Red Skull

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See Marvel Comics * List of Marvel Comics characters * Captain America

Red Skull photo shopped into actual Nazi propaganda poster.
Red Skull photo shopped into actual Nazi propaganda poster.


Contents

Facts

  • Real_name:Johann Schmidt
    George John Maxon
    Albert Malik
  • Debut:(Schmidt) Captain America Comics #7 (Oct 1941)
    (Maxon) Captain America Comics #1 (Mar 1941)
    (Malik) (Golden Age) Captain America Comics #61 (March 1947)
  • Previous_alliances:(Schmidt) Nazi Germany, HYDRA, United States Secretary of Defense, AIM, THEM
  • Aliases:(Schmidt) Dell Rusk, Bettman P. Lyles, the Agent of a Thousand Faces, The Man (head of the People's Militia), Cyrus Fenton, Teacher, Tod March (president and owner of Galactic Pictures), John Smith, Aleksander Lukin
    (Malik) Senator Joseph McRooter
  • Relatives:(Schmidt) Hermann Schmidt (father, deceased), Martha Schmidt (mother, deceased), Synthea Schmidt (illegitimate daughter)
  • Powers:(Schmidt) Cloned body of Captain America (including the Super-Soldier formula); skilled hand-to-hand combatant, strategic genius, political mastermind, expert marksman
    (Maxon) Skilled saboteur, hand-to-hand combatant, marksman
    (Malik) Strategic master, political master


Summary

Red Skull is the name of three Marvel Comics supervillains, all of whom are enemies of Captain America, other superheroes, and the United States in general. The first two Red Skulls are Nazi Germany agents and the third is a Communist. The Red Skull was first introduced in Captain America Comics #1 in 1941. The first Red Skull was an American industrialist turned Nazi saboteur, while the second is the archnemesis of Captain America. The third Red Skull is best known for causing the deaths of the parents of Peter Parker, and thus orphaning the boy who would become Spider-Man. According to S.H.I.E.L.D., Johann Schmidt, (the original and current Red Skull) is considered one of the greatest threats to humanity, alongside Magneto, Doctor Doom, and the Venom symbiote.Mark Millar (w), Terry Dodson (p), Rachel Dodson (i). ""Venomous"" Marvel Knights: Spider-Man, #7 December 2004 Marvel Comics

Character biography and publication history

The Red Skull, Johann Schmidt, was a former Nazi general officer and confidant of Adolf Hitler. He has been closely affiliated with HYDRA and is an enemy of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers, and the interests of the United States and the free world in general. He was physically augmented by having his mind placed into the body of a clone of Captain America, the pinnacle of human perfection. He has been seemingly killed in the past, only to return time and time again to plague the world with schemes of world domination and genocide.

World War II Era

John Maxon

Chronologically by publication date, the first Red Skull to appear in the 1940s comics was George John Maxon, an American businessman and Nazi agent who led a ring of spies and saboteurs. He faced Captain America during two of the latter's first missions <ref name="rdskll"> Johann Shmidt Red Skull bio by Marvel Universe . A formidable opponent in his own right, Maxon was thought killed during the last encounter, though he would reappear for one last encounter with Captain America and Bucky before being killed. Maxon was later revealed to be the agent of Johann Schmidt, the true Red Skull.

Johann Schmidt, the True Red Skull

As with many supervillains, Johann Schmidt had a traumatic childhood that warped his mind paving the way for villainy in his adult life. Schmidt's mother died in childbirth and his father blamed Johann for it and tried to murder him, only to be stopped by the attending doctor. The father later committed suicide and Johann was orphaned. He grew up on the streets struggling to survive and his hatred of humanity grew with each day. A key episode was when he fell for a local Jewish girl, but when she spurned his clumsy advances, he murdered her, finding a release for his frustrations. With that, his depravity grew still more.

In his late teens during the rise of the Third Reich, Schmidt got his most prosperous job, a bellhop in a major hotel. There, he served the rooms of Adolf Hitler himself. By chance, he was present when the F├╝hrer was furiously berating an officer and swore he could train Johann himself, a simple bellhop, to be a better National Socialist. Looking closely at the youth and sensing his dark inner nature, Hitler decided to take up the challenge and recruited Schmidt.

Dissatisfied with the standard drill instruction his subordinates used to train Schmidt, Hitler took over personally. Upon completion, Hitler gave Schmidt a unique uniform with a grotesque red skull mask, and he emerged as the Red Skull for the first time. His role was the embodiment of Nazi intimidation, while Hitler could remain the popular leader of Germany. To that end, The Red Skull was appointed head of Nazi terrorist activities with an additional large role in external espionage and sabotage. He succeeded, wreaking havoc throughout Europe in the early stages of World War II. The propaganda effect was so great that the United States government decided to counter it by creating their own equivalent using the one recipient of the lost Project Rebirth, Steve Rogers, as Captain America.

The two counterparts soon clashed in what would be a series of engagements throughout the war, ending with a final battle that left the Skull buried under the rubble of a bombed building. Because he was immediately exposed to an experimental gas there, he remained in suspended animation for decades.

Post-World War II Era

Albert Malik

With Schmidt's disappearance after 1945, the reputation of the Skull was still formidable enough to prove useful. In 1953, a Communist agent named Albert Malik set up his spy/criminal organization in Algeria and assumed the identity of the Red Skull, pretending that he was the original, when he was actually serving Soviet interests (ironically, Hitler's regime was staunchly anti-Soviet/Communist). During the 1950s, he faced the then active version of Captain America who was also using the identity of Steve Rogers, pretending to be the original. The two impersonators continued to battle each other throughout the decade. While the Captain and Bucky (Jack Monroe) were placed into suspended animation when his flawed replicate of the Super Soldier treatment seriously affected his mind, Albert continued his activities, over time cutting his links to the Soviet Union. Among other notorious deeds, he was responsible for the deaths of Richard Parker and Mary Fitzpatrick-Parker, the parents of Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man), tipped off by the super-criminal Gustav "The Gentleman" Fiers.

However, Malik was eventually shot and killed by the mysterious Scourge of the Underworld and was presumably removed from the Red Skull legacy forever.

In addition, Johann Schmidt's legacy still caused trouble in the years of his absence. This primarily came in the form of powerful destructive robots called Sleepers which were intended to activate at preset times by his agents to devastate the Earth in the event of Nazi Germany's defeat. However, Captain America was able to neutralize all the machines in turn.

Modern Era

The Red Skull wielding the Cosmic Cube. Cover to Tales of Suspense #80 (Aug 1966).Art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck.
The Red Skull wielding the Cosmic Cube. Cover to Tales of Suspense #80 (Aug 1966).
Art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck.

Johann was eventually rescued in modern times by the terrorist organization, HYDRA. The Skull quickly subverted a cell to his own ambitions of world conquest and the death of Captain America. When Johann reappeared, he and Albert, though his age was starting to catch up with him, started to antagonize each other while both claiming the identity of the Red Skull. Finally Albert was the victim of an assassination organized by Johann, at the hands of a rogue agent of the Scourge of the Underworld.

Thus the two enemies resumed their war, with Captain America, among other opponents, frustrating the Skull's schemes; not even when the Skull possessed the reality-altering Cosmic Cube could he claim victory. Establishing a Nazi colony on a deserted island, the Skull fathered a daughter who would eventually become known as Mother Superior.

The war between Captain America and Red Skull in the modern era reached a breaking point when Red Skull one day discovered that the gas that had placed him in suspended animation was now wearing off and that his body was rapidly aging to what would be Skull's normal age. Now physically in his mid-80s, a weak and feeble Red Skull planned for a final showdown with his arch-rival. Kidnapping Captain America's closest allies, he forced Captain America to surrender himself to Skull and forcibly undergo a medical treatment that aged Captain America's body to its rightful age. The two men, their bodies now ancient, fought one last battle to the death. Yet at the last minute, Captain America refused to kill the Red Skull and Skull himself died cursing Captain America, as his elderly body shut down. Dead at last, it seemed like the threat of the Red Skull had finally ended while The Avengers were able to restore Rogers' youth.

Resurrection

However, the Red Skull would not stay dead for long; Nazi geneticist Arnim Zola, who had obtained DNA samples of Captain America years earlier, arranged for Skull's mind to be transplanted into a clone body of Captain America at the moment of his death. Assuming the identity of "John Smith" (the English equivalent of his natural German name), Skull decided that he would reinvent himself and his quest for absolute power as a means to celebrate his cheating death. The Red Skull abandoned his longstanding beliefs in National Socialism and Hitler, on the belief that the Nazi philosophy made him look like a relic of the past. Skull instead turned towards American ideology for his new motivation. Skull saw much potential in the American dream of capitalism and self-determination and set about establishing his own foothold inside Washington DC, culminating in him gaining control over "The Commission", a government body that monitored and regulated super-hero activities in Washington.

Skull also changed his mode of operations: rather than "living from one grand scheme to the next", he began financing a score of evil organizations that reported directly to him, most notably the militia group The Watchdogs. He also corrupted one of the Scourges, an organization who terrorized super-villains with a killing spree.

Despite all of this, Skull's biggest move would be his plot to remove Rogers from the position of Captain America and replace him with a jingoistic extremist named John Walker. Although Walker initially attempted to live up to his predecessor's ideals, The Skull arranged for the murders of Walker's parents, driving him insane and into a downward spiral of murder as part of his plan to blacken the name of Captain America.

Yet like all things, Skull's plans fell apart when Skull's chief pawn in the Commission was killed by Skull, right in front of Captain America. About to be exposed, Skull tried to manipulate Walker into killing Rogers. When Rogers defeated Walker, the Skull appeared to gloat at what he had done to Rogers and Walker and the reputation of Captain America. Skull bragged that he would kill Rogers at a time of his own choosing and that Rogers could not touch Skull due to his newfound status as a wealthy American businessman. Rogers, disturbed by this mystery man with a face identical to his own and claiming to be his dead archenemy, noted that the Skull was not inhaling from the cigarette holder he had in his mouth. The cigarette turned out to be holding a lethal dose of the Skull's favourite poison, the Dust of Death, intended for Rogers - but the trap backfired against Schmidt when Walker suddenly hit him from behind with his shield. As a result, Schmidt suffered the facial disfigurement attributed to the Dust, as his face turned into a literal red skull. Skull did not die though, presumably due to him having developed a level of immunity to his personal poison.

After this, the Skull was attacked by the mutant terrorist Magneto, a Jewish the Holocaust survivor who wanted to punish him for his involvement in Hitler's regime. Magneto buried him alive with enough water for a few months. The Skull remained imprisoned, close to death and beginning to see the error of his ways, until he was rescued by his henchman Crossbones.

The Red Skull's relationship with other villains was fraught with problems due to many villains shunning him because of his Nazi background. In the "Streets of Poison" storyline, the Skull proposes an alliance with the Kingpin to bring a new designer drug to New York but the Kingpin refuses to ally with the Nazi. He then defeats a weakened Skull in hand to hand combat, sparing his life on the condition he never come near the Kingpin's territory again. In the "Acts of Vengeance" crossover, the Skull demands the Wizard apologize for an insult to which the Wizard replies "You'll see yourself welcomed into Heaven before I speak those words!" Not long after that, he was kidnapped by Magneto. One prominent exception is fellow Nazi, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, leader of the terrorist organization HYDRA. After the Skull's agents allow Strucker to be reborn, a grateful Strucker allows the Skull the use of HYDRA resources.

On the run

Skull's tenure in Washington came to an end when Skull was kidnapped and taken to Germany to stand trial for crimes against humanity, stemming from his days as an agent of the Third Reich. Skull narrowly escaped and was forced to fake his death in order go back into hiding in a compound in the Rocky Mountains. He recruited the female sociopath "The Viper", a move that alienated his minions and was further rocked when his chief henchman Crossbones kidnapped Captain America's girlfriend Diamondback, resulting in Captain America finding Skull's new lair. Skull went into hiding while the Viper, using funds she plied from Red Skull as part of a scheme to use televisions across America to blind TV viewers, was defeated by Captain America.

Skull resurfaced during "Operation: AIM Island", where Skull discovered that he was facing the same permanent paralysis that Captain America was facing due to their exposure to the Super-Soldier Serum. When the evil scientist Superia offered Captain America a cure, Captain America refused it on account of Superia proclaiming that Captain America would "owe her". Skull took the cure and killed Superia, then arranged for Captain America to be kidnapped by his remaining forces and given a blood transfusion that cured him.

Reluctant Allies

Captain America's recovery would segue into a reluctant team-up between him and Skull; a Nazi cult that worshiped Adolf Hitler as a god had discovered a Cosmic Cube that contained Hitler's mind, put there in the cube by Skull himself. The two sought to stop the cult from fully powering the Hitler Cosmic Cube but Skull opted instead to send Captain America (against his will) into the cube to kill Hitler and allow him to imprison Captain America in the cube while he used its power to conquer humanity. However, Captain America escaped and in the process used his shield to sever one of Skull's arms, causing him to drop the cube. The Cube then became unstable, destroying Skull.

Cosmic Resurrection

Yet as most evil never dies, the same was true for that of Skull. Trapped in a hellish nightmare dimension and forced to serve as a bellhop to a world of immigrants, Skull's evil ultimately was so great that he was able to escape his prison. As a result, Skull now possessed limited reality warping powers that made him a truly cosmic threat. He was further aided by Kang the Conqueror, who sought an alliance with Skull to ensure his future dynasty would stay intact. He was sent to Galactus' ship to steal more power from it (in particular the power of omniscience), which would remove all limits to Skull's reality warping powers. Unfortunately, this led to Skull's undoing as Kang and Skull were ambushed by Korvac, who stole Skull's cosmic powers for his own and banished Skull back to Earth.

The Red Skull later manipulated his way into the position of Secretary of Defense as Dell Rusk (an obvious reference to Dean Rusk, but also an anagram for "red skull") to develop a biological weapon he tested at Mount Rushmore. He was exposed and defeated by the Avengers, and the Black Panther beat him so badly that he literally broke the Skull's jaw in half.

Aleksander Lukin and the Winter Soldier

The Red Skull, in Alexander Lukin's mind. Art by Steve Epting.
The Red Skull, in Alexander Lukin's mind. Art by Steve Epting.

The Red Skull was assassinated by the mysterious Winter Soldier, under orders from the renegade former Soviet general Aleksander Lukin, who wanted to possess the new Cosmic Cube the Skull had manufactured. When the Skull was shot, he attempted to use the Cube to switch bodies with Lukin to survive, but as the Cube was still weak he only managed to transfer his mind into Lukin's body, so that the two enemies are trapped together, waging a constant war for dominance which the Red Skull seems to be progressively winning. During a plot to lure out Captain America, Red Skull/Lukin recruited several German skinheads and made them the successors to the Master Man. He then had these soldiers, dubbed the "Master Race," launch an attack on London, which was thwarted by Captain America, Spitfire, and Union Jack. Then, Red Skull/Lukin activated a Sleeper, a robot programmed for mass destruction, that was presumably created by Doctor Doom. The robot damaged a significant portion of the new London Kronas HQ, and was ultimately destroyed by Captain America and Bucky. In the aftermath, Red Skull sent a videotape, announcing to the world his return, followed by Lukin holding a press conference condemning the actions of both the Red Skull and Captain America, and supporting the Superhero Registration Act. Then, in his office, Red Skull introduced Lukin to his old/new associates, Crossbones and Sin.

With America's superheroes divided over the act, the Skull manipulates events to his own ends, with the aid of Doctor Faustus, Doctor Doom, and Arnim Zola. His plans involved the reunion of Captain America and his former lover Sharon Carter, who is being manipulated by Faustus.

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the Skull puts his plans into action, arranging for Crossbones to shoot Captain America as he enters a courthouse in New York City; in the ensuing chaos, Carter, acting under Faustus' mental directive, assassinates Captain America. This, however, is only the first phase of the Skull's evil plan. Upon the discovery of his identity as Lukin, the Skull fakes his death, and initiates the second part of his plan: using Kronas Corporation's vast holdings to economically cripple the United States, before having S.H.I.E.L.D. agents brainwashed by Doctor Faustus open fire on crowds of protesters in front of the White House. The Red Skull continues his assault by engineering a riot by placing Kronas security troops and drugged water in a protest on the Lincoln Monument.Captain America (v.5) #33-35

Powers and abilities

The Red Skull had no superhuman abilities. He was a highly gifted strategist and political mastermind. When The Red Skull acquired the super-soldier serum enhanced cloned body of Steve Rogers he was endowed with a body that was in perfect physical condition, with strength, speed, agility, dexterity, reflexes, coordination, balance, and physical endurance that exceeded that of any Olympic athlete who ever performed. Despite the scar tissue covering his face and head, his senses were still above-average. He was trained in the use of most conventional firearms and was a good hand-to-hand combatant. The Red Skull is commonly portrayed as one of the Marvel Universe's most genuinely frightening major villains.

He typically armed himself with a trick cigarette that could fire fatal poison gas — his trademark "Dust of Death" — toward his victim that distorts the victim's face into a "red skull".

Other versions

Earth X

Johann Schmidt was killed by Captain America some time previous to Earth X. After the Red Skull killed Bernie Rosenthal and then hailed Captain America as the realization of the Nazi dream, Captain America decapitated the Red Skull using his trademark shield. As a result of his disillusionment from taking a life, Captain America retired from the Avengers, only to further spiral into depression after the Avengers were killed in Washington, D.C. Schmidt was later seen in the Land of the Dead, and then as one of those in Mar-vell's Paradise waiting to live in his own personal version of Heaven. Despite his death, the Red Skull's legacy lived on in the Earth X universe. Ben Beckley took on the identity of the Skull (not the Red Skull, as he had no idea who the Red Skull was) and set out to conquer the world, starting with a coast-to-coast drive across America. Using his power of absolute control over anyone, he gathered an army of thousands, only to come into conflict with Steve Rogers in his identity of Captain America. Insulting Captain America as old and out of date, the Skull spared him but took several of Captain America's allies as part of his army. After reaching New York City, the Skull was opposed by Captain America and other heroes, with Captain America breaking the Skull's neck in order to stop him. Beckley would later be seen in the Land of the Dead with his father, Comet Man, and would help the heroes to convince the dead that they were deceased.

Marvel Zombies

In Marvel Zombies, Red Skull is an undead zombie with an unquenchable thirst for the flesh of the living. In issue #5, he finally manages to kill 'Colonel' America, by ripping out the last of the Colonel's exposed brain before being decapitated by Spider-Man, and his head crushed by Giant Man's boot. His last words were "It was worth it, all of it, just for this."

Ultimate Marvel

Red Skull is one of several Silver Age Marvel characters not to have an Ultimate Marvel counterpart. In an interview given shortly after the launch of "The Ultimates", Mark Millar had singled out Red Skull, along with Doctor Doom, as the only "traditional" Marvel villains he would be willing to use in the pages of the series. However, neither Doctor Doom (although he did appear in Ultimate Fantastic Four, so why he was never used is unknown) nor Red Skull materialized as Millar opted to create a new "rival" for Captain America in the form of The Colonel, a Persian youth whose village was destroyed by the Ultimates and who was verbally abused when he refused to cower away in fear from Captain America. The character later was given the Super Soldier serum by the Norse God Loki and was given a haphazardly assembled costume similar to Captain America's, although with a red helmet.

During the 'Venom' story arc in Ultimate Spider-Man, it was suggested by Peter Parker that his parents, as well as the parents of Eddie Brock, were murdered due to their refusal to allow the 'Venom' project to be used by the military. Unlike the regular Spider-Man story line, Peter's parents died when their plane crashed, with supposedly no connection to the Red Skull. Later in the Ultimate Spider-Man video game it was revealed that their deaths were caused when Eddie's father accidentally became Venom during the flight. It is unknown whether or not this is the entire story.

In other media

The Red Skull in Captain America.
The Red Skull in Captain America.
  • In the 1991 low-budget film, Captain America, Scott Paulin portrayed Red Skull. The character's background was different from the comics villain's origin as he was an Italian Fascist officer called Tadzio de Santis who had been kidnapped by the Italian army storm troops for their experiments when he was a child; his family was murdered immediately afterwards. Co-operating with German scientists, they succeeded in creating their first (and only) "├╝bermensch", and then only after could the Americans replicate the serum and test it in a

polio stricken adult man (not kid). Though it keeps the continuity of the chronology of the comics series, the purpose why the events are happening are widely different. He was last seen flung off a ledge to a presumed death.

  • The Red Skull appears in several episodes of The Marvel Superheroes in the cartoons of Captain America. Red Skull was voiced by Paul Kligman.
  • In the 1981 Spider-Man episode "The Capture of Captain America", Red Skull (portrayed by Peter Cullen) hatched a plot to switch bodies with Captain America and conquer the world, but was defeated with the help of Spider-Man.
Animated Red Skull in Spider-Man: The Animated Series.
Animated Red Skull in Spider-Man: The Animated Series.
  • In Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Red Skull made a cameo in the second episode of Season 4 in the episode "The Cat". Later on, during the Six Forgotten Warriors story arc in Season 5, it was explained that after Red Skull and Captain America fought, they were trapped in a vortex. 50 years later, his son, Rhineholt, frees them both from the vortex, only for them to be trapped again. Finally, in Secret Wars, the Skull was sent by the Beyonder to an alien planet to fight Spider-Man and his team of superheroes, but was sent back where he came from with no memory of the events when Dr. Doom absorbed the powers of the Beyonder. Red Skull was voiced by Earl Boen.
  • Red Skull is featured in two sets of WizKids' Marvel HeroClix game as a Unique figure. In Clobberin' Time, he has the powers of Poison, Leadership, and Mastermind, which allows him to transfer damage onto his lesser minions. In the Avengers set, he is represented as the Cosmic Cube enhanced Skull, with additional powers of Invulnerability and Psychic Blast along with Outwit. Both figures are given the Hydra team affiliation and are the archenemy of Captain America.
  • Red Skull appears in the Robot Chicken episode "Tapping a Hero" voiced by Seth Green. In the "Superheroes Tonight" segment, Red Skull is shooting at Captain America only for the bullets to bounce off his shield and hit many pedestrians.

The Red Skull appeared in the book X-Men: The Chaos Engine (Part 3). He retrieved the Cosmic Cube and used it to take over the world, and ultimately recreate it.

References

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