So it turns out we were all wrong in our guesses about who Ben Mendelsohn would be playing in Captain Marvel. He is not, in fact, the Kree general Yon-Rogg, but a Skrull named Talos. Now, although we’ve known about the imminent Skrull presence in the MCU, this is the first time we’ve actually been given direct confirmation, not to mention a name to put with their weird green faces. So, just who is Talos and why does his involvement matter?
That’s a story with a few moving parts. First, you’ll need to understand the Skrull Empire. In the Marvel Universe, the Skrulls are arguably the most famous and immediately recognizable aliens around. You can pick them out of a crowd by their bald green heads and multi-clefted chins–or, well, sometimes you can pick them out of a crowd. You see, Skrulls are known for one very important trait: They’re master shapeshifters. They’re so masterful, in fact, that they can actually replicate a handful of common superpowers like flight, elasticity, and super strength, giving them the ability to infiltrate and replace superheroes without their teams realizing anything is wrong. This was something they famously pulled off during the major crossover event Secret Invasion, in which the Marvel heroes learned that the Skrulls had infiltrated their ranks unseen for years.
Unfortunately, Talos was not a Skrull with those abilities. Introduced back in Incredible Hulk #418 in 1994, Talos was a rare case of a Skrull birth defect and was born without the ability to change his shape at all. However, rather than allow his genetic lottery loss to determine the course of his life, Talos joined up with the Skrull military and promptly became one of their fiercest and most brutal warriors. He earned the nickname “Talos the Untamed” for his warrior spirit.
But that wasn’t the end of Talos’s hardship. During the Kree/Skrull war, he was captured by the enemy and, rather than following Skrull code and killing himself, Talos remained alive in the Kree’s care as a prisoner. This brought so much shame and disgrace upon Talos’s name that, once he was finally freed, his brothers in arms began mockingly calling him “Talos the Tamed.”
With his name disgraced, Talos was hungry for redemption. He promptly began falling over himself–sometimes literally–to try and win his honor back. In his desperation, he allowed himself to be–OK, we know this sound weird–pranked into accepting a fake wedding invitation (the wedding of ex-Hulk sidekick Rick Jones and his fiance Marlo Chandler, specifically) where he tried to pick a fight with a Kree attendee, only to get owned so hard he decided the only way out of his humiliation was suicide by Hulk.
Look, it was the ’90s. This is just how comics were.
Of course the Hulk didn’t actually kill Talos–despite Talos’s best efforts–and, for how incredibly absurd the whole situation was, it did actually manage to get Talos back on the Skrull Empire’s good side. They saw how valiantly he tried to fight, and how willing he was to die, and decided that he wasn’t a coward after all.
Talos largely faded into the background at that point. He occasionally cropped up in the myriad cosmic affairs of the Skrull Empire, but otherwise he maintained C-list obscurity at best. His most recent comics highlight actually came in the Howard the Duck series from 2015, where he infiltrated Earth with an actual, physical human disguise using an alter ego he called “Jonathan Richards”. He even used a fake beard to cover up his pointedly Skrull-shaped chin. The whole situation was, unsurprisingly, largely a punchline at Talos’s expense. This was a Howard the Duck book, after all.
So, how does an on-again-off-again disgraced Skrull find himself at the intimidating heart of an MCU movie? Well, that one is still up for debate. Chances are that live action Talos is going to be stripped of a lot of his more recognizable comic book traits. This incarnation is likely going to be able to shapeshift–the EW photos explicitly describe Talos as going “undercover” within SHIELD as a human–but his past as a disgraced Kree hostage may still be intact. After all, it would certainly provide some good, juicy motivation for him to have a personal beef with Captain Marvel and her Kree entourage.