This shouldn't come as a surprise, but Hydra's evil. Real evil. We're talking "plot to blow up the world and side with the Nazis" evil. At best, the green and yellow fascist terrorists are really good at synchronized hand motions and deltoid workouts, but still entirely evil. That's at best. Even within Hydra's ranks there are degrees of evil. For example, Hydra Bob - Deadpool's occasional sidekick/whipping boy/friend(?) - feels largely harmless and incompetent. A cog in a horrible machine just trying to make a living. So while Hydra Bob is, by transitive evil property, still entirely evil, he pales in comparison to the real dedicated monsters of Hydra membership throughout Marvel continuity.
Below, you'll find the leaders and members of Hydra who have displayed the most unquestionably evil nature throughout history. Within the altered worldview of Hydra training camps (Or classrooms in "Secret Empire") this list would likely just be titled "Hydra's greatest leaders." Of course, we have not yet been brainwashed by Hydra, and know better. Here are the 15 most evil Marvel characters to ever utter "Hail Hydra!"
15 BARON ZEMO
As a general rule of thumb, if you founded a team and named yourselves "The Masters of Evil," you probably belong on a list documenting evil. Alongside his Nazi father, Baron Heinrich Zemo, there's no question that Helmut Zemo has established his arch-villain bonafides. In addition to countless fights against Captain America, Baron Zemo can also boast about one of the biggest Avengers defeats ever when he and a new Masters of Evil took over Avengers Mansion during "Under Siege." In recent years, Zemo has more clearly tied himself to Hydra, seeking to launch a new era of Hydra during the time Sam Wilson began as Marvel's All-New Captain America.
Having established that, Baron Zemo has demonstrated occasional heroism and good deeds during his time with the Thunderbolts as Citizen V, and when he traveled back in time and prevented an Anti-Semitic execution during the "Born Better" miniseries. Sure, Zemo was largely using his Thunderbolts life-saving as cover for potential world domination, but even through his morally dubious means, Zemo can't escape that he has actually done some good in the Marvel Universe. So, while Zemo's most definitely an evil member of Hydra, his nobility and seemingly malleable ethics (in the vein of Magneto or Doctor Doom) keep him from the top of our list.
14 GRANT WARD
For approximately 75% of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." season one, Agent Grant Ward was simply boring. You could make a case he was so boring that it bordered on evil (cruel and unusual self-inflicted punishment perhaps), but realistically the goody toe-shoes super spy was a milquetoast version of a character we'd seen a million times before. Of course he's a good fighter, of course he's setting up for a romance with the show's female lead, of course his hair gel never sways, yadda, yadda, Hydra!
That's right, in the post "Captain America: Winter Soldier" back-nine episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season one, suddenly it was revealed that Grant Ward was a double agent secretly working for Hydra. The character - played with wonderful heel-turn swagger by Brett Dalton - instantly became one of the most interesting and downright evil on the show. Time and time again, Ward has had the opportunity to let his good nature win out, and every single time he's shown that the real Grant Ward is a full-on Hydra villain, even going so far as to shoot Agents Fitz and Simmons to the bottom of the ocean in a (presumed) watery grave.
13 MADAME HYDRA
Say what you will about Hydra, but for a fascist regime built on prejudice and genocide, they are surprisingly open to equal opportunities for women in the organization. Presumably, Hydra's actual women's rights history is atrocious, but going back as far as their debut in 1965's Strange Tales, in which Agent H is named the Hydra Circle of Assassin's first ever female agent, Hydra has had a place for female leaders.
Of course, the most notorious leader is Madame Hydra, a position that has been occupied by a number of Marvel characters, most memorably to the green-haired Viper. Madame Hydra's murderous impulses were so egregious that she killed the snake-themed Viper simply so there wouldn't be any confusion with two villains sharing the same supervillain alias. Even more appalling, Madame Hydra was once in a relationship with the Red Skull (gross) and it was actually the Skull who ended the relationship due to Viper's chaotic killing sprees. If the Red Skull is the one saying "That's too intense," you've earned your keep as one of Hydra's most evil.
Tomi Shishido, a.k.a. the Gorgon, is one of the more intimidating mutants in the Marvel Universe, with a speed and ferocity that takes even Wolverine by complete surprise. The Gorgon so quickly becomes a villain to reckon with in the "Enemy of the State" storyline, that we barely noticed he's doubling up with the Inhumans Royal stomper on naming rights. In his introduction, The Gorgon is most associated with a death cult called "Dawn of the White Light" and the Hand, but during his inevitable resurrection in Secret Warriors, The Gorgon is all too willing to join the ranks of Hydra's high council.
The Gorgon is a dark and terrifying personality, murdering his own family and best friend at the age of 18 simply to gain favor with The Hand. After stabbing Wolverine through the heart and capturing Wolverine in "Enemy of the State," the villain callously tells Wolverine the boy Wolvy intended to save from kidnapping had been fed to their pigs. Evil only begins to describe The Gorgon!
11 ARNIM ZOLA
Arnim Zola is unquestionably one of the creepier Jack Kirby creations. The mad scientist (well, bio-engineer) of the comics likes to create and hatch his very own mutates and ooze-monsters, surrounding himself with all sorts of Dr. Moreau style hybrids. Due to his obsession with eternal life, Zola's also virtually unkillable, constantly transferring his consciousness from one outdated Commodore 64 screen to the next. The only redeemable quality we see in the good Doctor is that he doesn't seem particularly fixated on collecting likeness royalties from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Krang.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Zola is no less diabolical, working with the Red Skull and the Nazis to tap into the power of the cosmic cube during World War II, and even more sinisterly working as a mole within S.H.I.E.L.D. to set the stage for Project Insight in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Perhaps the most frightening aspect to the monstrous doctor is that even after Captain America and Black Widow blew up his apparent final resting place in the Winter Soldier, there's a great chance his consciousness is still out there somewhere plotting.
Hive might actually be the scariest of the Hydra high council, with mysterious alien origins and a terrifying ability to launch slimy mind-controlling goop out onto to anyone opposing his mission. Although in the comics, Hive is the result of Hydra experimentation, Agents of S.H.I.EL.D. fans will also recognize the villain as the season three Inhuman alien who possessed the body of Grant Ward and caused immeasurable destruction.
Hive's truly monstrous appearance frees him from common morality, and his ability to control minds makes him a modernized version of invasion of the body snatchers. This frightening power set and nihilistic worldview was used to excellent effect in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with Hive inhabiting the strange alien planet and functioning as a sort of boogie man for Agent Simmons during her unexpected journey off-world.
9 OTTO VERMIS
The first clue that Otto Vermis is evil is that he's a Count, which in the Marvel Universe locks you into either villainy or vampirism (and in the case of Count Dracula, both). The second major clue is that he's named Otto, and by our superhero comics tally, that name only ever applies to the likes of villainous Otto Octavius (a.k.a. Doctor Octopus) or Dr. Otto Netz (a.k.a. Batman's Dr. Dedalus). Apart from that, you'd be forgiven for not recognizing good old Otto Vermis.
Vermis, who has gone by the title of Supreme Hydra (presumably this title was self-appointed), is most well known for essentially murdering Jessica Drew's parents and manipulating the future Spider-Woman into thinking Hydra indoctrination was the best thing for a girl with her powers. After years of brainwashing Jessica into thinking Hydra was the good resistance trying to save the world, Vermis assigned Spider-Woman (at the time codenamed Arachne) to assassinate Nick Fury. As we find out during "Spider-Woman: Origins," it's during this assassination plot that Jessica Drew recognizes the depths of Vermis manipulation and the true depravity of Hydra.
Aside from this. Vermis gets extra evil points for being the Hydra agent responsible for the secret "death" of Dum Dum Dugan during Original Sins #5!
8 THE ORIGINAL HEAD OF HYDRA (ARNOLD BROWN)
In Hydra's very first incarnation, from Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in Strange Tales #135 to #141, the organization resembles more of a non-affiliated super-spy agency hellbent on (say it with us now) total world domination. Truth be told, the first Hydra story has more to do with James Bond karate chopping nameless henchmen in Dr. No than it does with the Nazi-led group to come.
While this might seem like a notch in the win category, even without known Nazi ties, Hydra's goal at this stage is still holding the world hostage with an orbiting Betatron bomb. Hydra's first leader is mild-mannered secretary Arnold Brown, who puts on padded robes and "built-up shoes" (perhaps Lee & Kirby were too nervous to write "high heels") in his off-time as the Imperial Hydra. Aside from debuting Hydra as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s longtime nemesis, Brown also completely abandons his pet panther and comes within seconds of assuring his own daughter's death before his ironic demise at the hands of personal bodyguards who don't recognize him without his Hydra robes.
7 KRAKEN (DANIEL WHITEHALL)
The Kraken is a near mythological figure in Hydra lore, working in the shadows of history to set the stage for inevitable Hydra ascendance and domination. Kraken has had such an influence on Hydra through the years that he trained Viper (at the time mere orphan Ophelia Sarkissian) into the ruthless assassin that would go on to become Madame Hydra. Likewise, Kraken came to the Gorgon after he had murdered his own family and friends and handed him the fabled "Godkiller" blade in the name of "destiny." Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. have always played a game of "wheels within wheels," but it's Kraken who is frequently spinning those great wheels.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. viewers will also recognize a version of Kraken, aka Daniel Whitehall, performed by actor Reed Diamond. Despite his absurdly cool real-life actor name, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Kraken lacked the glorious Kirby-esque helmet of Secret Warriors, and instead dressed about as Nazi as possible at all times. Whether it's the scheming Kraken of the comics, or the stone-cold Nazi torturer of Marvel TV, there's no denying the Kraken's prowess as a villain.
6 ALEXANDER PIERCE (MCU)
The Alexander Pierce of Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are quite different, so it's worth noting here that only Robert Redford's version from Captain America: The Winter Soldier has earned his keep as one of Hydra's most evil members. As you may recall from the 2014 film directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Redford's Pierce is a World Security Council leader and undercover Hydra agent. Pierce oversees Project Insight and Hydra's master plan to manipulate trust in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s military might to take control of the planet.
Maybe it's years of falling prey to Redford's impossible charm, but it's easy to overlook how devious Project Insight actually was. The Hydra plot utilized an algorithm by Arnim Zola to identify top intellectual and physical threats to Hydra throughout the world (including Dr. Stephen Strange!), and to systemically assassinate them to make way for the Hydra regime. So in addition to torturing Bucky through the winter Soldier program, and murdering his housemaid in cold blood, Pierce was also plotting mass murder on an unfathomable scale.
5 THE STRUCKER TWINS
To be fair, Andreas von Strucker and Andrea von Strucker, a.k.a. the Strucker Twins, a.k.a. Fenris, were doomed from the start. The evil mutant twins were experimented on in the womb by Arnim Zola and bio-engineered to be super-powered. The twins were then born to sinister Nazi leader Baron Von Strucker, for the most inevitable "Most likely to be horrible Nazis" origin in Marvel history. Hydra had their claws in the Strucker twins in terms of both nature and nurture, and that's a tough destiny to overcome.
Fenris has done absolutely nothing to overcome those awful beginnings, though, and if anything, revel in being the absolute worst second-generation Nazis imaginable. The Struckers are racist white supremacists with literally no redeeming qualities. When we first meet the duo in a Chris Claremont issue of Uncanny X-Men, Storm prevents Andreas from assaulting a native African, so Andreas responds by shooting her and leaving her to die in the African wild. There are a lot of spoiled evil children in comics, but none more loathsome or black-hearted than the Strucker twins.
While technically Wolverine was married to Viper (Madame Hydra at the time) for a brief spell, calling Wolverine a member of Hydra is generally a stretch. Nonetheless, during Mark Millar and John Romita Jr's "Enemy of the State" storyline, Hydra, the Hand, and The Gorgon's Dawn of the White Light partner to capture and brainwash Wolverine in order to use him for their nefarious purposes.
As you might expect, it turns out a mindwiped Wolverine following Hydra commands is one of the most dangerous threats the Marvel Universe has ever faced. As a Hydra sleeper agent, Wolverine infiltrates the Baxter Building and steals Reed Richards weapons designs for the gain of Hydra (despite Susan Richards giving Wolverine an absolute run for his money). Later, Wolverine is forced to attack his X-Men teammates at the X-Mansion, and even kills S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and fellow X-Men Northstar before finally being subdued and getting his mind back. Since Wolverine was clearly not in control of his actions, he doesn't come up as the most evil member of Hydra ever, but for 12 issues the ol' canucklehead showed he was certainly one of the most fearsome.
3 BARON VON STRUCKER
If you're wondering when Hydra's clear ties to the Nazi cause began, look no further than Jim Steranko's reveal that Baron Von Strucker is the true mastermind behind the secret organization in Strange Tales #151. Strucker was a Howling Commandos foe during World War II, leading the Nazi Blitzkrieg Squad in the war effort against the allies. In fact, Strucker is such a dedicated Nazi that he joined the party in 1933 at the very beginning of Hitler's rise to power, and would have manipulated England's royal family into aligning to Nazi causes if it wasn't for those meddling kids in Excalibur.
In addition to clearly evil affiliations, the depths of Strucker's diabolical planning are astounding. In 2008's Secret Warriors, by Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, and Stefano Caselli, Nick Fury uncovers the startling reality that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been controlled by Hydra for years. When Strucker finds out that Fury finally knows, he gloats "Oh Nicholas, we've been dancing for years, and you finally hear the music." This reveals that Strucker has been taking his lumps from Fury for decades, while in reality knowing it was all a ruse for Hydra to gain vast quantities of intel from Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. Strucker's patience and commitment to Hydra's world domination are off the charts.
2 HYDRA CAP
It's a shocking and horrifying state of affairs for the Marvel Universe that 2016 and 2017 Captain America comics have earned Hydra Cap, a.k.a. (probably) Steve Rogers, a place on the list of evil Hydra members.
We're still in the midst of Cap's Secret Empire, but no matter the ending, there's no undoing the cruel villainy of Hydra Cap (aside from, you know, the Cosmic Cube rewriting reality yet again to pretend this never happened). Hydra Cap's crimes are nearly too numerous to count, but low-lights include bombing Las Vegas and killing thousands of innocents, hunting and committing Inhumans to Hydra concentration camps, and locking Captain Marvel and some of Earth's mightiest heroes in space behind a planetary defense shield, where they face unending waves of Chitauri alien attacks. If that wasn't enough, Hydra Cap even brutally murdered the Red Ghost and his Super Apes. You're reading that right: the shield of America's greatest hero was used to slaughter monkeys.
He may have worn the red, white and blue, but this version of Captain America by Nick Spencer is the ultimate betrayer and evil through and through.
1 RED SKULL
When it comes to evil in the Marvel Universe - or, frankly, comic books - nobody is topping the Red Skull. The Red Skull is so evil that we've already come up with a list of the 15 worst things the Red Skull has ever done, and had room to spare.
Whereas even Baron von Strucker has wavered ever so slightly from his dedication to genetic purity and the Third Reich, the Red Skull has perpetually beaten the drum for Nazism, racial intolerance and outright concentration camps. In recent years, the Skull has set up camps for mutant genocide in Genosha (setting up his villainous turn as Red Onslaught in 2014's Axis), and used a sentient cosmic cube to turn his most hated rival (and embodiment of all that's good in America) into a fascist villain. And that's just in recent years.
The Red Skull is so evil that not only was his miniseries by Greg Pak and Mirko Colak (with amazing covers by David Aja) simply subtitled "Incarnate," but also the series focuses on the Skull's awful childhood, and it's still clear that the Skull's an unrepentant monster destined for horrible things. When even being a little freckled kid can't help your case, and you have the Red Skull's resume, you've absolutely earned the spot as the most evil Hydra member of all time.
Which member of Hydra do you think is the most evil of all? Be sure to tell us who in the comments!