Helmut Zemo carries on his family’s evil tradition of seeking power and influence no matter how many innocent lives get in his way.
His Father’s Son
Young Helmut Zemo witnessed his father Baron Heinrich Zemo’s wickedness first-hand during the dark days of World War II and remained loyal to him and his family’s reputation for evil. Heinrich left his son behind when the war ended and Germany surrendered to the Allies, but Helmut visited the insane Baron in his South American stronghold. He mourned his father when he died during a battle with Captain America, Heinrich’s sworn enemy.
The new Baron Zemo took up his father’s mantle and set out to avenge him by adopting the persona of the Phoenix to kill Captain America. Failing this, he accidentally fell into a vat of Heinrich’s infamous Adhesive X and emerged scarred for life. The Baron took to wearing a mask like Heinrich and set about showing the world the true face of evil.
Like his father, the massively intelligent Helmut excelled in the fields of science and engineering, but unlike him, did not possess the inventive ability to create new technology. The Baron is more than capable of adapting and modifying existing concepts, which he has done with Heinrich’s milestones such as Adhesive X. He has also fashioned a headpiece that shields him from mind-control attacks and psionic assaults.
Helmut put himself through rigorous combat training to become a much better fighter and marksman than his father, and has also shown great capability as a strategist and leader.
Mental instability runs in the Zemo family, and Helmut witnessed his father’s madness at close range, shaping much of his own outlook on life. This made his personal relationships with others complicated, especially owing to the Baron’s changing philosophies and attempts at redemption.
Helmut’s allies are usually not friends; in fact it can be said he has never had a true friend in his life. Perhaps some members of the Thunderbolts teams he’s led could be considered close allies, such as the Fixer and Atlas, but women like Songbird and Moonstone presented more nuanced relationships for Helmut.
In terms of outright enemies, that too remains a complicated issue. In the past, Baron Zemo has clashed violently with Captain America, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Spider-Man, and other Super Heroes, but he’s also imagined himself on their side during his quest for absolution of his family’s malevolence.
Path to Power
After fully accepting his role as the scion of the Zemo legacy, Helmut entered into alliances with such luminaries as the android Primus and the evil Red Skull to further his goal of crushing Captain America. When he eventually extended his hatred for Cap to the hero’s companions in the Avengers, Zemo brought together a new Masters of Evil and invaded Avengers Mansion. During that siege, he captured and tortured its residents and butler Jarvis, and destroyed precious mementos of Cap’s. In the end, the Avengers rallied and beat Zemo, resulting in injuries from his fall from a high roof to the street below.
Later he attempted to resurrect his father with the mystical Bloodstone and then abducted children to create an ersatz “family” with his new wife Heike, the “Baroness Zemo.” The two were finally captured and imprisoned, and Heike died in prison, leaving Helmut to reevaluate his pointless lust for revenge on Captain America. Seeking only power after that, he rushed in with a gang of criminals to masquerade as heroes in the absence of the Avengers following the ONSLAUGHT event. Calling themselves the Thunderbolts, Zemo and his cronies began to control the world’s population through many means, but were exposed when Earth’s heroes returned and tipped the scales back again. Zemo’s partner Moonstone nearly killed the Baron in the fallout, but he escaped with Atlas’ help and swore revenge on the team.
Unfortunately for him, the criminal-killing Scourge murdered Baron Zemo in the course of his activities. Zemo’s spirit entered into the body of the current Citizen V, a relative of the masked champion killed by Heinrich during the war. Posing as a hero again, Helmut organized the Redeemers team for the government, and alongside the Thunderbolts, traveled to the artificial Counter-Earth to save it from disaster. Hailed as heroes there, he and the others returned to Earth and merged his Thunderbolts with a new team using the name under the leadership of the ex-Avenger Hawkeye. Feeling differently about his path to power, Zemo hoped to better himself as he took leadership of the conjoined Thunderbolts and even developed romantic feelings for his former enemy Moonstone.
The Avengers instituted a program to spy on Zemo and things began to fall apart for him again when Moonstone was discovered to have built a failsafe into the new Liberator project that would insure her ability to take it over. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Thunderbolts joined forces to battle Moonstone. In the process, Helmut was horribly scarred again while trying to help Captain America during the fight. Afterward, the Thunderbolts disbanded and the Baron was left with only the powerful moonstones of his one-time love interest.
Zemo’s outlook changed even more to altruism when he discovered the moonstones could show him future events. Opposing the cosmic Grandmaster over the mysterious Wellspring of Power on Earth, he witnessed a vision of an alien force attacking the planet to destroy the artifact, and moved to stop Genis-Vell, the son of the late hero Mar-Vell, from destroying the universe one day in the future. Helmut also struck up a romance with Songbird of the new Thunderbolts and urged her to become the team’s leader, which she did while harboring intentions to betray Zemo. For his part, the Baron schemed to take control of the team and utilized the mind-altering Purple Man to transform Andreas Von Strucker into a modern Swordsman for what he saw as the greater good.
Helmut and some ex-teammates fought and destroyed Genis-Vell, now called Photon, and once more, merged two groups into yet another incarnation of the Thunderbolts. They allied themselves with the government as the Superhuman Registration Act came into being. Not only did they register, but they also offered their help with the Initiative program to capture villains and incarcerate them. Secretly, though, Zemo contacted the rebel Captain America to extend aid to his underground agents and also formally apologized to the hero for Heinrich Zemo’s evil deeds.
After killing the Grandmaster, the Baron felt sorely tempted by the Wellspring as his life grew more complicated. Songbird destroyed Zemo’s power along with the moonstones, and he once again seemingly lost his life in the action. However, his consciousness jumped through time to visit his infamous ancestors and try to change his family’s course. Helmut’s greatest moment came when he stood face to face with his father and denounced him once and for all. A distant Zemo cousin named Wendell Volker drew Helmut’s spirit back to the present by spilling the blood of several other cousins and informed Zemo he was to be executed. The Baron convinced Volker to allow him to continue his search for atonement.
Following Norman Osborn’s defeat and fall from power, Zemo reappeared in public to confront Bucky Barnes in his role as the new Captain America in the wake of Steve Rogers’ apparent death. Zemo was angered by the news of Rogers’ past work to cover up Bucky’s atrocities as the Winter Soldier and began to expose his actions to the world. He struggled to contain his jealousy over Cap’s aid to his former sidekick, and after kidnapping Bucky, Helmut let him go to pursue new goals.
Baron Zemo’s old habits manifested when he took aim at Hawkeye for taking leadership of the Thunderbolts again, and recruited the archer’s old mentor Trickshot to train someone as an even better marksman. Helmut led a new Hydra to battle Sam Wilson, the former Falcon, when he took over as Captain America for a time. Wanting to sterilize the entire human race to stem the tide of overpopulation, Zemo wound up in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody and was made to forget his own identity as a citizen of Pleasant Hill, a S.H.I.E.L.D. “prison” town. When Zemo eventually learned the truth and regained his identity, he and the Fixer restored the other criminals’ personalities and organized a break-out. As Pleasant Hill fell, the sentient Cosmic Cube known as Kobik transported the Baron to the Himalayas.
Helmut Zemo later created a new Masters of Evil, but when Captain America (Steve Rogers) confronted and captured him, he was made to believe he and Cap had been close friends since they were children due to Kobik’s “rewriting” of Rogers’ entire history. Now the head of Hydra and taking over the world, Rogers had Zemo bring together an Army of Evil and manipulate the villainous Blackout to form a Darkforce energy dome over the island of Manhattan. When the Underground resistance movement of heroes invaded the island, Bucky Barnes and Black Panther defeated and captured Zemo.
Most recently, Helmut and Hydra subjugated the nation of Bagalia and set up the Mandarin in an assumed identity to act as the representative of the new status quo. The Punisher opposed Zemo there and so the Baron traveled back to America where he worked to rebuild Hydra, while clashing with the Falcon and the Winter Soldier.