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!
By Jim Beard
For every hero there stands his opposite number. In the case of Captain America, tireless soldier of World War II, the Red Skull, evil Nazi manipulator, represents everything he strives against. It's no wonder the two became the most famous of foes.
One must look back at some of their most dangerous battles to see the hatred that burns between them; Cap must stop the Skull at all costs and the Skull needs to destroy Cap and all that he stands for. It’s a never-ending and nefarious struggle, yet a fascinating one.
Come with us now into the vault of yesteryear and witness Captain America versus the Red Skull throughout the years.
|The Adventures of Captain America #1|
Origin of Opposition
When scrawny Steve Rogers transformed into the powerful Captain America, he knew there’d be a learning curve on his path to becoming a super hero. That path led him eventually to Germany, and into the clutches of the Red Skull. The Skull, favored by Adolph Hitler himself, took it upon himself to be the thorn in the side of Captain America throughout the war and quickly ranked high on the list of the hero’s new opponents.
While the Skull’s first true appearance came in CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1, collected in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: GOLDEN AGE CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1, the expanded tale of his first fight with the Sentinel of Liberty may be found in THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN AMERICA #1-4.
May the Cube Be With You
|Tales of Suspense #80|
While Cap believed his archfoe dead after their final encounter in World War II, the Skull reared his ugly head once more in the modern day shortly after Steve Rogers' own return. The revived Skull formed an alliance with the mad scientists at A.I.M. and began plotting new ways to torment his eternal nemesis.
Betraying A.I.M., the Skull took possession of the evil factory's greatest achievement: the all-powerful Cosmic Cube. Still reeling from his rival's mind-games, Captain America confronted the now almost-omnipotent Skull with muscle and determination, and using a ruse of submission, Cap gained the upper hand. The ground literally pulled out from under them, the Cube and its villainous master sank beneath the waves, seemingly lost forever.
This seminal fracas between Cap and the Skull appeared in TALES OF SUSPENSE #79-81, but you may view it in its collected glory in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1 or ESSENTIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1.
Trapped in the Skull's Body
|Captain America #115|
The Skull again menaced Captain America with the Cosmic Cube, this time using it to switch bodies so that Cap's psyche now resided within the Nazi's body while the villain impersonated Steve Rogers himself. While Cap's allies turned against him, the Sentinel of Liberty first met Sam Wilson and helped transform him into the heroic Falcon, as the two set out to take the Skull down. In their climactic confrontation, the Skull reverted Cap back to his original body in order to better relish his foe's defeat. However, the action had the opposite effect, leading Cap to trounce the Red Skull once more.
The story of Cap and the Red Skull's very own "freaky Friday" occurred in CAPTAIN AMERICA #115-119, collected in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 4 and ESSENTIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 2.
In Final Conflict?
|Captain America #300|
Intended to be the ultimate endgame, the Red Skull manipulated Steve Rogers into what he thought would be their final battle. Years before, the life-preserving gas that prolonged the Skull's existence began to leech from his body, leaving the cunning villain horribly aged and infirm. Having artificially accelerated the good Captain's life to match his own decrepitude, the Skull forced the hero into a physical struggle, yet Rogers won as always, and a last, rattling breath issued forth from between his opponent's lips.
It all happened in the now-famous CAPTAIN AMERICA #300, True Believer!
The Cosmic Cube Strikes Back
|Cap and the Skull fight side-by-side|
In a desperate gambit to finally destroy the Cosmic Cube, the cult that worshipped it, and the mind of Adolf Hitler that resided within it, Captain America joined forces with the Red Skull. The Skull, master of schemes, imprisoned Cap in the Cube to overthrow Hitler, and therein Steve Rogers relived his World War II adventures. By sheer force of will, the star-spangled hero extracted himself from the Cube and smashed the demonic device, cutting off his enemy's arm in the process. The resulting explosion left nothing but an inky smear on the wall to mark the latest passing of the Red Skull.
The sordid story transpired in CAPTAIN AMERICA #445-448, but you can access it in the handy-dandy CAPTAIN AMERICA: OPERATION REBIRTH collection.
Death and Rebirth
|The Red Skull triumphant?|
In what would be known as perhaps the Red Skull’s crowning achievement, the villain brought about the apparent death of Captain America at the hands of Cap’s own lover, Sharon Carter. Then things got really wild: the hero’s friends discovered that the Skull had actually sent Steve Rogers' essence wandering through time, beyond the veil of death. Scheming his schemes, the Red Skull once again stole Cap’s body for himself, but the indomitable will of the World War II legend held fast and won the day as the original Captain America returned to life just in time to once again end the Skull's evil plan, resulting in the villain's own death.
Where to begin? Check out these collections to revel in the entire story of Cap’s death and return to life: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1, 2 and 3, FALLEN SON: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA and CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN. Whew!
The Ultimate Battle
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.
|Ultimate Comics Avengers #6|
Over in the Ultimate Universe, the Red Skull turned out to be Captain America’s son! Would we lie? Allied with A.I.M. terrorists, this Skull made life miserable for his dear ol’ dad by coveting the construction plans for the Cosmic Cube. Things devolved from bad to worse, Cap called in the Avengers to go after his kid and ended up impaling the bad boy on an aircraft. Finally, one of the Red Skull’s victims shot him point-blank in the head, ending the chaos he presented forever.
The Ultimate Red Skull’s confrontation with the Ultimate Captain America came about in ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS #1-6, collected in ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS: NEXT GENERATION.