|For alternate versions of Arnim Zola, see Arnim Zola's Character Hub|
Doctor Arnim Zola was a Swiss-born scientist working for HYDRA before, during, and after World War II. Originally an employee of the Sturmabteilung, Zola was recruited in 1934 by Johann Schmidt to become a lead scientist for HYDRA. During the early days of World War II, Zola was assigned by Schmidt to study the Tesseract to build powered advanced weapons, which Schmidt intended to use in his quest for world domination. However, as the war came to an end, Captain America and the Howling Commandos tracked down Zola to his train, eventually succeeding in capturing him.
Despite being captured by the Allies shortly before Schmidt's defeat in 1945, Zola was offered a position in S.H.I.E.L.D., the newly formed peacekeeping organization, as part of Operation Paperclip. However, Zola actually used his new position to secretly rebuild HYDRA from the shadows. Furthermore, thanks to his machinations during the war, Zola enabled Bucky Barnes to survive his apparent death while trying to capture him, leading Zola to recover Barnes and experiment on him, mechanically brainwashing Barnes into the HYDRA operative, as a part of Winter Soldier Program.
Eventually, Zola received a fatal diagnosis in 1972 and passed away, but his mind was transferred into a complex computer system on Camp Lehigh, where he remained from that point onward, aiding his fellow HYDRA allies undetected. In 2014, however, when he was discovered by Captain America and Black Widow to still be active (albeit as an antique uncolored offline program), Zola stalled them by informing them about HYDRA's history and agenda before missiles sent by S.H.I.E.L.D. destroyed Camp Lehigh in an attempt to kill Rogers and Romanoff, causing Zola's "brain" to finally be destroyed.
Recruited by Johann Schmidt
Born in Switzerland, Arnim Zola eventually relocated to Germany and went on to become one of its top scientists. With the rise of the Nazis, Zola found himself working for the Third Reich, helping to build Adolf Hitler's war machine. In 1934, he worked at Sturmabteilung's Weapons Testing Grounds at Kummersdorf. Among his inventions was the advanced exo-skeleton, which could virtually turn a soldier into a one-man battalion. In July, Kummersdorf was attacked by the Schutzstaffel troops led by Johann Schmidt who killed almost the entire personnel of the base. Zola was spared only because he agreed to carry out genetics research for Schmidt, who wanted to use Zola's knowledge to turn himself into a superior man.
Working for HYDRA
Soon, Johann Schmidt organized his own SS division, HYDRA. Zola became HYDRA's top scientist. In September 1935, Zola was allowed to resume his work on exoskeleton battle suits and various high-tech weaponry because Schmidt captured Abraham Erskine who worked on the Super Soldier Serum. By the time of the Spanish Civil War, Zola had created several advanced war machines. His finished exo-skeleton battle suit was used by HYDRA against the Spanish Republicans at Guernica in 1937. Zola also worked on paranormal and occult sciences.
In November 1940, Zola was at Castle Kaufmann when Johann Schmidt tested the unstable Super Soldier Serum on himself. The serum enhanced his strength, but it also disfigured his face. Two days later, Zola visited Abraham Erskine in his cell and told him that Schmidt will kill him for failing to give him what he wanted. However, Zola and all guards in the castle were drugged by Peggy Carter who helped Erskine to escape.
Studying the Tesseract
When HYDRA forces found the Tesseract in 1942, Zola was ordered by Johann Schmidt to study and recreate its power. While Schmidt remained eager to begin the experiments to help his army defeat the Allies and win the war, Zola was more skeptical and insisted that they take their time as he was unsure if his machines would even work.
Eventually, Schmidt forced Zola to begin the experiment and despite Zola's warnings, Schmidt pushed for an incautious approach to test the device's power. As a result, Zola accidentally discovered how to transform its energy into advanced laser ammunition and engines to be used against the United States Armed Forces. Zola designed advanced weapons for HYDRA, with his suits, weapons, vehicles, and equipment helping HYDRA became more powerful than ever.
Later, Zola arrived in Johann Schmidt's office to find him having his portrait painted, using his true red face, while Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung played from the gramophone. Schmidt informed Zola that HYDRA had finally discovered Abraham Erskine's location. As Zola asked if he should give the order for Erskine's assassination, Schmidt responded that the order was already given before asking Zola's opinion on the painting, which Zola called a masterpiece.
Departing from the Reich
When three SS officers came to Johann Schmidt's base to question him about the progress in developing advanced weapons for Third Reich, Schmidt showed them Tesseract powered weapons made by Zola. But when they discovered that Schmidt intended to nuke Berlin, Schmidt vaporized them with his advanced cannon. Schmidt told Zola that HYDRA could grow no further in Adolf Hitler's shadow, to which Zola responded by saying "Hail HYDRA", despite his horror at the sudden violence against their former allies.
With HYDRA self-funded, Zola and Schmidt explored the Austrian HYDRA Weapons Facility where prisoners of war were being forced to build weapons powered by the Tesseract. Schmidt ordered that they increase their workload by an exceptional amount; when Zola warned that such an increased workload would very likely kill the men, Schmidt was not concerned, noting that they could always get more workers. Once Schmidt left, Zola contemplated this.
Captain America's Raid
In November 1943, Captain America arrived at the HYDRA base in Austria to rescue the Allied soldiers they were using as menial labor there. When Johann Schmidt saw this he immediately hit the self-destruct on the base, despite Zola's protests. Zola watched on a monitor as Captain America defeated their guards with ease.
With only minutes to spare, Zola ran to his lab where Bucky Barnes was being experimented on; he grabbed his documents for his many designs, including a battle suit. With everything he needed, Zola went back out to the corridor where he was spotted by Captain America. Zola made a run for it and, fortunately for him, the Captain let him go when he became distracted by rescuing Barnes, his friend, from the table where Zola's experiments had taken place.
Before long the base's self-destruct had activated and much of the equipment exploded. As Zola and Schmidt made their escape from the base, they encountered Captain America and Barnes who was also looking for an escape. Both the Captain and Schmidt engaged in a battle where they showed themselves to be equally matched in strength, but Zola quickly separated them by pulling the bridge back. Schmidt then pulled off his mask and revealed his true face.
Schmidt and Zola then left the pair to die in the explosions. While the base exploded and began burning to the ground, Schmidt prepared to take off in a single man rocket; upon seeing this Zola questioned how he would escape, Schmidt relented and gave Zola the keys to his coupe, mercifully allowing his top scientist to escape the self-destructing factory, but not before warning him not to scratch the car at all under the threat of death.
Schmidt then left on the rocket to regroup with Zola at another time in their HYDRA Headquarters while Zola made it to the car and, with a smile on his face due to driving such an impressive vehicle, made his escape as the facility was destroyed; however, Rogers and Barnes also escaped and rejoined the United States Army, using the information stolen from Zola's lab to begin gaining an advantage in their war against the Red Skull and HYDRA's plans for world domination.
Losing the War
As Captain America and his Howling Commandos were progressively managing to destroy most major HYDRA operations, preventing Zola from completing any real ability to work on his own scientific projects. Zola was then ordered by Red Skull to end the Captain and his allies' assaults on HYDRA bases but was unsuccessful. The more HYDRA facilities were destroyed, the angrier and more deranged Red Skull became. Zola witnessed Schmidt threaten his life before murdering his own soldiers with Zola's HYDRA Pistol for failing to defend his facilities.
In April 1944, Zola was in a castle on an island in the Nazi occupied Danish Straits. The castle was invaded by Captain America, who managed to destroy one of Zola's exo-skeleton suits and an armored vehicle.
Eventually, Zola had to be moved via armored train to the HYDRA Headquarters to continue his work. Zola soon conceived of a plan to use the train as the setting for a trap for Captain America along the Danube River. The train was later attacked by Captain America, Bucky Barnes and Gabe Jones who were attempting to capture Zola under the orders of Chester Phillips. Having seen his attackers on the video feed, Zola sent in his soldiers and ordered them to kill them, separating Captain America and Barnes and attempting to overpower them in the unexpected ambush.
Captain America and Barnes soon managed to defeat most of their attackers in the ensuing battle, but while they took a moment to catch their breath, Barnes was seemingly killed when he was shot off the side of the train and fell from the mountain, disappearing from sight into a freezing river. Zola's victory over the Howling Commandos was short-lived, however, when Jones jumped through the ceiling and captured Zola at gunpoint. Zola was then handed over to Allied forces for questioning about HYDRA's overall plans.
Zola was quickly taken to the Strategic Scientific Reserve's base and interrogated by Colonel Chester Phillips. Phillips noted that his lack of the Cyanide Pills normally used by HYDRA agents to prevent capture suggested that he did not want to die personally. Zola told them everything he knew about HYDRA and revealed that Johann Schmidt's plans were for complete world domination.
Meeting Johann Fennhoff
- "You had a vision, and it didn't come to pass. What is the point of anything now? But given time and a bit of quiet, new visions will arise. I am familiar with your work on matters of the mind, Herr Doktor. It would give me great pleasure to hear your thoughts on this."
- ―Arnim Zola to Johann Fennhoff[src]
One year after the war, Zola was serving his sentence in a prison in the United States of America. One day, he was given the Leviathan scientist Johann Fennhoff as a cellmate when Fennoff's attempts to destroy Howard Stark were stopped by the Strategic Scientific Reserve. Since Fennhoff's mouth was muzzled so that he could not use his power, Zola requested that he write down exactly how his power worked. Zola was interested in Fennhoff's expertise in the human mind control, knowing that it could be used in HYDRA's future projects.
In the aftermath of World War II, the United States of America started Operation Paperclip, a program used to recruit the scientists of Nazi Germany for employment by the United States and deny their scientific expertise and knowledge to the Soviet Union. As part of the operation, Zola was recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D., the peacekeeping organization taking over from the Strategic Scientific Reserve. However, the leaders of S.H.I.E.L.D. were unaware that they were, in fact, growing a parasite and using his new position within S.H.I.E.L.D., Zola secretly was able to re-create HYDRA completely undetected. Having learned from HYDRA's failures during World War II, Zola and his fellow operatives set out to create a world so chaotic by feeding global crises and reaping wars in order to ensure that humanity would one day sacrifice its own freedom to ensure its security rather than having to take that freedom away by force.
Creating the Winter Soldier
Using S.H.I.E.L.D.'s resources, Zola continued his experiments on Bucky Barnes with other doctors to turn him into HYDRA's secret weapon/assassin. Zola also managed to build an entire computer system which his mind was uploaded into as an artificially intelligent user interface. By 1970, Zola was working in Camp Lehigh, New Jersey along with Hank Pym and Howard Stark.
In 1972, however, Zola received a terminal diagnosis. He realized that he had not much time left to live, but even with the death of his physical body, Arnim Zola wasn't finished after all: concluding that science couldn't save his body but his mind, Zola had constructed a supercomputer, dubbed as his masterpiece, with the purposes of synthesizing and emulating his own brain through one hundred billion neurons re-created and replicated with microprocessors of his design. In addition, Zola stored his personal journals with date files to ensure that Alexander Pierce could continue his work after his passing. Zola died shortly afterwards, yet by downloading his consciousness into the computer system he created, his mind continued to live in cyberspace, where he was able to provide easy passage into the agency for HYDRA sleeper agents that either managed to escape justice during the war or were corrupted from within.
Revealing HYDRA's Existence
- "HYDRA created a world so chaotic that humanity is finally ready to sacrifice its freedom to gain its security. Once the purification process is complete, HYDRA’s new world order will arise. We won, Captain. Your death amounts to the same as your life. A zero sum."
- ―Arnim Zola to Captain America[src]
Two years after the Battle of New York, Alexander Pierce, a senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official who was one of HYDRA's undercover operatives, attempted to initiate HYDRA's new global rule by taking control of Project Insight under the noses of the World Security Council and all other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
Natasha Romanoff and Steve Rogers, in their efforts to stop Pierce following Nick Fury's apparent death, discovered a bunker hidden beneath Camp Lehigh where the mainframe containing Zola's downloaded consciousness was located. At first, when Zola mentioned their names and birthdates, Romanoff thought it was just a recording of Zola's, leading Zola to debunk her theory and that he was indeed the prisoner Rogers captured in 1945.
Recognizing Zola, Rogers initially couldn't understand why Zola was there as HYDRA died when the Red Skull vanished with the Tesseract, but Zola revealed that while the science couldn't save his physical body from dying, his mind could indeed, and that he was there thanks to S.H.I.E.L.D., leading Romanoff to inform Rogers about Operation Paperclip, and how Zola was recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D. after World War II.
Informing them about HYDRA's history and philosophy to prove it was him, Zola took the opportunity to reveal the details about HYDRA's secret agenda all those years, its plans for Project Insight, its infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its long history with continuing to create chaos across the modern world. He also mentioned having written an algorithm to be employed by Project Insight, which would target potential threats to HYDRA.
However, the entire time in fact, Zola was actually stalling both Rogers and Romanoff until HYDRA could attack. Shortly thereafter, Romanoff learned of Zola's deception and they attempted to escape, only for Zola to lock them inside, awaiting several heatseekers fired by STRIKE on Alexander Pierce's orders. Zola remarked that it was better for them and they and he were both out of time. The missiles destroyed Camp Lehigh, and Zola's mainframe with it.
Project Insight's Launch
Having witnessed the explosion, Brock Rumlow informed Alexander Pierce about Zola's ultimate death and the survival of Rogers and Romanoff. Back on his house, Pierce told the Winter Soldier about the situation and asked him to have both Rogers and Romanoff killed in ten hours so they could proceed with their plans as their interference had cost him Zola.
Planning the Time Heist
A man of dubious morality, Dr. Zola was one of the most infamous scientific minds on the planet. There was no crime he wasn't willing to commit if that could help him in his scientific experiments. Despite his amorality, Dr. Zola wasn't sadistic, evident by the shock and fear he often displayed towards Red Skull's actions and megalomania. Zola's loyalty to HYDRA seemed to be slightly reluctant during World War II, although after being captured by Captain America and following the war, Zola was key to the survival and re-creation of the organization showing that he had become fanatically loyal to HYDRA and its goals and was willing to do anything to see those goals accomplished by creating world chaos, leading to the deaths of millions. Zola no doubt had a particular hatred of Captain America as he sacrificed himself in order to ensure that Captain America and Black Widow were obliterated in a missile strike by HYDRA. He seemed to be somewhat cowardly during the war, following HYDRA out of fear and willing to keep himself alive in a machine, although when death came he was willing to accept since he was "out of time".
Powers and Abilities
- Computer Physiology: When Zola's organic body started dying, he created himself a computer body to live longer. His face was seen on a computer screen while what he called his "brain" were the many computer systems surrounding the screen. Zola was able to identify Natasha Romanoff by her full name as well as her birth day. He was able to do this against his long time foe, Steve Rogers as well.
- Longevity: Zola uploaded his mind to a computer which meant he would live forever, unless killed by an exterior force like the missile that killed him.
- Computer Interaction: Being a computer, Zola could easily access his brain and the many computer systems surrounding him. When Captain America punched the monitor, cracking it, Zola easily put his face back up on another computer.
- Genius-Level Intellect: Zola was a brilliant scientist and engineer, able to successfully invent a machine in the 1940s that could absorb and harness the Tesseract's energy, successfully replicate a version of Abraham Erskine's Super Soldier Serum, and upload his entire mind into 1970s computers. As an artificial intelligence, Zola was able to decipher the pattern of human behavior and developed an algorithm for HYDRA to deploy for Project Insight.
- Master Scientist: Arnim Zola was the greatest scientist amongst those who worked for the Third Reich, and later HYDRA. He was interested both in technology and genetics, though he preferred making the new weapons to aid the Axis in world conquest instead of enhancing human bodies to the peak of human perfection.
- Master Engineer: Zola designed many weapons years ahead of his time. From his early experiments designing Exo-skeletons and battle tanks, to the breakthroughs he made once he was able to collect the energy of the Tesseract, Zola had a natural talent for designing advanced weapons systems.
- Expert Spy: Zola was able to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. and grow HYDRA within S.H.I.E.L.D. without the smartest minds and spies in the world figuring it out. He was able to keep his cover even despite being a known HYDRA ally.
- Bilingualism: Zola was fluent in his native German, as well as English.
- Computer System: With S.H.I.E.L.D.'s resources, Zola was able to build an entire computer system which his mind was uploaded into as an artificially intelligent user interface. Though Zola's body died in 1972, his mind continued to live in cyberspace. By the 2010s, though now decades old, the computers were still operational.
- Johann Schmidt's Coupe: Zola used Johann Schmidt's coupe to escape HYDRA's Austrian facility when it was getting destroyed.
- Schnellzug EB912: Zola rode the Schnellzug EB912 and Captain America, Bucky Barnes, and Gabe Jones infiltrating the train. Zola separated Barnes and Rogers and attacked them, as Barnes fell off the train. Jones found Zola and held him at gunpoint, capturing him and bringing him into Allied custody.
- Zolanator 2000X Assault Rifle
- Arnimhilation 99L Assault Weapon
- HYDRA Cannon
- HYDRA Pistol
- HYDRA Flamethrower
- HYDRA Heavy Assault Rifle
- Tesseract Battery
- Tesseract Cradle
- Arnim Zola's Camera and Monitor
- Fieser Dorsch
- Focke-Wulf Triebflügel
- HYDRA Parasit
- Cryostasis Chamber
- Winter Soldier's Prosthetic Arm
- HYDRA Headquarters: Zola conducted his science experiments from HYDRA's headquarters, and housed his inventions there.
- Austrian HYDRA Weapons Facility: Zola and Johann Schmidt used a HYDRA facility in Austria and forced prisoners to build weapons there. Zola and Schmidt were in the facility when Captain America arrived, so they destroyed the facility in an attempt to. Although Schmidt at first was not going to allow Zola to leave the facility, but eventually allowed Zola to escape in his coupe.
- Camp Lehigh: Zola was recruited to S.H.I.E.L.D. and worked with Howard Stark in Camp Lehigh. When he died, his mind was uploaded to computers and kept in the base. He was confronted in Lehigh by Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff, where he revealed that HYDRA had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., and then destroyed the facility.
|Appearances for Arnim Zola|
|In chronological order:
- In the comics, Arnim Zola is a geneticist whose consciousness is eventually transferred into a robotic body. His first appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger as a close-up of his face on an old-style television screen, evokes his comic-book counterpart.
- In the non-canon video game Captain America: Super Soldier, Arnim Zola and Baron Strucker are sent by the Red Skull to Castle Zemo to find the Sleeper and finish Project Master Man.
- In the archived photograph Zola shows to Captain America and Black Widow of the Operation Paperclip rocket scientists, Zola takes the place of Helmut Hölzer. Besides an uncanny resemblance, Hölzer also worked on advanced computer/targeting systems like Zola.
Behind the Scenes
- Arnim Zola in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the second live-action incarnation of the character, following an incarnation portrayed by Peter Haworth.
- According to Stephen McFeely, the filmmakers wanted to give Arnim Zola a backstory rather than introduce him as he is in the comics where "he's a head in a TV screen in a big robot body". McFeely further elaborated that during Captain America: The First Avenger, Zola serves as "the audience's eyes to all the over-the-top evil that going on in the film."
- Zola's role in the story of Captain America: The Winter Soldier as the one who reveals HYDRA's history was initially controversial as it was felt to be a "too sci-fi moment" in a film deemed as a realistic conspiracy thriller.
- Zola was supposed to appear in Ant-Man, with concept art suggesting he downloaded a copy of his artificial intelligence to an android body akin to his comics appearance, but his appearance was ultimately scrapped.
- Avengers: Endgame - Cantina Creative
- Captain America: First Vengeance
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Agent Carter: 1.08: Valediction
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Avengers: Endgame
- The Wakanda Files: A Technological Exploration of the Avengers and Beyond
- Avengers: Endgame
- Captain America: Super Soldier
- The Art of Captain America: The First Avenger
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Audio Commentary
- ANT-MAN CONCEPT ART REVEALS ARNIM ZOLA ORIGINALLY HAD A ROLE