Hydra: cut off one head, and two more take its place. By now, any Marvel fan knows the mantra that’s repeated in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As one of the longest recurring villains on the screen for Marvel, Hydra got its start more than 50 years ago on the comic book page as a group bent on taking S.H.I.E.L.D. down.
Hydra was a villainous super group with a goal of nothing short of world domination when first introduced, and over time, some of its leaders became the biggest villains in Marvel Comics. It’s been through a lot of changes over the years, and the most recent comic book storyline with Steve Rogers AKA Captain America turning out to be Hydra all along has left a lot of readers scratching their heads. The story of the organization’s rise to power has even become a modern political allegory, with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. having Hydra affiliated characters in their Framework story arc utter phrases heard from politicians in the last six months, and one enterprising fan redirecting Hail-hydra.com to the White House’s website.
With Hydra at the forefront of television and comics these days, you might be surprised to find there’s a lot more to learn about it. We’ve got 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Hydra to share.
15. Hydra Debuted in Strange Tales #135
Before Hydra became one of the most commonly recurring villainous organizations to attempt to take out anyone from Captain America to Wolverine, and long before it became the center of controversy in Marvel’s 2017 Secret Empire, it had to be introduced for the first time on the page. The group, complete with bright green and yellow uniforms and a legion of nameless soldiers, debuted in Strange Tales.
Strange Tales served as the debut book for many Marvel superheroes and villains before they got their own series. If #135 of the series sounds familiar to you, it might be because it’s the issue in which Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced a ton of concepts that are currently taking over Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In addition to the first appearance of Hydra, the comic also included the first appearance of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first appearance of their helicarriers, and the first appearance of Life Model Decoys – all in the same storyline. Marvel fans have seen them all come to life thanks to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and several MCU movies over the last few years.
14. Arnold Brown Was Hydra’s First Comic Book Leader
If you don’t recognize the name Arnold Brown, don’t get too down on yourself. He’s only appeared in about a dozen comics, and unless you’re a big fan of what Marvel did in the 1960s, you probably wouldn’t have seen much of him. Arnold was a businessman and the secretary to a member of the board of Imperial Industries International. He’d lost his wife, and with a daughter to raise, he was willing to do anything to make sure she had a safe and comfortable life.
What’s a single dad to do? Use his position in the business world to fund the secret evil organization Hydra, that’s what. He was originally presented as Supreme Hydra, or the Master, of the organization when it made its debut in the 1960s comics. His position leading Hydra forces caused him to want more and more power as he alienated his own daughter, who was the first female Hydra agent.
13. Hydra Tried To Kill Nick Fury Before He Was S.H.I.E.L.D.
Nick Fury was running around the pages of Marvel Comics two years before he became the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Readers knew him as a Howling Commando, a military man intent on doing the right thing with a gun and an eye patch. When S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra were introduced, though, Fury was no longer just a military man, but just the man everyone was looking for.
As S.H.I.E.L.D. grabbed the Colonel off the streets and explained their operation to him, they also set him up with four Life Model Decoys right out of the gate, before they even asked him to become involved. Why? Because Hydra was after him. Lucky for Fury, as Hydra made four attempts on his life and succeeded, it was the LMDs that met their ends instead of him. The fifth, unsuccessful, attempt, was on Fury himself, but he survived.
12. Hydra’s First Retcon Made Them Nazis
After the days of Hydra being led by Arnold Brown were done, Hydra resurfaced as a group under the leadership of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, someone not only affiliated with the Nazi party, but supported by Marvel’s most famous Red Skull. They quickly became the group most often going up against Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. This might not have been how Hydra originally formed on the page, but it’s become the most famous origin for the group – the Nazi science division – thanks in part to their depiction in Captain America: The First Avenger on the big screen.
Many readers will point to Hydra not originally being a Nazi group as a reason for those who dislike the current state of Hydra and Captain America in Marvel Comics to give the new storyline a chance. A large group of nameless, faceless soldiers supporting a leader out of fear of death, as they were originally portrayed, who could hide in plain sight as neighbors and loved ones, doesn’t exactly stray too far from a group of people following a dictator. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were never shy about making Hydra act like the Nazi party and its soldiers, even before the connection was made in the comics.
11. Hydra Gunmen Had A Skateboard Unit
Hydra might be known for their interesting weapons nowadays, but back when they were a young group of comic book villains, their technology was a little more ‘60s than it is today. In addition to the usual guns and spy gear readers could find in the comics of the time, one special division of Hydra had an unusual method of catching up with their enemies: skateboards.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby developed a story for Strange Tales #140 in which Nick Fury was busy rescuing Hydra Agent H, who decided to defect from her father’s group, while Howling Commandos Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones took on a whole group of Hydra agents. The agents, from the special Tiger division of Hydra, were said to be the most fearsome agents of the group. Loaded with guns, they didn’t just chase their enemies down, but instead skateboarded after them.
10. A Crypt Of Shadows Story Rewrote Hydra History
Crypt of Shadows was a Marvel anthology series that printed scary stories, or those with supernatural leanings at the very least. In the 1970s, the series reprinted some stories in its issues from earlier Atlas comic book lines. Since Atlas became Marvel, the publisher had access to run those stories again to fill in gaps in the schedule. Crypt of Shadows #5 reprinted stories from the previous series Adventures in Terror, Adventures Into Weird Worlds, and Menace, but it’s the Menace story that led to some reader confusion.
Menace #10 featured a story called “Half Man, Half…?” That story involved a spy bribing a scientist for information on a bomb that turned people into monsters. In the original issue, the spy was simply an enemy of the current government. Just whom he was working for was left up to the reader’s imagination. In the reprint, he was an agent of Hydra, leading to some readers thinking Hydra made its first comic book appearance years earlier. The Menace story originally ran in 1954, while Hydra didn’t debut until 1965. The reprinted story ran in 1973, making for one confusing timeline.
9. A.I.M. And Secret Empire Were Originally Hydra
Hydra was always made up of several divisions in charge of different things. In the Strange Tales comic book days, those divisions were largely named for animals, and they were in charge of things like espionage or business, which meant all of Hydra’s best spies were trained in one area while all of the higher ups who held the money never had to deal with them. That kind of division carried over into later comics, but they became whole other organizations as Hydra broke apart.
Advanced Idea Mechanics was created by von Strucker during World War II to be Hydra’s science division. This was the group responsible for playing with alien technology and developing weapons to use against S.H.I.E.L.D. They also created M.O.D.O.K. Eventually, the leaders incorporated the group and became an actual business instead of a shady think tank, though they continued to be (mostly) evil.
Likewise, Secret Empire began as a specialized group of Hydra operatives whose job was to keep the attention of the government groups off of Hydra. They frequently set out to eliminate specific heroes instead of achieve world domination. These days, Secret Empire has its own major comic book storyline. You may have heard of it.
8. The Brotherhood Of The Spear Became Hydra
In a more recent retcon of comic book storylines, the origin of Hydra goes back even farther than Arnold Brown or Nazi alliances. In 2010, Marvel Comics launched the series S.H.I.E.L.D., and it gave the organization, as well as Hydra, a whole new history that involved ancient Egyptian brotherhoods.
In this version of the story, the alien race known as The Brood attacked Egypt thousands of years in the past, killing the pharaoh in power and leading to characters like Moon Knight to align themselves with Imhotep to save the day. When the battle was over and they achieved their victory, Imhotep’s shield and spear became the symbols for two different “brotherhoods” named after the objects.
It was Isaac Newton, a member of the Brotherhood of the Shield, who used the Spear to create Hydra, making the organizations and the rivalry between them much older than the fight that began over Captain America. The reveal was met with mixed reactions from fans, but it’s not unlike the storyline for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s third season that saw Hydra leaders worshipping an ancient Inhuman, a tradition amongst families who saw the first Inhuman on Earth.
7. Hydra Had Its Own Flying Island
Hydra, like S.H.I.E.L.D., is known for its secret bases all over the world. For a brief time, though, Hydra went above and beyond the idea of a secret base and had their own flying island. It was simply called “Hydra Flying Island” in the comics, and though it only made a few appearances during a Captain America arc, they were certainly memorable.
The Island was run by Queen Hydra (not to be confused with Madame Hydra), and the man who created her, Codename: Bravo. Bravo hated Steve Rogers with a passion, partly because Peggy Carter chose Cap over him, and he rose in the ranks of Hydra in hopes of getting revenge. Bravo and his Queen made their best attempt to rid the world of Captain America, but even their Flying Island couldn’t keep them safe from justice.
It’s not entirely clear what happened to the Flying Island after superheroes invaded, though it likely went the way of many a helicarrier in the comics and sunk into the ocean after its forces were defeated. Speaking of helicarriers, Hydra even had their own version of one of the mobile S.H.I.E.L.D. command centers, but called it a terror-carrier instead. Much more menacing.
6. Most Hydra Members Are Male
If you’ve ever picked up a comic book or seen a superhero movie, you know that male superheroes outnumber the female superheroes by an insane ratio. In Hydra, those numbers are even further apart. The vast majority of Hydra scientists, leaders, and operatives are men.
In fact, the very first female operative in Hydra is such a big deal that she gets a mention during the first arc involving the villainous group in Strange Tales. Arnold Brown’s daughter becomes a member, though it doesn’t take her long to defect, tired of the way Hydra treats its members, and weary of her father’s quest for more power.
More often than not, the Hydra agents seen on the page, even when it’s simply crowds of members of the group in their green and yellow uniforms, are men. There are a few exceptions to the rule where women have risen through the ranks – like Madame Hydra AKA Viper – but by and large, the women involved in the group are family members of the men involved, they’ve infiltrated Hydra for S.H.I.E.L.D., or they’ve been the subject of experiments.
5. Hydra Loves Alien Technology
Whether on the comic book page or on the movie screen, Hydra loves a good piece of alien technology to mine their own research and scientific advancements from. It gives them a leg up on their enemies when everyone else is still trying to figure out good old Earth-based science.
In the comics, Hydra learned about Gnobians when they landed on Earth in the 1940s. A race of aliens that wandered from planet to planet and formed empathic links with the people they met, they were outside Germany during World War II. Baron von Strucker learned of their existence and set out to steal their technology. His hate also “infected” them and later, it was explained that they weren’t real, but an effort from Strucker to discredit Fury; so it’s not clear if Hydra appropriated their technology to start, though they did later from other races.
When it comes to the screen and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hydra has a lot of alien technology. The tesseract provided energy for weapons in World War II. Loki’s scepter allowed the group to experiment with enhancing human abilities. The Chitauri gave them a chance to advance their weaponry, and Hydra tried to use the Kree and their Inhuman creations to their advantage as well. These guys have no qualms about looking to the stars in order to take over the world.
4. MCU Hydra Uniforms Took (Very Subtle) Inspiration From The Comics
The original Hydra uniforms in the comics were a bright green with a yellow ‘H’ pattern on them, the garish coloring providing a contrast for the red, white, and blue of the all-American characters the group went up against. With Marvel sticking to a more realistic color palette instead of the traditional bright look of comic books, the costume designers and conceptual artists needed a different look for Captain America’s favorite enemies on the big screen.
As a result, the team decided to give a nod to the original design, though in a more subtle way. The uniforms of Hydra agents were more black and gray – muted colors against the uniforms of the soldiers they went up against. The H remained in the design, though it was formed out of belts and utility straps instead of part of the fabric.
3. Hydra In The MCU Shadows Echoes A Comic Book Civil War
When Hydra emerged from the shadows in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it was revealed that the organization had actually been living within S.H.I.E.L.D. in secret. The group had high ranking members deeply embedded within the spy organization, as well as within other branches of government. That story is very much like a reveal within Marvel Comics as well.
When it came to light that S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra were originally born from the same conflict in ancient Egypt, it was Nick Fury who tracked just how deep Hydra was within S.H.I.E.L.D. He discovered, much like agents did in the MCU, that Hydra had allowed S.H.I.E.L.D. to grow in order to use its resources. Hydra co-opted the research and weapons that S.H.I.E.L.D. had access to in order to enhance their own strength. They allowed S.H.I.E.L.D. a few small victories here and there to maintain their secrecy and to eliminate threats within their own group that would have caused a civil war amongst the ranks. Hydra then splintered into other groups.
2. Fox And The MCU Shared Hydra Villains
The studio deals for which Marvel comic book characters can appear in which movies are complicated, to say the least. The screen rights for Spider-Man and his related characters rest with Sony, while the X-Men and the team’s related characters are with 20th Century Fox. Marvel Studios owns the screen rights to the bulk of the remaining characters, though there are a few outliers that other production studios have rights to.
Like Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver being shared between Fox and Marvel, it appears there might be a gray area when it comes to those characters most often associated with Hydra. The von Strucker family appeared in Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Fox) in the ’90s, but also in the more recent Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (Marvel). Viper made her live-action debut in The Wolverine (Fox), though she was completely different than the Madame Hydra Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (again, Marvel) brought to life. Bob, a Hydra agent most often associated with Deadpool in the comics, even got a shoutout in the latter character’s live-action solo film from Fox.
1. Hydra Ties The MCU Together
Audiences might have been under the impression that it was those pesky Infinity Stones tying the Marvel Cinematic Universe together, and while that is true for the movies, when you factor in the television shows, it’s Hydra that makes the world line up.
Hydra is, in reality, the group that kicked off the timeline of events in the MCU as we know them. Not only did an early faction of the organization worship the world’s first Inhuman in ancient history, but they were also the ones experimenting with alien technology, giving rise to the need for the S.S.R. (and later, S.H.I.E.L.D.) to do the same.
Their first experiments led to the incident that would create Captain America, and later ones would lead to the creation of Deathlok, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and the brainwashing of the Winter Soldier. They also hid “in the shadows” to grow within S.H.I.E.L.D., and they knew at least some of the truth about aliens having visited Earth in the past. They even made deals with Roxxon, an energy company that has popped up in almost every facet of the MCU.
Though Hydra has supposedly been wiped off the map in the movies and TV series as we see them now, when you cut off one head and two more take its place, it seems like a sure bet that we’ll see them pop up again somewhere down the line.
Did we surprise you with any of this Hydra knowledge? Or did we leave something out that everyone should know? Let us know in the comments! Keep an eye on the Marvel Cinematic Universe to see just when they’ll pop up next.
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