Baron Zemo will reappear as the nemesis in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier Disney series. A quick glimpse of his signature purple mask hints at the possibility of him mirroring his comic persona. What do we really know about this classic villain who has roots reaching back to Marvel’s Silver Age?
The Original Baron Zemo
Baron Heinrich Zemo first appeared in Avengers #6 in 1964. The Avengers discover World War II legend, Captain America floating frozen in a block of ice. He tells the Avengers how he and his young partner, Bucky, battled the Nazi scientist Baron Zemo near the end of World War II. When Zemo launched a plane with a devastating weapon, Cap and his sidekick leaped aboard to stop it. They managed to make the weapon explode in mid-flight, presumably killing Bucky and dropping Cap into an ice flow where he lay for decades in suspended animation.
Somewhat similar fates befall our heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, the villain responsible there is the Red Skull, rather than Zemo. In both mediums, Bucky escapes his fate to become the Winter Soldier. Thus, Zemo’s appearance in the new Disney series has an interesting comic book significance to the hero.
That Famous Facewear
Heinrich Zemo’s famous purple mask became permanently affixed to his face when Captain America shattered a container of Zemo’s Adhesive X while battling in Avengers #6. Zemo continues to plague the Avengers, along with his original Masters of Evil, in Avengers #7, #9, and #10. In Avengers #15, Heinrich Zemo’s threat ends as he is crushed to death in an avalanche of his own making.
In that short time span, the original Baron Zemo was responsible for the creation and death of Wonder Man, as well as the founding of the Masters of Evil. Yet, his son would go on to have an even larger legacy in Marvel comics.
From Out of the Ashes…
Surprisingly, Heinrich’s son, Helmut Zemo, doesn’t make his first comic appearance as Baron Zemo. Instead, in Captain America #168 he appears as the villain, Phoenix (making this issue an under-the-radar key for Zemo fans). Battling Captain America and the Falcon, he is knocked into a vat of Adhesive X. He survives, but suffers severe facial scarring, prompting him to don his father’s purple mask and becoming the new Baron Zemo.
Zemo allies himself with Arnim Zola and then with the Red Skull and his daughter, Mother Superior, before branching out on his own. It should be noted that Skull’s daughter, Mother Superior, goes on to become the villain Sin. In yet another tie to the new Disney series, previews hint that Sin could be a featured villain.
A Master of Evil
Showing his knack for leadership, Zemo reforms the Masters of Evil. This classic story arc begins in Avengers #270. Zemo’s minions brutally take over the Avengers mansion. They torture the Black Knight and Jarvis and apparently kill Hercules before the remaining Avengers regroup to defeat them.
Perhaps Zemo’s most memorable accomplishment was the formation of his next group. After originally appearing in Hulk #449, the Thunderbolts debuted in their own comic book in 1997. This new group of heroes stepped into the vacuum created when the Avengers and many other heroes disappeared battling Onslaught. In one of Marvel’s biggest surprises, a final page reveal in Thunderbolts #1 shows them to really be Zemo and his Masters of Evil rebranding themselves as heroes. In his role as Citizen V of the Thunderbolts, Zemo, at times, vacillates between world domination and redemption.
Baron Zemo would go on to lead Hydra. He also played a crucial role in using the Cosmic Cube to turn Captain America into
a Hydra Sleeper Agent. Through it all, Zemo has narrowly escaped death many times, and sometimes even has been killed only to be brought back through carefully crafted plans.
Zemo Brings His Plotting to the Small Screen
I, for one, was disappointed in Zemo’s portrayal in MCU’s Captain America – Civil War movie. While his scheming did set the heroes against one another, very little was done to develop the character of Zemo. The casual viewer would be hard-pressed to name him as the villain of the movie. Our glimpses of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series hint at the possibility of fixing this. His comic book tie-ins with both heroes (as well as with Sin if the girl in the teasers is actually her) make him an ideal villain for the pair. Given the success of Disney’s last Marvel series, Baron Zemo could become as influential in the MCU as he has been for the last 50 plus years in Marvel comics!