"Cut off one head and two more shall take its place." This greek myth of the serpent-like creature known as Hydra helped inspire one of the most nefarious neo-fascist organizations in the Marvel Universe. Since making its first appearance in 1965’s Strange Tales #135, Hydra has been a major threat to Captain America and a long list of other Marvel heroes, including Iron Man, the Hulk, and even Daredevil.
Hydra has also appeared in Marvel adaptations in other media, such as TV, video games, and of course movies. In fact, the 2014 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film Captain America: The Winter Soldier reveals that Hydra hid inside the government — including the powerful crimefighting agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. — for decades, waiting for the right moment to strike. Clearly there’s a lot of history behind this nefarious fictional group, but if you’re feeling confused, don’t worry: This is the history of Marvel’s Hydra explained.
Brotherhood of the Spear
Although many people believe that Hydra originated during World War II, its tentacles actually stretch back much, much farther — as seen in the pages of 2005’s Wolverine #29, 2010’s S.H.I.E.L.D. #4, and 2011’s Fear Itself: Book of the Skull #1.
Before the dawn of man, a group of immortal reptoids arrived on Earth with the intention of spreading their evil across the land. Millions of years later, these same creatures would corrupt an Eastern secret society called the Brotherhood of the Spear, who would in turn worship them as "The Beast." The Brotherhood spread throughout the rest of the world and secreted themselves in all aspects of human civilization. As time went on, the society would change its name to Hydra and also compromise the Cathari sect of Christianity as well as the Thule Society, the latter of which evolved into the Nazi Party.
The Hydra timeline at the end of 2009’s Secret Warriors #1 reveals that all mentions of this ancient organization are absent in history books after the Renaissance, which may explain how they stayed hidden for so long.
Hydra’s World War II roots
Ironically enough, Hydra was never actually part of the Nazi Party in the Marvel Universe, but would still go on to become a neo-Nazi organization.
1966’s Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #29 and 1994’s Fury #1 reveal that Wolfgang von Strucker, a member of the Nazi Party and close confidante of Adolf Hitler, fought a losing battle against the Allies and their forces, which included Captain America and the Invaders. Hitler grew tired of Strucker’s constant defeats and sentenced him to death, but Strucker escaped to Japan with the help of Johann Schmidt, a.k.a. Red Skull, Hitler’s second-in-command, who foresaw that the Nazis would lose World War II.
1968’s Capt. Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders #4 gives more details about how Strucker became the leader of Hydra. While in Japan, Strucker discovered a secret organization created — but no longer led — by Red Skull, made up of fugitives from Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. After killing the organization’s leader, Strucker renamed the group Hydra and restructured it with an eye toward global domination, cementing it into the neo-Nazi terrorist organization it is most commonly known as today.
Before Hydra became infamous for infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. in the MCU, it did the same thing in the comics.
As explained in Secret Warriors #26 from 2011, Strucker found a way to infiltrate the worldwide peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D. shortly after its formation. Thomas Davidson, a programmer at S.H.I.E.L.D. in its early days, defected to Hydra and created an entire system for Strucker that gave him unrestricted access to all of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Strucker then killed Davidson so no one else could have control of this system.
This secret remained hidden from the world until a month before the events of Secret Warriors #1. Nick Fury, who’d been removed as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., broke into a S.H.I.E.L.D. Datacore Facility in Chicago called the Carousel. Fury accessed everything there was to know about the organization from primary and subsidiary departments to a list of remaining active agents and even the last known locations of all deactivated and rogue agents. He blew up the Carousel in order to cover his tracks, but not before making a personal copy of all his findings. No non-Hydra agent knew what he knew until the end of Secret Warriors #1, when Fury told fellow agent Daisy Johnson, a.k.a. Quake, that Hydra had been hiding inside S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades.
As explained in Secret Warriors #26 from 2011, Strucker found a way to infiltrate the worldwide peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D. shortly after its formation. He convinced Thomas Davidson, a programmer at S.H.I.E.L.D. in its early days, to defect to Hydra, where he created an entire system for Strucker that gave him unrestricted access to all of S.H.I.E.L.D. Strucker then killed Davidson so no one else could have control of this system — or so he thought. As Nick Fury later revealed to Strucker, the Davidson he had killed was actually a Life-Model Decoy. The real Davidson lived on, turning the tables against Hydra without their knowledge. As Nick Fury put it to Strucker, "We were watching you watching us."
The Death of Baron von Strucker
Strucker was a dominant force in the Marvel Universe starting with his first appearance in 1964’s Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #5, but the Supreme Hydra would eventually meet his demise in 1967’s Strange Tales #158.
In that comic, Fury confronted Strucker on his personal base of operations, Hydra Island. During one of their encounters, Fury used Strucker’s "epiderm-mask machine" to change his face into Fury’s before the real Fury made two different Strucker masks — he would wear one while Strucker wore the other over the Fury mask he didn’t know he was already wearing. When Strucker’s men arrived to see that two Struckers were fighting, they unmasked the Strucker on the right to reveal Fury when, in actuality, it was Strucker wearing a Fury mask. Nevertheless, Strucker panicked and was incinerated in a "Alpha-Particle Reactor Cube" that he indiscriminately jumped into. Meanwhile, the disguised Fury escaped Hydra Island with Laura Brown, the daughter of late Supreme Hydra Arnold Brown, also detonating Strucker’s "Death Spore" bio-weapon inside the domed island.
According to the "DataCORE & Fury Files" in Secret Warriors #1, Strucker’s influence still loomed large as his supposed death caused Hydra to split into three factions: the leading Hydra council of THEM, the terrorist organization known as Advanced Research Mechanics (A.I.M.), and the Hydra subsidiary Secret Empire.
Civil war within Hydra
After Strucker was resurrected in 1991’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #21, he started killing off leaders of several splinter groups in order to unite them into a new Hydra regime. Unfortunately for Strucker, this reorganization did not stop a civil war from occurring between himself and the combined allied forces of both Strucker’s wife Elsbeth and her lover Gorgon, leader of the mystic ninja death cult known as the Hand.
While Baron Helmut Zemo placed Strucker in stasis for his own nefarious purposes, 2005’s Wolverine #22 sees Gorgon and Elsbeth create a clone of Strucker, which they set up to fail, and sacrifice him in a ritual three issues later so they can seize control of Hydra. Thankfully, the formerly brainwashed Wolverine kills the two and stops them from carrying out their evil plans in Wolverine #30 & 31.
Flash forward to 2006’s New Thunderbolts #17, when the real Strucker, awoken from stasis, teams up with Zemo to take over the world together, much to the dismay of his son Andreas, a.k.a. Swordsman.
Issues #519-524 of J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man run reveal that pharmaceutical manufacturer Edgar Lascombe replaced Gorgon as the new Supreme Hydra while Strucker was still in stasis.
Lascombe believed that Hydra had become weak under its current leadership, who let it devolve into yet another crime syndicate focused on drug running and money laundering, so he had all them killed and seized control of the organization. Lascombe used a group of genetically altered Hydra agents called the Hydra Four, whose powers and abilities were all based around four specific Marvel superheroes (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and Hawkeye), to distract the New Avengers while Hydra smuggled missiles and bacteria into New York as part of a larger plan to launch a bio-weapon attack on the Ogallala Aquifer and bring America to its knees.
Fortunately, Spider-Man figured out this plan and, along with the New Avengers, stopped Lascombe — but not before he and the Hydra Four escaped their now-defunct secret base. As of this writing, neither Lascombe nor the Hydra Four has appeared in another Marvel comic.
Secret Warriors v. the High Council of Hydra
Following the events of the Secret Invasion storyline, Nick Fury established the Secret Warriors as a team of relatively unknown superheroes to fight against the Skrull Invasion. After the team discovered that Hydra was hiding inside S.H.I.E.L.D., however, they found a new purpose: to take down Hydra — and S.H.I.E.L.D. along with it.
Conversely, Strucker convened the High Council of Hydra after he learned that Fury had discovered the truth about S.H.I.E.L.D.. In addition to Strucker, this council included Viper, Kraken, Madame Hydra, Hive, and a newly resurrected Gorgon. Various battles ensued between the Secret Warriors and Hydra up until Secret Warriors #25, when Kraken kidnapped Fury and Strucker. The following issue revealed that Kraken was Fury’s brother Jake, who was working as a double agent, and that Fury made Strucker think he was controlling S.H.I.E.L.D. when he was actually working for Fury the whole time.
After Fury executed Strucker in Secret Warriors #27, Gorgon and Viper, the latter of whom reclaimed her "Madame Hydra" title, allied with Norman Osborn and his H.A.M.M.E.R. organization in 2011’s New Avengers #16.1 and 17, but they were all defeated. Viper then used the remaining H.A.M.M.E.R. force to reinforce her Hydra in Avengers #24 from that same year… but that failed too.
In the midst of Marvel’s Avengers: Standoff comic event from 2016, the sentient Cosmic Cube child known as Kobik decided to look for Red Skull (or at least his telepathic clone) since she was composed of a Cosmic Cube fragment that belonged to the original Red Skull. Kobik confused Red Skull’s obsession for affection and in Captain America: Steve Rogers #2, Red Skull manipulated Kobik into creating an alternative timeline where Steve Rogers was a Hydra agent, replacing the real Steve with his fascist iteration.
After Red Skull fulfilled his goal of turning his greatest enemy into a valuable asset, he created a new Hydra from the ground up near the end of Avengers Standoff: Assault On Pleasant Hill Omega #1. With the help of various Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, Red Skull returned Hydra to its Nazi roots as the organization resorted to more direct methods than in the past. This "Neo-Hydra" recruited political extremists, used guerrilla tactics, and carried out terrorist attacks against civilians in America and Western Europe. Neo-Hydra is very evocative of the real-life alt-right movement, which was in the news when this comic was released.
Unfortunately for Red Skull, his reign as Hydra’s leader came to an end in Captain America: Steve Rogers #15 when the fascist Captain America deposed him after Skull lost his telepathy in 2017’s Uncanny Avengers #22.
In the controversial Secret Empire event, Captain America (now known as Hydra Supreme) exiled many heroes and took over the United States. Many Americans became used to this fascist regime, mainly because Hydra put mind-altering substances in water supplies to increase docility. The new regime also displaced all mutants to a sovereign region called New Tian and deported all Inhumans to detention centers.
A superhero resistance group called the Underground hatched a plan to bring back the original Captain America and stop Hydra Supreme. In the final issue of Secret Empire, Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the new Captain America, surrendered his fragment of the Cosmic Cube to Hydra Supreme — the last one he needed to reshape the world in his image. What Hydra Supreme didn’t realize, however, was that Ant-Man shrunk down Bucky Barnes so he could travel into the Cube and pull out Kobik — and the real Captain America. Both Captain America and Hydra Supreme fought it out until Hydra Supreme tried to lift Thor’s hammer and failed, which prompted Captain America to break Hydra Supreme’s armor with the hammer and defeat him once and for all.
Although the scars of this event never healed, the United States returned to normalcy in the following weeks.
Hydra in the MCU
The Winter Soldier revelation that Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. also had major effects on the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger introduced Hydra as the Nazis’ science division, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 reveals that Hydra started out as a fanatical cult that worshipped the ancient Inhuman known as Hive. A member of that cult, Wilfred Malick, remained connected to the WWII-era Hydra; the season 7 episode "Know Your Onions" reveals that he gave a key ingredient of the Super Soldier Serum to them, which Johann Schmidt later used to turn himself into Red Skull, in exchange for the restoration of his family’s legacy.
Season 5 sees U.S. Air Force General Hale as the last known high-ranking leader of Hydra in the MCU. Hale tries to form a deal with the intergalactic alliance called the Confederacy to protect them from Thanos, but they ultimately side with the Gravitonium-infused Glenn Talbot, who would later kill Hale. Hydra has not reappeared in the MCU since, with the exception of the Avengers: Endgame sequence in which the Avengers travel back to 2012, the year that the events of the first Avengers movie take place.
MCU fans last saw Arnim Zola as a complex computer system in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but he actually has a much bigger role in the Marvel Comics.
Dr. Arnim Zola, who first appeared in 1977’s Captain America #208, was a Swiss scientist who worked for the Nazis during World War II and became the lead scientist of Project: Nietzche, for which he created super soldiers (or "Ubermensch") in the Nazis’ quest for world domination, as revealed in 2011’s Captain America and Bucky #622. At some point, Zola created a robot body for himself that would not only allow him to survive into modern times but also to replace his frail human one. This robotic figure allowed bipedal movement and projected an image of Zola’s face on a screen located on its chest. If one of these bodies were destroyed, Zola could simply transfer himself into another. In short, Zola is one of Captain America’s more durable villains.
Baron Helmut Zemo is one of the most memorable villains in the Marvel Universe.
Helmut is the son of Nazi scientist Heinrich Zemo, who launched the plane that froze Captain America in ice for decades. After Heinrich died in a rock slide during a fight with the Sentinel of Liberty, Helmut wanted to avenge his father’s death and became the supervillain known as the Phoenix. In 1973’s Captain America #168, Zemo captures Cap and holds him over a vat of Adhesive X, the same material that would permanently glue to his father’s purple hood to Helmut after Cap flung his shield at a nearby glass container of the material. Unfortunately for Helmut, his plan backfired and he was presumed dead after he fell into the vat of Adhesive X. Helmut is revealed as alive in 1982’s Captain America #275. As Baron Zemo, Helmut has appeared in a many more Marvel comics and at one point was the leader of Hydra.
Actor Daniel Bruhl portrays Zemo in Captain America: Civil War and reprised his role in the Disney+ miniseries The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which saw him wearing his iconic purple hood.
Bob, Agent of Hydra
Hydra henchmen wear a green jumpsuit that make them indistinguishable from one another, but one henchman has risen above the rest — and his name is Bob.
Bob first appears in 2007’s Cable and Deadpool #38; five issues later, readers learn he joined Hydra because his wife nagged him to find a steady job. Deadpool, at the time mini-sized after the events of the previous issue, infiltrated a Hydra base in Pakistan with Weasel in order to save their friend Agent X. Deadpool coerced Bob into helping him, and after he returned to normal size, he told Bob to steal a jet and fly them out. Bob explained that he wouldn’t be able to come back to Hydra if he helped, so Deadpool shot him in the arm and they escaped — without Weasel, who they went back to rescue in Cable and Deadpool #43.
Bob has become a frequent sidekick to Deadpool since his introduction. Although he shows extreme cowardice, he’s saved Deadpool on several occasions. In Cable and Deadpool #43, Wolverine decapitated Deadpool, but Bob re-attached his head to his body in the following issue.
Rob Hayter cameoed as Bob in 2016’s Deadpool film, appearing as an Ajax henchman that Deadpool spares during the movie’s climax.