Red Skull

Red Skull

Red Skull as seen in the promotional art for Captain America vol. 5, #38 (July 2008) by Steve Epting.
Publication information
Publisher Marvel Comics
First appearance Captain America Comics #7 (October 1941)
Created by Joe Simon (writer)
Jack Kirby (artist)
France Herron
In-story information
Alter ego Johann Schmidt
Team affiliations Kronas Corporation
Nazi Germany
Skeleton Crew
Astonishing Avengers
Partnerships Sin
Baron Strucker
The Viper
Baron Helmut Zemo
Notable aliases Der Rote Schädel (German name), 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, Teacher, Tod March (president and owner of Galactic Pictures), Aleksander Lukin, White Skull

Genius-level strategist and scientist
Political mastermind
Skilled hand-to-hand combatant and marksman
Inhabits a cloned body of Captain America that grants:

  • Superhuman strength, speed and stamina
  • Healing factor

His cloned self gains a host of new abilities:

Telepathy strong enough to reach out and manipulate countless people with his thought-waves and Astral Projection.

The Red Skull (Johann Schmidt) is a fictional supervillain appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character is usually depicted as the archenemy of the superhero Captain America.[1] Portrayed as a Nazi agent, the character was created by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, and France Herron, and first appeared in Captain America Comics #7 (October 1941).

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, and by Hugo Weaving in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger.

Red Skull was ranked number 21 on Wizard Magazine's Top 100 Greatest Villains Ever list and was also ranked as IGN's 14th Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time.[2]

Publication history

While considering ideas for an appropriate archenemy for Captain America, writer and artist Joe Simon saw a hot fudge sundae melting and noticed it resembled a human figure. Inspired, Simon at first considered calling his new villain "Hot Fudge". However, as the cherry on top of the sundae seemed like an exposed skull, he finally decided on "Red Skull" as a more appropriate moniker.[3] The original Red Skull was introduced in Timely Comics' Captain America Comics #1 (cover-dated March 1941) which was edited and drawn by the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and written by France "Ed" Herron.[4][5][6]

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 U.S. Army. Maxon wears a mask to create the look of the Red Skull and his face is often exposed. As the Red Skull, Maxon attempts to rob banks in order to raise money to overthrow the U.S. Government. In the comic he says, "Of course you realize the main item in overthrowing the government is money."

A new, more lasting version of the Red Skull was introduced in Captain America #7 (October 1941). This Skull claims to be the real one and states that George Maxon was but a pawn posing as the Red Skull. In later comics this Red Skull is identified as the Nazi, Johann Schmidt.

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 was subsequently revived during the Silver Age of Comic Books, first in Tales of Suspense #65 (May 1965) in a Captain America World War II-period story run, and then was established as a contemporary villain in issue #79 (July 1966). In that issue it is revealed that the Red Skull, like Steve Rogers, 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 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 limited series, 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 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 seven 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.

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.[7]

According to the official version of the story told by Red Skull and the Nazis, Schmidt met Hitler while working as a bellhop in a major hotel. This occurred during his late teens, around the same time that the Nazi Party gained power in Germany. Schmidt wound up serving the rooms of Hitler himself. By chance, Schmidt was present by bringing refreshments when the Führer was furiously scolding an officer for letting a prisoner 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.[7] In the series 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.[8]

Dissatisfied with the standard drill instruction his subordinates used to train Schmidt, Hitler took over personally, and trained 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, 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.[7]

In Europe during the war, Red Skull took personal command of many military actions and personally supervised the takeovers and lootings of many cities and towns; in various cases Red Skull ordered and supervised the eradication of the entire population of such communities. Red Skull also organized a "wolf pack" of submarines which preyed upon shipping across the world, often under the Skull's personal command.[9]

At first, Hitler took great pride in his protégé's successes and let Red Skull have anything he wanted. Hitler thus financed the construction of secret bases for Red Skull in various locations throughout the world, many of which were equipped with highly advanced experimental weapons and devices developed by Nazi scientists. 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 codenamed Brain Drain, and commissioned Nazi scientists to develop a projector which could encircle and suspend sections of cities within spheres of energy.

But while Red Skull always admired Hitler for his ideological vision, he was never content with being Hitler's subordinate. 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 Skull and came to fear him, especially since Red Skull had made little secret of his ambition to supplant Hitler someday.

After the renowned military officer Baron Wolfgang von Strucker had a falling out with Hitler, Red Skull sent Strucker to Japan to found an organization that would prepare the way for takeovers in the Far East under Red Skull's leadership. In the Far East Strucker joined a subversive organization that came to be known as Hydra, broke his ties with Red Skull, became head of HYDRA and built it into a major threat to world peace.

As World War II raged on, Hitler vowed, that if he could not conquer the world, he would destroy it. To achieve this end, 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"), to destroy the Earth if the Allies won. Hitler enthusiastically instructed Red Skull to construct the Sleepers, unaware that 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 and teenage partner Bucky Barnes fought against and thwarted Red Skull and his plans many times during the war, both working on their own and operating as 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.[10] 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. 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.

The two counterparts soon clashed for the first time.[11] Red Skull later temporarily brainwashed three of the Invaders into serving him.[12] The Red Skull and Captain America continued to engage in a series of skirmishes throughout the war. On one occasion, 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.[13] Now that the German defeat was becoming a reality, Red Skull was more determined than ever to obtain vengeance for his numerous personal defeats by Captain America and Bucky. 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, Red Skull was unaware that the Allies had just secretly parachuted Captain America into beleaguered Berlin to investigate "Der Tag".

Finally, Captain America tracked Red Skull down to his hidden bunker. Red Skull was about to hurl an armed hand grenade at his nemesis when Captain America threw his shield at him. The grenade went off, but Red Skull was not killed, thanks to his body armor. He was, however; seriously hurt and partially buried in debris. Thinking he was dying, 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 Captain America's falling into suspended animation for decades. Support pillars that crisscrossed over Red Skull when the bunker caved in saved him from being struck by tons of rubble when the bomb hit. The cave-in released an experimental gas from canisters in the bunker which put the Skull into suspended animation during which his wounds slowly healed.[14]

Modern era

The Red Skull wielding the Cosmic Cube: Tales of Suspense #80 (Aug. 1966). Cover art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck.

Johann Schmidt's legacy continues to cause trouble by way of the Sleepers which are activated by his agents as scheduled. Captain America neutralizes all the machines in turn.

Johann Schmidt is eventually rescued and revived from suspended animation in modern times by the terrorist organization AIM. 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 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 Cube had been used to destroy the plane. Schmidt tells another AIM 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 Cube on an island. He begins sending Captain America to another dimension when Captain America offers to become his servant. 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 Cube, and in the fight the island splits apart from the Cube's power, and the Skull falls off a cliff while trying to get the Cosmic Cube.[15] When Johann reappears, he and Malik start to antagonize each other while both claiming the identity of Red Skull. Finally Albert is the victim of an assassination organized by Johann, through a rogue agent of the Scourge of the Underworld.[16]

Red Skull captures part of Manhattan Island,[17] unleashes the fourth Sleeper, and captures Captain America on Exile Island.[18] The Skull then regains the Cosmic Cube and temporarily switches bodies with Captain America. He also uses the Cube to alter the personality of "Snap" Wilson.[19] Some time later, he first fights Doctor Doom.[20] Red Skull then foments racial hatred in New York,[21] and is revealed as the true power behind the Las Vegas Hydra faction, and clashes with the Kingpin.[22]

Some time later, Red Skull kills Roscoe (another wearer of the Captain America mantle). He also revives the use of his "dust of death".[23] Red Skull later fights Doctor Doom on the moon but is defeated.[24] With Arnim Zola, Red Skull seeks to transplant Hitler's brain into Captain America's body.[25] He transforms a number of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his skull-faced slaves.[26] Red Skull teams with the Hate-Monger, a clone of Hitler, and traps him in a flawed Cosmic Cube.[27] The Skull leads the Nihilist Order for a brief time.[28] Establishing a Nazi colony on a deserted island, Red Skull fathers a daughter who would eventually become known as Mother Superior.[29]

The gas that placed 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, Red Skull plans a final showdown with his arch-rival. 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, Red Skull dies cursing Captain America as his elderly body shuts down.[30]


Nazi geneticist Arnim Zola had obtained DNA samples of Captain America years earlier and arranged for Red Skull's mind to be transplanted into a clone body of Captain America at the moment of his death. Assuming the identity of "John Smith" (the English equivalent of his natural German name), Red Skull decides to reinvent himself and his quest for absolute power as a means to celebrate his cheating death. 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. Red Skull sees much potential in the American dream of capitalism and self-determination and sets about establishing his own foothold inside Washington DC, culminating in him gaining control over the Commission on Superhuman Activities, a government body in Washington that monitors and regulates superhero activities.

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, an organization dedicated to killing supervillains.

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, 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.[31]

Red Skull kills his chief pawn in the Commission, right in front of Captain America. About to be exposed, Red Skull tries to manipulate Walker into killing Rogers. When Rogers defeats Walker, 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. Red Skull tries to kill Rogers with a cigarette holding a lethal dose of the Dust of Death (Red Skull's favorite poison), but Walker hits him from behind with his shield. 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. Red Skull survives the exposure due to the effects of the Super-Soldier formula.[32]

After this, Red Skull masterminds a conflict between the United States and Symkaria.[33] 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 for a few months. Red Skull remains imprisoned, close to death and beginning to see the error of his ways, until he is rescued by his henchman Crossbones.[34]

Red Skull proposes an alliance with the Kingpin to bring a new designer drug to New York, but Kingpin refuses to ally with the Nazi and the two engage in a drug war. He then defeats a weakened Red Skull in hand-to-hand combat, sparing his life on the condition he never come near Kingpin's territory again.[35] After Red Skull's agents allow fellow Nazi Baron Wolfgang von Strucker to be reborn, a grateful Strucker allows Red Skull the use of HYDRA resources.[36]

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. 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 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 Red Skull's new lair. Red Skull fires Crossbones, and goes into hiding while Viper, using funds she plied from Red Skull as part of a scheme to use televisions across America to blind TV viewers, is defeated by Captain America.[37]

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.[38] When the evil scientist Superia offers Captain America a cure, Captain America refuses it because Superia said that Captain America would owe her. Red Skull takes the cure and apparently kills Superia, then arranges for Captain America to be kidnapped by his remaining forces and given a blood transfusion that cures him.[39]

Captain America's recovery segues into a reluctant team-up with Red Skull; a Nazi cult that worshiped Hitler as a god had discovered a Cosmic Cube that contained Hitler's mind, put there by Red Skull himself. The two try to stop the cult from fully powering the Hitler Cosmic Cube but 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 Red Skull's arms, causing him to drop the Cube. The Cube becomes unstable, destroying Red Skull.[40]

Trapped in a hellish nightmare dimension and forced to serve as a bellhop to a world of non-European immigrants, Red Skull's will ultimately is so great that he is able to escape his prison. As a result, 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 (in particular the power of omniscience), which would remove all limits to Red Skull's reality warping powers. Skull is ambushed by Korvac, who steals his cosmic powers and banishes him back to Earth.[41]

Red Skull later manipulates his way into the position in the form of U.S. Secretary of Defense Dell Rusk (an anagram for Red Skull) to develop a biological weapon he tested at Mount Rushmore.[42] He is exposed and defeated by the Avengers. The Black Panther beats him so badly that he breaks Red Skull's jaw in half.[43]

In the body of Aleksander Lukin

The Red Skull, in Alexander Lukin's mind. Art by Steve Epting.

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 Red Skull had manufactured.[44] When Red Skull was shot, he attempted to use the Cube to switch bodies with Lukin to survive, but as the 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 Red Skull seems to be progressively winning. During a plot to lure out Captain America, Red Skull/Lukin recruited several German skinheads and made them the successors to the Master Man. He then had these soldiers that are dubbed the "Master Race" launch an attack on London, which was thwarted by Captain America, Spitfire and Union Jack. Then, 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 HQ, and was ultimately destroyed by Captain America and Bucky. In the aftermath, 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, Red Skull introduced Lukin to his old/new associates Crossbones and Sin.

With America's superheroes divided over the act, 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.

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, 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 Red Skull's evil plan. Upon the discovery of his identity as Lukin, Red Skull fakes his death, and initiates the second part of his plan: using 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. Red Skull continues his assault by engineering a riot by placing Kronas security troops and drugged water in a protest on the Lincoln Monument.[45]

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 led the country directly into a police state secretly controlled by Red Skull. 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.[46]

Both schemes fail because of the impatience and incompetence of Red Skull's daughter - her near-fatal attack on Sharon causes her to lose the baby, and she intentionally botches her pseudo-assassination of Gordon 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 Red Skull, since Arnim Zola had seconds earlier transferred his mind to one of his spare robotic bodies, but after having his current form damaged by the imposter Captain America, he's unable to return to Red Skull, essentially trapping him in his current robotic form for the time being.[47]

Captain America: Reborn

It has been revealed that 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.[48] Apparently, it is presumed that Red Skull intended to transfer his mind into Rogers's body. Norman Osborn decides to assist in completing his plan as a Captain America leading his team of Avengers would increase his popularity with his Iron Patriot suit.[49] Sin and Crossbones find him and take him to Latveria in order to place Red Skull's mind in a living body.[50] 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 Red Skull is now in control.[51] Rogers still resides in the body, and during Red Skull's invasion of Washington D.C., he and Steve battle in the mind of Steve's body.[52] Steve eventually forces Red Skull out, placing him back into his robot body. To prevent him from escaping the immediate area, Sharon hits 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 Red Skull occupied with a team attack, he is destroyed by a missile barrage fired by Sharon on a hijacked AIM battleship. In the epilogue, it was shown that Sin was too close to the exploding robot and her face was heavily scarred, leaving her looking just like her father.[53]

Clone of Red Skull

Following the Avengers vs. X-Men storyline, Red Skull mysteriously returns and assembles a team called the S-Men. Red Skull's S-Men attack Rogue and Scarlet Witch at the grave of Professor X and steal his body. In his hideout, Red Skull is then seen removing Professor X's brain in a plot to "eradicate the mutant menace".[54] 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, Red Skull brainwashes 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. Red Skull arrives and reveals that he has fused his brain with Professor X's brain.[55] Using Professor X's telepathy, 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 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 Scarlet Witch to break free.[56] The team ultimately force Red Skull to retreat after Rogue manages to temporarily disrupt his powers, Havok mockingly comparing Red Skull to the jock who beats up gay kids to conceal his own homosexuality.[57]

During the AXIS storyline, Magneto arrives in Genosha to find that Red Skull has turned it into a concentration camp for mutants and still has Professor X's brain in him. Magneto attacks Red Skull, but is quickly stopped by his S-Men.[58] Red Skull mind-tortures Magneto and gives him visions of those closest to him suffering while being unable to do anything to stop it. After being freed by Scarlet Witch, Rogue, and Havok, he bites down on a vial beneath his skin of Mutant Growth Hormone, giving himself enough power to fight.[59] When Scarlet Witch, Rogue, and Havok want to leave the island and alert the rest of the Avengers and X-Men of what Red Skull is doing, Magneto says he's going to stay and fight. Before they can do anything, Red Skull appears.[60] Red Skull now has the group mind-controlled. He plans on using Scarlet Witch's power to shape reality in his image. He tells Magneto to bow if he wants his daughter to remain alive, but Magneto performs a sneak attack enough to break Red Skull's control over the others. After killing the S-Men, Magneto attacks Red Skull who then tells Magneto that Professor X's greatest fear was him leading the X-Men. Magneto kills Red Skull while the others look on in horror. Magneto believes everything is over only for Red Skull to appear as a giant called Red Onslaught.[61]

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 he was in charge of the Superhuman Registration Act - Magneto gathers a team of villains to try to take the Skull's forces by surprise.[62] Wanda and Doctor Doom - after Doctor Strange is knocked out - attempt to cast a spell that will 'invert' the 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.[63] With the villains now the only hope to defeat the corrupted heroes, Captain America is forced to protect the Skull - now terming himself the White Skull - from the evil Avengers while Spider-Man works with the inverted villains to fight off the various corrupted heroes.[64] Doctor Doom is able to summon the spirit of Brother Voodoo to possess Wanda and invert the spell, the Skull sacrificing his heroism and freedom to restore the heroes to normal. Red Skull was later taken away by Doctor Doom.[65]

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 (who has been restored to her original appearance) 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.[66]

During the Avengers: Standoff! storyline, 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 Zemo and the Fixer into restoring them to normal.[67] In the aftermath of the battle with the villains at Pleasant Hill, Red Skull founds his own version of HYDRA with Sin and Crossbones.[68] Their first strike occurs when they use Kobik - a sentient Cosmic Cube that once belonged to the Skull, now 'educated' to perceive Hydra as a great organization - to manipulate Steve Rogers' memories so that he believes that he has been a Hydra sleeper agent since childhood,[69] although the Skull is unaware that the Hydra-converted Rogers now intends to stage a coup of the organization for his own ends.[70]

Powers and abilities

Although he has no superhuman abilities, Red Skull possesses a high intellect and inventive genius, and is a highly gifted subversive strategist and political operative. At one point, 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 any Olympic athlete who ever performed. 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, and 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 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 fire arms and explosives.

After fusing his own brain with that of Charles Xavier, the clone of Red Skull gains powerful telepathic abilities.[55] 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,[71] 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 world war hate. 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 and mean it rather than just make them do it with his abilities manipulating them into submission.[69]

Other Red Skulls

There had been other people who passed themselves off as Red Skull:

George John Maxon

Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, George Maxon appeared as Red Skull in Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) and #3 (May 1941). Maxon is an American businessman and Nazi agent who led 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.[72] Maxon is thought killed during the second encounter, though he would reappear for one last encounter with Captain America.[73]

Albert Malik

With Johann Schmidt's disappearance after 1945, the reputation of 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, pretending that he was the original, when he was actually serving Soviet interests, in Captain America Comics #61.[74] During the 1950s, he faced the then active version of Captain America who was also pretending to be the original. The two impersonators continued to battle each other throughout the decade. 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 cut his links to the Soviet Union. Among other notorious deeds, he was responsible for the deaths of Richard Parker and Mary Fitzpatrick-Parker, the parents of Peter Parker, tipped off by the super-criminal Gustav "The Gentleman" Fiers. Albert was later killed by Scourge of the Underworld disguised as a pilot.[16]

Sinthea Schmidt

Main article: Sin (Marvel Comics)

Sinthea Schmidt, the daughter of Johann Schmidt, adopts the Red Skull moniker after being scarred like her father in the 2009 limited series Captain America: Reborn.

Other versions


Red Skull allied with Doctor Doom, Hulk, Magneto, Namor, and Ultron in order to take over Manhattan.[75]

Heroes Reborn

In the Heroes Reborn universe, Red Skull is revealed to be the banker of the Master Man's World Party. This version references his fights with Captain America during World War II,[76] but is stopped by Nick Fury, Captain America and Falcon.[77]


Red Skull is among the foes defending Krona's stronghold in #4 and is defeated by Jay Garrick the Golden Age Flash.[78]

Earth X

Johann Schmidt was killed by Captain America some time previous to Earth X. After 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.[79] 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.[80]

Despite his death, Red Skull's legacy lived on in the Earth X universe. Ben Beckley took on the Skull identity (not the Red Skull as he had no idea who 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 old and out of date, the Skull spared him but took several of Captain America's allies as part of his army.[81] After reaching New York City, Skull was opposed by Captain America and other heroes, with Captain America breaking Skull's neck in order to stop him.[82] 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.[83]


In the 1997 DC/Marvel special "Batman/Captain America", Red Skull hires the Joker to steal an atomic bomb during World War II. Joker evades Batman, Cap, Bucky, and Robin and delivers it to Red Skull, but is horrified when he learns that Red Skull is a Nazi (saying "I may be a criminal lunatic but I'm an American criminal lunatic!"). When Red Skull threatens to drop the bomb on Washington D.C., 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.[84]

Marvel Zombies

In Marvel Zombies, 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", before he was killed by the other zombies.[85]

Old Man Logan

In a possible future where a final battle between the heroes and villains ended with the villains winning, 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, 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 Red Skull fight in his trophy room. Unwilling to pop his claws during the fight, Wolverine decapitates Red Skull with Captain America's shield, ending his villainous rule.[86]

Ultimate Marvel

Ultimate Red Skull shown on the variant cover to Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1. Art by Leinil Yu.

The Ultimate Marvel version of Red Skull appears in Ultimate Comics: Avengers and was created by Mark Millar. This incarnation is the illegitimate son of Steve Rogers and Gail Richards, and wears simple khaki pants and a white tee shirt instead of the Nazi/military costume of the 616 counterpart.[87] 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 easy-going personality was a ruse. Around the age of seventeen, he kills over 200 men on the base and then cuts off his own face in rejection of his father, leaving a "red skull".[87] As a final symbol of his rebellion against the system that created him, he assassinates President John F. Kennedy.[88] During his career, he forced a woman to choose between killing her husband or her infant son. After she kills her husband, the Skull kills the child anyway, and then has her viciously raped by his henchmen. After decades of working as a professional assassin, 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 in his helicopter and brutally beats him. Before throwing Captain America out of his helicopter, Red Skull reveals his true identity. At A.I.M. headquarters in Alaska, 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, they immediately attack, but the Cube imbues him with nearly unlimited power, making him absolutely invulnerable. Captain America arrives in a stolen Teleporter Jet, but Red Skull forces the jet to crash. Cap survives the crash and teleports the jet to Red Skull's exact coordinates, impaling him on one of the two rods that protrude from its nose.[89] Red Skull is taken to a hospital and kept alive long enough for his mother to say her goodbyes. 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 Laskov (disguised as a nurse) enters the room and shoots Red Skull in the head, killing him. Gregory Stark implies that Fury was responsible for calling Red Skull out of retirement in order to regain his position in S.H.I.E.L.D.[89]

In other media

Red Skull in the 1994 Spider-Man animated series.
Scott Paulin as Red Skull in the 1990 film Captain America.
Hugo Weaving as Red Skull in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger.



Video games


Live performance


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