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The Untold Truth Of Baron Zemo

Baron Helmut Zemo, the 13th Baron Zemo, is the son of one of Captain America's deadliest enemies. His evolution as a revenge-seeking villain, criminal mastermind, and even occasional anti-hero has made him a unique and multilayered villain. No matter what his scheme happens to be, Zemo has always believed in one thing: that he was destined to rule the world.

Helmut was mostly raised by his mother, growing up to become an engineer. However, he was aware of his father and spent time with him, growing to understand that not only was he part of the master race, but that Zemos in particular should dominate everyone else. He was consumed by vengeance when he was younger, and still hated Captain America even when he realized that Cap wasn't responsible for his father's death. 

Zemo has tried every trick in the book to gain revenge and power. He's built up armies of villains. He's used mind control. He's ruthlessly kidnapped the loved ones of others to draw in his opponents. He's hidden in plain sight in order to get access to information and weapons. He's cultivated loyal followers and then cast them away. At his core, he's always simply believed that he knew better than everyone else how to create a better world. At the same time, he's haunted by the utter ruthlessness of his father and his desire to be better than he was — a task he knows he'll never achieve. 

The Phoenix rises for Heinrich Zemo

Helmut Zemo's father Heinrich was a ruthless but brilliant Nazi scientist. He invented a death ray that Captain America and Bucky destroyed, and this blow to his reputation in Germany led to him disguising himself with a cowl. He already hated Cap for his first humiliation, but he went insane when Cap beat him again and his cowl was permanently stuck to him thanks to his super-glue invention, Adhesive X. Zemo gained revenge when he booby-trapped a rocket whose detonation put Cap in suspended animation and led to Bucky Barnes being turned into the Winter Soldier. When Cap reemerged, Heinrich created the Masters of Evil as a way of trying to kill Cap and his friends in the Avengers once and for all. Zemo died when his death ray caused a rock slide that buried him while fighting Cap.

Years later, a villain in a bright orange and red costume who called himself the Phoenix menaced Cap and his partner, the Falcon. Using a trick to capture him, the Phoenix revealed himself to be Baron Zemo's son, having reverse-engineered how to make Adhesive X and the death ray. At that time, Helmut Zemo was no match for Cap one on one, and Cap himself was reluctant to fight him, seeing Helmut as another victim of the war.

Of course, Helmut didn't see things that way, and he toppled into his own vat of Adhesive X. He wound up surviving, but his face was scarred forever. 

The Baroness

At one point, Helmut married Heike, whose origin was vague. At one point, she claimed to be the reincarnation of Heinrich Zemo by way of the "bio-fanatic" Arnim Zola. Her base was destroyed in an explosion, but she survived.

In her next appearance, she was married to Helmut Zemo, with 25 children they had stolen from abusive family situations that they referred to as the Kinder. The Zemos gave them love and care while also making sure that they were raised to hate Captain America. Heike was working with the evil scientist Superia, whose agenda was creating a world of super-powered women and wiping out men, and told her that she had lied about being the reincarnation of Heinrich... but who knows for sure?

Helmut overheard her scheming and had to be talked out of killing her before he fell into yet another vat of Adhesive X, with Heike jumping in after him. Cap wasn't going to fall for the same trick twice and tracked them down, easily capturing them both. This wasn't exactly Helmut's finest hour, but it was his most vulnerable, as he even at one point sought relationship advice from Cap. Helmut later claimed that Heike died in prison. 

Nursing a Serpent

After his earlier schemes didn't work, Helmut started hiding in plain sight in order to get what he wanted. That was most famously true with the Thunderbolts, who were various members of the Masters of Evil (his family legacy team) disguised as superheroes in the wake of the Avengers' disappearance and dissolution. Zemo's disguise as a descendant of Citizen V was especially delicious, since his father had killed the original. His plan was to make the public and the authorities trust his team, then get access to SHIELD and Avengers access codes in order to hook up a mind control device to a satellite. His plan almost worked, but he hadn't accounted for some of the Thunderbolts actually wanting to become heroes, and they led the resistance against him.

After Zemo was seemingly killed by Scourge, his consciousness was transferred into the body of John Watkins III, who had taken up the mantle of Citizen V. He led the V Battalion under the nose of every other superhero, including the Avengers. He was offered a chance to lead a team of government-issued superheroes called the Redeemers, who were based on the original Thunderbolts. 

Mansion siege

The point where Helmut Zemo really became a master villain was his plan to monitor the Avengers, probing for weaknesses, and then invading Avengers Mansion. After working for the Red Skull to get his equivalent of a masters degree in evil, Zemo struck out on his own and patiently brought his scheme to fruition. He saw that Hercules chafed against the Wasp's leadership, that the Black Knight was infatuated with the Wasp, and devised a scheme to neutralize Monica "Captain Marvel" Rambeau. When he learned that Namor left the team, he struck. 

He had his best lackey, the Fixer, create a device that allowed him to control the Darkforce-wielding catatonic named Blackout. That control disposed of Captain Marvel and kept the other Masters in line, including the devious Moonstone. He brought in the entire Wrecking Crew, Mr. Hyde, and Goliath to act as his muscle. They beat Hercules nearly to death and did the same to poor Jarvis, all to torture Captain America. 

Ultimately, he failed not because he didn't have enough power, but because he didn't believe his own spiel that he gave his team. He said the Avengers always won because they were unified, but he treated every one of the Masters as expendable cannon fodder. The Avengers, on the other hand, fought for each other because of the friendships they had forged together. That lack of unity and the way he used others was frequently his undoing.

Glue and scars

Heinrich Zemo went insane when his mask was permanently attached to his face, thanks to his own Adhesive X. Zemo, like Paste Pot Pete, exemplified the weird Marvel proclivity for glue-based villains. The problem with the Zemos is that they used this weapon ineffectively. Instead of gluing their opponents to something and killing them, they instead suspended them over vats of glue and inevitably wound up falling in instead. When Cap told Helmut that the Avengers had come up with a solvent for Adhesive X years ago, that hurt more than any punch. So much for Helmut's genius dad.

Karmic payback ran in the family for both Zemos, as Heinrich went insane when his glue bonded his mask to his face and Helmut became even crazier when his face was scarred by boiling Adhesive X. Zemo's vanity was a huge weakness and revealed how sensitive he was to it. He even wore a fake "normal" face around the Kinder so as not to terrify them.

Perhaps the most effective use of Zemo's disfigured visage came in the one-page Hostess Fruit Pies ad parody in Thunderbolts #9. In "Turnover Turncoats," Zemo demanded to know why the Thunderbolts were laying around eating fruit pies instead of carrying out his mission of world domination. Of course, when he took off his cowl and revealed his face, it was both hilarious and extremely unsettling, especially when the pies brought him over to the side of good.

Daddy issues

Helmut Zemo was obsessed with his father and his legacy for many years. When Captain America reappeared, this twisted his grief for his abusive father's death into something truly warped. Like his father, he wasted his own skill and intelligence on futile revenge schemes and recreations of destructive weapons. The reality is that his endless crusade for vengeance was his way of trying to make his father proud. 

Helmut even went so far as to try to resurrect his father using fragments from the magical Bloodstone. All that did was put the essence of an evil force inside Heinrich's body, and he rewarded Helmut by trying to kill him. 

Zemo's own brief time spent as a father to the Kinder softened some of that hatred, even as he was warping them to hate as he had been warped by his father. Helmut then went back into the past and met all of his ancestors, with their DNA being a focal point that allowed him to go farther back in the future as he tried to return to his own time. This included a meeting with his dad as he was demonstrating his first death ray to Hitler. Helmut by this time was sick of how his father had warped him, and they got into a fight. Helmut left him the famous purple cowl as he felt himself pulled forward to the future, understanding how limited his father's worldview actually was.

Hero of Counter-Earth

Zemo's time as leader of the Thunderbolts changed him, even if he didn't want to admit it. The sensation of being admired by his peers and loved by the people, even if it was under false pretenses, moved him more than he wanted to admit. It took a while for him to change, but when he and the Thunderbolts were shunted off to Counter-Earth, he learned to accept this adulation, even if his goals of world domination didn't change.

When the Thunderbolts went to Counter-Earth, Zemo was still sharing his consciousness with the Fixer. When Zemo realized that the Counter-Earth version of his father was trying to take over the world, he directed the Fixer to download his consciousness into that world's version of himself, who called himself Iron Cross. After he killed this other version of his father (once again, daddy issues!), he joined with the Thunderbolts, who wanted to save the world. Zemo realized that as far as he was concerned, if saving the world meant people giving him what he wanted, he was all for it. 

Zemo was hailed as a hero for helping the survivors of the world to the point where he started to become uncomfortable with this adulation. When a threat to Counter-Earth came along, he was ready to destroy Earth in order to save it, but the Thunderbolts found a way to save both planets. Zemo went back to Earth, having convinced even Hawkeye he was a hero.

Cap: It's complicated

For a long time, Helmut saw Captain America as the sole reason his life was so lonely and meaningless. Cap dared defy his father, who was born to rule, and in Helmut's eyes, he killed him. Of course, it didn't happen that way, but Helmut refused to listen. Instead, Zemo made things personal. He kidnapped Cap's childhood friend Arnie Roth and a pacifist friend named Dave Cox and turned him into a killer. When he conquered Avengers Mansion, Zemo gleefully tore up photos of Bucky and Cap's mom and had Mr. Hyde destroy Cap's first shield. All he could get out of Cap was, "I'll remember this, Zemo." He then had Hyde beat Jarvis to a pulp as Cap watched, helpless. 

Later, when Zemo had the Kinder, he remarked on how much time he had wasted hating Cap, and how much happier he was with his family. Of course, he made sure his children were raised to hate his rival, so that hatred was still there.

When Zemo became a hero on Counter-Earth and returned to Earth, he jumped in front of a blast meant for Cap and saved him, leaving him scarred once again. (At least it wasn't Adhesive X.) Things got extra weird when Captain America was changed by the Cosmic Cube named Kobik into one who had always served HYDRA. That Cap believed that Helmut had been his lifelong friend, and he even managed to talk Helmut into believing it. 

Mind control mania

Zemo has always liked having minions and teams to do his dirty work, but he values absolute servitude above all else. He made sure to have the Fixer give him absolute control over Blackout in order to make him his personal bodyguard. He used the device called the Bio-Modem to take over the minds of the Avengers and was nearly able to take over the entire world with it. One of the main reasons he kept Moonstone around was because of her psychological acumen, which he could use to manipulate his Masters of Evil. On a personal level, he took over the bodies of John Watkins III and Helmut Zemo of Counter-Earth, escaping death in the process both times as he used another person's body. 

Despite his frequent reliance on mind control, Zemo's natural charisma has convinced a lot of people to work with him. When he put together the original Thunderbolts, for example, he knew just how to appeal to each member in order to get them to join. The Fixer was bored and needed problems to solve, and Zemo gave him that. Songbird was on the run and needed someone to offer her shelter, and he gave her that. MACH-1 was tired of being a loser, and Zemo gave him a chance to win. Goliath needed to be someone's soldier, and Zemo gave him that. The reason they turned on him is that he gave them what they wanted, but not what they needed: trust and belief. 

Zemo knows best

Whether Zemo is presenting himself as a hero or a villain, his goal of domination has never wavered. He wanted to rule the world and thought, as a Zemo, he was the only one fit to do it. Unlike many villains, he's come astoundingly close to winning several times. He almost took over the mind of everyone in the world with the Bio-Modem, and only his own hubris proved to be his undoing. 

Even when he seemed to be more heroic, he had the Thunderbolts help assemble the Liberator, a device designed to drain the power of super-powered individuals. It theoretically would have been used against terrorist threats and supervillains, but it left open two major questions. First, what would be done with the energy it absorbed? Second, who would decide when and how to use it? A test run had adverse effects on several heroes, and even a well-intentioned Zemo was willing to allow for a lot of collateral damage.

When Zemo later decided to take over Hydra, he recruited a kid named Lucas, whose blood could sterilize human beings. His scheme this time around was to save the world's future by sterilizing most of the human race, creating a "purer" world. He was going to detonate a bomb in the atmosphere that would affect all of humanity, and had a backup plan involving fleas carrying the toxin. He was stopped by the Falcon and his bird Redwing (who ate the fleas).