CAPTAIN AMERICA'S Legacy: How Super Soldier Serum Fuels Past, Present, Future Marvel Universe

Credit: Marvel Comics

If you’re reading this, you know the gist of Captain America’s origin; a scrawny kid used as a test subject for an experimental project called the Super Soldier Program. Captain America is the face of those experiments and they say it died with the assassination of its chief scientist. But what they say is wrong. Over the years through various backstories, new characters, and none other than Grant Morrison, the Super Soldier Serum and its derivatives have fueled the modern Marvel Universe and many of its top heroes and villains. You think you might know these other heroes like Captain America: Red, White & Black’s Isaiah Bradley or even failed replacements for Cap like Nuke and Protocide, but you’re just scratching the surface.

Fantomex MAX #1 Cover
Fantomex MAX #1 Cover
Credit: Marvel Comics

What I’m talking about is the is the Weapon Plus program.

Haven’t heard of it? You wouldn’t be the only one. Introduced in New X-Men #128 by Grant Morrison back in 2002, Weapon Plus is the name of an overarching clandestine program to create super-soldiers out of various test subjects, be it humans, mutants, animals, even robots. The first iteration of it was Captain America’s Project: Rebirth (dubbed Weapon I), and over the years more programs – each classified with a new roman numeral – attempted to create super-soldiers. Wolverine’s Weapon X is a part of it, as the X doesn’t stand for X-Men, the X-gene, or anything else; X is simply the roman numeral for ‘10’ so Weapon X is literally Weapon 10 (of course, this project wound up splitting off, but more on that later). There have been more Weapon Plus projects since Wolverine, as well as several offshoots not even sanctioned by Weapon Plus but still connected.

This makes Wolverine, Captain America and others like Deadpool, Sabretooth brothers – not by birth or by fighting together, but in that they’re all products of the Weapon Plus program. But just how deep does it go?

Credit: Marvel Comics

“It’s part of the fun of playing in the Marvel sandbox – connecting the dots,” says Gerry Duggan, whose wrote a recent Deadpool arc going over that characters ties to Wolverine and Captain America as subjects of Weapon Plus. “I still have my Marvel Comics Presents with Barry Windsor-Smith' Weapon X tale. That story left a big impression on me, and Grant Morrison only made the tapestry better with his collaborations. It gives a lot of characters a common thread, and those are fun to weave into new stories.”

The first project, Weapon I – known to us as Project; Rebirth – gave birth to several superhuman individuals. Steve Rogers – aka Captain America – is the most well known, but but additional subjects included the future villain Protocide, a mutant subject labeled Queen, as well as the aforementioned Isaiah Bradley. Weapon II and Weapon IV was on animals and produced no known survivors, but Weapon III did testing on a mutant with elastic abilities who became the tortured villain Skinless Man. The fifth and sixth iterations of the Weapon Plus experiments produced no conclusive survivors, but Weapon VII – done in the time frame of the Vietnam War – produced a litany of test subjects under the name of Project; Homegrown and in the UK, Black Budget. Those experiments produced the future Daredevil and Cap villain Nuke, as well as a team of future special forces agents known as the Super Soldiers who had a short-lived series in Marvel UK.

The eighth and ninth Weapon programs came up dry, but the tenth – Weapon X – yielded a bumper crop of talent including Weapon X himself, Wolverine. Wolverine’s time in Weapon X is well-documented in Barry Windsor-Smith’s excellent storyline in Marvel Comics Presents, but the program and its offshoots also gave powers (and some trauma) to Sabretooth, Deadpool, Maverick, as well as lesser-known inductees like Leech, X-23, Predator X, Wildchild, Maggott, and a host of others; even the long-time Daredevil character Typhoid Mary was put through the Weapon X program at one point. If you had a track record for producing someone like Wolverine, you’d be hard-pressed not to want to do it again.

Deathlok #1
Deathlok #1
Credit: Marvel Comics

There have been no references to the eleventh iteration of the Weapon Plus program, but the cyborg Huntsman was revealed as the sole surviving subject of Weapon XII but was eliminated by his replacement, Weapon XIII – aka Fantomex. Fantomex is the most well-known of the post-Weapon X subjects, created by Grant Morrison in the image of the European comics character Fantomas as the ultimate soldier. Fantomex went on to become a member of the X-Men, X-Force, and now a teacher at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning in Wolverine & The X-Men. Like their predecessor, the Stepford Cuckoos are also X-Men and were revealed to be products of the Weapon Plus program – Weapon XIV -- in Greg Pak’s Phoenix: Warsong. After Weapon XIV, the secretive Weapon Plus program took a gigantic and ominous leap forward, jumping past human and animal test subjects in favor of robots and other lifeforms. Weapon XV created the “Super-Sentinel” known as Ultimaton, and Weapon XVI was an synthetic virus that made it’s victim devoted slaves to its whims.

After that, things get evenmore interesting. What’s the most well-known other program where a secretive organization uses humans as test subjects to become super-soldiers? Deathlok, of course. Yes, Deathlok – a result of a program called Project: Deathlok – has been revealed as a future iteration of Weapon Plus known as Weapon Infinity. First revealed in Dark Reign: The List: Wolverine by Jason Aaron, Deathlok’s ties to Weapon Plus were fully revealed later in his Wolverine run during the “Deathlok Nation” arc.

And that’s not counting the various programs done in reaction to Weapon Plus – from the recently revealed Weapon Minus program in Rick Remender’s Captain America run, to Russia’s multiple attempts to create their own Captain America with the Red Room, Winter Soldier, and their own Soviet Super-Soldiers. Those companion projects gave birth to Black Widow, Bucky Barnes’ persona as Winter Soldier, as well as the newly revealed villain Dr. Mindbubble – a former Weapon Plus scientist who created an L.S.D.-based Super Soldier Serum.

Weapon XIV - The Stepford Cuckoos
Weapon XIV - The Stepford Cuckoos
Credit: Marvel Comics

All of this has led quite directly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe using Captain America and his super soldier serum as the basis for much of the superhero work there. Hulk gains his power/curse while trying to recreate the super soldier serum, and it was given directly to Emil Blonsky who would become Abomination because of the lack of vita-rays. It’s possible more ties to the program will be revealed later as new heroes come into the fold, as well.

It’s a complicated but mesmerizing piece of work to put all of these individual programs into service as part of one larger organization. First given birth by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in Captain America’s origin, then elaborated on by Wolverine scribes such as Barry Windsor-Smith and then woven together by Grant Morrison and taken advantage of by today’s writers such as Rick Remender in Captain America and Uncanny X-Force, Jason Aaron in Wolverine and Gerry Duggan in Deadpool. But with all this backstory, it seems like they’re only scratching the surface of what is the secret connective tissues that ties together virtually all corners of the Marvel U. In effect, it’s an Original Sin waiting to happen – they just need to borrow Beast’s ever-present chalkboard to piece it all together.

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