The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Captain America's arch-enemy
Captain America's arch-enemy
The Red Skull is Captain America's arch-enemy.
With regards to his religion, the Red Skull is a Nazi. The Red Skull is, in fact, fanatically devoted to Nazism and since World War II he has been Marvel Earth's principle promulgator of Nazism.
Note that the word "religion" is used here not in its usual positive sense or in the more restrictive ways that some people use the word, but in the word's broader sense. In other words, Nazism is the Red Skull's principle motivation or "ultimate concern." Nazism is the principle source of the Red Skull's values and worldview.
During the 1980s, the Red Skull (Johann Schmidt) ostensibly abandoned Nazism and sought to become associated with more modern, more socially acceptable ideals. This was really just an exercise in propaganda and pragmatism. Regardless of what belief system the Red Skull identified himself by, his core personality and ideals were unchanged.
Ultimately, the Red Skull is really just a purely evil villain. Even Nazism, although at the heart of the Red Skull's efforts for many years, isn't truly the Red Skull's core source of values. Nazism is more of a symptom of his evil, or a means to an ends. Influential Captain America writer Ed Brubaker aptly summarized the Red Skull's nature when he said, that "the Red Skull is... pretty much just straight up evil. He's not crazy; he's just evil. He's this nihilistic, anarchistic, fascist guy who brings out the worst aspects of all those things" (Marvel Spotlight: Captain America Remembered, 2007, page 8.)
From: "Red Skull" page on Wikipedia.org website (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Skull; viewed 25 April 2007):
Red Skull is the name of three Marvel Comics supervillains who are enemies of Captain America, other superheroes, and the United States in general. The first two Red Skulls are Nazi agents and the third is a Communist. The Red Skull was first introduced in Captain America Comics #1 in 1941...
The Red Skull, Johann Schmidt, was a former Nazi general officer and confidant of Adolf Hitler. He has been... an enemy of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers, and the interests of the United States of America and of the free world in general. He was physically augmented by having his mind placed into the body of a clone of Captain America, the pinnacle of human perfection. He has been seemingly killed in the past, only to return time and time again to plague the world with schemes of world domination and genocide.
Chronologically by publication date, the first Red Skull to appear in the 1940s comics was George John Maxon, an American businessman and Nazi agent who led a ring of spies and saboteurs. He faced Captain America during two of the latter's first missions. A formidable opponent in his own right, Maxon was killed during the last encounter, though he would reappear during the Modern Age. However, in the later Silver Age period, writers decided that Maxon had simply been a decoy for another Red Skull who was still living, named Johann Schmidt. This Red Skull, through retconning, would now be considered the earliest Red Skull according to the continuing stories. This led to the Maxon incarnation of the Red Skull being sometimes labelled as the Red Skull II and the Schmidt incarnation (a character which appeared chronologically later in the books) as the Red Skull I.
As with many supervillains, Johann Schmidt had a traumatic childhood that warped his mind paving the way for villainy in his adult life. Schmidt's mother died in childbirth and his father blamed Johann for it and tried to murder him, only to be stopped by the attending doctor. The father later committed suicide and Johann was orphaned. He grew up on the streets struggling to survive and his hatred of humanity grew with each day. A key episode was when he fell for a local Jewish girl, but when she spurned his clumsy advances, he murdered her, finding a release for his frustrations. With that, his depravity grew still more.
In his late teens during the rise of the Third Reich, Schmidt got his most prosperous job, a bellhop in a major hotel. There he served the rooms of Adolf Hitler himself. By chance, he was present when the Fuhrer was furiously berating an officer and swore he could train Johann himself, a simple bellhop, to be a better National Socialist. Looking closely at the youth and sensing his dark inner nature, Hitler decided to take up the challenge and recruited Schmidt.
Dissatisfied with the standard drill instruction his subordinates used to train Schmidt, Hitler took over personally. Upon completion, Hitler gave Schmidt a unique uniform with a grotesque red skull mask, and he emerged as the Red Skull for the first time. His role was the embodiment of Nazi intimidation, while Hitler could remain the popular leader of Germany. To that end, The Red Skull was appointed head of Nazi terrorist activities with an additional large role in external espionage and sabotage. He succeeded, wreaking havoc throughout Europe in the early stages of World War II. The propaganda effect was so great that the United States government decided to counter it by creating their own equivalent using the one recipient of the lost Project Rebirth, Steve Rogers, as Captain America...
Modern Era ...Johann was eventually rescued in modern times by the terrorist organization, HYDRA. The Skull quickly subverted a cell to his own ambitions of world conquest and the death of Captain America. ...the two enemies resumed their war, with Captain America, among other opponents, frustrating the Skull's schemes... Establishing a Nazi colony on a deserted island, the Skull fathered a daughter who would eventually become known as Mother Superior...
[Later] assuming the identity of "John Smith" (coincidentally, the English equivalent of his natural German name), Skull decided that he would reinvent himself and his quest for absolute power as a means to celebrate his cheating death. The Red Skull abandoned his longstanding beliefs in National Socialism and Hitler, on the belief that the Nazi philosophy made him look like a relic of the past. Skull instead turned towards American ideology for his new motivation. Skull saw much potential in America in the 1980s and set about establishing his own foothold inside Washington DC, culminating in him gaining control over "The Commission", a government body that monitored and regulated super-hero activities in Washington...
The Red Skull's relationship with other villains in the 1990s was fraught with problems due to many villains shunning Skull because of his Nazi background. In the 1989 "Streets of Poison" storyline, the Skull proposes an alliance with the Kingpin to bring a new designer drug to New York but the Kingpin refuses to ally with the Nazi... [There was also] a team-up with the Joker in a Batman/Captain America crossover book set during World War II (though this is considered non-canon... [when] he discovered he was working for a Nazi, the Joker actually took moral outrage: "I may be a criminal lunatic, but I'm an American criminal lunatic!"
...Captain America's recovery would segue into a reluctant team-up between him and Skull; a Nazi cult that worshipped Adolf Hitler as a god had discovered a cosmic cube that contained Hitler's mind, put there in the cube by Skull himself. The two sought to stop the cult from fully powering the Hitler Cosmic Cube but Skull opted instead to send Captain America (against his will) into the cube to kill Hitler and allow him to imprison Captain America in the cube while he used its power to conquer humanity...
From: Dugan Trodglen, "The Man Who Killed Captain America" (interview with Captain America writer Ed Brubaker, the writer of Captain America #25 in 2007, the issue in which Steve Rogers was assassinated by people working for the Red Skull), published in Marvel Spotlight: Captain America Remembered (2007), page 8:
Spotlight: Moving on to the Red Skull, one of the cool things about his role in the story is that if you look at other iconic villains like Magneto or Dr. Doom, they have a kind of nobility and a respect for their nemeses. If Xavier were killed for instance, Magneto would probably mourn, and Doom would likely have mixed emotions about Richards dying. Not so with the Red Skull! It seems like he would feel nothing but glee at killing Captain America.
Ed [Brubaker]: I realized a little while ago that the Red Skull is the one major super-villain who is pretty much just straight up evil. He's not crazy; he's just evil. He's this nihilistic, anarchistic, fascist guy who brings out the worst aspects of all those things. Magneto and Dr. Doom each have moments of redemption and each have a certain humanity that makes them who they are, but the Red Skull would happily fiddle while America burns.
Spotlight: And he is, I guess, the villain of the piece here?
Ed [Brubaker]: Oh, yeah. He has been since issue one. The Red Skull is moving his plot into place. Killing Cap was just the first step in the Red Skull's plan. There are a lot of pieces moving like a giant chess game. I feel it becoming more and more epic with each issue.
From: Doug Tonks, "A Higher Power", posted 22 October 2006 on "All New! All Different! Howling Curmudgeons: Two-Fisted Comics Commentary and Criticism!" blog website (http://www.whiterose.org/howlingcurmudgeons/archives/009995.html; viewed 25 April 2007):
The never-identified but usually heeded "they" claim that there are two topics you should never talk about: religion and politics. But since Mike already brought up religion... I'll follow it up with a link to this page [link to: http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html], which lists the religious affiliations of various comic book characters. Many of the religious identifications are backed up with lengthy supporting arguments, but some of the more minor characters get little or nothing in the way of explanation.
Some of them are not too surprising... Others are obvious...
But this being comic books, it's not too long until things start getting a bit less clear... ...a few characters are given a religious affiliation that's not exactly religious. The Question is... an Objectivist; the Red Skull is a Nazi. While neither of those IDs are incorrect, I'm not sure either one is a religion...
Posted by Doug at October 22, 2006 7:12 PM
I think the site is using a very general definition of religion to mean a comprehensive metaphysic and its consequent ideology, discipline, or practice, not necessarily "worship." Not many might seem like religion, but neither is Buddhism from a purely theistic perspective... If the ideology has an eschatology, then I'd say yes.
In this sense "Objectivist" and "Communist" would qualify. I don't think most Nazis would have "Nazi" as their religion, but it makes sense to portray the Red Skull as an apostle of some mad Nietszchean Fuhrerprinzip National Socialism (although the dark messianic angle of the Red Skull is rarely shown) and because Nazism is his purpose in life...
Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 23, 2006 2:18 PM
From: "Religions of super heroes" forum discussion page started 14 August 2006 on "Wizard Universe" website (http://wizarduniverse.invisionzone.com/lofiversion/index.php/t1595.html; viewed 25 April 2007):
Aug 14 2006, 06:17 PM
...Since when is Communist, Liberal Marxist, "fair play", animal rights, mildly feminist, Alcoholics Anonymous, pro-abortion activist, Nazi, obsession with duality, and hates Spider-Man a religion???
From: "The Church of Superman" forum discussion started 19 June 2006 on the "James Randi Educational Foundation" website (http://www.randi.org/forumlive/showthread.php?t=58627; viewed 15 May 2007):
19th June 2006, 06:03 AM
The Church of Superman
Hmmmm... the "religious" affiliations of comic book characters. Huh?
19th June 2006, 07:47 AM
Oh boy. They have bunches of Atheist villains; they list Red Skull's religion as "Nazi" (Someone should really give them a remedial history education on that one)...
From: Brad Meltzer, "Jewish Superhero Website Listing", posted 28 June 2007 on his official MySpace website (http://www.bradmeltzer.com/labels/Comics.html; viewed 9 July 2007):
Thanks to Jack G. for this. And I so admire The Acidic Jew [link to: http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/AcidicJew.html].
[reader comments posted in response to this, at:
I thought Red skull took out all the Jewish super heroes.
Posted by Buckle Buck on Thursday, June 28, 2007 at 9:33 PM
From: "Question about Magneto" forum discussion, started 12 May 2006 on "Giant in the Playground" website (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-15296.html; viewed 17 July 2007):
The Vorpal Tribble
05-12-2006, 11:31 PM
What's funny is there's a site somewhere that lists the majority of comic book characters by religion, because apparently they each had one.
Just found it:
05-12-2006, 11:44 PM
Has anyone ever bothered to cross reference that so that you can search the superhero you want to find, instaead of sifting through piles of people in not-nessesarily alphabetical order?
And for the Red Skull, is Nazi actually a religion? I had the idea that it is a political philosophy.
And why, out of all of them, are there maybe, like 2 agnostics?
The Vorpal Tribble
05-12-2006, 11:46 PM
re: "...so that you can search the superhero you want to find, instaead of sifting through piles of people in not-nessesarily alphabetical order?"
Control + F is your friend.
05-12-2006, 11:48 PM
05-13-2006, 02:00 AM
No, I don't know anyone who would classify "Nazi" as a religion, though as a political ideal it did have its fanatics. Leaders of that party at the time of World War II had diverse religious beliefs ranging from various Christian denominations to Atheism to the Classical Norse pantheon.
05-13-2006, 02:03 AM
[Nazism] is only [a religion] such insofar as it discourages OTHER beliefs that could possibly conflict with it. Kind of like how Communism discourages (and/or represses) religion, since it means that the people are loyal to something OTHER than the state first: they are loyal to God. This is why in the USSR Lenin was attempted to be elevated in the eyes of the people to near-deific status. And in Nazism, Hitler was also given that "image" by his promoters. So in a way, it IS a religion, as those that "completely" believe in it can't have a religion as well, though it isn't a religion by most definitions. More of the "divinity of the race" with Nazism, rather than a deity (or collection thereof).
The best way to think about Nazism is this: Facism + Racism = Nazism. Yes, Facism is not by its very nature racist. It is often thought to be the same, but from a scholarly perspective, it is definitely not. Bad? Oh by most standards most definitely, but racism isn't a requirement of it, whereas it's ALWAYS present in Nazism.
I hope that answered one of your questions at least.
05-13-2006, 12:15 PM
re: "For the Red Skull, is Nazi actually a religion? I had the idea that it is a political philosophy."
Well, that is the problem: while, lacking the transcendental, it is not a religion as one would usually define religion, it is neither a political philosophy as one would usually define those because it had certain aspects usually only found in religion.
Hence, a certain school of political scientists came up with the term "political religion." I am not going to explain this in length here, but if I remember correctly, it was Voegelin who made this term famous, but there are some more recent scientists following his idea, Barry Cooper for example.
05-16-2006, 01:40 AM
Yes, to call Nazism a religion is akin to calling modern liberalism (essentially Marxism/Stalinism under a new guise) as such. Both are pursued with fervency by its believers and both seek to simply consume and destroy. The difference is that Nazis seem proud of their racism while liberals try to hide it behind a facade of psuedomoralistic posturing and buzzwords calculated to confuse any argument and make it seem as if conservatives are the racists.
05-16-2006, 03:23 AM
I think a significant argument can be made that [even] if [Nazism] wasn't a full-fledged religion, the Nazi leadership was certainly trying to establish it as such. A couple of years ago I saw a show on one of the history channels that showed old film reels of the "Ceremony of the Blood Flag" and of German schoolchildren reciting prayers to Hitler. Creepy, creepy stuff...
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