What villain is big enough to warrant the attentions of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? Who will be the bad guy in The Avengers in 2012?

Over the last few months I’ve been doing some sleuthing (aided by George ‘El Guapo’ Roush of Latino Review), much of which I can’t yet share with you, but it has led me to the conclusion that the foe the Avengers will face will come from beyond this planet, and that they will in fact be the Skrulls.

Except there was one major hiccup: I wasn’t sure if Marvel owned the cinematic rights to the Skrulls. The alien race first appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four, and Fox owns the rights to the traditionally Fantastic Four characters. So while interviewing Kevin Feige at Comic Con this past weekend I had to try and get an answer.

‘Will the Skrulls be the villain in The Avengers?’ I asked.

Feige gave me one of those looks he’s good at giving and just said, ‘We do own them.’

More digging turned up the fact that Marvel Studios owns the Skrull race, while Fox own the Super Skrull.

The Skrull are a shape changing alien race who have had a hard-on for Earth for quite some time. They would make a pretty great big bad for the film for a number of reasons: first of all, there’s a bunch of them, so the film wouldn’t have to contain just one or two fight scenes with the main threat, and each of the team members could have their own battles at their own power level. For another, they allow Marvel Studios to do something really cool – what if it’s revealed that certain characters from the previous Marvel movies have been Skrulls all along? And Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch proved in the first Ultimates series that the Skrull (called the Chitauri there) make a convincingly cinematic threat.

Of course the other possibility is that The Avengers will battle Hydra. As I mentioned in this story about The Invaders possibly appearing in The First Avenger: Captain America, Feige name-dropped Hydra as being something with which Steve Rogers had to contend. Might the truth be that Steve Rogers would just meet some of the Nazi supervillains who go on to head Hydra? And with The Avengers being a SHIELD group in the movies, it might make sense to make the villain a SHIELD villain. On top of that, like the Skrull, the sheer number of Hydra agents mean the film could contain lots of battles and that each of the Avengers could get something to do during the course of the film.

All of this is sheer speculation, of course, but I think that Feige mentioning that Marvel owns the Skrulls, combined with what I’ve been able to dig up, points strongly to the bad guy in The Avengers being not a guy but a whole empire.