|New York City
It all started about twenty years ago, when the famous (in Scandinavia) Swedish biologist and adventurer, Professor Ivar Breinholst, fought his final battle against the mad German geneticist, Doctor Zoltan Fuchs. Fuchs' particular speciality was creating gene-spliced monsters from human and animal DNA which he would then either use himself or sell to the highest bidder. Breinholst finally cornered him in his secret lab in a remote area of Finland, and after an epic battle Doctor Fuchs was killed. The battle also claimed the life of Professor Breinholst's assistant, helicopter pilot and lifelong friend, the Norwegian engineer Per Stigsson, a tragedy that would cause Professor Breinholst to give up his life as an adventurer and concentrate on pure research (and starring in adverts for Volvo).
Whilst picking through the wreckage of Fuchs' lab after the battle, Breinholst came across a room of cryogenically frozen horrors, monstrous fusions of snake and human DNA that seemed markedly less successful than Fuchs' usual work. They all seemed to be dead - in fact, very few of them could ever have lived - but Breinholst found one of the cryo-tubes where the monitors were still showing strong life-signs. Inside was another hybrid of snake and human, a young girl rather than the hulking monster that Breinholst would have expected. Sick of the death surrounding him, and his scientific curiosity piqued, he took the cryo-tube back to Sweden with him. He debated long and hard before opening it, but finally did so - and met Zara.
Zara proved to be neither mad nor murderous, and despite being a freak of science remained stubbornly healthy and stable genetically. Professor Breinholst, unwilling to see her alone in the world, fought a running battle with the Swedish government to adopt her, and was eventually successful. Despite her freakish appearance, after fifteen years of being mentioned in the same breath as her famous father, Zara become well accepted in the town where she and her father live, and to a slightly lesser extent in Sweden as a whole. Professor Breinholst infused Zara with a love of science, and although he tried not to expose her to his history as an adventurer, it was inevitable that she would find out and want to emulate this aspect of his life as well.
She got her wish after completing her undergraduate degree in Sweden. Given the chance for further study in the USA, Zara took it. Professor Breinholst wasn't fooled for a moment, but to his credit he didn't try to stop her. Zara never completed her graduate degree. Given her distinctive appearance it was no surprise that she came to the attention of Sentry, and after proving that she could be useful in a crisis, she was eventually invited to join.
Zara is an oddity on the Sentry team for reasons beyond her appearance, as she is a Swedish citizen serving on a team dedicated to protecting the USA. What's more, she's proved an unlikely media sensation, her every move covered by celebrity magazines, with commercial endorsements and sponsorships and even her own clothing line. What Lady Locomotive thinks of this is anyone's guess, but for the last four years or so Zara has been a full time member of the team, and despite the incursions that are remaking the world around her, she shows no sign of having lost her taste for adventure.
Zara is a hideous snake monster who terrifies everyone who she encounters.
That's not true at all, although there were some lurid headlines to that effect when she joined Sentry.
Zara WAS created in a lab by a mad scientist, she IS a snake monster (although hideous is a bit harsh) and some people do still find that a bit off-putting, but she's remarkably well adjusted for all that. Some of that comes from being rescued from her test tube by the man who would go on to raise her, Professor Ivar Breinholst, who never let her hide away and ensured that she became accepted by society.
But most of it comes from the fact that, as a bio-weapon, she's an utter failure. The hardware - the fangs, the tail, the venom - all work, and the software - the ability to track and strike at superhuman speed - that all works too, but she has none of the killer instincts to go along with it.
Instead, Zara is bright, cheerful, ferociously intelligent, and she both likes people and, if she's honest with herself, likes to be liked BY people. She's always idolised her scientist-adventurer father, and jumped at the chance to follow in his footsteps, even if in her case it was more of a slither.
Zara has embraced the life of a public superhero wholeheartedly and genuinely cares about what she's doing. Her Sentry team-mates mean a lot to her and she's protective of them, despite being considerably less formidable than most of them, and she's very glad that she doesn't have the responsibility of being in charge of the team.
Zara's under no illusions about what she is, and sometimes the fact that there's no-one else like her on the planet and almost certainly never will be does get her down, but it never lasts. There are always new people to meet, new things to discover, new adventures.
Although Zara's smile appears entirely human, it conceals a pair of curved, retractable fangs that normally lie flat against the roof of her mouth. These can shift into place at a moment's notice, and she can use them to deliver a powerful bite. The fangs are long and sharp enough to punch through leather or heavy cloth and still reach flesh, and she can exert sufficient pressure to break bone. In addition, her lower jaw is capable of opening much further than a normal human, allowing her to clamp her jaws around an entire shoulder or bicep without difficulty.
Zara possesses faster than human reflexes, giving her an edge in combat or in any activity that requires coordination and quick reactions. This is most obviously seen when she strikes with her fangs. If she's in range she can strike with blurring speed, moving faster than the unaided human eye can follow.
Zara's senses are more extensive than an average human. She is capable of tracking humans and animals by taste and smell, and is sensitive to vibration - if someone is moving stealthily nearby, she is likely to feel the movement, no matter how quiet they may be. She is also able to detect local heat sources, such as other living things.
Zara possesses a long, powerful snake tail instead of legs, which generally allows her to move around as swiftly and freely as a more conventionally equipped human. However, her tail is also an effective weapon in its own right. She can use it to sweep an opponent off their feet, or wrap someone up in her coils. Once attached to a person in this way, it would take a very strong individual to escape her clutches. If she were to squeeze, she could easily break bone.
Zara has been bio-engineered to be poisonous. She can control the toxicity of her venom, which has two basic "settings". By using the lower level of toxicity, a successful bite will deliver enough venom to render even a large, fit and powerful human unconscious in a matter of seconds. Recovery time varies depending on the amount of venom introduced to a person's system and how quickly their body can metabolise it, but usually lasts at least an hour. In addition, once the person wakes up, they're likely to feel distinctly unwell for at least another two hours.
Zara can also bite with a higher level of toxicity, which based on lab tests could kill an adult human. She has never attempted to bite using this level of toxicity.
Zara is also capable of spitting her venom with great accuracy to a maximum distance of thirty feet, though her accuracy falls off as the range increases, particularly if her target is moving. However, if she can hit her target in the eyes, her venom will cause burning pain and temporary blindness that can last several minutes.
Zara is a formidable fighter at close range, either with her natural weapons or using traditional combat styles adapted for her unique physiology. She picks up fighting techniques remarkably quickly and easily, suggesting that this is another feature that was designed into her.
COMMERCIAL SPONSORSHIPS AND ENDORSEMENTS
As a superhero with a publically known identity and quite a media following, Zara is often the target of companies looking for her to endorse their products, or offering her sponsorship. She is very careful about what companies she gets involved with and turns away far more than she accepts, but this still provides her with a steady revenue stream.
Despite being a snake from the waist down, celebrity magazines seem to be endlessly obsessed with what Zara is doing, and more importantly what she's wearing. She got talked into launching her own line of clothing, which has proved astonishingly successful.
Most superheroes hide their identities. That has never been an option for Zara. There is a great deal of interest in her public and private life, and unlike some of her colleagues Zara has embraced it. She gives interviews, she makes public appearances, she does fashion shoots. This also gives her a powerful platform when she has a message she wants to get across to the public.
PROFESSOR IVAR BREINHOLST
Professor Breinholst is Zara's adoptive father, and renowned across Scandinavia both for his intellect and his adventurous lifestyle. He's mostly retired these days - both due to a personal tragedy and a desire to give Zara her own time in the spotlight - but he's always available for a consultation, or even just moral support.
Zara was engineered to be a smart weapon. She has an instinctive, almost unconscious aptitude for the advanced mathematics necessary to accurately strike a target at faster than human speed with fangs or venom, but that's not all. She is an accomplished scientist, and provides support to Sentry in that capacity, although she doesn't get much time for pure research these days.
Zara is a full member of the public superhero team Sentry, which entitles her to residence at Sentry's HQ, access to all their technology and resources, and a monthly stipend to cover her living expenses, which she usually doesn't claim.
Zara's father is more than comfortably well off, and through her commercial activities and sponsorship she has her own sources of independent wealth. She's not one of the super-rich, but she generally has more money than she really knows what to do with.
Zara is constantly in the public eye. While she embraces it, it does mean that pretty much everything she says and does gets reported. And in many cases made up. Like the scurrilous rumour that she's partial to snacking on mice. It means she always has to be on her guard, as a phrase or even a word taken out of context could remind people that she's basically a snake monster.
Zara, even when she's trying her best, looks like something out of an ancient Greek myth. When she's in battle, with her fangs extended and her jaws opened inhumanly wide, she looks downright terrifying. Even people who are quite comfortable with the idea of Black Mamba the superhero might not be comfortable in her actual presence.
Zara doesn't have a secret identity, as that would be impossible unless she never, ever went outside. This means that people know who her father is and who her friends are. While this mostly means that they have to put up with paparazzi, it also means that villains know just how to hurt her.
There are some specific drawbacks to having a long snake tail instead of legs. Zara is unable to drive any vehicle that hasn't been outfitted with hand controls, her tail is physically bulky and awkward in small spaces, and of course she's totally unable to pass for a normal human.
Zara was created in a lab via the fusion of human and snake DNA, and a large dose of insanity. She is the only being of her kind on the face of the Earth, and what's worse, she was a prototype. No-one knows how long she's likely to live or whether her genetic structure is stable, and if she's ever seriously injured her unique physiology will make treating her difficult.