The first Madame Hydra, Ophelia Sarkissian, was created by Jim Steranko and first appeared in Captain America #110 (February 1969). Sarkissian was orphaned as a child in Hungary. Among twelve other girls, Ophelia was taken in by Hydra and raised by Kraken, eventually becoming Kraken's best student. She rose through the ranks of Hydra, eventually becoming its leader under the codename Madame Hydra, and frequently came into conflict with Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. She later severed ties with Hydra and from then onwards became known as Viper after killing the previous supervillain codenamed Viper (Jordan Strike) to usurp his codename and leadership of the Serpent Squad.
A Madame Hydra created by Bob Harras and Paul Neary debuted in Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 (August 1988). This Madame Hydra's real name was never revealed, only being known as "Madame Hydra VI" because she impressed her superiors in Hydra enough that, after only a short time in the organization, they promoted her to the level of Madame Hydra VI (the identities of Madames Hydra I through V, who rank above her, are unknown), and received an entry in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update '89 #4 under the heading "Madame Hydra VI". One of her first missions as Madame Hydra was to capture Nick Fury and deliver him to the Deltites, a group of artificially created duplicates which were taking over S.H.I.E.L.D. After failing in her mission and discovering that the Deltites were manipulating her, she allied with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents against the takeover. She was later turned over to federal authorities and was found to be criminally insane, and sent to a sanitarium for psychiatric treatment.
In the Secret Warriors series, it is shown that Hydra has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. right from the start, and Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, an European socialite turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and love interest to Nick Fury, is their new Madame Hydra after having killed Viper (who Came Back Wrong).
A new Madame Hydra, Elisa Sinclair, debuted in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 (July 2016), created by Nick Spencer and Jesús Saiz. She originally appeared to be a character inserted in Steve Rogers' memories of his childhood by the sentient Cosmic Cube Kobik to retroactively turn him into a Hydra double-agent. However, she resurfaced in the present, having taken up the mantle of Madame Hydra, claiming to be a powerful ancient being of great powers. She took upon collecting a new Hydra High Council, which includes Viper.
The Viper incarnation of Madame Hydra has appeared in the 1998 Made-for-TV Movie Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (played by Sandra Hess, as a Composite Character with Andrea von Strucker, one of Baron Strucker's children), X-Men: Evolution (voiced by Lisa Ann Beley), The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! (voiced by Vanessa Marshall), The Wolverine (played by Svetlana Khodchenkova), and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (played by Mallory Jansen and with heavy liberties taken with the character, though still called "Ophelia").
Meanwhile, Contessa Valentina appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe starting with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), but whether or not she'll take the Madame Hydra moniker has yet to be seen.
- Actually a Doombot: Viper had an out-of-character appearance in a storyline featured in Punisher War Journal #45-47 (August-October, 1992)., where she served as an ally to Daredevil, Nomad, and The Punisher. A year later, Gregory Wright wrote a story where it was revealed that Viper has been using look-alike "Pit-Vipers" to act in her name. The "Viper" appearing in the Punisher storyline was a rogue Pit-Viper with her own agenda.
- Ax-Crazy: Of all the things that she is, she is not sane.
- Arch-Enemy: To Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) due to Jessica being raised by Hydra and possibly becoming the next Madame Hydra. One story revealed Jessica to be the Viper's daughter, though it was later retconned that some magical force was toying with their minds. Viper assumed that it was Jessica who messed with her mind and set out to destroy her "daughter". Twenty years later, Viper tried to coerce Jessica (actually the Skrull Veranke) into an alliance, and the story hinted that Viper still viewed Jessica as the closest thing she had to a family.
- Badass Normal: Like many Captain America villains she possesses no superhuman powers. But her strength, speed, reflexes, agility, dexterity, coordination, balance and endurance are on the order of an Olympic athlete. She is a great swordswoman and even greater markswoman with most long range weapons, and has extensive training in hand-to-hand combat.
- The Baroness: Trope Codifier. In fact, the Baroness from G.I. Joe is actually inspired from her. When Hasbro approached Marvel about doing a G.I. Joe comic book, they simply dusted off an unused proposal for a Nick Fury vs. HYDRA series and changed the names. Thus HYDRA became COBRA and the Viper became the Baroness. The only significant difference between the characters is the color of their leather bodysuits and hair; black for the Baroness, green for Madame Hydra.
- Big Bad: As the head of Hydra she counts whenever they are involved.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: Despite Viper having a tendency to mind-control her opponents, she often finds herself mind-controlled or manipulated by other villains with this power. She has had her mind tampered with by the Elder Gods Set and Chthon, by the immortal witch Morgan Le Fay, and (to a lesser point) by the illusions of Mastermind. They have all used Viper as a convenient weapon for their agendas, sending her against their enemies. Even her memories have been altered at times.
- Bulletproof Vest: Viper is deadly, but she is still a normal human being, and she can be taken down by a single bullet. Her various uniforms incorporate kevlar to keep her body safe. Given that she never wears protective helmets, it is unclear why her opponents do not simply aim for her head.
- Came Back Wrong: In Secret Warriors #12, Viper is kidnapped by the mysterious Leviathan group, who are determined to find out the location of a mysterious box that both she and the current Madame Hydra (the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine that has replaced Viper) procured from the Yashidas. Madame Hydra arrived at the Leviathan headquarters and offered the box to its leader, much to Viper's dismay. Madame Hydra then shot Viper to death. However, when Hydra arrived, the Hive resurrected her, giving her tentacles that stemmed from her head, and she renames herself Madame Hydra.
- Combat Pragmatist: While perfectly capable to take out opponents in a straight fight, Viper's strategies tend to rely on ambush tactics, deception, and use of drugs, gases, and poisons. She knocked out Thor by having him inhale one of her drugs. When she wanted to take over the relatively powerful Serpent Society, she had a group of villains infiltrate the organization and then attacked when nobody expected it. Most of the Serpents where caught in their civilian clothes, their gym clothes, or their bathrobes and underwear. They did not have access to their uniforms and weapons. When she wanted to take out the X-Men, she simply poisoned their tea and send most of the team to the hospital.
- Dark Action Girl: A really combat-efficient female villain.
- Dating Catwoman: She is Wolverine's ex-wife; she blackmailed him into it, and in turn he got the divorce by refusing to give her medical treatment otherwise. It is implied she had started to develop real feelings for him.
- Depending on the Writer: For whatever reason, Brian Bendis consistently writes her as an anarcho-communist, rather than the unhinged lunatic most other writers prefer.
- Eviler Than Thou: She has the rare distinction of being this to the Red Skull of all people from time to time simply because he views her sadistic schemes and planned massacres as so gratuitously awful with no apparent benefit for either of them other than just For the Evulz that he cannot tolerate them.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: She may have cared about Wolverine at some point, and she definitely had feelings for the Silver Samurai. A Marvel Team-Up storyline from 1979 also mentions a months-long romantic affair between Viper and a Japanese terrorist leader called Ishiro Tagara. He found Viper when she was sick and weak from previous battles, nursed her back to health, worked to restore her sanity and confidence in her self, and showered her with love (which she found to be an unfamiliar experience). Tagara has not appeared since, and he is a rather obscure character.
- On a more family-oriented kind of love, a few stories have Viper still mourning over her half-forgotten parents (whose murder is the earliest memory she still has) and an unknown number of sisters (who she witnessed getting raped and discarded).
- For the Evulz: She usually has a greater goal in mind, but she isn't above committing mass murder or being disturbingly petty for shits and giggles.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Viper started out as a nameless orphan girl of obscure background. Unlike other villains such as Baron von Strucker and the Barons Zemo, she does not come from an old aristocratic family, did not inherit any wealth, and started out with no connections. She just struggled to survive. She passed her Hydra training with flying colors, due to being the most determined, ambitious, and aggressive of available recruits. She has used that drive to bring down states and organizations, to take over entire nations (such as Madripoor), and to terrorize heroes and villains alike.
- Green and Mean: Her main color is green, and mean doesn't even begin to describe her.
- I Have Many Names: Madame Hydra; Viper; dozens of aliases. Among her most prominent aliases are "Leona Hiss", the unimaginative "Mrs. Smith", and "Meriem Drew" (the true name of Spider-Woman's mother). She also once impersonated Black Mamba/Tanya Sealy of the Serpent Society and used Tanya's name and codename.
- Jerkass: The C-word would actually be the most accurate to describe her attitude and general behaviour.
- Kick the Dog: Prone to it. You know it's bad when the Red Skull thinks that her schemes were gratuitous with no apparent benefit for either of them. One of her plans involved blinding every person in the United States who stared at a television screen. Leaving millions blind and helpless, and causing the country to collapse in chaos. Red Skull found out about this plan. He was an American citizen by this point, and all his business investments were located in the United States. He realized that the country would collapse around him and that it was unlikely it would recover within his own lifetime. He did not want to experience this kind of world, so Red Skull set out to rescue the country from Viper.
- Legacy Character: The first Viper was a man, then Madame Hydra killed him and stole the name.
- Manipulative Bastard: She knows how to manipulate people.
- Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Gender flipped. Viper is a European woman from Hungary, but her most enduring romantic and emotional relationship involved her and the Silver Samurai, a Japanese villain.
- Most Common Super Power: She has very buxom breasts.
- Ms. Fanservice: Despite being evil, Viper is a beautiful woman with dark green hair and lipstick who wears a very form-fitting jumpsuit that accentuates her voluptuous yet toned body, buxom breasts, toned broad shoulders, and long toned legs.
- Nebulous Evil Organization: Usually associated with HYDRA, hence Madame Hydra. She has had a history of joining (and often taking over) other villainous organizations. She has joined the Serpent Squad, the Serpent Society, the Secret Empire, and the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Her nihilism and tendency to spread death around her has made it hard for other villains to associate with her. Only the Red Skull has found it a charming tendency and pursued a relationship with her for a while. The relationship ended when the Skull found out Viper was using his resources to finance massacres with no apparent financial benefit for either of them.
- Not Afraid to Die: While she struggles for her life as much as any other villain of the Marvel Universe, Viper reportedly has long ceased fearing death. She views death as a peaceful oblivion, and a great merciful void which she is tempted to embrace. And she would like for all humanity to embrace it as well. A few background profiles mention that Viper is an opium user, and that she both meditates and has opium dreams about death.
- One Steve Limit: Enforced lethally when she decided to take on the name Viper. She murdered the original Viper and took over the Serpent Squad.
- Orphanage of Fear: Raised in one, ran by none other than Hydra.Ophelia Sarkissian: We were orphans. Little girls, all alone. Hydra gave us a home. Eight great houses. Twelve girls to a house. And in the end, the most determined... the most ambitious... the most aggressive... That girl would be the Viper. All it cost was everything.
- Peek-a-Bangs: Her default hairstyle wears her hair over one eye. This was justified in earlier stories, though it no longer has an explanation. The concept was that the upper right side of Viper's face was scared and disfigured, causing her to use her hair to hide her imperfection. For a while it was even unclear whether she had two eyes, or only one functioning eye and one blind or missing eye. Over the last couple of decades, the scars were retconned away. Viper now has a perfect face, two undamaged eyes, and perfect vision. A few older fans and their websites complain that Viper no longer looks like herself.
- Poisonous Person: In her case it is intentional. Viper has modified her canine teeth into particularly sharp and elongated fangs. Her fangs contain a lethal and neurotoxic snake venom, to which she has developed an immunity. All she needs is to bite her opponents (preferably in their necks) and they are incapacitated or dying. A less often used trick, is coating her lipstick in poison. One touch of her lips and the victim is down for the count.
- Psycho for Hire: When working for somebody else. It says something when ever the Red freaking Skull thinks you're too unstable.
- Really 700 Years Old: She may or may not have been granted a supernatural lifespan by the demon Chthon, and have originally been a woman who died in 1931.
- Rogues Gallery Transplant: If she is not fighting Cap, she is probably fighting Wolverine, though she has tangled with most of Marvel's other heroes by now, and once believed she was the mother of the first Spider-Woman. Among other foes over the years, Viper has faced (in chronological order): Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers (she once used sleeping gas on the entire active roster), Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Black Widow (who once was Viper's prisoner and subjected to extensive torture), Shang-Chi, Spider-Man, the New Mutants (Karma has served as an archenemy for Viper for a couple of decades), the X-Men (she once poisoned most of the group), the Serpent Society (a villainous organization which Viper took over once in a violent coup), the Falcon, Nomad, D-Man, Moon Knight, the Punisher (who she once turned into a mind-controlled minion), Dr. Strange, Solo, Silver Sable and the Wild Pack, Hawkeye, the Beast, Spiral (a former ally who Viper double-crossed), Jean Grey (who she once turned into a mind-controlled minion), Psylocke (who she once turned into a mind-controlled minion), Rogue (who she once turned into a mind-controlled minion), Shadowcat (who she once turned into a mind-controlled minion), Tyger Tiger (who she once turned into a mind-controlled minion), Yukio (who she once turned into a mind-controlled minion), Jubilee, Sabretooth (who tried to assassinate Viper due to her marriage to Wolverine), Matsuo Tsurayaba and the Hand, Arnim Zola (who once captured Viper to use her in one of his own agendas), Ogun (who once tried to take over the Viper's body), Khan (an alien invader and world-conqueror), Sage, Archangel, Husk, Callisto, and Iron Man (who deposed Viper from her head-of-state status in Madripoor). Curiously, Viper has never faced Daredevil, despite having guest-starred in several of his stories.
- Sadist: A psychological and physical sadist, who enjoys hurting people for the hell of it. Noticing a trend with Cap's rogues?
- Secondary Color Nemesis: She wears all-green clothes. She also dyes her hair green (its natural color is black), uses green lipstick, and green fingernail polish. Her eyes are also green, but this is their natural color.
- Averted in a few Uncanny X-Men stories from 2004-2005. Viper joins the Hellfire Club in the new position of White Princess (second-in-command to the White Queen). She discards her traditional green uniforms for white ones, to match her new position and to color-coordinate with White Queen Courtney Ross. Following this aborted arc, Viper returned to the green uniforms.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Her real name was never revealed.
- Action Girl: The Contessa is a superb hand-to-hand combatant and a brilliant marksman with firearms of most kinds.
- Badass in Charge: As a result of the Contessa's remarkable talents and skills in many areas, she quickly became a leading member of S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
- The Chick: In the Nick Fury - Agent of SHIELD series.
- Double Agent: Well, triple, actually. She is a Leviathan (formerly Soviet espionage group) mole infiltrating both SHIELD and HYDRA.
- Femme Fatale
- The Leader: At one point the Contessa was the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Femme Force, an elite cadre of female agents.
- Love Interest: For Nick Fury and their relationship continued for many years. Indeed, she is featured in a silent, one-page seduction sequence in Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #2 that famously had two panels changed, at the behest of the Comics Code Authority.
- Operation: Jealousy: Jealous of Nick's on again off again relationship with Brown, Val flirted with sometime S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Captain America. When the the two intensely fought over Val, she interrupted the fight and explained her motives.
- Skunk Stripe: Has a white streak going through her otherwise dark hair.