Red Skull In Animation - A Retrospective
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In 1981 Spider-Man received a new animated series, which aired in syndication and was originally intended as a continuation of the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon, and also soon became to be considered a prequel of some sorts to the more memorable Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. The Red Skull was voiced by Peter Cullen on both these '80s shows. In Spider-Man (1981), he appears in the episode "The Capture of Captain America". His plan here was to capture Cap - as the title implies - and then transfer his mind into Cap's body using Dr. Niemann's (if that's how you spell his name) newest invention. The episode is obviously set in modern times and while it does feature the classic explanation of how Cap survived WWII by remaining in suspended animation, the Red Skull doesn't receive any kind of explanation as to how he's still alive. J. Jonah Jameson is revealed to be a fan of Cap's and organizes Captain America Day, a parade in honor of the hero. During the parade the Red Skull knocks Jameson out and takes his place in order to get close enough to Cap and capture him - which he does, just as Spidey arrives on the scene. That's enough "proof" for the real Jameson to blame Spidey of being the one responsible for Cap's disappearance, and soon the entire city turns on the hero for something he never did in the first place. Realizing the only way to prove he's not guilty is rescuing Cap, Peter Parker disguises himself as Cap and tracks Red Skull back to his castle where he manages to free Captain America. In the end the Red Skull is trapped inside the mind transfer machine which Dr. Niemann (who has been repeatedly insulted and called "ugly" by the Skull throughout the episode) activates, to get his revenge. With no other body in the machine to receive it, the Red Skull's mind vanishes into thin air, leaving his lifeless body behind. Though obviously this wasn't be the end of the Red Skull, it made a pretty creepy ending. Overall this was a good episode, and a decent enough portrayal of the Skull. While his plot wasn't really that original (not even by '80s standards... I think), the story is good enough.
The Red Skull next appears on Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, an animated show that started airing on NBC in fall of 1981. This show saw Spider-man teaming up with Iceman and Firestar (a character created specially for the animated series), as a trio known as the "Spider-Friends". The show featured guest appearances and cameos from a lot of other Marvel Comics characters - and while Captain America did appear in a few episodes, he was absent from the episode that featured the Red Skull, entitled "The Quest of the Red Skull". This is the only cartoon to feature Red Skull where Cap is absent. Instead of Cap, this episode introduced a new original character, Professor Hiawatha Smith. Inspired by the likes of Indiana Jones, Hiawatha Smith is an adventurer, and the son of a heroic chief that fought against the Axis during World War II. He inherited from his father a map leading to a vast Nazi treasure of wealth and advanced technology, which the Red Skull desires. After the Skull's henchmen manage to steal the map from Smith's house, the Spider-Friends team-up with the Professor to stop Red Skull before he reaches the treasure and starts World War III. The episode is fun; there's a lot of adventure, and surprisingly we get mentions of Hitler, Nazis and a couple of swastikas - something I don't think you'd see in cartoons these days, and I don't think it was really that common for cartoons of the '80s either. When both the Red Skull and the Spider-Friends reach the island where the treasure was hidden, the Skull manages to capture them and reveals his plan to launch rockets to bomb countries all over the world. Hiawatha Smith manages to save the heroes and they succeed in changing the targets of the rockets, sending them back to the island where they were launched from. Though the heroes obviously manage to escape, and Spidey tries rescuing Red Skull as well, the Skull runs away, back to his treasure while the island is seen exploding. But as Professor Hiawatha mentions at the end, "somehow he always comes back".
I, the Red Skull, will be the next Hitler. I will lead an army against all mankind. I will start World War III. And this time, we will win!
The X-Men got their own animated series, which aired on Fox Kids between 1992 and 1997. The Red Skull is featured in one episode from the fifth and final season, which used a different animation style. In the episode titled "Old Soldiers", the Red Skull can be seen but only during the flashback portions. In this episode, Wolverine reminisces about his past, specifically the time he fought alongside Captain America during WWII. Their mission was to break into a Nazi establishment and rescue a kidnapped scientist, Andre Cocteau, who was apparently held captive by the Red Skull (voiced here by Cedric Smith - surprisingly the same person who voiced Professor Xavier on the show). The heroes are captured by the Skull's soldiers soon after entering the enemy headquarters, but manage to escape easily, only to be confronted by the Red Skull's secret weapon, a prototype for the Sleeper robot. After a cool little fight scene the heroes manage to destroy the robot and believe Cocteau is a traitor for helping the Skull escape the mansion and apparently not wanting to be saved by them. Years later, in present day (that is, whenever the episode was meant to take place) Wolverine learns from Cocteau's daughter the truth: her father was a double agent working for the Allies. He worked behind enemy lines, sabotaging their research. Meaning that Wolverine's and Cap's mission to rescue him was just a ruse to make the Red Skull believe Cocteau was really on his side.
Overall, the episode was fun and it was great seeing Wolverine and Cap fight together. As for the Red Skull, I thought his design here looked pretty cool. He didn't really get to do that much in this episode but since the episode was supposed to focus more on Wolverine's past, it was still cool they managed to add him somewhere in the story.
After guest-starring on this X-Men animated series and on the Spider-Man animated series from the 90s (more on the latter below), Marvel was developing a Captain America animated series with Saban Entertainment for Fox Kids Network to premier in fall 1998. However, due to the bankruptcy the series was canceled before the premiere. Aparently, in this series Captain America's name was to be changed to Tommy Tompkins, with "Steve Rogers" being a cover name assigned to him by the U.S. Army. Also appearing in the series was the Red Skull, most likely as the main antagonist. Test footage from this proposed cartoon can be found today on the internet (possibly the intro for this animated series) and the Red Skull can be seen in a short scene. Bucky and I think Baron Von Strucker can also be seen in a few scenes, and the story was supposed to take place in WWII, as the beginning of the video mentions the year 1942. As for the Red Skull, I think his design here looks a little too weird - probably because of the teeth. Unfortunately we'll never know if the show would have worked or not.