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Essential Captain America

Essential Cap: The Red Skull

The Essential Captain America continues with a full profile on his arch-nemesis, the Red Skull!

With the release of "Thor" on May 6, 2011 and "Captain America: The First Avenger" on July 22, 2011, Marvel.com presents the Essentials, a series of articles showcasing each character's expansive history and mythology  in the Marvel comics.

From character retrospectives to a look at memorable storylines and interviews with key creators, the Essentials will act as the perfect guide for fans both old and new! Look for new Cap Essentials every Monday and Thor Essentials every Thursday as we head toward the release of each film!


The Red Skull and his arch-enemy

By Jim Beard

When one ponders the Essential Red Skull, one must look square into the face of evil--literally. Captain America's longtime arch-enemy stands as a villain's villain, a personage so soaked in darkness he taints the very air around him, bringing shadows into not only Cap's life but the lives of millions of people over several decades.

If you dare, come along on a journey into evil as we collect and collate the pertinent data on the Nazi regime's greatest weapon, leaving us with the Essential Red Skull. Just don't blame us for the nightmares you'll have afterwards...

In Der Fuhrer's Face

Red Skull and the Nazis
Trained and supplied by none other than Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, lowly Johann Schmidt found himself elevated from a bellhop with a tragic childhood to the Third Reich's director of terrorist activities virtually overnight. Embracing the role--and the crimson mask of evil that provided him with his codename--the Red Skull took horror to an all-new level.

The Skull's atrocious activities soon brought him into direct conflict with America's own human weapon, Captain America, and the two soldiers swiftly became the worst of enemies. Their philosophies and world views in direct opposition to each other, they clashed time and again, dragging innocents into the line of fire as well as Cap's band of wartime heroes, the Invaders.

The Red Skull in the Golden Age
As the war drew to a bloody close in 1945, the Sentinel of Liberty faced off against the Red Skull as the global conflagration raged around them, both knowing it would be their last such battle. In the end, the Nazi menace found himself trapped under a ruined building and exposed to his own experimental gas, slipping into the sleep of the damned.

The Red Skull first reared his ugly head in CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1, collected in MARVEL MASTERWORKS GOLDEN AGE CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS VOL. 1, and his last World War II skirmish with Cap played out in TALES OF SUSPENSE #72, collected in MARVEL MASTERWORKS CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1 and ESSENTIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1.

The Sleeper Awakens

Red Skull wields the Cosmic Cube
While the Red Skull slumbered away the decades, a Communist agent attempted to co-opt his identity, wreaking havoc. Eventually, the real Skull awoke in the modern era with the aid of HYDRA, the global terrorist organization, and immediately returned to his evil ways. This involved reviving his personal war against Captain America, who had also slept away the years in suspended animation. The two went at it like World War II had never ended.

The Skull's newest and most deadly scheme involved the capturing of the reality-altering Cosmic Cube, a device he coveted for his conquest of the entire universe. Captain America foiled that evil dream, yet his nemesis never gave up on his quest for ultimate rule over reality. With modern means at his disposal, the Red Skull clashed with not only his patriotic foe but with other of Earth's costumed adventurers as well as such villains as Doctor Doom, the Kingpin, Arnim Zola and the Hate Monger.

The tale of the Red Skull's rescue and resuscitation unfolded in TALES OF SUSPENSE #79 and his first use of the Cosmic Cube came in TALES OF SUSPENSE #80, both of which are collected in MARVEL MASTERWORKS CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1. Subsequent Skull adventures may be found collected in MARVEL MASTERWORKS CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 2-4, as well as in ESSENTIAL SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP VOL. 1.

Skull Fracture

The Red Skull and Captain America's "final" battle

Time and tide bore down on the Red Skull, and the day arrived when his now-aging body began to betray him. As a feeble old man, he orchestrated what he imagined as his final, lethal battle against his hated foe, Captain America.

Cap surrendered to the Skull when his closest friends and allies drifted into the crosshairs of evil and once under his rival's power found his own body aged to approximate the weakened condition of his arch-foe. The two men, almost lifelong enemies, fought violently, but in the final hour the Sentinel of Liberty could not bring himself to kill the Red Skull. The former Nazi then died of natural causes, his visage of terror seemingly crushed for good.

The saga of the Red Skull and Captain America's "final" fracas played out in the legendary CAPTAIN AMERICA #293-300.

Putting the Pieces Back Together

The Red Skull and Cap team up against Hitler
Too often, evil cannot rest, and so it seemed with the overwhelming evil of the Red Skull. His mind transplanted by Nazi gene-engineer Arnim Zola into a body cloned from Steve Rogers, Captain America, the Skull once again set about his dark business. No longer touting Nazism as his motivation, he embraced the American way of conquest through capitalism and wormed his way into the corrupt apple of politics.

He first attempted to replace Cap with a more pliable subject, the ultra-military-minded John Walker, but this ultimately backfired as did the Skull's so-called "Dust of Death" which turned his handsome new face into a true "red skull." He agreed to work with other super-villains on their "Acts of Vengeance" gambit against the world's heroes and even joined forces with Captain America to confront an even greater evil than himself: the mind of Adolf Hitler.

The Fuehrer's brain resided in a Cosmic Cube, one in which the Red Skull deposited Cap to fight the Nazi leader. As with many schemes of the Skull, this too backfired and the Cube's unstable energies flared and wiped the crimson criminal from the face of the Earth.

The Red Skull put his third chance at life to malicious use by manipulating John Walker in CAPTAIN AMERICA #346-350 and reluctantly combined his resources with those of his foe's against Hitler in CAPTAIN AMERICA #445-448, collected in CAPTAIN AMERICA: OPERATION REBIRTH.

Paint it Red

The Red Skull lives again
Perhaps the legend of the Red Skull must live forever, as that of Captain America. Perhaps the two ideals--evil and good--must serve an even greater force: destiny. The Red Skull came back, and his machinations and manipulations continued, eventually coalescing into his greatest, most evil act of all: the assassination of Steve Rogers, Captain America. The blood he so deeply desired to see flow into the dirt finally manifested itself before his piercing red eyes.

A new Captain America arose from the ashes of the original in the form of Rogers' former sidekick, Bucky, and the Red Skull floated above him like the ultimate harbinger of doom and destruction.

The Red Skull looms over Bucky Barnes
Through defeats and deflation, though schemes and sagas, even through the return of Steve Rogers himself from beyond the grave, the Red Skull's legacy of death and hatred marches on, in lock-step with his opposite number; his hated enemy, his eternal foe: Captain America.

The 2002 CAPTAIN AMERICA series witnessed the return of the Red Skull in #29-32, collected in AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED: CAPTAIN AMERICA. The must-read assassination of the Skull's enemy appeared first in CAPTAIN AMERICA Vol. 5 #25-30, which you can find collected in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1, as well as Bucky's struggles as the new Cap against the Skull in VOL. 2-3.

Ultimate Red Skull

In 2000, Marvel launched its Ultimate line of comics, contemporary re-interpretations of their most classic characters. Over the last ten years, the Ultimate Universe has grown to include new visions of many of Marvel's greatest heroes and villains.

The Ultimate Red Skull appears
In a terrific turnabout from events in the traditional Marvel Universe, Captain America must suffer the reality of the Red Skull existing as his son in the Ultimate Universe. Seemingly well-adjusted and destined for great things, the young Skull massacres over 200 innocents at the army base he'd been raised on and then mutilated his own face.

Like his counterpart in the Marvel Universe, the Ultimate Red Skull also obsessively sought control over the Cosmic Cube and, in winning it, perpetrated heinous acts. This put him into conflict with his father, Captain America, which led to a bloody battle between the two. Ultimately, the Skull's life ends with a bullet to the brain, fired by the victim of one of his senseless acts of ultra-violence.

The Ultimate Red Skull's saga can be found in ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS #1-6, collected in ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS: THE NEXT GENERATION.


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