Red Skull In Animation - A Retrospective
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Part Three -
Spider-Man received yet another new animated series simply titled Spider-Man: The Animated Series, to match the likes of Batman: The Animated Series or X-Men: The Animated Series which aired around the same time. Spider-Man: TAS premiered in fall of 1994 on Fox Kids, ran for five seasons and with a total of 65 episodes is to this date the longest running Spider-Man animated series. While the show is still fun to watch, most of the episodes haven't really aged that well. The show suffered from a lot of censorship issues but the stories turned out pretty good in the end. Starting with its second season, the show started using long-running story-arcs, often lasting for the entire season.
The Red Skull debuts on this show during the fourth season (dubbed "Partners in Danger"). He briefly appears during a flashback scene in the episode "The Cat", with David Warner providing his single line of dialogue. David Warner also voiced Herbert Landon, another one of the Kingpin's minions on this show. In this story it is revealed that Felicia Hardy's father, John Hardesky was a crook who went by the name of The Cat and while in his youth was tricked by Nazi spies into stealing for them the formula used to create the Super Soldier Serum, used to create Captain America. The boy memorized the formula but realized he was being tricked and didn't divulge the information to anyone and managed to escape the Red Skull and his henchmen. In present day, the Kingpin learns all this and wanting the formula to enhance human beings in order to create a super-powered army for himself plans on using the Chameleon to break Hardesky out of the prison aboard the SHIELD Hellicarrier. Hardesky is now his slave but refuses to speak, at least until Kingpin and Doctor Octopus reveal they have kidnapped his daughter Felicia to force him into revealing his secret. Landon re-creates and apparently improves the Super Soldier Serum, and Felicia is used as a test subject, transforming her into the Black Cat. Since the Red Skull only appeared for a couple of seconds on screen during this episodes, there really isn't that much to talk about him here - but he would play a much larger role in the following season, during the Six Forgotten Warriors storyline, where he was voiced by Earl Boen.
The first story-arc seen during the show's fifth and final season was entitled "The Six Forgotten Warriors", where the Red Skull is a central figure. The first two episodes of the story-arc are all about Peter Parker trying to learn the truth about his parents, who apparently were traitors and spies for Russia. In the meantime, the Kingpin learns of a secret all-powerful Doomsday weapon hidden somewhere in New York, which was built back in WWII by German master-spy, the Red Skull. Wanting to learn more about this weapon he sends his Insidious Six (this shows' name for the classic Sinister Six team of Spidey rogues - consisting of Chameleon, Doctor Octopus, Rhino, Scorpion, Shocker and Vulture) to Russia, where it seems that scientists who have worked on this Doomsday device and were thought dead have recently been kidnapped. Spidey soon finds himself in the middle of a battle between Kingpin's Six and the Wild Pack, a group of mercenaries lead by Silver Sable, who manages to capture all of them and mentions that one of Kingpin's men is actually a traitor. The mysterious masked man who organized all this and for whom the mercenaries work is unmasked to be the Red Skull, but it turns out it was actually Commissar Kragov, the Russian Chief of Police. He mentions that isn't his real name and that he is in reality the son of the German war criminal. Spidey and the others manage to escape the exploding complex where they were held hostage, but in the end we see that Kragov has also escaped, and threatens that soon the world will once again tremble under the iron fist of the Red Skull.
In the next episode, titled "Secrets of the Six", Spidey learns more about the origin of Captain America and how five more persons were granted super-powers back in WWII, in an experiment similar to the one that created Cap. Thus Black Marvel, Destroyer, Miss America, Thunderer and Whizzer were born; all of them based on rather obscure Marvel Comics characters from the Golden Age. The heroes soon became known as the Six American Warriors and in 1945 learned about the existence of the Red Skull and his plans of using the Doomsday weapon. In a battle with Red Skull inside the Doomsday complex, seeing that they are evenly matched, Cap sacrifices himself by throwing himself together with Red Skull into an energy vortex, which keeps them in stasis indefinitely - this happened over 50 years ago (consistent with the age the show was originally aired). Thus the Doomsday weapon was never activated, and the remaining Warriors took with them the six keys to the complex. Now, the Kingpin has managed to obtain a box containing all the information on these now-forgotten Warriors (which was all gathered by Peter's parents before they died) and sends his Insidious Six to find these keys so that he will gain access to the long-sought Doomsday weapon.
Spidey together with Destroyer and Black Marvel try to protect the remaining keys from the Kingpin, but fail. The Doomsday complex is located somewhere in a condemned area of the Bronx, where the Chameleon reveals himself as the traitor that Silver Sable mentioned in an earlier episode, and attacks Kingpin and the others. Now everyone is captured inside the complex, where Kragov (who now calls himself Reinhold) explains that his father, the Red Skull, was the one who created the Chameleon's technology and taught him how to use it - thus the Chameleon was considered his adopted son. Kragov brings Doctor Groitzig (one of the scientists that was kidnapped at the beginning of this story-arc), the one who designed this complex, to open the energy vortex where Red Skull was imprisoned. The Skull is finally free, after 50 years of fighting Cap continuously, and discovers that he hasn't aged a day since he was basically trapped outside of time. He activates a few giant robots - this show had a lot of robots during its run - probably based on the Sleeper robots from the comics, one of the Red Skull's classic weapons. But Groitzig also frees Captain America from inside of the vortex (and he hasn't aged either - a new twist on the classic trapped in a block of ice from the comics); Cap attacks Red Skull again, while Silver Sable appears out of nowhere to free Spidey and the others. Kingpin is also freed alongside his Six and they all fight the giant robots, which soon run out of energy. Red Skull manages to escape with Reinhold intending to activate the Doomsday weapon. Spidey and Silver Sable chase after them, and the latter explains that her father formed a group to hunt war criminals, a job she now intends to continue with Red Skull.
In "The Price of Heroism", we finally learn what Red Skull's Doomsday weapon actually is: a device which turns Kargov/Reinhold into a soldier who can harness energy and bend it to his will, a.k.a. this shows' version of Electro, one of Spidey's classic rogues. Dubbed "Fascism's ultimate warrior" by the Skull, Electro proves to be more than a match for the heroes and villains gathered there. Red Skull is proud of his son and admits that he has earned a place in his new world order, but Electro now realizes he's more powerful than his father and wishes to rule the world alone. Electro recharges the giant robots the heroes fought in the previous episode and takes over the United Nations building, forcing its leaders to proclaim him ruler of the world. Meanwhile, Spidey and Cap realize that the energy vortex Red Skull created was most likely a failsafe for just such an occasion - if Electro turned rogue, he could use the vortex to control him. And they were right; once there Red Skull confirms their theory by boasting that he always anticipates everything, after the vortex generator was repaired. With the vortex now active again, Cap attacks Red Skull and the same thing from 50 years ago happens again - they both jump inside the vortex, once again getting trapped indefinitely. Spidey tricks Electro into trying to absorb the energy from the vortex, which results in the destruction of both the villain and the generator. Despite some flaws and a stupid editing mistake in this last episode (two scenes are shown in the wrong order), this story-arc was pretty awesome. Red Skull was a pretty cool villain, Electro has probably never been more powerful than this - he single handedly took down the entire SHIELD Hellicarrier!, and it was just great seeing Spidey and Cap fighting together.
Among the last story-arcs this show offered was the "Secret Wars", where Spidey is chosen by Madame Web and the Beyonder to lead an army of super-heroes in a battle of good versus evil on an alien planet. The Beyonder chooses the "evil" players for this game: Allistair Smythe, Doctor Doom, Doctor Octopus, Lizard and Red Skull, versus Spidey's team consisting of Captain America, the Fantastic Four (all of them), Iron Man and Storm. Along the way, Lizard joins Spidey's team - his mind reverts back to Doctor Connors', but his body remains that of the Lizard - and the Black Cat is also teleported to this planet. The episode titled "The Gauntlet of the Red Skull" sees the heroes trying to cross a dangerous dessert of that planet to meet up with a group of alien rebels that are prepared to attack Red Skull's stronghold. Smythe is revealed to be working for the Skull, building the Cyber-Skulls, a new army of giant robots. Red Skull makes a partnership with Doctor Octopus as well; though it soon becomes obvious that neither one of them trusts the other and would double cross each other with the first chance - something even Smythe notices and decides to help Spidey and the others de-activate the robots. Black Cat chases after Red Skull wanting revenge for what he did to her father but ultimately the Red Skull and Doc Ock manage to escape. This is the last we see of them in this story-arc, but they are most likely transported back to the places they were taken from by the Beyonder in the first episode of this saga. Not as great as Red Skull's previous appearances on this show (and probably also the weakest part of this story-arc), but still a pretty cool adventure.
Overall, Red Skull on Spider-Man: TAS was pretty awesome. It's also one of the very few shows that had a long-running storyline involving the Skull, with some pretty tight continuity between the episodes.