Sokovian colonel Helmut Zemo is arguably one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most triumphant antagonists, second (by a slim margin) only to the Mad Titan himself. In fact, there’s a compelling argument to be made that Thanos might not have succeeded at all in Infinity War had Zemo not previously succeeded in Captain America: Civil War.
It was Zemo, harboring a vendetta against the Avengers over the loss of his family in the destruction of Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron, who meticulously plotted and ultimately succeeded in setting Tony Stark and Steve Rogers against one another so effectively that he literally tore the Avengers apart, thus preventing them from later answering Thanos with the kind of unified response that would eventually win them the day in Endgame.
Zemo’s entire strategy depended not on some devastating superweapon or cosmically-powerful ingot, but rather around a book, and the eleven ordinary phrases contained, and the truth they exposed. He retrieved the book from the home of former HYDRA operative Vasily Karpov before torturously killing the man in his basement, and then used it to activate the Winter Soldier programming of James Buchanan Barnes after infiltrating the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre.
Now, stills have been released revealing an alternate version of Zemo’s acquisition of the Winter Soldier journal. As you can see down below, Zemo is in attendance with half-a-dozen other bidders, one of whom he tells, “You take only what they let you have.” In a more upmarket version of the scene in which Darren Cross attempted to sell the Yellowjacket technology in Ant-Man, Zemo calmly places a gas mask over his mouth and nose, because when Helmut Zemo takes something, he leaves no witnesses. He releases some sort of airborne toxin that soon has his fellow bidders gasping and stumbling before assuredly asphyxiating.
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He then approaches the desk, the sole survivor of this silent assassination, and picks up, from among several other documents, the red book emblazoned with a black star to match the symbol on the shoulder of Barnes’ bionic arm. The scene is a testament to the measures that Zemo is willing to take to succeed, and almost makes his murder of Karpov somehow tamer by comparison. After all, in our version of events, he only killed one man for the book.
Daniel Brühl returns in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, at long last donning his iconic purple mask, this August on Disney+.