deadline, the Hulk challenges him again, this time brandishing some sort of weapon. The Metal Master’s powers unaccountably fail him, and while straining to exert his mental influence over the weapon’s molecular structure, he draws too close. The Hulk grabs him and threatens to pulverize him unless he undoes all the damage he caused. Afraid for his life, the Metal Master complies. Uncertain of what has happened to him, the Metal Master flees to his ship and returns to outer space.
News of the “invincible” earth reaches the planet Xarta in the Fornax Galaxy, which inspires the swaggering Warlord Ugarth to select it as the site of his final campaign of conquest before handing the reins of power over to his son Zano. Only days after the Metal Master’s defeat, Ugarth’s ship lands outside New York, which they have determined to be the planet’s prime city. Following their usual strategy, the Xartans use their natural shape-changing abilities to impersonate key government personnel, such as the mayor and members of the city council, in order to push through nonsensical laws and ordinances to sow confusion, unrest, and panic among the populace. However, their ship is discovered by the hammer-wielding champion called Thor, who bests both Ugarth and his son Zano in single combat. When the Xartan fleet detects Ugarth’s body hurtling through the upper atmosphere, they decide to retreat. Zano and his lieutenants are forced to change themselves into trees, which renders them essentially mindless.
August 1962 – A criminal from the planet Kosmos escapes to Earth when he manages to piggyback his teleportation signal on the gamma-ray beam originating from the astronomical observatory of Dr. Vernon Van Dyne. After murdering the puny human scientist, the gelatinous creature destroys the gamma-ray device so he cannot be followed, then oozes out into the city to conquer himself a world. Finding he can absorb matter from the environment to increase his size, the creature makes his way along the Hudson River. Though he encounters military resistance, the creature shrugs off their mightiest weapons. Having reached gigantic proportions, he moves back into the city, terrorizing the populace. Suddenly, however, he is fired upon by an unseen sniper, and as the shotgun shells penetrate his undulating form they release a chemical that neutralizes the acid in his biochemistry, causing his body mass to break down. The would-be conqueror dies in agony.
September 1962 – Ready at last to avenge the humiliation he suffered at the hands of the Fantastic Four, the Skrull Emperor Dorrek dispatches a genetically-modified warrior whom they call the Super-Skrull. Arriving on Earth, the Super-Skrull lands his ship in New York’s Times Square and publicly claims the planet for the Skrull Empire. When the Fantastic Four appear to challenge him, he reveals that he has been granted the ability to mimic all their superpowers to a highly-magnified degree. Overwhelmed, the human heroes retreat. Later, the Super-Skrull confidently accepts the team’s challenge to meet in final combat on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. Once there, he easily overcomes his three male opponents using his “secret weapon,” irresistible hypnotic powers. Unfortunately, the Invisible Girl manages to place a small device on his back that jams the power-augmentation beam the Skrulls are sending, causing his superpowers to fade. Severely weakened, the Super-Skrull is then trapped within a dormant volcano by the rest of the Fantastic Four. Even after he manages to remove the jamming device, the Skrull energy beam proves unable to penetrate the volcanic rock, and the Super-Skrull remains hopelessly imprisoned.
Meanwhile, two ships from the relatively backwater planet of Alpha Chiltar III land on an island in the Aegean Sea. They construct a 50-foot robot in the shape of a Cyclops, the image drawn from the local mythology, and use it to capture numerous human specimens for examination to see if the earth will be easy pickings for conquest and colonization. After a couple of weeks, the decision is made to signal their invasion fleet, and they order the robot to kill all the prisoners. However, the robot suddenly goes haywire and crushes one of the spaceships. Unable to reestablish control, the aliens assume that humans must possess previously unsuspected mental powers. The Alpha-Chiltarians crowd into their remaining ship and blast off, canceling their invasion plans.
October 1962 – A race of extradimensional aliens accidentally discovers the existence of Earth and a means to cross the dimensional barrier. They decide to invade and conquer using their ability to project their astral forms into other beings and thereby “possess” them. Near their interdimensional nexus they find a small Bavarian village and target it as a test of their invasion plans. They are initially successful, until a stranger comes to town, the mystic master Dr. Stephen Strange. The human mage crosses into the alien dimension and defeats their leader in single combat, forcing him to withdraw his agents from the village. Doctor Strange then returns to Earth and casts a spell to seal the dimensional barrier once again.
November 1962 – After observing the earth for many months, an alien being known as the Space Phantom emerges from the Limbo dimension, where his home planet, Phantus, has become trapped as a result of their rampant abuse of time-travel technology. The Space Phantom has been empowered by the master of Limbo, Immortus, with the ability to assume the shape of any being, casting his victim into Limbo for the duration of his impostiture. He now plans to use this ability to destroy all superheroes so that his people can abandon Phantus and colonize the earth instead, and he targets the recently-formed team the Avengers as the most immediate threat. Assuming the identity of the Hulk, the Space Phantom sows the seeds of discord among the Avengers, but he makes the mistake of bragging about his plans to their junior associate Rick Jones. Alerted to the danger, the Avengers fight the Space Phantom as he switches from one identity to the next, but he battles them to a standstill. However, when Thor finally arrives, the Space Phantom finds that he is unable to overcome the enchantments of Odin. Instead of taking on Thor’s form, the Space Phantom finds himself transported to Limbo and is unable to return to Earth.
January 1962 – The Skrulls take on the Fantastic Four for the first time in Fantastic Four #2. Prior to this, it seems the Skrulls visited Earth about once every fifteen or so years, mainly to collect “slaves” for their gladiatorial contests. On their previous visit, in 1947, the ship crashed near Roswell, New Mexico and the crew was autopsied by the United States Air Force. Tales of widespread Skrull activity during the late 1950s and their encounters with “3-D Man” are highly exaggerated if not entirely false. If the Skrulls had successfully infiltrated Earth society only three to four years before this story, it is unlikely Mister Fantastic’s pictures of giant monsters would have scared them off.
February 1962 – The Tribbitites, or the “Toad Men” as they were originally called, menace the earth in Incredible Hulk #2. In Hulk #191, Torkon explains that their current home planet is an artificial world built from stolen Kree plans, suggesting that they would be informed of major news from both the Kree Empire and its traditional enemies the Skrulls.
April 1962 – The Kronans, a.k.a. “the Stone Men from Saturn,” are driven from Earth by the mighty Thor in Journey Into Mystery #83. It is doubtless due to Odin’s machinations that their ship landed so near the cave where Mjolnir lay hidden and that Don Blake just happened to be vacationing there at the time.
June 1962 – The giant Neanderthal robot and his alien masters face Iron Man in Tales of Suspense #40. It has been speculated that these aliens may be or be related to the similar-looking Guna seen later in Tales of Suspense #55.
July 1962 – The Metal Master attempts to conquer the earth singlehandedly in Incredible Hulk #6. It just so happened the Fantastic Four were on a mission to the moon at this time, which is why they failed to respond to the crisis. The Xartans are defeated by Thor in Journey Into Mystery #90.
August 1962 – The Creature from Kosmos never knows that his unseen assailant is the Ant-Man, aided and abetted by his brand-new partner the Wasp, as depicted in Tales to Astonish #44. Although the Creature was resurrected for stories set in the Second Marvel Universe, the original story makes it pretty clear he died a gruesome death.
September 1962 – The Super-Skrull comes to Earth in Fantastic Four #18. The A-Chiltarians and their Cyclops robot are defeated by Ant-Man and the Wasp in Tales to Astonish #46, though like the Creature from Kosmos, they are unaware of who has defeated them. Incidentally, Amazing Spider-Man #2 also features an alien invasion storyline, although it was later revealed that the “aliens” were just human crooks in disguise.
October 1962 – Doctor Strange stops the aliens known as the Possessors in Strange Tales #118.
November 1962 – The Avengers battle the Space Phantom in Avengers #2. The plight of the planet Phantus is revealed in Thor #281.
There were several other extraterrestrial incursions during this period, but they did not really qualify as “alien invasion” stories. The Ovoids and the Elan, from Fantastic Four #10 and #24, respectively, were passing through our solar system peaceably when they had close encounters with people of Earth. The Xantha stirred up some trouble with their “hostility ray” in Fantastic Four #7, but their only objective was to coerce the FF into saving their own planet. There is no real evidence that either Warlord Kulla or the denizens of Dimension Z, seen in Tales to Astonish #41 and #49, respectively, had plans to invade the earth dimension after kidnapping some of our scientists to build them weapons of mass destruction. They may only have wanted to exploit human ingenuity to give them an advantage in their own geopolitical struggles.
Next Issue: The Return of Doctor Strange!