Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The earliest Red Skull in the 1940s comics was George Maxon, an American businessman and Nazi agent who led a ring of spies and saboteurs. He faced Captain America during two of the latter's first missions. A formidable opponent in his own right, Maxon was killed during the last encounter.
A later Red Skull--Johann Schmidt--was developed by Marvel Comics writers, and through retconing, was designated to be the original Red Skull, leading to Maxon sometimes being designated Red Skull II (in Silver Age issues, Maxon was simply described as an impostor who acted as a decoy).
Schmidt's mother died in childbirth and his father blamed Johann for that and tried to murder him, only to be stopped by the attending doctor. The father later committed suicide and Johann was orphaned.
He grew up on the streets struggling to survive and his hatred of humanity grew with each day. A key episode was when he fell for a local Jewish girl, but when she spurned his clumsy advances, he murdered her. With that, his villainy grew still more.
In late teens during the rise of the Third Reich, Schmidt got his most prosperous job, a bellhop in a major hotel. There he served the rooms of Adolf Hitler himself. By chance, he was present when Hitler was furiously berating an officer and swore he could train Johann himself, a simple bellhop, to be a better Nazi. Looking closely at him and sensing his dark inner nature, Hitler decided to take up the challenge and recruited Schmidt.
Dissatisfied with the standard drill instruction his subordinates used to train Schmidt, Hitler took over personally. Upon completion, Hitler gave Schmidt an unique uniform with a grotesque red skull mask, and he emerged as the Red Skull for the first time. His role was to play the role of the embodiment of Nazi intimidation, while Hitler could remain the popular leader of Germany. To that end, The Red Skull was appointed head of Nazi terrorist activites with an additional large role in external espionage and sabotage. To the end, he was spectacularly successful, wreaking havoc throughout Europe in the early stages of World War II. The propaganda effect was so great that the United States government decided to counter it by creating their own equivalent using the one recipient of the lost Project Rebirth, Steve Rogers, as Captain America.
The two counterparts soon clashed in what would be a series of engagements throughout the war, ending with a final battle that left the Skull buried under the rubble of a bombed building. Because he was immediately exposed to an experimental gas there, he remained in suspended animation for decades.
With Schmidt's disappearance after 1945, the reputation of the Skull still was formidable enough to prove useful. In 1953 a Communist agent named Albert Malik set up his spy/criminal organization in Algeria and assumed the identity of the Red Skull, pretending that he was the original, when he was actually serving Soviet interests. During the 1950s he faced the then active version of Captain America who was also using the identity of Steve Rogers, pretending to be the original. The two impersonators continued to battle each other throughout the decade. But while the Captain, referred to as Captain America IV in some sources, was placed into suspended animation when his flawed replicate of the Super Soldier treatment seriously affect his mind, Albert continued his activities, over time cutting his links to the Soviet Union. He was among other things responsible for the deaths of Richard Parker and Mary Fitzpatrick-Parker, the parents of Peter Parker later known as Spider-Man.
Johann was eventually rescued in modern times by the terrorist organization, Hydra. The Skull quickly subverted a cell to his own ambitions of world conquest and the death of Captain America. When Johann reappeared, he and Albert, though his age was starting to catch up with him, started to antagonize each other while both claiming the identity of the Red Skull. Finally Albert was the victim of an assassination organized by Johann. Some sources refer to Albert as Red Skull II and others as Red Skull III depending on their counting of George Maxon or not.
Thus the two enemies resumed their war with Captain America, among other opponents, frustrating the Skull's schemes; not even when the Skull possessed the all-powerful Cosmic Cube could he claim ultimate victory.
At one point, the Skull's health failing, he used cloned tissue from Captain America's body to make him into an imitation of the Captain's civilian identity, Steve Rogers. He then used a government position to remove Rogers from the position of Captain America and replace him with a jingoistic extremist named John Walker. Although Walker initially attempted to live up his predecessor's ideals, The Skull manipulated in him into becoming an insane murderer as part of his plan to blacken the name of the superhero. The Skull then tried to use Walker to kill Rogers. When Rogers defeated him, the Skull appeared to tell his enemy that he had changed his strategy. He noted that he had multiple concurrent schemes running to avoid the risk of wasting resources he used to do with focus one grand one at a time and one of them is killing Rogers at some time of his choosing. Meanwhile Rogers was dealing the disturbing mystery of this man with his face claiming to be his dead archenemy while noting that he was not inhaling on the cigarette holder he had in his mouth. That cigarette turned out to be holding a lethal dose of the Skull's favourite poison, the dust of death, which was used against Schmidt when Walker hit him with his shield. As a result, Schmidt's suffered the standard symptom of his appearance being disfigured into literal red skull, while still somehow surviving.
After this, the Skull was attacked by the mutant terrorist Magneto, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who wanted to punish him for his involvement in Hitler's regime. Magneto imprisoned him in a basement with enough water for a few months. The Skull remained there until he was rescued by his henchman Crossbones.
The Red Skull controls multiple criminal organizations, including the Watchdogs, a group of right-wing militiamen, and Scourge of the Underworld, an organization devoted to murdering supervillains. The Red Skull later manipulated his way into the position of Secretary of State as Dell Rusk (an obvious reference to Donald Rumsfeld, but also an anagram for "red skull") to develop a biological weapon he tested at Mount Rushmore.
The Red Skull was recently assassinated by a renegade Russian general who wanted to possess the Cosmic Cube. He was literally confirmed as dead on the panel, but whether he will stay dead remains to be seen.
- "The war was never ended -- and never been won! It was only the first battle that we lost! So long as evil lives -- to muster the forces of bigotry, greed and oppression -- the fight goes on! So long as men take liberty for granted -- so long as they laugh at brotherhood -- sneer at honesty -- and turn away from faith -- so long will the forces of the Red Skull creep ever closer to the final victory!" from Tales of Suspense #80
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