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|
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|
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|
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.
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|
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|
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|
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|
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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