Before we get to the actual blog, I’d like to remind everyone about my new collection of short stories, Necromancy for the Greater Good. If you like the way I write, you’ll probably like this book. It’s available for free through Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and eventually through Sony and Apple. I’ll keep you updated on my Facebook page as new retailers come online.
I have often wondered why anyone ever joins HYDRA. Sure, maybe back in the 1940s, I could understand it since it looked like HYDRA was well on its way to world domination. And maybe up through the 1960s when Captain America was still a patriot-sicle I could see the appeal of joining. But once Cap woke up and the Avengers formed, I really don’t see why anyone would join an organization where a not unlikely outcome for the end of your career is getting punched by an Avenger. Plus there’s a whole bunch of other bad stuff that comes with joining a villainous organization besides being on the wrong side of heroes (see “A Writing Entry: Villainy Doesn’t Pay“). So I have a theory about HYDRA, and it shakes out something like this –
Recruiter: Hello! Welcome to the HYDRA recruiting center.
Billy: Hello. Please tell me what HYDRA has to offer me.
Recruiter: We have an exciting program for ambitious young people who would like to get in on the ground floor of a growing movement we like to call world domination.
Billy: That does sound exciting. Tell me more. Who runs this organization?
Recruiter: The Red Skull, a German scientist and leader of vision since the 1940s.
Billy: The Red Skull? That sounds kind of sinister.
Recruiter: Oh, no, no, it’s just a title.
Billy: Wait, 1940s Germany? Is this the same guy? He’s like totally old.
Recruiter: Ah, you see, our research and development program is top of the line.
Billy: That’s sort of creepy. And if he was a scientist in 1940s in Germany, doesn’t that make him a Nazi?
Recruiter: Technically, but we’ve moved past that.
Billy: I’m having some doubts. What will be my role in your organization?
Recruiter: You will be issued a standard green uniform and given a variety of standard, military grade armaments. We will send you on missions against those that call themselves heroes. Your training should assure your victory.
Billy: And if it doesn’t, will HYDRA pay bail to get me out of jail?
Recruiter: Um, sure.
Billy: What kind of heroes? You mean cops?
Recruiter: Some police, sure.
Billy: And what else?
Recruiter: Well, should the plans not go exactly as specified, you may confront heroes such as the Avengers.
Billy: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You mean there’s a chance I’m going to get punched in the face by Captain America?
Recruiter: A small chance, yes. But we have a great medical and dental plan.
Billy: Oh, hell no. I’m not joining any group that could get me punched in the face by Captain America or shot by Iron Man! [leaves]
Recruiter: Note to self, do not mention getting punched by Avengers.
Recruiter: Hello and welcome to HYDRA!
Joey: Thanks. So my friend Billy said that joining your organization might mean getting punched by the Avengers.
Recruiter: Oh, no, that is a simple misunderstanding of our mission. You will never meet any Avengers ever.
Joey: Oh, good, because I don’t want to get punched by Avengers. So, what does HYDRA have to offer me?
Recruiter: We will train you to fight as well as any soldier and give you weapons equal to any military issue. If you prove yourself, we may train you to pilot robotic suits armed with missiles and other heavy armaments.
Joey: That sounds awesome! How are the medical and dental plans?
Recruiter: Among the best, I assure you. For a small co-pay and deductible, we cover all medical expenses including normal medical injuries, experimental genetic modifications, and accidental mutations. We also have a great life insurance plan.
Joey: Um, what was that?
Recruiter: Our life insurance plan…
Joey: No, the experimental genetic modifications and accidental mutations?
Recruiter: It’s nothing to worry about. As a highly trained HYDRA agent, you may be assigned from time to time to guard our research laboratories. That is where we develop robotic suits. But we also work with biological weapons. You may be asked to volunteer for such an experiment, which would almost certainly result in gaining superpowers.
Joey: What if it goes wrong?
Recruiter: Such experiments almost never go wrong or we wouldn’t use human test subjects. But should that happen, we would provide medical care for the damage.
Joey: Um. And the accidental mutations?
Recruiter: Our laboratories have many safeguards, but when so-called heroes crash into the place, they breach sensitive areas and we find it is hard to put in a safeguard against Thor’s hammer. So sometimes, very very rarely, do our biological agents become airborne and infect our personnel.
Joey: Wait, so I could get killed by some kind of gas when the Avengers bust the place up?
Recruiter: That’s where the life insurance plan comes in.
Joey: Right. And if I don’t end up dead, I could end up some horrible deformed mutant creature?
Recruiter: That hardly ever happens.
Joey: But the medical plan pays for it?
Recruiter: We are HYDRA. We like to be prepared for anything.
Joey: Yeah, piloting a robotic suit sounds awesome and all, but I don’t want to end up dead or a deformed mutant freak. Thanks but no thanks. [leaves]
Recruiter: Note to self, re-think presentation of the insurance plans.
Recruiter: Hello and welcome to HYDRA!
Phil: Please tell me what HYDRA has to offer me.
Recruiter: First of all, what have you heard about us?
Phil: Only that you are trying to dominate the world. I would like to be part of that.
Recruiter: Great! So what’s your background, Phil?
Phil: Disaffected youth.
Recruiter: That’s just perfect. How would you like to be trained to us military weapons and sent on exciting missions?
Phil: Sounds awesome!
Recruiter: You may also, from time to time, be asked to volunteer for experiments, but I assure you that refusing to volunteer does not put a black mark on your record and is almost certain to give you superpowers if you agree.
Phil: That sounds totally cool!
Recruiter: Really? I mean, great! We also may very rarely run afoul of superheroes, but I can assure you we will be victorious!
Phil: Of course! Sign me up!
Recruiter: I haven’t even told you about the medical and dental plans.
Phil: Oh, I’m young and healthy. I don’t care about that stuff.
Recruiter: Er, okay then. Hey, you aren’t a SHIELD agent trying to infiltrate our organization, are you?
Phil: Of course not! I just want to be part of your plan to dominate the world.
Recruiter: Great! Here’s where you sign and you can meet your trainer here!
Phil: [signs up] Thanks!
Yet Still Later:
Recruiter: Hello and welcome to HYDRA!
Dr. Smith: Hello. Please tell me what HYDRA has to offer me.
Recruiter: We are most interested in your research and would like to offer you a position with our esteemed group of scientists.
Dr. Smith: What are the benefits?
Recruiter: Top of the line laboratory equipment and spaces, flexible work hours, minimal oversight unless you are assigned to a specific project, no threat of publish or perish, no threat of having produce something immediately marketable or get fired, and no need to ever fill out another grant request.
Dr. Smith: That would be pretty nice.
Recruiter: Plus, we have absolutely no code of ethics. Any sort of experiment you want to perform is fine by us, even human experimentation.
Dr. Smith: That sounds great! Tell me more about these specific assignments.
Recruiter: Well, in order to advance our goal of world domination, our scientists are grouped and asked to work on specific projects, such as advanced weaponry, advanced bioweaponry, and the like.
Dr. Smith: And if I don’t want to work on these projects?
Recruiter: You work on the assignments on rare occasions in exchange for working on what you want all other times.
Dr. Smith: That sounds fair. Tell me about the retirement plan.
Dr. Smith: You know, retirement. Once I’ve made enough money, I want to retire. Sit back, relax, travel. That sort of thing.
Recruiter: I am not familiar with this concept.
Dr. Smith: Um, don’t people retire from HYDRA?
Recruiter: …Yes! Yes they do and we have a great retirement plan that I will get back to you on.
Dr. Smith: Okay…. If I want to perform experiments on humans, where would they come from?
Recruiter: Our ranks of soldiers. They often volunteer for such experiments.
Dr. Smith: They really volunteer?
Recruiter: Sometimes volunteering is mandatory.
Dr. Smith: Ah. But if I’m in a secret, secluded lab, clearly I wouldn’t be able to use those soldiers because they are the guards. Where would I get a human subject?
Recruiter: There are other scientists, yes? It would be a good way to remove one of your rivals.
Dr. Smith: That’s how I would get promoted? By possibly killing a rival?
Recruiter: We are very competitive organization.
Dr. Smith: No thank you. While the lack of ethics has some advantages, this takes the idea of “publish or perish” to a whole new level. [leaves]
Recruiter: Note to self, reconsider whole recruiting angle.
Recruiter: I’m sorry, sir, people just don’t want to join us.
Boss: But there are so many benefits!
Recruiter: Honestly, not for the low-level soldiers.
Boss: Did you try lying to them?
Boss: Did you tell them about our great insurance plans?
Recruiter: Yes. But they were concerned we didn’t have a retirement plan.
Boss: Retirement? Who retires? They either get killed or arrested.
Recruiter: Yes, which is not a great selling point, sir.
Boss: Hm. I guess word gets out. The only people you’ve successfully recruited in the past few years have all turned out to be undercover SHIELD agents.
Recruiter: Even Phil?
Boss: Did you read incident report AV168593? The one that resulted in R&D facility getting blown up by the Avengers?
Recruiter: That was Phil?
Boss: Yeah, that was Phil.
Recruiter: Darn it! I knew I should have been suspicious when he didn’t ask about our life insurance plan. I’m sorry, sir, but no one actually seems to want to work for us.
Boss: Well, how about drugging people and forcing them into service?
Recruiter: We tried that, sir. It worked until SHIELD noticed large numbers of people disappearing and investigated. Then the Avengers came in and destroyed our main drug-production lab and arrested most of the scientists.
Boss: Hm. Well, I guess there’s only one way to make sure we have enough disposable soldiers.
Recruiter: What’s that?
Boss: We’ll clone them.
Recruiter: Soldiers and scientists?
Boss: Sure, if the scientists are smart enough. It’s either clone scientists or outsource R&D to AIM. Some of their stuff is good, but the rest of it tends to blow up.
Recruiter: I see your point. Won’t SHIELD or the Avengers notice all the HYDRA agents are the same guy?
Boss: Why? We all wear identical uniforms. We get punched in the face. Maybe the wardens in the prison might notice, but they won’t care.
Recruiter: Um, maybe you should have a small pool of originals to clone. You know, maybe thirty or forty guys so it’s not quite so obvious when a bunch of them get arrested.
Boss: That’s a good idea. Alright, clone production it is.
Recruiter: Won’t that be expensive?
Boss: Nah. We’ll go with cheap clones. Once they reach maturity, they’ll die in like five or ten years. It’s not like most soldiers actually get to retire.
Recruiter: True. Does this mean I’m out of a job?
Boss: No. We still need more intelligent people to work for us as high-level lieutenants. You get to infiltrate various other criminal organizations and try to recruit those people for us.
Recruiter: So now I’m likely to get punched in the face by villains?
Boss: Hey, you knew the risks when you joined.
Recruiter: True. And the medical plan really is top-notch. Hail HYDRA!
Boss: Hail HYDRA!
So that’s my theory – most if not all HYDRA agents are actually clones of just a few people, and cheap clones at that. This would explain why they always seem to have an army even when all logic would dictate no one wants to join an organization with no ethics, vicious in-fighting, almost zero promotion capability, a dubious health and safety record, no retirement package, and constant conflicts with some of the most powerful beings in the entire Marvel universe. There are simply are no benefits to joining. Kidnapping and drugging work, sure, but you can’t really get an army and research and development force the size HYDRA seems to have without getting noticed and stopped. But if they just churn out generation after generation of clones, who notices? In the end, it’s probably easier than recruiting or kidnapping/drugging. It would also explain why the HYDRA soldiers seem to behave the same way – they’ve been programmed to.
I think the higher-ups are not clones, but most of the low-level grunts are and a lot of the scientists are. It’s just that heroes are so busy punching HYDRA agents they never bother to look at them. And maybe once in a while there’s actually some guy who joins, but aside from Bob, I’m pretty sure that has got to be very rare and even looked on with some suspicion. Heck, it’s probably easier to guarantee you haven’t accidentally recruited a SHIELD agent when you’re cloning everyone anyway.