Johann Shmidt, the Red Skull, was the son of a coarse, drunken German villager named Hermann Shmidt and his reportedly saintly, long-suffering wife Martha, who for years endured abuse and beatings from her husband. Martha died giving birth to Johann, their only child. Driven to madness by the death of the woman he both loved and hated, Hermann Shmidt tried to drown the newborn infant, accusing him of murdering Martha. The doctor who had just delivered the baby saved Johann from his abusive father, and the next morning Hermann Shmidt committed suicide.
The doctor then took Johann to an orphanage, where the child led a lonely existence. Johann ran away from the orphanage when he was seven years old and lived on the streets as a beggar and a thief. As he grew older he worked at various menial jobs but spent most of his time in prison for crimes ranging from vagrancy to theft.
As a young man, Shmidt was from time to time employed by a Jewish shopkeeper, whose daughter, Esther, was the only person who had treated Shmidt kindly up to that point. Seized with lust for Esther, Shmidt tried to force himself upon her, only to be rejected by her. In unthinking fury, Shmidt murdered her. Shmidt fled the scene in terror, but also felt ecstatic joy in committing his first murder. In killing Esther, he had given vent to the rage at the world that had been building up in him throughout his young life.
The Nazi Years
Shmidt longed for a master who would show him the way to achieve power. Years later, after the Nazis had come to power in Germany, Shmidt was working in a hotel where the dictator of Germany's Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, came one day to stay. That night Shmidt brought refreshments to Hitler's suite and found Hitler berating the chief of the Gestapo for letting a spy escape.
On hearing Hitler's voice, Shmidt decided that Hitler was the master he had sought. When Hitler ranted to the Gestapo chief that "I could teach that bellboy to do a better job than you!", the dictator then looked closely at Shmidt and saw the bellboy's hatred of all mankind, an emotion that Hitler asserted he himself shared. Shmidt saw in Hitler's eyes all of his own fears and frustrations, the embodiment of evil, and a model after which he could pattern himself.
Inspired, Hitler declared that he would make the bellboy into a "perfect Nazi" who would serve as his right-hand man. Shmidt eagerly agreed to do what Hitler wished.
Trying to carry out Hitler's orders, his subordinates at first attempted to train Shmidt to become a perfect German soldier wearing an ordinary SS uniform. Enraged, for he wanted to turn Shmidt into something quite different, Hitler personally took over Shmidt's training. Hitler gave Shmidt a lifelike red skull-like head mask and named him the Red Skull. The Skull was answerable only to Hitler himself.
The Skull undertook a wide variety of missions for Hitler, most of which involved the Skull's specialty, the spreading of terror. In the early 1940s, before the United States entered World War II, the Red Skull was particularly involved with subversive activities in the United States. The United States government created the costumed persona of Captain America so that there would be a costumed counterpart to the Red Skull. It was in the United States, before America officially entered World War II, that the Red Skull had his first conflicts with Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, the man who became his principal and perennial nemesis.
In Europe during the war, the Skull took personal command of many military actions and personally supervised the takeovers and lootings of many cities and towns; in various cases, the Skull ordered and supervised the eradication of the entire population of such communities. The Red Skull also organized a "wolf pack" of submarines which preyed upon shipping across the world, often under the Skull's personal command.
At first, Hitler took great pride in his protégé's successes and let the Skull have anything he wanted. Hitler thus financed the construction of secret bases for the Skull in various locations throughout the world, many of which were equipped with highly advanced experimental weapons and devices developed by Nazi scientists.
The Skull was particularly interested in procuring technological weapons that could be used for the purposes of subversion and warfare. During the war he stole plans for the "nullatron," a device that could control human minds; adapted a space-warping device developed by the cyborg scientist codenamed Brain Drain; and commissioned Nazi scientists to develop a projector which could encircle and suspend sections of cities within spheres of energy.
But while the Skull always admired Hitler for his ideological vision, he was never content with being Hitler's subordinate. The Skull kidnapped and killed many of Hitler's closest advisers and eventually rose to become the second most powerful man in the Third Reich. Now Hitler could no longer effectively control the Skull and came to fear him, especially since the Skull had made little secret of his ambition to supplant Hitler someday.
After the renowned military officer Baron Wolfgang von Strucker had a falling-out with Hitler, the Red Skull sent Strucker to Japan to found an organization that would prepare the way for takeovers in the Far East under the Skull's leadership. In the Far East, Strucker joined a subversive organization that came to be known as Hydra, broke his ties with the Skull, became head of Hydra, and built it into a major threat to world peace.
As World War II raged on, Hitler vowed that if he could not conquer the world, he would destroy it. To achieve this end, the Skull proposed the construction of five gigantic war machines, to be called the Sleepers, which would be hidden in various locations while they generated and stored the power they would need, and then be released at a future date, "Der Tag" ("The Day"), to destroy the Earth if the Allies won. Hitler enthusiastically instructed the Skull to construct the Sleepers, unaware that the Skull intended to use them to conquer the world himself if Hitler's Third Reich fell. In the closing days of the war in Europe, Allied intelligence received reports of a Nazi doomsday plan code-named "Der Tag" to be implemented after Hitler's defeat. However, the Allies had no idea what the plan entailed.
Captain America and his teenage partner Bucky Barnes fought against and thwarted the Skull and his plans many times during the war, both working on their own and operating as members of the Invaders. The Skull was also responsible for the formation of the Liberty Legion when he kidnapped and brainwashed the Invaders but left Bucky behind, thinking him worthless. Bucky went on to gather a new team of heroes and foil the Skull's plot.
During the final days of World War II in Europe, Captain America and Bucky were assigned to England to prevent desperate Nazi efforts at sabotaging Allied supply bases there. The Red Skull sent a number of his subordinates, who became known as the Exiles, and a large contingent of loyal German soldiers and their wives to a secret island base ("Exile Island"), where they would organize an army for use in the future.
Now that Germany's downthrow was becoming a reality, the Red Skull was more determined than ever to obtain vengeance for his numerous personal defeats by Captain America and Bucky. The Skull assigned Baron Heinrich Zemo to go to England, and, under the cover of stealing an experimental Allied drone plane, to capture or kill Captain America and Bucky. However, the Skull was unaware that the Allies had just secretly parachuted Captain America into beleaguered Berlin to investigate "Der Tag."
Captain America tracked the Skull down to his hidden bunker. The Skull was about to hurl an armed hand grenade at his nemesis when Captain America threw his shield at him. The grenade went off, but the Skull was not killed, thanks to his body armor. He was, however, seriously hurt and partially buried in debris. Thinking he was dying, the Skull defiantly told Captain America that the Sleepers would avenge the Nazis' defeat. Then, suddenly, an Allied attack on Berlin began. An Allied plane dropped a huge blockbuster bomb on the bunker, causing a cave-in that Captain America barely escaped. Captain America was picked up by the Allies and returned to England only to fall into Zemo's trap, which led to Captain America's falling into suspended animation for decades. Support pillars that crisscrossed over the Red Skull when the bunker caved in saved him from being buried by tons of rubble when the bomb hit. The cave-in released an experimental gas from canisters in the bunker which put the Skull into suspended animation during which his wounds slowly healed.
The Communist Red Skull vs. the Nazi Red Skull
In the early 1950s, with the original Red Skull assumed to be dead (actually lay buried beneath ground in suspended animation), Albert Malik the Communist leader of an Algerian-based spy ring, assumed the identity of the Red Skull. However, Malik never stated himself to be the Nazi mastermind but a separate, specifically communist-inspired villain as shown in his first public attack, where he attempted to take over the United Nations. Malik's plans were opposed by the Captain America of the 1950s before that Cap went insane and others later. Malik was never as grandiose in his schemes and attained a large portion of the wealth and power he sought outside of the U.S.A., whereupon Malik largely retired. Upon the revival of Shmidt as the Red Skull, Malik went underground as Malik's resources were not as large as Shmidt's. Malik had no desire to wage a war on the right to be the Red Skull at this point. But Shmidt made it one of his long-term goals to kill Malik for what Shmidt saw as infringement of his Red Skull identity. One of Shmidt's Scourge of the Underworld agents killed the elderly Malik.
Some years ago, the original Red Skull was found by a search team sent by the subversive organization called THEM, which was actually the ruling council of Hydra headed by Baron Strucker. Strucker carefully concealed his identity from the Skull after the latter was revived. By this time the first three Sleepers had already been destroyed by the original Captain America, who had emerged from his own state of suspended animation earlier. The Skull agreed to cooperate with THEM and did so just long enough to steal the Cosmic Cube from AIM, which was then one of THEM's subsidiary organizations. This theft led to the Skull's first postwar clash with the original Captain America, who again defeated him.
Believing that with Hitler's death he himself should now rule the world, the Red Skull made repeated attempts at world domination. In his various attacks on world peace, he employed the Cosmic Cube, the army of Exiles, a fragment of Hydra, and the two final Sleepers, among many other means of conquest. However, the Skull nevertheless repeatedly met defeat, most often through the efforts of the original Captain America.
Making An Heir
Seeking an heir, the Red Skull fathered a daughter by a washerwoman on Exile Island relatively soon after his revival. This woman died in childbirth. The Red Skull had the mansion called Skull-House built, and raised her there. Through advanced biological means, he caused her to reach adulthood within an unnaturally short period of time and endowed her with superhuman powers; he named her Mother Superior.
For a time, the Red Skull operated in partnership with the original Hate-Monger, who was a clone of Adolf Hitler. However, unwilling to share power even with his former mentor, the Skull eventually put an end to their alliance by entrapping the Hate-Monger's consciousness within a powerless facsimile of the Cosmic Cube.
The Red Skull learned to his horror that the effects of the experimental gas that had kept him from aging while he was in suspended animation were reversing themselves; as a result, he aged at an unnatural rate of speed until his physical age matched his chronological one, making him so elderly that he would soon die of old age. Determined that he and Captain America should perish together, the Skull had Captain America's ally Nomad brainwashed. Hence, Nomad was compelled to dose Captain America's food with a chemical that caused him to age at an unnaturally rapid rate and that undid the effects of the Super-Soldier Serum on his body. Later, the Skull captured the now-elderly Captain America and injected both of them with a poison that gave them only hours left to live. The two ancient adversaries engaged in hand-to-hand combat, and once more Captain America overpowered the Skull. Defeated, the Skull finally expired due to old age. His body was burned thereafter. Captain America was cured of the effects of the poison, the effects of the super-soldier serum were again activated in his body, and he regained his former youthfulness; in short, Captain America returned fully to normalcy.
Shortly afterward, the criminal Doctor Faustus was apparently attacked by the ghost of the Red Skull after Faustus used holographic images of the Skull in a plot against Captain America.
Unknown to the world, however, the Nazi scientist Arnim Zola had preserved the mind of Shmidt at death, and transferred it into a clone of Steve Rogers. Alive again, Skull denounced Nazism as an outdated philosophy and became determined to destroy America from within, using its own capitalism. Remaining behind the scenes as the Red Skull, he created or funded the creation of several different subversive groups and criminals, including U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M, the Watchdogs, the Resistants, Power Brokers, Inc, and the Scourge of the Underworld. Through his agent on the Senate-sanctioned Commission on Superhuman Activities, he masterminded their investigation and eventual replacement of Steve Rogers as Captain America, leading to John Walker taking up the role. The Skull then began a campaign to cause Walker's breakdown, using Walker's ever-increasing instability and violence to besmirch the reputation of Captain America. During this time, in combat with Steve Rogers (who was then known as the Captain,) Shmidt accidentally dosed himself with the Dust of Death, giving him a permanent "red skull" visage. Red Skull survives the exposure due to the effects of the Super-Soldier Formula.
Acts of Vengeance
He joined the "Acts of Vengeance" conspiracy, but was attacked by the mutant terrorist Magneto, a Holocaust survivor who wanted to punish him for his involvement in Hitler's regime. Magneto buried him alive with enough water to last a few months. Red Skull remained imprisoned, close to death and beginning to see the error of his ways, until he was rescued by Crossbones. Feeling ready to die in peace, Red Skull requested to be taken to his private estate's bed, and for Captain America to come see him. Upon seeing his arch-enemy's face, Red Skull was surprised to feel a sudden burst of hatred that reignited his will to live.
Streets of Poison
Red Skull proposed an alliance with the Kingpin to bring a new designer drug to New York, but Kingpin refused to ally with the Nazi and the two engaged in a drug war. The Kingpin then defeated the Red Skull in hand-to-hand combat, sparing his life on the condition he never come near his territory again.
Red Skull's tenure in Washington came to an end when he was captured by Hauptmann Deutschland, and taken to Germany to stand trial for crimes against humanity, stemming from his days as an agent of the Third Reich. Red Skull narrowly escaped and was rescued by Arnim Zola, and forced to fake his death and go into hiding in a Rocky Mountain compound. He recruited Viper, a move that alienated his minions and was further rocked when his chief henchman Crossbones kidnapped Captain America's girlfriend Diamondback, resulting in Captain America finding Red Skull's new lair. Red Skull fired Crossbones, and went into hiding while Viper, using funds she plied from Red Skull as part of a scheme to use televisions across America to blind TV viewers, was defeated by Captain America.
Red Skull discovered that he was facing the same permanent paralysis that Captain America was facing due to their exposure to the Super-Soldier Formula. When the evil scientist Superia offered Captain America a cure, Captain America refused it because Superia said that Captain America would owe her. Red Skull took the cure and apparently killed Superia, then arranged for Captain America to be kidnapped by his remaining forces and given a blood transfusion that cured him.
Captain America's recovery segued into a reluctant team up with Red Skull; a Nazi cult that worshiped Hitler as a god had discovered a Cosmic Cube that contained Hitler's consciousness, put there by Red Skull himself. The two tried to stop the cult from fully powering the Hitler Cosmic Cube but Red Skull opted instead to send Captain America (against his will) into the Cube to kill Hitler, imprisoning Captain America in the Cube while he used its power to conquer humanity. Captain America escaped and used his shield to sever one of Red Skull's arms, causing him to drop the Cube. The Cube became unstable, destroying Red Skull.
Trapped in a hellish nightmare dimension and forced to serve as a bellhop to a world of non-European immigrants, Red Skull's will ultimately was so great that he was able to escape his prison. As a result, Red Skull now possessed limited reality warping powers that made him a cosmic threat. He was further aided by Korvac, posing as Kang the Conqueror. He was sent to Galactus' ship to steal more power (in particular the power of omniscience), which would remove all limits to Red Skull's reality warping powers. Skull was ambushed by Korvac, who stole his cosmic powers and banished him back to Earth.
Red Skull later manipulated his way into the position in the form of U.S. Secretary of Defense Dell Rusk to develop a biological weapon he tested at Mount Rushmore. He was exposed and defeated by the Avengers. The Black Panther beat him so badly that he broke Red Skull's jaw in half.
The Red Skull was assassinated by the mysterious Winter Soldier, under orders from the renegade former Soviet general Aleksander Lukin, who wanted to possess the new Cosmic Cube that the Skull had manufactured. When the Skull was shot, he attempted to use the Cube to switch bodies with Lukin to survive, but as the Cube was still weak, he only managed to transfer his mind into Lukin's body so that the two enemies are trapped together, waging a constant war for dominance which the Red Skull seemed to be progressively winning. During a plot to lure out Captain America, Red Skull/Lukin recruited several German skinheads and made them the successors to the Master Man. He then had these soldiers, dubbed the "Master Race," launch an attack on London, which was thwarted by Captain America, Spitfire, and Union Jack. Then, Red Skull/Lukin activated a Sleeper, a robot programmed for mass destruction, that was presumably created by Doctor Doom. The robot damaged a significant portion of the new London Kronas HQ, and was ultimately destroyed by Captain America and Bucky. In the aftermath, Red Skull sent a videotape announcing to the world his return, followed by Lukin holding a press conference condemning the actions of both the Red Skull and Captain America, and supporting the Superhero Registration Act. Then, in his office, Red Skull introduced Lukin to his old/new associates, Crossbones and Sin.
With America's superheroes divided over the SRA during the Superhero Civil War, the Skull manipulated events to his own ends with the aid of Doctor Faustus, Doctor Doom, and Arnim Zola. His plans involved the reunion of Captain America and his former lover Sharon Carter, who was being manipulated by Faustus.
Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America
In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the Skull put his plans into action, arranging for Crossbones to shoot Captain America as he entered a courthouse in New York City; in the ensuing chaos, Carter, acting under Faustus' mental directive, assassinated Captain America. This, however, was only the first phase of the Skull's evil plan. Upon the exposure of his being Lukin, the Skull faked his death and initiated the second part of his plan: using Kronas Corporation's vast holdings to economically cripple the United States, before having S.H.I.E.L.D. agents brainwashed by Doctor Faustus open fire on crowds of protesters in front of the White House. The Red Skull continued his assault by engineering a riot by placing Kronas security troops and drugged water in a protest at the Lincoln Monument.
All of this had apparently been to elevate Gordon Wright, his puppet politician, in the public's eye with being credited as "resolving" the situations, as well as surviving a (staged) attack by the Serpent Squad. Once elected, Wright would lead the country directly into a police state secretly controlled by the Red Skull. The Skull also planed to transfer his consciousness into Sharon's unborn child, apparently sired by Steve Rogers himself and potentially having inherited his Project Rebirth enhancements.
Both schemes failed because of the impatience and incompetence of the Skull's daughter—her near-fatal attack on Sharon Carter caused her to lose the baby, and she intentionally botched her pseudo-assassination of Gordon Wright by attempting to kill him for real. And as Faustus surreptitiously tampered with Sharon's programming, she was able to rebel and shoot Lukin to death before escaping.
This wasn't the end of Red Skull, since Arnim Zola had seconds earlier transferred his mind to one of his spare robotic bodies, but after having his current form damaged by the 1950s Captain America, he was unable to return back to Red Skull, essentially trapping him in his current robotic form for the time being.
Captain America: Reborn
A year later, it was revealed that the Skull had in fact trapped Rogers' body in a fixed point in time-space. It was his intention to transfer his mind into Rogers' body and supplant his consciousness. Unfortunately, when Sharon broke the connection, as she was implanted with chronal tracers designed to draw Rogers to her, it unstuck him in time, causing him to relive all the events of his life. Norman Osborn, current director of H.A.M.M.E.R., learned this from Zola, who had managed to transfer himself to another body. Osborn realized that having Captain America leading his Avengers, even with the Red Skull in control, would increase his popularity. He released both Crossbones and Sin to retrieve him. Traveling to Latveria, where Zola and Doctor Doom, who had provided the Skull with the equipment necessary for his plans, were headquartered, the Skull managed to take control of his arch-nemesis' body.
The Skull planned on returning to America, where he would tell the new president that "Captain America" had returned. He also intended to play along with Osborn's plan for the moment. But first, he intended on defeating the underground Avengers, who were tailing him. A fight broke out at the Washington Monument, both in the physical and mental world. In the latter, Rogers had managed to break through the illusion that had supplanted his consciousness. Both he and Bucky fought against the Skull. But when the latter had the Skull/Rogers at his mercy, he couldn't bring himself to kill his old friend. The Skull took advantage of this and prepared to kill Bucky.
Luckily, Rogers managed to overcome the Skull's mental control. After the Skull returned to his mechanical body, Sharon struck him with a device to prevent his escape, not knowing it would enlarge his size. Shmidt battled the Avengers and died a final death due to the combined efforts of Sharon and both Captain Americas.
One of the Red Skull's back-up clones was awakened following the Avengers vs. X-Men conflict. Seeing how mutants nearly destroyed the world convinced him that they were the threat, and after searching the world he recruited exceptional individuals and formed a group of S-Men to combat them. He also stole the brain of Professor X to gain his telepathic powers and created a mutant hate team called the S-Men.
Immortality Through Cloning: His psionic mind transference grants the Red Skull immortality. The Red Skull's mind has survived his physical bodies' death several times by being transferred through differing means to new bodies.
Genius Intelligence: Despite having little formal education, Shmidt has a genius intellect allowing him to become an expert in multiple fields of study including engineering, military tactics and history, politics, counter intelligence, psychology, philosophy, chemistry and physics .
- Strategic Genius: Shmidt is a master of political, military, and subversive strategy, as well as a brilliant planner and organizer.
Hand-to-Hand Combat: In his original body, the Red Skull was a fine hand-to-hand combatant, although not to the level of Captain America. He was also a brilliant fencer and skilled marksman.
- In his cloned body, he was an exact match of Steve Rogers.
- In his robot body, he had superhuman combat abilities.
- "Peak Physical Condition": Shmidt is in excellent shape due to a regular exercise routine. His strength, speed, agility, durability, reflexes and endurance are all at the pinnacle for a man his age, height and weight.
The Red Skull used many other weapons; many of these were conventional but others were advanced beyond the scope of contemporary mainstream science.
Zola's Robotic Body: After a fight with Bucky, who at the time was Captain America, Arnim Zola transferred the Red Skull's mind out of Aleksander Lukin's body and into one of his own spare android forms as a temporary measure. Shortly afterwards, Lukin was killed by Sharon Carter and Zola was seemingly destroyed. The Red Skull remained trapped in Zola's spare body for some time.
Dust of Death: The Red Skull's most infamous personal weapon was his so-called "dust of death." The chemical composition of this powder is unknown, but it kills a victim within seconds of making contact with their skin, causing the skin on the victim's head to tighten, shrivel, and take on a red discoloration, while causing all the hair on the victim's head to fall out. As a result, the victim's corpse appears to have a "red skull" for a head. While committing murders with this weapon, the Skull often hummed, whistled, or played a tape recording of Chopin's funeral march, which was also the Skull's trademark music when he committed murders in the early 1940s. The Skull could fire his "dust of death" from a special handgun.
- Due to the Skull's ties to the Nazis, many supervillains refuse to ally with him. The Jewish Magneto of course rejected an alliance with the Skull. The mobster Kingpin considered it his patriotic duty to prevent the Red Skull from imposing on his territory.
- 333 appearance(s) of Johann Shmidt (Earth-616)
- 20 appearance(s) in handbook(s) of Johann Shmidt (Earth-616)
- 82 minor appearance(s) of Johann Shmidt (Earth-616)
- 123 mention(s) of Johann Shmidt (Earth-616)
- 16 mention(s) in handbook(s) of Johann Shmidt (Earth-616)
- 197 image(s) of Johann Shmidt (Earth-616)
- 45 quotation(s) by or about Johann Shmidt (Earth-616)
- 4 victim(s) killed by Johann Shmidt (Earth-616)
- 7 item(s) used/owned by Johann Shmidt (Earth-616)