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Who is the Red Skull?
Great heroes are measured by their enemies
Sometimes heroes are made because a great evil has arisen.
In the case of what can be argued as one of the noblest heroes in the Marvel Universe, Captain America, he was created to stop the face of fascism. Most people would think that would have meant Adolph Hitler or Benito Mussolini. Both of these men truly embraced the philosophy of fascism. However with Marvel, the face of evil was a skull… the Red Skull.
The Red Skull, aka Johann Schmidt, according to S.H.I.E.L.D., is one of the greatest threats to humanity. He is completely evil. His strategic genius has been compared to Napoleon. His political manipulations are works of art. He will maim or kill people with absolutely no regret or compunction in order to achieve his ends – or just because he can.
When the US Government discovered that they had one recipient who survived the super soldier program of Project: Rebirth, they decided that he would be the perfect weapon and motivational force for the allies. They needed that might in Captain America to battle The Red Skull.
There are very few characters in the Marvel Universe that have been as persistently evil and subversive as the Red Skull. He is one of those villains that is harder to kill than a cockroach on gamma rays. And every time the world thinks this bastard is dead, he comes back stronger and deadlier than ever.
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How did he get this bad?
The product of a fatal child birthing, Johann Schmidt survived his father’s attempt to drown him. His natural father killed himself soon after his birth. Schmidt was raised in an orphanage. While still a child he ran away from the orphanage and survived as a beggar and a thief. He’s spent much of his time in prisons.
Gaining a job as a hotel bellhop, he found himself serving Adolph Hitler in his room. Hitler was in the middle of chastising his officers saying that they didn’t know how to train the men. He further went on to say that he could train the bellhop to be a better Nazi than any of them. Hitler had sensed the evil darkness in Schmidt and had the officers train him as a Nazi.
Hitler was angered that the officers were training him to be a mere storm trooper. Instead, Hitler took over training Schmidt personally, making him his right hand and giving him a unique uniform with a life-like red skull mask. Hitler ordered the Skull to kill the officer with a luger. The Red Skull shot every button from his coat without killing him explaining that if the officer were dead, he’d be no further use to Hitler – this way he would live in fear and obey Hitler’s every utterance without question.
Throughout the war, the Red Skull’s power began to grow and, at this point, he began to battle Captain America. The Skull eventually became the most powerful man in the Nazi party second only to Hitler. This happened as a result of the Skull’s secretly assassinating all of Hitler’s trusted subordinates, leaving himself as Hitler’s only resource.
Towards the end of WWII, Hitler and the Skull decided that if they could not rule the world by winning the war, they’d destroy it. Hitler charged the Skull with the creation of three sleeper robots that would activate at some future date. These sleeper robots when assembled would go through their automated instructions to wipe out the planet. However, before the Red Skull could activate the robots, he was trapped in a bunker which collapsed leaving him in suspended animation through the exposure of an experimental gas released through the accident.
Captain America shortly would also go through his own suspended animation after foiling one of Baron Zemo’s plots –which would seemingly take the life of his partner Bucky Barnes.
Fortunately for the Red Skull, he was rescued by THEM, a search team organized by one of his former subordinates, Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker. The Skull recovered and stayed with the team long enough to steal the vastly powerful reality altering cosmic cube from AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics).
Managed to put Captain America on ice until modern day
Transferred the Red Skull's consciousness into a new cloned body of Captain America
The Hate Monger
His old boss - ADOLPH HITLER
Personal Muscle used to annoy Captain America
The Red Skull's daughter and former Mother Superior
The Red Skull has since waged war against democracy and has proven to be an almost perpetual thorn in Captain America’s side, planning large schemes and seemingly dying at the end of each of them. What seemed to be a swan song for the Skull was when he discovered that the gas that allowed him to survive in suspended animation after the war had worn off and he began to age at an accelerated rate.
While fighting Captain America for what he thought would be his final farewell, his body succumbed to the ravages of time and died. However, unbeknownst to Captain America, the Red Skull’s mind was transferred by his subordinate, master geneticist and cloner, Arnim Zola, to a cloned body of Captain America’s.
Now with a new lease on life, the Skull with an infusion of the super soldier formula and a body at the peak of physical perfection, decided that he would now work, not as a Nazi, but as a political subverter of the American government as “John Smith” (Johann Schmidt in English). In his new Aryan perfect guise, he quickly began to manipulate the government and was able to take over the government group called “The Commission on Superhuman Activities”. In this role, he was able to remove Steve Rogers from the identity of Captain America by declaring that his shield and uniform were a product of the American government and unless he worked exclusively for the Commission he would not be able to continue.
Rogers, in an unexpected turn of events, gave up his uniform and shield and became “The Captain”, using a new uniform and shield provided by his friend, Tony Stark.
The Red Skull Quiz
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The Red Skull decided that if he could not control his arch enemy Captain America, he’d make a Captain America that he could control. He arranged that John Walker, formerly one of Captain America’s antagonists who believed he’d be a better symbol of freedom as the Super Patriot, would be drafted as the new Captain America. The plan backfired as both Walker and Rogers worked together to uncover the Red Skull in his new guise.
While planning to use his “dust of death” to kill and disfigure Rogers (note: The dust of death as the effect of discoloring the skin red while shrinking it to give its victim the appearance of “a red skull”) through his cigarette holder – to spray in his face, Walker tackled the Skull forcing him to partially inhale the dust, permanently disfiguring his face to have a “red skull” like appearance.
Now he didn’t need a mask. He’d always be “The Red Skull”.
The Red Skull has managed to work within the shadows most of the time scheming several plots simultaneously in order to achieve his ends. His cloned body has since been destroyed. However, his essence has managed to travel to other “hosts”. His last host was a robot duplicate of one of Arnim Zola’s hosts.
His last scheme, which involved the seeming death of Steve Rogers, had failed as he was looking to take over and possess the potential child of Steve Rogers and S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Sharon Carter , through the accidental intervention of the Skull’s own daughter, Sin. Had his scheme worked his new body would have had the genetic template and inherited super soldier attributes of Captain America’s son.
The Red Skull is assumed currently to be dead. However, with him, it is never a condition that has stopped him for long.
The Red Skull Reloaded
Just when you thought the Red Skull wasn't coming back... well, actually, he didn't.
The Red Skull who survived World War II, his body died and he survived in a clone of Steve Rogers. Much like the Venture Brothers, Arnim Zola had an "up to the second" mental backup and downloaded him into a healthy Steve Rogers clone - and then that one was killed with the Skull doing a quick cosmic cube download to someone else. When that failed, he got an Arnim Zola like body and that got blown away with no backup.
So what are the Nazi types supposed to do now?
Well, it just so happens that Arnim Zola had a couple of the original Red Skull body clones waiting in reserve. Only this clone was made in 1942 with the intelligence already "pre-loaded" just waiting to be defrosted and ready for evil.
This Red Skull has his full natural face - meaning that he has to wear a mask to be the Skull. Which is fine because he gets to have lips again. In addition to that, The Red Skull finds the brain of Charles Xavier (Professor X) and grafts it to his own - making him a really powerful telepath now.
The Red Skull/Xavier hybrid has since caused all kinds of chaos within the Marvel Universe and is now trying to restart Hydra - beginning with his "daughter" Sin and Crossbones. Now that this Red Skull has powerful telepathic powers, he is infinitely more dangerous.
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Okay, aside from being a political manipulator, criminal mastermind, and strategist, this guy is just a major tool.
He gets the cosmic cube… THE COSMIC CUBE!! A device that’s practically an Aladdin’s Lamp with infinite wishes. What does he do with it? He uses it, not for the immediate and expeditious way of taking over the world and making everyone his slave – no, he doesn’t do that – but to fight, humiliate, and torture the only popular non-superpowered hero for his amusement. Then he uses it to entrap his former mentor’s consciousness (Hitler) in a “fake” Cosmic Cube – just because.
He takes time to train his biological daughter to be completely evil in the same way he is. But when it comes time for him to arrange a successor he doesn’t even consider her because SHE’S FEMALE. WHAT KIND OF GUY DOES THAT?
You’d also think that if you had a body empowered and enhanced by the super soldier formula, that maybe, just maybe, because no one has been able to really successfully replicate it, analyze your own blood and make an army of SUPER SOLDIERS!!! Or, at the very least, be a little bit more of a combatant. Hell, if I were evil (or more evil than I am already), and I had the natural attributes of what the super soldier formula could grant, I’d be kicking ass and taking names.
However, to be fair, every major hero deserves a good antagonist. Captain America has this guy. He’s been written in such a way that you can’t help but hate him. He’s that guy you see being a prick 24/7/365 and you wonder why someone… ANYONE… hasn’t just taken a gun and shot him between the eyes.
But alas, we need to have guys like this. They provide complex personalities to the otherwise dimensionless world of heroes. It is their evil that generates the plot of every good storyline.
I believe Terry Pratchett’s character, The Patrician, said it best, “I’m sorry if this offends you but you fellows really need us. Oh yes, we’re the only ones that can make things work. You see, the only thing that good people are really good at is overthrowing bad people. And you’re really good at that, I’ll grant you. But the trouble is, that’s the only thing you’re good at. One day, it’s the ringing of the bells and the casting down of the evil tyrant, and the next is everyone sitting around complaining that ever since the tyrant’s been overthrown, no one’s been taking out the trash. Because the bad people know how to plan. It’s part of the specification you might say. Every evil tyrant has a plan to rule the world. The good people just don’t seem to have the knack.”
The one thing that the Red Skull knows how to do is plan. He plans the death of his enemies. He plans the dominance of the world. He plans on how to make things miserable for the rest of us. But in the end, what he does better than almost any super villain is plan.
© 2012 Christopher Peruzzi