In 1965, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created S.H.I.E.L.D., a secret agency focused on counter-terrorism and espionage. In the Marvel Universe, it tends to focus on superhumans and the threats they cause, as well as monsters and other paranormal events. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s nemesis has always been the terrorist organization Hydra, which is dedicated to controlling the world. Hydra’s come closest to its goal with 2017’s Secret Empire storyline, using a Cosmic Cube to make Captain America a double-agent to take over the United States.
Yet S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been willing to do whatever it takes to achieve its goals, which has often led to some straight-up evil things. Obviously, Secret Empire has raised the bar for Hydra, but S.H.I.E.L.D. has come pretty close to being just as bad. In some ways, S.H.I.E.L.D. is worse, because it’s supposed to be a force for good in the world, and has the full support of world governments. CBR is here to present 15 times that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been just as bad or WAY worse than Hydra.
15. KILL STARK
Tony Stark was a weapons manufacturer until an accident led him to build his Iron Man armor, and stop selling weapons. Stark has worked with S.H.I.E.L.D. for years, designing many of their weapons and vehicles like the Helicarrier, but S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t that loyal. There was the time S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to kill Tony Stark to make him build more weapons.
In 1979’s Iron Man #118 (David Michelinie, John Byrne), S.H.I.E.L.D. sent two agents to try to do a hostile takeover of Stark International to get it to develop weapons again. The agents decided it would be easier to just kill Stark instead, and hired Spymaster to do the job. It was a betrayal that Stark felt deeply, and showed how S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t above attacking its friends.
Taskmaster is one of the most ruthless and deadly villains in the Marvel Universe. First introduced in 1980 in Avengers #195 by David Michelinie and George Pérez, Taskmaster has the ability to perfectly copy the skills of anyone he sees. He’s worked as a mercenary for criminals for decades, but also worked for S.H.I.E.L.D.
S.H.I.E.L.D. gave Taskmaster a full presidential pardon in exchange for testing security on a Helicarrier. He was also a double-agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. while working as Minister of Defense for A.I.M.’s High Council. It’s not the first time S.H.I.E.L.D. has used criminals, but one of the most disturbing. Hydra isn’t above hiring the lowest of the low to achieve its aims, and neither is S.H.I.E.L.D.
13. PROJECT LAZARUS
Another thing that Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. have in common is a love of experimenting on humans in secret. Both organizations have scientists working to improve and change human beings, and we’ll start with S.H.I.E.LD’s Project Lazarus. In The Defenders #126, created by Alan Kupperberg and J.M. DeMatteis, we first met Gargantua.
Edward Cobert was a scientist working on Project Lazarus when he tested his formula on himself. The experiment turned him into a much bigger man with a much smaller mind, one who came to known as Gargantua. S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to contain him, but he escaped and has been the pawn of many villains over the years. His reign of terror all started with S.H.I.E.L.D., and wouldn’t be the last.
12. WEAPON X
Speaking of human experimentation, let’s jump to the Ultimate Marvel universe, and the infamous human-mutant project, Weapon X. In the regular Marvel universe, Weapon X is its own organization dedicated to killing or enslaving mutants, but Weapon X is run by S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Ultimate universe.
In that reality, S.H.I.E.L.D. started Weapon X during the Gulf War, where it was involved in brutal experiments on mutants. In the process, they forced adamantium onto Logan’s skeleton, turning him into Wolverine. Ultimate Weapon X was even more sadistic than the regular one, where the soldiers would use Wolverine for target practice to test his healing factor. After General Thunderbolt Ross took over S.H.I.E.L.D., the Weapon X project was shut down, but it’s still a stain on its history.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. of the Ultimate universe was trying to duplicate Captain America’s Super-Soldier serum, which led to even more horrible experiments. For instance, it hired Norman Osborn to perfect the Super-Soldier drug for S.H.I.E.L.D., creating the drug OZ. An OZ-injected spider bit Peter Parker during a field trip at Oscorp, leading Norman to use OZ on himself. In 2001’s Ultimate Spider-Man #3 (Bill Jemas, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley), the experiment went horribly wrong and Osborn was turned into the grotesque Green Goblin.
S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t learn its lesson, though, because it also hired Bruce Banner to continue the experiments using gamma radiation. The experiment failed, causing Banner to become the Hulk. S.H.I.E.L.D. is directly responsible for creating two of the most dangerous creatures on Earth. That’s Hydra-level evil right there.
When Agent Phil Coulson was killed in Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, fans were shocked by his return on the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Even Coulson wondered how he was brought back to life. He thought he had been sent on vacation to Tahiti, but 2014’s episode “T.A.H.I.T.I.” revealed the horrible truth, after months of speculation.
Tahiti was an acronym for Project T.A.H.I.T.I., a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. progam to use fluids from an alien Kree corpse that could quickly heal, but also drove subjects crazy. Coulson ordered the project shut down, but S.H.I.E.L.D. used it to bring him back to life, and erased his memory of it. Once again, S.H.I.E.L.D. was willing to perform hideous experiments for its own gain, meddling in affairs beyond the ken of mortal men or women to affect change in their reality.
9. FAKE FAMILY
As Project T.A.H.I.T.I. proved, S.H.I.E.L.D. is willing to change people’s memories to suit its purposes, which is really supervillain-level evil. A good example of that came in 1996’s Captain America #1 (Jeph Loeb, Rob Liefeld), where we saw Steve Rogers living a normal life with a wife and kids, but having dreams of being a superhero, Captain America.
When neo-Nazis attacked him, Rogers went home to discover his wife and son were really Life-Model Decoys, lifelike robots to support his false memories to keep him under control. When S.H.I.E.L.D. needed him again, it ripped away his former life and put him back in action. He was devastated, but they didn’t care because they, of course, were getting the ultimate soldier in history. That’s pretty cold, even for a clandestine government agency!
The Life Model Decoys are one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s greatest tools, androids that can be made to look and sound like anyone. S.H.I.E.L.D. uses them to replace key figures, like when they were used as decoys for Hydra agents trying to kill Nick Fury. At times, the LMDs have struck out on their own, to varying degrees of evil.
In 1998’s Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. (Bob Harras, Paul Neary), Fury discovered a conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D. that made him fight back. Fury uncovered that a LMD called a Deltite gained sentience and replaced almost a quarter of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s personnel with LMDs before Fury stopped them. After destroying the Deltite plot, S.H.I.E.L.D. was shut down, but it almost took over the world. That kind of negligence is its own egregious sin.
7. THE TESSERACT
In 2012’s landmark breakout Hollywood hit, Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. once again couldn’t help experimenting with something beyond their understanding and almost destroyed the world. S.H.I.E.L.D. opened a Pandora’s Box when it began working with the Tesseract, which they recovered from Hydra, which was also experimenting on it (instantly making S.H.I.E.L.D. hypocrites). Hydra had turned the power of the Tesseract into weapons for its armies, while S.H.I.E.L.D. thought that was a good idea and started doing the same thing.
Unfortunately, their experiments led to the opening of a wormhole that Loki used to come to Earth, steal the Tesseract, and use it to open a portal to bring the alien Chitauri to Earth. It seemed like S.H.I.E.L.D. was taking lessons from Hydra instead of trying to avoid their mistakes.
6. MUTANT HUNTERS
In 1998, a new series called Mutant X (Howard Mackie, Tom Raney, Andrew Pepoy) was launched with another horrific version of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the series, longtime X-Man Havoc was transported to an alternate reality. In the new universe, Havoc is the leader of a group of mutants called the Six, made up of different versions of the X-Men like Angel and Cyclops. They face a much darker and more brutal form of prejudice against mutants.
In the world of Mutant X, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t a peacekeeping operation. S.H.I.E.L.D. is an anti-mutant terrorist group that stands for Saviors of Humanity by Intervention in the Evolution of Life-form Deviants. They rounded up mutants into prison camps for extermination, tried to unleash a deadly virus and set off a nuke to kill the X-Men.
5. CIVIL WAR
In the 2006 crossover and event miniseries Civil War by Mark Millar, an explosion caused by the New Warriors led the US government to pass a law requiring all superheroes to register themselves, their powers and their secret identities. When some heroes refused to follow the order, they became fugitives, hunted by the registered heroes and the government itself.
When it came time for Captain America to take a stand, he opposed the act right in the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to arrest him, and led the fight to bring in all the rogue heroes. As Stark and the supporters of the registration became more brutal, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and vehicles were there to back them up. S.H.I.E.L.D. became the fascist thugs they were fighting against.
One of the darkest periods of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s history came in Secret Invasion by Brian Michael Bendis, when Earth discovered that the shapeshifting Skrull aliens had secretly replaced Marvel heroes. In 2008, the invasion caused so much chaos within S.H.I.E.L.D. that the President dissolved it, and appointed Norman Osborn to create a new agency called H.A.M.M.E.R.
Osborn started using supervillains as superheroes in the Dark Avengers, and tried to do the same thing with the X-Men. Osborn imposed martial law and was manipulated by Loki into putting Asgard under siege. It was a truly dark time when S.H.I.E.L.D. literally became a tool for supervillains and tried to conquer the world. The name had changed to H.A.M.M.E.R., but it used a lot of the same agents and equipment, so it was still S.H.I.E.L.D.
3. HOUSE OF M
In 2005’s House of M crossover by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel, the Scarlet Witch used her reality-altering powers to change the Marvel Universe. Magneto became a hero, humans became a hated minority and mutants controlled arts, politics and business. Basically, it was the reverse of the natural order where Magneto and his family became royalty.
In the new reality, S.H.I.E.L.D. was a very different organization controlled by Magneto with an elite squad of mutant soldiers called the Red Guard. S.H.I.E.L.D. was a big part of the government that controlled the human population. Once again, in this world, S.H.I.E.L.D. was a ruthless group of soldiers fighting to maintain a fascist order. Very Hydra-like indeed.
2. PLEASANT HILL
For decades, superheroes have debated what to do with the world’s deadliest supervillains. Some heroes like Batman take them to prison or mental institutions to try to contain them. Others like the Punisher just kill their enemies. S.H.I.E.L.D. once tried an entirely new idea that turned out worse than all of them.
As revealed in 2016’s Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1 (Nick Spencer, Mark Bagley), S.H.I.E.L.D. used the power of a Cosmic Cube to change supervillains into mind-mannered citizens of the fictional town of Pleasant Hill. Unfortunately, the plan failed, leading to the prison’s collapse. Besides the ethical horror of using mind control, Pleasant Hill also led the Cube to turn Captain America into a Hydra double agent.
1. IT IS HYDRA
The 2014 movie Captain America: Winter Soldier shocked fans by showing how the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization was actually under the control of Hydra. It wasn’t as big a surprise to comic readers, because 2009’s Secret Warriors introduced that first in the comics.
In 2009’s Secret Warriors #1 (Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Stefano Caselli), Fury discovered the true history of Hydra as a group existing since ancient Egypt. Hydra had created many different organizations, including S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. All the successes Fury had against Hydra had been to hide the truth, which was that S.H.I.E.L.D. was controlled by Hydra all along. S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t just worse than Hydra; it IS Hydra.
What’s the worst thing S.H.I.E.L.D. has done? Let us know in the comments!