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"The desire to become a superhuman cannot be separated from supremacist ideals. Anyone with that serum is inherently on that path."
Helmut Zemo[src]

The Super Soldier Serum is a chemical solution originally created by Abraham Erskine. The serum was formulated to enhance the human body and mind, and was intended to be utilized by the United States Armed Forces during World War II in order to transform Allied soldiers into super soldiers.

Over the decades, it has been recreated by several parties, most with a considerable degree of success. It is notably responsible for the physical enhancement of Johann Schmidt, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, Isaiah Bradley, Alexei Shostakov, Bruce Banner, Emil Blonsky, Karli Morgenthau, and John Walker.

History

Prelude

"Freddy Malick is about to deliver the key ingredient used to create the Super Soldier Serum."
Jemma Simmons[src]

Abraham Erskine began developing the Super Soldier Serum in 1930 while still in Germany.[1] In 1931, Wilfred Malick delivered the key ingredient used to create the serum to HYDRA.[2]

World War II

Johann Schmidt injects himself with the serum

"In WWII, they initiated a subprogram for Bio-Tech Force Enhancement."
"Yeah. Super Soldier."
Thaddeus Ross and Emil Blonsky[src]

In 1940, a prototype version of the serum was tested on Johann Schmidt, turning him into Red Skull in the process.[1] However, the formula wasn't ready for use at the time, and the serum's effects affected Schmidt's personality drastically.[3] Schmidt's transformation didn't go as planned because his Super Soldier Serum lacked radioactive exposure, causing the burning away of the skin and tissue surrounding his skull as well as leaving an unpleasant red scab on his nasal cavity.[4]

Super Soldier Serum is used on Steve Rogers

After Abraham Erskine escaped to the United States of America, he joined the Strategic Scientific Reserve and perfected the serum. As a result, the SSR started Project Rebirth, an initiative to use the serum and transform Allied soldiers into super soldiers. Using Vita Radiation to unlock the serum's potential, Erskine successfully used the serum on the scrawny and sickly Steve Rogers, curing his ailments and increasing his physicality. Unfortunately, Erskine was killed and the last vial of the original serum was destroyed by HYDRA agent Heinz Kruger. Knowing that the only hope to recreate Erskine's formula was locked in Rogers' genetic code, the U.S. government took blood from Rogers, as the last remnants of the serum remained in Rogers' DNA.[3]

Bucky Barnes is given the serum

In October 1943, HYDRA captured numerous U.S. military soldiers and sent them to work at the top-secret weapons facility in the Austrian Alps. When the prisoners were too weak to work, Arnim Zola used them as test subjects in his quest to recreate the serum. Bucky Barnes was injected with the serum and survived, although Zola abandoned his work and fled when Rogers stormed the facility, liberating Barnes.[3][5]

During the first icy months of 1945, Rogers and Barnes led an attack on the HYDRA train that was transporting Zola to another base. During the fight, Barnes fell from the train and fell several hundred feet below. However, due to the serum, Barnes was able to survive the impact, albeit losing his left arm in the process.[5]

Cold War

"A handful of us got shot up with different versions of that serum, but they don't tell us what it is. They tell us it's tetanus. They sent us on missions, even though the others weren't stable. Some of us started dying off."
Isaiah Bradley to Sam Wilson[src]

Following Steve Rogers' performance in World War II, many nations attempted to create their own super soldiers. During the Cold War, the two superpower nations, the Soviet Union[6] and the United States of America attempted to recreate the serum. Having produced several different versions, the United States Armed Forces used African-American soldiers as test subjects, lying to the men that they were being given tetanus shots. With the U.S. now in possession of a troop of super soldiers, the men were sent on combat missions.[7] During the Korean War, one of the soldiers, Isaiah Bradley, was deployed by his superiors to eliminate the super-soldier assassin Winter Soldier, though both super soldiers survived the encounter.[8]

However, out of all of the different serum versions they had created, only one was sufficiently recreated, which had been solely administered to Bradley. The other test subjects, who had received the imperfect variants, found themselves becoming unstable and dying. No longer able to perform their combat duties adequately, they were quickly captured by enemy forces and placed in a POW camp. Realizing that their unethical experiments on African-American men could come to light, the U.S. Armed Forces decided to destroy the POW camp with an air strike to eliminate the super soldiers and hide the evidence. Wishing to save his friends, Bradley single-handedly infiltrated and liberated the camp, freeing his fellow super soldiers and returning them to their base.

As punishment for his actions, Bradley was imprisoned by his government for thirty years. Additionally, the soldiers whom he had saved quickly died, having succumbed to the side effects of the imperfect serum given to them.[7] During his imprisonment, Bradley's blood, which contained traces of the serum, was constantly extracted by various organizations, including HYDRA[8] and the CIA.[9]

During the later years of the the Cold War, the Soviet Union was able to perfectly recreate the serum and administered it to Alexei Shostakov. However, as they were only able to accomplish this feat once, this left Shostakov as the Soviet Union's only super soldier, whom they sent on missions as Red Guardian.[6]

Winter Soldier Program

The Winter Soldiers receive the serum

"More kills than anyone in HYDRA history. And that was before the serum."
"They all turn out like you?"
"Worse."
Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson[src]

By December 1991, Howard Stark managed to recreate the Super Soldier Serum, prompting HYDRA to send Winter Soldier to assassinate Stark and his wife Maria and retrieve the serum. This serum was injected intravenously without Vita Radiation or a Vita-Ray Chamber, and was used by HYDRA to convert their most elite death squad into Winter Soldiers. The serum granted its user more strength than HYDRA's previous version, as one subject, Josef, was shown to overpower and send Winter Soldier flying during a sparring match.

However, this version of the serum had a mental side effect, giving the Winter Soldiers an increase in aggression and making them uncontrollable. They soon turned on HYDRA and thus were incapacitated and placed in cryostasis.[10] Deeming Stark's serum to be a failure, HYDRA recruited Dr. Wilfred Nagel to recreate the serum from the blood of Isaiah Bradley in order to create more stable Winter Soldiers. Before Nagel could finish his work, HYDRA had been disbanded.[9]

Bio-Tech Force Enhancement

Bruce Banner's Version

Bruce Banner experiments on himself

"Dr. Banner was trying to replicate the serum that was used on me?"
"A lot of people were. You were the world's first superhero. Banner thought gamma radiation might hold the key to unlocking Erskine's original formula."
Steve Rogers and Phil Coulson[src]

Two days after the September 11 attacks, General Thaddeus Ross was commissioned to recreate the serum in order to create new super soldiers for the United States Armed Forces. In order to recreate the serum, Doctor Bruce Banner, a renowned scientist specializing in the fields of biochemistry, nuclear physics and gamma radiation was recruited into the project. However, General Ross chose not to divulge the serum's true properties to Banner, instead informing him that the serum he was tasked to recreate had been designed to prevent radiation poisoning.[11]

Banner chose to substitute the original serum's vita radiation with gamma radiation, believing it held the secret of unlocking the original serum's formula.[12] Unaware that it was a recreated Super Soldier Serum, Banner injected himself with it and was doused with an overabundance of gamma radiation, causing Banner to transform into a large, green-skinned being that soon became known as the "Hulk".[11]

Recreated Variant

Emil Blonsky injected with the serum

"One serum we developed was very promising."
Thaddeus Ross to Emil Blonsky[src]

However, a variant of the serum had been recreated and was given to Emil Blonsky through multiple deep tissue and bone marrow injections, transforming Blonsky into a super soldier. However, this version of the serum had several side effects, including both physical and mental deterioration, such as a protruded spine and aggression. After Blonsky was given a transfusion of Hulk's blood, it mixed with the serum in his system and mutated him into the "Abomination".[11]

Centipede Project

"This goo, sir. Very similar to the serum Dr. Erskine developed in the '40s for the–"
"Super soldiers."
Jemma Simmons and Phil Coulson[src]

By 2013, HYDRA had access to an imperfect variant of the Super Soldier Serum, which they combined with Extremis, Gamma Radiation and Chitauri technology to create the Centipede Serum.[13]

Mass Recreation

Wilfred Nagel's Work

"They had blood samples from an American test subject with semi-stable traces of serum in his system. After much labor, I was able to isolate the necessary compounds in his blood. I was a god. I did what no other scientist since Erskine was able to do. But mine was going to be different."
Wilfred Nagel to Sam Wilson[src]

Following HYDRA's disbandment, Dr. Wilfred Nagel was recruited by the CIA, who wished for him to recreate the serum. Nagel was able to make significant strides in his endeavors, as the CIA possessed samples of Isaiah Bradley's blood. By 2018, Nagel managed to isolate the trace elements of serum in Bradley's blood to recreate the original serum, but modified it so that its users did not undergo any physical changes, along with being able to self-inject the serum without the need for a machine such as the Vita-Ray Chamber used during Project Rebirth.

However, before he could synthesize his work, Nagel was turned to dust as a result of Thanos' Snap. Five years later, he was restored to life in the Blip, only to find out that the CIA had terminated their super soldier program. Nagel then fled to Madripoor, where the Power Broker provided him with the resources to synthesize the serum.[9]

Stolen by Flag Smasher

Karli Morgenthau holds a serum vial

By 2024, Wilfred Nagel had successfully created twenty vials, although they were stolen by Karli Morgenthau, who used the serum on herself and gave seven other vials to certain members of the Flag Smashers.[9]

The serums are destroyed by Helmut Zemo

Morgenthau hid the remaining twelve vials of the serum with the intention to create more super soldiers. However, while trying to flee from John Walker, Morgenthau was ambushed by Helmut Zemo, who destroyed eleven vials before being knocked out by Walker. As Morgenthau fled, Walker found the sole remaining vial and later injected himself with it, becoming a super soldier.[14]

Alternate Universe Versions

Used by Peggy Carter

"Every last drop of that Dr. Erskine serum went into you."
John Flynn to Peggy Carter[src]

To be added

Capabilities

Project Rebirth

"The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great, bad becomes worse."
Abraham Erskine to Steve Rogers[src]

The serum's general effect is to enhance and perfect the recipient physiology as well as emphasizing key personality traits, which can be a liability if the recipient has negative psychological traits.

After a series of microinjections into the subject's major muscle groups, it causes immediate cellular change and increases cell division and cell density through synthetic proteins complex, enhance the subject's metabolic processes at a rate four times that of an average person, and augment the effects of the dopamine, testosterone, adrenaline, various other endorphins and hormones, to further amplify physical and mental performances, healing abilities in addition to a greater resistance to toxins and pathogens. Effectively granting an enhanced and perfected physiology with superhuman physical abilities and enhanced mental processes.

Abraham Erskine's original serum worked more effectively when the recipient's body was saturated with Vita radiation, as it stimulated growth and accelerated the changes toward the body's final enhanced condition within a minute, although not without pain. Gamma radiation works similarly but the results are apparently significantly higher, as substituting vita radiation with gamma radiation when testing his own version of the serum on himself caused Bruce Banner to become Hulk.

Subsequent versions of the serum made slight adjustment and improvement in its effectiveness, storage requirement and administration. Not much is known about Arnim Zola's version given to Bucky Barnes but it did not seem to enhance his personality traits, it only augmented his physicality and made him more durable than most of the other super-soldiers. The version used on Emil Blonsky required cold storage, was preliminarily irradiated with Vita-rays and granted a regenerative healing factor, allowing Blonsky to completely recover and heal his entire broken skeleton within a matter of hours, while Steve Rogers on the other hand took at least a day or more to heal from small ballistic wounds.

Howard Stark's version did not need Vita-rays and made their recipients physically more powerful than Zola's serum, as Josef was able to overpower Barnes during a sparring match. These Winter Soldiers suffered mental side effects, as they were shown to be extremely violent and unruly, killing many HYDRA soldiers and the scientists that handled them. Unable to be controlled, they were placed in suspended animation until they were found and killed by Helmut Zemo.

Wilfred Nagel's version is the most advanced to date and as been perfected to the point of being reduced to a single-dose 10ml vial, no longer require cold storage or appliances such as Vita-Ray Chamber and thus can be self-administered. It grants enhanced physiology without physical change hinting at a more optimized cell density augmentation. Both his and Howard Stark's version of the serum cause excruciating pain in their recipients.

Users

  • Johann Schmidt was the first user of the serum, a prototype version that had yet to be perfected. According to Abraham Erskine, neither he nor the serum was ready, and while Schmidt gained enhanced abilities, the skin of his face had burned off.
  • Steve Rogers was the first and only recipient of Erskine's perfected serum, granting him superhuman abilities, curing all his medical ailments, and significantly increasing his height and physicality.
  • Bucky Barnes was a second successful attempt at a super soldier, injected with serum similar to Rogers' while he was a prisoner of HYDRA in 1943. The serum enabled him to survive the fall from the HYDRA train in 1945, but was not potent enough to prevent the loss of his left arm.
  • Isaiah Bradley was a third successful attempt at a super soldier, injected with a recreated serum in the 1950s and deployed by the United States Armed Forces during the Korean War.
  • Alexei Shostakov was a fourth successful attempt at a super soldier, and the Soviet Union's first and only super soldier. He was deployed by the Soviet Armed Forces during the Cold War.
  • Josef and four other Winter Soldiers were converted into super soldiers in 1991 using a serum developed by Howard Stark. Despite being created to share the role and title of the Winter Soldier and being shown to be strong enough to relatively quickly overpower the original, despite his metal arm, they were not as versatile or useful as Barnes, who was the first and true Winter Soldier. This was due to this serum's mental side effects, including increased aggression. Because of this, HYDRA continued to use only Barnes as their assassin while cryogenically freezing the rest.
  • Bruce Banner attempted to recreate Erskine's original serum but replaced the original formula's Vita Radiation with Gamma Radiation before administering it on himself. The different radiation prompted him to turn him into an aggressive muscular, giant humanoid version of himself with green skin. Banner reverted to his original state but would transform again in the future whenever his heart rate passed 200 BPM or he became extremely angry and lost emotional control. This is due to the gamma in his body being stored in his cells and being reactivated due to emotional or physical stress. Banner had a limited ability to control his transformations by remaining angry at all times without releasing his anger to keep him from transforming. When he is transformed in this controlled manner, Hulk is not mindless, as he would be if Banner did not willingly transform. However, over time, Hulk gained more and more of its own mind, to the point where he could take control of the transformation process and keep himself from reverting back into Banner, as well as keeping Banner from transforming into him. Later, Banner spent 18 months in the gamma lab in order to permanently transform himself into the Hulk and maintain complete control over his transformed state.
  • Emil Blonsky had a variant of the serum injected into his spine's bone marrow and deep muscle systems, which enhanced him physically to superhuman levels. His regenerative abilities, compared to the other super-soldiers, were more advanced, to the point where he could completely regenerate from all his bones being broken or shattered all within a matter of hours. However, this serum had delayed side effects, which soon manifested as physical deformations, such as a protruding skeletal structure, as well as mental side effects, including increased aggression. After Blonsky was injected with Banner's gamma-irradiated blood, the serum kicked into overdrive, transforming Blonsky into a Hulk-sized version of himself with an external bone structure. Unlike Banner, however, Blonsky retained full control over his transformed state.
  • Karli Morgenthau, Dovich, Gigi, DeeDee, Lennox, Diego, Nico and Matias are members of the Flag Smashers who injected themselves with Wilfred Nagel's recreated version of the serum.
  • John Walker injected himself with the last remaining vial of Nagel's serum shortly after being given the mantle of Captain America. As the serum enhances one's inner traits, it exacerbated Walker's mental instability, causing him to become significantly more violent and cruel.

Alternate Universes

Appearances

Appearances for Super Soldier Serum

In chronological order:

Trivia

References

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