The Red Skull made an appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger back in 2011, so why the sudden current interest in the man also known as Johann Schmidt? To tell you involves giving away spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War, so consider yourself warned! Thanos and Gamora ventured to the planet Vormir to obtain the Soul Stone. The two meet the entity that is keeping watch over the Infinity Stone, who happens to be none other than The Red Skull! It does make sense it would be the Red Skull: the villain has been around for as long as Captain America has and no matter how hard heroes try, they just can't seem to get rid of him!
Johann Schmidt started out with no super powers and no fantastic origin; he was just a random bellhop at a hotel that Adolf Hitler decided to make into the ultimate Nazi soldier. For a character that's been around since 1941, there are plenty of things to learn about the man. When was the Red Skull considered a hero? How is he related to Steve Rogers? Who the heck is the Red Skull in real life? Learn these facts and more as CBR looks at 20 things only real fans know about the Red Skull.
20 BEHOLD THE FACE... OF DEATH!
The Red Skull's iconic red face almost personifies evil and villainy. Originally it was just a mask worn by Johann Schmidt, a lowly bellhop working at a German hotel that Hitler decided to turn into the ultimate soldier after a chance encounter. He was personally trained by Hitler and given his hideous red, noseless skull mask to instill fear into the hearts of the Allied forces. Captain America and the Red Skull had a climactic battle in which their bodies aged rapidly to match their real chronological ages. Although the Red Skull died, he is resurrected thanks to the Nazi geneticist Arnim Zola, a man that kind of looks like Krang in his bio-suit for those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans out there.
Zola was able to revive the Red Skull and place his consciousness in the body of a clone of Steve Rogers.
Skull took on the alias John Smith, used behind the scenes financial dealings to destabilize America, and is even responsible for Steve Rogers having to step down from being Captain America. Eventually Steve Rogers and John Smith fight, and Smith's attempt to use the Dust of Death on Rogers backfires. The Dust goes into Smith's face, horribly scarring it and resulting in his visage now looking like his old Red Skull mask.
19 THE RED SKULL... IN REAL LIFE!
Some people like to walk around and wear t-shirts with the Batman logo on the front, others will go the extra step and cosplay as their favorite hero. There are some superfans that will go above and beyond to be like their comic book idols. YouTube has tons of videos of people that have made their own home-made Iron Man costume. Ricard Browning even made gear that could help him actually fly! But how far is too far when it comes to turning yourself into a comic book character? If you find yourself in Caracas, Venezuela, you can ask Henry Damon, who has spent tens of thousands of dollars to look like... of all people... the Red Skull!
Damon has, over the years, gotten extreme plastic surgery that has, to date, cost around $40,000! Although his cranial ridge implants are enough to make any Klingon from Star Trek jealous, he also got the skin on his face colored red and his eyes tattooed black. Couldn't he just have gotten contact lenses? Perhaps the most extreme body modification was removing a significant portion of his nose to truly look like the Red Skull. Besides being a Marvel fan, he's also a husband and a father, though we can only imagine what his family thinks of his endeavors!
18 THE VILLAIN... VICTORIOUS!
Although Old Man Logan can be seen in the pages of the X-Men, he originally started out on Earth-807128. In this reality, the heroes have lost and the villains have taken over America. Thanks to the illusions of Spider-Man villain Mysterio, Wolverine mistakes his own teammates as enemies and kills pretty much everyone in Xavier's Mansion. Wolverine flees the scene and such villains as Magneto, Doctor Doom, and the Red Skull divide up America, with Red Skull declaring himself the President of what's left of the United States.
He even parades around in the remains of Captain America's costume.
Skull also has a trophy room, containing items formerly owned by his adversaries. The body of Logan is placed there when he is thought to be dead. Once he heals, he fights Red Skull's men and eventually the Red Skull himself, who still is wearing the bloody tatters of Captain America's costume. After killing his teammates, Logan refuses to use his adamantium claws, but is still able to not only defeat the Red Skull; he also decapitate him with Captain America's shield. Desperate to get back to his family, Wolverine finds one of Iron Man's suits of armor in Skull's trophy room and uses it to fly back home.
17 RED SKULL... HERO AT LAST!
In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent says you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Is there a scenario where the villain lives long enough to become the hero? After the events of Civil War II in which Tony Stark was injured in battle and fell into a coma, Doctor Doom took on the mantle of Iron Man in the pages of Infamous Iron Man. Even long time X-Men villain Magneto has fought on the side of good from time to time. So could someone like the Red Skull ever be considered a hero? The answer is a bizarre yes.
Using the power of Professor X's brain, Red Skull became the entity known as Red Onslaught. The Scarlet Witch cast an inversion spell which attempted to have Professor X be the dominant personality in Red Onslaught. Although it caused his defeat, the side effect was that the spell affected others, causing an inversion in the personalities of such characters as Iron Man, Carnage, the X-Men and even the Red Skull, who turned good and became the White Skull. With heroes acting like villains and villains acting like heroes, a remorseful White Skull was instrumental in helping his long time enemy Steve Rogers repair the damage that was done.
16 MY ENEMY... MY SON!
The Ultimate Marvel Universe was an alternate reality that gave us variations on some of our favorite characters and comic book moments. In Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk, we see that Hulk is strong enough to shatter Wolverine's adamantium skeleton and rip him literally in half. In The Ultimates (the Earth-1610 version of the Avengers), we learn that Tony Stark has a brother and Thor might just be an escaped mental patient.
One of the biggest twists involved Captain America and his longtime nemesis, the Red Skull.
In the 2009 issue of Ultimate Comics Avengers #1, Captain America meets the Red Skull and Skull kicks Cap's butt. We also learn the shocking secret that in this reality Skull is the son of Steve Rogers! After Steve was declared dead during WWII, his girlfriend Gail Richards found out that she was pregnant. Once she gave birth to her son, he was placed on a military base. Since he was born with Super Soldier Serum in his blood, he exhibited his dad's strength and speed at an early age. Unlike his father, he actually was a vicious psychopath. Before escaping and killing everyone at the base, he literally carved off his own face, giving him the appearance of the Red Skull from Earth-616. He also killed John F. Kennedy!
15 LIKE FATHER... LIKE DAUGHTER!
Although the creation of the Red Skull due to a chance meeting with Hitler seems a bit random, the story behind the Red Skull's daughter is quite elaborate. Red Skull's attempt at producing an heir resulted in a daughter, and in an act of history repeating itself, Skull considered killing his child the way his father considered killing him when he was born. Instead of a doctor intervening, it was a woman named Susan Scarbo, who offered to raise Skull's daughter. The girl was named Sinthea Schmidt and thanks to some comic book machinery Sin was aged into adulthood, given superpowers, and went by the name Mother Superior. She also went by the name Sin and at one point was also referred to as the Red Skull.
Sin proved to be a strong adversary. In the Fear Itself crossover, she was able to find an Asgardian artifact known as the Hammer of Skadi and triggered other magical hammers to come to Earth and choose several people (some heroes, some villains) to be worthy enough to wield them. In the 2009 series Captain America: Reborn, Sin's face is horribly scarred in an explosion, resulting in her face resembling that of her father's while he wore his Red Skull mask.
14 MY ENEMY... MYSELF!
Captain America: The First Avenger premiered in 2011 and although the movie was fairly faithful to the origins of Steve Rogers, a very different Johann Schmidt was portrayed on screen. Whereas the comic book version of Schmidt became the Red Skull due to a chance encounter, the movie had Schmidt meeting Hitler and sharing with him his knowledge of the magic used by Norse gods, and how that power could benefit the German war effort. In the comics, HYDRA came to power thanks to Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker. In the movies, HYDRA was created by Schmidt as a weapons division of the SS.
In the comics, the Red Skull started out just as a man in a hideous red mask, but it's very different in the films!
In the movies, he has similar powers to Captain America thanks to Schmidt injecting himself with a version of the Super Soldier Serum. These powers come with a price; his body reacts violently to it, deforming his face into the iconic red noseless version from the comics. Due to his appearance, he gained the nickname Red Skull, unlike in the comics where the Red Skull is an identity that Hitler personally created for Schmidt to terrorize the American forces.
13 RED SKULL... POWERLESS!
A hero is only as good as their villain. Often the qualities and strengths of the antagonist speak to the qualities and strengths of the protagonist. Professor Charles Xavier's nemesis is the powerful mutant Magneto. The Hulk often clashes with such gamma irradiated villains as the Abomination, the Leader, even the Red Hulk. Captain America, thanks to the Super Soldier Serum, has super strength, speed and stamina. What about Cap's nemesis the Red Skull? Would you believe he started out with no super powers at all? He knows martial arts, is an adept strategist and saboteur, but these abilities are all within achievable levels for a human.
Johann Schmidt had a traumatic childhood and was forced to live on the streets at a young age. While working as a bellhop, he has a chance encounter with Hitler that changes his life forever. Hitler gives Schmidt the Red Skull identity and that's it. He doesn't give him any super powers of the sort. At one point Schmidt transferred his consciousness into a clone of Steve Rogers and possessed all of the abilities Rogers had while after taking the Super Soldier Serum. Skull would also gain powers when he possessed the Cosmic Cube as well as the brain of former X-Men leader Charles Xavier.
12 THE REAL RED SKULL... REVEALED!
Johann Schmidt started out as a bellhop, but a chance encounter with Adolf Hitler allowed him to become the villain known as the Red Skull! However, was Schmidt the only person ever to wear the red mask? Villains are mirrors of their hero counterparts, so if there have been multiple Captain Americas does that mean there have been multiple Red Skulls? Yes, but the interesting fact is that the very first Red Skull to encounter Steve Rogers was not, in fact, Johann Schmidt!
One Red Skull ordered the death of Richard and Mary Parker, the parents of the Amazing Spider-Man!
Captain America fought the Red Skull for the first time in the March 1941 debut of Captain America Comics #1, but that Red Skull was named George John Maxon. Maxon was a Nazi spy who was leading a ring of spies and saboteurs against America. Although he went by the Red Skull, his boss was Johann Schmidt, the real Red Skull. After Schmidt disappeared after World War II, a Russian KGB agent by the name of Albert Malik took up the mantle of the Red Skull. Malik, while using the Skull identity, ordered the death of Richard and Mary Parker, the parents of the Amazing Spider-Man! Although Johann Schmidt's daughter, Sinthea Schmidt, also went by the Red Skull moniker, she later abbreviated her name to Sin.
11 WHAT IS PAST... IS NOW PRESENT!
There are a number of Marvel characters that were alive and well during World War II. Such people were Nick Fury, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Magneto, Captain America and the Red Skull. If you know your world history then you know that there were a number of horrific tragedies that occurred during the war, one of them being the Nazi concentration camps which held races targeted by Hitler such as the Jews and Serbs. The Red Skull, being a former Nazi, set up similar camps over 80 years later in a country called Genosha.
Genosha started out as a place of mutant oppression (analogous to when South Africa instituted Apartheid), but then later served as a homeland for mutants. Using the brain of Charles Xavier, the Red Skull was able to take over the small island nation off the southeast coast of Africa northeast of Madagascar. He enslaved its population and taking a page from the history books, placed the mutants into concentration camps. Magneto was one of the first people to discover what Skull had done, and given the fact that he knew first hand the horrors of concentration camps, it only makes what he finds even more shocking.
10 THE THREAT OF... HOT FUDGE?
Sometimes artists can get inspiration from the weirdest of places. It can come from looking at a cloud pattern, listening to music or when you're trying to have lunch. For example, the iconic look of the Millennium Falcon was designed after a meal George Lucas was having, which explains why the Falcon looks like a hamburger with an olive on the side. Speaking of food, the Red Skull's origins began when artist Joe Simon was having dessert.
If you're wondering what kind of ice cream is reminiscent of Captain America's nemesis, you'll have to hear the whole story.
As the story goes, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby needed a villain for Captain America to fight. Joe Simon's artistic eye saw the shape of a face form in his melting hot fudge sundae. Upon closer inspection, the face looked like that of an exposed human skull. After that day, the villain Hot Fudge was born! There was some rethinking of the idea and a more intimidating villain was born... the Red Skull! Before you reject the idea of a villain named Hot Fudge, you'd be surprised how many characters are named after food. Make way for Captain Carrot, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Powdered Toast Man and Pepsiman!
9 PARTNERED WITH... THE JOKER!
Although Marvel and DC are considered competing companies, they have, over the years, found ways to collaborate with each other. Batman and the Punisher have met and teamed up on two occasions. Superman and Spider-Man have met, even the Teen Titans worked together with the Uncanny X-Men. One crossover found Batman working with Captain America in a DC Elseworlds series in which the two iconic heroes team up to take down the Joker and the Red Skull.
When you think about the Joker teaming up with the Red Skull, it's either going to go extremely well or not well at all. Although the relationship gets off to a good start, the Joker makes a chilling realization that the Red Skull is really a Nazi and isn't faking his allegiance to the Third Reich. Joker, in a bizarre showing of morals, finds working with Skull to immediately be distasteful. Joker sprays Skull with his Joker Venom and Skull douses Joker with his Dust of Death. The two men have a terrible coughing fit and they both realize that their formulas are too much alike. To their surprise, the men realize they're immune to each other's signature weapons. Borrowing a page from Dr. Strangelove, both men fall out of a plane with the famous Fat Man bomb that was detonated over the city of Nagasaki.
8 RED SKULL... DELL RUSK!
There are a number of supervillains who are quite adept at infiltration. The Ghost, a villain that will appear in Ant-Man and The Wasp, can make themselves invisible as well as intangible. Mystique for example has the mutant ability to change her appearance and voice. During Secret Invasion a race of shape-shifting aliens called the Skrulls were able to infiltrate the ninja group known as the Hand, S.H.I.E.L.D. and even the Avengers.
Red Skull was able to infiltrate a very high level of government but did so in a ludicrous way.
Red Skull was able to infiltrate the American Government, operating under the name Dell Rusk. He was able to become the Secretary of Defense of the United States, a position briefly held by Avenger Tony Stark. As Secretary, he developed a biological weapon that he intended on using on the American people but he was stopped in time by Captain America and the Avengers. The problem is that they should have caught him much earlier: Dell Rusk is an anagram for Red Skull! Who got him the job, Comoro Todd? A purple faced, gauntlet-wearing guy named Ashton? Did the audience learn it through a metallic Montage?
7 BITING THE DUST... OF DEATH!
Heroes and villains have their iconic weapons. For Captain America, it's his red, white and blue shield. When it comes to Wolverine, it's his unbreakable Adamantium claws. For Doctor Doom, it's his suit of armor. Although Red Skull is associated with wearing a red skull mask (which later became his actual, hideous face), he also used a weapon called the Dust of Death. When a victim comes in contact with the Dust of Death, their skin shrivels and turns red within seconds, making them look like a version of the Red Skull. He would either fire it from a gun or hide in in an innocuous item like a phone receiver.
At one point the Red Skull's mind was placed in a clone of Steve Rogers. While fighting Captain America, he tried to attack him with the Dust of Death, which Skull had cleverly placed in a cigarette that was in his mouth. Quick reflexes resulted in the Dust backfiring and hitting Skull in the face. Although it didn't kill him, it permanently gave him the visage of the former red mask he used to wear. In a crossover with DC Comics, Red Skull learned that his Dust of Death was of similar composition to Joker Venom, which both villains were immune to.
6 MY ENEMY... MY FRIEND!
Johann Schmidt was hand-picked and trained personally by Adolf Hitler to become the Red Skull, the embodiment of the Third Reich. The Red Skull saw his demise during a battle with Captain America but was resurrected by Arnim Zola who placed his brain into the cloned body of Steve Rogers. Realizing that his Nazi ideology from the 1930s was antiquated and limiting, Schmidt changed his approach on how to destroy America.
It wasn't going to be with a Nazi army or with giant robots programmed to destroy America; he was going to do it with money and political influence.
Skull now operated under the name John Smith (why isn't he more creative with aliases?) and had enough clout in Washington, D.C. to gain control over the Commission on Superhuman Affairs, which resulted in Skull ousting Steve Rogers as Captain America and replacing him with the violent John Walker, who wasn't afraid to kill. In a very savvy act, Schmidt financed a right-wing militia group called the Watchdogs, who, through violent means, enforce ultra-conservative American values. It was genius of the Red Skull to support a pro-American group that was so extreme it actually served to undermine American values and stability.
5 THE PAST... REWRITTEN!
The Red Skull has been fighting Captain America ever since they first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 in 1941. Given the opportunity, Steve Rogers would not kill the Red Skull, even as they fought to the death as old men. As the years went on, the Red Skull went from wanting to kill Steve Rogers to wanting to destroy Captain America. Skull was able to influence the American government to fire Rogers and have the man that took the mantle of Captain America revealed to be a violent psychopath. To further undermine Captain America, Skull was even able to rewrite his origins.
The Red Skull was able to infiltrate a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility in order to obtain a Cosmic Cube he once owned. The Cube was now sentient and went by the name Kobik. Skull was able to convince the Cube to retcon Steve Rogers's origin story to make him a sleeper agent for HYDRA. The Red Skull's plan worked a little too well, and not only did Rogers overthrow Schmidt as the head of HYDRA, he also killed the Red Skill by pushing him off of a cliff. Clearly that was not a part of the Red Skull's master plan!
4 BEHOLD THE BIRTH OF... THE RED SKULL!
When you think about the origins of superhero characters, a lot of them are quite random and accidental. Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider could be due to the dumb luck of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. If Bruce Banner was just a little bit faster, he could have not only saved Rick Jones's life he could also have avoided getting struck by the massive dose of radiation that came from the gamma bomb that detonated and turned the scientist into the Hulk.
As villainous and evil as Johann Schmidt may be, the very creation of the Red Skull was an act of randomness.
Johan Schmidt ran away at a young age from his depressing orphanage and lived life on the streets as a thief. Eventually he would get a job as a bellhop at a local German hotel. As luck would have it, Hitler was visiting the hotel and was yelling at his officers for letting a prisoner escape. Hitler thought they were incompetent and said that the bellhop would make for a better soldier. That bellhop? Johann Schmidt. Hitler decided to be a man of his word and drafted Schmidt into the Nazi party, training him to eventually become the Red Skull.
3 RED SKULL, PROTECTOR OF... INFINITY!
Before you read, you should know that this entry has spoilers to Avengers: Infinity War, so don't say we didn't warn you! The last time audiences saw the Red Skull was in a battle with Captain America in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger. In the battle, the Red Skull physically touched the Tesseract. A portal to space opened above him and he was painfully whisked away to parts unknown. It was generally assumed that Skull was killed and never to be heard from again. Here's the spoiler: Red Skull makes a shocking appearance in Avengers: Infinity War on the planet Vormir, serving as the stone-keeper for the Soul Stone!
As it turns out, touching the Tesseract didn't destroy him, it transported him to Vormir, where he turned into a spirit-like creature that instructs those that have found the Soul Stone how to obtain it. It is Schmidt who tells Thanos that he must sacrifice something he loves if he wants to walk away with the Soul Stone. With a tear in his eyes, Thanos takes Gamora and throws her off the nearby cliff. Her sacrifice enables Thanos to walk away with the Infinity Stone. Now that the Red Skull no longer needs to be there to guard the Soul Stone, does that mean he's truly dead? Perhaps he'll return in Avengers 4?
2 BEHOLD... RED SKULL X!
The Red Skull has used a variety of weapons over the years to threaten Captain America. For example, Skull helped create Sleepers, robots that were over six feet tall, weighed half a ton, and kind of looked like Man-E-Faces from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The Red Skull also infamously wielded on several occasions a Cosmic Cube, a device of immense power that can warp reality. Skull used it recently to re-write the very origins of Captain America to make him an agent of Hydra.
However, Skull used perhaps his most unorthodox weapon in the pages of Uncanny Avengers.
Red Skull unearthed the body of Professor X and removed his brain to use as a weapon. He fused Xavier's brain with his own and gained significant mental powers, enough to cause the citizens of New York to go mad and attack each other. An attack on Red Skull by Magneto doesn't kill Johann Schmidt, but instead transforms him into Red Onslaught, whose name and appearance is reminiscent of Onslaught, a creature of psionic energy that was born from the consciousnesses of Professor X and Magneto. This isn't the first time Red Skull worked with brains; at one point Skull tried to transplant the brain of Adolf Hitler into Captain America!
1 RED SKULL... THE VILLAIN THAT ALMOST WASN'T!
Sometimes to truly understand villainy you need to understand its origins. Are people born evil or are there events that trigger some to think that they are above the law as well as morality? When you look at a complex character like Erik Lehnsherr who watched his parents killed in a World War II concentration camp, you understand how he grew to hate non-mutants and become the X-Men villain Magneto. What about the Red Skull? Did something happen with the Red Skull during his childhood to make him one of the most hated people to ever appear in comics?
Hermann and Martha Schmidt had a son named Johann, but during the birth Martha died. Martha's death was earth-shattering to Hermann and he blamed her passing on his newborn son. If not for the intervention of the attending doctor Hermann would have drowned baby Johann. Johann spent seven years in an orphanage after his father took his own life. Not wanting to live in such a sad and dismal place, Johann ran away and lived on the streets, stealing from people in order to survive. One could argue that the Red Skull would not have come to be if his father was successful in his attempt to drown him, or if his mother didn't die during childbirth.