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HYDRA is a terrorist organization in the Marvel Universe. The organization first appeared in Strange Tales #135. In its original continuity, it was headed by nondescript businessman Arnold Brown, who was killed as S.H.I.E.L.D. apparently crushed the organization. It soon returned, however, headed by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, with the support of the Nazi Red Skull; HYDRA's changing origin was one of the earliest Marvel retcons. After its initial defeat, several of its branches surfaced, appearing to be unrelated and independent. HYDRA's scientific branch was initially A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics), which later split off into its own organization. Other factions included THEM and the Secret Empire.
Despite the name's capitalization per Marvel's official spelling, the name is not an acronym but rather a reference to the mythical Lernaean Hydra. The organization's motto references the myth of the Hydra, proclaiming that if a head is cut off, two more will take its place, proclaiming their resilience and growing strength in the face of resistance. HYDRA agents often wear distinctive green garb featuring a serpent motif.
HYDRA is a criminal organization dedicated to the achievement of global domination through terrorist and subversive activities on various fronts, resulting in a new fascist world order. Its extent of operations is worldwide, always attempting to elude the ongoing counter-espionage operations by S.H.I.E.L.D. HYDRA is funded by Baron Strucker's personal fortune, based on his recovered horde of Nazi treasure from World War II, and funds established by the original leaders of the Japanese secret society that became HYDRA.
The organization is run with behind-the-scenes direction by Baron Strucker, alias Supreme Hydra. Under him is a central ruling committee; under them are individual division chiefs, and under them are the rank and file members and special agents.
In order to become a member of HYDRA, an individual must be a legal adult willing to submit to a thorough investigation of the applicant's personal background and to swear a death-oath of loyalty to HYDRA and its principles.
HYDRA's level of technology is as highly advanced as that of any on Earth, based in part on technology of the alien Gnobians discovered by Baron von Strucker in 1944. HYDRA uses various advanced experimental vehicles and devices in its activities, and various conventional military vehicles, seacraft, aircraft, pistols and standard concussive force blasters, and conventional communications equipment.
HYDRA personnel are issued cowled jumpsuits, which have included a number of designs over the years. Originally, the jumpsuits were green with a yellow H design, and later incorporated a red and brown color scheme, but in time were changed back to green with a serpent motif.
HYDRA's history as presently depicted in Marvel Universe continuity is a long, tumultuous and convoluted one, spanning the decades from the end of the Second World War up to the present day, tied directly to surviving fugitive members of governments of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Shortly upon joining the original HYDRA, Von Strucker seized control of the organization from its Japanese founders, Strucker moved HYDRA's operations to a private island in the Pacific, named Hydra Island. The original HYDRA Island was invaded by the Leatherneck Raiders and the Japanese Samurai Squad, and the base was destroyed. Strucker slowly steered the organization towards the goal of conquering Earth. That campaign brought him into conflict with Charles Xavier and the future Magneto among others, and once HYDRA became more brazenly public in its operations, eventually led to the creation of the original agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. specifically to counter HYDRA's threat to world security. After apparently assassinating S.H.I.E.L.D.'s first executive director, Nick Fury was appointed as executive director. HYDRA agents attempted to assassinate Nick Fury before his appointment as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Director, but failed.
This decision, after several HYDRA campaigns including the failure of the world blackmail attempt using the Betatron Vomb, the creation of the Overkill Horn (designed to detonate all nuclear explosives worldwide), and the bio-engineered "Death-Spore" Bomb, led directly to von Strucker's first death at the hands of Fury and several deceived HYDRA operatives. In the wake of von Strucker's first death, the surviving elements of HYDRA broke into factions that each adopted its own reorganized modus operandi. Several of these factions developed "super-agents" that would occasionally break away in turn to become freelance operatives, or, in some rarer cases, superheroes such as the first Spider-Woman. Von Strucker was eventually revived and reunited several of the HYDRA factions under his leadership to renew his campaign against S.H.I.E.L.D. and humanity for several more years.
Despite his reorganization of the group, various independent HYDRA factions continue to operate around the Marvel Universe, and a HYDRA Civil War would later result. While Baron Helmut Zemo had Strucker placed in stasis for his own ends, Gorgon and Strucker's second wife Elsbeth von Strucker mystically created a clone of Strucker who they set up to fail, allowing for a public execution of him, after which — as part of an alliance with the Hand, they utilized an army of brainwashed superheroes and supervillains, including Northstar and Elektra to launch a massive assault on S.H.I.E.L.D. The assault was ultimately repelled and Wolverine would kill Gorgon. HYDRA's army of brainwashed villains and heroes about to attack the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier Blackhawk.
HYDRA later planned an all out attack on the United States by smuggling missiles into New York for use in a planned bio-weapon assault on the Ogallala Aquifer. They formed a distraction through using a team that had the duplicated powers of several Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America and former Avengers Thor and Hawkeye) but were inevitably foiled by Spider-Man and the other New Avengers.
When Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) was captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. during Civil War, HYDRA stormed the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier and freed her. Spider-Woman, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and member of the Avengers, had been working for HYDRA under the orders of Nick Fury, deposed as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. following the events of Secret War, whom she was still loyal to. HYDRA revealed that they knew of her betrayal and wanted her to replace Viper as their current leader, for she was unstable. Spider-Woman refused their offer, destroying the HYDRA base she had been taken to in an explosion.