The Super Soldier Serum is a chemical solution originally developed by German scientist Abraham Erskine. The serum was formulated to enhance the human body and mind, and was utilized by the United States Armed Forces during World War II in order to create the world's most advanced soldiers. Over the decades, it has been semi-reproduced by several parties, most with a considerable degree of success. Ever since its creation, new pathways into the world of genetic research were unveiled for talented minds to explore. This led to a rise in wondrous scientific achievements in recent years, which has also resulted in a significant increase in enhanced individuals. It is notably responsible for the superhuman abilities of Johann Schmidt, Steve Rogers, James Barnes, Bruce Banner, and Emil Blonsky, as well as other individuals converted into super soldiers by a joint Soviet-HYDRA operation.
World War II
- "You picked a most inopportune time to become a failure, Herr Erskine. But I knew you would fail. All I would have to do is bide my time. And an opportunity for me to provide a technological solution to the übermensch soldier program would present itself."
"My serum did not fail. It did...exactly what I designed it to do. It enhances...what is already within. It is Herr Schmidt...who has failed...at being human."
- ―Arnim Zola and Abraham Erskine
Erskine began developing his serum in 1930 while still in Germany. In 1940, the formula was tested on the SS general Johann Schmidt, turning him into Red Skull in the process. Erskine would later describe to Steve Rogers on how the formula wasn't ready for use at the time, and how the serum's personality-amplifying effects made Schmidt into the evil man he became.
After Erskine escaped to America, he joined the Strategic Scientific Reserve. There he took part in Project Rebirth, a project to create a Super Soldier for the Allied forces. Using Vita Radiation to unlock the serum's potential, Erskine successfully used the serum on Steve Rogers, who became the hero Captain America. Unfortunately, the scientist was killed and the last vial of the original serum was destroyed by HYDRA spy Heinz Kruger, with the last remnants of the serum remaining in Rogers' DNA.
In October 1943, Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes of the U.S. Army was captured by HYDRA and sent to work at the top secret weapons facility in the Austrian Alps. When he was too weak to work, Dr. Zola used him as a subject for his experiments with his own version of the Super Soldier Serum. Barnes was injected with the serum shortly before the prisoners were liberated by Captain America a month later.
During the first icy months of 1945, Captain America and Sergeant Barnes led an attack on the HYDRA train that was transporting Dr. Zola to another base. During the fight, Barnes fell from the train, falling into an icy river below, whose cold waters no ordinary man could survive. However, thanks to the serum's effect on his body, Barnes was able to survive, though at the cost of his left arm.
In December of 1991, HYDRA operatives learned that Howard Stark had recreated the serum and dispatched Barnes, who had been turned into the Winter Soldier, to retrieve it. Upon the Assassination of Howard and Maria Stark, Barnes retrieved the case containing five I.V. bags of the serum, which HYDRA used to create a team of superhuman assassins. This serum caused an excruciating transformation without the need of Vita Rays, which afterward left the subject physically more superhumanly powerful than even the original Winter Soldier, as one subject was shown to overpower and send the latter flying during a sparring match. Not even with his metal arm could Barnes defeat the new Winter Soldiers. However, these soldiers were not as easily controlled at first, due to the side effect of the Super Soldier Serum, giving them an increase in aggression. Once one of the subjects succumbed to the enhanced aggression, soon all of the Winter Soldiers, aside from Bucky Barnes, where shown to suddenly turn on HYDRA Soldiers that handled them in one instance. However, they were soon brainwashed like Barnes and placed in suspended animation.
- "Let me emphasize that what I'm about to share with you is tremendously sensitive, both to me personally and the Army. You're aware that we've got an Infantry Weapons Development program. Well, in WW2, they initiated a subprogram for Bio-Tech Force Enhancement."
- ―Thaddeus Ross and Emil Blonsky
In 2001, General Thaddeus Ross of the United States Armed Forces revived the Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project, a secret project set-up after the relative failure of Project Rebirth. A failed attempt to reproduce the serum with added bouts of Gamma Radiation led to the accident that turned Bruce Banner into Hulk. Banner was later forced to flee from Ross, who employed the British soldier Emil Blonsky to track him down. General Ross, eager to sustain Blonsky's will to fight, gave him an injection of a similar serum, which gave him abilities similar to those of Captain America. Later combination with the altered serum in Banner's blood turned Blonsky into the Abomination.
As of 2013, scientists recreated a very similar version of the serum as one of the components of the Centipede Serum, designed to give a person superhuman abilities. This serum was mixed with the Extremis virus, Gamma Radiation and technology from the Chitauri for injection.
- "The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great; bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because the strong man who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows... compassion."
- ―Abraham Erskine to Steve Rogers
The raw serum's general properties seemed to be enhanced and perfected physiology and mentality, as well as emphasizing the user's key personality traits. Johann Schmidt's evil meant that the serum ripped the flesh from his skull, while Steve Rogers' bravery enhanced his body beyond the peak of human potential. Emil Blonsky's advanced strength and rapid healing factor were part of his love of fighting. Other factors of this are due to the dosage of the serum given to individuals other than Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes were either imperfect or incomplete. The version of the serum given to Barnes, however, did not seem to enhance any of his personality traits and only made him physically super-human.
When saturated with Vita Radiation, the serum worked more successfully by stimulating growth in the body. Gamma Radiation was believed by Bruce Banner to work similarly, but instead corrupted the serum's effects, making it unstable, and turned him into the raging monster known as Hulk. However, newer versions of the serum, such as the one used on Blonsky, did not need the radiation for changes to happen, although they happened more gradually.
The normal effects of the serum is an increase the molecular density of cellular fibers (skin and muscle) through synthetic proteins. This means that the serum can naturally enhance the proteins inside the subject, as well as their effects, effectively granting the subject enhanced physical abilities.
It also naturally enhances metabolic, cellular, and chemical processes in the body, which can enhance recovery and healing abilities, as well as building up greater resistance to fatigue and exhaustion. These can also allow a subject to fully recover without drugs, medicines, or other medical or therapeutic treatments. In addition, the serum may also affect the subjects dopamine, testosterone, adrenaline, various other endorphins and hormones, enhancing the effects of such chemicals to further amplify the subjects physical and even mental performance.
However, Blonsky's healing and regeneration capabilities appear to be far more accelerated compared to other super soldiers, as he could completely heal and recover from every bone in his body being destroyed and being left crippled into a near death like state, within a few hours. Captain America on the other hand, took at least a day or more to heal from small ballistic wounds. Blonsky's accelerated healing & regeneration is due to him having a different version of the serum infused into him.
Another example would be that the Winter Soldier's variant makes him much more durable than most of the other Super-Soldiers, enough to survive a fall from the Swiss Alps.
The serum used in the Winter Soldier Program that was procured from Howard Stark by Winter Soldier, who murdered the latter and his wife, caused an excruciating transformation without the need of Vita Rays, much like the serum used on Emil Blonsky, which afterward left the subject physically more powerful than even the original Winter Soldier, as one subject was shown to overpower and send the latter flying during a sparring match. Not even with his metal arm could Barnes defeat the new super human. However, these soldiers were not as easily controlled at first, as they were shown to suddenly turn on HYDRA Soldiers that handled them in one instance. However, they were eventually placed in suspended animation until they were found and killed by Helmut Zemo.
- Johann Schmidt/Red Skull took the prototype serum, an as a result, affected Schmidt's physical appearance to that of a red, skull like face. Schmidt had desired to become the superior man, something only the serum could offer, but was denied the right to do so by Erskine. This is what brought him in personal conflict with Rogers, as Rogers is the superior man while Schmidt is not. It is believed that his personality affected his appearance, acting on his wish of being more than ordinary but also reflecting his inner evil.
- Steve Rogers/Captain America was the only successful attempt. Erskine needed to find a morally and ethically good man to be the perfect subject in order to prevent them from becoming mentally unstable and corrupted. He found Steve Rogers was a man with unquestionable moral value, someone who could not only handle the responsibility of being the world's first super soldier, but someone who could become the soldier the world desperately needed.
- James Buchanan Barnes/Winter Soldier 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 and the loss of his left arm. Afterward, due to further HYDRA experimentation, he developed abilities which rivaled Captain America's. However, due to being infused with a different serum than Erskine's original formula, he did not develop any changes to his mind or personality other than the brainwashing performed on him by HYDRA, which made him slightly unstable and placed his ability to remember his past and identity in a state of constant fluctuation due to him being repeatedly wiped of his memory.
- Five other Winter Soldiers were converted into super soldiers 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 James Barnes, who was the first and true Winter Soldier. This was due to this variant of the Super Soldier Serum's side effect of increased aggression. In one instance, they even attacked HYDRA soldiers that handled them. Because of this, HYDRA continued to use only Barnes as their assassin while cryogenically freezing the rest until they were needed.
- Bruce Banner/Hulk was given a similar serum, but was exposed to Gamma Radiation instead of Vita Radiation. The combination turned 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 became too high or he became extremely angry and lost emotional control. This is due to the gamma in his body being stored in his brain and being reactivated due to emotional or physical stress. Banner has 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, the Hulk is not mindless, as he would be if Banner did not willingly transform. However, overtime, the 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. Eventually, Banner spent eighteen months in a Gamma Lab to permanently fuse the Hulk's extraordinary powers and Banner's personality and intelligence into a single being.
- Emil Blonsky/Abomination had 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 without treatment, therapy or lingering side effects, all within a matter of hours. After taking longer to materialize, Blonsky's had formed extra physical manifestations, such as a protruding skeletal structure. He took more doses of it, which caused him to go from arrogant to sociopathic, as it caused his sanity to deteriorate. Due to the replacement of the Vita Radiation with the Gamma Radiation in Banner's blood, the serum kicked into overdrive, transforming Blonsky into a Hulk-sized version of himself with a green tinge, with the external bone structure being a reflection of the tough monstrous fighter that he shows himself to be. Unlike the Hulk, however, he was intelligent enough to be able to speak and think as a human, though his mind was still corrupted.
- Stark Industries created the injection tube that administered the super soldier serum into Steve Rogers.
- The version of the formula given to Emil Blonsky is labeled as having been created by a "Dr Reinstein." In the comics, "Reinstein" was an alias used by two doctors: Erskine and his successor who attempted to recreate the formula after Erskine's assassination. The latter's efforts used African-American soldiers as expendable guinea pigs and none survived, except Isaiah Bradley in the main 616 comics and Nick Fury in the Ultimate comics.