Red Skull as seen in the promotional art for Captain America vol. 5 #38 (July 2008) by Steve Epting.
|First appearance||Captain America Comics #7 (October 1941)|
|Created by||Joe Simon|
|Alter ego||Johann Schmidt|
|Place of origin||Germany|
|Team affiliations||Kronas Corporation|
Nazi Germany (SS-Oberführer)
|Notable aliases||Der Rote Schädel (German name, translation: "The Red Skull"), Senator Dell Rusk, Bettman P. Lyles, the Agent of a Thousand Faces (impersonated in Europe during World War II), the Man (head of the People's Militia), Cyrus Fenton, John Smith (the English version of his natural German name), Teacher, Tod March (president and founder of Galactic Pictures), Aleksander Lukin, the White Skull|
The Red Skull (Johann Schmidt) is a fictional supervillain appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character is usually depicted as the archenemy of the superhero Captain America. Portrayed as a Nazi agent, the character was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and first appeared in Captain America Comics #7 (October 1941).
The character has been adapted to a variety of other media platforms, including animated television series, video games and live-action feature films. He was portrayed by actor Scott Paulin in the 1990 direct-to-video film Captain America. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the character was played by Hugo Weaving in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and by Ross Marquand in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).
- 1 Publication history
- 2 Fictional character biography
- 3 Powers and abilities
- 4 Other versions
- 5 In other media
- 6 References
- 7 External links
While considering ideas for an appropriate archenemy for Captain America, writer and artist Joe Simon saw a hot fudge sundae melting and noticed it resembled a human figure. Inspired, Simon at first considered calling his new villain "Hot Fudge". However, as the cherry on top of the sundae seemed like an exposed skull, he finally decided on "Red Skull" as a more appropriate moniker. At the 1970 San Diego Comic Con Jack Kirby said, “… the Red Skull was created by Eddy Hearn who created Captain Marvel….And Eddy Hearn was one of the best writers that DC ever had… He was a professional. So he created the Red Skull.” In a 1989 interview with Will Murray Kirby was asked, “Who invented him? (Red Skull). Kirby replied, “I did.” However, in Comic Book Marketplace, Murray asked the same question to Joe Simon and got this response from Simon, “ I did that one. It was just a weird-looking thing.It had no hidden concept.” The original Red Skull was introduced in Timely Comics' Captain America Comics #1 (cover-dated March 1941) which was written and drawn by the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
The Skull was to appear again in issue #3 of Captain America Comics. As in issue #1, The Red Skull's secret identity is George Maxon, the owner of the Maxon Aircraft Company that makes airplanes for the US Army. Maxon wears a mask to create the look of the Red Skull and his face is often exposed. As the Red Skull, Maxon attempts to rob banks in order to raise money to overthrow the US government. In the comic he says, "Of course you realize the main item in overthrowing the government is money."
A new, more lasting version of the Red Skull was introduced in Captain America #7 (October 1941). This Skull claims to be the real one and states that George Maxon was but a pawn posing as the Red Skull. In later comics this Red Skull is identified as the Nazi, Johann Schmidt.
After an absence from comics for many years, both Captain America and the Red Skull were brought back in 1954 in Young Men Comics #24, in a story entitled "Back From The Dead". Here the Red Skull, thinking Captain America was dead, has left politics and started a big criminal enterprise in the United States. In his next appearance, in issue #27, the Red Skull is once again left for dead.
The character was subsequently revived during the Silver Age of Comic Books, first in Tales of Suspense #65 (May 1965) in a Captain America World War II-period story run, and then was established as a contemporary villain in issue #79 (July 1966). In that issue it is revealed that the Red Skull, like Steve Rogers, had been in suspended animation since World War II.
For decades, the character's true face was hidden, but in Captain America #297 (September 1984) the Red Skull unmasks in front of Captain America and his face, albeit extremely aged, is fully revealed. In the next issue, the Red Skull retells his story with his face fully visible in his various ages. When the character is revealed to be alive in issue #350 (February 1989), in a story called "Resurrection", by Mark Gruenwald, the face of Johann Schmidt's original body is hidden again, but the Skull's face is fully visible, albeit in his cloned copy of Captain America's body.
The character's origin was more fully illustrated in the limited series, Red Skull: Incarnate, with Schmidt's face fully visible again.
Fictional character biography
Johann Schmidt was a 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
Johann Schmidt was born in a village in Germany to Hermann Schmidt and Martha Schmidt. His mother died in childbirth, and his father blamed Johann for her death. Johann's father tried to drown the baby, only to be stopped by the attending doctor; he later committed suicide, leaving Johann an orphan. The doctor took Johann to an orphanage, where the child led a lonely existence. Johann ran away from the orphanage when he was seven years old and lived on the streets as a beggar and thief. As he grew older, he worked at various menial jobs but spent most of his time in prison for crimes ranging from vagrancy to theft. The Skull's real name of Johann Schmidt was not revealed in his Golden Age and Silver Age appearances.
As a young man, Schmidt was from time to time employed by a Jewish shopkeeper, whose daughter Esther was the only person who had treated Schmidt kindly up to that point. Seized with passion for Esther, Schmidt tried to force himself upon her, only for her to reject him. In unthinking fury, Schmidt murdered her. Schmidt fled the scene in terror but also felt ecstatic joy in committing his first murder. In killing Esther, he had given vent to the rage at the world that had been building up in him throughout his young life.
According to the official version of the story told by Red Skull and the Nazis, Schmidt met Hitler while working as a bellhop in a hotel. This occurred during his late teens, around the same time that the Nazi Party gained power in Germany. Schmidt wound up serving Hitler's rooms at the hotel. By chance, Schmidt was present by bringing refreshments when the Führer was furiously scolding an officer for letting a spy escape, during which Hitler declared that he could create a better National Socialist out of the bellhop. Looking closely at the youth and sensing his dark inner nature, Hitler decided to act on his words and recruited Schmidt. In the miniseries Red Skull: Incarnate, it has been revealed that Schmidt actually engineered his meeting with the Führer with himself disguised as a bellhop, tricking his fellow orphan Dieter into trying to kill Hitler and then taking this opportunity to save Hitler's life.
Dissatisfied with the standard drill instruction his subordinates used to train Schmidt, Hitler took over personally, training Schmidt as his right-hand man. Upon completion, Hitler gave Schmidt a unique uniform with a grotesque red skull mask, and he emerged as the Red Skull (in literal German: Roter Totenkopf or Roter (Toten-)Schädel) for the first time. His role was the embodiment of Nazi intimidation, while Hitler could remain the popular leader of Germany. To that end, 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.
In Europe during the war, Red Skull took personal command of many military actions and personally supervised the takeovers and lootings of many cities and towns; in various cases Red Skull ordered and supervised the eradication of the entire population of such communities. Red Skull also organized a Wolf Pack of U-Boats which preyed upon shipping across the world, often under Red Skull's personal command.
At first, Hitler took great pride in his protégé's successes and let Red Skull have anything he wanted. Hitler thus financed the construction of secret bases for Red Skull in various locations throughout the world, many of which were equipped with highly advanced experimental weapons and devices developed by Nazi scientists. Red Skull was particularly interested in procuring technological weapons that could be used for the purposes of subversion and warfare. During the war he stole plans for the nullatron, a device that could control human minds, adapted a space-warping device developed by the cyborg scientist codenamed Brain Drain, and commissioned Nazi scientists to develop a projector which could encircle and suspend sections of cities within spheres of energy.
But while Red Skull always admired Hitler for his ideological vision, he was never fully content with being Hitler's subordinate. Red Skull kidnapped and killed many of Hitler's closest advisers and eventually rose to become the second-most powerful man in the Third Reich. Now Hitler could no longer effectively control Red Skull and came to fear him, especially since Red Skull had made no secret of his ambition to supplant Hitler someday.
After the renowned military officer Baron Wolfgang von Strucker had a falling out with Hitler, Red Skull sent Strucker to Japan to found an organization that would prepare the way for takeovers in the Far East under Red Skull's leadership. In the Far East, Strucker joined a subversive organization that came to be known as Hydra, broke his ties with Red Skull, became head of Hydra and made it into a major threat to world peace.[volume & issue needed]
As World War II raged on, Hitler vowed that if he could not conquer the world, he would destroy it. To achieve this end, Red Skull proposed the construction of five gigantic war machines, to be called the Sleepers, which would be hidden in various locations while they generated and stored the power they would need, and then be released at a future date, "Der Tag" ("The Day" in German), to destroy the Earth if the Allies won the war. Hitler enthusiastically instructed Red Skull to construct the Sleepers, unaware that Red Skull intended to use them to conquer the world himself if Hitler's Third Reich fell. In the closing days of the war in Europe, Allied intelligence received reports of a Nazi doomsday plan, codenamed "Der Tag", to be implemented after Hitler's defeat. However, the Allies had no idea what the plan entailed.
Captain America, often with teenage partner Bucky Barnes, fought against, and thwarted, Red Skull and his plans many times during the war. The heroes also fought the Red Skull when they were members of the Invaders. Once they were captured by him and Captain America was placed under Nazi control by a drug and told to assassinate the supreme commander of the Allied armies in Europe, but thanks to Bucky he broke free. During the final days of World War II in Europe, Captain America and Bucky were assigned to England to prevent desperate Nazi efforts at sabotaging Allied supply bases there.[volume & issue needed] Red Skull sent a number of his subordinates who became known as the Exiles, and a large contingent of loyal German soldiers and their wives to a secret island base ("Exile Island"), where they would organize an army for use in the future.[volume & issue needed]
The two counterparts soon clashed for the first time. Red Skull later temporarily brainwashed three of the Invaders into serving him. The Red Skull and Captain America continued to engage in a series of skirmishes throughout the war. On one occasion, Red Skull captured Captain America and told him his origin. He placed Captain America under his control and tried to use him to kill a high-ranking officer but with Bucky's help Captain America broke free. Now that the German defeat was becoming a reality, Red Skull was more determined than ever to obtain vengeance for his numerous personal defeats by Captain America and Bucky. Red Skull assigned Baron Heinrich Zemo to go to England, and, under the cover of stealing an experimental Allied drone plane, to capture or kill Captain America and Bucky. However, Red Skull was unaware that the Allies had just secretly parachuted Captain America into beleaguered Berlin to investigate "Der Tag".[volume & issue needed]
Finally, Captain America tracked Red Skull down to his hidden bunker. Red Skull was about to hurl an armed hand grenade at his nemesis when Captain America threw his shield at him. The grenade exploded, but Red Skull was not killed, due to his body armor. He was, however, seriously hurt and partially buried in debris. Thinking he was dying, Red Skull defiantly told Captain America that the Sleepers would avenge the Nazis' defeat. Then, suddenly, an Allied attack on Berlin began. An Allied plane dropped a huge blockbuster bomb on the bunker, causing a cave-in that Captain America barely escaped. Captain America was picked up by the Allies and returned to England only to fall into Zemo's trap, which led to Bucky's supposed death and Captain America's falling into suspended animation for decades. Support pillars that crisscrossed over Red Skull when the bunker caved in saved him from being struck by tons of rubble when the bomb hit. The cave-in also released an experimental gas from canisters in the bunker which put Red Skull into suspended animation, during which time his wounds slowly healed.
Post-World War II era
Johann Schmidt is eventually rescued and revived from suspended animation in modern times by the terrorist organization A.I.M.. Red Skull quickly subverts a cell to his own ambitions of world conquest and the death of Captain America. He steals the Cosmic Cube after taking control of its Keeper's mind with a device he planted while shaking hands, and reveals that he gave Zemo the order to steal the bomb plane that led to Bucky Barnes' death. He had a rivalry with Zemo, and hoped to set his two foes against each other. Captain America learns, from the dying pilot of a plane that had been following the Keeper's plane, that the Cube had been used to destroy the plane. Schmidt tells another A.I.M. member of his plans after getting a mind control device on him, then causes him to shoot himself. He fights Captain America again for the first time in years after getting the Cube on an island. He begins sending Captain America to another dimension when Captain America offers to become his servant. Red Skull encases himself in a golden suit of armor, and talks of creating a new order of knights. Captain America gets close to him while the Red Skull prepares to knight him. Captain America tries to get the Cube, and in the fight the island splits apart from the Cube's power, and the Skull falls off a cliff while trying to get the Cosmic Cube. When Johann reappears, he and Albert Malik start to antagonize each other while both claiming the identity of Red Skull.[volume & issue needed] Finally Malik is the victim of an assassination organized by Red Skull, through a rogue agent of the Scourges of the Underworld.
Red Skull captures part of Manhattan Island, unleashes the fourth Sleeper, and captures Captain America on Exile Island. The Skull then regains the Cosmic Cube and temporarily switches bodies with Captain America. He also uses the Cube to alter the personality of Sam "Snap" Wilson. Some time later in his first appearance outside of a title featuring Captain America, he fights Doctor Doom. Red Skull then foments racial hatred in New York, and is revealed as the true power behind the Las Vegas-based Hydra fragment, and clashes with the Kingpin.
Some time later, Red Skull kills Roscoe (another wearer of the Captain America mantle). He also revives the use of his "dust of death". Red Skull later fights Doctor Doom on the moon but is defeated. With Arnim Zola, Red Skull seeks to transplant Hitler's brain into Captain America's body. He transforms a number of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his red skull-faced slaves. Red Skull teams with the Hate-Monger, a clone of Hitler, and traps him in a flawed Cosmic Cube. The Skull leads the Nihilist Order for a brief time. Establishing a Nazi colony on a deserted island, Red Skull fathers a daughter who would eventually become known as Mother Superior.
The gas that placed Red Skull in suspended animation wears off and his body rapidly ages to his actual years. Now physically weak and feeble in his mid-80s, Red Skull plans a final showdown with his archrival. Kidnapping Captain America's closest allies, he forces Captain America to surrender himself to a medical treatment that ages his body to its rightful age. The two men, their bodies now ancient, fight a battle to the death. When Captain America refuses to kill him, Red Skull dies cursing Captain America as his elderly body shuts down.
Nazi geneticist Arnim Zola had obtained DNA samples of Captain America years earlier and arranged for Red 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), Red Skull decides to reinvent himself and his quest for absolute power as a means to celebrate his cheating death. Red Skull abandons his longstanding beliefs in National Socialism and Hitler, on the belief that the Nazi philosophy made him look like a relic of the past, and turns towards American ideology. Red Skull sees much potential in the American dream of capitalism and self-determination and sets about establishing his own foothold inside Washington D.C., culminating in him gaining control over the Commission on Superhuman Activities, a government body in Washington that monitors and regulates superhero activities.[volume & issue needed]
Red Skull also changes his mode of operations: rather than "living from one grand scheme to the next", he begins financing a score of evil organizations that report directly to him, such as the militia group the Watchdogs. He also employs one of the Scourges of the Underworld, an organization dedicated to killing supervillains.[volume & issue needed]
Red Skull has the Commission remove Steve Rogers from the position of Captain America and replace him with jingoist John Walker. Although Walker attempts to live up to his predecessor's ideals, Red Skull arranges 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.
Red Skull kills his chief pawn in the Commission, right in front of Captain America. About to be exposed, Red Skull tries to manipulate Walker into killing Rogers. When Rogers defeats Walker, Red Skull appears to gloat at what he had done to Rogers, Walker, and the reputation of Captain America. However, Rogers remains openly dubious of his claims to be his dead archenemy. Red Skull tries to kill Rogers with a cigarette holding a lethal dose of the Dust of Death (Red Skull's favorite poison), but Walker hits him from behind with his shield. Red Skull inhales the Dust of Death and his face takes on the appearance of a living red skull; his head loses its hair and its skin shrivels, clinging tightly to his skull, and taking on a red discoloration. Red Skull survives the exposure due to the effects of the Super-Soldier Formula.
After this, Red Skull masterminds a conflict between the United States and Symkaria. He joins the "Acts of Vengeance" conspiracy, but is attacked by the mutant terrorist Magneto, a Holocaust survivor who wants to punish him for his involvement in Hitler's regime. Magneto buries him alive with enough water to last a few months. Red Skull remains imprisoned, close to death and beginning to see the error of his ways, until he is rescued by his henchman Crossbones. Feeling ready to die in peace, Red Skull requests to be taken to his private estate's bed, and for Captain America to come see him. Upon seeing his archenemy's face, Red Skull is surprised to feel a sudden burst of hatred that reignites his will to live.
Red 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 and the two engage in a drug war. He then defeats the Red Skull in hand-to-hand combat, sparing his life on the condition that he never come near the Kingpin's territory again. After Red Skull's agents allow fellow Nazi Baron Wolfgang von Strucker to be reborn, the grateful Strucker allows Red Skull the use of Hydra resources.
Red Skull's tenure in Washington comes to an end when he is captured by Hauptmann Deutschland, and taken to Germany to stand trial for crimes against humanity, stemming from his days as an agent of the Third Reich. Red Skull narrowly escapes and is rescued by Arnim Zola, and forced to fake his death and go into hiding in a Rocky Mountain compound. He recruits Viper, a move that alienates his minions and is further rocked when his chief henchman Crossbones kidnaps Captain America's girlfriend Diamondback, resulting in Captain America finding Red Skull's new lair. Red Skull fires Crossbones and goes into hiding while Viper, using funds she plied from Red Skull as part of a scheme to use televisions across America to blind TV viewers, is defeated by Captain America.
Red Skull discovers that he is facing the same permanent paralysis that Captain America was facing due to their exposure to the Super-Soldier Formula. When the evil scientist Superia offers Captain America a cure, Captain America refuses it because Superia said that Captain America would owe her. Red Skull takes the cure and apparently kills Superia, then arranges for Captain America to be kidnapped by his remaining forces and given a blood transfusion that cures him.
Captain America's recovery segues into a reluctant team-up with Red Skull; a Nazi cult that worshiped Hitler as a god had discovered a Cosmic Cube that contained Hitler's soul, put there by Red Skull himself. The two try to stop the cult from fully powering the Hitler Cosmic Cube, but Red Skull opts instead to send Captain America (against his will) into the cube to kill Hitler, imprisoning Captain America in the cube while he uses its power to conquer humanity. Captain America escapes and uses his shield to sever one of Red Skull's arms, causing him to drop the Cube. The Cube becomes unstable, destroying Red Skull.
Trapped in a hellish nightmare dimension and forced to serve as a bellhop to a world of non-European immigrants, Red Skull's will ultimately is so great that he is able to escape his prison. As a result, Red Skull now possesses limited reality-warping powers that make him a cosmic threat. He is further aided by Korvac, posing as Kang the Conqueror. He is sent to Galactus's ship to steal more power (particularly the power of omniscience), which would remove all limits to Red Skull's reality-warping powers. Skull is ambushed by Korvac, who steals his cosmic powers and banishes him back to Earth.
Red Skull later manipulates his way into the position in the form of US Secretary of Defense Dell Rusk (an anagram of "Red Skull") to develop a biological weapon he tested at Mount Rushmore. He is exposed and defeated by the Avengers. The Black Panther beats him so badly that he breaks Red Skull's jaw in half.
Red Skull was assassinated by the mysterious Winter Soldier, under orders from the renegade former Soviet general Aleksander Lukin wanting to possess the new Cosmic Cube Red Skull had manufactured. When Red Skull was shot, he attempted to use the Cosmic Cube to switch bodies with Lukin to survive, but as the Cosmic 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 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 H.Q., 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.[volume & issue needed]
With America's superheroes divided over the act, Red 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 being manipulated by Faustus.[volume & issue needed]
In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Red 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's mental directive, assassinates Captain America. This is only the first phase of Red Skull's evil plan. Upon the discovery of his identity as Lukin, Red Skull fakes his death, and initiates the second phase 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. Red Skull continues his assault by engineering a riot by placing Kronas security troops and drugged water in a protest on the Lincoln Monument.
All of this has apparently been to elevate his puppet politician, Gordon Wright, elevated in the public's eye with being credited as "resolving" the situations, as well as surviving a (staged) attack by the Serpent Squad. Once elected, Wright will led the country directly into a police state secretly controlled by Red Skull. Red Skull also plans to transfer his consciousness into Sharon's unborn child, apparently sired by Steve Rogers himself and potentially having inherited his Project: Rebirth enhancements.
Both schemes fail because of the impatience and incompetence of Red Skull's daughter - her near-fatal attack on Sharon causes her to lose the baby, and she intentionally botches her pseudo-assassination of Wright by attempting to kill him for real. As Faustus has surreptitiously tampered with Sharon's programming, she is able to rebel, and before escaping shoots Lukin to death. This is not the end of Red Skull, since Zola had seconds earlier transferred his mind to one of his spare robotic bodies, but after having his current form damaged by the impostor Captain America, he is unable to return to Red Skull, essentially trapping him in his current robotic form for the time being.
Captain America: Reborn
It has been revealed that Red Skull did not actually kill Steve Rogers, but trapped his body in a fixed position in space and time. He was planning on using Sharon Carter and a machine created by Doctor Doom to return his body back to their time, but since Sharon destroyed the machine, his body is now drifting through time and space. Apparently, it is presumed that Red Skull intended to transfer his mind into Rogers' body. Norman Osborn decides to assist in completing his plan, as a figurehead of Captain America leading his team of Avengers would increase his popularity with his Iron Patriot suit. Sin and Crossbones find him and take him to Latveria in order to place Red Skull's mind in a living body. Red Skull, Sin and Crossbones land in Latveria and Doctor Doom confronts them, saying that he would kill them if he was not a man of his word. Doctor Doom and Zola complete the machine and, after Victoria Hand brings Sharon to them, they strap her in. They activate the machine and soon Steve's body returns. When Steve opens his eyes, they are shown to be red, signifying that Red Skull is now in control. Rogers still resides in the body and during Red Skull's invasion of Washington D.C., he and Steve battle in the mind of Steve's body. Steve eventually forces Red Skull out, placing him back into his robot body. To prevent him from escaping the immediate area, Sharon hits Red Skull with a shot of Pym particles, making him a massive robot who cannot elude any pursuer's attention. While Rogers and the Avengers keep Red Skull occupied with a team attack, he is destroyed by a missile barrage fired by Sharon on a hijacked A.I.M. battleship. In the epilogue, it was shown that Sin was too close to the exploding robot and her face was heavily scarred, leaving her looking just like her father.
Clone of Red Skull
Following the Avengers vs. X-Men storyline, Red Skull mysteriously returns and assembles a team called the S-Men. Red Skull's S-Men attack Rogue and Scarlet Witch at the grave of Professor X and steal his body. In his hideout, Red Skull is then seen removing Professor X's brain in a plot to "eradicate the mutant menace". This Red Skull is revealed to be a clone of the original, created by Arnim Zola in 1942 and held in cryogenic stasis in the event that Germany lost the war. Fusing part of Professor X's brain with his own, Red Skull brainwashes Scarlet Witch as part of a plot to wipe out the world's mutant population. Rogue attacks the Scarlet Witch and they fight until they both discover the lobotomized body of Professor X. Red Skull arrives and reveals that he has fused his brain with Professor X's brain. Using Professor X's telepathy, Red Skull provokes ordinary citizens of New York into a mass assault against even potential mutants, even managing to take control of Thor. However, his telepathy is still erratic with Red Skull being unable to completely control Captain America and an attack against him by Wolverine cutting off his right hand and disrupting his powers long enough for Rogue and Scarlet Witch to break free. The team ultimately force Red Skull to retreat after Rogue manages to temporarily disrupt his powers, Havok mockingly comparing Red Skull to the jock who beats up gay kids to conceal his own homosexuality.
During the AXIS storyline, Magneto arrives in Genosha to find that Red Skull has turned it into a concentration camp for mutants and still has Professor X's brain in him. Magneto attacks Red Skull, but is quickly stopped by his S-Men. Red Skull mind-tortures Magneto and gives him visions of those closest to him suffering while being unable to do anything to stop it. After being freed by Scarlet Witch, Rogue, and Havok, he bites down on a vial beneath his skin of Mutant Growth Hormone, giving himself enough power to fight. When Scarlet Witch, Rogue, and Havok want to leave the island and alert the rest of the Avengers and X-Men of what Red Skull is doing, Magneto says he is going to stay and fight. Before they can do anything, Red Skull appears. Red Skull now has the group mind-controlled. He plans on using Scarlet Witch's power to shape reality in his image. He tells Magneto to bow if he wants his daughter to remain alive, but Magneto performs a sneak attack enough to break Red Skull's control over the others. After killing the S-Men, Magneto attacks Red Skull who then tells Magneto that Professor X's greatest fear was him leading the X-Men. Magneto kills Red Skull while the others look on in horror. Magneto believes everything is over, only for Red Skull to appear as a giant called Red Onslaught.
In an attempt to defeat the new Red Onslaught and his army of Stark Sentinels — created from information acquired from Tony Stark during the time he was in charge of the Superhuman Registration Act — Magneto gathers a team of villains to try to take the Skull's forces by surprise. Wanda attempts to cast a spell that will 'invert' the Skull and bring out the part of Professor X that still exists in his brain. However, the plan backfires when the resulting spell causes the moral inversion of all heroes and villains in the area. With the villains now the only hope to defeat the corrupted heroes, Captain America is forced to protect the Skull (now calling himself the White Skull) from the evil Avengers while Spider-Man works with the inverted villains to fight off the various corrupted heroes. Doctor Doom is able to summon the spirit of Brother Voodoo to possess Wanda and invert the spell, the Skull sacrificing his heroism and freedom to restore the heroes to normal. Red Skull was later taken away by Doctor Doom.
As part of the All-New, All-Different Marvel, it is revealed that the Red Skull is hiding in Avengers Mansion (now a theme hotel as the various Avengers teams have moved on to new bases) in a secret underground room along with Sin (who has been restored to her original appearance) ever since he was defeated. He is nearly discovered when Quicksilver and Deadpool investigate the room, but uses a psychic suggestion to convince them that the room is empty, as well as planting a command in Quicksilver's subconscious that will be triggered later.
During the Avengers: Standoff! storyline, Red Skull infiltrates the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility Pleasant Hill by disguising himself as a priest named Father Patrick. As Patrick, the Red Skull secretly instigates an uprising of the facility's brainwashed inmates by manipulating Baron Zemo and the Fixer into restoring them to normal. In the aftermath of the battle with the villains at Pleasant Hill, Red Skull founds his own version of Hydra with Sin and Crossbones. Their first strike occurs when they use Kobik — a sentient Cosmic Cube that once belonged to the Skull, now 'educated' to perceive Hydra as a great organization — to manipulate Steve Rogers' memories so that he believes that he has been a Hydra sleeper agent since childhood, although the Skull is unaware that the Hydra-converted Rogers now intends to stage a coup of the organization for his own ends.
The Skull eventually mounts an assault on the Avengers, using previously-planted commands to take control of the team, but Deadpool is able to resist him long enough to place Magneto's old helmet on Rogue's head, rendering her immune to telepathy long enough to knock the Skull out and take him to be operated on by Beast. The fragment of Xavier's brain is extracted from the Skull, but although Rogers attempts to take custody of the fragment for his own ends, Rogue and Johnny Storm fly up and incinerate the brain fragment, leaving the Skull to be taken into 'custody' by Rogers. Although he is rescued by Sin, Sin and Crossbones subsequently betray the Skull to prove their loyalty to Rogers, who kills the clone for good by pushing him over the cliff outside the Skull's mansion, Rogers revealing that he was never loyal to the Skull from the beginning.
During the Secret Empire storyline, the disheveled man in a torn World War II uniform that introduced himself as Steve Rogers, alongside people claiming to be "Bucky" and "Sam Wilson", encounters Red Skull's clone, who plans to taken them "home". As the other Steve Rogers is hanging from a rope tied to a tree, he finds himself next to a rambling man. As Red Skull's clone takes the rambling man away, he tells the other Steve Rogers that his time will come soon. The other Steve Rogers asks Red Skull's clone where he is and Red Skull's clone claims that they are in "Hell". He also states that they are nothing but ghosts that are remnants fading into death. Red Skull's clone then uses a barbed bat on the other Steve Rogers' chest, stating that the only path to peace is death. Red Skull's clone is torturing the other Steve Rogers with a burning, thorn-wrapped piece of wood. Red Skull's clone claims he is granting the other Steve Rogers "peace" and is about to deliver the killing blow to the other Steve Rogers. Before he can strike, the other Steve Rogers sees the beautiful blond girl he saw at the beginning of the series who was the same one that was poisoned and that he thought had died. He realizes there is still hope and evades the Red Skull's clone's attack. The other Steve Rogers then tackles the Red Skull's clone and they both plummet off the cliff into the water below. The Red Skull's clone calls the other Steve Rogers an idiot for his actions.
Other identity users
There had been other people who passed themselves off as Red Skull:
George John Maxon
Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, George John Maxon appeared as Red Skull in Captain America Comics #1-3 (March–May 1941). Maxon is an American businessman and Nazi agent who leads a ring of spies and saboteurs and serves as an agent of Johann Schmidt (the true Red Skull). He faces Captain America during two of the latter's first missions. Maxon is thought killed during the second encounter, though he would reappear for one last encounter with Captain America.
With Johann Schmidt's disappearance after 1945, the reputation of Red Skull was still formidable enough to prove useful. In 1953, Soviet Russian KGB agent Albert Malik set up his spy/criminal organization in Algeria and assumed the Red Skull identity, pretending that he was the original, when he was actually serving Soviet interests, in Captain America Comics #61. During the 1950s, he faced the then-active version of Captain America, who was also pretending to be the original. While the Captain and Bucky (Jack Monroe) were placed into suspended animation when his flawed replicate of the Super-Soldier Formula seriously affected his and Bucky's minds, Malik continued his activities, and over time severed his links to the Soviet Union.
He was also responsible for the deaths of Richard Parker and Mary Fitzpatrick-Parker, the parents of Peter Parker, tipped off by the supercriminal Gustav "the Gentleman" Fiers to their spy status.
Sinthea "Sin" Schmidt is the daughter of Johann Schmidt who briefly adopts the Red Skull moniker after being scarred like her father.
Powers and abilities
Although he has no superhuman abilities, Red Skull possesses a high intellect and inventive genius and is a highly gifted subversive strategist and political operative. At one point, Red Skull's mind inhabited a body cloned from Captain America's, which possessed the mutagenic alterations induced by the Super-Soldier Formula. He was thus endowed with a body that was in perfect physical condition, with strength, speed, durability, agility, dexterity, reflexes, coordination, balance and physical endurance that exceeded that of an Olympic athlete. Despite the scar tissue covering his face and head, his senses were still above-average. He has been shown as a superb martial artist, though he was never on par with Captain America himself; he was originally trained by German athletes appointed by Hitler. He is heavily trained as a skilled marksman with various forms of handguns and well-versed in the use of firearms and explosives.
While sharing Alexander Lukin's body, he lost his superhuman abilities. Since then he resides in one of the android bodies engineered by Arnim Zola, with enhanced endurance and resilience.
He typically armed himself with a trick cigarette that could fire a fatal poison gas — his trademark "dust of death" — toward his victim. The "dust of death" is a red powder which kills a victim within seconds of skin contact. The powder causes the skin of the victim's head to shrivel, tighten and take on a red discoloration, while causing all of his hair to fall out; hence the victim's head resembles a "red skull". He also carries a large arsenal of conventional and advanced firearms and explosives.
After fusing his own brain with that of Charles Xavier, the clone of Red Skull gains powerful telepathic abilities. After being killed in a fight with Magneto, the Red Skull clone temporarily evolved into a psionic entity similar to Onslaught, vastly increasing his original powers while also giving him new ones, ranging from material astral projection, total control over his psionic state producing tendrils, changing size and such, energy projection in the form of optic blasts, on top of greatly enhanced control over his psychic abilities being able to effect minds the world over to initiate worldwide hate.[volume & issue needed] After reverting to his original form, however, he later expressed frustration with this new power as it makes conquest too easy for him, realizing that he wants people to grovel before him of their own free will, rather than just making people mindlessly submit. Red Skull eventually loses these abilities when he is captured by Rogue and taken to Beast, who performs surgery on the Skull to extract the elements of Xavier's brain from his own.
Red Skull allied with Doctor Doom, Hulk, Magneto, Namor, and Ultron in order to take over Manhattan.
In the Heroes Reborn universe, Red Skull is revealed to be the banker of the Master Man's World Party. This version references his fights with Captain America during World War II, but is stopped by Nick Fury, Captain America and Falcon.
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 control over the cerebrum (and thereby actions) of anyone, he gathered an army of thousands, only to come into conflict with Steve Rogers in his Captain America identity. Insulting Captain America as being 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.
In the 1997 DC/Marvel special Batman & Captain America, Red Skull hires the Joker to steal an atomic bomb during World War II. Joker evades Batman, Cap, Bucky, and Robin and delivers it to Red Skull, but is horrified when he learns that Red Skull is a Nazi (saying "I may be a criminal lunatic but I'm an American criminal lunatic!"). When Red Skull threatens to drop the bomb on Washington D.C., Joker actually fights him in the plane's cargo bay. When Captain America and Batman take over the plane and bring it over the ocean, the two villains are dropped out with the bomb just before it explodes. Both Captain America and Batman are convinced the two are still alive somehow.
In Marvel Zombies, Red Skull is an undead zombie with an unquenchable hunger for the flesh of the living. In issue #5, he finally manages to kill Colonel America, by scooping out the last of the Colonel's exposed brain before being decapitated by a zombified 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", indicating that he had waited for many years to finally kill his longtime enemy and that even his present zombification could not stop his lust for murder.
Old Man Logan
In a possible future where a final battle between the heroes and villains ended with the villains winning, Red Skull is revealed as the mastermind of the villains' conquest and has made himself President of the United States. Living in the Nazi-redecorated White House, Red Skull had taken to wearing Captain America's old bloodstained uniform and collecting gruesome trophies from fallen heroes. When his men bring in a wounded Wolverine, Logan and Red Skull fight in his trophy room. Unwilling to pop his claws during the fight, Wolverine decapitates Red Skull with Captain America's shield, ending his villainous rule.
In other media
- Red Skull appeared in several episodes of the Captain America segment of The Marvel Super Heroes 1960s animated series, voiced by Paul Kligman.
- Red Skull appeared in the 1981 Spider-Man animated series, voiced by Peter Cullen.
- Red Skull appeared in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends episode "Quest of the Red Skull", voiced again by Peter Cullen.
- Red Skull appeared in the X-Men animated series, voiced by Cedric Smith. He is seen in a flashback of episode "Old Soldiers".
- Red Skull appeared in the 1994 Spider-Man animated series, voiced by David Warner (in "The Cat") and by Earl Boen (in later appearances). He first makes a cameo appearance in the episode "The Cat" before appearing as a central figure in the "Six Forgotten Warriors" story arc. In the 1940s, after a battle with Captain America and his teammates, they both got stuck in suspended animation in an open vortex. When Red Skull's son released his father from the vortex 50 years later, Captain America is inadvertently caused to be released as well, and Red Skull and Captain America fought again. At the end of the episode, after Captain America battles Red Skull to help save the world from his nefarious plans to take it over with his son Electro, Captain America pushes Red Skull into the open vortex and they both get stuck in suspended animation again. During the "Secret Wars" episode, Red Skull is among the villains that Beyonder placed on an alien planet, where he collaborated with Doctor Octopus. He and the other villains are later sent back to Earth when Doctor Doom claimed the Beyonder's powers.
- Red Skull appears in The Super Hero Squad Show, voiced by Mark Hamill in a German accent. He appears in the episodes "Wrath of the Red Skull" and "World War Witch".
- Red Skull appears in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, voiced by Steven Blum in a German accent for Red Skull and an Americanized-style tone for Dell Rusk's animated debut. During World War II, Red Skull uses Hydra's resources during World War II to abduct Nordic mythological beasts from the Nine Realms and subject them to their control. Although Captain America and Bucky Barnes thwarted his scheme, Red Skull indirectly causes Captain America's suspended animation and Bucky's demise. In the present, he quietly returns as Dell Rusk, the Secretary of Defense and the leader of Code Red with Falcon, Doc Samson, Red Hulk and Winter Soldier. He releases a biological weapon in New York and accuses the Avengers of having released the weapon. He sends the Code Red to arrest them while Winter Soldier captures Captain America for Red Skull. Thanks to Iron Man and Winter Soldier, Captain America was able to defeat Red Skull. With his Dell Rusk alias exposed to the public, Red Skull is remanded to the Hydro Base until his Sleepers spring him out of prison. It is revealed that he turned his nemesis' partner into the Winter Soldier to be his brainwashed assassin that served him. Using his Sleepers, which combine into one equipped with a Nova Cannon, he attacks Washington, D.C.. As the Avengers fought the combined Sleeper, Captain America and Winter Soldier fight Red Skull in the Sleeper's head. Red Skull appears victorious until Winter Soldier damages the Sleeper's computer. The Avengers manage to defeat the Sleeper and capture Red Skull.
- Red Skull appears in the Avengers Assemble animated series, voiced by Liam O'Brien in a German accent. In the first season, he is the leader of the Cabal. In the two-part pilot "The Avengers Protocol", Red Skull appears before Captain America, much to Captain America's surprise. After seemingly vaporizing Captain America with a laser gun, Red Skull is confronted by Iron Man. He escapes, however, thanks to having allied with MODOK. After the Avengers are reassembled to storm Red Skull's base, it is revealed that Captain America is alive, but is hooked to a machine with Red Skull. Captain America subsequently attacks Iron Man, revealing that he is Red Skull, having mindswapped himself in order to live longer, while leaving his nemesis to die in his own dying body. But after a battle with the Avengers, the mindswap is reversed, and the two enemies are back in their own bodies. However, MODOK steals Iron Man's armor and arc reactor for Red Skull, rechristening himself the Iron Skull. Throughout the first season, Iron Skull recruits Dracula, Attuma and Hyperion to join him and MODOK in the Cabal to beat the Avengers at their own game while obtaining the Tesseract. But the season finale revealed Iron Skull intended to eliminate his allies, under the farce that he was sending them into other dimensions as he takes the Tesseract. But he is eventually defeated, losing his Iron Skull suit to Iron Man as he retreats into a portal where he presents the Tesseract to Thanos. In the second season, Red Skull returns to Earth, having been tortured by Thanos to the point of being a shell of his former self with the Power Stone as the Avengers place him in their custody. After surviving the Winter Soldier's kidnapping attempt, Red Skull is restored to his former glory and escapes during the chaos caused by the Time Stone's temporal disruptions. He escaped to Monster Island, thanks to an alliance with Dormammu to gain control over the Mindless Ones. He wanted to cover the whole island in an impenetrable magic force field to protect himself from Thanos, despite the loss of the Infinity Stones. He succeeded, but was kicked out from the island when Ant-Man uses Fin Fang Foom and arrested him. Red Skull also made sporadic appearances in Avengers: Secret Wars.
- Red Skull appears in the summer 2013 Disney/Marvel animated special Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel, voiced again by Liam O'Brien.
- Red Skull appears in Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., voiced again by Liam O'Brien. In the episode "Days of Future Smash: Year of the Hydra", when the Hulk followed the Leader to World War II and met Captain America, they come across the Leader's plot to use a replica of Abraham Erskine's lab to use gamma energy to turn Red Skull into the Green Skull. Green Skull manages to overwhelm Hulk and Captain America. While Leader uses his gamma siphoner on Hulk, Green Skull frees Captain America in order to force him to surrender. This leads to an alternate present where Leader rules Hydra, uses a wheel-shaped device powered by Green Skull, and fights the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. alongside an older Captain America. Thanks to a tactic from Captain America before the public mention of a surrender over the airwaves, Hulk is freed, turning the gamma siphoner onto Green Skull, regressing him back to Red Skull. Hulk then defeats Red Skull and the Leader escapes, causing the Hydra-dominated present to shift back to the real present.
- Red Skull appears in the Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload miniseries, voiced by Chi McBride.
- Red Skull appears in Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, voiced by Motomu Kiyokawa.
- Red Skull appeared in the 1990 film Captain America, portrayed by Scott Paulin. In this adaptation, the character is an Italian officer, and later Mafioso, named Tadzio de Santis. Tadzio was a boy genius whose family was killed by Axis soldiers who subjected him to the Super-Soldier Formula, leaving him deformed and evil. Red Skull launches a missile at Washington, but Captain America attacks Red Skull's base. Red Skull battles Captain America aboard the flying missile and is forced to cut off his hand to avoid death. After Captain America is trapped in ice, Red Skull forms a criminal organization with his daughter Valentina. Red Skull attempts to brainwash the President, only to be stopped via a recording of his family's death. Lost in thought, Captain America uses his shield to throw Red Skull off a cliff.
- Red Skull has appeared in three Marvel Cinematic Universe films:
- Hugo Weaving portrays the Red Skull in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger. In this adaptation, he is the head of Hydra which served as the Nazis' deep-science division. Schmitt ordered Dr. Erskine to use the experimental Super-Soldier Formula on him. The unfinished formula had physically enhanced him, but had also permanently deformed him. He was exiled by Adolf Hitler, who gave him his moniker "Red Skull". Red Skull leads an incursion into Norway in 1942 where he recovers the Tesseract, an artifact once owned by the Norse God Odin which contains the Space Stone, and has his chief scientist Arnim Zola develop advanced weapons powered by the device. Ultimately, disillusioned with the Nazis, Red Skull breaks away from the Nazi regime and establishes Hydra as its own force against the Allies and Axis alike with aspirations of world dominion. Captain America leads the fight against Hydra, forcing the group to retreat to their final base in the Alps. In 1945, the Red Skull launches his plan to destroy every major capital on the planet, starting with New York. He is defeated by Captain America on board his plane, the Valkyrie, seemingly disintegrated by the Tesseract upon using it.
- Early discussions while developing the story of the 2012 film The Avengers had Zak Penn considering the possibility to use Red Skull as the film's main antagonist alongside Loki. However, Penn ultimately desisted from using Red Skull to make way for Thanos while keeping Loki as the main villain.
- Ross Marquand portrays the character in the 2018 film Avengers: Infinity War. Following the events of The First Avenger, Red Skull is revealed to have been transported to the planet Vormir, where he is cursed in a purgatory state to serve as a guide to those seeking the Soul Stone. Red Skull leads Thanos and Gamora to the nearby abyss and reveals that Thanos must sacrifice someone whom the Titan loves for the Infinity Stone, while standing by as Gamora is tearfully thrown off the cliff to her death. Due to having nothing to sacrifice, Red Skull was unable to claim the Infinity Stone himself. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo stated that, after Thanos claims the Soul Stone, Red Skull is freed from his curse and permitted to leave Vormir and pursue his own desire for the Infinity Stones.
- Ross Marquand reprises his role in Avengers: Endgame, in which he guides the time traveling Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton on Vormir when they come to retrieve a past version of the Soul Stone to reassemble the Infinity Gauntlet, with Romanoff sacrificing herself so that Barton can return to his family once they are revived.
- Red Skull makes a cameo appearance in the end credits of Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United.
- Red Skull appears in the 2014 animated movie Heroes United: Iron Man and Captain America, voiced by Liam O'Brien.
- Red Skull is the final boss of Captain America and the Avengers.
- Red Skull appears in the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet, voiced by Mark Hamill.
- Red Skull appears in Captain America: Super Soldier, voiced by Keith Ferguson.
- Red Skull appears as a villain character in Marvel Super Hero Squad Online.
- Red Skull appears as a non-playable in Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat, voiced by Mark Hamill.
- Red Skull is featured as a boss in the Facebook game Marvel: Avengers Alliance. He was brought out of his suspended animation when the "Pulse" hit Earth.
- Red Skull appears in Marvel Heroes.
- Red Skull appears in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, voiced again by Steven Blum.
- Red Skull appears as playable character in Lego Marvel's Avengers, voiced by Liam O'Brien. He also has a role in the story, appearing in the past portions of the third level (which is based on his role in Captain America: The First Avenger).
- Red Skull is a playable character in Marvel: Future Fight.
- Red Skull appears in the Marvel Universe Live! arena show, sporting his black armor from Avengers Assemble.
- Red Skull appears in a show in Disneyland Paris for their Marvel Season of Super Heroes.
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