The Red Skull as seen on the cover of The Marvels Project #7 (March 2010) by Steve Epting
|First appearance||George Maxon:|
Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941)
Captain America Comics #7 (October 1941)
|Created by||Joe Simon|
|Alter ego||Johann Schmidt|
|Place of origin||Germany|
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 (German: Roter Schädel) is an alias used by several fictional characters appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics, primarily Johann Schmidt. The first Red Skull appeared in Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941), created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Usually portrayed as a Nazi agent and protégé of Adolf Hitler who is disfigured or wearing a red skull mask, the Red Skull is regarded as the archenemy of the superhero Captain America.
The Red Skull was ranked number 21 on Wizard magazine's top 100 greatest villains ever list and ranked as IGN's 14th-greatest comic book villain of all time. 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).
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. On separate occasions, both Kirby and Simon claimed to have had the original idea for the character, and at the 1970 San Diego Comic Con, Kirby said the Red Skull was created by France Herron.
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 commandeers bank robberies in an effort to raise money to overthrow the US government, declaring, "Of course you realize the main item in overthrowing the government is money!"
Stories published decades later established that the Red Skull appearing in Captain America #7 (October 1941) was the Nazi Johann Schmidt, and that the Red Skull appearing before that point was his pawn George Maxon.
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 returned in new stories starting with Tales of Suspense #65 (May 1965) in a Captain America World War II-period story run. Red Skull was established as a contemporary villain in issue #79 (July 1966), with the explanation that he 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 Red 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 miniseries 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 7 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 the 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, 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.
In Europe during the war, the Red Skull took personal command of many military actions and personally supervised the takeovers and lootings of many cities and towns; in various cases the Red Skull ordered and supervised the eradication of the entire population of such communities. The Red Skull also organized a Wolf Pack of U-Boats which preyed upon shipping across the world, often under the Red Skull's personal command.
At first, Hitler took great pride in his protégé's successes and let the Red Skull have anything he wanted. Hitler thus financed the construction of secret bases for the Red Skull in various locations throughout the world, many of which were equipped with highly advanced experimental weapons and devices developed by Nazi scientists. The 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 code-named Brain Drain, and commissioned Nazi scientists to develop a projector which could encircle and suspend sections of cities within spheres of energy.
But while the Red Skull always admired Hitler for his ideological vision, he was never fully content with being Hitler's subordinate. The 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 the Red Skull and came to fear him, especially since the 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, the Red Skull sent Strucker to Japan to found an organization that would prepare the way for takeovers in the Far East under the Red Skull's leadership. In the Far East, Strucker joined a subversive organization that came to be known as HYDRA, severed his ties with the 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, the 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 the Red Skull to construct the Sleepers, unaware that the 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, code-named "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, the 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]The 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.The 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, the 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, the Red Skull was more determined than ever to obtain vengeance for his numerous personal defeats by Captain America and Bucky. The 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, the 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 the Red Skull down to his hidden bunker. The 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 the Red Skull was not killed, due to his body armor. He was, however, seriously hurt and partially buried in debris. Thinking he was dying, the 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 the 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 the 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. The 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 Baron Zemo the order to steal the bomb plane that led to Bucky Barnes's 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 Cosmic 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 Cosmic Cube on an island. He begins sending Captain America to another dimension when Captain America offers to become his servant. The 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 Cosmic Cube, and in the fight the island splits apart from the Cosmic Cube's power, and the Red 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 Red Skull identity.[volume & issue needed] Finally Malik is the victim of an assassination organized by the Red Skull, through a rogue agent of the Scourges of the Underworld.
The Red Skull captures part of Manhattan Island, unleashes the fourth Sleeper, and captures Captain America on Exile Island. The Red 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.The Red Skull then foments racial hatred in New York, and is revealed as the true power behind a Las Vegas-based HYDRA fragment, and clashes with the Kingpin.
Some time later, the Red Skull kills Roscoe (another wearer of the Captain America mantle). He also revives the use of his "dust of death".The Red Skull later fights Doctor Doom on the moon, but is defeated. With Arnim Zola, the 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.The Red Skull teams with the Hate-Monger (a clone of Hitler) and traps him in a flawed Cosmic Cube.The Red Skull leads the Nihilist Order for a brief time. Establishing a Nazi colony on a deserted island, the Red Skull fathers a daughter: Synthia Schmidt.
The gas that placed the 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, the 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, the Red Skull dies in Captain America's arms, cursing his enemy as his elderly body shuts down.
Nazi geneticist Arnim Zola had obtained DNA samples of Captain America years earlier and arranged for the Red Skull's mind to be transplanted into a cloned body of Captain America at the moment of his death. Assuming the identity of "John Smith" (the English equivalent of his natural German name), the Red Skull decides to reinvent himself and his quest for absolute power as a means to celebrate his cheating death. The 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. The 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]
The 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]
The 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, the 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.
The Red Skull kills his chief pawn in the Commission right in front of Captain America. About to be exposed, the Red Skull tries to manipulate Walker into killing Rogers. When Rogers defeats Walker, the 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. The Red Skull tries to kill Rogers with a cigarette holding a lethal dose of the dust of death (the Red Skull's favorite poison), but Walker hits him from behind with his shield. The 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. The Red Skull survives the exposure due to the effects of the Super-Soldier Formula.
After this, the 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. The 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, the 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, the Red Skull is surprised to feel a sudden burst of hatred that reignites his will to live.
The 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 the Red Skull's agents allow fellow Nazi Baron Wolfgang von Strucker to be reborn, the grateful Strucker allows the Red Skull the use of HYDRA resources.
The 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. The 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 the 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 the Red Skull's new lair. The Red Skull fires Crossbones and goes into hiding while the Viper, using funds she plied from the Red Skull as part of a scheme to use televisions across America to blind TV viewers, is defeated by Captain America.
The 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. The Red Skull takes the cure and apparently kills Superia, then arranges for Captain America to be kidnapped by his remaining forces (including Sharon Carter, whom he found still alive and recruits), and given a blood transfusion that cures him.
Captain America's recovery segues into a reluctant team-up with the Red Skull; a Nazi cult that worshiped Hitler as a god had discovered a Cosmic Cube that contained Hitler's soul, put there by the Red Skull himself. The two try to stop the cult from fully powering the Hitler Cosmic Cube, but the 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 the Red Skull's arms, causing him to drop the Cube. The Cube becomes unstable, destroying the Red Skull.
Trapped in a hellish nightmare dimension and forced to serve as a bellhop to a world of non-European immigrants, the Red Skull's will ultimately is so great that he is able to escape his prison. As a result, the 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 the Red Skull's reality-warping powers. The Red Skull is ambushed by Korvac, who steals his cosmic powers and banishes him back to Earth.
The 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 the Red Skull's jaw in half.
The 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 the Red Skull had manufactured. When the 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 the Red Skull seems to be progressively winning. During a plot to lure out Captain America, the Red Skull/Lukin recruited several German skinheads and made them the successors to 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, the 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, the 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, the Red Skull introduced Lukin to his old/new associates Crossbones and Sin.[volume & issue needed]
With America's superheroes divided over the act, the 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, the 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 the Red Skull's plan. Upon the discovery of his identity as Lukin, the Red Skull fakes his death, and initiates the second phase of his plan: using the 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.
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 lead the country directly into a police state secretly controlled by the Red Skull. The 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 the 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 the Red Skull, since Zola had seconds earlier transferred his mind to one of the spare robotic bodies, but after having his current form damaged by the impostor Captain America, he is unable to return to the Red Skull, essentially trapping him in his current robotic form for the time being.
Captain America: Reborn
It has been revealed that the 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 the 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 popularity with as the Iron Patriot. Sin and Crossbones find him and take him to Latveria in order to place the Red Skull's mind in a living body.The 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 the Red Skull is now in control. Rogers still resides in the body and during the Red Skull's invasion of Washington, D.C., he and Steve battle in the mind of Steve's body. Steve eventually forces the Red Skull out, placing him back into his robot body. To prevent him from escaping the immediate area, Sharon hits the 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 the Red Skull occupied with a team attack, he is destroyed by a missile barrage fired by Sharon on a hijacked A.I.M. battleship.
After Lukin was brought back from the dead by the Power Elite, a side effect has a fragment of the original Red Skull's mind also revived.
Other identity users
There had been other people who passed themselves off as the 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.
After the disappearance of Johann Schmidt's in 1945, the reputation of the 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 (Russian: Красный Череп), 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.
Clone of Johann Schmidt
Following the Avengers vs. X-Men storyline, the Red Skull mysteriously returns and assembles a team called the S-Men. The Red Skull's S-Men attack Rogue and the Scarlet Witch at Professor X's grave and steal the mutant's body. In his hideout, the 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, the Red Skull brainwashes the 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. The Red Skull arrives and reveals that he has fused his brain with Professor X's brain. Using Professor X's telepathy, the 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 the 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 the Scarlet Witch to break free. The team ultimately force the Red Skull to retreat after Rogue manages to temporarily disrupt his powers, Havok mockingly comparing the Red Skull to the jock who beats up gay kids to conceal his own homosexuality.
During the AXIS storyline, Magneto finds out that the Red Skull has turned Genosha into a concentration camp for mutants and still has Professor X's brain inside him. Magneto attacks the Red Skull, but is quickly stopped by the S-Men.The Red Skull mind-tortures Magneto with visions of those closest to the mutant suffering while being unable to do anything to stop it. After being freed by the 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 the Scarlet Witch, Rogue and Havok want to leave the island and alert the rest of the Avengers and the X-Men of what the Red Skull is doing, Magneto wants to stay and fight. Before they can do anything, the Red Skull appears.The Red Skull now has the group mind-controlled. He plans on using the Scarlet Witch's power to shape reality in his image. He tells Magneto to bow if the Scarlet Witch were to remain alive, but Magneto performs a sneak attack enough to break the Red Skull's control over the others. After killing the S-Men, Magneto attacks the Red Skull, who then tells Magneto that Professor X's greatest fear was leading the X-Men. Magneto kills the Red Skull while the others look on in horror. Magneto believes everything is over, only for the 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 of the Superhuman Registration Act—Magneto gathers a team of villains to try to take the Red Skull's forces by surprise.The Scarlet Witch attempts to cast a spell that will 'invert' the Red 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 Red 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 the Scarlet Witch and invert the spell, the Red Skull sacrificing his heroism and freedom to restore the heroes to normal. The 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 (whose original appearance has been restored) 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, the 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 Helmut Zemo and the Fixer into restoring them to normal. In the aftermath of the battle with the villains at Pleasant Hill, the 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 Red Skull, now 'educated' to perceive HYDRA as a great organization—to manipulate Steve Rogers's memories into believing of being a HYDRA sleeper agent since childhood, although the Red Skull is unaware that the HYDRA-converted soldier now intends to stage a coup of the organization for his own ends.
The Red 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 Rogue immune to telepathy long enough to knock the Red Skull out and take him to be operated on by the Beast. The fragment of Professor X's brain is extracted from the Red 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 Red Skull to be taken into 'custody' by Rogers. Although he is rescued by Sin, Sin and Crossbones subsequently betray the Red Skull to prove loyalty to Rogers, who kills the clone for good by pushing him over the cliff outside the Red Skull's mansion with Rogers revealing never being loyal to the Red 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 the 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 the 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 the Red Skull's clone where he is and the 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. The Red Skull's clone then uses a barbed bat on the other Steve Rogers' chest, stating that the only path to peace is death.The Red Skull's clone is torturing the other Steve Rogers with a burning, thorn-wrapped piece of wood. The 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.
Powers and abilities
Although he has no superhuman abilities, the Red Skull possesses a high intellect and inventive genius and is a highly gifted subversive strategist and political operative. At one point, the 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 the 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.The Red Skull eventually loses these abilities when he is captured by Rogue and taken to the Beast, who performs surgery on the Red Skull to extract the elements of Xavier's brain from his own.
The Red Skull allied with Doctor Doom, the Hulk, Magneto, Namor, and Ultron in order to take over Manhattan.
In the Heroes Reborn universe, the Red Skull is revealed to be the banker of 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 the 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 and Captain America, the Red Skull hires the Joker to steal an atomic bomb during World War II. The Joker evades Batman, Captain America, Bucky, and Robin and delivers it to the Red Skull, but is horrified when he learns that the Red Skull is a Nazi (saying "I may be a criminal lunatic but I'm an American criminal lunatic!"). When the Red Skull threatens to drop the bomb on Washington, D.C., the 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, the 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, the 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, the 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 the Red Skull fight in his trophy room. Unwilling to unsheathe his claws during the fight, Wolverine decapitates the Red Skull with Captain America's shield, ending his villainous rule.
The Ultimate Marvel equivalent of the Red Skull appears as the illegitimate son of Captain America (Steve Rogers) and Gail Richards, and wears simple khaki pants and a white tee shirt instead of the Nazi/military costume of his 616 counterpart. After his father's presumed death during World War II, he is taken from his mother and raised on an army base where he appears to be a well-adjusted, physically superior and tactically brilliant young man who greatly resembles his father. However, his easygoing personality is a ruse. Around the age of 17, he kills over 200 men on the base and then cuts off his own face in rejection of his father, leaving a "red skull". As a final symbol of his rebellion against the system that created him, he assassinates President John F. Kennedy.
During his career, he forces Petra Laskov to choose between killing the woman's husband or infant son. After Petra kills the husband, the Red Skull kills the child anyway, and then has Petra viciously raped by his henchmen. After decades of working as a professional assassin, the Red Skull joins A.I.M. so that he and his men can steal the blueprints of the Cosmic Cube. There he finally meets Captain America and brutally beats his father. Before throwing Captain America out of a helicopter, the Red Skull reveals his true identity. At A.I.M. headquarters in Alaska, the Red Skull kills the lead officer and takes charge of the operation. Now in control of the Cosmic Cube, he gains great power. As a sadistic display of his power, he has the entire Alaskan A.I.M. team cannibalize each other. When the Avengers arrive on the scene and immediately attack, the Cosmic Cube imbues him with nearly unlimited power, making him absolutely invulnerable. Captain America arrives in a stolen Teleporter Jet, but the Red Skull forces the jet to crash. Captain America survives the crash and teleports the jet to the Red Skull's exact coordinates, impaling him on one of the two rods that protrude from its nose.
The Red Skull is taken to a hospital and kept alive long enough for his mother to say goodbye. The Red Skull explains to Nick Fury that all he wanted to do with the Cosmic Cube was to turn back time and prevent his father from being lost, so that he could grow up with him and lead a normal life. Petra (disguised as a nurse) enters the room and shoots the Red Skull in the head, killing him. Gregory Stark implies that the Red Skull was called out of retirement in order for Fury's old position in S.H.I.E.L.D. to be restored.
In other media
- The Red Skull appeared in several episodes of the "Captain America" segment of The Marvel Super Heroes animated series, voiced by Paul Kligman.
- The Red Skull appeared in the 1981 Spider-Man animated series, voiced by Peter Cullen.
- The Red Skull appeared in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends animated series episode "Quest of the Red Skull", voiced again by Peter Cullen.
- The Red Skull appeared in a flashback in the X-Men animated series episode "Old Soldiers", voiced by Cedric Smith.
- The Red Skull appeared in the 1994 Spider-Man animated series, voiced by David Warner (in "The Cat") and Earl Boen (in "Six Forgotten Warriors"). He first makes a cameo appearance in the episode "The Cat", having manipulated John "the Cat" Hardesky from the shadows before appearing as a central figure in the five-part episode "Six Forgotten Warriors". In the 1940s, after a battle with Captain America and his teammates, the former and the Red Skull were both trapped in suspended animation within an energy vortex. When the Red Skull's son Rheinholt Schmidt released his father from the vortex 50 years later, Captain America is inadvertently released as well, resulting in the two foes clashing and eventually being trapped in the vortex once more. In the three-part episode "Secret Wars", the Red Skull appears as one of several supervillains that the Beyonder assembled and placed on an alien planet as part of an experiment. The former collaborated with Doctor Octopus before they were foiled by a group of heroes led by Spider-Man and sent back to Earth when Doctor Doom stole the Beyonder's powers.
- The Red Skull appears in The Super Hero Squad Show animated series episodes "Wrath of the Red Skull" and "World War Witch", voiced by Mark Hamill.
- The Red Skull and his Dell Rusk alias appear in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated series, voiced by Steven Blum. During World War II, the Red Skull uses HYDRA's resources to abduct Nordic mythological beasts from the Nine Realms and subject them to his control. While Captain America and Bucky Barnes thwarted his scheme, the Red Skull indirectly causes the former's suspended animation and the latter's demise. In the present, he quietly returns as Dell Rusk, the Secretary of Defense and the leader of Code Red, consisting of the Falcon, Doc Samson, the Red Hulk, and the Winter Soldier. He releases a biological weapon in New York and frames the Avengers for it, sending Code Red to apprehend them. Winter Soldier captures Captain America and presents him to the Red Skull, but Captain America is able to defeat his old enemy and expose his identity to the public. The Red Skull is remanded to the Avengers' Hydro Base until his Sleepers break him out. He combined the Sleepers into a giant robot to attack Washington D.C. before Captain America and the Winter Soldier work together to defeat the Red Skull and destroy his Sleepers.
- The Red Skull appears in the Avengers Assemble animated series, voiced by Liam O'Brien. In the first season, he captures Captain America in an attempt to switch bodies with him to grant himself a longer life. Though the Avengers reverse the process, the Red Skull steals Iron Man's armor and arc reactor and rechristens himself the Iron Skull before going on to form and lead the Cabal against the Avengers. By the end of the season however, the Iron Skull attempted to eliminate his allies until Iron Man revealed his intentions and turned the Cabal against him. Using the power of the Tesseract, the Iron Skull became the Cosmic Skull to destroy the Cabal and the Avengers, only to be defeated by them and separated from the Tesseract and his armor; returning him to his original Red Skull form. Despite this, he escaped with the Tesseract and attempted to form an alliance with Thanos. In season two however, the latter tortured the Red Skull before returning him to Earth to be placed in the Avengers' custody. After surviving the Winter Soldier's kidnapping attempt, the Red Skull is restored to his former glory and escapes to Monster Island with the help of Dormammu's Mindless Ones. He created an impenetrable magic-based force field around the island to protect himself from Thanos, but was expelled by Ant-Man and Fin Fang Foom. The Red Skull also makes sporadic appearances in the fourth and fifth seasons, Avengers: Secret Wars and Avengers: Black Panther's Quest, respectively.
- A pirate version of the Red Skull called the Dread Skull appears in the Avengers: Secret Wars episode "The Vibranium Coast".
- The Red Skull appears in the summer 2013 Disney/Marvel animated special Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel, voiced again by Liam O'Brien.
- The Red Skull appears in the Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. animated series episode "Days of Future Smash: Year of the Hydra", voiced again by Liam O'Brien. While traveling through time to stop the Leader, the Hulk encounters Captain America during World War II before both heroes learn of the Leader's plot to turn the Red Skull into the Green Skull via the Hulk's gamma energy. With the Hulk weakened, the Green Skull forces Captain America to surrender. In the resulting alternate timeline, the Leader controls HYDRA using a wheel-like device powered by the Green Skull. With the help of the agents of S.M.A.S.H. and an older Captain America, the Hulk is freed and regains his stolen gamma energy from the Green Skull, turning him back into the Red Skull while the Leader escapes, changing the timeline back to normal.
- The Red Skull appears in the Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload animated mini-series, voiced by Chi McBride.
- The Red Skull appears in the Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers anime series, voiced by Motomu Kiyokawa.
- The Red Skull appears in the Marvel Future Avengers anime series, voiced again by Motomu Kiyokawa in Japanese and Liam O'Brien in English.
- An adaptation of the Red Skull appeared in the 1990 live-action film Captain America, portrayed by Scott Paulin. This iteration is an Italian officer, 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. The Red Skull launches a missile at Washington D.C., but Captain America attacks the Red Skull's base. The latter battles the former aboard a flying missile and is forced to cut off his hand to avoid death. After Captain America is trapped in ice, the Red Skull forms a criminal organization with his daughter Valentina Santis and attempts to brainwash the President, only to be stopped by a recording of his family's death. Lost in thought, Captain America uses his shield to throw the Red Skull off a cliff.
- The Red Skull has appeared in live-action media set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU):
- The Red Skull first appears in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger, portrayed by Hugo Weaving. This iteration of Johann Schmidt is the head of HYDRA, which served as the Nazis' deep-science division. Schmidt ordered Dr. Abraham Erskine to use an experimental formula on him, which physically enhanced him, but permanently deformed him. As a result, Adolf Hitler gave him the nickname "Red Skull" and exiled him. While leading an incursion into Norway in 1942, Schmidt recovered the Tesseract and has his chief scientist Arnim Zola develop advanced weapons powered by the object. Disillusioned with the Nazis, Schmidt breaks away from their regime and establishes HYDRA as its own force against the Allies and Axis alike with aspirations of world dominion. However, Steve Rogers leads the fight against HYDRA, forcing the group to retreat to their final base in the Alps. In 1945, Schmidt launches his plan to destroy populated cities across the United States, only to be defeated by Rogers and seemingly disintegrated by the Tesseract while attempting to use it.
- The character returns in the 2018 film Avengers: Infinity War and the 2019 sequel Avengers: Endgame, portrayed by Ross Marquand. Following the events of The First Avenger, Schmidt was transported to the planet Vormir and forced to serve as a "stonekeeper", guiding those who seek the Soul Stone as punishment for his use of the Tesseract. As the Soul Stone required the sacrifice of a loved one, of which he had none, he was unable to claim it for himself. In Infinity War, Thanos and Gamora arrive on Vormir to claim the Soul Stone, which Schmidt directed them to, explaining its requirements and looking on as Thanos killed Gamora. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo stated that, after Thanos claimed the Soul Stone, Schmidt was freed from his curse and permitted to leave Vormir and pursue his own desires. In Endgame, Schmidt guides the time-travelling Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton to the Soul Stone and watches on as the former sacrifices herself so the latter can be reunited with his family.
- The Red Skull appears in the 2014 animated movie Heroes United: Iron Man and Captain America, voiced by Liam O'Brien.
- The Red Skull appears as the final boss of Captain America and The Avengers.
- The Red Skull appears in the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet, voiced by Mark Hamill.
- The Red Skull appears in Captain America: Super Soldier, voiced by Keith Ferguson.
- The Red Skull appears as in Marvel Super Hero Squad Online.
- The Red Skull appears as a non-playable character in Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat, voiced again by Mark Hamill.
- The Red Skull appears as a boss in the Facebook game Marvel Avengers Alliance.
- The Red Skull appears in Marvel Heroes.
- The Red Skull appears in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, voiced again by Steven Blum.
- The Red Skull appears as playable character in Lego Marvel's Avengers, voiced again by Liam O'Brien.
- The Red Skull appears as a playable character in Marvel: Future Fight.
- The Red Skull appears as a boss character in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, voiced again by Liam O'Brien.
- The Red Skull appears in the Marvel Universe Live! arena show, sporting his Iron Skull armor from the Avengers Assemble animated series.
- The Red Skull appears in a show in Disneyland Paris for their Marvel Season of Super Heroes.
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