Baron Zemo is a Marvel Comics supervillain, and a Legacy Character that has been held by 13 different individuals of German nobility. The two most famous, and immediately relevant, holders of the title are Helmut Zemo, the current and longstanding Baron, and Heinrich Zemo, Helmut's father and the one responsible for killing Bucky Barnes (initially) and putting Captain America on ice. Helmut has been the most prominent Baron since taking on the title in 1982, and when people say "Baron Zemo", they're likely referring to him.
The first Baron Zemo introduced in Marvel is Heinrich. He was a Nazi scientist responsible for putting Captain America on ice, and was created to be a Suspiciously Similar Substitute for the Red Skull. He first appeared via a flashback in The Avengers #4 (July 1964) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and made his first full-on debut two issues later.
Heinrich was a sworn enemy of Captain America (despite having no appearances in the original Timely Comics), whose hood was permanently glued to his face after a confrontation with Cap led to a material called Adhesive X caused the mask to fuse to him. This drove him insane and made him evil(er). Years later, Heinrich would form the Masters of Evil as the Evil Counterpart of the Avengers upon learning the Captain America has resurfaced. With him as the lead, he would recruit the Black Knight, the Melter, and Radioactive Man, before inducting The Enchantress and the Executioner following their banishment from Asgard, and later Wonder Man (who underwent a HeelFace Turn). Heinrich, even without superpowers, was one of the Avengers' most dangerous foes.
In the final battle with Captain America, Heinrich was killed by an avalanche from the oncoming chaos. Bucky's death (at the time) was avenged. The Masters of Evil would disband, and reform again with new membership multiple times. Though he only appeared alive in fourteen issues, Heinrich still impacts the world of Marvel to this day. In particular, his actions played a major role in the stories of Captain America, Bucky Barnes (who would resurface as the Brainwashed and Crazy assassin known as the Winter Soldier), and his son, Helmut Zemo (see below).
Helmut Zemo was first introduced in Captain America #168 (December 1973) by Roy Thomas, Tony Isabella and Sal Buscema. In his first appearance, Helmut was known as Phoenix (not to be confused with that Phoenix), who wanted revenge on Captain America for his father's fall into madness and subsequent death. Before the incident, Heinrich loved his son, but afterwards, he abused him both emotionally and physically, and Helmut believed Cap to be responsible. After going toe-to-toe with Cap, as well as his friend The Falcon, Helmut's plan backfired and he fell into the vat of Adhesive X, causing his face to be horribly scarred and for the Phoenix to be reborn as the new Baron Zemo.
For many years afterwards, Baron Zemo would be a recurring antagonist as part of the Masters of Evil. In stark contrast to his father, who died after fourteen issues and remains dead to this day, Helmut is notable in that he simply refuses to die, ever. It's helped by the fact that he always has contingencies and is more of a Pragmatic Villain than his father being insane.
One of Helmut's most famous story arcs is the original Thunderbolts, where he posed as Citizen V (ironic since that was a hero who his father murdered) alongside the Masters of Evil to replace the Avengers following the Onslaught event. His attempt was to take over the world by having all trust put on the Thunderbolts before executing his master plan, but the others ended up becoming genuine heroes when they learned that Being Evil Sucks. This itself created problems. Since then, he's always been a prominent recurring foe. If the Masters of Evil are involved, Baron Zemo will likely lead them.
The two Barons contrast greatly in terms of portrayal. Heinrich is straight-up evil, just as you would expect for a Nazi scientist in an American comic book. His only thing that could be considered a redeeming trait is his love for his son, and even that gets marred by how much he abused him. He's just as bad as the Red Skull, and did things so inhumane that even his Nazi subordinates were disgusted by them.
On the other hand, Helmut is a much more conflicted figure. He struggled with a Dark and Troubled Past thanks to said father, had to come to terms with Heinrich being a horrible father and an even worse man, and eventually disowned him, his ancestry, the Nazi ideology and all associated prejudices while becoming more of an Equal-Opportunity Evil villain. While always remaining on the villain side, he's much more charismatic and sympathetic than Heinrich ever was.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe, played by Daniel Brühl
- Marvel: Avengers Alliance (2012)
- Avengers Academy (2016)
- LEGO Marvel's Avengers (2016) Helmut is a playable Secret Character in this game. Heinrich is available as a DLC character.
- Lego Marvel Superheroes 2: Helmut is a playable character
- The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! - Heinrich appears, and is a Composite Character of himself and Helmut.
- Avengers, Assemble! - Heinrich and Helmut both appears in this animated series.
Baron Heinrich Zemo
Alter Ego: Baron Heinrich Zemo
Notable Aliases: Baron Zemo, Dr. Heinrich Zemo, "Masked Demon"
First Appearance: The Avengers #4 (March 1964) note ; The Avengers #6 (July 1964) note
- Archenemy: Was Captain America's during the first twenty issues of Avengers, and his actions continue to inform those of Captain America, Bucky, and his son, Helmut, to this day. His team, the Masters of Evil, were, and continue to be, the archenemies of the Avengers.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: The Zemo barony goes back several centuries, and most of them have been relative good folk (the second Baron Zemo was a total dickweed, but his tenure lasted all of two minutes before his son got rid of him), some were ineffectual, and one or two weak-willed. And Heinrich decided to throw in with the Nazis.
- Badass Bookworm: For a guy who spent most of his life in a laboratory, Zemo's a pretty capable fighter.
- Badass Normal: Zemo possessed no superhuman abilities, yet he could not only match Captain America in a fistfight, but led a group that included The Black Knight, The Enchantress, The Executioner, The Melter, and The Radioactive Man.
- Big Bad: Of the original Masters of Evil and any storyline involving them.
- Clingy Costume: Thanks to some Adhesive X, his mask was permanently stuck to his face. He could breathe and talk through it, but needed to use an IV to feed and drink.
- Cool Mask: His purple mask is quite cool. Good thing too, seeing as it is glued to his face.
- Emperor Scientist: Downplayed. Heinrich was the emperor all right, but of a tiny kingdom deep in the South American jungles.
- Evil Genius: To the point where even the Enchantress and the Executioner have to respect his intelligence.
- Evil Gloating: Guy just did not shut. UP. Most of what Helmut remembers of his childhood was dad rambling on about how one day they'd rise up again and crush their enemies and etc, etc...
- Evil Overlord: Of a stretch of South American jungle
- Evilutionary Biologist: Hitler might have been disdainful of experiments to increase human potential, but Zemo was not, as evidenced by his creation of Wonder Man.
- Fur and Loathing: Became part of his costume after his exile to the jungle.
- High-Class Glass: Zemo: Born Better reveals that he used to sport one before the mask got glued to his face.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Buried in a rockslide that was caused by his own gun misfiring.
- In the Blood: Arrogance and a penchant towards treating others as the lowest forms of life are definitely in the Zemo blood. Heinrich's interest in human experimentation actually began with his father, who conducted similar experiments during WWI.
- Killed Off for Real: Died in a rockslide during a battle with Captain America.
- Mad Scientist: Was one of Hitler's top scientists, and had no issues with experimenting on political prisoners.
- Nazi Nobleman: The twelfth Baron Zemo, and a high-ranking member of the Nazi hierarchy, second only to The Red Skull. He combines his belief in his own innate superiority with Nazi Master Race theory.
- Purple Is Powerful: Signifies his status as king of a jungle tribe in this case.
- Remember the New Guy?: Baron Zemo was a Nazi leader who fought against Captain America during World War II. However, his first appearance was in 1964, long after World War II ended. He was retroactively added as one of Captain America's major World War II enemies.
- Revenge: Motivated by a need to avenge himself on Captain America, who he blames for gluing his mask to his face.
- The Rival: He and The Red Skull were rivals for Hitler's favour, control over other Nazi superhumans, and the title of Captain America's archenemy.
- Secondary Color Nemesis: Wears purple in contrast to Cap's blue and red.
- Slobs vs. Snobs: The rivalry he had with the Red Skull is often given tones of this. He was a wealthy aristocrat, while the Skull grew up on the streets.
- Small Role, Big Impact: He appeared in the sixth issue of the Avengers and was killed off in the twentieth. His actions continue to influence Cap, Bucky, and his son, Helmut, to this day.
- Stable Time Loop: He's the subject of two.
- When Helmut was sent through time, at one point he winds up in Heinrich's lab in the early days of WW 2, he beats Heinrich up, and drops his hood at his feet, telling him to take it as a reminder.
- In a time-travel arc of Thunderbolts, Moonstone nearly kills him, but spares him partly to preserve the timeline (but also because she's feeling lazy that day), on the condition he has a son and names him Helmut.
- Stupid Jetpack Hitler: His death rays, Adhesive X, and other discoveries were far beyond what the real Nazi Germany was capable of.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: For the Red Skull before it was decided to bring the Skull into the present day.
- Those Wacky Nazis: He's a Nazi through and through, unlike his son.
Baron Helmut J. Zemo
Alter Ego: Baron Helmut J. Zemo
Notable Aliases: Baron Zemo, Citizen V, Phoenix, Iron Cross, Mark Evanier
First Appearance: Captain America #168 (December 1973) note ; Captain America #275 (November 1982) note ; The Incredible Hulk #449 (January 1997) note
- Anti-Villain: Sometimes verges on this, though it's a case of Depending on the Writer.
- Arch-Enemy: After his father's death, he takes this role to Captain America and leads the Masters of Evil after inheriting the title.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: He's a baron after all, and believes his aristocratic heritage entitles him to rule.
- Avenging the Villain: Helmut's original motive was to kill Captain America because he killed his father. Eventually, Helmut came to the realization that actually, Heinrich was an awful father and an even worse person.
- Badass Normal: Has no powers, but regularly fights the likes of Captain America and the Avengers. He usually has a contingency that will allow him to deal with his opponent's plans anyway; it's only when these contingencies fail (as happened during his battle with Moonstone at the end of the initial run on Thunderbolts) that he's in trouble.
- The Big Bad: Of his fare share of arcs, particularly those involving the Masters of Evil.
- Brain Uploading: He only survived being decapitated because Techno uploaded his consciousness to a computer.
- Butter Face: A Rare Male Example. He has the body you'd expect of somebody who can keep up with Captain America in terms of physique... but that handsome form is contrasted by a hideously malformed visage. For a while, he had a young, dashing look again after hijacking the body of the Helmut from another Earth, but only two years later his face got disfigured again. When he got Carla Sofen's Moonstone, he used it to fix that, but when Melissa broke it again...
- Calling the Old Man Out: During his trip back in time, he ran into his father while the latter was gleefully doing mad science for the Nazis. Helmut had long since discarded any Nazi prejudices he had once had, and was fuming watching his father put down other races, the handicapped, etc. Finally he had enough and started beating the hell out of him while giving a "Reason You Suck" Speech. Quite the sign of Character Development for the guy who started out worshiping and avenging his father's memory.
- Captain Patriotic: At the beginning of the Thunderbolts, he disguised himself as Citizen V, supposedly the son of a previous hero who'd gone by that name, whom Zemo had killed. Zemo went the whole hog, even decking himself in a cape designed after the American flag.
- The Chessmaster: Zemo has a plan for everything, and lays them out months in advance.
- Cool Mask: Wears a tighter fitting version of his father's mask.
- The Cynic: Has a generally negative view of humanity.
- Daddy Issues: He loved his father, and his father loved him... until the Adhesive X incident, where he became outright abusive in every way. Originally, Helmut blamed Captain America. Now, he acknowledges that his father was just a horrible human being.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: He once shot the Grandmaster, one of the Elders of the Universe and a being way outside his normal weight class, through the head. Admittedly, there were mitigating circustances that allowed him to do this, and the Grandmaster did get better (because, hey, comics).
- Disney Villain Death: Many, many times (see Never Found the Body below).
- Even Evil Has Standards: Arranged the death of one of his ancestors during a time-travel jaunt, after he found out the man was a rapist and a mass-murderer who did it all For the Evulz. He later clashed with another ancestor when he thought he was harassing a girl (the two were actually in love, and he quickly apologised).
- Evil Genius
- Evil Is Petty:
- One of his nastiest acts of spite was destroying a box of Cap's treasured belongings, including some of his last links to the past, right in front of his eyes.
- What was his initial plan in founding the Thunderbolts? Pretend to be heroes, earn America and the world's trust, become famous and respected, and then gather knowledge on the other heroes to... sell to the criminal underworld? Eventually, Moonstone points out this is a freaking stupid plan.
- The Faceless: He rarely ever removes his mask, due to his face being horribly scarred in a accident.
- Facial Horror: His head has been slashed up so badly that it's practically a skull, with ribbons of flesh draping over his eyes and sliced-off cheeks and lips. The sight of his face visibly disgusts everyone in the original Thunderbolts.
- Freudian Excuse: Raised by his father to believe in his inherent superiority. There wasn't a lot of dad hugs down in that South American jungle, mostly just rants and lectures.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Hideously disfigured beneath his mask.
- Grand Theft Me: After becoming a "ghost", his mind was transferred to the actual son of Citizen V (Techno noted it was basically him playing a joke). That is, until an energy conflict - the V-Batallion tried to teleport Citizen V as the body was being sucked into a portal - made his mind be expelled into Techno's machinery. But given he arrived at Counter-Earth, this meant Zemo could do a literal case of the trope, and took the body of his self from this world.
- HeelFace Revolving Door: Cannot make up his mind which side he is supposed to be on. He even once took a bullet for Cap despite being his sworn enemy.
- In the Blood: The arrogance and the drive for control certainly are.
- Joker Immunity: Unlike his father, he can never seem to be put down for long.
- The Leader: Of the Masters of Evil and the Thunderbolts.
- Legacy Character: To his father, Baron Heinrich Zemo XII.
- Manipulative Bastard: Zemo's very good at getting other people to do what he wants, playing on their emotions and desires.
- Master Swordsman: One of the best in the Marvel Universe. Zemo's dueled the likes of Captain America and survived several decades worth of warfare on a time travel jaunt.
- Nazi Nobleman: Started out as one, though he's moved away from fascism in recent years. Nowadays his goals align more with Dirty Communists.
- Never Found the Body: During the run of Thunderbolts alone he was declared dead on four separate occasions, all of which turned out to be false. In each instance, his body was never found. By the fourth time, most of the team just assume he'll turn up eventually (not that they want him to).
- Noble Demon: He's much more noble than his father,for sure.
- Purple Is Powerful: Signifies his aristocratic leanings.
- Secondary Color Nemesis: Purple, to oppose Cap's blue and red.
- Take Over the World: He insists it's to save it. Some people (like Songbird) aren't convinced.
- Taking the Bullet: Once leapt in the way of an energy blast an insane Moonstone aimed at Captain America. Messed his face up bad.
- There Are No Therapists: This guy is seriously messed up and would probably have turned out differently if he got professional help.
- Token Evil Teammate: Alongside Techno, he serves as this for the first iteration of Thunderbolts. While most members of the team fall somewhere between The Hero and the Anti-Hero, Zemo shows no signs of having softened whilst playing-hero, and alongside Techno manages to almost conquer the world and turn it into a Darwinist nightmare. He also constantly mocks his teammates for wanting to be heroes, calling them "weak" and "traitors to the cause" when they show the smallest signs of heroism outside of their pubic duties.
- Unlucky Thirteen: He's the thirteenth Baron Zemo.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: In his mind, at any rate, after some Character Development, he becomes determined to take over the world for its own good. That doesn't mean that he's not an Axe-Crazy terrorist who's willing to perform some truly heinous actions for the sake of the "greater good."
Zemo: I would never have hurt a world I worked so hard to save.
- Taken to the highest extreme possible. When he actually did have the power to implement whatever change he might have wanted, Songbird shut him down with the intention of killing him out of not trusting him. What were what he believed could have been his last words?
- Western Terrorists: More like this than a Nazi.
- Wicked Cultured: When being held at swordpoint by his worst ancestor, an evil aristocrat who believed only in the absolute of power, said ancestor's son (who'd struck up a friendship with Zemo) asked what was more absolute than power. Zemo's answer? "To be, or not to be."
- Worthy Opponent: Sometimes sees Captain America this way, and definitely sees Sharon Carter this way.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: He's good at incorporating the gambits of others into his plans, as evidenced by his deft manipulation of Moonstone when they were both members of the Thunderbolts.