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CSBG Archive

The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – The Long and Short of Arnim Zola’s Back Story

Every week, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Today, based on a suggestion by reader Charlie E., we take a look at the differing takes on the back story of the Captain America villain, Arnim Zola.

The evil Nazi genetecist Dr. Arnim Zola has long been one of Captain America’s most notable villains, primarily I think because of the design of the character. Introduced by Jack Kirby in Captain America #208, Kirby really made him standout…

The following issue, Kirby gives us the character’s origin…

A few things are at odds with each other in this origin. On the one hand, Zola notes that he was “ordinary,” but it is fair to say that when he notes he was a “little man” that Kirby DOES seem to draw him in such a fashion that you could believe that the intent was for him to be beyond simply short but specifically suffering from some sort of growth hormone deficiency. You could also believe that he is just supposed to be short.

When we see Zola in flashbacks in Super Villain Team-Up #17 by Peter B. Gillis, Arvell Jones and Bruce Patterson, though, Zola just seems to be a regular short guy (the Hate-Monger even calls him “ordinary” again)…

However, in X-Factor Annual #3 (part of the Evolutionary War crossover from the late 1980s), when Mark Gruenwald gives us a major moment in the life of the High Evolutionary (before he was called the High Evolutionary), it is clear that Zola IS, in fact, suffering from a significant growth hormone deficiency…

And since this is Mark Gruenwald we’re talking about, that became the accepted state for Arnim Zola. Here’s Marvel’s official bio of him:

The frail, dwarfish Arnim Zola was born in 1930’s Switzerland where he became the world’s leading biochemist. In his ancestral castle, Zola happened upon mysterious papers brought by his ancestors in the Crusades.

So…it is debatable about whether anything was abandoned or forsaked as of yet. Seems more like it is vague enough to be read that Zola being “dwarfish” is not a contradiction of Kirby’s origin of the character.

However, in the recent Captain America series by Rick Remender and John Romita Jr, it is clear that the “dwarfish” aspect is officially abandoned and forsaked (while it still clearly fits in with Kirby’s original take)…

That’s it for this week!

If YOU have a suggestion for a notable comic book retcon, let me know at bcronin@comicbookresources.com


but is he Austrian or Swiss?

It is a pretty minor change, but I still wish Marvel would keep the continuity a bit tighter. I am afraid they will end up like DC. There was another change in a recent Fantastic Four, too…


I’m confused here. If Marvel stated that Zola was born in the 1930’s, how could he have worked for the Nazi regime as an adult in 1945? Was he a dwarf or a child prodigy?

Remender’s story places Zola as an adult in 1929, well into his usual mad scientist routine. So I can see how Kirby’s origin can be viewed as a modern reinterpretation, with Zola now likely being a contemporary of Hitler.

It seems to me that these inconsistencies could be explained by either an unreliable narrator or uninformed comments by background characters. No reason to take it all at face value.

Wow, that’s the downward spiral of Marvel right there, isn’t it? A formerly silly and entertaining origin is now sadistic and sickening.

A geneticist who worked with Hitler is never going to be terribly silly when approached these days, I think.

I think Marvel needs to keep Kurt Busiek frozen on ice and thaw him out every few years to explain these inconsistencies away. (Remember how he cleaned up the pre-Onslaught Iron Man mess in one short story?)

Of course, Remender’s story is taking place on an alternate Earth, so maybe it’s just *that* Zola who’s not a dwarf?

thanks for clearing it up
believe it or not, this was one of the things that always bothered me, but I couldn’t check it, find it, whatever.

always thought armin was another character marvel seemed to wind up contracdicting what was suppose to be his true origin for after all if he was born in the 30 he would have to a child genius to work with nazies. plus the fact that marvel kept going back and forth over if his size is due to being a dwarf or not .another character added to the list of marvel not being able to stick to what is his origin once and for all.

I hated the Evolutionary War. It seemed intent on tying up loose ends that nobody but Gruenwald (I assume him to be prime mover, sorry if I’m not) thought were a problem, like how could Miles Warren possibly clone someone? In the MU that always seemed to me a rather daft question.

Well, the new Zola does seem to be a hunchback now.

Based on JRJR’s art, who knows if he’s supposed to be dwarfish? At the door with the worried man, he seems to be taller than him, but walking by the picture, both the picture and the dialogue seem to indicate that Zola is not “fully formed”, if you will.

I didn’t pick up the new Cap 4 this past week, because the story overall is dull to me, so I don’t know if anything in there made things clearer.

@Matt Bird, in the original origin, Zola grows larger forms and “for his safety” has to destroy some of them, so it’s a matter of degree in the “sick and sadistic” realm. At least Kirby didn’t depict the sick monsters, but just implies them.

@Omar: I’m under the impression that while the story is taking place in another dimension, it’s a dimension that 616 Zola discovered and is setting up shop in, and uses it to “store” some of his creations, and brought Cap to. Not that it’s a different Zola from the one Cap usually fights. I could be mistaken, though.

Matt Bird: As Travis notes above, Kirby’s Cap run could be quite grotesque at times. I haven’t read the current run, but the arc with the Swine (a Nazi slavemaster who tortures people to death for the hell of it) is at least on par with the sequence on diplay here.

Downward spiral? I’m sure that issue of Super-Villain Team-Up is the one which begins with Hitler and Red Skull having dinner. The floor beneath them is glass so they can enjoy their meal while watching hundreds of dying and starving Jewish prisoners in cages below. I think the main female hero also gets whipped several times too. So not sure if there is a downward spiral happening.

Wow, that’s the downward spiral of Marvel right there, isn’t it? A formerly silly and entertaining origin is now sadistic and sickening.


A Horde of Evil Hipsters

February 25, 2013 at 5:07 am

I find myself agreeing wih Cjorg (no matter how many times he posted) and several others. The very fact that Zola is a Nazi scientist makes the character sickening, and at least some earlier authors were well aware of that. I find it quite disturbing that so many would insist that Nazis are actually zany and fun.

Here’s something actually controversial for your amusement: Jack Kirby is a wonderful, wonderful character designer, but this example reminds me again of the fact that he draws really odd-looking humans.

Arnim Zola was a deranged, twisted figure from the moment Jack Kirby introduced him. Kirby made it clear that Zola regarded life as nothing more than a toy to be experimented with, and to heck with the consequences. In that original story, Captain America and Donna Maria Puentes, who are Zola’s prisoners, are constantly reacting in horror to the grotesque creatures that the mad genetecist has created. Also, Zola’s experiments were being funded by the Red Skull, and one of their insane plans was to transplant Hitler’s brain into Cap’s body! So right from the start he was in bed with Nazi war criminals. The Super-Villain Team-Up story made it clear that it was Zola who had cloned Hitler, enabling him to live again as the Hate Monger. So, from day one, Zola has been a really sick puppy.

I’m not one to down on others’ opinions, so please don’t take this that way, but I do think that a lot of the time when people talk about the “downward spiral” of comics, their feelings are based at least partially on nostalgia as opposed to actual quality. So much of this argument is based on personal preference, as well.
I would argue that if the situation were reversed, we would hear just as many (if not more) people complaining that “comics used to be mature and nuanced, now they’re just silly nonsense”.

There’s pros and cons to every era of entertainment. There are definitely modern-era comics that could be accused of being edgy-for-the-sake-of-edgy. Then again, as we’ve often seen in the “I Love Ya’ but You’re Strange” columns, comics in the Silver and Golden Age were often just absolutely ridiculous. Fun and light and entertaining, but with storylines, characters, and especially pseudo-science that didn’t hold up to even the LIGHTEST scrutiny.

For the record, I love both for different reasons. I’m glad that I can read Ennis and Marvel Now!, while still being able to pick up classic Lee/Kirby, or even the more light-hearted modern stuff like Zubkavich’s “Skullkickers”.

I’m not sure there’s ever been an era where comics pseudo-science held up very well.

I do wonder glancing over the original origin if Kirby had more backstory in mind–all the hints about ancient texts rather than having Zola figure it out himself. Or it could just be part of the whole Gothic horror/Frankensteinian vibe he seems to be shooting for.

@fraser: Kirby was also very much into ancient astronauts and ancient super-civilizations. A book of genetic codes from ancient times isn’t too far in concept from from the premise of the Eternals and Deviants as civilizations that were hyper-advanced from ancient times on up because of the Celestials. His takes on the Black Panther and 2001: A Space Odyssey similarly see ancient or persistent alien or ancient super-phenomena as the midwife of humanity’s cosmic, or at least superhuman, destiny. Kirby’s Black Panther has King Solomon owning a time machine and his tomb guarded by a super-robot, and he was the guy who originated the idea that the Vibranium meteorite in Wakanda could mutate human beings. T’Challa even got ESP from Vibranium exposure!

Back in the late 1960s, Kirby also used the Kree this way in his “Tales of the Inhumans” backup features from the tail end of his Thor work. Kirby’s Kree are not straight-ahead villains so much as they are the amoral, ancient astronaut benefactors of select segments of humanity, now grown cold and remote from their erstwhile subjects; the idea that the Kree are evil more the work of Roy Thomas, who made the blue Kree into outright fascists, and, moreso, Steve Engelhart, who wrote the Supreme Intelligence as pretty much the same. Grant Morrison’s parallel world Kree from the introduction of Noh-Varr are sort of a compromise between the two ideas of the Kree: “zen fascists,” as Morrison says, cribbing from Frank Zappa.

So why can’t he just be short? As far as Marvel writers are concerned, it looks like after his origin he either has to be average height or explicitly a dwarf. A short person could describe themselves as an “ordinary little man”, “little” being both a further downplay of “ordinary” as well as saying that you aren’t exactly average height. (Particularly when you are explaining your new non-human body.

Beyond his height, was Super Villain Team-Up when the rest of his origin was abandoned? Never mind his height, his whole origin has been changed by that book.

I think comics sometimes have trouble with the concept of average height. Someone pointed out once that the original Official Handbook has almost all the adult men six feet taller or more, and women almost all 5 9 or higher. Which would indicate Earth-616 grows them a lot taller than we do here.
Omar, I agree it’s in keeping for Kirby to use Ancient Civilization’s Lost Secrets–it’s just that since there’s no origin other them being old, I wonder if someone would eventually show up asking for them (or some other follow-up).
The Eternals was a great use of those ideas. Kirby’s Black Panther series was … not (I am eternally greatful to Christopher Priest for mocking it gently in his Black Panther run).

[…] A double-dose of classic Kirby, with his amazing work on the real-life Argo project, and the definitive answer to the question: “Who is Arnim Zola?”. […]

Big deal about Zola’s actual size. Marvel characters’ size measurements have been skewed for years.
People like the Hulk or Juggernaut used to be only slightly bigger than an average man, whereas now they’re usually depicted as looking more like 12 feet tall.

And Kirby being a comic genius notwithstanding, you have to admit most of his stuff was just drawn to be dynamic and in-your-face, with little thought given to any kind of realistic representation.

Height of characters….when was the last time Wolverine was drawn like he was actually 5’3″? I am kinda surprised that they made Zola taller, and didn’t make him look like he did in the movie. You’d think that’d be the motivation for making him more “normal.”

As for the current Cap, I don’t mind a different take than what we’ve been getting for years, but I really can’t stand any story where a character spends years in an alternative dimension while time doesn’t pass where he left. Same thing when Superman and Wonder Woman spent a thousand years together or whatever. They’re never good stories.

Nina, is that you?

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