Abraham Erskine was a German-born scientist noted for his work in developing a serum to enhance human strength and abilities to superhuman levels. Erskine's work coincided with the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism in Germany along with Nazi Germany's early attempts to breed "Superior Men" via racial eugenics. When Erskine refused to cooperate with the Nazis, Hitler sent Johann Schmidt the head of his research division HYDRA to force Erskine to finish the formula. Schmidt coveted the formula for his own ends: He had heard legends of an ancient artifact attainable only to a superior man and believed Erskine's formula would make him that superior man. Schmidt took an early version of the formula, which did indeed give him enhanced strength, but also demonstrated severe side effects. Schmidt would lose his hair, his skin would turn a deep red, and his face and head would be deformed into a grotesque skull-like appearance. Erskine would later say the formula also amplified Schmidt's already-malevolent personality as well. The Formula enhances the characteristics of the person in Erskine's words... "Good, becomes Great; Bad, becomes worse".
Erskine eventually escaped to the United States where he was employed by the Allies' Strategic Scientific Reserve to perfect his formula in order to breed an army of super-soldiers to fight the Nazis. Not wanting to create another Schmidt, Erskine would take great care in selecting a test subject with the correct qualities. While reviewing test subjects at a recruiting station at inventor Howard Stark's Stark Expo in 1942, Erskine encountered a frail, sickly-looking young man named Steve Rogers who had attempted to enlist in the US Army under assumed names in four different cities, all failing due to being medically incapable. Intrigued by the lengths Rogers had gone to enlist, Erskine asked Rogers if he wanted to kill Nazis. Rogers said he did not wish to kill anyone but simply disliked bullies. Rogers' answer satisfied Erskine enough to approve him as a possible test subject. Erksine chose Rogers because he had the characteristics associated with the oppressed but still compassionate. Since the formula enhanced Schmidt's malevolent personality, he believed for Rogers would not harm his benevolent personality. All the other candidates the Army selected in advance for Project Rebirth were, for lack of a better word, bullies and eager to fight, kill and had a grasp for power. Erskine selected a candidate who he believed would fight for "the little guy".
Though Rogers would struggle through basic training due to his small size and poor health, his perseverance and ingenuity impressed Erskine, who regarded Rogers as the clear choice. Erskine resisted Colonel Chester Phillips' efforts to persuade him to select another recruit, Gilmore Hodge, who was physically superior, but whom Erskine regarded as a bully. Erskine's confidence in Rogers' was cemented when he witnessed Rogers throw himself on what he thought was a live grenade in order to protect his fellow soldiers.
The night before the test, Erskine visited Rogers and admitted his reasons for selecting him. Erskine told him about Schmidt and explained while someone like Schmidt, who has known power all his life might lose respect for that power, a weak man like Rogers would know the value of strength, as well as compassion. Erskine urged Rogers not to forget who he was - not a perfect soldier, but a good man.
The next day, at the SSR's secret facility in Brooklyn, Erskine, with the assistance of Howard Stark, sealed Rogers in a special chamber, where he received multiple injections of the formula and was bombarded with vita-rays. Erskine nearly stopped the procedure when it appeared Rogers was having difficulty enduring the procedure, but Rogers urged him to continue. Moments later, Rogers emerged from the chamber significantly taller and noticeably more muscular.
Erskine's satisfaction was short-lived however, as Heinz Kruger, a HYDRA operative sent by Schmidt to sabotage Erskine's work, had infiltrated the facility disguised as an observer from the State Department, detonated a bomb, destroying Erskine's machinery and shot him before attempting to escape with a vial of the formula. When Rogers rushed to the fatally wounded Erskine's side, Erskine's final act was to point to Rogers' heart, to remind him of who he was: not a perfect soldier, but a good man.
With the last vial destroyed during the pursuit of Kruger (who committed suicide to avoid capture), Erskine would take the secret of the formula to his grave, leaving Rogers the only example of Erskine's realized dream. Nevertheless, scientists and military personnel would attempt to duplicate his work well into the 21st Century, including Dr. Bruce Banner and General Thaddeus Ross, who believed gamma radiation held the key. However the success of these experiments proved extremely dubious, as they resulted in Banner and Captain Emil Blonsky being transformed into the highly dangerous creatures known, respectively, as the Hulk, and the Abomination.
Dr. Erskine was a genius in the fields of chemistry and medicine. He successfully developed a "Super Soldier" formula and is the only person ever to know the exact recipe, which scientists were unable to duplicate precisely, even decades later.
He was also wise enough to see the importance of choosing a candidate that was at his core a good man over a soldier who was fit, trained, and followed orders.
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