"The future, Mr. Stark. I have always been concerned with the future above all else. And through AIM, I am the only man alive who will live to see that future made present!"Born to Swiss clockmakers, Arnim Zola was a prodigious scientific talent in his youth. He always approached matters with a meticulous nature, and was always aware of his surroundings both within his own experiments and in the society he was a part of. After spending much of the 1920s studying underneath famed professors of mathematics and mechanical engineering, Zola quickly established himself as a leading scientist within the Third Reich with the rising of Hitler and the Nazi Party. In the 1930's, Zola became attached to HYDRA, a deep science division within the SS run by Johann Schmidt. Zola was tasked with several scientific endeavors by Schmidt, including developing highly advanced weaponry (with no known power source) as well as trying to duplicate the Super Soldier Serum that Schmidt used from Dr. Abraham Erskine (who incidentally was also a longtime rival of Zola's.) The doctor would eventually succeed in all of these endeavors, especially after HYDRA unofficially split from Hitler's regime during the early days of World War II.
Following this split, Zola directed HYDRA assassin Heinz Kruger to kill Dr. Erskine before his formula could be used to create an army of super soldiers that the Allies could use against them. While Kruger was successful in his task, one soldier was created in the form of Captain Steve Rogers, the future Captain America. Zola did not pay him any mind, though, continuing to develop weapons for HYDRA's eventual plan for world domination. He also began experimenting with his own version of Erskine's formula, using human test subjects from captured Allied soldiers. One such soldier was James Buchanan Barnes, though the first serum used on him was far from complete. Zola's experiments and his role in HYDRA drastically changed following Captain America's entry into the war. Rogers single handedly took out a HYDRA base and rescued several dozen soldiers at once. Now revealed as the Red Skull, Schmidt directed Zola to find a way to deal with the American threat.
But try as he might, Zola was not a military strategist, and he found himself bested by Captain America and his Howling Commandos (as well as General Chester Phillips of the SSR). Desperate to appease Schmidt and prevent being treated as a failure, Zola made it known that he would be aboard a train that would be a likely target for the Howling Commandos, setting up an ambush. The effort worked to some degree, as Rogers' best friend and second in command James Barnes was seemingly killed in the assault, but ultimately it backfired as Zola himself was captured. Interrogated by General Phillips, Zola realized his predicament and sold Schmidt down the river to try and save his own life. Zola was remanded to the custody of Swiss authorities for crimes committed prior to the war, but following the defeat of HYDRA and the conclusion of the war, he was pardoned and escaped custody. He briefly went to Eastern Europe, helping to reestablish HYDRA in the Balkans and in Romania. It was here he discovered that James Barnes had not died, but had been sent to the Eastern Front by HYDRA agents for further experimentation. Zola perfected his super soldier serum and turned Barnes over to the KGB and HYDRA before "defecting" to the west as a part of SHIELD's Operation Paperclip, being granted amnesty in exchange for strategic scientific value. Over the next two decades, Zola would continue to provide some scientific advancements to SHIELD, but would also make a small personal fortune by helping develop an underground weapons manufacturing company that also funded HYDRA, known as Advanced Idea Mechanics or AIM.
In 1972, Zola was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and given less than eight months to live. Desiring above all else to live forever, Zola embarked on a radical design of transferring his consciousness into another host body, ultimately with the goal of transferring into a biomechanical body that could live forever. To buy himself time, Zola successfully tested the procedure on a HYDRA lackey by the name of George Tarleton, transferring his consciousness into that body. It was around ten to fifteen years later that Zola was able to duplicate the process into a rudimentary android body that would later be refined and called the Mobile Organism Designed Only for Conquest (MODOC). During this time, Zola continued to run AIM and HYDRA behind the scenes. It is unknown exactly the level of control that Zola ceded to either Wolfgang Strucker (who was the former SHIELD director turned HYDRA turncoat) or the returning Red Skull. Zola did fully fund a resurgent company called Williams Innovations, leading its CEO Simon Williams to try and achieve medical breakthroughs by way of human experimentation with a process known as Extremis. Williams was eventually exposed by Tony Stark, leading to Zola using choppers to attack Stark's Malibu home (essentially framing Williams for the hit). Zola was eventually exposed after Williams used the Extremis formula on himself, transforming into the ionic energy being Wonder Man and being told the truth by Stark. Zola, in his latest MODOC body, fought against both Wonder Man, Iron Patriot and Iron Man (the former of which being defeated due to being unused to his new powers) and seemingly died in an explosion following this battle. However, no body was ever recovered, so it is entirely possible that the good doctor has survived yet again.
Powers & Abilities
- Scientific Genius: Dr. Zola was a mechanical and technical genius in his day, discovering a way to harness the power of the Infinity Stone contained within the Tesseract to power weapons far beyond anything human beings had created up to that point (working with Johann Schmidt on the designs).
- Biomechanical Suit: In order to preserve his mind, Zola downloaded his consciousness first into a HYDRA volunteer by the name of George Tarleton, and then transformed that into the biomechanical organism known as MODOC. Though he was not as mobile in this floating suit (resembling a giant head more than anything), the suit was capable of sustained flight and also of repulsor beams from the palms and forehead, among other offensive capabilities.
- Limited Telekinetic Potential: In addition to his armament on the suit, Zola had managed to give himself limited telekinetic powers to aid him in battle.
As Dr. Zola was fond of saying, he was a scientist not a soldier. His military planning left a bit to be desired, ultimately, as he was outwitted by Captain America and Chester Phillips on numerous occasions. While he did spring the trap that seemingly killed Bucky Barnes, it also resulted in his capture and the beginning of the downfall of HYDRA in World War II.
His desire to escape death turned him into the horrifying abomination that was MODOC by the end. In this body, his mobility was severely limited in exchange for greater offensive firepower. It proved to be a moot point as he was defeated by a combination of Iron Man and the Iron Patriot simultaneously, presumably to his death.
Dr. Zola appears in the following films within the Earth-11584 continuity. In all cases he is portrayed by actor Toby Jones.
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
- Iron Man 3 (2013)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) [mentioned only]