When “Captain America: Steve Rogers” #1 debuted, fans across the world were shocked to learn the beloved superhero is actually an undercover agent for the terrorist group Hydra. But while the audience is now aware of Steve Rogers’ nefarious scheme, his friends and teammates remain in the dark regarding his brainwashing at the hands of the sentient cosmic cube Kobik and the mysterious Elisa Sinclair.
Wait - who?
As revealed in the pages of writer Nick Spencer's ongoing saga, Hydra agent Sinclair is the person who brought a young Rogers to the evil organization, enrolling him in a school that reinforced their beliefs and ideals. While Sinclair’s background remained a mystery throughout a series of flashback sequence appearances, we finally discovered her real identity in the present as the new Madame Hydra in “Captain America: Steve Rogers” #12.
Having revealed herself to Taskmaster and Black Ant after the supervillains stumbled across Cap’s double-agent status, Sinclair has since recruited the duo to serve as her personal bodyguards while she assembles a new High Council of Hydra. This group, which came together in the pages of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” #14, includes some familiar faces to fans of the “Secret Warriors” series that ran from 2009 to 2011.
What follows is a rundown of Madame Hydra’s cabinet members, a quote she uses to entice them to join her cause, and what their membership could mean for the summer's "Secret Empire" event.
"I offer you violence."
On their first stop, Sinclair takes Taskmaster and Black Ant to what she calls the “ends of the Earth” in search of Hive, a Hydra-loyal, genetically-engineered parasite. Hive is comprised of a group of individual parasites that combine to form a humanoid body -- with a head in the shape of the Hydra symbol.
The entity, which debuted in 2008's “Secret Warriors” #2, has taken many lifeforms as a host in its day, including a previously deceased Viper who the creature resurrected into a new Madame Hydra. The offer of violence is a tease from Sinclair that she plans to use Hive’s dedication to the Hydra cause as a weapon against her enemies.
“I offer you belonging.”
Ophelia Sarkissian first appeared in “Captain America” #110, the former leader of Hydra operating under the moniker Madame Hydra. In the mood for a change, she switched to the codename Viper, and was once (incorrectly) believed to be the mother of Spider-Woman, Merriem Drew.
“Secret Warriors” saw another version of Madame Hydra -- former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine -- join Viper among Hydra’s restructured leadership team. After Viper is captured by the rival organization Leviathan, Madame Hydra/Contessa de Fontaine shows her true colors by killing her predecessor.
This would not be the end for Viper, however, as she is resurrected by the Hive, and gains long, flowing tentacles from her head. Following Viper’s revival, she adopts the name Madame Hydra again, until her new monstrous look is removed by Norman Osborn’s S.H.I.E.L.D. replacement H.A.M.M.E.R. during “Dark Reign.” The Green Queen was also romantically linked to Wolverine, with the two actually getting married at one point. She was last seen taking out a contract on her former husband in the “Death of Wolverine” miniseries.
In “Captain America: Steve Rogers” #14, Elisa Sinclair finds Viper distributing drugs in her old stomping grounds of Madripoor. Sinclair has decided that Viper has strayed too far from her Hydra roots, and thus offers the chance to rejoin the organization. After how Hydra treated Viper in the past, you couldn’t blame her for staying as far away from the group as possible, but that's not how the villain sees things. Perhaps the former Madame Hydra views Sinclair’s invitation as an opportunity to reclaim her name and position? Whatever the case, Viper is now a part of Steve Rogers' new inner circle.
“I offer you influence.”
Johann Fennhoff, aka Doctor Faustus, is most famously known to modern comic fans as one of the masterminds behind the death of Captain America in 2007, using his mind manipulation powers to force Sharon Carter to deliver the killing shot. He was also a member of a subsidiary Hydra group called the Secret Empire, which coincidentally is the name of the Marvel event this new cabinet will be participating in. Faustus also ports closer than ever ties to Steve Rogers; when Kobik reset reality, Faustus’ father, Sebastian Fenhoff, ran the boarding school Rogers attended as a budding Hydra agent.
When Elisa Sinclair finds Faustus, he is posing as a psychiatrist to a wealthy debutante in order to fleece her fortune. As someone who makes his living off of controling others, Sinclair’s offer of influence will allow Faustus to return to his roots as a master manipulator on a much larger scale.
“I offer you vengeance.”
Tomi Shishido’s loyalties have bounced around between the Hand and Hydra since his appearance in “Wolverine” Vol. 3 #20. Born with the mutant power to turn anyone into stone upon making eye contact, he was killed in a battle against Wolverine; upon seeing his own reflection in the X-Man’s adamantium claws, he turned himself turned to stone and was then shattered. Gorgon would later be resurrected by the Hand at the behest of Hydra, where he served as the Wolverine stand-in for Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers.
Called the “spear in the East” by Elisa Sinclair, the Gorgon is enticed by the chance to inflict vengeance upon those who have wronged him. Whether that vengeance comes against rival Hydra cells, the Hand or an unknown third party remains to be seen.
“I offer you discovery.”
The mad scientist has been a thorn in Captain America’s side since they first clashed with one another in World War II. Zola’s consciousness was able to survive the many decades since, having been transferred to a robotic body. In the first iteration of “Marvel NOW!,” Zola trapped Cap in Dimension Z, where time moves faster than normal. Rogers spent years fighting Zola and his bioengineered army, eventually even convincing the biochemist’s genetically-engineered son Ian to fight evil at his side as the new Nomad.
Just a week before his recruitment here, Zola made a guest-appearance in a back-up story for “Amazing Spider-Man” #25 where he himself recruited Otto Octavius – in a newly cloned body – to join Hydra as the Superior Octopus. When we see Elisa Sinclair makes her own offer to Zola, she conjures an image of a cosmic cube, a powerful artifact the mad scientist has manipulated on many occasions, and thus an item of particular interest to him -- certainly of enough interest for Zola to align himself with the rest of Hydra's new High council... for now, at least.
“I offer you meaning.”
The most interesting of Elisa Sinclair’s recruits is the new Kraken. In “Secret Warriors,” we learned two people previously wore the Kraken helmet and armor: Daniel Whitehall and Nick Fury, Sr.’s brother, Jake Fury. Whitehall was the original Kraken, a puppet master who remained behind the scenes, helping to train and lead some of Hydra’s finest operatives, including Viper. Kraken was involved in the creation of the Hive, and gave a young Gorgon his Godkiller Sword.
After Jake Fury became aware that Whitehall was the Kraken, the younger Fury killed Whitehall and took his place in order to infiltrate Hydra. He would appear again as one of the Hydra officials in Steve Rogers’ remastered history.
There appears to be a new person taking on the role of the Kraken when Sinclair meets him in Scotland. She drops some clues as to his true identity, saying “the man this suit belonged to -- he meant a great deal to me,” along with calling him “family.” Whoever is playing this role is believed to be dead; could it be a resurrected Whitehall, or is it someone else with close ties to Sinclair? Time -- and "Secret Empire" -- will tell.