An Exploration of HYDRA in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Be warned: Here be spoilers for pretty much every Marvel Cinematic property.

In the Marvel comic world there are tons of organizations that antagonist our heroes – A.I.M., The Brotherhood, HYDRA, H.A.M.M.E.R., The Hand, The Maggia. Some of these even exist in the Cinematic Universe – but none have proven to be such a constant thorn in the side as HYDRA.

In Captain America: The First Avenger, we learn that HYDRA was born in Nazi Germany, when a party of Schutzstaffel (SS) led by Johann Schmidt (Red Skull) raided a Sturmabteilung (SA) weapons facility, combining their resources.

Yet, in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode “Many Heads, One Tail”, we learn that’s not exactly true. As it turns out, HYDRA has been around for thousands of years, as a cult that worshiped an ancient all-powerful Inhuman who was banished to another planet through an alien monolith portal. Their “end game” is to build an army of powered individuals for the Inhuman king to command, and then aid in it’s retrieval from the portal so it can rule the world. The only thing that changed in WWII is they got the name HYDRA.

In last week’s review I said this I would prove this is huge. So lets explore how this retroactively affects what we know about HYDRA and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole.

Back to Captain America: The First Avenger; let’s explore Red Skull and his motives. Before joining the cult that would become HYDRA, Red Skull was obsessed with Norse mythology, and was convinced that is wasn’t just a myth. This belief is likely what drew him to the cult, which also believes that the ultimate being is not of this world. It would be easy for Johann to rationalize that the being they were trying to bring back was a Norse god. Following the cult’s ideals, he sought to build the perfect army – not just by joining the Nazis and literally building an army, but by injecting himself with the failed Super Soldier serum that would turn him into Red Skull.

This serum would later be perfected by it’s creator Abraham Erskine, and with Howard Stark’s vita-radiation technology, would create the first super soldier – Captain America. Luckily, he was created by the good guys. Erskine, however, is assassinated, and his formula remains a mystery – though many have tried to recreate it, resulting in the creation of the Hulk and the Abomination, and everyone affected by the cybernetic implants of Project Centipede, including Scorch, Akela Amador, John Garrett, Deathlok, and several unnamed soldiers. There are even several hints at Man-Thing’s origin in the MCU, and he, too, was a failed Super Soldier experiment. HYDRA’s attempts to recreate Inhumanity also result in the creation of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.

A lot of impact for one Inhuman thousands of years ago, huh?

Well it doesn’t stop there!

Now, at this point, HYDRA has taken over more than just the SS in Nazi Germany. Shortly after WWII, HYDRA scientist Arnim Zola and psychologist/hypnotist Dr. Faustus join new start-up S.H.I.E.L.D. through Operation Paperclip, spreading HYDRA seeds almost immediately. They eventually create The Winter Soldier and HYDRA even uses the “Faustus mind control” method to create brainwashed soldiers like Agent 33. Even Mitchell Carson, one of the original heads of security for S.H.I.E.L.D., is proven to be HYDRA in Ant-Man when he steals the Cross Particles – presumably to aid in their goal of creating a perfect soldier, the Yellowjacket. HYDRA’s control of S.H.I.E.L.D. spreads to the top, even reaching two members of the World Security Council and some senators, before it eventually comes to light in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. S.H.I.E.L.D. publicly falls apart because almost all of it’s agents were secretly HYDRA, and they are forced to rebuild in secret.

Quite the broad reach for an ancient death cult. They also are said to have ties with terrorist organization The Ten Rings, run by the Mandarin.

Let’s just back to Nazi Germany again. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. we learn that Red Skull tasked Werner Reinhardt in WWII with uncovering ancient mystical artifacts. These artifacts included a dead Kree alien, forefathers of Inhumans, and several “diviners” – encased Terrigen crystals. He realized some people could touch the diviners and make them glow – while others simply disintegrated. He didn’t know it yet, but he was on the right track to fulfilling HYDRA’s goals. Of course, then Peggy Carter and the Howling Commandos came and spoiled all his fun. Werner grew old in prison until a HYDRA agent freed him years later. He found the young woman who made the diviner glow and…hey, she was still a young woman. He cut her up and harvested her organs and did experiments. He eventually was able to restore his own youth, and started going by Daniel Whitehall.

Meanwhile, the young woman’s husband stitched her back up and swore revenge. These couple were, course, Jiaying and Mr. Hyde, the soon-to-be villainous parents of young Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hero Daisy Johnson (Quake).

When resident S.H.I.E.L.D. villain Raina takes Daisy (then Skye) to an ancient Kree temple and uses the terrigen crystals, it not only kills Agent Antoine Triplett, but it unlocks the Inhuman abilities of Raina and Daisy.

Their transformation, Whitehall’s continued experiments, and Mr. Hyde’s overall sloppiness in enacting revenge eventually led to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s discovery of an Inhuman colony called Afterlife, which starts a S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. Inhuman war, when the Inhumans of Afterlife discover that S.H.I.E.L.D. has the monolith portal. They’re hiding it from HYDRA, of course, but after Captain America: The Winter Soldier, people don’t really see them as different entities. Their war ends up leaking Terrigen into the water supply, and now everyone who could be Inhuman will be Inhuman.

Woops.

Well I’ll be damned if that doesn’t help HYDRA’s goals in building an Inhuman army…like, a lot.

One of the HYDRA World Security Council members, Gideon Malick, also planted HYDRA seeds in NASA and new alien threat task force A.T.C.U., spreading HYDRA’s reach to their upper echelons. NASA, who previously had control of the portal, was tasked with trying to retrieve the Inhuman ruler from the planet on the other side. A.T.C.U., though they didn’t know it, wasn’t merely studying alien specimens – they were creating as many Inhumans as they could.

Congratulations, Mr. Malick, for coming closer to achieving HYDRAs goal than anyone ever has.

So HYDRA is not dead, it’s closer to achieving it’s goal than ever. What’s next?

Gideon wants to go after S.H.I.E.L.D. again, because they were able to retrieve someone (Jemma) from the portal. This destroyed the main monolith in the process, by HYDRA still has small chunks of it (miniliths?). Now that S.H.I.E.L.D. knows HYDRAs game plan, they can try to stop it. The question is, can they stop it in time? I have a feeling we will find out, for better or for worse, by the mid-season finale.

Til then, hail HYDRA!

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Author: Jesse "The Clairvoyant" Rolufs

Film star. Chemical engineer. Dancer. Comedian. I am none of these things. What I am, however, is a huge geek hailing from the frigid wastes of western Canada. I couldn’t even tell you when it started - I’m told the first words out of my mouth were “I swing my +2 DEX war axe and attack the dragon.” My name is Jesse (also known as “The Clairvoyant”) and I am a big nerd when it comes to video games, board games, movies, anime, TV, RPGs - and I am possibly the one of the world leading experts on comic books, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Joss Whedon. You can find me on twitter as @JesseRolufs. Don’t be afraid to check out my informative Joss Whedon-themed podcast @whedoncast, and my hilarious bargain-bin-movie-bashing podcast @BlindBuy!

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