Comicbook / Red Skull

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"When it comes to bad, the Red Skull is in a class all by himself."

His eyes, unfathomably empty, devoid of all compassion... all humanity... No one has eyes like that... no one! All these months I've lived in a fool's paradise, refusing to believe his claim to be the real Red Skull, refusing to believe that my greatest enemy had found a way to cheat death... but he has. The Red Skull lives... God help us all.

The Arch-Enemy of Captain America and one of the oldest villains in comics, and widely regarded as one of the most despicable. Right-hand man of Adolf Hitler in the Marvel Universe, HYDRA brought him Back from the Dead to plague the world once again. There have been at least three major versions of the Skull. George Maxon, the first Red Skull first appeared in "Captain America Comics" #1 (March, 1941). The most (in)famous Red Skull, Johann Schmidt, first appeared in "Captain America Comics" #7 (October, 1941). The third Red Skull, Albert Malik first appeared in "Captain America Comics" #61 (March, 1947). Malik was established as the Communist Red Skull in "Young Men" #24 (December, 1953). Schmidt was revived in "Tales of Suspense" #79 (July, 1966).

The established origin of the better known Skull is relatively complex. He was born as Johann Schmidt in a small German village, probably sometime in the 1910s. The Skull's mother Martha died giving birth to him, causing his drunken lout of a father to try and drown him, saying that the infant had murdered his wife. A doctor managed to prevent him from killing his newborn son, but the angry father went on to commit suicide. Growing up alone, the rise of the Nazis backdropping his life, young Schmidt eventually found himself living a hard life on the streets. All while nursing a growing anger and frustration towards the rest of the world. As an older teen, Schmidt managed to get a job as a bellhop for a major hotel frequented by Adolf Hitler. Schmidt was present for one occasion when Hitler was angrily berating the head of The Gestapo (or just some random German officer) for letting a spy escape, and screamed at the man that he could make even the bellhop into a better Nazi than him. He did.

Hitler, who seemed to recognize much of himself in the frustrated, resentful, unsuccessful yet obviously talented young man, became a sort of Evil Mentor and father figure to him, encouraging him to educate himself and grooming him for a powerful position in the Nazi state. (According to one version, to be his own successor.) Subordinate only to Hitler himself, the young, brilliant and ruthless Schmidt was placed in charge of foreign espionage and terrorist activities, playing a key role in Nazi victories in Europe and spreading fear (his red skull mask was intended to be a symbol of terror while Hitler could remain the popular leader in a national version of Good Cop/Bad Cop). He eventually moved onto the United States as World War II continued and sabotaged the top secret Project Rebirth by assassinating Prof. Erskine. Preparing for the inevitable war against Germany, the Americans decided to create their own Good Counterpart to the Red Skull's evil, the sole successful Super Soldier serum test subject, Steve Rogers, and trained him to become Captain America, the man who was to become Schmidt's Arch-Enemy.

However, as the war dragged on the Skull started to see that Germany was not going to win, and instead made plans to escape and build a new power base elsewhere to continue the struggle. In the meantime he assigned rival Nazi Baron Heinrich Zemo to a secret mission to assassinate Captain America, hoping the two would kill each other off. In the event, Zemo was defeated and Roger's sidekick Bucky Barnes was (seemingly) killed, but not before Captain America tracked the Skull to his secret bunker and engaged him in battle. Cap won and apparently killed the Skull, but in reality he was merely placed in Suspended Animation, a fate that Cap would shortly suffer too after his battle with Zemo.

Captain America was revived by The Avengers, but not long after their enemies HYDRA discovered the Skull and revived him too. The Skull allied with them for as long as they were useful but secretly he was biding his time until he could steal the Cosmic Cube from AIM, the science division of HYDRA, the Cube being an Artifact of Doom that bestowed upon the user Reality Warping and godhood. He once again battled Captain America and was once again defeated, but subsequently managed to establish himself as a major and continuous threat to the world, with access to considerable resources.

The Red Skull subsequently engaged in numerous more terrorist and mass murder schemes to wreak havoc across the world and kill Captain America, even managing to make himself Secretary of Defence disguised as one Dell Rusk, plus more attempts to possess a Cosmic Cube, before finally being assassinated by the Winter Soldier, a brainwashed, insane and very-much alive Bucky Barnes, but used a weakened Cube to transfer his mind into a Russian general named Lukin, the man who had him killed. Sharing his body, the Skull forced Lukin to go along with his schemes to manipulate the superhero Civil War so as to get one of his puppet politicians elected as President, and later tried to transfer his mind into Captain America's unborn child, before it was murdered by an increasingly rebellious Sin (his daughter). He later allied with Norman Osborn following his rise to power and finally managed to take over the body of Captain America himself, but after wreaking further damage was expelled and killed, this time for good.

This being a comic book, the Red Skull seemingly returned in the pages of Uncanny Avengers during the Marvel NOW! relaunch. This was then revealed to be a clone of the original that was frozen back during World War 2.

The Red Skull appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a villainous Chessmaster, Nazi super-scientist, and the founder of HYDRA in Captain America: The First Avenger. The MCU version is a Composite Character of the comic book Red Skull, Baron Strucker (the founder of HYDRA in the comics) and Baron Zemo (the Stupid Jetpack Hitler elements), although both Strucker and Zemo later appeared in the MCU in their own right. It amused many fans that Hugo Weaving was cast to play yet another powerful enemy named "Schmidt" with an appropriately and enjoyably OTT performance.

Media

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Exhibits examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: His mother died in childbirth, and his alcoholic father tried to drown him for it. His mother's doctor rescued him, but he just got put in an orphanage and things just went downhill from there....
  • Adaptation Personality Change: In the more recent Captain America movie, the Red Skull character is not a Nazi true believer, but a purely power-hungry villain who even betrays Germany as part of his dastardly plot. There's no indication that he's personally close to Hitler, either.
  • Alike and Antithetical Adversaries: To Captain America, obviously. Cap is the symbol of America and leads a team of Allied/NATO heroes, while the Skull is the symbol of Nazi Germany and leads a multinational team of fascist villains.
  • Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome: A major motivation for Red Skull's villainy is to bring this about, and when his plans succeed, he usually does. One such Alternate Universe had giant flatscreens and modern computers ... in the 1960s.
  • Anarchy Is Chaos: He once turned his back on Fascism and made this his creed of choice, believing that a world without government would inevitably devolve into the kind of Social Darwinist hellhole that a sadistic power-mad psychopath could call home.
  • Arch-Enemy: One of the oldest in comics.
  • Art Deco: His custom-built bases tend to go with the "Nazi chic" style, i.e., this mixed with some Classicism.
  • Artifact of Doom: Cosmic Cubes, in his hands anyway.
  • Artistic License – Military: When he is not depicted in some bizarre leather faux-uniform, the Skull wears a pre-1938 black Allgemeine-SS uniform (single shoulder board) with SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) collar insignia and an Iron Cross. Leaving aside the fact Iron Cross was not reinstated before 1939, regardless of what he may have accomplished, but there is no reason the second most dangerous man in the Reich's administration should have such a junior rank. He also often has an Honor Chevron for the Old Guard and a Golden Party Badge, even though his backstory usually has him joining the party after Hitler assumed power, which would make him ineligible for these "honors".
    • While much of the above is spot on, Hitler sometimes did hand out the chevrons and Golden Badge to late-enlisting but exceptionally worthy followers. In that particular case, Reality Is Unrealistic.
    • Shadow Archetype: He's the Nazi counterpart of Captain America, and has the rank to fit.
    • A corollary explanation might be that the Skull simply liked the uniform and decorations, and was so powerful in Hitler's inner circle that he could browbeat or kill anyone trying to lecture him on decorum.
    • Similarly, his uniform in the film contains a mixture of insignia reserved for commissioned officers and insignia reserved for non-commissioned officers. There's a good chance that he simply didn't care that his uniform was incorrect.
  • As Long as There Is One Man: A villainous example. Paraphrasing his dialogue, as long as he and others like him keep fighting, the flame of Nazism will shine in the darkness of democracy, and not be extinguished, no matter how many of them the US forces kill.
  • Avenging the Villain: One of the Skull's major motivations is to succeed where Hitler failed and avenge his fallen mentor. He wants to take revenge on the Allies who killed Hitler and Nazi Germany, but even more to rebuild it, to show that his Fuehrer was right and that his ideals triumphed in the end.
  • Ax-Crazy: Some versions, definitely. Others are less hysteric, but no less ruthless for it.
  • Back from the Dead: Played horrifyingly straight, see the quote above.
  • Bad Boss: He frequently kills all but his most loyal or competent underlings—and sometimes even them—either for failure or for outliving their usefulness, but just as often For the Evulz. He once killed his accountant, for pete's sake, because "she was a bad accountant". And he usually uses his "Dust of Death" poison, one of the most agonising and horrible weapons in his arsenal, when he feels like doing the deed. Bizarrely, he can still count on the fervent loyalty of most of his followers.
  • Bad Present: Similarly to Captain America, Red Skull is a Fish Out of Temporal Water who grew up roughly a hundred years ago. The present seems like a pure nightmare to him, and absolute proof that the Nazis were right: This is what they fought to save the world from.
    • Subverted in Uncanny Avengers, where he thinks the present is a lot like his own formative period in Weimar Germany. Given what this period was like, however, this is hardly a compliment.
  • Badass Army: His handpicked multinational force of elite troops from the Axis countries during the war.
  • Badass Bookworm: Like the real Hitler, obsessively studies everything from military history to engineering, in order to make up for his lack of formal education.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: When the Skull isn't wearing his Nazi swag, he typically dresses in stylish, well-tailored suits.
  • Badass Longcoat: Occasionally when shown in real (or semi-real) German uniforms. Also, in civvies, the clone Skull in Uncanny Avengers seems to like these.
  • Badass Normal: Though he may be a thoroughly despicable human being, there is no doubt that the Red Skull is Bad Ass. He is a highly skilled fighter capable of regularly holding his own against Captain America, one of the best martial artists in the world. He is an expert marksman and a brilliant and imaginative strategist, and like a true Magnificent Bastard is unafraid to put himself in harm's way or use himself as his own best chess piece to see his plans come to fruition. He is considered one of the deadliest threats to mankind in a world that has to put up with regular Alien Invasions, Eldritch Abominations, power-mad superhumans and all manner of catastrophes, and he consistently demonstrates why he has that reputation.
  • Bastard Understudy: To Hitler.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Being a Nazi in the 21st century sucks, when you care enough about the ideology to be horrified by all the third-world immigration, affirmative action, homosexuality, etc. If he wanted to, he could just be a rich crime lord and live happily off the money his syndicates make; as it is, ironically it's his very devotion to Nazism that keeps him unhappy.
    • Doubly emphasized when he's dumped in an Alternate Universe where things are a lot like in the main comic, but he's a poor German nobody without connections and Captain America is the US President. He tries to convert his fellow Germans to Nazism, spending all his spare time holding impassioned speeches at a street corner. No one cares.
  • Berserk Button: Insulting Hitler. In one comic, Captain America called Hitler a coward and boasted of how the Allies had destroyed Germany and the Nazi ideals forever, which produced a near meltdown on the Skull's part:
    Red Skull: No! No! Those are lies, do you hear?? ALL LIES!!
  • Beware the Superman: As befits a Nazi, Red Skull wants to control all possible threats against humanity. He doesn't like superheroes, and hates super-powered mutants, who usurp humanity's destiny. He also wants to destroy Sub-Mariner and his empire of nonhumans, who often threaten and invade human countries.
  • Big Bad: One of the major supervillain threats on a planet drowning in them, and one of the most despicably evil.
  • Bigger Bad: The man behind Baron von Strucker, Baron Zemo, HYDRA and most of Marvel's assorted Nazi-themed and ex-Nazi villains.
  • Breakout Villain: The original Golden Age Red Skull was intended as a single-issue villain, a native-born American Nazi spy who died in the first story he appeared in. However, the character was popular enough to return, and in the Silver Age revamp of the Captain America title, he got his more familiar backstory (as recounted above) and his status as Cap's Arch-Nemesis. The first Skull was then retconned as an agent of the real one.
  • Breaking Lecture: Delivers a number of them to his enemies (especially Captain America) over the years, of varying quality. Usually about how rotten and corrupt the American democratic system is. One that seems somewhat influenced by the "Occupy" movement was offered in the early Uncanny Avengers run:
    Skull:You imagine that if you fight hard enough, one day you will wrest control from the bankers who own you and return this nation to its former glory.
    But in reality this is, and will remain, your America. An uneducated population fixated on competition, material wealth and voyeurism. Violent monsters doused in antibiotics to offset their diet of sugary sweet drink and mounds of carcinogenic cow flesh! This is what you fight for!
  • Broken Ace: An evil genius who rose from the literal gutter to become first a Nazi hierarch and then a full-blown supervillain. Red Skull is both literate and hard as nails, and an inspiring leader for millions of neo-fascists ... But his childhood in the streets and traumatic war experiences have left him deeply scarred in more than one sense.
  • Brought Down to Normal: After the Cube Cult caper, he was mysteriously stripped of most of his memories and forced to live as an anonymous nobody in a nightmarish cyberpunk world. He reverted to his old pattern of life as a downtrodden menial laborer, until memories of Hitler began to reemerge in his dreams and guided him back to his real life.
  • The Bully: Terrorizes and often kills his own subordinates For the Evulz, routinely; savagely beat and sadistically abused his girlfriend, one of his most devoted followers; big fan of Revenge by Proxy; tends to laugh like a lunatic when causing the deaths of thousands of innocent people.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: Because it engenders corruption, greed, materialism, stupidity and "evil" generally. Also, it's wasteful; imagine how much good the government could do with the money people waste on the latest iPhone. As Red Skull would remind you, Nazism is short for National Socialism, which prefers the common good over private greed. (A real Nazi slogan!)
  • Captain Patriotic: For the Nazis, as befits the evil counterpart of Captain America.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: In the most Anvilicious version of his backstory, he joined the Nazis for the thrill of killing and refers to himself as the "Prince of Villainy".
  • Chest of Medals: When he wears a real dress uniform. Usually, however, he doesn't bother with the decorations, except maybe a lone Iron Cross.
  • Classic Villain: He mostly represents Ambition, Wrath and pure Hatred.
  • Cloning Blues: He spent quite a while between the late 1980s and the early 2000s inhabiting a cloned body of Captain America, albeit with a "red skull" disfigurement for most of that time.
    • The Red Skull has returned in Uncanny Avengers thanks to Arnim Zola having cloned him.
  • Colonel Badass: His official rank is never stated, but when he wears a semi-real German uniform, it's often that of a Standartenfuehrer (SS colonel).
  • Color Character
  • Commie Nazis: The 1950s depiction of the Skull joined the Soviets after World War II to continue the fight against American capitalism. This was later rewritten as a psywar ploy by the KGB, using an impostor.
  • Complexity Addiction: Like most Silver Age supervillains, the Skull suffered heavily from this.
  • Composite Character: The movieverse Skull is a hybrid of the comicverse Skull, Baron Von Strucker (founder of HYDRA), and Baron Zemo.
  • Contemplative Boss: Whether watching dawn's early light or the lesser lights of the city at night.
  • Cultured Badass: At least some versions, familiar with art, literature, music and philosophy. Made more impressive by the fact that he grew up poor and uncultured and did not even finish school. It's implied he learned a lot of this from Hitler, who was also an autodidact and famously thought of himself as a philosopher and artist.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: Especially young Johann Schmidt, who also looks vaguely fox-like with his red hair and pale, thin face.
  • Cunning Linguist: Despite never having any formal education beyond elementary school (at most), the Skull speaks at least three languages in addition to his native German: Russian, Hebrew and English. In English at least he can also fake dialects convincingly, from Harlem Ebonics to Old Stock Yankee.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: His daughter, Synthia. He tried to kill her for not being a boy, but she grew up into the kind of hateful homicidal maniac a father could be proud of. He still ignored her, but it's the effort that counts.
  • Dark Action Girl: His daughter, who (at least when written by Ed Brubaker) is more violent and evil than Red Skull himself.
    • Faux Dark Action Girl: But if she ever stops posturing and actually fights anyone (except maybe some nameless Mooks), she loses every single time. Usually quickly, too.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The young Johann Schmidt grew up as a homeless orphan in Weimar Germany, and survived off odd jobs, begging and petty crime. Apart from insecurity, he also suffered horrible abuse from criminals and Communists; even the original Silver Age origin story showed him being savagely beaten by a street gang as a small boy, and later versions have only gotten progressively more violent and disturbing.
  • Dark Messiah: There's an Aryan brotherhood gang called "The Skulls" and they worship the Skull as the second coming. Oddly enough the gang and their leader are mainly Wolverine villains. You could also say Crossbones sees the Skull this way.
    • Despite his propensity for sudden lay-offs, many of the Skull's ex-Nazi or neo-Nazi henchmen seem to adopt an almost fanatical loyalty and trust toward him.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • J M De Matteis's Red Skull was largely true to his origins in relatively family-friendly Stan Lee-esque supervillainy through most of his run, but in the last story arc he wasn't just evil but totally insane. Probably justified, however, as by then Skull was in his 80s and seemed to be suffering from acute senile dementia.
    • Somewhere in the darkening of comics in the 1980s, Mark Gruenwald apparently figured Red Skull wasn't evil enough if he was "just" a Nazi villain. So then he started writing him as a sadist and wife-beater as well.
  • Darkest Hour: For him, the downfall of Germany in 1945.
  • Defiant to the End: The first time he died, in the ruins of Berlin in 1945, his last words expressed his conviction that Nazis of future times would finish what he and Hitler started.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: If the rest of the page doesn't tell, well... One recent example had him platonically admiring the captured Scarlet Witch's bravery and beauty before coolly dismissing her as Not Even Human.
  • Democracy Is Bad: He believes that since the Apathetic Citizens only vote for whoever TV tells them to, anyway, it will inevitably be ruled by corrupt demagogues and the greedy plutocrats who bribe them.
  • Depending on the Writer:
  • Despair Event Horizon: His entire childhood was one. More recently, when he was caught in the metaphysical nightmare of living as a poor German man in modern, multicultural Berlin and seeing everything he and Hitler tried to prevent come true.
  • Determinator: Heroic willpower alone has saved his life on many occasions. And despite a near century of failure and the combined hostility of most of the rest of the world, he keeps fighting for the Nazi dream.
  • Determined Defeatist: Although his optimism in face of tall odds is legendary, sometimes the sheer weight of the world's enmity and the magnitude of his defeats causes him to doubt his chances. Even then, however, he will usually carry on every step of the way.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: To Lex Luthor standards.
  • Demonic Possession: As a result of his meddling with Xavier's brain he is possessed by Onslaught.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When he noticed a black man seducing a (white) female SHIELD agent, the Skull took time off from his general villainy to kidnap them both and lecture them on the evils of miscegenation.
  • Domestic Abuser: The villainess Mother Night is a truly terrible human being... but read the stories where she and the Skull were an item, and cringe. It was one of the most hideously abusive relationships in comics; the Skull beat her savagely, yelled and screamed at her for no reason, humiliated her in front of his subordinates, and refused to let her kill herself (which she requested because she thought, if he was beating her so much, clearly she is failing him somehow) because "you'd like that, wouldn't you?", whereupon he promised to beat her some more.
  • The Dreaded: Just mentioning his name is a good way to end villain deals, and you'll have to look pretty damn hard if you want to find someone who would willingly work with him. He's not just feared- though he is greatly, greatly feared-; he is almost universally despised amongst both heroes and villains. Any character who actually likes him or what he stands for is likely either seriously delusional or an vile, hideous bastard themselves.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Supposedly, the young, poor Johann Schmidt dreamed of a man with a calm, deep voice who would show him his true purpose in the world. Years later, he came to remember the dream after he met Hitler.
  • Dystopia Justifies the Means: His ideal world varies between a violent Police State and a lawless, chaotic hellhole; in either case he believes that the strong should brutalize the weak, commits mass murder on a regular basis, and demands absolute power which he wants to use primarily to oppress and torture people, not simply power for its own sake. And he enjoys it, every minute of it.
    • The occasions he has had the Cosmic Cube have given him nigh-omnipotent power; he once used it to hold an apple in front of a starving crowd, just so he could deny them it! Oh, and shortly after, he ate it in front of a starving baby.
    • On the other hand, some versions are relatively nicer. In one early incarnation, he wanted to unite the world under an ultra-totalitarian Nazi government in order to stop Reed Richards from being useless and propel the Marvel Earth into the Space Opera setting which thanks to its Super Science it has every potential to be. Of course, he then intended to use the world-changing supertech to take over the galaxy and remake the Marvelverse into a sort of Imperium of Man, so he was still power-mad, but not as pointlessly sadistic, and certainly more of a visionary.
  • Eat the Rich: He hates the wealthy elites who run the world, both for ideological reasons (the Nazis despised plutocracy and "decadent" upper classes) and because he used to be poor and starving himself.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: For a Nazi fanatic, Waffen-SS, of course.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: Played with (and subject to considerable authorial flip-flopping). Though the Skull, being a Nazi, holds very politically incorrect views on the matter of race, he is also pragmatic about working with people from other backgrounds. For example, in the Civil Rights riots of the 1970s he cooperated with Black militants to bring down the US government, though this was a somewhat extreme case. More commonly, his top officers and agents are shown to include women, Chinese and other non-whites among their ranks, and he seems to hold no bias against them, so long as they agree with his fascist politics.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: No, not him. But most major villains of the Marvel Universe are too disgusted by the Skull to willingly work with him. It doesn't help his case that two of Marvel's heavy hitters, Doctor Doom and Magneto, are a half-Romani and a Jewish holocaust survivor, respectively. In a crossover, he mutually refuses to work with The Joker, not so much for ethical standards as "artistic" ones. The Joker glories in psychological torture and poetic death - he finds far more value in compelling a good man to kill a child, or an entire major American city to abandon basic hygiene, than he does mass (even millions-strong) graves full of indiscriminate victims. So to the Joker, Skull is a talentless hack, and to the Skull, Joker is a useless lunatic. Also, while the Joker might be a criminal lunatic, he's also an American criminal lunatic.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: He doesn't understand why would a "superior being" like Captain America associate himself with "trash" like racial minorities and gay people.
  • Evil Counterpart: To Cap, obviously. Actually, if you want to get technical, Cap is the Good Counterpart to him, because he was created to be the Skull's opposite number.
    • Captain America: The First Avenger takes this even further by having him be the original test subject for the Super Soldier Serum. He rivals Captain America not only ideologically, but physically as well.
  • Evil Genius: In so many words in the Marvel Handbook. The same goes on to call his brilliance comparable only to that of Napoleon. And that's merely his political and military acumen, before going into more comic-bookly territory...
  • Evil Gloating: Red Skull has had many opportunities to kill Captain America, especially every time that he has had the power of the Cosmic Cube. Each time he has allowed Captain America to live so that Skull could torment him with being helpless or attempt to bring Captain America to the dark side (all the while gloating), thus giving Captain America the opportunity to turn the tables on Red Skull (like knock the Cube out of his hand).
  • Evil Is Petty: However, this is initially averted in the Silver Age World War II period stories with the Skull being professional enough to hear about at least one scheme failing by shrugging and moving on to new business.
  • Evil Mentor: His was Hitler.
  • Evil Red Head: Back when he had his original body.
    • Technically now, too.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The Skull has an ongoing on-and-off feud with Doctor Doom, and has bashed heads with Magneto more than once. (Most memorably in Captain America #367.)
  • Evil Virtues: Varies with the writing, but generally speaking, the Skull is portrayed as an Expy of Hitler, albeit usually an exaggerated one. He accordingly shares most of his "good" traits, such as resourcefulness, utter conviction, physical bravery and iron willpower.
  • Expansion Pack Past: Like with Captain America (and often in the same stories), writers often want to make up new World War II adventures for him.
  • Family Values Villain: Stretching the definition, perhaps, but his views on sexual deviants might qualify him. As a conservative German who grew up in the early 20th century, it's probably unsurprising that he should be hostile to homosexuality and miscegenation. More radically, he also contemptuously dismisses Rogue as a "whore" because of her unmarried relationship with Magneto.
  • Fantastic Racism: His clone in Uncanny Avengers starts a campaign to wipe out mutants.
  • The Fatalist: Like Hitler, he believes in hard predestination, i.e., everything has already been decided before time. Also like Hitler, however, he keeps fighting to the bitter end, regardless of what fate appears to have decreed.
  • Fighting for a Homeland: He and his remaining Nazi expatriates, who no longer have one. A few times they have even tried to liberate Latveria from the rule of Doctor Doom to make it a homeland for dispossessed fascists.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water: Nazi born in the early 1900s, now in the 21st century. Depending on which version, after "dying" in World War II, he was in suspended animations into the 1960s, the 1980s or just recently, giving him varying degrees of drastic change to cope with. In general, he likes the scientific progress, but hates the social changes; effectively, from his point of view the future suffers badly from the Low Culture, High Tech syndrome.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: A villainous example. At the end of World War II, when it was becoming apparent that Germany would lose, the Skull sequestered equipment and funds and helped a number of devoted young Nazi officers escape the downfall, so they could keep the Nazi cause alive and fight another day.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • Aside from his father trying to drown him, the night he met Hitler he claims he was contemplating suicide, and may have gone through with it had he not been granted the opportunity.
    • While it isn't mentioned very often, the Communist Red Skull killed S.H.I.E.L.D. agents John and Mary Parker, otherwise known as the father and mother of Spider-Man. If he hadn't, Peter would not have had to live with his Aunt and Uncle Ben and possibly would have never become a superhero.
  • Freudian Excuse: Like much else with the Skull, whether he has one varies, as Depending on the Writer.
    • The original origin story was essentially a somewhat exaggerated version of Adolf Hitler's real-life biography before World War I. It showed the young Johann Schmidt as a struggling orphan who worked menial jobs and sometimes committed crimes against property to survive; other authors (for example, Mark Waid) elaborated on this. In this version, Schmidt suffered abuse from the police and other criminals, but was not himself violent or insane; however, his experiences gave him a very bleak view of the world, and engendered massive resentment on his part against the system. He joined the Nazis because he genuinely thought they'd make Germany and the world a better place, and not least because Hitler was the first person ever to believe in him and treat him as a man of worth.
    • Meanwhile, some later writers apparently thought this made him too sympathetic, and wrote different versions where he was born Axe Crazy and a lunatic Serial Killer long before he met Hitler.
  • Friendless Background: He never had a friend before he met Hitler.
  • From Bad to Worse: As of Uncanny Avengers, the Red Skull now has Psychic powers at the same level as Xavier.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: From poor orphan and school-leaver to second in command of Nazi Europe.
  • Galactic Conqueror: One of his motives for his villainy is to bring about mankind's expansion to the stars, and so ensure the survival of his species for the millennia to come. (Both by securing new resources for man and by pre-emptively destroying the expansionist aliens who often attack the Marvelverse Earth.) In an Alternate Universe where he succeeded in unifying the planet under his rule, he made the Marvel humans start using their comic-book supertech intelligently, and now governs an emergent interstellar empire.
  • Genius Bruiser: Genius who has worked very hard at becoming a bruiser.
  • Germanic Efficiency: Though like some versions of the stereotype, sometimes hampered by Complexity Addiction.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The Nazis ain't exactly kids' stuff, and yet the Skull got to appear in Mini Marvels.
  • Ghostapo: In Fear Itself he had a group of Nazi occultists perform the dark ritual that ultimately led to the events of that story in an effort to turn the tide of the war. Unfortunately for him, it worked- 65 years later. He had a couple of other experiences with the dark arts later on, but you can see why he prefers Mad Science to get results.
  • A God Am I: Has had tendencies of this, especially with his incarnation in Captain America: The First Avenger.
    • In the comics, Red Skull will make a A God Am I speech pretty much every time he gains possession of the Cosmic Cube, which is like half of all his appearances in the comics.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Very, very evil, especially given that half the time he isn't actually smoking, because the cigarette actually contains his Dust of Death poison that he'll use on unsuspecting victims.
  • Gone Horribly Right: He was Hitler's attempt to show that he could create the ultimate Nazi Ubermensch. He was such a success that even Hitler started becoming scared of him.
  • Grand Theft Me: He's taken over Captain America's body twice: once in the 1960's, and once more recently. He also spent some time sharing a body with his rival Aleksander Lukin, and in a spare robot body belonging to his underling, Arnim Zola.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: Against the Marvelverse mutants.
  • The Gunslinger: Red Skull is a marksman with many weapons, though it's his ability with pistols that stands out. Established all the way back in his original origin story in the 1960s.
  • Hand Cannon: His heavy, customized Luger-like pistols, which depending on the story can be either traditional semi-automatics or more fantastic weapons like futuristic lasers.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: According to the Skull, in a story from the 1980's, his brutal training regime organized by Hitler lasted... weeks. Not years. Not months. Weeks. He went from a bellhop nobody to the most dangerous and competent man in the Reich in weeks, despite having next to no formal education, being a human punching bag on the streets, and having worked nothing but the most menial jobs in between scraping by as a beggar and a thief (a bad one- again, his own words). He says he was thirty too, which would mean he literally just never learned anything until then, but subsequent materials say he was in his late teens, which is a bit of an improvement.
    • Of course, the same story has him remembering both of his parents, including their faces and behaviour, despite both of them being dead before he was a day old, as well as what it was like to be pulled out of the womb- he says he has an amazing memory. These days, that's largely ignored. His superhuman powers of remembrance either completely justifies his amazing out-of-the-blue ability to learn anything, or suggests he was being less than honest about it.
    • The Marvel Handbook writes that his initial training period lasted "months" rather than weeks, and even when it was done he wasn't immediately given huge power. He met Hitler in 1933 (or 1934, depending on the story), so by the time he faces Captain America in 1941, he's had some years of on-the-job training and promotions. It's still an unusually rapid rise through the ranks, but not quite as meteoric as the 1980s story suggested.
  • Hate Sink: Designed to be this from the start. In Universe, the Red Skull is without question one of the most reviled, despised, detested, and flat out hated villains in the entire Marvel Universe, loathed by both heroes and villains alike. Put simply, when monsters like the Joker and even Carnage want nothing to do with you, you know you're a vile, irredeemable piece of trash.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: This is how the Skull views himself, and all of Nazism: They may have done some Bad Things, but only because they tried to stop the much more villainous international bankers and global Communists who are destroying the world, and got desperate enough to copy some of their methods. Incidentally, this is also pretty much what the real-life Nazis said to justify themselves.
  • Heartbroken Badass: A platonic example, since his great love was Nazi Germany.
  • Heroic Ambidexterity: What to do when a raging mutant cuts off your gun hand and leaves it to his Flying Brick friend to pulp you? Whip out a fantastic Luger in your other hand and take them down at point blanc!
  • Heroic Resolve: Or, well, villainous, but he certainly has willpower. Has experienced situations (buried under tons of rubble, trapped underwater, captured and tortured for long periods...) which would leave any normal person a ruined wreck, and not only survived, but kept going. He simply refuses to die until his work is finished.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: After coming Back from the Dead with the "perfect Aryan" face of his rival, Captain America, his first major scheme ended with him being disfigured with an actual "red skull" for a face after he inhaled his own "dust of death" while trying to kill Cap.
  • Hope Bringer: The darkest example imaginable. He brings hope to the persecuted and marginalized fascists and Nazis of the Marvelverse, and inspires them to continue the struggle against the overwhelming might of liberalism and democracy.
  • Hopeless War: The Skull's struggle against liberalism. He believes he's still fighting for the Nazi ideals and keeping Hitler's dream alive, but the world only gets more liberal with each passing year. It seems nothing he does ultimately matters. Sometimes it causes him to despair.
  • Horrifying the Horror: Has terrified much more superhuman enemies like Kang the Conqueror and Korvac, and even Doctor Doom on occasion.
  • Hot-Blooded: He wants to be cold and calculating, and can sometimes pull off a convincing impression of it, but the mask soon slips. In everything he does, he is actually extremely passionate.
  • Humans Are Bastards: After living out his childhood in the streets of chaotic interwar Germany, the Skull was already convinced of this. World War II with its massive war crimes and atrocities on all sides really hammered home the point.
  • I Control My Minions Through...: Most of his people, at least the ones working directly for him, are hardcore fascists who follow him out of genuine loyalty, often quite fanatical such. While often portrayed as a Bad Boss, he can also display admirable loyalty and even kindness toward loyal subordinates.
    • "Kindness" is a bit much, but there's certainly some mutual affection and respect between the Skull and at least some of his henchmen.
  • I Know Karate: Red Skull is a master of martial arts (and has specifically been mentioned to know several styles of karate). He still loses many of his unarmed battles, but that's because his opponent is frequently Captain America.
  • I Should Have Been Better: If he had been, maybe he would have been able to defeat Captain America and save fascist Europe. So now he pushes himself twice as hard to be the best of all.
  • Ignored Epiphany: After being locked in that shelter for days (see Kick the Son of a Bitch below), starving and alone in the dark, he finally resigned himself to his fate and for the first -and only- time in his life, he felt remorse for his life of villainy and privately conceded that he deserved this fate. He was rescued shortly after, regained his will to live after seeing Captain America and remembering how much he hated him... and after telling Cap as much, began ranting about how he would get revenge on Magneto for putting him in there (though, tellingly, he didn't put much effort into that particular scheme).
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Back when he was fresh out of training in the early 1930s, he shot the buttons off a man's jacket easily and single-handedly. His aim hasn't gotten any worse since.
  • It's All About Me: Skull really couldn't care less about anyone that isn't him.
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: And not just if you're the chosen one of good ... Arguably, Red Skull has suffered even more tragic and traumatic events than his Good Counterpart Cap, which is no mean feat; see other entries on this page. It's rather harder to feel sorry for him, though, since he also inflicts them on others.
  • Jerk Jock: An extreme example when he went insane after his mind was moved into a clone of Captain America. See below.
  • Jerkass: The Skull is a terrorist, mass murderer and would-be world conqueror; but quite apart from that, he is a jerk in the little things too. He bullies his subordinates, was violently and sadistically abusive to his girlfriend, and once sank into a depression that he got out of when Crossbones cheered him up by reminding him of all the evil things he had done in his life.
  • Joker Immunity: Unlike the Joker, it's infuriating, considering what he is.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Magneto once kidnapped the Skull and locked him in an abandoned fallout shelter, telling him that death would be too good for him and that he wanted the Skull to wish that Magneto had killed him after the coming ordeal. The shelter was completely empty except for some jugs of water, which Magneto advised the Skull to conserve, and had no light source. So for weeks, the Skull was locked in a dark room with concrete walls, slowly starving to death. He raged, pounded on the walls, tried in vain to reach the exit high above him, sobbed, and eventually began hallucinating. By the time he was found by Crossbones, Mother Night, and Machinesmith, he was utterly broken and wished to die.
  • Lack of Empathy: THE biggest example in the Marvel Universe.
  • Large Ham: Hugo Weaving clearly had fun playing him in Captain America: The First Avenger.
    • After stealing Xavier's psychic powers, Skull could simply make people do things without a word. But where is the fun in that?
  • Last of His Kind: One of the very few original Nazi leaders who still survive, and possibly the only one who still keeps the flame of the ideology burning. In one comic, he reminisces about the old days when he and the Fuehrer dreamed together of remaking the future. Then, back to the present:
    Red Skull: But now, he is dead! Only the Red Skull still remains to fulfill the Nazi dream!
  • The Leader: Mainly the first and fourth type, though he has shades of all. At least some writers seem to deliberately base his style of leadership on that of the real-life Hitler, which was also a lot like this.
  • Legacy Character: There have been four Red Skulls. Technically, Johan Schmidt is actually the second; the original Red Skull was a Nazi spy who was retconned into being one of Schmidt's agents. The third was a Dirty Communist, and the fourth is the Skull's own daughter.
    • It's actually rather complicated in publishing terms, since the first three versions were originally intended to be the same character, and only a series of Retcon stories have created the distinctions between them.
  • Lethally Stupid: Sin, throughout the Brubaker Captain America run. Almost everything that goes wrong with the Skull's plans in this period is due to her gleefully juggling the Villain Ball and the Idiot Ball, and she causes a lot of unrelated havoc besides. Arguably, this arc justifies everything bad he's been saying about her.
  • Living Legend: Already during World War II, when he was a famous and highly decorated Nazi general, but more so in later decades. In-story, he has become the archetypical image of Nazism in much the same way as Captain America has become that of liberalism.
  • Lower-Class Lout: Was this once, has since worked very hard not to stay this way.
  • Mad Scientist: More like mad engineer, and even this is pushing it for most interpretations. But even if he doesn't do much mad science himself, Red Skull is an enthusiast for science and technology who often sponsors bona fide mad scientists like Arnim Zola. In an Alternate Universe where the Nazis survived World War II and he succeeded Hitler as Fuehrer, Doctor Doom was one of his science advisors.
  • Made of Iron: Due to supreme willpower. He suffers damage like an ordinary Badass Normal, but can cope exceedingly well with even highly debilitating pain. Once, when he had his hand cut off, he was able to continue directing a battle within seconds, even as he had the wound bandaged.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: In some appearances, though usually when he seeks to influence others who might be impressed by such displays. Privately, he's still intellectual, but rather more frugal and unaffected.
  • Master of Disguise: The list of people he's successfully impersonated to run his schemes must be a yard long at this point. And that's not counting the times he's just used other folks' bodies.
  • Men Are Better Than Women: For a European man born in the years before World War I, this is hardly avoidable. His general views on women are old-fashioned at best, and some depictions make him a rampant misogynist. But he's also been shown to respect and admire capable and competent women like Sharon Carter.
  • Might Makes Right: An interesting treatment, arguably a subversion for a villain. The Skull believes this is how the world works, but he doesn't think it's right in the moral sense that it has to.
  • Military Superhero: A villainous example, as befits Captain America's evil counterpart.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: On a bad day.
  • Mook Horror Show: After inhabiting the Captain America clone, he liked to indulge in "training sessions" that were basically this. He would hire five mooks from Taskmaster, have them dress like Captain America, and fight them. They thought it was just a sparring match. He was out to kill them. When they started to realize this, you really felt sorry for them.
    Mook Number Four: N-no— wait a minute, Mister! The boss said all you wanted was sparring partners! He didn't say nothin' about—
    Red Skull: About killing you? Strictly an oversight on his part, I assure you! (decapitates him with his replica shield)
  • Muggle Power: Like many X-Men villains, the Skull considers the superhuman mutants of the Marvel world an existential threat to humanity's survival. Naturally, his solution is to strike back first...
  • Multinational Team: The Skull used to lead one of elite agents from different (mostly Axis) countries who had banded together to fight for fascism against capitalism and Communism. (After World War II, they remained fascist bitter-enders and became known as the Exiles.) Known members include:
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Caused mainly by multiple retcons over the years:
    • The original background story by Stan Lee, somewhat based on the historical Hitler's real background, had him as a poor orphan, menial worker and sometime thief without family of friends, a miserable loner who failed at everything he tried and grew ever more angry with both himself and the system. This version was totally despondent and plodded along in life from day to day, until one day (and quite by chance) he met Hitler, who recognized his potential and invited him into the Nazi hierarchy.
    • Later writers then largely adhered to this story, but put in various embellishments. For example, when J. M. De Matteis retold the Skull's origin story, he added a lot of Darker and Edgier material to the effect that he was really a psychotic Serial Killer long before he met Hitler.
    • Then there is the recent miniseries by Greg Pak, which changes the story around a lot by making the young Johann Schmidt a member of the Communist underground and a hired killer.
  • My Death Is Only The Beginning: So the Red Onslaught may rise, the Red Skull must die!
  • Necessarily Evil: Those versions where he recognizes his deeds are evil (and doesn't glory in the fact).
  • Nerves of Steel: When your hand is cut off by a rampaging mutant, do you a) scream with pain for minutes and bleed to death, or b) scream with pain briefly, then apply a torniquet and continue barking orders to your followers?
  • No Social Skills: Had none in his youth, when he was both uncultured and painfully shy. Has since worked hard to avert this, and by sheer effort seems to have obtained a significant degree of success.
  • No Swastikas: Usually averted in the comics, but the movie played it straight; instead of a Nazi, their Skull was made an operative of HYDRA.
  • Not So Different: A subtle example when he sometimes rails at Captain America for being an unrealistic dreamer with his mind trapped in the past. This from the guy who keeps ranting about Hitler's great vision and trying to rebuild Nazi Germany in the 2010s...
  • Not So Well-Intentioned Extremist: Of the second type. Believes himself to be a real Well-Intentioned Extremist ... But the great purpose he's fighting for is National Socialism, also known as Nazism.
  • Number Two: To Hitler, before he became Number One after the war.
  • Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: Justified as the Skull is not only having access to hidden Nazi caches, but also frequently running organizations like HYDRA and various factions of AIM from whom he takes resources.
  • One-Man Army: Doesn't show it off very often, since as a high-ranking officer he rarely does the super-agent stuff himself anymore. But when he does, it's time for the Mook SHIELD agents (and etc) to be very afraid.
  • One-Winged Angel: When Magneto kills the second Red Skull, Onslaught is reborn due to the Skull possessing Charles Xavier's brain.
  • Only Sane Man: Thinks he is this (or nearly, at any rate) as a survivor of better times in an age of universal madness.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Ultimately, order. The Skull creates chaos in order to bring down what he sees as corrupt, plutocratic America, but this chaos is only a means towards the end of a new, better and more orderly society. Subordinates who cannot grasp this (such as Viper) are shown to the door in short order.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Willing to die for Fascist Europe, and leads a Multinational Team of fascists and Nazis fighting for their countries against the Allies.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: And make sure it's paid with interest, too.
  • The Philosopher: Often alludes to various philosophers the real-life Nazis liked, like Spengler and Nietzsche. Surprisingly, and amusingly, the Disney-villainous Silver Age version often does it better than many more pretentious modern writers manage.
  • Photographic Memory: Whether it is truly eidetic or not, his memory is extraordinary; for example, he has been shown to recall conversations verbatim decades after they took place. This is yet another way he mirrors the real-life Hitler, who often embarrassed his minions by quoting their own words from months or years previously back at them when they failed to adhere to them.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Aside from the fact that he's a friggin' Nazi, he's also pretty sexist, though he has expressed a certain level of respect for certain supervillainesses like Madame Hydra, and Syn when she grew up. Doesn't make up for his treatment of Mother Night, though, which was outright and frequent physical abuse, and he loved every minute of it too.
    • This is surprisingly averted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The prequel comic to the first Captain America movie establishes that the Skull finds Hitler's racism to be stupid, as he believes Ubermensches can only be created by the Super Serum, and would likely be a new race unto themselves. Thus, he dismisses the idea that blonde, blue-eyed Europeans are genetically superior to everyone else as quackery.
    • The comics Skull also denied the Holocaust, and seemed to actually believe it when he said it was all just lies and frame-up.
  • The Power of Friendship: Arguably, darkly subverted. When the Cosmic Cube caught the Skull in a nightmarish mind prison, it was his devotion to Hitler that finally brought him back to real life.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: He has one standard: pragmatism — if you are killing people and breaking things on his dime, you'd better have something to show for it besides craters (even if it's just that he now owns those craters and they're full of gold or something). He notably kicked Viper out for wasting his money and resources on acts of terrorism with no strategic benefit, violence for its own sake.
  • Psycho Prototype: In both Captain America (1990) and Captain America: The First Avenger, he is the first test subject for the Super Serum that eventually creates Captain America.
  • Psychic Powers: He now has this ability after using Xavier's brain in Uncanny Avengers.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Type C with some Type B traits. Very few of his goals are pragmatic like those of an evil politician or a Corrupt Corporate Executive should be, profit for him is a means to doing more evil, not an end. From a certain point of view, since the moment he met the Führer, the Skull never grew up.
    • Which is even more chilling when one sees how well it matches his below-quoted Real Life counterparts from the Reich.
  • Put the "Laughter" in "Slaughter": While he is usually a serious and often pretty angry villain, when he is doing what he loves- outplaying his enemies, screwing over his minions and allies, Cold-Blooded Torture, mass murder- he'll at least be sporting a good Slasher Smile, and on occasion laugh like a maniac when he is doing something really evil.
  • Racial Remnant: The Exiles, a Skull-led enterprise of unrepentant survivors of the Waffen-SS who secretly moved to an uncharted island to raise families and uphold a Nazi society in miniature.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: His men used to be immaculate Waffen-SS commandos, but since most of them are now long dead (and comics editors want more toy-friendly supervillains) those who remain are more like this.
  • Raised by Orcs: Well, raised by Nazis (but only in Captain America (1990)).
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Although none of his creators, Joe Simon and France Herron, could have known in early 1941, and they imagined him as a purely fictional and cartoonish incarnation of evil, the Skull's espionage exploits match those of both SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich and his close colleague SS-Brigadeführer Walther Schellenberg, while his cruelty, sadism, ruthlessness and physical appearance match the lesser known SS-Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger. It can be said the reality of the Reich surpassed the imagination of Marvel Comics writers.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Many, of varying sophistication, usually addressed to Captain America. The generally recurring theme is that Cap's liberal ideals are either empirically wrong, flat-out evil, or both.
  • Recurring Dreams: Of his traumatic failures, which continue to haunt him.
    • When he was exiled to an Ironic Hell where he was stripped of his conscious memories, recurring dreams of Hitler and his struggle for the Nazi vision remained with him, and eventually brought back his full personality.
  • Recruited From The Gutter: Almost; he wasn't quite in the literal gutter when Hitler recruited him (though he came from there), but his station was still very lowly.
  • Red Baron: His real name is Johann Schmidt, but it's very rarely that anyone calls him anything other than the Red Skull.
  • The Remnant: Leads the hard core of fascist diehards who, in the Marvel universe, refused to surrender when Germany was destroyed. To them, the war never ended.
  • Renaissance Man: Historian, musician, martial artist, strategist, occultist, engineer, art-lover, master rhetorician...
  • Repressive but Efficient: His idea of utopia, at least on a good day. A high-tech, ultra-totalitarian civilization patterned on Nazi Germany, free of deviants and inferior races. Interestingly, one early comic suggested that he wanted to unify the world in order to end wars and use humanity's pooled resources to colonize space, thereby securing infinite Lebensraum for the race.
  • Retro Universe: The Alternate Universe where the Skull took over, a high-tech dictatorship where it's reasonably nice to live if you fit in, but not if you don't. For example, there are maglev trains and flat screen TV, but people still wear hats.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: The Skull isn't one himself, but sometimes sponsors them because they share many of the same goals and ideals. For example, he bankrolled the Watchdogs, a Christian conservative militia who attacked pornography and immorality.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: When he got ahold (again!) of the Cosmic Cube back in the 1990s. This time, his first priority was revenge against America. In the nightmarish Bad Future which showed how it worked out, he made the US suffer everything the Allies did to Germany in World War II and starved the people, destroyed the cities, dynamited the monuments, put the military-age men in prison camps and had the superheroes executed like the Nazi leaders in the Nuremberg Trials.
  • Robot Master: While it isn't really his hat, the Skull has been shown occasionally to tinker with robots. For example, he once built an android replica of Bucky, and is said to have had a hand in the design of the original Sleepers.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Like the real-life Nazis, an odd mixture. Like the Nazis, he values order, appreciates modern technology and tends toward utilitarianism, but his ideals are largely nostalgic and "heroic" (in the Carlyle/Nietzsche sense, not as in "heroic" as opposed to "villainous").
  • Sadist: Surprisingly, usually averted, as Red Skull leans more toward ideologically motivated villainy and its coldly rational execution. However, some writers portray him like this, particularly when Darker and Edgier is in style.
    • Also seems to be Sin's default characterization.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: In Spider-Man: The Animated Series, the Skull was sent by Beyonder to a planet of humanoid aliens. In a couple of years, he somehow made himself dictator of one of its powerful nations and turned it into a carbon copy of Nazi Germany, making its citizens this.
  • Shades of Conflict: The Skull has obviously never been portrayed as a good guy, but just how repulsively evil he is varies a lot between different depictions. At his "nicest" he's basically just a Nazi general who believes in his cause and is prepared to do whatever it takes to win the war. This version is fanatical and totally ruthless, but not personally sadistic or murderous. On the other hand, some versions are nothing but sadistic and murderous and believe in no principles or ideals, Nazi or otherwise.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: It doesn't come across in the most exaggeratedly crazy versions, but many of the Skull's depictions display a lot of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: vivid memories and nightmares of traumatic episodes, avoidance symptoms, sudden outbursts of irrational anger... Probably caused both by his horrible childhood and what he's been through since as a soldier.
  • Sink the Lifeboats: Surprisingly, averted; when his wolfpack sink an Allied convoy, he orders the commodore to rescue the survivors. Possibly justified, since they might provide valuable intelligence.
  • Skull for a Head: Used to be a mask, now is a deformity.
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: The Skull believes in fate, and, like Machiavelli, that one should try to work with it rather than against it. But if fate is wrong (as he sees it), he'll fight it every step of the way — Even if he knows it's hopeless.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Despite of (or maybe because of) his own poor background, Red Skull hates lower-class slobs almost as much as he does the wealthy elite. May be psychologically justified, in that he has worked very hard to better himself in spite of his humble origins, and is disgusted with people who won't even try.
  • Smug Snake: Generally averted with the Skull himself, as his villainy is on too grand a scale. Sin plays it very straight, however.
    Sin: Sorry, Sharon. Looks like you lose — Again ...
  • The Social Darwinist: Either in boorish, brute-force terms or with relatively sophisticated philosophical justifications, depending on the story. Also averted or subverted in some versions, where he champions a more collectivist racialist ideology. Notably, in one comic he even called Social Darwinism "hogwash" in so many words.
  • The Sociopath: Definitely one.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Varies between sophisticated eloquence and quite vulgar language, sometimes in the same comic. Probably accidental, but fits the character's background as a former Lower-Class Lout who has acquired his cultured sophistication as an adult: When he's thrown off balance, his old dockworker manners slip through.
  • The Spymaster: This was basically his job under the Third Reich.
  • Start of Darkness: The Red Skull miniseries by Greg Pak has shown most of how the Skull spent his childhood in Germany and how he began his path to ruthlessness.
  • Straight Edge Evil: The Skull lives a very temperate and austere private life, avoiding alcohol, frivolous sex and other similar vices. (Occasional smoking seems to be the one exception.) He also submits to a grueling regimen of studies and physical training to preserve and improve body and mind. Justified by his Social Darwinist philosophy that personal worth depends on ability: He must "be all he can be" or become unworthy of his station.
  • Strategy Versus Tactics: Presents an aversion of the regular stereotype that Germans are good at operations but bad at grand strategy. Red Skull is good at both grand-scale, long-term strategic planning and tactical improvisation, but weak on the intermediate level of operations; this is where most of his schemes tend to fail. Interestingly, this is also how military professionals tend to judge Hitler's conduct of World War II, though this is probably pure coincidence.
  • Straw Nihilist: Some depictions, big time.
  • Street Urchin: His childhood and youth.
  • Super Intelligence: Not outright stated, but pretty much a requirement for explaining how an ex-street urchin could pick up several foreign languages and learn how to design and program autonomous military drones in a few years' time.
  • Super Soldier: Basically, the Nazi version of Captain America. The original Red Skull has no overt superhuman powers (just Charles Atlas Super Power and Training from Hell), but some versions (including the movie adaptation) use something similar to Cap's Super Serum.
  • Superhero Trophy Shelf: Rather, super-villain trophy shelf, but otherwise it fits. When depicted, usually doubles as Continuity Porn by showcasing mementos from obscure adventures.
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Turns out the Skull financed the research into a lot of sci-fi technology in the 1940s.
  • Survivor Guilt: The original Skull "died" in Berlin in 1945, shortly before Hitler's death. Thanks to technobabble, it turned out he was merely left in suspended animation for two decades. In at least one comic, he curses fate which left him alive and let the Fuehrer die.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Averted; despite his tragic origin story, Captain America cuts him no slack. Presumably justified, given his villainy.
  • Take Over the World: His goal, and in one alternate universe, he succeeds.
  • Taking Up The Mantle: He considers himself the executor of Hitler's legacy, who will fulfil the dead Fuehrer's dream.
  • Taking You with Me: Always.
  • Tautological Templar: The Skull is at least usually a Nazi true believer, who thinks democracy is evil and a front for Jewish Power, and Nazism the last best hope of humanity. In his own moral universe, he is fighting to save the world, and his hatred of Captain America and his other enemies comes in large part from his belief that he's trying to save them, too from the Capitalist-Bolshevik-Multicultural conspiracy. They ought to join him, but instead everyone hates him, even though he's only trying to do what's right. In some comics, he even views himself as a kind of martyr because of this.
  • The Teetotaler: Well, not quite, but almost. In his youth, depressed over the fate of Germany and his own failures, he would often get drunk to dull the pain. Since he sobered up, he never has anything stronger than an occasional glass of wine.
  • This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: Sometimes averted, sometimes played straight. As he's typically the leader of his operations, he often stays out of the fights, but when It's Personal (for example, often when facing Captain America) he'll make an exception.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: One of the most horrific examples in comic book history.
  • Tom the Dark Lord: The Red Skull's real name is Johann Schmidt, the German cognate of John Smith.
  • Torture Technician: His hobby, apparently. At least on one occasion he even had his own Torture Cellar, which he said was for "recreation".
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: The "nicest" interpretation of the Skull. One of his stated motivations for his villainy is a wish to unify the world, end wars, waste and inefficiency and instead use the freed-up resources to colonize space.
  • Tragic Villain: Usually averted, as he's written as too unsympathetic. Possibly qualifies in some comics, for example Captain America #14. There's never any question of him being anything but a Nazi, but his background is truly tragic. After a lifetime of loneliness and failure he met his one friend (Hitler), who helped him pull together and make something of his life. Then he came to believe in a cause, helped rebuild his country and became successful and respected. And then he lost everything again, and all he cared about was destroyed. Now his motivations are a mixture of trying to regain what he lost and taking revenge on the enemies who destroyed it.
  • Training from Hell: One Skull-centric story (originally in one of the last issues of Super-Villain Team-Up) depicts some of his ordinary, everyday routine in between the world-conquests. He rises early in the morning, begins the day with a tough run of calisthenics, gymnastics, target shooting and other training. When he's done, he turns to planning and studying. His thoughts: He must be tougher than all his myriad enemies, or else be found wanting by Nature.
    • Note that the training isn't sadistic or over-the-top, so much as simply mind-numbingly boring and exhausting and the equivalent of a full-time job in terms of time spent. Keeping up with the superheroes requires effort when you don't have the benefit of super-serums...
  • The Übermensch: Nazi-style, too.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Averted, and/or subverted. Like the real-life Nazis in World War II, Red Skull has only a fraction of the resources his enemies can bring to bear, which means he has to be a lot smarter and more audacious to keep up. Even so, with rare exceptions he still usually loses in the end.
  • Undying Loyalty: To Hitler and Nazism, at least most versions. He has devoted his entire life to avenging Hitler's death and making his dream of a reborn Nazism come true.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: He once claimed to have searched for years for the physician who pulled him out of the womb... so he could kill him for dragging him out of the darkness and into the light, and for saving him from his father's attempts to murder him.
  • The Unfettered: There are absolutely no limits in his evilness.
  • Unholy Matrimony: When he was with Mother Night. Though Skull was always abusive to her, even if she was completely loyal to him.
    • He also tried it briefly with Madame HYDRA/the Viper, but she turned out to be too crazy for him.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The Skull's own version of his life story includes the claim that he remembers every detail of his birth, knows in-depth what his parents were like despite never really meeting them (he claimed to "feel the hatred" of his father for him - yes, when he was just born) and some other stuff like being thirty years old when he committed his first murder and met Hitler, despite subsequent versions portraying him as a teenager, not to mention his claim of having completed his Red Skull training in weeks, whilst simultaneously being an uneducated failure at everything in life up to that point. Obviously a lot of these changes are Retcon, but it actually makes sense that they are different because if you read between the lines, the Skull could be taken as just a blatant liar, trying to make his transformation sound more remarkable than it was.
    • There's also the point that the Skull who told this version of the story was ancient and rather obviously senile. When he first related his origins to Captain America some forty years earlier, the tale was very similar in outline, but notably free of all the extravagant and shocking details.
    • The recent miniseries Red Skull: Incarnate shows the actual truth to be different, but no less spectacular (Johann orchestrated his "chance" meeting with Hitler).
  • Villain Exit Stage Left: The Red Skull is really slippery when he is making his getaway, with escape routes carefully designed to discourage pursuit.
  • Villain Protagonist: In the old (and obscure) Super-Villain Team-Up comic, there were a few Skull-centric stories. Also in occasional one-shots and stray issues of Captain America.
  • Villain Respect: Most versions can respect and even admire the competence and determination of the more worthy among the heroes he fights, though disagreeing with their ideals. Especially Captain America.
  • Villain World: Some alternate universes show worlds where his schemes succeeded and he took over, one way or another. Usually they look a lot like Nazi Germany.
  • Villainous Breakdown: When he was locked up in a shelter by Magneto.
  • Villainous Crush: Only hinted at, but for a while he seemed to develop an attraction to Sharon Carter, Captain America's on-and-off girlfriend. It was a rather subtle thing, and more intellectual than physical, in that he admired her abilities and determination, as well as her belief in her ideals (however contrary to his own).
  • Villainous Friendship: With Hitler.
  • Visionary Villain: Wishes to remake the world, and when given leeway by sufficiently fantastic technology, the universe. On the more down-to-earth level, he seeks to establish a Nazi world state, high-tech and orderly, with a place for everyone and everyone in his place (which, however, for some people means six feet under). When dreaming bigger, he aims for massive space colonization and outright techno-utopia.
  • We Can Rebuild Him: Usually by courtesy of Arnim Zola, and before him, AIM. One version even had his mind transplanted into a clone of Captain America.
  • We Can Rule Together: Not often, but on occasion. In one fairly recent story, Red Skull tried to persuade Captain America that they are really fighting for the same goals: to rid their countries of present-day corruption and decadence and restore their former glory. Specifically, he played on the fact that they both grew up before World War II, and so share a common viewpoint in seeing a lot things in America having changed for the worse since the 1940s. While Cap might think Nazism is bad, isn't it still better than the bankster capitalism and lunatic identity politics of the 2010s? It almost works — Though a lot of that is due to Skull cheating and using More Than Mind Control.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Not weak by human standards, but when compared to superheroes like Captain America. Thanks to Training from Hell and martial arts mastery, he can still credibly fight low-tier super types hand to hand (though he usually still loses to Cap when the odds are even).
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: The one person whose approval he cares about (and indeed, eagerly seeks) is Hitler. Even decades after World War II, the highest praise he can give for anything goes along the lines, "The Fuehrer himself would have been proud!"
  • Western Terrorists: Of course, the Skull and his men don't view themselves as this.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In some issues of Peter David's. 90's Incredible Hulk run, the Red Skull had formed an alliance of criminals called the New World Order in order to prevent infighting, perform negotiations, and foster cooperation. This group appeared in several Hulk issues and even tangled with X-Men villain Apocalypse! Of course, they haven't appeared or been mentioned since. Later Hulk stories made some vague mentions of the New World Order "collapsing," but we never saw how or why....
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: As a Nazi inhabiting a comics/scifi universe, he puts his own species first. Aliens, mutants and other such creatures are Not Even Human to him.
  • Wicked Cultured: His theme tune is Chopin's Funeral March. He used to play it whenever he dosed someone with his Dust of Death poisoned gas.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: Played with. Generally speaking, he will lie as part of a disguise, or sometimes to misdirect enemies while executing a plan, but not face-to-face concerning important personal matters.
  • Working-Class Hero: An extreme villainous example.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Most works often portray him mass murdering children, especially his Ultimate Marvel version.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Depending on the Writer, he either admires "strong women" or despises them. Either way, he's not inhibited in fighting them on equal terms.
  • Written by the Winners: Naturally thinks this is true of all "Western" history. Also, a hilarious meta-example, since Red Skull himself is written by writers who despise everything he stands for, and write him accordingly.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Either played straight or very darkly subverted, depending on your point of view. The young Johann Schmidt was a miserable loner who had failed at everything he tried and felt completely worthless, to the point of considering suicide. But then he met Hitler, who saw in him a "man of worth" and persuaded him that the new Germany he was building needed men like him. It was the great turning point of his life.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/ComicBook/RedSkull