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In 2008, Marvel shook their comic book world with "Secret Invasion", an epic arc that revealed the world's superheroes had been infiltrated by a shapeshifting alien race known as the Skrulls. Now, with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Season 4 heading in an "LMD" direction — where android doppelgangers replace key S.H.I.E.L.D. agents — it looks as though we may see an adaptation of that key plotline...
Firstly, No, These Aren't The Aliens You're Looking For...
As James Gunn confirmed earlier this year, the Skrulls are a tricky proposition for Marvel. The alien race has played a major part in many Fantastic Four arcs, and as a result they're co-owned by Marvel and Fox; some specific Skrulls are wholly owned by Fox. That list likely includes the Human Torch's lover Lyja, and the classic FF villain known as the Super-Skrull.
The complicated rights issue is likely why James Gunn chose not to use the Skrulls in Guardians of the Galaxy; they're traditionally locked in bitter dispute with the Kree, but in the #MCU their role has been assumed by the Xandarians. I think the sad truth is that we're never going to see the Skrulls enter the MCU.
But the Core Themes can Remain
Ultimately, "Secret Invasion" asked a single haunting question: Who do you trust? It presented the world's superheroes with a race of undetectable shapeshifting invaders, and left them paranoid, desperately trying to work out who was friend or foe. The arc featured the return of Nick Fury, and set up a new status quo for the whole Marvel Universe (more on that later).
You can immediately see the potential for this. Sure, we know that Agent May herself has been replaced by an LMD, right before she and Coulson finally begin to take some faltering first steps in their more-than-a-friendship! But Marvel would be smart to leave us guessing, never knowing who may or may not have been replaced by an LMD. In the short term, I think we can safely assume that our superpowered characters, Jeffrey Mace, Quake and Yo-Yo, are safe — there'd be no way to replicate their Inhuman abilities. But with those few exceptions, nobody would be safe. Marvel would be smart to have a gradual takeover, one where we only see a handful of characters captured by the LMDs, and are left wondering about everyone else.
In this context, the core question would remain the same: Who do you trust? With our superpowered characters moving to the forefront, this approach would leave characters and viewers alike uncertain. Given the first half of Season 4 has already sown seeds of distrust in S.H.I.E.L.D., we're already in a perfect place to explore this theme.
Over in the comics, AIDA (the Artificial Intelligence Data Analyser) was an artificial intelligence that helped the Squadron Supreme. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined that concept with the famous S.H.I.E.L.D. Life Model Decoy program, although it's worth noting that her major role was actually analyzing data — specifically, reading the Darkhold!
The Darkhold seems to have had an ominous effect on Aida, though, and — if this arc is indeed inspired by "Secret Invasion" — it's tempting to propose that Aida is taking the place of Veranke, Queen of the Skrulls. The leader of the Skrull invasion force, Veranke was a religious zealot who believed Earth was hers to claim. She was a ruthlessly intelligent mastermind, and came closer than any other alien enemy to conquering the Marvel Universe.
View image on Twitter
Remember that the Darkhold is involved. Known as the 'Book of Sins' in the comics the Darkhold contains the knowledge to pierce dimensional barriers — and to summon astral entities. It's entirely possible that Aida's AI brain has been infiltrated by something from another dimension, and that this LMD plot is indeed an invasion. By that reading, the LMD replacements are "aliens" of a sort, psychic entities brought through by the Darkhold's evil magic, and given a home in an android body.
One other question: What comes after Season 4? In the comics, the day was finally saved by none other than Norman Osborn, better known to Spider-Man fans as the Green Goblin. He used his newfound fame to take charge of S.H.I.E.L.D., which he reformed as H.A.M.M.E.R., and he launched an era known as the "Dark Reign" — a time when the world's superheroes were on the run, and where Nick Fury led his Secret Warriors (including Quake and Yo-Yo).
What if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. heads in a similar direction? What if, in the aftermath of the "LMD" arc, S.H.I.E.L.D. winds up taken over by someone who we really can't trust — say, a certain anti-Inhuman Senator? With the Avengers divided and on the run over in the movies, that could lead to a fantastic Season 5, with Coulson leading a counter-team against a corrupted S.H.I.E.L.D.. It would certainly be a fun new direction for the show, and it would climax just in time for the Avengers' return in #InfinityWar.
It's too soon to say whether or not all these guesses are right. If they are, though, then Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is headed in a terrific new direction, one with a phenomenal amount of potential. I can't wait to see what happens next!