Abraham Erskine

abrahamerskinefilmThe last character appearing in Spider-Man: Homecoming is an old acquaintance…and he’s been dead for decades. In one of the main corridors of Midtown School of Science and Technology, we see a mural with portraits of some of the greatest scientists in history…even Marvel history, as we can clearly see Howard Stark, and even Abraham Erskine. The latter was portrayed by Stanley Tucci in Captain America: The First Avenger, he’s the inventor of the Super-Soldier Serum, and the man who choses scrawny Steve Rogers as a test subject (he’s also the one who created the Red Skull in the first place, but he doesn’t seem so proud of that). Killed at the beginning of the movie by a Nazi spy, Erskine’s name has been dropped in a number of Marvel movies and tv series, but this is the first time since The First Avenger that he’s seen (albeit in photo) rather than just mentioned. Now, let’s take a look at this heroic scientist who changed the (comics’) world with his work.

Abraham Erskine was born in Germany from a Jewish family. In the years of his youth he met a girl, Anita, and fell in love with her: the two got married, and they had a daughter, Esme. Studying biochemistry and physics, Erskine became one of the most renowned and brilliant scientists in all Europe, and he even met and befriended another famous German physicist, Albert Einstein, whom he shared ideas and debates with. His life-long project was to create a superior breed of humans, able to defeat any illness and to excell both physically, mentally and morally over the lost generation that had given birth to a horror such as World War I: to do so, he devised a program that included a peculiar diet, a serum of his own invention (later known as the Super-Soldier Serum) and the Vita-Rays, radiations of his own discovery that allowed the Serum to work correctly within the body of test subjects. Still far from the final achievement, Erskine kept working even when Adolf Hitler rose to power, and despite he was a Jew he was left alone, since his work could have been useful to the Nazis as well. The only way abrahamerskinecomics1Erskine had to continue his research was working for the new regime, and he accepted to do so…thus losing his daughter’s esteem, as the two became estranged. Of course, working for Hitler meant a lot of uncomfortable compromises, and Erskine watched in horror as, against his will and opinion, the dictator and Baron Zemo tested a new weapon, the Death-Ray, on a living human subject. Remarking that bettering human beings was more a noble purpose than ending lives, Erskine tested Hitler’s patience, but he was nevertheless allowed to examine John Steele, an American super-soldier with powers of unknown origins, without being able to learn much from him. His discovery, however, would have been used to enslave humanity rather than freeing it, that much he knew: it was finally time to listen to his daughter and to abandon Germany, like his friend Einstein had done years before.

Thanks to an old friend of his, Hans Bruder, another German scientist who had defected to the United States of America, Erskine contacted the enemy, and he was granted safe passage to the US along with his family: during a lecture in Luxembourg, Erskine’s escort was attacked by special operatives Nick Fury and Red Hargrove, and the scientist was brought to their commanding officers, Lt. Sawyer and Colonel Ellis. Brought to the United States, Erskine faked his own death and started a new life under the alias of Joseph Reinstein, offering his services and expertise to the US Government. Made the head of Project: Rebirth, aimed to the creation of a functioning super-soldier to be used against the Nazis, Erskine/Reinstein developed a program that worked faster than his diet-based one, and he made several experiments on volunteer test subjects, such as Duvid Fortonuv, later dismissed, and Clinton McIntyre, who was unstable and died as a result of the exposure to the Vita-Rays. Finally, a perfect candidate was presented to Erskine: Steve Rogers, a scrawny kid who accepted to volunteer for the abrahamerskinecomics2experiment even with full knowledge of his possible death. While the candidates trained, Erskine observed them and selected them, and at the end of the day Rogers proved to be the best choice: if lacking under any physical point of view, his spirit was strong, and his morality even stronger, exactly the characteristics the scientist wanted for his “perfected human”. In 1941, near the end of the preparation program, Erskine felt something was amiss, and feared the Nazis had found out he was alive and working for the US: just in case, he entrusted the formula for his Serum to James Fletcher, an Army colonel who was among the few people he totally trusted, then continued with the experiment. Erskine was succesful, and Steve Rogers became the super-soldier he was meant to be…but two members of Project: Rebirth, Professor Hamilton and Special Agent Frederick Clemson, were actually Nazi spies Albrecht Kerfoot and Heinz Kruger: they killed Erskine and stole his formula, trying to escape with it, only to be stopped by the now empowered Rogers. All of Erskine’s knowledge died with him, and Rogers remained the only succesful super-soldier for a long, long time.

Abraham Erskine is an extremely intelligent man, who dedicated his life to making humanity reach its full potential, reather than surrendering to the evidence of war-mongering and hate-spreading individuals. A proficient physicist and biochemist, he is one of the most accomplished scientists of his time, but he always sees science as a tool at man’s service, never the opposite. An idealistic man for uncivilized time, forced to watch helplessly as even his beloved science is perverted to serve the purpose of annihilating men and women, Abraham Erskine keeps fighting for his dream of a better humanity, super-humans who could embody all the best the human body, mind and soul have to offer.

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