Red Skull: Incarnate #1 is, frankly, disturbing as hell. I suppose it has to be. This is the story of how a little boy grew up to become a serial killer and one of the foundational evil masterminds of the Marvel Universe. Author Greg Pak wrote in an afterword at the end of the comic that, “When I first say David Aja’s [cover artist]amazing covers for “Red Skull: Incarnate,” I was chilled, even troubled. And then I realized that was probably exactly the feeling that a book like this should invoke.”
Masses of audiences are about to be introduced to the Red Skull on the big screen in Captain America: The First Avenger. But the Red Skull was a character causing heinous crimes of evil long before the large majority of those viewers were even born. The first Red Skull was introduced in Captain America #1 in 1941 (though he turned out only to be an agent of the REAL Red Skull, who would appear shortly after). It is the true Red Skull, Johann Schmidt, that makes readers tremble at his twisted mentality. Perhaps his most defining moment in his comic book life was when he was spurned by a Jewish girl for whom he had a crush. In his embarrassment and anger over her rejection, he killed her. His deeds only became more atrocious from there, as he eventually found himself as the right hand man of Hitler himself.
But this first issue of Red Skull: Incarnate doesn’t get to all that yet. It is about an orphan boy who is lost and frustrated in the harsh post WWI German world around him. He sees Nazi soldiers walking through the streets for the first time in his life, and feels scared and attracted at the same time. But after seeing these soldiers, he finds the courage to stand up to his abusive orphanage director, pointing a gun right at his head. But Johann is only a boy and the gun is easily knocked from his hand.
After escaping, young Johann catches a ride with the local dog catcher. He picks up the dog killing weapon of the dog catcher, and in a faceless panel he asks “show me how you kill them.”
I’ve seen a lot of violence in comics. Perhaps it was because Pak drew such a psychological connection between one particular poor, abused puppy and Johann Schmidt that I felt much more disturbed by the violence in this particular comic than in most others. We see, as an audience, the beginning roots of a psychopath.
Pak did his research to make this believable. In his afterward he recommends books like Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans, The Nazis: A Warning from History by Laurence Rees and Explaining Hitler by Ron Rosenbaum. All of these books he used in an effort to make both the time period and the psychological development of the future Red Skull believable.
It was very well done. The art. The story. Everything. But … I honestly don’ t know if I have the stomach to keep reading the remaining 4 issues of this series. I recommend this to those who have an interest in psychology or dark fiction. For those who want an entertaining read, go back to the old Captain America comics of the 40s to get your Red Skull origins.