Marvel villain Johann Schmidt — better known as the Red Skull — is the longest serving of Captain America's nemeses, and certainly the most prolific. As Cap serves as the unwavering symbol of American patriotism, Red Skull is the ultimate caricature of fascism in the form of a big red-faced Nazi. The perfect foil to #CaptainAmerica, he's the ultimate archenemy to Steve Rogers.
The two characters have been at war on and off during the 70 years since Red Skull's creation, and even his offspring have gone on to cause big problems for Cap (looking at you Sin). But despite the strength of the character he all but failed to live up to his name in Captain America: The First Avenger, his only appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, where he was portrayed by Hugo Weaving.
In the movie, Red Skull doesn't get all that much development beyond the ambitious, superstitious Nazi, and he's eventually taken out by his own hubris, attempting to handle the Tesseract with his bare hands. But the nature of his end means that he could return to the #MCU, if not for Avengers: Infinity War, then beyond.
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But why should he? One of the big criticisms of the MCU so far has been its "villain problem," with their antagonists often failing to be developed beyond a typical villain cut-out. And when it comes to a villain as prolific and important in Cap's history as #RedSkull, it feels like the character wasn't able to achieve his full potential in The First Avenger.
The Mandarin — who is perhaps #IronMan's greatest antagonist — received similar treatment in Iron Man 3 with the Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) bait and switch. And, like Red Skull, there's a chance the real Mandarin could return to the MCU, as the Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King revealed that he's still out there somewhere.
When IGN asked Marvel Studios President #KevinFeige if we'd ever see the real Mandarin or Red Skull appearing again in the MCU, he said that there have "been talks" regarding the Mandarin, but nothing planned out yet. As for Red Skull, he was a little more coy:
"Well, the way we showed [Red Skull's] 'demise' in 'The First Avenger' was to showcase to people that he could perhaps pop up again sometime. I honestly don't know when or where that would be."
This was said back in 2014, when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Winter Soldier had the MCU firmly focused upon #HYDRA. And then Avengers: Age of Ultron came along, and the focus shifted toward the Avengers taking accountability for their own actions. And now the action shifts toward Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his schemes as Avengers: Infinity War draws closer. So has Red Skull missed the HYDRA ship, or is there still space for him to return?
Because Red Skull didn't die at the conclusion of The First Avenger. It is assumed that touching the Tesseract — the Space Stone — transported him across space and possibly time, but there's no guarantee that this killed him, as Feige confirmed to IGN. This would've destroyed an ordinary human, but not necessarily one like Red Skull, a being imbued with the powers of the super-soldier serum.
It's also worth noting that we don't yet know the limits of the powers of the Infinity Stones. In the comics the Soul Gem — the only #InfinityStone yet to make an appearance in the MCU — has the ability to trap souls within itself. When Red Skull meets his "demise," it almost seems as though the energy of the Tesseract is consuming him, pulling him into a portal.
We assumed that this portal took him somewhere, but like the Soul Gem, it could have taken him inside the Space Stone itself. This wouldn't be the first time this kind of thing has happened to him either — in the comics Red Skull has been trapped within Cosmic Cubes and hell dimensions, and within space-time itself, allowing him to appear at different points along the Marvel timeline.
The Tesseract is currently safe and sound on Asgard, watched over by Heimdall (Idris Elba). But the turbulence created by Thor: Ragnarok is going to put it in danger, as Thor's vision during Age of Ultron showed the cube split open, and the stone set free as the gloved hand of Thanos drew near.
So it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he reappeared at some point after the Tesseract is destroyed on the road in #InfinityWar. Or he could already have been recruited by Thanos. Or he could just be bobbing around space somewhere, waiting for his chance to take revenge against Captain America (Chris Evans).
Of course whether or not there is space for him to return is all tied up with the fate of Captain America, and how Steve Rogers moves after the Infinity War follow up, if indeed he survives it at all. Because when Thanos comes knocking, no one is safe, not even Cap.
Do you think Red Skull should return to the MCU? Have your say in the comments below!