When the opening character description of your character is “Nazi but also a literal skull,” there isn’t much lower you can get. And yet, Johann Schmidt manages to exceed expectations again and again. Captain America’s greatest enemy has had a very long career of evil, showing up in 1941 in “Captain America Comics” #7. He was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and became an iconic character with his fanaticism to fascism and to costume.
He’s haunted the defenders of justice through the turn of the century and consistently racks up points for being literally the worst person ever. However, when a character is around that long, people can forget exactly how awful they are. So, strap in for the 15 worst things Red Skull has ever done.
15. DELL RUSK
One of the more recent of Red Skull’s exploits was during his time as U.S. Secretary of Defense under the alias Dell Rusk. Obvious fake name and anagram for “Red Skull” aside, he managed to spread hysteria and mass murder fairly easily with new technology. One such time was in “Avengers” #64 in 2003, where a red mist was unleashed on Mount Rushmore in peak tourism hours. The mist was actually a flesh-eating virus that caused burns and boils to appear on the flesh of the victims, killing hundreds. Even the Avengers had to wear hazmat suits to protect their skin from the virus.
Black Panther and Iron Man try to investigate, but Red Skull (disguised as Rusk) threw them off the case. People are trapped on the mountain in camps, and even She-Hulk falls victim to the virus after her hazmat suit gets damaged. The virus was developed in a secret military base on the mountain, as Vision says, to kill people.
14. ROSCOE’S TORTURE
The 1970s was a terrible time to be Captain America. Steve Rogers had grown increasingly disillusioned with the U.S. government and eventually retired his alter-ego, Captain America. However, somebody needed to pick up the mantle. Enter Roscoe. Showing up in 1974 in “Captain America” #177, Roscoe came armed with gymnastics skills and an unfettered belief he should be Captain America in Steve Roger’s place.
Falcon took him on patrol in the hopes of dissuading Roscoe from this dangerous occupation. They came across a robbery with three criminals, and Roscoe rushed in against Falcon’s orders. One of the robbers was revealed to be Red Skull, and Roscoe was no match for him. When Red Skull realized that Roscoe wasn’t “his” Captain America, Red Skull savaged beat, tortured and finally killed him. Falcon was beaten too, and their bodies were strung up on a roof as signal to the real Captain America, Steve Rogers.
13. ATTACK ON LAS VEGAS
Red Skull was still making trouble after his HYDRA Island army splintered after their defeat. He migrated to Las Vegas, where an underground faction of HYDRA believers were organizing under Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. Red Skull shows up, and is reasonably threatened by Kingpin’s rise in the HYDRA ranks. However, before Kingpin can take control, Red Skull finds a Sleeper robot and uses it to wreak havoc on the city.
At this point there’s no escaping the wanton destruction from the brainless Sleeper. Red Skull and his robotic armageddon machine crushes the city and kills hundreds with the help of a poisonous gas. Red Skull says he will only stop if Captain America surrenders to him. Cap refuses and with the help of other Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and a few of Kingpin’s men, they take him down. Captain America triggers an explosion inside of the Sleeper and the robot explodes, with Red Skull barely escaping with his life.
12. ILL-WILL TOWARDS THE DEAD
“Captain America” #298 was the issue where a wizened Red Skull took several pages to explain his own origin story as well as the origin of his daughter Sinthea Schmidt, aka Mother Superior. When Red Skull was living on the Isle of Exiles with the rest of his cronies, he got it into his head to father an heir with presumably the only woman on the island — an unnamed washer-woman.
The writing is pretty vague but it is heavily implied that the woman had no opportunity to refuse, thereby leading to rape, and suffered for who knows how long. She died in childbirth, and Red Skull was enraged that she gave birth to a baby girl. He then proceeded to spit on her still-warm corpse and throw her off her deathbed, cursing her for her betrayal. Red Skull was going to kill the baby girl too, but was persuaded otherwise.
11. HIJACKING PROFESSOR X
Grave-robbing might not rank highest on the hierarchy of sins, but Red Skull is the exception. During the run of 2012’s “Uncanny Avengers,” Red Skull decided to focus his genocidal mania on the threat of mutantkind. To further this plan, he stole the body of Professor Charles Xavier, hoping to steal his psychic powers and bring the entire population of mutants to his needs.
By issue #2, Red Skull is revealed to have fused Professor X’s brain with his own, and attempted to eliminate Rogue and Scarlet Witch. The two superheroes discover the mutilated body of Professor X and weep at his side. Red Skull, with Xavier’s powers, then turns his attentions to killing every last mutant on the planet. Professor X’s legacy is destroyed by a mutant he unknowingly helped create, like some kind of unbearable Greek tragedy. However, Red Skull isn’t able to hang onto these powers for long, and Professor X’s legacy is built up again.
10. JOHN WALKER
Red Skull flew under the radar for quite some time as Mr. Smith, a shadowy financier of multiple political organizations. Through these connections, he was able to orchestrate Steve Rogers’ replacement as Captain America. When Steve turned in his shield, jingoist John Walker took his place. During his tenure, Red Skull staged fights between Walker and his enemies, and ruined Captain America’s image when Walker started killing his opponents. This went on for a while, but eventually Red Skull decided he didn’t have use for Walker’s specific type of brutality anymore.
Eventually, Red Skull staged a fight between Walker and Rogers (who was still fighting crime as the Captain), while he watched gleefully from behind the scenes. He watched Walker get beaten over and over again, and finally emerged to finish both American birds off with one stone. His Dust of Death backfired on Mr. Smith’s face instead, however, forcing him to regain his identity as Red Skull.
9. ENSLAVED S.H.I.E.L.D. AGENTS
It’s hard to find good help these days… or any days, really. Red Skull apparently knew this, and that’s why he went to absurdly evil lengths to find henchmen. In 1978, “Captain America” #226 saw Cap and his friends going toe-to-toe with the Red Skull in his then-base of operations. A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Jakobsen is the first person to be caught in a mysterious beam that turns him into a skull-faced lackey of the enemy, with his mind completely wiped of any loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. or Director Fury. This happens to lots of the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, forcing Captain America and his allies to fight their own reinforcements.
Every single agent is completely wiped of their name, identity and sense of self. Red Skull glorifies in this fact, and keeps encouraging his shiny metal lackey to beat Captain America to a bloody pulp. Even Director Fury slips and lets his former subordinates get the upper hand.
8. POSSESSING CAPTAIN AMERICA
During “Captain America: Reborn,” Red Skull is in the middle of trying to revive Steve Rogers in order to take over his body. Red Skull uses Doctor Doom’s time machine to retrieve Steve’s body from where it’s floating out in space. However, since Sharon is the best and destroys the time machine, Red Skull has to help Doctor Doom create an all-new machine. In order for this to work, they also strap Sharon into the machine, and Steve’s body is revived once again. However, his eyes glow red to indicate that Red Skull is in control.
Steve is still inside, but they battle it out in Steve’s mind all over Washington D.C. Furthermore, this momentary battle allows Red Skull’s army to lay siege to D.C., and Steve doesn’t wrench control away before casualties start stacking up. In the end, Red Skull is forced back into his robot body and presumably dies in a resulting explosion.
7. VINTAGE MASS MURDER
Any supervillain worth their salt has dabbled in violent crime, but not every supervillain has as many instances of mass murder as the subject of this list does. However, for this entry, the focus will be on Red Skull’s original war crimes perpetrated during World War II. In “Tales of Suspense” #66, Red Skull has a leisurely conversation with a captive Captain America about his rise under Hitler’s regime. After his initial transformation from Johann Schmidt to Red Skull, he went on a murder spree in every town that the Nazis razed to the ground.
Because of his unique mask, the Red Skull became Hitler’s greatest propaganda tool during the war. He took a machine gun to fleeing villagers, crying “Wherever there was injustice, tyranny, ruthlessness, Red Skull was there, leading the attack upon the weak and the helpless.” There isn’t an official body count associated with this time, but readers can probably be assured it’s very, very high.
Given that readers already know Red Skull had zero qualms about killing his own child, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’s actually succeeded in murdering a baby. Nevertheless, what really hurt readers in “Captain America” #42 was that it was Sharon Carter and then then-deceased Steve Rogers’ unborn child. At the time, Sharon was pregnant with her lover’s child and it was theorized that he or she would inherit its father’s abilities. Under Faustus’ control, Sharon Carter assassinated Captain America, but she’s able to shake it after a while.
Coincidentally, Red Skull was a disembodied mind that needed a fresh body in order to keep being his evil self. He plans to put his consciousness into the body of Sharon’s baby, but doesn’t get very far. Attempting to help her father, Sin attacked Sharon Carter. She beat Sharon so badly that Sharon lost her baby, as well as Red Skull’s shot at reliving life in a new body.
5. THE WATCHDOGS
Red Skull started delegating his evil deeds well into the 1980s, once he started going by Mr. Smith and funnelled dirty money into political organizations. One such group was the Watchdogs, introduced in “Captain America” #335. They are an extremist right-wing organization that claims to uphold righteous American values, and imposes their world views onto other people. Usually their types of persuasion are limited to violence and acts of terrorism.
Their first dealings were with John Walker’s Captain America while he was investigating a pornography mogul. The Watchdogs tried to lynch the man, but that was too extreme even for Walker. Once they found out that Walker disagreed with their views, the Watchdogs kidnapped and tortured his parents until Walker turned himself in. In the ensuing fight, Walker’s parents were shot dead. Sadly, this did nothing to Walker’s already questionable mental stability and Red Skull was able to manipulate him that much easier.
4. HYDRA CAP
This is probably the most controversial action Marvel has taken in recent memory, but in-universe readers can blame none other than Red Skull. During much of his post-WWII career trying to gain control over the Cosmic Cube, Red Skull managed only to split the powerful object into pieces. However, during “Secret Empire,” Red Skull discovered a young girl with cosmic powers named Kobik, who was later revealed to be the personification of Skull’s coveted Cosmic Cube.
Apparently not having the childlike reason to not listen to a skull-faced man, Kobik agreed to change reality for Red Skull. Kobik gave Captain America an entirely new history where he was a HYDRA mole from his youth back in WWII. Therefore, Captain America becomes Red Skull’s enforcer and global domination was on the cards. However, Nazi Steve Rogers betrays Red Skull because he twisted HYDRA’s pure cause for his own selfish wants. Even Nazi Steve Rogers still wants to beat Red Skull into a bloody pulp and toss him out a window. That’s saying something.
3. THE ASSAULT OF ESTHER
One consistent part of Johann Schmidt’s backstory is that his dad was a terrible, abusive monster to him, and Schmidt was only barely saved by the local doctor. After a short career as a petty thief, Johann was taken under the wing of a Jewish shopkeeper. The shopkeeper had a daughter named Esther, who was the only person on Earth that had every treated Johann kindly, and probably the last.
In response, Johann thought he was in love with her and sexually assaulted her before she was able to shake him off. Blinded by rage, Johann murdered Esther by beating her with a shovel. Covered in blood, Johann fled the scene but was filled with joy at the idea of his first murder. From that point on, Johann Schmidt dedicated his life to inflicting all of his rage and pain onto the world through violence and murder. His journey from Johann Schmidt to Red Skull was just beginning.
2. GENOSHA CONCENTRATION CAMP
In case it’s not clear, Red Skull is a living embodiment of Nazis, havng managed to bring back the worst fear-fueled nightmare machine back to life. In “Magneto” #9, Magnus traveled to Genosha, which had previously been a haven for all mutants. However, Red Skull and his S-Men turned the island into a concentration camp where mutants are tagged and collared like animals, and their bodies are piled in the paths between buildings like garbage. The art depicting the piles of bodies is deeply horrifying.
Given that Magneto is a Holocaust survivor, the majority of the issue is devoted to the flashbacks to Magneto’s past in the death camps. Suitably enraged, the master of magnetism tries to defeat the S-Men and Red Skull, but as long as Red Skull has control over Professor X’s powers, he is unable to do so. He is also subjected to horrific psychological torture, flashing between reality and nightmare until he can barely tell the difference.
1. SAVED HITLER
This is a piece of Johann Schmidt’s backstory that has been updated in recent years. In the original story, Johann Schmidt worked as bellhop in a hotel where Adolf Hitler was staying at the time. Johann would have been in his late teens, and the Nazi Party was just seizing power. When Johann entered the room, Hitler was berating one of his officers for letting a prisoner escape. Hitler looked at Johann and announced that he could make the poor bellhop into a better Nazi than the officer. Admittedly, this worked better than anyone expected.
However, in “Red Skull: Incarnate,” this encounter was a little more planned. Hearing that Hitler would be staying in the hotel in question, Johann engineered the meeting. He disguised himself as a bellhop and manipulated his friend Dieter into making an assassination attempt on Hitler, from which Johann would save him. Johann Schmidt, the Red Skull, could have saved the world but doomed it instead.
What do you think is the worst thing the Red Skull has ever done? Let us know in the comments!