Thursday, June 16, 2016

Captain America: Civil War Follow-Up: Zemo

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When I was originally putting together this series of articles, I intended to include Zemo in the previous article with “The Rest.”  However, as I considered further, I realized that there is so much more to talk about with regard to Zemo, particularly because I think he will come back to become a major player several years down the line in Phase 4.

After watching Captain America: Civil War, we now have a very good idea exactly where this thing is going to be going over the next few years as the MCU ramps up for the Infinity War in 2018 and 2019.  Each hero who appeared in Civil War received a satisfying arc, and at the end of the movie each of them had a definite trajectory of where their next appearances will come from.  However, the presumptive villain, Helmut Zemo, did not get to do quite as much in this movie as the heroes did—even if he did exactly as much as he needed to do!

Over the last four weeks, I talked about the members of the “Secret Avengers” and “Mighty Avengers,” as well as Captain America’s abandoned shield and the other heroes who do not fit into the other categories and a replacement Captain America.  This time around, I will talk about Zemo and how I think he fits into Marvel’s larger plans moving forward.

This is my last planned article for Captain America: Civil War; next week we’ll get into Daredevil season 2 and how it sets up future Netflix series.

Zemo’s Future

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Captain America: Civil War demonstrated that Zemo is a mastermind schemer.  The way in which he used the Accords to turn the Avengers against each other was quite brilliant.  By understanding them on a psychological level—knowing how they operate—he was able to predict most of their actions after the U.N. bombing and use their actions to set them against each other.  And even when it looked like they could unite against a common threat, he succeeded in setting Captain America and Iron Man against each other in Russia.  If they had been torn down from the outside, they could have returned.  However, because they tore themselves apart from the inside, it will be much harder to rebuild.

To some extent this plan actually succeeded:  the Avengers did tear themselves apart.  Steve and Tony are no longer on speaking terms.  However, it did not succeed as well as it perhaps could have.  There are now two teams of Avengers running around and fighting evil (and each other, sort of).  And as for Zemo himself, he is sitting in a box in the basement of the U.N. Task Force building in Germany.  At this point it seems that he is out of the picture.  What is Zemo going to do now?

Answer:  I doubt that he is completely out of the picture, but I don’t think he’s going to do anything for now.  Instead, he will bide his time and allow the consequences of the Sokovia Accords to continue pushing the Avengers apart.  And in the meantime, he will continue his scheming and continue gathering resources for his next big play to take the Avengers down.


He’s already tried turning the Avengers against each other.  This time, I think he will try turning public opinion against the Avengers by replacing them with a “new and improved” team of superheroes:  The Thunderbolts

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The Thunderbolts

In the comics, Baron Zemo is closely associated with two different villainous teams which he formed and led.  The first and most recognized is the Masters of Evil, who really don’t even pretend about their plans to take over the world.  The second, however, debuted following the disappearance of the majority of the world’s superheroes during the Onslaught event:  the Thunderbolts.  This relatively vanilla team of superheroes was revealed in their first issue to in fact be a group of disguised villains masquerading as heroes in order to gain the public’s trust and execute a coup against the world’s governments.

However, most of the Thunderbolts roster decided that they actually liked being superheroes and stopped Zemo from carrying out his plan to take over the world.  The Thunderbolts then went to work with the Avengers/S.H.I.E.L.D./H.A.M.M.E.R., with other heroes serving as liaisons between the Thunderbolts and Avengers—both Hawkeye and Luke Cage at various times led the Thunderbolts on behalf of the Avengers.

Potential Roster

One of the focal points of the Thunderbolts is the concept of minor villains impersonating heroes.  Though Marvel has typically wrapped their villains’ stories up pretty conveniently in all their movies, there are still some options out there for villains who could appear in an MCU version of the Thunderbolts.

  • The Incredible Hulk- Abomination, rebranded as “Grey Hulk” or “A-Bomb”
  • Iron Man 2- Unlikely, but Ivan Vanko as Whiplash could return; after all, no one actually saw him die, right?  He could call himself “Crimson Dynamo” as a hero.
  • Thor and The Avengers- The best option from these two movies is to introduce an entirely new character using salvaged weapons from the Destroyer and the Chitauri, perhaps a new version of the Fixer.
  • Thor: The Dark World- Well, there’s that Jotun-beast that got pulled through the portal and left behind.  Zemo could always figure out a way to tame it.
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther- Ulysses Klaue is likely to appear again in Black Panther, and if he survives Zemo could recruit him.  Alternatively, Klaue could use vibranium to give sonic powers to Screaming Mimi (who appears in the comic book iteration of the team as the hero Songbird).
  • Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp- The best option I can think of from these movies involves the vial of Pym Particles that Hydra stole from Pym Technologies.  In the sequel Hydra could recruit its own version of the Ant-Man:  either Eric O’Grady as “Black Ant” or Eric Jostens as “Goliath.”
  • Doctor Strange- Depending on how the movie ends, Baron Mordo might be in the position of looking for a way to get back at the Ancient One and Doctor Strange by joining Zemo’s team
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming- Marvel and Sony may want to save the villain(s) from this movie for a future Sinister Six spinoff (nothing wrong with that as long as the setup movies are good), but it is also possible for Zemo to recruit a villain from this movie for his Thunderbolts first
  • Thor: Ragnarok- We don’t know enough about this movie yet to say that any villains will be on Earth at the end, but Amora the Enchantress could make an interesting member of the Thunderbolts if she appears
  • Captain Marvel- A Kree version of Moonstone could appear in this movie

So there’s about 9 or 10 villains who could potentially join the Thunderbolts down the line.  Narrowing that down to a half-dozen or so, I could see a team consisting of:

  • Zemo/Citizen V
  • Abomination/A-Bomb
  • Whiplash/Crimson Dynamo
  • Screaming Mimi/Songbird
  • Baron Mordo
  • Black Ant/Yellowjacket
  • Moonstone/Meteorite

MCU Iteration

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At the end of Civil War, Zemo is locked up in U.N. custody—the perfect location from which to meet other super-villains who are captured and imprisoned by the Mighty Avengers.  This in addition to his previous research using the released S.H.I.E.L.D. files would give him a good knowledge of all the various super-villains in the world and their respective abilities.  We know that Zemo is both patient and manipulative, so it stands to reason that he would patiently wait for the right moment to make his move by breaking out of custody and putting together a team to challenge the Avengers.

This moment will come during Avengers: Infinity War when Thanos attacks the Earth.  During the confusion of the assault Zemo’s super-villain partners will break him out along with a few other incarcerated villains.  While Zemo is gathering his team, the Avengers and Earth’s heroes will defeat Thanos—but at a heavy cost.  As such, following the Infinity War the Avengers will be substantially weakened and Earth will be left with something of a hero vacuum.

The perfect moment for a new team of heroes to storm onto the scene.

The Thunderbolts would then be one of the three movies which follows Infinity War, and introduces Citizen V and the Thunderbolts as a new group of heroes trying to replace those who fell or disappeared in Infinity War.  Thanks to shrewd public relations, the Thunderbolts quickly gain popularity with the general public, who are still reeling from the Avengers’ near-defeat at the hands of the Mad Titan.  However, unbeknownst to the public these “heroes” are actually a group of villains led by Zemo.  Zemo reveals his plan to usurp the surviving Avengers in the public’s eye by offering the public a sense of security—something which the Avengers can no longer do after being brought to the brink of defeat by Thanos.  And if the public turns on the Avengers in favor of the Thunderbolts, then the Avengers will be done for, which is all that Zemo ever wanted.  And once the Avengers are out of the way, Zemo and the Thunderbolts will be free to do whatever they want with their newfound power and popularity.

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Obviously if any of this happens it won’t happen for a while.  They may plant seeds for it in the Phase 3 movies by introducing villains who do not get killed off but are instead captured.  Zemo might even appear as an imprisoned super-villain once or twice.  Ultimately, however, all they really need to do to set this up for Phase 4 is suggest at some point near the end of Avengers: Infinity War that Zemo has escaped from custody.

Personally, I think this would be a great direction to go with Zemo in Phase 4, particularly in how naturally is could connect with both Zemo’s character and the new status quo following the Infinity War.  It would also be a great way for Marvel to solve its “Villain Problem” (the accusation that Marvel just can’t make a good villain):  An entire movie focused on actual villains pretending to be heroes would be a prime opportunity to further develop these villains and give them more interesting and compelling characters—flaws and all.  Then if and when some of them return to crime they would have a better dynamic to explore with the hero who fights them.

Do you want to see the Thunderbolts in the MCU?  Which villains would you pick for your Thunderbolts team?  Let me know in the comments!

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