Red Skull is one of Captain America’s most dangerous and persistent enemies. He’s the polar opposite of the American hero, a twisted reflection who has proven to be more evil and deadly than the many other villains Cap has faced. The Johann Shmidt version of the character was introduced in Captain America Comics #1 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941. The Nazi agent immediately assumed the position of Steve Rogers’ archenemy, as the American super soldier foiled his plans repeatedly throughout World War II. Initially, this version wore a red death skull mask, his face hidden for decades until he and the First Avenger awoke in the modern age.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shmidt was present and correct as head of HYDRA in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. When Cap punched him in the face, Shmidt revealed why he’d earned his nickname to a shocked Rogers and Bucky Barnes. Obsessed with becoming the superior man, Red Skull had tested an early version of Abraham Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum on himself, resulting in his hideously disfigured appearance. As in the comics, Cap’s missions in German-occupied Europe repeatedly disrupted the head of Hydra’s plans as he sought to use the Tesseract to change the course of the war. That is, until one fateful meeting on an aircraft heading to the Arctic.
Red Skull has cheated death many times in the comic, but his fate in the MCU was quite different.
How did Red Skull get to Vormir?
In his final confrontation with Captain America at the end of The First Avenger, Red Skull was sucked into a portal that formed after he touched the Tesseract. Unlike his nemesis, Red Skull wasn’t destined to be reawakened in the 21st century.
Rumors of Red Skull’s reappearance in sequels to Captain America: The First Avenger proved to be wishful thinking. The Skull’s fate was revealed in Avengers: Infinity War, when he met Thanos and Gamora on the barren planet Vormir as the keeper of the Soul Stone.
The Infinity Stones dictated the Skull’s journey through the MCU. On Earth, he was obsessed with tracking down and harnessing the immense power of the Tesseract, the housing for the Space Stone. Damaged during the fight with his nemesis, the Space Stone generated a wormhole when the Skull touched it, transporting the villain across space to Vormir. The planet’s name comes from the comics, but in the MCU, it’s at the center of Celestial existence and the location of the Soul Stone.
Red Skull’s fate wasn’t a pleasant one. As punishment for his misuse of the Space Stone, he was cursed to drift around Vormir for seven decades as a wraith. Although there’s a hint that the Skull still longs for the stone himself⏤a fitting part of his punishment⏤he’s an appropriate guardian as one of the few who knows the effect that the stones can have. As he tells the Mad Titan when he comes to retrieve the stone, “To ensure that whoever possesses it understands its power, the stone demands a sacrifice.”
Having been the messenger and observer of some of the most moving parts of the Infinity Saga, it seemed that Thanos’s sacrifice of his daughter Gamora released the Soul Stone and Red Skull from his cursed responsibility, but his story wasn’t over. A final confrontation with Captain America awaited.
Following the Battle of Earth in Avengers: Endgame, Cap returned the Infinity Stones to their correct timelines, including the Soul Stone. By returning it to Vormir in 2014, he must have come face-to-face with his old enemy, and since both of them have changed significantly since their first meeting, it would be interesting to know whether they debated or fought upon seeing each other again. As of now, the details of their interaction remain unknown.
The best-case scenario for Red Skull was likely a return to his permanent, cursed exile when Cap succeeded in his mission⏤forever close to an Infinity Stone, but never able to claim it for himself.