It should come as no surprise that Captain America is so beloved that he is even the Skrulls‘ favorite superhero. Cap has long been seen as the pinnacle of human achievement, not only in physical strength but also decency and goodwill. Even before Steve Rogers was given the Super Soldier Serum, he exhibited a strong moral center that became stronger when Dr. Abraham Erskine enhanced him. Still, Cap’s had his dark moments. The Cosmic Cube once warped him into a HYDRA sleeper agent and the serum itself made him go crazy when it locked onto some narcotics that Steve accidentally inhaled. But perhaps the weirdest moment in Cap’s life happened in an alternate universe where he became a gladiatorial champion for the Skrull Empire.
Although the Skrulls have been portrayed as sympathetic and even heroic aliens in the MCU, in the comics, they’ve typically been the bad guys. Imbued with the ability to disguise themselves as any person or thing, the Skrulls use their powers to infiltrate and conquer planets and establish a vast empire. Their considerable power base has made them a threat to the alien Kree Empire, which has fought an intergalactic war with the shapeshifters for years. Caught in the middle of this war is Earth, which has managed to resist both Skrull and Kree domination thanks to its superhuman champions…at least in the mainstream Marvel Universe. In one alternate universe, however, things took a drastically different turn and the superheroes who defended Earth became something very different.
In the storyline “A World Apart” by Judd Winick and Mike McKone that ran from Exiles #8-10, readers learn that on this parallel Earth, the Skrulls decided to conquer Earth just prior to the Industrial Revolution. Since Earth technology was still in its infancy and there were no superhero protectors, humanity quickly succumbed and Earthlings became slaves of the Skrull Empire. Treating humans as a form of cattle, some Skrull scientists experiment on them, hoping they can create some superhuman soldiers for their own war efforts. The experiments mostly fail — but there is one success in Steve Rogers, who becomes the perfect physical specimen the Skrulls name “The Captain.” Rather than use him in the Kree-Skrull War, however, the Skrulls decide to use Steve for a different purpose. Since humanity has begun manifesting mutants and other superhumans, the Skrulls turn them into a form of entertainment by making them fight each other in Roman-style gladiatorial matches.
Shockingly, this alternate Steve Rogers appears to like his new role as the Skrulls’ gladiatorial hero. While there are more powerful superhumans fighting in the arenas, Steve’s strength, speed, and superior fighting ability allow him to dispatch almost all of them, making him the Skrulls’ top attraction. In fact, the Skrulls see Steve Rogers as “one of their own” and “their favorite son.” The Captain gets his comeuppance, however, when the dimensional-hopping superhero team known as the Exiles land on his world. Taken captive, the Exiles are forced to fight in the gladiator matches, and one of them — the mutant hero Mimic — amasses a decent following of his own thanks to his ability to copy multiple superpowers including Wolverine’s claws, Northstar’s power of flight, and Colossus’ organic steel form.
Things come to a head when the Skrulls pit Mimic against the Captain in what they hope will be the ultimate “pay-per-view” fight. Disgusted that Captain America is being exploited on this world, Mimic strikes back with a secret strategy. Just as the fight is being broadcast across the Skrull Empire, Mimic activates a power he’s never used in the arena — the optic blasts of Cyclops. Unable to defend against a superpower he has no knowledge of, the Captain is knocked out in the first two seconds.
It is an inglorious end to the Skrulls’ most anticipated fight, and likely the end of Steve Rogers’ gladiatorial career. Captain America has been used as a propaganda figure in the mainstream Marvel Universe and MCU, but in this alternate world, at least one superhero decided that he shouldn’t be the Skrulls’ poster boy.