The Zodiac was the name of a criminal organization whose members were named and costumed after a sign of the astrological zodiac.
Over the years, there have been various incarnations of the organization. The original Zodiac (also known as the Zodiac Cartel) was founded by the New York businessman Cornelius van Lunt and was interested in ruling humanity just as its leaders believe the astrological zodiac governs humanity's fate. The Zodiac's ultimate goal was that of world economic and political domination.
An ardent believer in astrology, van Lunt amassed a fortune under the guidance of his personal astrologer, but then invested that fortune in the formation and outfitting of a nationwide criminal network, including a hand-picked elite group of leaders, that served as the Zodiac Cartel. Van Lunt was originally the only member of the Zodiac who knew the true identities of all the other leaders, and he long concealed his own identity beneath his own zodiacal persona of Taurus.
Each of the twelve leaders of Zodiac was born under the sign of the zodiac after whom he or she was named and was based in a different American city. None of the twelve leaders possessed superhuman powers, but most of them employed technology to give themselves special capabilities. Generally, the Zodiac leaders each operated independently in the city that was his or her base of operations, but they assembled for matters of collective importance. Whenever there was a vacancy in Zodiac's leadership, either by death or expulsion, the remaining members accepted applications of membership from criminals who met certain qualifications, chief among which is having been born under the zodiacal sign of the vacancy. Traditionally, all of the Zodiac leaders were male, except for Virgo.
The first known activity involving a Zodiac member was the unsuccessful attempt of the original Scorpio to assassinate Nick Fury, the public director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Scorpio wielded an ankh-shaped extra-dimensional power object called the Zodiac Key, which could fire energy bolts and teleport people and objects, even from one dimension to another. Scorpio was later revealed to be Fury's brother, Jake Fury, who joined the Zodiac under unrevealed circumstances.
The Zodiac Key originated in another dimension where conflict, especially between the forces of good and evil, in which neither side entirely and permanently defeats the other, is prized above all else. However, when conflict had waned there over time, a cult of beings known as the Brotherhood created the Zodiac Key and sent it to Earth, believing that the Key would perpetuate the struggle between good and evil, as the battle was more intense on Earth than in their own world. The Key appeared to Jacob Fury, drawn to him by his great potential for doing evil, motivated by his intense hatred of his brother and of the society and governmental system that Nick Fury worked to protect.
When another of Scorpio's attacks on Nick Fury failed, S.H.I.E.L.D. confiscated the Zodiac Key and presumed Jacob Fury dead. A short time later, Nick Fury feigned his own death at the hands of the Hydra organization, and he assumed the role of the second Scorpio in order to infiltrate the Zodiac, whose members were unaware of Jacob Fury's apparent demise. At this time, Zodiac was led by Aries, whose term of leadership under the rules by which Zodiac then operated, was much longer than a single month. In the guise of Scorpio, Fury captured the Avengers and summoned the rest of the Zodiac to their mansion headquarters, planning to free the Avengers and have them help him capture the other eleven members. Unfortunately, the plan failed, although neither Fury nor the Avengers were seriously harmed, and the Zodiac escaped, with Aries taking possession of the Zodiac Key.
Sometime later, Aries, leading a small army, succeeded in capturing Manhattan Island and sealing it off from the rest of the world with a force field. This ransom attempt was thwarted by the Avengers and Daredevil. Aries died in an explosion that apparently destroyed the Key. The Key was rediscovered, however, and used by the Zodiac in another crime scheme. In confronting various members of the Zodiac, Nick Fury, Daredevil, and Iron Man found themselves, along with Aquarius, Capricorn, Sagittarius, and the villain Madame Masque, transported with the Key to the dimension from which it originated. The people were returned to Earth, but the Brotherhood chose to retain the Key after revealing its origin.
Van Lunt, as Taurus, assumed leadership of the Zodiac, and he recruited a new Aries and a new Scorpio. Van Lunt later embarked upon a scheme to display Zodiac's power with a so-called "Star-Blazer" device, powered by some manner of "stellar energy," to kill all the people living in Manhattan born under the sign of Gemini. However, the Avengers destroyed the Star-Blazer.
An internal power struggle then occurred in which six of the Zodaic leaders turned against van Lunt, who induced the rebellious leaders and the Avengers into a death trap. But they survived, and the Avengers succeeded in defeating and capturing van Lunt and the other Zodiac leaders. The charges brought against the Zodiac leaders by the Avengers put them behind bars, but most of them had their sentences commuted and returned to their home bases. It was at this point that van Lunt, who had been Zodiac's financier from the beginning, instituted the system of rotating leadership. Following his horoscope, van Lunt would relinquish control over the group, rotating leadership from month to month according to the prevailing astrological sign.
In the meantime, other versions of the Zodiac began appearing, as Jake Fury created his own version using Life Model Decoys (LMD) androids. This, plus the weakening of power the leaders experienced after being imprisoned, led to a weakening of the organization overall. Thus, during one of van Lunt’s periods of leadership, he planned to compete in certain criminal activities with the New York City-based families of the Maggia. Learning of van Lunt's intentions, the Maggia somehow acquired the serves of the android Taurus and sent it to wreak destruction at van Lunt's new base of operations. Unable to defend himself against the android, van Lunt contacted James Rhodes, then secretly operating as Iron Man, to defend van Lunt's property. Although Rhodes managed to defeat the android, thereby saving his life, van Lunt regarded Iron Man as a threat to Zodiac's future pans. Deducing Rhodes' identity of Iron Man, van Lunt contacted Aries and Aquarius and assigned them to attempt to assassinate Rhodes. They failed, however, and were captured. Tony Stark, the original Iron Man, alerted S.H.I.E.L.D. to the Zodiac's renewed criminal activity, but the human Zodiac remained largely out of sight in the subsequent months and years.
At some point, the LMD android Zodiac captured and presumably killed Jacques LaPoint (Scorpio). Jacob Fury's Scorpio android then impersonated him and infiltrated the human Zodiac organization. He arranged an ambush in which the android Zodiac killed all of the remaining human Zodiac leaders except Cornelius Van Lunt, Taurus.
Immediately afterward, Van Lunt sought out the services of the Avengers' West Coast branch to confront and defeat his rivals. In the battle that followed, the Avengers were taken to the Zodiac Key's native dimension where the conflict, Scorpio believed, could be prolonged indefinitely. In fact, the androids ceased to function because each of them were aligned with a particular zodiacal energy, energy that did not exist in this dimension. The Avengers were sent back to Earth by the Brotherhood, who secretly planned on someday returning the Key to Earth to create new conflicts for them.
Van Lunt, while the Avengers were in the Brotherhood's dimension, had escaped to attempt to rebuild his Zodiac Cartel. Instead, he was tracked down by the Avengers’ Moon Knight, operating on his own motives. In the final battle inside a private plane, Moon Knight was pushed outside, but van Lunt, not knowing how to save himself, perished in the resulting plane crash.