His friends called him John. John was always so open about exploring the world that he didn't mind this outlandish twist on his birth name. John was only about seventeen, but he knew what he wanted to do: explore the world to discover what it all has to offer. As a child, his parents told him of all the different things there are to do out in the world and the true power that nature holds. John couldn't wait to experience it all.
Unfortunately, transportation was difficult during the 1920's, so John would often struggle to get from place to place. His one dream in life was to venture to New York City, but the cost to cross the North Atlantic was extraordinarily high, limiting John's ability to go there. After his parents died when he was only 14, John and his brother Howard were left with only a handful of coins to live off of. Howard, being the older brother, went into engineering to start raising money. Howard had a nag for engineering since the day he was born. Cars were a new discovery, it seemed, and Howard was destined to move the industry along. In addition, Howard's people skills were phenomenal, being fluent in many different languages, including English. Howard would often teach English to John in his spare time.
John, on the other hand, was given the dirty work. He would switch from job to job, often working in factories or helping load crates onto trains. John loathed these chores, especially helping with trains. Often he would daydream about just hopping onto one of the trains and leaving with it to discover a new world. He knew he needed to stay with Howard, though. So John did not leave.
At age 19, John finally decided that he needed to move, but he did not just want to move to a different place, he instead wanted to move and discover the world. This would all start, he knew, with a trip to New York City and America. John, being a loyal brother, refused to leave without Howard. Howard, too, wanted to move to America to pursue an even greater career in engineering. After getting a remarkable letter of reference from his formal employer, Howard was finally ready to go to America with his brother. Using all the money they had available, they hopped aboard a freight train to America, the "Land of the Free".
Howard and John loved the city. It was everything they had ever dreamed. Except John felt something amiss. Everyone was hurried and fearful for reasons John could not yet understand. The late 1920's were predicted to be some of the greatest years of them all, and yet it seemed to John that things were soon falling apart. Howard, unable to see what John could see, encouraged his brother to stay in New York. Howard found a job quickly in engineering by using his letter and the two rented a small apartment. John wanted to enjoy the world, but even the place where he believed the action would be was lacking in the action he wished for.
After a year of working, Howard applied for citizenship and soon became a legal citizen of the United States. They needed to change his surname, however, because his original name did not seem "American" enough. When John discovered that his brother had abandoned their parents' name for a name like "Stark," he became enraged in Howard's betrayal. The two of them had come to America to begin exploring the world, but instead Howard went on to get a job that required him to work constantly and abandoned his entire past so that he could continue to work in just one place for his entire life. All the while, John was stuck in the small apartment. His only hobby was occasionally walking the streets to see more depressed people besides just him. It sickened John. Betrayed by his brother's eagerness to live a trapped life, John decided to leave America. He was just unsure how.
As John wandered the streets of Manhattan, searching for an escape plan, he found a man, only a few years older than him, lying on the ground. John spoke to the man whose name was Abe. John and Abe discovered they were from the same country of origin and both wished to explore the world, both realizing the sinkhole that America was becoming. They teamed up and intended to hop onto a departing boat to escape back to Europe, but they were immediately caught by the police and taken into custody.
Because they were not legal citizens, the New York Police did not feel the need to take too much care of them in terms of defense. Instead of trying to get them lawyers, a court case or even a record of their crimes, they merely fed them bread and water daily with a copy of the cheapest New York newspaper they could find in order to keep them up-to-date with the world. So there John and Abe sat, for four years.
With only biased propaganda from the cheapest newspaper as their source of the world, John and Abe began to see what they believed were the flaws in society. The paper had a negative twist on every event that ever occurred while the two of them were in jail. During their third year, John and Abe became fed up with both the justice system and the world and vowed to put an end to it. They created a plan together to bring about world peace, but the only way to do this would be with a fresh start. They saw that the problem with the world was the existence of different sects, specifically America. Everyone was separated and at each other's throats on every deal made. It was the flags that truly limited the world from achieving anything in life. John had dreamed of adventuring as a child, and it was not until he was in his jail cell that he realized that the only thing that had kept him from adventuring was the existence of borders. John dreamed of a world free for all to travel, but with a police officer arresting every person trying to go home, it would be impossible.
Every day after this realization, John stared at the flag on the wall across from his cell. It was this flag that held him back. The "laws of the land" kept him behind those bars. John knew, however, that the true laws of the land were simply to co-exist. The laws holding him behind bars were the laws of the greedy. Four years from the day he was first arrested, John snapped. Or, more accurately, the guard who delivered John's food's neck snapped. Under John's hands.
John and Abe escaped the jail cell together. Armed with the pistols of the fallen officers John had overcome, John led them to a building he had read of. This building was home to one of the "rising engineers of New York" known as Howard Stark. John hoped that his long lost brother would be able to help.
John was disgusted at what his brother had become. Not only had Howard dropped his last name, he also dropped his way of speaking and replaced it with a cheap American accent. Howard had done all he could to try to hide his past. It is for this reason that Howard acted as though he did not know who John was when he came to him for help. John had never felt so betrayed in his life. He beat his former brother to a pulp and left the engineer lying on the ground, bleeding out. Abe, now worried for his own life, followed John slowly, still wishing to escape New York City before they were discovered. Fortunately for them, Howard had been busy the last four years and had created a prototype jet which was left in Howard's personal hangar. John and Abe quickly buckled themselves into the seats of the jet and, after too many years, left the island of Manhattan.
Word quickly spread about the two outlaws who had killed many of the New York Police and had almost murdered the rising millionaire Howard Stark. John and Abe knew that they would not be safe unless they were in hiding, so they hid together in a forested region of their homeland, Germany. Abe dug through many of the notes John had managed to steal from Howard's lab and discovered a "scientific legend" of a cube with unlimited power hidden somewhere in Europe that could become an enormous breakthrough for scientific machinery. This ignited the passion that was already sparking inside of John.
Every night after that, John dreamed of a future of peace. There were no countries, no wars and no flags. There was merely coexistence. And he, John, had created this world. He had risen when the world need him to as a god, and when the time was right he brought himself back down and explored the world as he always dreamed of as a child.
John told this dream to Abe, who understood it perfectly. The two worked together to help this dream come true, starting with helping John achieve a higher status in the world. They worked together to improve the state of John's being, with Abe doing the research and experimentation while John would fetch and steal whatever it was Abe needed. They worked for many years, up until the nearing end of the 1930's. This was when Abe required a final ingredient: a touch of nuclear energy, currently kept behind Germany's military lines, run by none other than Der Fuhrer himself, Adolf Hitler.
John, determined to succeed, ventured into the Nazi base alone and, believing he was unseen, stole a small amount of plutonium from the lab of a Nazi scientist named Arnim Zola, who had hidden as soon as John had entered. Zola did nothing until after John escaped with the plutonium. From there, Zola informed his authority, with the word reaching all the way up to Hitler himself, who ordered his men to follow and watch this man as an "experiment".
By this point, John and Abe had built a small lab together. When John arrived with the nuclear energy, they finally had enough power so that the machine could run to turn John into the world's first "superhuman". Stepping into the machine in the center of the lab, John was injected with a number of serums and was penetrated by a large amount of energy. He walked out stronger and more powerful than any man on Earth at the time. They discovered, though, that the nuclear radiation had poisoned John and would eventually begin to deteriorate his skin. His body, now stronger, would endure the lost skin, but the look would be entirely different. They imagined that the only unusual side effect visible, if he wore the proper attire, would be his face. Without skin, there would be nothing left but a red skull.
News of this discovery spread to Hitler, who ordered the two men to be taken to him immediately. John and Abe were soon taken by Nazi soldiers to Der Fuhrer, who offered a deal to John. Hitler envied the ambition and skill John possessed and offered him a high ranking position in his war. Though John did not agree entirely with Hitler's ways, he understood that this was the only way to accomplish his dream. He accepted. Abe was in total shock that his friend would give into the Nazi organization so easily and refused to follow John any further. Hitler was tempted to have Abe killed but instead decided to surrender Abe to America who had been hunting Abe down for many years to no avail. Abraham Erskine was shipped back to America, but was only in custody for a day before he was recruited as a US scientist.
John was given his own sect of the Nazi army and named it HYDRA by request of Hitler, as HYDRA was his second choice for the name of the Nazi's. With an army at his feet, John began to uncover the true location of the legendary cube Howard had written about. Though he was the leader of a Nazi sect, John knew he had no intentions of furthering his relationship with Hitler once he found the cube. He merely used the Nazi's as a stepping stool to help his plans of world peace. As soon as he had the power, he would order his army to quickly turn on Nazi Germany.
Trying to pose as a true Nazi, John reverted his nickname back to his true name: Johann Schmidt. He also knew that more names would grow around him as his skin began to deteriorate. You can't have a completely red face and still be called Johann. But, for the time, Johann Schmidt waited for the cube to be uncovered so he could take out the leading powers of the world. From there, all of the borders would fall and the citizens of Earth would be able to roam free, and maybe, just maybe, John would be able to finally take the adventures he had always dreamed of as a young German child.
John had the same dream he had every night for the past several years. John had seen the future. There were no flags. There was only peace.
John was never able to accomplish this future. The man in the stripes ruined the idea of world peace only John, now known as Red Skull, could have foreseen. That peace would never come true. Two heroes fell the day Captain America and Red Skull had clashed, and no one had realized who the true hero even was.