Red Skull (Comics)
616 Red Skull
The Red Skull of the comic books – whose real name is Johann Schmidt – was originally just a really creepy bellhop who happened to be on the job when Adolph Hitler came to his place of employment. After dressing down a nearby officer, Hitler claimed that he could make a better Nazi out of a bellhop – basically, the Trading Places scenario – and promptly took Schmidt (whose innate sinister nature was readily apparent) under his wing.
After turning Schmidt into the perfect right-hand Nazi, Hitler gave him a red skull mask for propagandist purposes and appointed him the head of terrorist activities. The propaganda was so successful in terrorizing Europe that it prompted the United States to enact Project Rebirth, which resulted in the creation of Captain America.
The Red Skull of the comic books initially had no superpowers to speak of, and, again, his red skull was simply a mask. Eventually he was defeated by Cap, who left him buried under a pile of rubble, presumed dead. However, thanks to some leaked experimental gas, Skull remained alive and in suspended animation for decades – not unlike his arch nemeses, Captain America and Bucky! Coincidences all around. As these things tend to go, Skull inevitably was rescued out from under the rubble, at which point he continued his war against Cap and company.
Skull died some years later, due to his own body shutting down, and had Arnim Zola transfered his mind into the evil cloned body of Captain America. Skull took the name John Smith – Johann Schmidt by way of English – before deforming Steve Rogers' cloned face to resemble that of an actual red skull. This new version of Red Skull had Captain America’s powers, thanks to the clone’s super serum-enhanced DNA, which made him a formidable physical opponent, as well as a mental opponent.
The Red Skull has been transported from body to body ever since and is, at this point in time, back to his old ways of wearing a Red Skull mask.
Ultimate Red Skull
In the Ultimate Universe, Steve Rogers returned home to Brooklyn on leave and, unbeknownst to him, knocked up his sweetheart Gail Richards. His illegitimate son, upon being born, was taken from Richards by the U.S. Government in an attempt recreate Captain America – after all, Rogers’ bastard was the only remaining person to be successfully enhanced by the serum.
For years, Rogers’ son seemed like a totally well-adjusted individual - well-mannered, kindhearted, and what not - as the government trained him to be even more formidable than Captain America. Then, on his 17th birthday, he revealed that all the politeness was but a ruse as he killed everyone in the facility – over 200 men – and sliced his own face off with a kitchen knife “to replace the one his father had given him.” Hence: The Red Skull.
In the decades that followed, the Red Skull worked as the most deadly hired assassin in the world (he even killed John F. Kennedy) before being pitted against his now-unfrozen father in his quest for the Cosmic Cube.
Red Skull (Film)
The Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger is head of the advanced weapons division and Nazi terrorist organization known as Hydra. Prior to the events of the film, he injects himself with an early, untested version of the Serum created by Dr. Abraham Erskine. Though the serum works – Skull has super strength, super speed, and he’s at his peak (and then some) athletically – it inexplicably results in Johann having a red face that resembles a skull. Thus, the Red Skull is born, and Erskine, who doesn’t wish to assist monsters like Hitler and Skull, defects to America.
It could be argued that the cinematic version of Red Skull (as portrayed by career villain Hugo Weaving) is an amalgamation of both the original 616 Red Skull and the Ultimate Red Skull. Not only is he a grandiose, over-the-top supervillain in the old James Bond-style (like the original Red Skull), but he’s also a Super Soldier-enhanced physical opponent with a gen-u-ine red skull for a face (like Ultimate Red Skull). Additionally, both versions have quested for and obtained their own versions of the Cosmic Cube, not unlike Weaving's Skull.
That said, the Red Skull of First Avenger is actually more akin to the Red Skull of the hilarious 1990 Captain America film (starring J.D. Salinger’s son as Steve Rogers!) than any of the versions from the comics – Italian ethnicity notwithstanding. That Red Skull of the '90s movie, kidnapped by Italian fascists as a child, was tested with an early version of Super Soldier Serum created by a Dr. Vaselli Carter – the Italian iteration of Dr. Erskine – who disapproved of experimenting on children and defected to the U.S. shortly thereafter. The serum was successful in transforming the Red Skull into a super soldier, a la Captain America, but it changed his face irrevocably to the one you see above.
Near the end of First Avenger, Red Skull accidentally grabs hold of the Cosmic Cube with his bare hands in a fight to the death with Cap, and the Cube vanishes him with a cosmic blast of lightning. To his death? It’s unclear, which is why it’s more probable that he was zapped to some alternate, possibly Asgard-related dimension. Could Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull feature prominently in the upcoming Avengers film? It’s seems highly possible, as the Cosmic Cube will no doubt play a major role in the story.