Underneath the fifth stunning propaganda poster-like cover by David Aja, the story of Johann Schmidt and his relationship with Adolf Hitler reaches a major turning point. This issue, like the entirety of the series, leaves me very conflicted. There is no questioning the darkness in the soul of the Red Skull. This series, written by Greg Pak, shows us how Johann Schmidt — the man who would become the Red Skull — came to be so very evil.
Over the course of the five issues, Pak has given Schmidt ample opportunity to do the right thing. Frequently, it appeared as though Schmidt would do just that, especially given the set-up for Schmidt to make an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler that opens this issue. It is that set-up, essentially a double-cross from Johann Schmidt committed against the reader, that really brings this story home.
Pak never writes Schmidt as a character worthy of our sympathy. Furthermore, we all know what Schmidt becomes, so there’s no sense of hope, but still Pak makes this a story that is compelling and driven.
The art by Mirko Colak is poignant and finely detailed. There’s no doubt that the scenes in this comic take place somewhere in the real world where people actually stood and quite possibly had similar conversations. Colak, however, gets hung up in some spots with some really wooden poses for the characters, but those spots are more of an exception than the standard throughout this issue. Throughout this issue, Colak’s art is exactly what a dingy, dangerous, despairing place should look like. His figures mostly appear to be broken in spirit based on their body language and posture. Colak is a fine fit for the story of young Schmidt.
This story may not have depicted the physical transformation of Schmidt into the Red Skull, but it certainly delivered the psychological evolution of the Skull. Pak writes a devious, conniving, ruthless character who will stop at nothing to further his own twisted agenda. He may not be fighting Captain America in this issue and he may still appear human, but Schmidt is every bit the menace we know as the Red Skull by the time this book ends.
Pak writes a convincing story supported by historical fact. His Johann Schmidt had some hurdles to overcome on his ascent to power. The methods Schmidt chooses to overcome those hurdles shapes the future of the Nazi party and the grander Marvel Universe.