Zemo vows vengeance against those with superpowers after insane robot Ultron and the Avengers destroyed his home country of Sokovia and his entire family with it.
Colonel Zemo of Sokovian intelligence runs a Sokovian covert kill squad. After Ultron attacked Sokovia, he takes his wife and son to his father’s outside the city. On the way, he reassures his family that they would be miles from harm. But the battle between Ultron and the Avengers reached far and wide, and when the dust clears, it takes Zemo two days to find his family in the rubble. He finds his father holding his wife and son in his arms. Vowing revenge against the Avengers, Zemo dedicates his life to taking the supposed heroes down from the inside via manipulation.
With his paramilitary background and Sokovian intelligence training, Zemo is an expert tactician, able to manipulate events in his favor. He also possesses knowledge in advanced weaponry, capable of building bombs and other similar devices.
A master of disguise, he uses wigs and prosthetics to alter his appearance and make the world believe he is someone else. His ability to speak several languages, including his native tongue Sokovian, German, Russian, and English allow him to blend in. He can easily hack computer files and hold his own in a fight.
Enemies to Eliminate
While Ultron was ultimately responsible for the death of his family, Zemo blamed the Avengers for their involvement and lack of responsibility for the aftermath. Knowing that more powerful men than him have tried to take them down, he knew he had to employ a different tactic, that of dismantling the team from within.
Alone in the World
After Zemo lost his whole family at the Battle of Sokovia, he became obsessed with seeking justice for them. He allies with those willing to help him in his quest, but his allies are few in number. He causes a power outage which allows him ten minutes alone with former American soldier turned Hydra assassin James Buchanan Barnes, AKA Winter Soldier, who had been detained at the base. His hope was to brainwash him for more answers about the deaths of Tony Stark’s parents and the Winter Soldier.
Taking His Time For Revenge
After Black Widow released Hydra files to the public, Zemo patiently deciphered them thanks to his experience in Sokovia’s armed forces. In his research, he located Vasily Karpov, the Hydra agent who was part of the Winter Soldier Program, a project started by Arnim Zola in the 1940s, and responsible for brainwashing Bucky Barnes, AKA Winter Soldier.
Tracking him down, Zemo crashed his car to get Karpov to open his door to him, then proceeded to knock him out. He tied him up and hung him upside down in a mop sink of running water. He then smashed a nearby wall, discovering reports and a red leather-bound book with a black star on the cover—the book Karpov used to brainwash and control Barnes.
Zemo demanded answers about a mission from 1991, but Karpov refused to help him. Zemo made it clear that Karpov’s connection to Hydra and his death would not bother him, but he needed to do whatever was necessary.
A master of disguise, Zemo posed as Barnes and bombed the United Nations meeting in Vienna, killing Wakanda’s King T’Chaka and many others. He made sure to get caught on camera so that Barnes would be the primary focus of the investigation. This misdirect led authorities to hunt down and capture Barnes.
Zemo’s plan succeeded and Barnes was caught by James “Rhodey” Rhodes, AKA War Machine, and the CIA’s Joint Counter Terrorist Centre. Predicting that he would be detained at a base in Berlin, he first intercepted then killed UN psychiatrist Dr. Theo Broussard, who was summoned by the task force overseeing Barnes’ detainment. He then coordinated with an ally to deliver an EMP device to a nearby power station, and once opened, it would wipe out power at the base.
Zemo easily infiltrated the compound as Broussard, and once alone with Barnes, Zemo received a notification that the device was delivered. He then read the codewords from the red book aloud which triggered Barnes’ Winter Soldier programming.
Zemo asked him about the same mission from 1991 as well as more information about the Winter Soldier program that was carried out in Siberia and its location. He informed Zemo that he had stolen a replicated version of Super Soldier Serum, which transformed Steve Rogers into Captain America, and was used by Hydra to create five other Winter Soldiers like himself — though, the other soldiers, forming an elite kill squad, turned out worse than Barnes.
When Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon, and Rogers arrived to Barnes’ holding room, Zemo continued the lie as the psychiatrist by asking them for help, but Rogers didn’t buy it and shoved him up against a wall, demanding to know what he wanted. Zemo revealed that he wanted to see an empire fall, and suddenly Barnes under Zemo’s thrall attacked Wilson and Rogers, allowing Zemo to escape the base.
At the airport before a flight to Moscow, Zemo then listened to a voicemail from his wife and overheard a news report that Barnes escaped custody with Rogers and Wilson, and are all now missing.
While the Avengers fought amongst themselves, Zemo arrived at a facility in Siberia where he searched through their cobwebbed-filled record room, and discovered a box marked 1991. He then found the other members of the Winter Soldier program encased and cryogenically frozen. He shot and killed each of them in their sleep, and when Barnes, Rogers, and Stark arrived thinking he was going to release the other Winter Soldiers, he revealed his true plan was about them.
Zemo then played video footage from the 1991 mission, which revealed what really happened the night Stark’s parents were killed in a car crash—Barnes carried out the kill and stole the replicated Super Soldier Serum from their trunk. This betrayal infuriated Stark who fought Barnes as well as Rogers who defended his friend.
While they fought, Zemo left the facility and listened to his wife’s voicemail again with a gun in hand. It was at this moment that T’Challa, AKA Black Panther, who had lost his father in the UN bombing because of Zemo’s actions, revealed himself, having followed the heroes. Zemo shared the reasons for his revenge and apologized to T’Challa for killing his father. T’Challa refused to let vengeance consume him in the same way. Zemo then tried to commit suicide, but T’Challa stopped the bullet, reminding Zemo that the living were not done with him.