This article was part of an abortive attempt to develop my own superhero setting. I was heavily influenced by Robert Dorf’s “Wold Newton” take on world building, as well as Darren Watt’s methods for creating his All-Star adventures. I also wanted to emulate the significance of super-solider serums (and genetic engineering) seen in Ultimate Spider-Man, in which the origins of numerous classic Spider-Man villains are all interwoven with Peter Parker’s initial exposure to the spider that grants him his powers. Unfortunately, I never went any further than what I have here, stopping the time line in the 1950s. Those with a more extensive knowledge of 1960s-80s DC and Marvel comics might want to pick up where I left off and bring things up to the present, interweaving more examples into the text.
The roots of the modern Super-Soldier Serum can be traced back to Doctor Victor von Frankenstein, and his “monster,” which he created in the very late 1700s. Although modern folklore has his creation stitched together from dead bodies and brought to life via an electrical charge, careful reading of his notes and letters points to a more alchemical process. This seems to indicate that Frankenstein’s monster is some sort of homunculus, albeit one developed through science, not sorcery.
Although Frankenstein died at the hands of his creation, his notes and methods were eagerly examined by learned men all over Europe. One such was Doctor Henry Jekyll, who developed a serum of sorts, apparently based on the chemical processes used to create Frankenstein’s man. Tested it upon himself, in the hopes of gaining some measure of increased physical strength and endurance, Jekyll instead became the monstrous Mister Hyde. Jekyll ended up simultaneously addicted to, and repelled by, his times as Hyde, and eventually killed himself in an effort to escape his addiction.
As with Frankenstein, Jekyll’s notes ended up in the hands of various other scientists, many of whom were more than eager to continue to the late Doctor’s experiments. One such was the infamous Doctor Moreau, who used a form of Frankenstein’s chemical bath to assist in creating his monstrous human-animal hybrids.
Another were the doctors Bensington and Redwood, who used Jekyll’s formulas to create the compound Herakleophorbia IV. This food additive was a great success, causing increased muscle mass and size in test subjects. However, while it initially seemed to work perfectly, continued use showed serious physical problems with the people and animals who were fed it, with heart failure a common cause of early death. This didn’t deter further research, with both Professor Abednego Danner and Doctor Clark Savage Sr. feeding a form of Herakleophorbia IV to their children in the hopes of bring a new race of superior “super-men” into the modern world.
Doctor Emil Erskine expanded on the concepts behind Herakleophorbia IV to develop a “super-soldier” serum just in time for the start of the Second World War. Several people were tested with the drug, with Steve Rogers receiving the final, “production” version. Rogers’ test was a complete success, transforming him over a period of 6 months into the physical powerhouse Captain America. Unfortunately, Erskine was killed by Nazi spies soon after the initial injection process, and most of his research notes were either destroyed or stolen.
It’s thought that Doctor Eskine’s notes, coupled with data from the experiments of Danner, Bensington, and Redwood—among others—provided the bulk of research data for the German Übermensch program. It had a few successes, more so than the American program, mainly due to a willingness to use humans as test subjects long before the various serums were ready or complete.
After the war, the criminal master mind and costumed “super-villain” Doctor Thanatos dropped the so-called “meta-gene” bomb on New York city. It is thought the bomb was a German “super-weapon” of last resort, intended to be used on the German Army, in an effort to instantly create an army of super-humans capable of stopping the Allied and Russian advances. Conversely, it might have been intended to be dropped on enemy forces, with the idea of creating hordes of unstable metahumans who would either die outright from assuming a nonviable form or destroy each other in their madness. At any rate, the bulk of superhumans in and around New York can trace their origins and ancestry to the dropping of this bomb.
The postwar saw both the United States and Soviet Union continue to experiment with various super-soldier projects. Stalin even went so far to resurrect Dr. Moreau’s methods, seeking to combine humans and great apes to create unstoppable super-soldiers. The Americans tried a derivative of Herakleophorbia IV, with Doctor Bruce Banner creating Herakleophorbia VI, in the process becoming a modern Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde with his transformation into the being known simply as the Hulk.