arnim zola concept art

One of the strangest surprises to come out of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the return of Toby Jones‘ Arnim Zola, who had managed to negotiate his way into the good graces of the American government after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger before uploading himself into a computer to achieve post-human immortality. This version of Zola, a creepy face on a computer screen with a disembodied voice, was a toned-down version of how he looks in the pages of Marvel comic books.

Well, it turns out that we were, at one point, going to see more of Zola and in a from closer to his comic book counterpart. And we were going to see it in Ant-Man, of all movies.

Do you remember the opening scene of Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man? You know, the scene where a young Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) visits the still-under-construction Triskelion and has angry words with Howard Stark (John Slattery) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell)? If nothing else, you probably remember that pretty astonishing de-aged visual effects job on Hank Pym.

Early rumors had suggested that this scene originally included a young Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford‘s Winter Soldier villain) and Arnim Zola, who had managed to infiltrate SHIELD via the very real Operation Paperclip. But this flashback is set in 1989, 44 years after the events The First Avenger, where Zola was already a middle-aged man and after he had already uploaded his mind into a computer. So how would he look attending this meeting? Well, some new concept art created by Josh Nizzi (via Comic Book Movie) shows us what Zola could have looked like in this sequence and they’re all plays on his comic book look, where he’s a face projected on a screen built into a hulking robot body.

For the record, here’s what Zola looks like in the comics these days:

arnim zola

While two of the designs are variations on the basic Zola look, putting Jones’ face into a screen built into a robot body’s chest, I’m actually more fond of the two that deviate from the template. The first one, which projects a hologram of Zola’s head onto the shoulders of a headless body, is a fun riff that would have also allowed Jones the chance to give a proper performance. However, it’s the final design, the old television hooked up to an expressionless mannequin, that I like the best. It’s just plain unsettling, almost as if the body was an afterthought tossed together by a consciousness that truly did not care about its humanity.

Will Zola ever return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Who knows! The last time we saw him, the computer housing his consciousness was being blown to smithereens. But if he does return, I certainly hope his look is as inspired as these takes.

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