So I’ve been doing this blog series on Golden Age superheroes for a while now and you know who hasn’t been getting enough attention? The villains.
Now in my defense a lot of the bad guys in the early days of comic books weren’t the super powered titans of terror that we all know and love today. Instead of dealing with memorable psychopathic madmen who can level an entire city or have a cool costume most of the early comic book heroes dealt with your average corrupt politician or gangster.
Also, since the Golden Age of Comics took place during WW2 there were Nazis, and since a lot of the people creating these comic books at the time were Jewish there were a lot of heroes to kicked a lot of Nazi butt.
So since kicking the Third Reich into next week figured so heavily into the early history of comic books I’d thought it would be best to kick off our journey of discovery into the Golden Age villains by taking a look at Marvel’s first super villain and the most iconic comic book Nazi, the one who has been the greatest threat to the Marvel heroes since the 1940’s, the one who even Hitler thought was too evil and vile: The Red Skull.
Origin and career:
Fun story about the creation of the character. The Red Skull was created by comic book legends, and the co creators of Captain America: France Herron, Jack Kirby, and Joe Simon.
The story goes that the inspiration for the Red Skull came when Joe Simon was eating a hot fudge sundae and thought the melting sundae looked like a skull.
Simon had the brilliant idea to name his new Nazi super villain…Hot Fudge. Thankfully he decided that the cherry on top of the sundae looked more intimidating and changed the name of the villain to Red Skull.
Anyway, back to the actual character. The original Red Skull appeared in the first issue of Timely Comic’s Captain America #1 in March 1941.
The villain’s actual name was George Maxon, an industrialist who owned the Maxon Aircraft Company and sold airplanes to the U.S military.
Despite the wealth and success that came with the American government contracts Maxon decided to turn traitor and join the Nazi party. Hitler personally charged Maxon with undermining the American war effort and promised him control over all American industry if the Nazis won the war. In order to do this Maxon donned the now famous mask and took on the identity of the Red Skull.
He also had a hypodermic needle filled with a fast acting poison which he billed as his “touch of death” and used to kill several high ranking members of the American military.
After a string of assassinations and mysterious acts of sabotage the Red Skull would eventually gain the attention of Captain America and his sidekick Bucky.
However, during their fight Maxon would accidentally roll onto one of his poison needles and was seemingly killed. Since this is a comic book and death is but a revolving door Maxon would return to enact a terrible revenge on Captain America by attacking New York with a giant drill. He even managed to capture Cap and Bucky and proceeded to hang them.
Fortunately for the American war effort you can clearly see in the picture that the actual heroes are not dead. Instead the Red Skull had kidnapped two impostors and mistakenly thought they were the real Captain America and Bucky (spoiler alert, this is also exactly what happens in the movie Kick Ass). In a desperate attempt to escape Skull throws a bomb at the two but it fails to kill them and the explosion kills the Red Skull instead.
Despite the death of George Maxon the Red Skull would rise again. It turned out that Maxon was merely a puppet in a much larger conspiracy and in Captain America #7 published on October 1941 it was revealed that there was another, more sinister Red Skull named Johann Schmidt. The two would continue their duel until 1949 when this Red Skull was killed battling Captain America in the depths of Hell in Captain America Weird Tales #74.
So what happened?
Schmidt would eventually become a much more fleshed out character but it took a while. After the post war decline of superheroes the Red Skull stayed dead for a while. He would eventually make an appearance in a 1954 issue of Young Man Comics where he and Captain America were both resurrected.
During the 50’s Schmidt quit the Nazi party and politics in general and decided to become a run of the mill criminal mastermind. In his next appearance three issues later he was left for dead again.
Schmidt’s Red Skull would make a full comeback in the 60’s as the main enemy of Captain America and the Avengers in Tales of Suspense #66
Schmidt was also given a backstory where it was revealed that he had begun his career as a supervillain by impressing Hitler so much that he was invited to join the Nazi party in the 1930’s. His dedication the party and knack for violence and intimidation led to him becoming one of the highest ranking Nazis in all of Germany and so intimidating that he even made Hitler nervous. Despite his skill and cunning the Nazis still lost the war and the Red Skull suffered an accident that froze him much in the same way as his old nemesis Captain America.
Since his creation the Red Skull has been one of, if not the greatest, threat to world peace in the Marvel Universe. However, despite all his skill and ruthlessness he is eternally linked to life and fate of his foe Captain America and usually winds up being beaten by the First Avenger in the end. He is Marvel’s first and greatest super villain and one of the greatest personifications of hate and lust for power in all of comic books.