|“||You are deluded, Captain. You pretend to be a simple soldier, but in reality you are just afraid to admit that we have left humanity behind! Unlike you, I embrace it proudly! Without fear!||„|
|~ Red Skull taunting Captain America.|
Johann Schmidt, also known as Red Skull, is the main antagonist of Captain America: The First Avenger. He is the commanding officer of HYDRA-Abteilung, a special weapons division of the Nazi Schutzstaffel and the modern-day incarnation of the ancient HYDRA society.
A brilliant scientist in his own right, he fought his way through the ranks of Nazi elite to become a confidant of Adolf Hitler himself. His ambition to become the superior man however, led him to test the prototype version of Super Soldier Serum on himself. As result of the serum itself being imperfect, combined with his own evil personality, the said serum did bestow him the very superhuman strengths that he dreamt of at cost of deformations on his body (particulary his head), transformed him into the horrifying Red Skull. After gaining possession of the mystical Tesseract and its unimaginable power, he decided to turn his back on the Third Reich and rule the world alone. However, as World War II raged, his plans would be challenged by the only Allied super soldier, Captain America.
|“||What if the old Norse tales Wagner adopts into his operas are more history than myth, mein Führer?||„|
|~ Johann Schmidt to Adolf Hitler|
The man whom would become the evil Red Skull, Johann Schmidt, was born in Berlin, Germany and was a smart student. He eventually became a physicist whom later set his interest on Norse mythology. He developed a theory that Norse gods and their "magic" could be more than myth. Later on, he became a member of HYDRA, an ancient society that followed a political doctrine, but once worshiped a powerful Inhuman that later revealed to be Alveus aka. Hive; this past belief being very kindred to Schmidt's theories.
Joining the SS
|“||Now Schmidt is a member of the inner circle and he is ambitious. He and Hitler share a passion for occult power and Teutonic myth. Hitler uses his fantasies to inspire his followers, but for Schmidt, it is not fantasy. For him, it is real.||„|
|~ Abraham Erskine on Johann Schmidt|
In February 1934, at the Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin, Schmidt met Adolf Hitler, the Führer of Nazi Germany, the Third Reich. With him was Ernst Kaufmann, head of the Sturmabteilung (SA)'s Special Weapons Division. Schmidt revealed his theory that magic could be “the oldest science ever known” to them. Hitler was intrigued by Schmidt's ideas, but Kaufmann was less impressed. Nevertheless, Hitler ordered Kaufmann to arrange a meeting between him and Schmidt.
But, when Hitler left the scene, Kaumfann and his men took Schmidt from the opera. Schmidt offered to conduct research in Kaufmann's special weapons division, but was violently rejected. Kaufmann threatened to kill Schmidt if he came near Hitler again. But when Kaufmann and his men returned to the opera, Schmidt was approached by Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), the elite Nazi paramilitary unit that served as Hitler's body guard. Himmler was interested in Schmidt's ideas, and recruited him into the SS.
Head of HYDRA
|“||Herr Himmler shares my interest in the old ways. And the Schutzstaffel is more than happy to oblige.||„|
|~ Johann Schmidt|
In June 1934, as part of the Night of the Long Knives, Schmidt assassinated Kaufmann and seized control of his weapons program. A week later, Schmidt and his SS troops attacked the SA Weapons Testing Ground at Kummersdorf, 46 km south of Berlin. After killing almost the entire personnel of the base, Schmidt found and recruited Arnim Zola, a scientist who worked on the advanced exo-skeleton battle armour. Eventually, Schmidt rose to the rank of Obergruppenführer (Lieutenant general), and formed his own branch of the SS, naming it HYDRA.
In September 1935, the German biochemist Abraham Erskine attempted to flee Germany with his family. His wife's father was a Jew and Erskine wanted to take his family to safety. They were stopped at the Germany/Switzerland border by Schmidt and his men. Schmidt wanted Erskine's work on ways to increase molecular density of cellular fibers through synthetic proteins. In order to ensure Erskine's cooperation, Schmidt sent Erskine's wife Greta and his children Klaus and Marlene to the Dachau concentration camp. Arnim Zola was allowed to resume his work on exo-skeleton battle suits and various high-tech weaponry.
Two years later, Erskine's wife and children died in the camp, but Schmidt never revealed that information to Erskine.
World War II
Becoming the Red Skull
|“|| We know that the superior man will not be born, Professor Erskine. He will not be a member of any "master race". He will be a race unto himself. And you are going to help me make him."|
"You...work with Nazis even though you do not follow their ideology?
|~ Johann Schmidt and Abraham Erskine|
In 1939, the Nazi Germany invaded Poland, thus starting World War II. Schmidt actively participated in German conquests, earning several high military decorations, including the Panzer Badge and the Iron Cross First Class.In 1940, the first, unstable version of Abraham Erskine's Super Soldier Serum was finished, however Erskine refused to hand it over to Schmidt as he cannot predict what would happened to him.
In the end, Schmidt took the Super Soldier Serum by force and, injected himself with it at Castle Kaufmann in the Bavarian Alps. The serum was supposed to make him faster, stronger, and more agile like what it intended to be. It worked but not without cost: The unstable nature of the prototype serum causes his face to burnt and deformed, making it red, looking like skull. Worse, as Erskine feared from his conversazation with Steve Rogers about this moment, the serum also severely costs him his humanity, making him more evil and psychotic than he already was. Though he adopted a synthetic mask that resembled his former appearance to disguise the deformity, he gained the nickname "Red Skull". Erskine ran away to America with the help of Peggy Carter and joined the Strategic Scientific Reserve.
As a small reward for his horrific injuries, Adolf Hitler gave Schmidt a military base in the Alps. Schmidt turned the base into the headquarters of HYDRA, where his scientists worked on developing new weapons for the Third Reich. However, Schmidt saw his new post more as an exile than as a reward. He continued his research into the occult and developed a sense that HYDRA had become superior to the Nazis and sought to find a weapon that would overthrow Hitler.
Taking the Tesseract
|“||The Tesseract was the jewel of Odin's treasure room. It's not something one buries. But I think it is close, yes?||„|
|~ Johann Schmidt|
From his research about ancient history about the greatest weapon known to man, Schmidt learned about the mythical Tesseract, which was lost on Earth having been held in Odin's Vault for thousands of years. Believing it to not be a myth, he began searching for it, knowing it would give him ultimate power to defeat both Hitler and the Allies. In March 1942, Schmidt and his army invaded Tønsberg, Norway, searching for the Tesseract.
Upon entering a church, Schmidt encountered the Church Keeper, who bravely refused to tell him where the object was. When his soldiers tried to find it for him, he was given what they believed to be the Tessearct albeit Schmidt knew it to be a fake one. Schmidt threatened the Church Keeper with the thought of obliterating the village and potentially killing the church keeper's family members. The man relented and Schmidt found the true Tesseract in the wall. Ignoring the his warnings, Schmidt shot the church keeper before giving the order to put the village off the map.
Having gained the Tesseract, Schmidt returned to his base and gave the object to his chief scientist Arnim Zola for examination. During a test to see if its power could be harnessed, Zola hesitated due to fear of losing control. Schmidt however, ignored the warnings and overloaded the machine, causing it to break, but not before capturing just a small dose of the Tesseract's power. Zola realised that just the small amount of energy they had captured could power the entire facility and help them build weapons powerful enough to change the war. Seeing this, Schmidt knew he now had the power to overthrow Adolf Hitler and rule the world alone.
Betraying Adolf Hitler and Ensuing His Ambition For World Domination
|“||My weapons contain enough destructive power to decimate every hostile capital on Earth. Quite simply, gentlemen, I have harnessed the power of the gods.||„|
|~ Johann Schmidt to Roeder, Schneider, and Hutter|
Schmidt, having discovered Abraham Erskine's location, dispatched an assassin to kill him and destroyed the Allies' supply of the serum. The assassin, Heinz Kruger, managed to kill Erskine and destroy the Allies' supply of the serum before commit suicide when Steve, empowered with one of the serum, managed to capture him after the length chase.
Much later, SS officers Roeder, Schneider, and Hutter came to Schmidt's base under Adolf Hitler's orders to question him about the progress in developing advanced weapons for the Third Reich, in which Schmidt showed them around his headquarters. When Schneider commented on Hitler's lack of approval towards HYDRA and insulted Schmidt by using the nickname Red Skull, Schmidt knew that the time has come to finally cut all ties with the Nazi party, feels that HYDRA could grow no more in Hitler's shadow. So, he took the men to see his Tesseract powered weapons, explaining he had harnessed the power of the gods. Just as Hutter saw Berlin marked as one of Schmidt's targets on a map, Schmidt used the opportunity to vaporized them all with his advanced cannon. Afterwards, Schmidt had his men shout "Hail HYDRA!" to show their loyalty to him. Arnim Zola was horrified but remained loyal to Schmidt and join the salute.
With HYDRA now self-funded, Schmidt and Arnim Zola explored their Austrian HYDRA Weapons Facility where prisoners of war were being forced to build weapons powered by the Tesseract, overworking and torturing them until their deaths. Despite the progress of the workers being high, Schmidt ordered that they increase their work load by an exceptional amount, when Zola warned that such an increased work load would very likely kill the men, Schmidt was not concerned, noting that they could always get more workers to replace them.
Encounter with Captain America
|“||You are deluded, Captain. You pretend to be a simple soldier, but in reality you are just afraid to admit that we have left humanity behind. Unlike you, I embrace it proudly. Without fear!||„|
|~ Johann Schmidt to Captain America|
In November 1943, Schmidt's Austrian HYDRA Weapons Facility was invaded by Captain America, who came to free his friend Bucky Barnes and the other P.O.W.s. Schmidt watched the carnage on a monitor when the prisoners were freed and attacked Schmidt's forces. Schmidt watched closely as Captain America overpowered his soldiers with ease. When a huge battle occurred, Schmidt activated the base's self-destruct mode, despite Arnim Zola's protests.
With only minutes to go until the base exploded, Arnim Zola ran to his lab to collect his documents detailing his weapon designs while Schmidt collected the Tesseract. Without touching the immensely powerful item, Schmidt placed it into a briefcase and regrouped with Zola. As they made their way to the exit, the self-destruct on the base was activated and much of the machinery inside the base began to explode one by one, causing the floor of the base to erupt in unstoppable flames.
As Schmidt and Zola were about to leave, Captain America and Bucky Barnes confronted them. Schmidt mocked the Captain, noting that he had seen and enjoyed the propaganda films he had starred in. Ignoring the taunts, Captain America punched Schmidt in the face, ripping his mask. To show Rogers they were both test subjects, Schmidt punched and made a hole in Rogers' shield before they engaged in a brief fight.
Arnim Zola separated the two super soldiers and Schmidt revealed to Captain America that he believed he was Abraham Erskine's greatest success before ripping off his damaged face mask to show him what the serum did to his face. While Rogers and Barnes were stunned by the hideous reveal, Schmidt threw his mask into the fire and told him he was deluded in believing he was a simple soldier when he believed they had left humanity behind and that he had embraced this change proudly.
As he left the pair to die in the fire, Rogers called out to him to ask if he was without fear why was he running, but Schmidt ignored the taunt. Schmidt revealed his intention to escape in a one man plane, but when Zola questioned how he would escape, Schmidt handed him the keys to his car and ordered him to drive it without scratching it. Despite the HYDRA base exploding shortly after their escape, Rogers and Barnes managed to escape themselves and returned to the army. Knowing that Rogers and the U.S. army were after him, Schmidt decided to accelerate his plans.
Losing the War
|“||YOU ARE FAILING! We are close to an offensive network that will shake the planet. And yet we are continually delayed, because you cannot outwit a simpleton with a shield!||„|
|~ Johann Schmidt|
Unfortunately for Schmidt, Rogers memorized the locations of all HYDRA bases which he saw on a map in Schmidt's base in Austria. He and the Howling Commandos began to take them down one by one. The Allies progressively managed to destroy most major HYDRA operations, preventing Schmidt any chance to move forward with his plans. The more HYDRA facilities were destroyed, the angrier and more deranged Schmidt became.
In April 1944, Schmidt was in a castle on an island in the Nazi occupied Danish Straits. There, he studied a mystical Viking Runestone. However, Rogers and the Howling Commandos invaded the castle. Schmidt attempted to destroy them but they survived.
Schmidt explored the ruins of one of his destroyed bases. Furious, he screamed at his soldiers and threatened Arnim Zola to continue his work before Captain America could defeat them. When one HYDRA survivor appeared and begged for forgiveness, Schmidt shot him without mercy. At the same time, Schmidt had his top scientist make nuclear bombs powered by the Tesseract. No one knew about his plans until Rogers captured Zola and he revealed Schmidt's plans.
In the meantime, a HYDRA officer, General Werner Reinhardt, was sent to search for legendary artifacts. Reinhardt's team was able to discover the Obelisk in Chaves, Portugal. When Reinhardt showed the artifact to his leader, Schmidt said that the Obelisk may hold the answer to death itself.
With Arnim Zola now captured by the Allies and key information about his plans having been leaked to his enemies, Schmidt moved his plans forward and gathered his army in the HYDRA Headquarters. Schmidt had the Tesseract powered nuclear bombs loaded onto his plane the Valkyrie, ready to be launched upon the world. Schmidt gave a speech to his soldiers in which he promised them that the next day they would stand triumphant over the world before repeating the HYDRA motto and watching as his soldiers saluted him.
Attack on HYDRA Headquarters
|“|| Arrogance may not be a uniquely American trait, but I must say, you do it better than anyone. But there are limits to what even you can do, Captain, or did Erskine tell you otherwise?"|
"He told me you were insane.
|~ Red Skull and Captain America|
In March 1945, the U.S. Army attacked Schmidt's base, which made Schmidt accelerate his plans. After a brief battle with Schmidt's soldiers which killed many HYDRA soldiers, his men captured Captain America]]. Rogers was brought before Schmidt to be executed by him personally.
When Schmidt asked Rogers what made him so special that Abraham Erskine had given him so much, Rogers answered that it was nothing, he was just a kid from Brooklyn. This mockery angered Schmidt, who punched Rogers several times, causing Rogers to drop to his knees. Schmidt prepared to execute Rogers but at the same moment, the Allied troops under Colonel Chester Phillips, Agent Peggy Carter and the Howling Commandos stormed the HYDRA Headquarters and fired upon Schmidt and his soldiers.
During the chaos, Schmidt escaped while Captain America was rescued and reunited with his shield. During the fight, Schmidt picked up a Tesseract powered gun and used it to kill several American soldiers before the overwhelming forces pushed him back. Schmidt managed to stay ahead of Captain America and fired several shots at him, all of which were deflected on his shield. While Schmidt's soldier held Rogers back, Schmidt ran towards the Valkyrie.
The Last Fight
|“|| You could have the power of the gods! Yet you wear a flag on your chest and think you fight a battle of nations! I have seen the future Captain! There are no flags!"|
"Not in my future!
|~ Red Skull and Captain America|
When he saw that his men could not stop the overwhelming enemy force, he retreated to his plane. During the launch, Rogers managed to get onboard the plane. Having taken out his guards, Rogers climbed on the outside of one of the bombs and threw out the pilot before taking control of it himself. Schmidt tried and failed to shoot him out of the sky but Rogers crashlanded the bomb into the plane; he got out and made his way to the cockpit where he confronted Schmidt.
While Rogers explored the cockpit, Schmidt attempted to shoot him in the back, but Rogers was able to deflect the shot; Schmidt mocked Rogers' refusal to ever give up. They engaged in a fist fight with Schmidt gaining the upper hand by taking Rogers' shield and striking him with it. When the pair crashed into the controls, the plane spiraled out of control and the pair continued to fight as they were thrown across the room. Schmidt managed to regain control of the ship and he and Rogers were separated.
Schmidt managed to reach his gun and fired at Rogers, mocking him and claiming that he would create a future where there were no flags. Rogers said this would not be his future and managed to throw his shield at Schmidt, knocking him back and damaging the machine containing the Tesseract. Schmidt grabbed the Tesseract, but to his horror, the object opened a portal and launched Schmidt into it. Schmidt could only scream in pain and rage as he disappeared into the portal, vanishing from Earth.
|“|| Herr Reinhardt, I-I fear Schmidt..."|
"Oh, there's no reason left to fear the Red Skull. He's dead. However, his vision is not. The work HYDRA has done will live on.
|~ HYDRA Officer and Werner Reinhardt|
Even though Schmidt was gone, his disappearance did not mean the end of his ideas. His subordinates like Arnim Zola and Daniel Whitehall continued his work, enabling HYDRA to survive its biggest defeat and live into the 21st century. Meanwhile, his enemies, such as Howard Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D., used his name as the greatest example of evil.
|“||He has become convinced that there is a great power hidden in the Earth, left here by the gods, waiting to be seized by a superior man. So when he hears about my formula and what it can do, he cannot resist. Schmidt must become that superior man.||„|
|~ Abraham Erskine on Johann Schmidt|
Johann Schmidt is a megalomaniacal and egocentric genius who firmly believes in the Nazis' misinterpretation of Nietzsche's Übermensch (over-man) concept where a race of superhuman beings are destined to rule the normal ones. Believing himself to be such a man, he used both magic and science to obtain a central position in Adolf Hitler's army, until his conceit arrived to the point of believing to be greater than Hitler himself, thus starting a plan to overthrow him. Unlike other Nazis, Schmidt doesn't believe that the Germans are the destined "master race", but rather that the superior man must yet be made.
Schmidt is vindictive, pitiless, selfish, greedy, cruel, and mean, but also a scientific genius, who is able to see beyond appearances and managed to see the truth behind myths believed to be superstition, in reality fragments of Asgardian origin.
Schmidt was said to be a fully-fledged supporter of the Nazi Party until the incident which left him deformed. The truth is that he worked with the Nazis only so he could use their resources to achieve his own goals, and no longer seemed to share the racial ideals of Nazism. He claims that he was isolated to his palace in the Alps because he "no longer shares Hitler's image of Aryan Perfection". Though he is disillusioned by the Führer's ideals, he is still morally devoid and capable of mass murder. Once a mere professor at the university in Berlin, Schmidt became a cold-blooded, destructive, and heartless killer who would do anything to accomplish his goals. Even his subordinate officers had reasons to fear him, if they didn't do their job right, death was the only penalty he would give to those who failed him.
Powers and Abilities
- Artificially Enhanced Physiology: As a result of the formula developed by Abraham Erskine, Schmidt was horribly disfigured, but also obtained incredible attributes, such as an enormous strength, speed, stamina and reflexes, and even his intelligence increased, becoming a war mastermind. Like Captain America, the Red Skull is beyond the peak of human ability, and at the middle level of superhuman condition.
- Superhuman Intelligence: Schmidt's intelligence is enhanced beyond peak performance. He's shown himself to be a formidable researcher and scientist, able to distinguish truth and myth about ancient powerful relics. Schmidt's investigations were able to find the Tesseract and the Runestone, and with his genius invented ways to harness their power to enhance his weapons of mass destruction. Since the Super Soldier Serum amplifies personality aspects as well, Schmidt's brain chemistry is also altered. Though he was megalomaniacal, wrathful, and pitiless before, the SSS has also amplified those character traits.
- Superhuman Strength: Schmidt's strength was enhanced to an middle level of superhuman condition. He was able to move a giant stone casket lid by himself with little effort, after three normal men could barely make it budge. He was also able to lift a giant wardrobe over his head and threw it dozens of feet away, this happened just a few days after he received the serum. His punches were shown to be capable of denting Captain America's original metal shield and also capable of holding his own and hurting Captain America, despite his similar super soldier enhanced body.
- Superhuman Speed: The Super Soldier Serum gave Schmidt enhanced speed, allowing him to land punches on the also enhanced Captain America before Captain America's enhanced reflexes could respond.
- Superhuman Agility: Schmidt was shown to be an agile hand-to-hand combatant while engaged in a one on one battle with Captain America. Though Schmidt prefers to shoot at Captain America from a distance, Red Skull has been known to lunge great distances at a stunned Captain America when the opportunity arises.
- Superhuman Durability: While fighting Captain America, Schmidt was shown to be able to quickly recover from blows received from his opponent.
- Superhuman Stamina: Schmidt is more resilient to fatigue and exhaustion, allowing him to fight and exert himself for long periods without strain or weakness, even while fighting Captain America, who sent him flying through the air.
- Regenerative Healing Factor: Schmidt's advanced metabolism increases his resilience, as well as increasing his recovery and healing speed.
- Longevity: Due to being given a prototype of the serum Captain America was give it can be presumed like him he would have longer lifespan than the normal human. As some have theorized Captain America might have an ageless existence due to the serum it can also be theorized the Red Skull would as well.
|“||He thinks that he is a god and he's willing to blow up half the world to prove it.||„|
|~ Chester Phillips|
- Master Tactician: As the leader of HYDRA, Schmidt was in command of all the organization's soldiers and led them in many operations during World War II. The Red Skull has managed to orchestrate the assassinations of his enemies such as Ernst Kaufmann and Abraham Erskine, manipulated his way to power, and led HYDRA in planning an offensive that would have devastated the world's most influential countries had Captain America not interfered.
- Expert Scientist: Hitler made Schmidt the leader of the Nazi science division before he chose to rebel. Schmidt researched the Tesseract and, though others thought it was myth, Schmidt was able to find it.
- Pilot: Schmidt was an accomplished pilot, using a Focke-Wulf Triebflügel to escape from the Austrian HYDRA Weapons Facility before its destruction, and personally piloting the Valkyrie to attack the United States of America.
- Luger P08: Schmidt was armed with the standard Luger P08 pistol used by members of the armed forces of Nazi Germany. He used it to personally kill a Church Keeper in Tønsberg right after obtaining the Tesseract.
- HYDRA Pistol: Under Schmidt's leadership, HYDRA was able to harness the power of the Tesseract, gaining access to a source of energy the like of which has never be seen, and used it to implement his weapons. HYDRA developed a Tesseract-powered handgun with a design similar to the Luger pistol that became Schmidt's weapon of choice.
- Uniform: Before and during the first years of World War II, Schmidt used an official black SS uniform, wearing the rank insignia of Obergruppenführer (Lieutenant general). He wore three military decorations on the left side of the uniform, the Panzer Badge, the Wound Badge, and the Iron Cross First Class. Over the uniform, he wore the black leather coat with the HYDRA badge on the left side of the collar. His officer cap also had the HYDRA badge instead of the SS Totenkopf badge. From 1943 on, he wore the unique green uniform with the HYDRA insignia on the upper parts of the sleeves. In March 1945, he briefly wore a unique black uniform while piloting the Valkyrie.
- Coupe: Schmidt owns his own vehicle, a coupe, which he proceeded to drive to various locations.
Video Games Only
- While searching for the Tesseract he murders the protector of it and levels an entire town full of innocent people.
- After harnessing the power of the Tesseract, he betrays Hitler by planning to conquer the entire world by leveling cities including Berlin. When this was discovered he used the Tesseract to murder his commanding officers.
- He forces POWs to make his weapons even if it means to their deaths.
- After Captain America invades his HYDRA base, he hits the self-destruct button, risking the lives of all of his soldiers and even his top scientist, Arnim Zola.
- The Red Skull is currently the only villain in the MCU who has an undecided fate.
- The Red Skull is currently rumoured to return despite his portrayer Hugo Weaving refuses to reprise the role even though he enjoyed the role.
- He is easily one of the most despicable villains in the MCU along with Daniel Whitehall, John Garrett, Ronan the Accuser and Kilgrave the former of whom worked alongside him as a member of HYDRA.