Just in time for Halloween, we’re back to feature all those creepy, kooky, and scary characters of comic book lore! This time, we’re going to take a look at monsters from the vaunted House of Ideas. So, enter, if you dare, for Comic Book Monsters 2012: The Mighty Merry Marvel Edition!
Comic Book Monsters – October 30th: Red Skull
Let’s get serious for a moment. We all know monsters aren’t real. Dragons, vampires, werewolves, mummies, all those things are products of a shared social consciousness. We imagine them as these hideous things without souls that only wish for our destruction. That doesn’t mean that the word “monster” can’t apply to a person or group of people. We’ve seen this in our own, actual, recorded history with the group of ultra-conservative fascists known as the Nazis.
Numbers don’t lie. The millions the Nazis killed in concentration camps present the worst a human being can be. Adolf Hitler’s desire to elevate the German people to power was twisted by a hatred that few can even muster. There’s a lot that goes into that history and the economic dismay and overall treatment of the Germans in the aftermath of World War I, but no amount of that could possibly equal the horrors the Allies discovered in the liberated camps.
In comics during that time, our superheroes joined the fight with the American forces to boost the morale of our own Depression-wrecked nation. With bad guys like Hitler trying to take over Europe, heroes fought Nazi forces long before the truth of what was found came to the public. They were an easy target. The Nazis didn’t require writers to think up of imaginative villains. They were easy pickings, and even before the Americans joined the effort in World War II, Captain America was shown on the cover of his very first comic punching Hitler right on the jaw.
It didn’t matter whose comics kids read during that time, the Nazis and Japanese had monstrous henchmen plotting against the heroes. In Captain America Comics, Hitler had a henchman who looked like a grizzly visage of death – the Red Skull. The Skull is Johann Schmidt and was an officer and friend of Hitler himself. He’s flat out an enemy of the free world in general and is pretty much keeping to his old pal Adolf’s plan of world domination and genocide.
Even though Schmidt has always been considered the true Red Skull, the Skull’s first appearance wasn’t actually him. Instead, the Skull we see in Captain America Comics #1 was an American Nazi named George Maxon. Later, Schmidt revealed himself as the true Skull with Maxon simply an agent of his. Even during the 50s, a new Skull working for the Soviet Union against a new Captain America and Bucky. This version of the villain was Albert Malik who has a connection to another major Marvel hero by being responsible for the deaths of Peter Parker’s parents, Richard and Mary Parker.
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought Captain America back in the pages of The Avengers, it wasn’t long before the real Red Skull returned as well. When he returned, Schmidt became obsessed with possessing the Cosmic Cube to which he often did to manipulate reality so he could rule the world in a fascist way. At each turn, Captain America defeated the Skull. It was during these early modern battles that Schmidt and Malik began fighting themselves for the title of the one true Red Skull. This ultimately led to Schmidt organizing an assassination of Malik.
Later, Schmidt’s body, which had been preserved for years by a gas that held him in suspended animation, was failing. The gas that had kept him young was leaving his body. Now, a man in his 80s, he knew he was dying. In one last attack on Captain America, Schmidt kidnapped and tortured the friends of Steve Rogers (to be exact, his friends was a Jewish fiance, his black partner, the Falcon, and a close friend who happened to be gay – all very progressive ideas in early 80s comics). When Rogers and Schmidt faced off, the Skull was able to age Cap’s body to match his. All of this was designed to have Captain America kill the Skull to finally make the hero like he was, but when Cap refused to kill his enemy, Schmidt died naturally, cursing Captain America.
The Red Skull didn’t stay dead. Arnim Zola, a Nazi geneticist and ally of Schmidt’s, was able to transfer the Skull’s mind to a cloned body of Captain America. After coming to the conclusion that keeping with Nazi philosophy would not get him anywhere in the present, so, instead, he looked at the American dream of capitalism as his new inspiration. He decided to work his way into the American government where he eventually landed the lead role in the Commission, which monitored superhero activities.
While in this role, he orchestrated the removal of Steve Rogers from his post as Captain America. This would led to him selecting John Walker to take over the role. When Walker actually set out to live up to what Rogers had accomplished, Schmidt, now going by John Smith, just went out and killed Walker’s parents (?!?) to push Walker over the edge into insanity. However, Schmidt’s plans failed, as always, when his own anger over one of his pawns led to the Skull killing his own guy… RIGHT IN FRONT OF CAPTAIN AMERICA. Rogers, bewildered by the fact that this person doing this looked just like him (from the cloned body Zola set up for Schmidt). However, Walker would help stop the Skull when forcing the villain to inhale some of his own poison set to be a trap for Rogers. This dose of the “Dust” didn’t kill Schmidt, but it did disfigure his face back to its usual look.
A later story involved yet another death for Schmidt when a Cosmic Cube became unstable and destroyed the villain. Yet again, the Skull would be resurrected where he tried to get back into American politics, this time as Dell Rusk (check out that anagram). He developed a biological weapon he set off at Mount Rushmore before being stopped by the Avengers. After being exposed, the Black Panther beat his face so badly, the Skull’s jaw actually broke in half.
When the, then mysterious, Winter Soldier received orders to assassinate the Skull by Aleksander Lukin, the Skull was able to use the Cosmic Cube he built himself (that was the object of Lukin’s desires) to transfer his mind into Lukin’s body. During this time, the Skull, along with his associates, Crossbones, Sin (his daughter), Dr. Faustus, Dr. Doom, and Zola, began putting together plans to take over the United States as he messed with Steve Rogers and his lady love, Sharon Carter, whom Faustus was controlling through post-hypnotic suggestion. It was during this time that Cap had surrendered himself over to the government following the events of the Superhero Civil War. While entering the courthouse, Crossbones winged Rogers with a sniper shot and Carter, acting under orders from Faustus, made the kill shot.
However, the Skull’s plans, which was so close to succeeding, would fail because of the impatience and immaturity of Sin. When Sharon was finally able to rebel, she kills Lukin, but the Skull has his mind transferred to one of Zola’s spare robot bodies. When Steve Rogers is revealed to not actually be dead, but was sent through time to relive moments of his past, it’s also shown that the Red Skull plans to use Rogers’ body to live again. However, Schmidt is defeated when Rogers prevents him from taking over the body fully. Schmidt’s robot body is destroyed by Sharon.
Don’t worry, though… The Red Skull is back and menacing the Uncanny Avengers while cutting open and taking out the brain of the recently deceased Professor Charles Xavier. I figure he’ll be playing a big role in the new Marvel NOW! initiative. By the way, if you want a truly disturbing Red Skull story to check out, I highly recommend the story Red Skull Incarnate which should now be available in trade.
Thirty down and one to go. You might be a little surprised as to who I picked to complete this year’s Comic Book Monsters run, but, honestly, we would not want to stare down a claw end of a berzerker rage. He often claims that he’s the best there is at what he does, and, frankly, what he does is just not that nice. Come back tomorrow and enjoy a beer and a beef jerky with Canada’s very own superhero – Wolverine!