Johann Schmidt is the former head of HYDRA, the special weapons division of the Nazi Schutzstaffel and a modern-day incarnation of the ancient society. Having become a confidant of Adolf Hitler during World War II, Schmidt gained ambitions to become the superior man, leading him to test the version of Abraham Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum on himself, resulting with him becoming hideously disfigured as well as gaining the name of Red Skull. While he led HYDRA, Red Skull had found the Tesseract which he had believed could help him to control the world. However, Red Skull’s plans were challenged by the Allies’ only super soldier, Captain America, who destroyed the HYDRA facilities. Once Red Skull had launched his offensive, intending to bring the United States down onto its knees, he was intercepted by Captain America and then vanished into a wormhole as he touched the Tesseract with his bare hands.
Red Skull was teleported to Vormir, where he became trapped in a state of purgatory, becoming a Stonekeeper, a wraith advising whoever sought the Soul Stone. After seven decades on Vormir, Red Skull met Thanos and Gamora, as they sought the Soul Stone. Red Skull led them to it and disappeared after Thanos sacrificed Gamora as he claimed his prize. As Thanos had obtained the stone, Red Skull’s curse was broken, and he was free to leave Vormir and pursue his own goals once more. In an alternate timeline created by the Avengers, Black Widow and Hawkeye had both traveled from 2023 to 2014 in order to take the Soul Stone from Vormir. Red Skull witnessed Black Widow sacrifice herself to obtain the Stone for Hawkeye, only for Captain America to then return it following their successful mission, which trapped that version of Red Skull on Vormir.
Obsession with Power
- « What if the old Norse tales Wagner adopts into his operas are more history than myth, Mein Führer? »
- ―Johann Schmidt to Adolf Hitler[src]
Johann Schmidt was born in North Germany as a smart, only child who had eventually became a physicist. Over the years, Schmidt became interested in Norse mythology, developing a theory that Norse Gods and their « magic » could be more than myth. Upon meeting Adolf Hitler, Schmidt intrigued him with his theories, while Heinrich Himmler had recruited Schmidt to the Schutzstaffel. However, Schmidt’s rise in power with Nazi Germany was stalled by Ernst Kaufmann, who then attempted to block Schmidt’s access to Hitler. Unwilling to allow his new position to be challenged, in June 1934, as part of their Night of the Long Knives, Schmidt had then murdered Kaufmann as he managed to seize control over his weapons program.
Head of HYDRA
- « Herr Himmler shares my interest in the old ways. And the Schutzstaffel is more than happy to oblige. »
- ―Johann Schmidt[src]
With Ernst Kaufmann dead, Schmidt continued slaughtering his enemies, attacking the facility in Kummersdorf, where he had recruited Arnim Zola. Eventually, Schmidt rose into the rank of Obergruppenführer, and formed his own branch of the SS, renaming it HYDRA. Schmidt had based HYDRA on an ancient society that worshiped a powerful Inhuman; this past belief being kindred to all Schmidt’s theories. In September 1935, Schmidt learned that Abraham Erskine had attempted to flee Germany with his family. Wanting access to Erskine’s work on the superior man, Schmidt imprisoned his family in a concentration camp, where they eventually died, which Schmidt did not tell 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[src]
In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, thus starting World War II. As the war continued, Schmidt had actively participated in several German conquests, earning several high military decorations, including the Panzer Badge and the Iron Cross First Class, and Schmidt may have also suffered a wound during combat to merit him the Wound Badge which he would wear on his own SS uniform.
In 1940, Schmidt had learned that, at long last, the first, unstable version of Abraham Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum was now finished, which Schmidt had desired for himself. However, despite Schmidt’s orders and even the threat of execution, Erskine refused to hand it over to Schmidt. In the end, Schmidt took the Super Soldier Serum by force and had Erskine imprisoned before ordering that Erskine’s own wife and children were sent into a concentration camp.
Having regained Erskine’s serum as he had intended, Schmidt then traveled onto Castle Kaufmann in the Bavarian Alps, where Schmidt had injected himself with the serum in order to get superpowers. The serum was supposed to make him faster, stronger, and more agile, and Schmidt soon felt all the effects running through his body, as his muscles grew and his mind became clearer, as Schmidt finally became the superior man as he had always intended.
However, the process also came with some painful side effects and rendered Schmidt with a red and horrifically deformed face. Though he adopted a synthetic mask that resembled his former appearance to disguise the deformity, he became known as « Red Skull ». While Erskine then fled and sought refuge in the United States with the help of Peggy Carter, joining with the Strategic Scientific Reserve in order to continue his own research and aid the allies during the war.
As compensation, Adolf Hitler gave Schmidt a new base in the Alps, which became the headquarters of HYDRA, working on 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. Schmidt searched for the Darkhold, but he never managed to find it.
Finding 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? »
« I cannot help you. »
« No. But maybe you can help your village. You must have some friends out there. Some… some little grandchildren perhaps. I have no need for them to die. »
- ―Johann Schmidt and Church Keeper[src]
Schmidt shared in Adolf Hitler’s passion for occult power, although Schmidt’s belief in it proved stronger than Hitler’s as his obsession with understanding his powers grew. Researching in history to find the greatest weapon ever known to mankind, Schmidt learned of the Tesseract, which was lost on Earth having been held in Odin’s Vault. Believing it not to be a myth, Schmidt began searching for it, knowing it would give him the power to defeat both Hitler and the Allies.
In March 1942, following a possible lead as to the current location of their ultimate weapon, Schmidt had led his HYDRA army as they had invaded Tønsberg, Norway, searching for the Tesseract. As they were entering a church with his army led by their Uber Tanks, Schmidt had ordered his men to demolish the door of an ancient church where the Tesseract supposedly was, killing Jan in the process as Schmidt had arrived in his car to investigate the potential site of the Tesseract.
As he had entered the church, Schmidt found his soldiers attempting to open an ancient tomb under the orders from the Lieutenant, while the Church Keeper was being held at gun point on the ground. As he entered, Schmidt addressed the Church Keeper, commenting on how it had taken him a long time to find this church. However, the Church Keeper still bravely refused to submit to them, despite witnessing the death of Jan, insisting that the Tesseract was simply a legend.
When his soldiers attempted to find it for him, Schmidt, after seeing that his soldiers were unable to move the marble coffin’s heavy lid off, then proceeded to shove the lid effortlessly using all the strength he had gained from Abraham Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum. Once the coffin was opened, Schmidt had then found what appeared to be the Tesseract, which was taken from the bones of an ancient soldier. However, Schmidt had deduced this to be a fake and instead calmly smashed the glass cube on the ground without a second thought.
Schmidt noted that while it had been kept on Asgard, the Tesseract was the jewel of Odin’s Vault and was not the sort of item that would be buried inside of a grave, although he remained convinced that the true Tesseract was undoubtedly close to their location, as he began questioning the Church Keeper over this. Unwilling to leave without his prize, Schmidt threatened the Church Keeper with obliterating the village and then potentially killing the church keeper’s entire family.
Fearful of the innocent lives that would be lost if he did not submit to HYDRA, the church keeper had finally relented and indicated to the wall behind them. Looking at this wall, Schmidt commented on how it depicted Yggdrasil and the Nine Realms, before finding a button in the eye on the snake, granting him access to a hidden box. Opening up the box carefully, Schmidt had been amazed to find the Tesseract inside, much to the complete and utter horror of the church keeper.
Looking at the Tesseract, Schmidt asked the church keeper if he had ever seen it, which he denied. Ignoring all the Keeper’s warnings that the Tesseract was not for the eyes of ordinary men, Schmidt was told that he would burn if he had tried to use it. Recalling using the Super Soldier Serum, Schmidt told the man that he already had burned and shot and killed the church keeper before he gave an order to destroy the entire village as he walked away with his greatest weapon.
Containing the Tesseract
- « I have not come all this way for safety, Doctor. »
« What was that? »
« I must congratulate you, Arnim, your designs does not disappoint, though they may require some slight reinforcement. »
« Nothing has changed, it’s stable. Amazing. »
- ―Johann Schmidt and Arnim Zola[src]
Having finally obtained the Tesseract following his years-long search, Schmidt had returned into his HYDRA Headquarters as he gave the artifact to Arnim Zola, his chief scientist, for examination in order to increase HYDRA’s arsenal of weapons with the Tesseract’s incredible power. As they prepared to begin the test to test to see if all its power could be harnessed and stored inside the Tesseract Cradle, Zola had hesitated due to fear of losing control since he was still uncertain of how exactly much power the Tesseract had truly held, due to his limited knowledge of the device, and if his machines would be able to handle it without overloading.
With everything in place, Schmidt then collected the Tesseract from the container he had found it inside in Tønsberg, taking extra care to transfer the Tesseract into Zola’s machine. As the experiment began, Zola’s uncertainty led to him carefully raising the pressure by a small percentage, eventually stabilizing the device at just seventy percent. Schmidt, however, then insisted that he had not come all that way to be cautious and pushed Zola out of the way of the control panel.
Ignoring all of Zola’s warnings, Schmidt then proceeded to overload the machine, causing it to break due to all the Tesseract’s incredible power. Schmidt and Zola watched as the entire room was filled with a strange light as the machine crashed. Although they had believed that the machine broke down due to the high amount of energy, they had then discovered the Tesseract Battery had actually succeeded in capturing just a small dose of the Tesseract’s true power inside it.
Zola then realized that just the very small amount of energy they had captured could power the entire facility and help them build weapons powerful enough to change World War II, allowing the Nazis to defeat the United States of America and claim victory. Seeing this, however, Schmidt had other ideas. He knew that HYDRA now had the power to overthrow Adolf Hitler so Schmidt could then take over full control and rule the world as leader of HYDRA’s ultimate superpower.
Betraying Adolf Hitler
- « While Hitler speaks of a thousand-year Reich, but he cannot feed his army for the month. His troops spill their blood across every field in Europe. But he is still no closer to achieving his goals. »
- ―Johann Schmidt to Roeder[src]
Schmidt, having discovered Abraham Erskine’s location, dispatched his assassin to kill him, informing Arnim Zola of this as Schmidt was in the middle of being painted while unmasked. In America, Erskine then subjected Steve Rogers to the Project Rebirth, transforming him into an incredibly powerful soldier, but Heinz Kruger, Schmidt’s assassin, managed to successfully assassinate Erskine and destroy all of the Allies’ supply of the serum before committing suicide.
When SS officers came to Schmidt’s base under Adolf Hitler’s orders to question him about the progress in developing advanced weapons for the Third Reich, Schmidt then personally showed them around his headquarters. While they explored the facility, Schmidt had listened as Schneider noted Hitler’s displeasure with his actions, noting that he had been given the facility as a reward for Schmidt’s injuries from taking the Super Soldier Serum, although Schmidt called it exile.
While Roeder then complained about Schmidt’s lack of weapons for Hitler’s armies, Schneider commented on Hitler’s dwindling approval of HYDRA as he insulted Schmidt by using his hated nickname, Red Skull. Upon being insulted by these Nazi Officers, Schmidt made his decision to kill them all and cut all ties with their Nazi Party. Taking a breath, Schmidt then invited the group into another room, promising that he would show them exactly what he had been working on.
Bringing them into another room in the facility, Schmidt complained to the officers of how Hitler was talking of the thousand years Reich but was failing to deliver or even protect his own men, commenting on how his men died across Europe and yet Hitler was no closer to winning World War II. As Schmidt set up his equipment, Roeder had mocked him by suggesting Schmidt’s plans were to win the war with his Magic, although Schmidt insisted it would be through science.
While he began to activate his Tesseract-powered weapons, Schmidt had explained how HYDRA was building an arsenal of weapons that would be capable of destroying all his enemies in a matter of hours, although Roeder had then questioned why Schmidt referred to these as only his enemies. As Schmidt then insisted that he had harnessed the power of Asgard, Schneider had called him a madman. However, as Hutter was looking over Schmidt’s map of HYDRA targets, he had then noticed that Berlin had been included. Once Hutter insisted that Schmidt would be brought before Hitler for punishment, Schmidt had reacted by shooting his HYDRA Cannon at Hutter, vaporizing him.
Reacting in horror at Hutter’s demise, Schneider and Roeder tried to flee, as Schmidt then began firing blasts of the Tesseract’s energy at them. Although Schneider tried to avoid some shots, Schmidt then succeeded in vaporizing him, before turning his attention to his final target. Finding him desperately attempting to get through the doors, Schmidt took personal pleasure as Roeder screamed in terror during his final seconds before being completely vaporized into nothing.
At that moment, Schmidt definitely turned his back to Hitler and their Nazi causes since he felt that HYDRA could grow no more in Hitler’s shadow; he then had his men shout « Hail HYDRA! » to show loyalty to him. Arnim Zola was horrified by what he had seen, but still remained loyal to Schmidt and gave a salute. Schmidt smiled upon seeing his men’s unwavering loyalty to him before then calmly walking away to continue in his quest to take complete control of the entire world.
Running the Facility
- « Increase output by sixty percent and see to it our other facilities do the same. »
« But these prisoners, I’m not sure they have the strength. »
« Then use up what strength they have left, Doctor. »
- ―Johann Schmidt and Arnim Zola[src]
With HYDRA having finally become fully self-funded, Schmidt had then explored his Weapons Facility within Austria, where the prisoners of war were still being forced to construct the new weapons that were powered by the Tesseract. Walking through their facility, Schmidt was then informed by Arnim Zola that everything, including the production of the Valkyrie was currently proceeding on schedule.
Despite all of the progress being made by their slave workers being high, Schmidt had then ordered that they increase their workload by an exceptional amount. Although Zola gave his warnings that such an increased workload would likely kill all the men who were already pushed up to the point of complete exhaustion, Schmidt had made it clear that he was not concerned for their wellbeing, noting that if the men died, they could still get more workers to take their place.
Encountering 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! »
- ―Red Skull to Captain America[src]
In November 1943, Schmidt’s Weapons Facility in Austria had been suddenly invaded by Captain America, who had gone there on a one man mission to free his friend, Bucky Barnes, and the other P.O.W.s. being held. As their riot broke out, Schmidt watched the carnage on his monitor as all the prisoners were freed and attacked Schmidt’s forces. Schmidt then watched closely, while Captain America had overpowered all of thier HYDRA soldiers with considerable ease.
Once the huge battle had occurred between all the freed P.O.W.s and Schmidt’s forces, Schmidt saw that the battle was not going his way and had activated the self-destruct procedure throughout the facility. Witnessing this, Arnim Zola desperately attempted to protest, as he did not want his research to be destroyed, only for Schmidt to point to Captain America on all their monitors, as he had simply noted that their own forces were clearly outmatched by this latest enemy.
With only minutes to spare, Zola ran to his lab to collect his research as Schmidt collected the Tesseract. Without touching the immensely powerful item, Schmidt placed it into a briefcase and regrouped with Zola. While they made their way to the exit, the self-destruct on their base was activated and much of their powerful machinery inside the base had began to explode one by one, causing the floor of the base to erupt in unstoppable flames, killing anyone who was left nearby.
While Schmidt and Zola were about to leave while the facility burned around them, they were then confronted by Captain America. Upon seeing him, Schmidt began to mock Captain America, noting that he had seen and enjoyed the many propaganda films he had starred in. Schmidt had then noted his surprise that Abraham Erskine managed to recreate his experiment, although he made it clear he did not view Captain America’s strength as an improvement upon his own.
Ignoring the taunts, Captain America simply punched Schmidt in the face, which damaged his prosthetic mask, as he had then noted that Schmidt had no idea of what he was actually capable of. In order to show Captain America how they were the experiments who had been injected with the Super Soldier Serum, Schmidt noted that he knew what he was capable of, responding by punching at Captain America and made a large dent in his shield, much to his shock and horror.
As Captain America knew exactly what kind of enemy he was facing, the pair then engaged in a brief but highly violent fistfight, as Schmidt managed to knock the Captain America’s gun off the platform before he could try to shoot him. The blow knocked him down while Captain America had then kicked Schmidt across the platform, creating some more distance between them, which caused Zola to separate the pair by pulling the platform back as they got back onto their feet.
While 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 had done to his face. While Captain America and Barnes were stunned by the hideous reveal, Red Skull threw his mask in the fire and told him he was deluded in believing he was a simple soldier since they had left humanity behind and he had embraced this.
As he left the pair to burn, Captain America called out to Red Skull to ask if he was without fear why was he running, but Red Skull ignored the taunt as he had believed they would both be dead soon while he would be able to get away. Red Skull revealed his intention to escape in a one-man Focke-Wulf Triebflügel, but when Zola questioned how he would escape from the base as well, Red Skull reluctantly handed him the keys to his car as he ordered him to drive it from the danger without scratching it, which Zola then agreed to without hesitation as he had secretly always wanted to drive Red Skull’s impressive car.
Red Skull was able to fly his ship out of danger as he regrouped with the forces of HYDRA back at the headquarters. Despite the HYDRA base exploding shortly after their escape, both Captain America and Barnes managed to escape themselves and returned into the United States Armed Forces where they now planned to bring their fight to HYDRA. Knowing that Captain America and the U.S. army were after him, Red Skull then decided to now accelerate all of his plans.
Losing the War
- « You are failing! We are close to an offensive that will shake the planet, yet we are continually delayed because you cannot outwit a simpleton with a shield! »
- ―Red Skull[src]
Unfortunately for Red Skull, before their encounter on the bridge at his facility, Captain America had already managed to memorize the locations of all their HYDRA bases which he saw on a map in Red Skull’s base in Austria. Using this information, Captain America and the Howling Commandos began to take them all down, allowing the Allies to progressively destroy most major HYDRA operations, and preventing Red Skull any chance to move forward with his plans.
Red Skull placed Arnim Zola in command of halting Captain America and his allies’ assaults on HYDRA bases but the scientist was unable to do so, as all of Zola’s latest weaponary, including Uber Tanks and Heavy Assault Rifles, were still no match against Captain America’s team. The more HYDRA facilities that were destroyed as the war had continued, the more deranged Red Skull became, as he was enraged that his soldiers were completely unable to defeat their enemies.
In April 1944, Red Skull was within a castle on an island in the Nazi-occupied Danish Straits. There, he began studying a mystical Viking Runestone. However, Captain America and the Howling Commandos invaded the castle, as Red Skull attempted to destroy them but they survived. Red Skull then explored the ruins of one of his destroyed facilities. Furious, Red Skull screamed at his soldiers and threatened Zola to continue his work before Captain America defeated them.
When Velt appeared and begged for forgiveness for his failures, Red Skull shot him without mercy. At the same time, Red Skull had Zola make nuclear weapons powered by their Tesseract, intending to use them against the mainland of the United States of America, allowing HYDRA to claim victory in the war. In the meantime, Red Skull had ordered Werner Reinhardt to search for ancient artifacts of legendary power Reinhardt’s team was eventually able to find the Obelisk in Portugal. As Reinhardt showed the artifact to his leader, Red Skull claimed that the Obelisk might hold the answers to death itself.
Inspiring HYDRA’s Troops
- « Tomorrow, HYDRA will stand as master of the world, borne to victory on the wings of the Valkyrie. Our enemies’ weapons will be powerless against us. If they shoot down one plane, hundreds more will rain fire upon them! If they cut off one head, two more shall take its place. »
- ―Red Skull to HYDRA[src]
Before Red Skull could complete his schemes, Arnim Zola had been intercepted by Captain America and the Howling Commandos, leading to Zola surrending key information about Red Skull’s plans to the Allies. With Zola captured by the United States Armed Forces and key intel on his plans having been leaked to his enemies, Red Skull was then forced to move his plans forward and had then gathered his army inside the HYDRA Headquarters in order to inspire them before their plans had finally gone into action.
Red Skull then had all the Tesseract-powered nuclear bombs loaded onboard the Valkyrie, ready to be launched against the United States of America. With everything now in place for them to claim their victory in World War II, Red Skull gave his speech to all his soldiers in which he promised they would stand triumphant before repeating the HYDRA motto and watching as all of his soldiers had saluted him, confident that nothing would stand in his way.
Attack on 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[src]
In March 1945, Red Skull was alerted that Captain America had just led a failed one man mission to try and infiltrate the HYDRA Headquarters. Despite having riden into the base on his motorcycle and killing several of their guards, Captain America was eventually surrounded and captured. As the attempted ambush had failed, Red Skull then had the captured Captain America brought to him, mocking his arrogance at attempting this foolish mission, noting the United States of America’s arrogance was astonishing.
Red Skull noted that there were limits to even what Captain America could do, as he questioned if Abraham Erskine had actually told him otherwise when he had injected him with the Super Soldier Serum. In response, Captain America noted that Erskine had told him that Red Skull was insane, to which Red Skull noted that Erskine had resented his genius and also tried to deny him what was rightfully his. Looking at his enemy, Red Skull asked why Erskine gave him the serum.
As Red Skull questioned what had made Captain America so special that Erskine gave him their serum, he responded by claiming that he was just a kid from Brooklyn and that there was not anything special about him. This answer enraged Red Skull, who proceeded to punch twice Captain America in the face, before knocking him down to his knees with a punch to the gut. However, Captain America then swiftly regained his breath, before insisting that he could do this all day.
Having grown tired of his enemy, Red Skull noted that while Captain America could keep going all day, he was on a tight schedule, as he drew his HYDRA Pistol, preparing to vaporize Captain America once and for all. However, hearing the sounds of the zip-lines striking the outside of their base, Red Skull looked up and saw that the Howling Commandos, led by Dum Dum Dugan, were now launching a second ambush. Before Red Skull could execute Captain America, he moved a HYDRA guard in the way of the shot, just as the Commandos burst in the room and opened fire, forcing Red Skull to make his escape.
As Red Skull escaped, he then witnessed Chester Phillips and Peggy Carter charging into the base with more soldiers, Red Skull picked up his Tesseract-powered gun and used it to then kill several American soldiers before the overwhelming forces pushed him back. Red Skull stayed ahead of Captain America and fired several shots at him, all of which were deflected on his shield. As Red Skull’s soldiers then held Captain America back, Red Skull ran onto the Valkyrie to escape.
Battle in the Valkyrie
- « 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 my future! »
- ―Red Skull and Captain America[src]
Once Red Skull had retreated onto the Valkyrie, he had then locked away the Tesseract and prepared to finally initiate his attack on the United States of America. During the plane’s launch, Red Skull noticed that Chester Phillips and Peggy Carter had taken his car and were chasing him across the runway, allowing Captain America to then get onboard the Valkyrie just moments before they had taken off.
Having taken out his guards, Captain America climbed on the outside of a HYDRA Parasit and threw out the pilot before taking control of it himself. Red Skull had tried and failed to shoot him out of the sky but Captain America managed to avoid these shots before crash landing the bomb back into the plane; he got out and made his way into the cockpit where he then confronted Red Skull. However, refusing to be defeated, Red Skull had prepared himself to kill his greatest enemy.
As Captain America explored the cockpit, Red Skull waited for him to walk carefully over to the plane’s controls before he had attempted to shoot him in the back with an Assault Weapon. However, as Captain America heard the gun charging up and was able to deflect the shot just in time. As one of the plane’s windows had been shattered from the blast, a frustrated Red Skull had then mocked Captain America’s constant refusal to give up, which Captain America admitted.
Facing each other, Captain America then charged at Red Skull, as he had continued attempting to shoot him, only for Captain America to block the shots and disarm him. They engaged in a fistfight with Red Skull gaining the upper hand by taking Captain America’s shield and striking him with it, proving himself to match his enemy’s strength. As he landed several body hits due to all his previous excessive combat experience as he furiously attempted to defeat Captain America.
However, Although Red Skull managed to pin Captain America back with his shield, his enemy had then managed to push Red Skull away from him, launching him backwards and straight into the controls of the Valkyrie, causing some considerable damage. When the pair had crashed into the controls, their plane spiraled out of control and the pair continued to fight while they were thrown across the room in mid air, with Red Skull able to kick Captain America across the plane.
Red Skull managed to set the ship back onto its course after he and Captain America were separated. Red Skull also managed to reach his HYDRA Pistol which he fired at Captain America who took cover, while he attempted to reclaim his shield. As the Red Skull continued firing his gun at the super-soldier, he had begun mocking him that he could have the power of the gods, as he claiming that HYDRA would create their future without any flags, and that HYDRA would rule.
Captain America defiantly told Red Skull this would not be his future and managed to avoid his continued shots before he threw his shield at Red Skull with great force, knocking him back and also damaging the Tesseract Cradle which had contained the Tesseract. In the panic of that moment, Red Skull grabbed the Tesseract, which reactivated itself. Red Skull could only scream in pain and rage while he saw the flesh from his hand burning away, once the Tesseract had opened up a wormhole into the cosmos and transported Red Skull away.
- « To ensure that whoever possesses it understands its power, the stone demands a sacrifice. »
« Of what? »
« In order to take the stone, you must lose that which you love. »
- ―Red Skull and Thanos[src]
Red Skull found himself teleported into Vormir, the home of the Soul Stone, punished for abusing the Space Stone’s power. Red Skull was cursed into becoming the guardian of the Soul Stone for over seven decades, rendering him unable to leave the planet throughout these years, only able to advise those who came onto the planet seeking the Soul Stone. Condemned to Vormir for so many decades, Red Skull had eventually accepted his fate as the guardian, seeing himself as the shadow of his former self.
In 2018, when Thanos and his adoptive daughter Gamora had arrived at Vormir during his crusade to balance their universe, they were both welcomed by Red Skull, who knew of their true identities, referring to Thanos as the son of A’Lars, and Gamora as the daughter of Thanos. As Thanos requested the Stone, Red Skull noted that its extraction came at a terrible price. While Thanos had deemed himself prepared, Red Skull expressed that nobody seeking the Soul Stone ever truly was.
Escorting his guests up the mountainside, Red Skull was asked how he had ever gained such a knowledge of the Infinity Stones, as Red Skull had then explained how, many decades earlier, he held one of the stones and then it cast him out into Vormir, forcing him to guard the Soul Stone until somebody was strong enough to take it. As they looked over the mountain edge, Red Skull explained that to take the Soul Stone, Thanos was required to sacrifice someone he loved.
As Gamora insinuated that Thanos loved nobody in his life, he began to cry, as she started laughing as Red Skull watched on, noting that Thanos was not crying for him. Thanos subdued Gamora as she tried to commit suicide with her Switchblade as he threw her off the cliff to her demise, with Red Skull emotionless. With Gamora dead, Thanos gained the Stone for his Infinity Gauntlet, before departing for Titan in order to complete his true goal of causing the Snap with the power of the Stones. Red Skull’s curse was broken, finally liberating him.
- « Consider me a guide. To you, and to all who seek the Soul Stone. »
« Oh, good. You tell us where it is. Then we’ll be on our way. »
« Ah, liebchen. If only it were that easy. What you seek lies in front of you… as does what you fear. »
- ―Red Skull and Black Widow[src]
In an alternative 2014, Red Skull was visited by Black Widow as well as Hawkeye, who had traveled from 2023 in their attempt to undo the actions of Thanos. Greeting the pair, Red Skull noted his knowledge of their parent’s names, and explaining that he would be their guide. As Black Widow demanded to be taken to the Soul Stone so they could leave, Red Skull had noted that it would not be so easy.
Leading them towards the cliffside of Vormir’s temple, Red Skull had then explained that the Stone was at the bottom of the cliff, and told them of the need for a sacrifice of something that they loved in order to obtain the stone, noting that this sacrifice would be an everlasting exchange. Black Widow and Hawkeye did not come to a decision on what to do, as they sat and pondered the ramifications of a sacrifice, with Hawkeye awkwardly waving at Red Skull as they thought.
As Red Skull watched on, both Black Widow and Hawkeye decided to sacrifice themselves for the Stone, leading to them attempting to subdue each other with all their weaponry, until Black Widow was finally able to throw herself to her death, allowing Hawkeye to obtain the Soul Stone. However, before Red Skull was able to be freed from his curse, Captain America returned the Stone following the Battle of Earth, leaving this version of Red Skull trapped on Vormir.
Johann Schmidt is a megalomaniac and egocentric genius who firmly believed in the Nazi Party’s long-standing misinterpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch, over-man, a concept where a race of superhuman beings are destined to rule the normal ones. Believing himself to be such a man, he used any means necessary to obtain a central position in Adolf Hitler’s army, until his conceit made him arrive at the point of believing himself to be greater than Hitler, and 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 has yet to be made. Also, Schmidt did not personally care to follow the Nazis’ infamous holocaust plan against the Jewish race, although he nonetheless used it as a threat against Abraham Erskine to force him to make the Super Soldier Serum.
Schmidt was pitiless and cruel, but also a scientific genius, who was able to see beyond appearances and managed to see the truth behind myths believed to be superstition, which was, in reality, fragments of Asgardian origin. While he did believe in myths and arcane mystics, he didn’t view them in a religious or superstitious manner but instead saw them as a form of science to be studied and used for their own purposes, as he stated to the Church Keeper from Tønsberg, Norway.
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 HYDRA Headquarters in the Alps because he no longer shares Hitler’s image of Aryan perfection. In addition, despite otherwise being proud of leaving humanity far behind to the extent of openly stating that he embraces this without fear, he nonetheless gets angry when reminded of the deformities inflicted by the super serum prototype, especially in an insulting manner, as evidenced by his reaction to Schroeder’s reference to him as the « Red Skull. » 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 of Berlin, Schmidt became a cold-blooded killer who would do anything to accomplish his goals. Even his subordinate officers had reasons to fear him as Schmidt had an extremely low tolerance of failure: If they didn’t do their job right, death was the only penalty he would give to those who failed him.
After becoming the Stonekeeper on Vormir, Schmidt became much more humble and reserved after years of being unable to take the Soul Stone for himself, to the point of accepting his deserved fate as the guardian of the Soul Stone. As a result of his omniscience, immortality, and wisdom of the Infinity Stones, which he acquired from the Soul and Space Stones respectively, Schmidt has become deeply indifferent towards mortal matters as can be seen with his attitude towards Thanos and Gamora, not caring what happened to either one. He doesn’t even care if the Soul Stone is taken though considering that Thanos met the conditions to acquire it, he obviously saw him as worthy of its power. Schmidt was shown to no longer be the person he had been in 1945 somewhat: he had now become more like a ghost, a shadow of his former self only existing to guard the stone as his past conscious might or might not exist anymore. It is implied that when Steve Rogers returned the Soul Stone, Schmidt did not show any hostility towards his former arch-nemesis. Despite this, Schmidt still retains memories of his former life, exemplified by telling Thanos and Gamora of his own quest for the stones and his banishment to Vormir by the Tesseract and despite his passiveness, he appears to still hold disdain for being unable to possess the Soul Stone for himself.
Powers and Abilities
- « 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[src]
- 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. In addition, his intelligence was also increased, allowing him to become a mastermind of warfare. Like Captain America, Schmidt’s physiology has been enhanced beyond the peak of human potential, pushing into the early levels of superhuman condition, leading him to refer to himself as « Erskine’s greatest success. »
- Enhanced Intelligence: Schmidt’s intelligence is enhanced to peak performance. He’s shown himself to be a formidable researcher and scientist, being able to distinguish truth from myths concerning ancient and powerful relics. Schmidt’s investigations led to the discovery of the Tesseract and the Runestone, and with his genius invented ways to harness their power and enhance his weapons of mass destruction. The only mythical object he wasn’t able to find was the Darkhold. He was also smart enough to quickly deduce that the « Tesseract » inside the coffin was actually a decoy, though it was nonetheless in fairly close proximity. 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 serum has also amplified those character traits. As a Stonekeeper, he became more intelligent to a cosmic level.
- Enhanced Strength:
Schmidt’s strength was enhanced to an early level of superhuman potential. 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, and 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 hurting Captain America, despite his similar super soldier enhanced body.
- Enhanced Durability: While fighting Captain America, Schmidt was shown to be able to quickly recover from blows received from his opponent. He can also survive in the cold climates of Vormir.
- Enhanced Speed: The Super Soldier Serum gave Schmidt enhanced speed, allowing him to land punches on the also enhanced Captain America before his reflexes could respond.
- Enhanced 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 from a distance, Schmidt has been known to lunge great distances at a stunned Captain America when the opportunity arises.
- Enhanced Stamina: Schmidt is more resilient to fatigue and exhaustion, allowing him to fight and exert himself for long periods without strain or weakness, even when Captain America 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.
- Immortality: Upon becoming a Stonekeeper, Schmidt gained immortality. In his stay on Vormir, Schmidt claimed to have lived over a lifetime, looking the same as he did in 1945. Schmidt has lived as the Stonekeeper for a very long time on an abandoned realm without any form of additional sustenance.
- Levitation: As a Stonekeeper, Schmidt possessed the power of levitation, hovering above the ground while greeting Thanos and Gamora.
- Omniscience: As a Stonekeeper, Schmidt can gain insight into anyone who seeks the Soul Stone. He was able to know Black Widow’s father’s name, even though she was unaware of it herself. He also knows every necessary and trivial fact about the Infinity Stones.
- « Great power has always baffled primitive men. »
- ―Red Skull[src]
- 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. Many of which had successful outcomes. Being the head of HYDRA, he usually is most suited for combat. Both with the HYDRA division and as a single man going toe to toe with Captain America. Schmidt 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 Marksman: Schmidt was an expert marksman, being able to use many of the weaponry engineered by HYDRA, and was especially skilled with his German sidearm. He shot and killed the Church Keeper with a single round.
- Expert Combatant: Schmidt was very proficient in unarmed combat. He was able to go toe-to-toe with Captain America and briefly gained the upper hand.
- Master Scientist: Acknowledged by Erskine himself as a brilliant scientist, Schmidt was put by Hitler in charge of the Nazi science division HYDRA-Abteilung. Schmidt used his scientific talents and knowledge of the occult to research the Tesseract and, though others considered it a 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.
- Bilingualism: He speaks his native German and he is also fluent in English, albeit with a German accent.
- « My weapons contain enough destructive power to decimate every hostile capital on Earth. »
- ―Red Skull to Roeder[src]
- 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.
- Arnimhilation 99L Assault Weapon: During the Attack on HYDRA Headquarters, Schmidt witnessed the Allied forces blasting open the main doors, killing his men. To defend himself, Schmidt picked up a Tesseract powered Assault Weapon and killed several soldiers as they entered before he was forced to escape.
- HYDRA Cannon: Having become annoyed at the insults leveled at him by Adolf Hitler’s officers, Schmidt activated a Cannon powered by the Tesseract and killed Roeder along with Schneider and Hutter.
- Uniform: Before and during the first years of World War II, Schmidt used an official black SS uniform, wearing the rank insignia of Obergruppenführer. 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.
- Prosthetic Mask: Following his disfigurement due to taking an early version of the Super Soldier Serum, Schmidt attempted to hide his hideous burns underneath a Prosthetic Mask which had resembled his true face before the disfigurement. During his first encounter with Captain America, Schmidt’s mask was damaged from being punched in the face, leading to him then ripping it off and throwing the mask into a fire.
- Tesseract: Seeking the ultimate power to help HYDRA claim their victory in World War II and then take control of the world, Schmidt sought and eventually found the Tesseract. With the assistance of Arnim Zola, Schmidt discovered how to transfer the incredible amounts of energy that was held inside of the Tesseract into their HYDRA weaponry, giving them strength far beyond that of their enemies. Schmidt had intended to use the Tesseract to cause mass destruction, but during his final clash against Captain America, the Tesseract had become exposed and, as Schmidt picked it up to examine it, the power of the Tesseract shot him through space to Vormir, where he remained trapped for decades.
- Soul Stone: Having been trapped on Vormir, Schmidt was tasked with safeguarding the Soul Stone, while learning the wisdom held within it which had allowed Schmidt to know of any individual coming to try and claim it. Schmidt taught Thanos and Gamora what they needed to do to claim the Infinity Stone and then watched emotionless as Thanos chose to sacrifice his own daughter to take the Stone for himself.
- Coupe: Schmidt’s personal vehicle is a Coupe, which he had proceeded to drive to several various locations during World War II, including to Norway where Schmidt had finally managed to track down the Tesseract. Schmidt once allowed Arnim Zola to hide the Coupe to escape certain death, before driving the Coupe to the HYDRA facilities which were all being destroyed one by one by Captain America and his allies. For Schmidt, even this seeming act of generosity had its ulterior motive: he was not only allowing his most valued scientist to escape, but Zola would also be delivering his car to him in the process.
- Focke-Wulf Triebflügel: During his escape from the Austrian HYDRA Weapons Facility, Schmidt used his private rocket plane to get away before he could be captured by Captain America and the Allies.
- « HYDRA will stand master of the world. Borne to victory on the wings of the Valkyrie. »
- ―Red Skull[src]
- Valkyrie: For his final scheme, Schmidt personally flew his advanced bomber plane armed with HYDRA Parasits which would bomb the United States of America. However, before he could complete his plan, Captain America confronted Schmidt and he was forced to abandon the controls to fight against the Captain, resulting in Schmidt being teleported to Vormir.
- « You serve at his pleasure. He gave you this facility as a reward for your injuries. »
- ―Schneider to Johann Schmidt[src]
- HYDRA Headquarters: Schmidt was presented with the facility in Austrian Alps as a small reward for his injuries. Schmidt then turned the facility into the headquarters of HYDRA. In the base, HYDRA’s best scientists, such as Arnim Zola, worked on developing new weapons for the Third Reich, however, Schmidt saw his new post more as an exile than the reward. At the headquarters, Schmidt presented the Tesseract who used it to charge his inventions and design the most powerful weapons for HYDRA. Eventually, the headquarters was assaulted by United States Army, led by Chester Phillips and Captain America. As all HYDRA soldiers were defeated and the army took control over the base, Schmidt decided to board the Valkyrie to destroy his targets.
- Austrian HYDRA Weapons Facility: Schmidt established the weapons facility in Austria where the prisoners of war, captured by HYDRA, were forced to construct the equipment for them. The facility was raided by Steve Rogers who managed to free the 107th Infantry Regiment that were captured after Battle of Azzano and started a riot at the facility. While the US soldiers were destroying HYDRA equipment, Rogers faced Schmidt himself. Later, Schmidt ordered the self-destruction of the facility, as he did not want to allow Allies to take it.
- Castle Rock Tower: Upon learning about the existence of the Tesseract in a Norwegian church in Tønsberg, Schmidt launched an invasion on the church before he destroyed everything and everyone in the surrounding village.
Behind the Scenes
- Red Skull in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the second live-action incarnation of the character, following an incarnation portrayed by Scott Paulin.
- Weaving’s « Red Skull » mask in the film was a latex mask conceived by prosthetic makeup designer David White. The visual effects team had to manipulate his face considerably, as the mask was bulky and they wanted to make it look like tight skin wrapped around a very bony structure. They thinned out Weaving’s cheeks and lower lip, hollowed out his eyes and removed his eyelashes and nose to make him appear more like the Red Skull.
- When he finds the Tesseract, Johann Schmidt says: « And the Führer digs for trinkets in the desert. » That could be a reference to the Indiana Jones film series where Hitler sends his men to search for the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail in the deserts of Africa and the Middle-East. This is likely since Kevin Feige, the producer, stated they took inspiration from Raiders of the Lost Ark because they hoped the film would not feel like a period piece. Also, Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment before production began, with Disney now being the owner of the Indiana Jones franchise as part of the company purchasing Lucasfilm in 2013. Joe Johnston, director of Captain America: The First Avenger, won an Academy Award for his work as a Visual Effects Artists in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- In Zak Penn’s draft for The Avengers movie during early discussion, the Red Skull was featured as the main villain alongside Loki, who was always intended to be the main villain. Red Skull’s inclusion was eventually dropped to make way for Thanos.
- Hugo Weaving has stated that even though he enjoyed playing the Red Skull, he would rather not return for future installments. In November 2014, he retracted the statement, saying he was not sure whether or not he would be reprising his role of Red Skull in Captain America: Civil War, despite previously stating he was unsure about returning to fulfill the rest of the films in his contract. With the release of the film in 2016, Weaving has said that while he enjoyed making the first film and it could be fun to reinvigorate the character; his views have not changed in regards to reprising the role. However, he went on to say that he would never say never, and circumstances could indeed change. However, when Anthony and Joe Russo asked him about reprising the role in Avengers: Infinity War, Weaving considered it before politely declining, leading Ross Marquand to be recast as the Red Skull. According to Weaving, the reason for which he declined to reprise the role was because he was offered much less money than when he played Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger, which is something that went against the contract he initially signed.
- When Ross Marquand was cast as the Red Skull in Avengers: Infinity War, he was asked to give a « new flavor » to the iconic role Hugo Weaving previously portrayed seven years ago while the Russo Brothers asked him to give a « ghost-like quality » to Red Skull’s voice as he had changed from the last time he was seen. Taking this direction, it took Marquand around ten days to perfect the voice, which he felt that melded Weaving’s iconic portrayal of Agent Smith in The Matrix with the German accent he used for the Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger. However, Marquand was never actually on set with the other actors; Red Skull was created through CGI and portrayed with stand-ins.
- While developing the story for Avengers: Endgame, Christopher Markus considered to have Captain America going to Vormir to meet again the Red Skull there, forcing them to collaborate together so the former could obtain the Soul Stone. While the idea was dropped early in development, Joe Russo confirmed that Captain America did meet the Red Skull again when he gave the Soul Stone back to Vormir before returning to the alternate 1940s to live out his retirement, albeit offscreen.
- Rick English was a stunt double for Hugo Weaving and Regis Harrington was a stunt double for Ross Marquand in the role of Red Skull.
- Red Skull is one of the few characters who are played by different actors in different films. The others are James Rhodes, Howard Stark, Bruce Banner, Fandral, and Thanos.