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Red Skull (Captain America enemy) (Marvel Comics) black Nazi uniform SS

Red Skull

(Johann Shmidt)


Context

The Red Skull was originally an early, throwaway American opponent to Captain America. However, something resonated about him and he was soon reinvented. The initial Red Skull was retconned  as having been a ringer.

As Captain America’s arch-enemy, the Red Skull has come to embody the comic book Nazi mastermind. When Cap returned to publication during the 1960s, the Red Skull soon followed and became the archetype of the surviving Nazi plotting to establish a Fourth Reich.

Much like Cap is a A-list, leading hero despite being *technically* not superhuman, the Red Skull can be a A-list villain as he has a knack for deploying uncanny resources and technology. Gradually, he became more than a symbol of Nazism, and pretty much a symbol for capital-E Evil.


Background

  • Real Name: Johann Shmidt
  • Note: Not the lack of a “c” in his last name. That trips everyone up.
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Known Relatives: Mother Superior (daughter)
  • Group Affiliation: None (formerly The Third Reich)
  • Base Of Operations: Varies
  • Height: 6’2” Weight: 240 lbs
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: None (formerly Blond)


Powers and Abilities

The Red Skull is a highly-trained combatant and master of several scientific disciplines, most notably biochemistry and robotics.

He is also highly adept at manipulating others to do his bidding, often having a cult of followers or numerous allies assisting him in his operations. Indeed, many people are awestruck by the intensity of the Red Skull’s presence, even those with considerable presence themselves (such as Adolph Hitler, Captain America, and Crossbones).

Since his personality transfer upon the death of his original body, the Red Skull has occupied a body cloned from Steven Rogers, the original Captain America. He enjoys the benefits derived from that body’s Super-Soldier Serum enhancement.

Despite his increased physical prowess, his physical skills haven’t shown any improvement. This is most likely due to the Skull’s arrogance — why waste time training when he already occupies a “perfect Aryan” body ?


History

The Red Skull’s story began in blood. Johann Shmidt was born in a small German town not long after the end of the first World War. Johann’s mother died giving birth to him.

His abusive father, furious that his wife had “escaped” him, tried drowning Johann in a basin in retaliation, only being stopped by the intervention of the delivering doctor. His father killed himself days later.

The Red Skull in a leather trenchcoat with the Cosmic Cube

Johann became a ward of the state, suffering the abuse of his peers. He grew into a bitter sociopathic vagrant, drifting from place to place and committing the occasional murder. He eventually became a bellhop at a fine hotel. There he frequently served members of the Nazi Party and found inspiration in their ideology.

One day Johann had the privilege of serving Adolf Hitler as the Führer was dressing down a Gestapo chief. Hitler made an off-hand comment that he could teach “this bellhop” to do a better job and makes momentary eye contact with Johann… only to become captivated by the hatred he sees within Shmidt.

Führerprinzip

Hitler decided in that moment to make Johann Shmidt the symbol of Nazism. Over the next few months trained him to his fullest capacity. Together, they create a new identity to inspire their fellow Nazis. And so the Red Skull was born.

Steven Rogers was given the identity of Captain America in part to counter the propaganda of the Red Skull. They would battle repeatedly during WWII, until a final battle in an underground bunker ended with the bunker’s destruction and the apparent death of the Red Skull.

The Red Skull had in fact not perished, but was instead placed in suspended animation by accidental exposure to an experimental gas held in the bunker.

The Skull remained in ageless suspension for decades. Eventually, members of the terrorist group Advanced Idea Mechanics came across his body and revived him. The Red Skull repaid his saviors by stealing their masterpiece creation, the Cosmic Cube. He made a bid for world domination using the Cube.

This was foiled by the actions of his old foe, Captain America. Cap had also been recently revived from his own suspended animation in the Arctic Sea. The Red Skull and Captain America would again clash repeatedly over the next few years.

Unending war

During this time the Red Skull would father a daughter. He had her trained by special tutors and artificially aged to serve as his henchwoman, Mother Superior. The Red Skull also battled several other would-be conquerors during this time, including the Kingpin and Doctor Doom.

The Red Skull holds the Cosmic Cube

The stalemate between the Red Skull and Captain America then came to an abrupt end. The effects of the experimental gas Shmidt had been exposed to in his WWII cairn wore off. He began aging rapidly until his body had reached its chronological age. He decided he wanted to die in a last glorious battle.

He kidnapped Steven Rogers’ friends and then captured Captain America. He artificially aged Steven Rogers, poisoned himself and Rogers, and told Steven that he had killed all of his friends (which turned out to be a lie).

The two battled, but the Captain refused to kill the Red Skull at the very end. The Red Skull died in Captain America’s arms, and the Captain was cured by Black Crow.

Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men

Unknown to either Captain America or the Red Skull, the Nazi geneticist Arnim Zola had prepared a cloned body of Steven Rogers. The Skull’s psyche was transferred into it upon death.

The Red Skull was inspired by his transfer to this new “Aryan” body. Among other things, it gave the Skull the physical equality to his enemy that he had lacked before. He felt his newly-acquired physical celerity along with his intellect and hatred would now make him Captain America’s superior.

The Red Skull was also inspired to change his tactics. He settled upon a more subtle approach, establishing himself as the businessman John Smith, dedicating himself to destabilizing the United States from within, using its own capitalist structures.

In addition to his legitimate business holdings, he manipulated numerous groups within the U.S. Government as well as illegal terrorist groups, whether by infiltrating agents or by actually establishing them himself in secret.

For the womb of the vile beast is still fertile

Despite the change in tactics, his drive was still the same : the destruction of the American way of life in general and Captain America in particular while moving toward world domination.

In the guise of John Smith, he actually encouraged the Committee of Superhuman Activities to temporarily revoke Steven Roger’s right to wear the Captain America uniform. He had him replaced by John Walker, a rival with psychological problems.

Walker’s problems were horribly aggravated by the murder of his parents by the Watchdogs – a terrorist group secretly controlled by the Red Skull. Soon after went on repeated rampages.

The Red Skull in his briefs, delivering a jump kick

Meanwhile, Steven Rogers had taken the identity of The Captain, uncovered the conspiracy, and stopped Walker. During a final face-to face confrontation with Rogers, an attempt by the Skull to poison him with the Red Dust backfired. It left Schmidt’s visage permanently warped into the Red Skull that was his namesake.

Why the Skull survived the poisonous Red Dust is unknown. If he had taken the precaution of an antidote he wouldn’t have been mutilated either. It is likely that he prepared a modified non-lethal version of the Dust, hoping for the ultimate irony of Rogers being turned to a Red Skull even as Schmidt wore Rogers’ face.

The 1990s

The Red Skull escaped. He subsequently employed his new agent Crossbones in an attempt to secure the Bloodstone. His hope was that its regenerative properties could restore his original healthy appearance. This attempt was a failure, as was the Skull’s attempted takeover of the New York City drug market.

The Red Skull’s new identity became known to the German authorities, and Hauptmann Deutschland led a group of German superheroes in the capture of the Red Skull. The Skull was freed by Crossbones and the Skeleton Crew before the German authorities could execute him.

Arnim Zola’s fortresses had been raided during this time. The cloning and personality transference facilities in those places were destroyed. This once more rendered the Skull vulnerable to death.

After these events, the Red Skull eventually went back to his old modus operandi. He made two attempts to take over the world by means of the Cosmic Cube, both times being foiled by Captain America.


Description

For most of his career the Red Skull was a nondistinct Aryan and always wore some form of paramilitary uniform (usually with Nazi motifs) and a full-head mask of a red skull. He often had a smoking cigarette in a cigarette-holder as an affectation (as well as a transmission vehicle for his Red Dust).

After he was cloned he was an exact physical duplicate of Steven Rogers, the original Captain America. Sometime after the cloning, Schmidt was exposed to the Red Dust and though he was not killed his head still withered down to a red skull as with most victims of the Dust.

During this time he worked as a businessman and wore dark suits appropriate to that role. Now that he is engaged in more traditional activities (for him), he is back to the traditional paramilitary uniforms.


Personality

The Red Skull is a vengeful man dedicated to the acquisition of power and the destruction “the American Way of Life,” particularly its symbol, Captain America.

His obsession with Captain America is shown most painfully by his use of the Cosmic Cube. He had in his possession an artifact capable of reshaping reality at his whim and he used mostly to play mind games with Captain America.

For a time he even adopted the capitalist aspects of America to destroy it from within, taking the guise of a businessman. But he went back to his typical modus operandi as a super-Nazi.

The Skull is also a master manipulator with a penchant for inspiring fanatical followers and a preference for maneuvering others into doing his work for him. However he has no qualms about getting personally involved when necessary.

His schemes are frequently multi-layered and mired in deceptions and falsehoods targeting the psychological weak points of his intended victims. For example, the Red Skull’s secret manipulation of the Falcon capitalized on Captain America’s hopes for finding a partner with beliefs and goals common to his own.


Quotes

“An exhilarating way to start the day, the taking of a handful of lives !”


DC Universe History

As discussed in Captain America’s write-up, the Ultra-Humanite is the secret sponsor of the United State’s Project Rebirth, which created the Super-Soldier Serum that enhanced Steven Rogers. After the Red Skull was recruited by Adolf Hitler, he often worked closely with the Ultra-Humanite, pooling their scientific knowledge.

The Red Skull and the Exiles spy on Captain America and Sharon Carter

His final WWII battle with Captain America took place in the Ultra-Humanite’s underground headquarters in Berlin. Steven Rogers and Bucky had come pursuing leads regarding the Ultra-Humanite’s involvement in Project Rebirth.

During the battle the bunker was destroyed and the Red Skull trapped within. He fell into suspended animation after exposure to an experimental life-prolonging gas with which the Ultra-Humanite was experimenting.

The Captain and Bucky continued their pursuit of the Ultra-Humanite on a plane secretly bound for America. This resulted in Bucky’s death and Captain America being thrown into suspended animation himself after immersion in the Arctic Sea.

The Red Skull was revived by agents of Kobra in the modern era. He turned upon his savior, actually convincing a portion of Kobra’s Kult to splinter off and join him. The rest of his history occurred as described above.

The modern-era DCU doesn’t have much in the way of Nazi supervillains, so the Red Skull could fill that niche, but his adoption of the John Smith “CEO” persona has much better potential in terms of insidious plotting.

I suppose an enterprising GM with a lot of power-gamers could even have the Skull secretly funding the PCs’ organization, with the eventual revelation that he funded them in the hopes that their out-of-control antics would tarnish the reputation of the USA and its superheroes (which is basically what he tried to accomplish by engineering Steven Rogers’ replacement as Captain America by John Walker, a much more reckless and violent man).

Such a revelation might actually get said players to consider how they’re playing their characters (we can only hope).


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Red Skull

Dex: 09 Str: 06 Bod: 06 Motivation: Psychopath/Power Lust
Int: 12 Wil: 10 Min: 08 Occupation: Manipulator
Inf: 10 Aur: 08 Spi: 10 Resources {or Wealth}: 21
Init: 035 HP: 120

Powers:
Suspension: 15

Bonuses and Limitations:
Suspension is Uncontrollable and is Automatically Activated when the Red Skull’s Current BODY drops to 0 or below due to damage from cold (-2CS).

Skills:
Acrobatics: 06, Charisma: 11, Gadgetry: 12, Martial Artist: 08, Scientist: 10, Vehicles: 08, Weaponry: 08

Advantages:
Expansive Headquarters (various locations around the world), Genius, Intensive Training, Lightning Reflexes, Scholar (Biochemistry, Robotics), Security Clearance (High), Slowed Aging

Connections:
Nazi War Criminals (High)

Drawbacks:
CIH (Captain America), Serious Rage, Strange Appearance (after his first encounter with Steven Rogers since his resurrection)

Equipment:

  • Red Dust of Death [Chameleon: 04, Chemical Attack: 12, Limitations: Chameleon only changes the victim’s head into a red skull if the character takes RAPs from Chemical Attack, Chemical Attack is Lethal]
  • BODY ARMOR and SKULL MASK [/BODY/ 06, Sealed Systems (Gas Only): 06. The Red Skull often wore personal body armor hidden under his costume]
  • 6 AP C Omni-Gadget
  • Numerous robots including the Sleepers (automatons constructed by Nazi Germany to be used in the event of an Axis defeat) and some LMDs (Life-Model Decoys)
  • The Red Skull has also been in possession of the Cosmic Cube on numerous occasions. The Cube can be modeled with a BODY 06, Shrinking: 8 (Always On and figured into Body — it fits easily in the palm of one’s hand), and either Omni-Power or Illusion at 35 APs with the Area Effect Bonus and no HP cost if using Omni-Power.
    Jackson also suggested the AP level may be double-linked to Will, which would explain why Thanos created much greater effects with the Cube (admittedly, Thanos also thinks in larger terms than the Skull).

Original body Red Skull

Prior to having his mind transferred to the body cloned from Steven Rogers, the Red Skull had DEX 08 STR 04 BODY 05, Initiative 32, no Powers, no Acrobatics, and no Lightning Reflexes or Slowed Aging.

After his revival from suspended animation, the exposure to the experimental gas had given his original body Slowed Aging, but this effect eventually expired and he aged rapidly to match his actual chronological age shortly before his original body’s death.

Between the time of his revival in the modern era and his assumption of the role of businessman after his resurrection, he only had Resources: 18.

By Roy Cowan

Source of Character: Captain America comic series (Marvel Comics)

Helper(s): Jackson, Paul “Z” Ewande, plus the entire list for the Cosmic Cube stats.

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