The Red Skull
Marvel Comics is known as the House of Ideas. One of the clearest ways of showing how great these ideas are is by looking at the quality of their super villains. Along with Doctor Doom and Magneto, one of the best super villains of all time has to be the Red Skull. With little more than his devious mind and near-limitless determination at achieving his goals, he has terrorized the Marvel Universe since World War II and will more likely than not continue to do so for many years to come.
A simple street thug, the Red Skull started his career of crime with the brutal murder of a young Jewish girl. A simple bellhop, Johann Schmidt was chosen by Hitler himself to be transformed into a symbol of the Nazi Party and all that it represented. Trained personally by the Fuhrer, the Red Skull led a series of military campaigns spreading havoc across Europe. The antithesis to Captain America’s message of hope and freedom, the Red Skull was a testament to the horror and brutality of war.
Much like his nemesis, the Red Skull was suspended in time due to exposure of an experimental gas. Revived by the evil organization called AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics), the Red Skull was back in action, turning members of AIM to his cause. During the course of his re-introduction to the modern Marvel Universe it became known that he was responsible for the deaths of Peter Parker’s parents who died during a secret government mission. The Red Skull became a threat not just to Captain America, but to many superheroes, allying himself with other villains.
It’s interesting to note that most other villains despise the Red Skull due to his Nazi ties and find him to be a wholly disgusting individual. This is not exactly surprising as Magneto is a Holocaust survivor and Doctor Doom was raised by gypsies. Yet even those not touched by the destruction of the Nazi Party can recognize the same quality that Hitler saw when he looked into Schmidt’s eyes those many years ago. He has a dark soul, darker than the deepest pits of Hell.
Is that his real face?
Whereas the initial Red Skull wore a mask to appear to be a harbinger of death, he has on occasion become that same image. After transferring his mind into a clone of Steve Rogers’ body, he inhaled his own deadly dust and suffered the massive disfiguring scars of its poisonous effects.
Devious plots and mad schemes
The Red Skull’s plots at world domination are legendary, from his use of the three-part machine called the Sleeper to his dusts of death. Yet his modern approach has proven to be more subtle, often relying on long-term results. For instance, the Red Skull was a key component in the development of the replacement Captain America known as John Walker. He had Walker’s parents assassinated, striving to draw out the Marine’s darker nature and urging him to kill the real Captain America in the process.
Dead, but not forgotten
More recently, the Red Skull was shot by Bucky Barnes operating as the Soviet assassin ‘The Winter Soldier.’ Due to the close relationship that the Red Skull had with the Cosmic Cube, he avoided death and transferred his mind into that of Russian General Aleksander Lukin.
Pulling the strings from behind the scenes, the Red Skull engineered the death of Captain America. With the loss off its national symbol, the Red Skull has also steered the near total collapse of America through political manipulation.
Not content with killing his nemesis, the Red Skull and Arnim Zola were involved in a diabolical plot to trap Steve Rogers in time. The plot misfired and instead Rogers has found himself reliving key moments of his life as his consciousness struggles to escape a web of decades.
In the future…
In numerous glimpses into the future, the Red Skull has also been seen to play a key role. The most high profile of these appearances is probably in the ‘Old Man Logan’ story from Wolverine, due to be completed next month… hopefully.
Not a popular kid’s toy
Being a Nazi, the Red Skull has been given exposure very sparingly in cartoon format, often portrayed as a power mad villain without much of a political agenda. The exception is the appearance of the Red Skull on a rather fantastic Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends episode that fully embraced his Nazi past. Scarcer still are action figure depictions, again for understandable reasons. The skull head is attractive, but the swastika arm band is genuinely scary, more so for parents than kids.
Personally, I’ve always thought that the Skull’s Nazi past made him an even greater super villain since it has a basis in reality.
The big screen Skull
(above image via WizardUniverse Message Board user: Kreepfan)
With a Captain America feature film on its way, I am thinking that we will soon be seeing a new version of the Red Skull on the big screen. Rumor has it that much of the movie, if not all of it, will be a period piece set in World War II. This approach has been attempted before in the universally derided Captain America movie from 1990 featuring an Italian fascist version of the Red Skull.
For a fictional world populated by super powered being attempting to protect the innocent, there are few things scarier than the Red Skull.