The final chapter in this five part arc sees the fruition of Zemo’s plots against Bucky, as our hero finds himself chasing down Zemo in the Channel Islands, the place where Bucky was originally “killed” by Zemo’s father, the original Baron Zemo. Say what you like about Zemo, but there’s a man who appreciates narrative circularity.
There’s a fantastic, retro charm to Zemo’s plan, from his mid-fight ranting and traditional super-villain exposition, to the exploding-rocket death trap. It’s all great fun. In fact, it’s positively flamboyant, particularly by the book’s usual standards.
As a fan of Zemo’s development and eventual redemption in “Thunderbolts,” I certainly appreciate that Brubaker has attempted to retain some of that, even as he reintroduces the character as a villain. Zemo spends most of his fight with Bucky explaining why he doesn’t think Bucky is worthy of redemption, picking up on themes from his time in the Thunderbolts. Unfortunately, it’s a little at odds with his actions, which are mostly those of a cartoon lunatic.
Zemo does work well as a Machiavellian schemer, but this version of the character seems a little too close to being an outright madman for my comfort. In fairness to Brubaker, there’s a fair need to do so in order to ensure he’s cast as the villain, and he has at least tried to reconcile this appearance with the previous, more intense and arrogant version we last saw.
However, the issue isn’t about Zemo, but about Bucky – specifically, whether he can finally get over his own self-doubt. As a character trait, Bucky’s inability to feel worthy of the role of Captain America has dominated the character’s time in the spotlight, so after a few years it feels like the right time to maybe be moving on with it.
That said, such a development would have been slightly better if Bucky had actually come to the conclusion on his own terms. Throughout the issue (and, indeed, the entire arc) Zemo has been the one in charge, manipulating Bucky’s thoughts, feelings and emotions and escaping without so much as a punch to the jaw. It’s not a very satisfying ending, particularly for a superhero comic.
It also struggles on a thematic level. For all Bucky’s eventual realization that he needs to start believing he deserves the Captain America name and legacy, the manner in which he was taught that illustrates exactly why he might not. He’s demonstrably outclassed, and not even by Cap, but by one of Cap’s villains.
Still, perhaps this was intentional – or perhaps there’s a rematch coming. Despite the downbeat ending, this arc in Captain America has been one of the most enjoyable for some time, and for all the finer details of Zemo’s appearance, a large part of that has been in the character’s reintroduction. I wouldn’t be upset to see more of him from Brubaker in the future.