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Month of Cool Avengers/X-Men Comic Book Moments – Black Panther Makes Good on a Promise

All month long we will feature brand-new Cool Avengers and X-Men Comic Book Moments in celebration of their fiftieth anniversaries this month. Here is an archive of all the past cool comic moments that I’ve featured so far over the years.

Today we look at Black Panther making good on a promise to the Red Skull in Avengers Volume 3 #70 (by Geoff Johns, Olivier Coipel and Andy Lanning)…

Okay, to set the scene, the Red Skull has infiltrated the U.S. Government. Falcon of the Avengers and Henry Gyrich (the Avengers liaison) were investigating the Skull (before they realized that he was, in fact, the Skull and not just some mysterious bad guy infiltrating the government). They are captured and the Falcon is seriously wounded. The Skull unleashes his plan. He has launched a chemical weapon attack on Mount Rushmore and he plans to blame the attack on Wakanda and frame the Black Panther as a traitor. Captain America showed up to stop the Skull but the Skull has dosed Cap with the deadly chemical. So now you have Panther taking on the Skull while Iron Man tries to revive a dying Cap and Gyrich and Falcon lay nearby chained up (and in the Falcon’s case, terribly wounded)…

Awesome.

So they continue their fight while Iron Man deals with Cap…

They never do. Well done, Panther!

27 Comments

Is Red Zone collected in trade?

It’s increasingly looking like this may be the last Avengers story published that I would actually enjoy…the last one that still feels like “my” Avengers.

(Bendis and, to my surprise, Hickman, just don’t do it for me)

Cool moment.

@dhole : Yes, it’s being collected as a trade paperback: http://comicbookdb.com/issue.php?ID=84205

This story isn’t flawless, but it was good to see the Skull actually played as a Nazi rather than the generic evil super villain he’s so often written as. Johns goes off the rails not too long after this with that awful Hank and Jan bedroom scene, but this was cool. Great art too.

And more recently in Avengers: Complete Geoff Johns v2, out last month

The depressing thing is, when Steve Englehart first portrayed him as a dedicated Nazi in the 1970s, I took it as a sign of how crazy the Skull was–imagine anyone still believing in Hitler today!
And it is crazy, but it’s a much commoner lunacy than I thought.

I’m usually not a fan of Johns and didn’t even like the moment of Cap with the flag from this storyline, but even I have to admit this was a great scene. He really knocked it out of the park on this one. Good job

Yeah, now THIS was the moment I was thinking about!

What I liked so much about this scene was that it was unexpected. In the previous issue, Captain America had his dramatic, angry, defiant entrance, demanding that the Red Skull stop saluting the American flag. I was expecting that, as usual Steve Rogers would be the one to defeat the Skull, rather than any of the other Avengers. But instead of that, the Skull nearly killed him. And so who had to step up to the plate and fight the Skull in this issue? None other than the Black Panther, with an assist from the Falcon. Yep, the two Avengers who the Skull, due to his virulent racism, regarded as his inferiors. I especially love when T’Challa takes off his gloves, showing off his dark skin to the Skull, and calmly tells him “I’m going to break you jaw.” He does this, of course, because he knows it is going to totally enrages the Skull. And then we see T’Challa give Schmidt that epic beating.

I agree with dhole, “Red Zone” ended up being one of the last Avengers story arcs that I genuinely enjoyed, that felt like the “real” Avengers, at least until Dan Slott wrote Mighty Avengers several years later.

GOD, I loved this, the BEST part of Johns’ run. The ultimate racist gets his ass royally kicked by a black man, how fitting is that? It was just beautiful how well it flowed and played on how Panther had been a bit high-handed with the Avengers for Johns’ run (“When have YOU ever taken a chance, Stark?”) and realizing it as he takes down the Skull. Just wonderful how it works with the story and better yet is how Panther uses his claws to bleed Skull to get the antibodies for the Red Zone virus. “Your blood is going to save a lot of people, Skull. People of ALL kinds.” Now that’s wonderfully rubbing it in.

nice pick for this shows when the black panther makes a promise he tries and keeps it . even when it looks like the chips are down. plus seeing the skulls face when red wing and co come is priceless

This was a good story, but the reason Skull often isn’t portrayed as a literal Nazi is because he’s not a literal Nazi. He is, again literally, more evil than the Nazis. Instead of doing hideous things on a broad scale for the sake of an ideology, the Skull does what he does to cause and promote as much pain, hatred, and death as possible. There is’t even a pure Aryan ideal for the Skull; as he said in Brubaker’s run, he’s his “own force, bigger than fascism”.

Nitz, I never thought of it but that makes a lot of sense and actually makes me realize that this scene is a little too obvious. The idea that the Skull has no real ideology and only really joined the nazis because it gave him the best opportunity to cause widespread mayhem, pain and death is fascinating. I like the idea. It’s actually more chilling that way. The idea that he doesn’t love white people any more the any other race, the idea that he is a sadistic psychopath who just hates all people and only joined the Nazis for the chance to spread misery is far more chilling than him just being a racial ideologue, something common that even the most banal of monsters can be. It makes me imagine someone calling him a racist or an antisemite and him laughing and responding that he actually has no particular love for Aryans and no particular problem with minorities or Jews, he just wants to dominate, kill and spread misery. The idea of him with no core ideology or belief system is fascinating to me.

You’ve slightly ruined this moment for me now, Neil. Thanks a lot. :-)

To expand on what I mean and what I think Neil means, doing what Nazis did is monstrous no matter how you look at it, but at least if you tell yourself that the proper sincerely believed that Jews were a blight on humanity, that minorities truly were evil and parasitic and out to ruin your society or destroy your world, at least you can kind of make sense of the evil, even though you disagree with all the premises the evil acts were based on. But a guy who didn’t even buy into the underlying ideology at all but still joined in because they offered the best platform through which he could bring the most pain into the world is so much sicker. He’s not some true believer who thought he was accomplishing some greater good and he’s not some lackey as Arendt described in Banality of Evil who was just obeying authority and blindly following orders, but something far far worse.

Shouldn’t Black Panther be a way better fighter than Red Skull?

I’ve yet to read it, but this looks like a watershed moment for the pre-Bendis era Avengers that I grew up with. Getting the Panther and Redwing to kick the Skull’s Nazi ass from here to next Tuesday instead of Cap made for a nice change of pace.

It’s also cool to see Gyrich apologizing for once, especially poignant since he’s addressing the Panther. Gyrich hated mutants and distrusted metas in general, so I would guess that he likely didn’t care for human minorities very much, either. Johns seems to have humanized Gyrich quite a lot during his run.

This run as a whole never did it for me. In hindsight, it’s got a lot of Johns’ tropes which bug me (prob why I can’t read so much DC), but this is a cool scene, but Coipel’s art has clearly improved tremendously since this arc. In fact the art in general was quite mediocre in Johns’ run, and I wonder if that’s because he forced so many “dark” elements (lot’s of stories set at night or in shadows), and that annoyed me. And the whole Jack of Hearts thing. That issue where he brought back Hawkeye was pretty good, though.

Neil Kapit:”This was a good story, but the reason Skull often isn’t portrayed as a literal Nazi is because he’s not a literal Nazi. He is, again literally, more evil than the Nazis. Instead of doing hideous things on a broad scale for the sake of an ideology, the Skull does what he does to cause and promote as much pain, hatred, and death as possible. There is’t even a pure Aryan ideal for the Skull; as he said in Brubaker’s run, he’s his “own force, bigger than fascism”.

Via the THE BIG LEBOWSKI, the wit and wisdom of Walter Sobchak

“Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

[The Red Skull is] not some true believer who thought he was accomplishing some greater good and he’s not some lackey as Arendt described in Banality of Evil who was just obeying authority and blindly following orders, but something far far worse.

When his Silver Age reconception comes into the matter, he’s actually both the banality of evil and its supercession. The Skull as portrayed by Stan and Jack starts as a lowly beggar and thief, bitterly resentful of his own miserable lot in life but powerless to change it. He comes to view the world as one of victims and victimizers, and longs for the power to become the abuser instead of the abused. This is what Hitler sees in him at the hotel in Berlin, and reflects what Hitler — at least to Stan and Jack’s way of thinking — gave to the resentful and defeated people of Germany: an opportunity to punch downwards, to go from powerless to powerful by exerting total, dehumanizing, murderous power over someone else, some Other. (The Skull going from petty criminal to Nazi mastermind is of course about Hitler himself going from a jail cell to the position of Furher.)

When J.M. DeMatteis adds to this origin story in the early 1980s, he doesn’t really change it much. The Skull gets a real name, yes…but it’s Johann Schmidt, German for “John Smith.” He’s shown committing a murder long before meeting Hitler, but it’s a murder born of lethal entitlement and inculcated sociopathy, not simply that of an innately evil individual. The Skull thus starts as the banal, resentful sort — not quite Arendt’s banality, but banality all the same — and decides that being evil means wielding power without limit, powers whose only exercise and only guarantee is that you have to turn everyone else into Johann Schmidt, the infant whose father nearly drowns him, the thief and beggar whom the other thieves and beggars beat up and rob, the worm who the Jewish storekeeper’s daughter will never take as a partner.

The Skull is more complicated than that in publishing terms, of course; he starts out in his 1941 debut as an American industrialist sabotaging his own side to help the Nazis, and I suspect that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were thinking of Henry Ford, a man who sent Hitler enormous sums every year as a birthday gift before war was declared and who almost singlehandedly brought the anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in America. By his second appearance, though, the Skull is simply an inhuman figure with no real other identity, a living image of Nazism for Captain America to punch.

As little more than “America’s enemy,” the Skull therefore easily turns into a Soviet Communist in the 1950s revival of Captain America; the character doesn’t particularly change, though the situation of a hardcore Nazi ideologue becoming a hardcore Marxist-Leninist seems rather odd given the relationship between the Nazi party and the German Communist Party.

In the 1960s, that is quietly retconned away, and the Skull becomes a particular symbol of a particular take on Nazism and totalitarianism for a while, then descends into being a generic sadistic mastermind. Engelhart tries to remind everyone that the Skull is a Nazi, both by retconning the Soviet Skull into an impostor and by presenting the original rather deliberately as a man out of time, emphasizing the degree to which the Skull, like Steve Rogers himself, was a literal sleeper for a good chunk of recent history. Engelhart’s Skull is dangerous, capable of murdering even stalwarts like Cap-substitute Roscoe, but he really never seems like a man who’s anywhere close to taking over he world and getting infinite power, total domination, unlimited rice pudding, etc. This is probably on purpose, since Gabe Jones and Peggy Carter get to call him a loon in the story arc.

The Skull’s Nazism is refined a bit by Peter B. Gillis, who has him turn on Hitler’s clone, the Hate-Monger. From there, DeMatteis takes him into the 1980s, replacing ideology with psychology and trying t give the Skull’s severe sociopathy a sort of case history. Ut works rather well at making the villain a true character, though the real point seems to be that humanizing the Skull, even as the worst human being imaginable, is what makes him mortal and perishable.

When Mark Gruenwald revived the villain, he reimagined him as the man behind whatever awful ideology or movement existed, even those whose goals were toherwise contradictory His Skull, finally, is the true, pure sadist, the man worse than Hitler bcause his only cause is power for himself at the expense of degrading everyone else. This Skull is closer to Charles Manson than any specific political figure, building a little family of sickos around himself and pursuing whatever scheme lets him hurt people.

John Byrne, Mark Waid, and Geoff Johns all later emphasize the Skull’s particular roots in Nazism, but this doesn’t much stick. Ed Bubaker turns the character into an avatar of terrorism, brings back the notion of fascism as a method rather than an ideological commitment with the Skull’s “Third Wing” party — fascism originated as a supposed “third way” opposed to both liberal democracy and communism — but treats the Skull as simply a sadistic megalomaniac monster who likes to hurt and kill people. Brubaker eventually kills of the Skull, giving his daughter a chance to play the same character type. Sin, however, never really catches on, being derailed by the Fear Itself crossover and then mostly being forgotten.

Finally, Rick Remender, needing an Avengers villainw ho can credibly oppose mutancy, again brings back the Skull, aving him use superhhuman metaphors for classic fascist techniques — stealing Xavier’s brain a bit like fascists employed mass political techniques stolen from their ideological opponents, recruiting the resentful and disenfranchised by promising them revenge on a scapegoat group, and even suggesting that the eternal conflict with mutants or whatever minority is the real truth of life and politics — while clearly suggesting that the Skull is less any one kind of bigot than he is a man who enjoys bigotry because it lets him dehumanize others and recruit followers. And so here we are….

Omar Karindu:”The Skull’s Nazism is refined a bit by Peter B. Gillis, who has him turn on Hitler’s clone, the Hate-Monger. ”

I’ve never liked how Gillis depicted the Skull as being tormented by his decision to turn against Hitler/Hate-Monger. Back in TALES OF SUSPENSE 66-67, Lee and Kirby depicted the Skull as having no real loyalty to Hitler (cf the Skull making Hitler’s most trusted advisers “disapear” and Cap’s reference to how Hitler fears the Skull); the Lee-Kirby Skull saw Hitler as merely means to an end, not as an object worthy of loyalty.

I actually don’t know which side of the fence to fall on in the racism-versus-pure-hate debate. On the one hand, I can see how being a vicious and pure sadist is, in many ways, worse. The objects of your hatred are every living thing on the planet. Though, as far as banality goes, every children’s story or Disney movie has the “just plain evil” villain. They want power, they want to hurt people, or they’re just “bad”. It’s an easy, black-and-white concept that children can understand.

On the other hand, there is something well and truly evil about idealogical hate that almost nothing else can match. If you hate everyone, you just hate everyone. You’re crazy and that’s it. The effort, devotion, and intentional ignorance it takes to be a racist is so upsetting that it’s hard to beat it for definitions of “evil”. If you hate everyone, it can be said that you simply have no capacity for love or humanity. The racist (or any bigoted idealogue) can look at one person and say “I respect you, I care for you, you are a valued member of society” and look at another as a living piece of garbage who is undeserving of air to breathe. That duality is what makes the idealogue possibly worse.

As a long-time Captain America fan, I have to say that Omar did an excellent job analyzing the Red Skull’s varying motivations & ideologies over the decades. Of course, I suppose you could always just sum up the inconsistencies in the Skull’s character by chalking it up to authorial intent, in a similar manner that has also resulted in quite a few seemingly contradictory depictions of Doctor Doom through the years.

I’m trying to remember if it was Mark Waid who said it, but whoever it was summed it up best: “The Red Skull thinks he is better than everyone else.” And, yeah, you could say the exact same thing about Doctor Doom. The difference between the two, though, it that it is crucial to Doom’s delusional perception of himself to believe that he is noble & honorable, and that often results in him avoiding committing especially horrible acts, if only so that he can maintain that self-perception of himself. The Skull, in contrast, does not give a damn what anyone else thinks about him, and he freely admits that he is a depraved sadist. So he feels completely uninhibited in committing the absolute worst atrocities possible without any compunctions.

Wow, someone really doesn’t know what a broken jaw looks like! Total lack of anatomy in that shot.

Now I rather liked the Skull’s ambivalence about betraying the Hate-Monger. The Silver Age version felt more cartoony to me–ooh, look, he’s so scary even Hitler’s afraid of him! In a sense In a sense it’s an extension of what Omar talks about with the Commie Red Skull–writing the Skull as generically evil.
Speaking of which, an excellent analysis, but there’s nothing surprising in showing the Skull as transitioning smoothly to Communism. Even in entertainmnent geared for adults, it was common to show the two were interchangeable. In “The Whip Hand,” a 1950s thriller, the villain is a former Nazi now plotting to unleash germ warfare on the US for the Soviets; “Strange Holiday,” an anti-Nazi drama (Claude Rains blows off the war effort for a week, comes home from camping and discovers they’ve taken over) was reissued during the Cold War with the swastikas covered up with fictitious symbols and all the dialog intact. And there’s a film from a few years ago, Hired Gun, that has the Russian mafia (stock stand-ins for the KGB since the USSR fell apart) providing WMDs to a combined neo-Nazi/Islamic terrorist menace.
I wrote a book a couple of years ago, Screen Enemies of the American Way, that gets into the way the same fears kick in whether the movie enemy is Muslim, Japanese, Nazi or Communist.

fraser:’Now I rather liked the Skull’s ambivalence about betraying the Hate-Monger. The Silver Age version felt more cartoony to me–ooh, look, he’s so scary even Hitler’s afraid of him! In a sense In a sense it’s an extension of what Omar talks about with the Commie Red Skull–writing the Skull as generically evil.”

I’m not sure sure that the Lee-Kirby Skull’s lack of loyalty to Hitler is merely an exercise in “generic evil.” One can also see it as the ultimate extension of the fascist ubermensch ideal; after all, if the Skull truly views himself as the better man, Hitler’s intellectual and physical superior, why should he feel loyal to him? Wouldn’t that kind of sentiment be a mark of weakness, of degeneracy, in the Skull’s eyes?

I’m not sure sure that the Lee-Kirby Skull’s lack of loyalty to Hitler is merely an exercise in “generic evil.” One can also see it as the ultimate extension of the fascist ubermensch ideal; after all, if the Skull truly views himself as the better man, Hitler’s intellectual and physical superior, why should he feel loyal to him? Wouldn’t that kind of sentiment be a mark of weakness, of degeneracy, in the Skull’s eyes?

That was how I took it. He went from being lower than everyone else, the ultimate anonymous, inferior person, to compensating by elevating himself to a grand destiny, to seeing himself as being superior to everyone.

I’m trying to remember if it was Mark Waid who said it, but whoever it was summed it up best: “The Red Skull thinks he is better than everyone else.” And, yeah, you could say the exact same thing about Doctor Doom. The difference between the two, though, it that it is crucial to Doom’s delusional perception of himself to believe that he is noble & honorable, and that often results in him avoiding committing especially horrible acts, if only so that he can maintain that self-perception of himself. The Skull, in contrast, does not give a damn what anyone else thinks about him, and he freely admits that he is a depraved sadist. So he feels completely uninhibited in committing the absolute worst atrocities possible without any compunctions.

Exactly. The Red Skull has no romantic visions, no delusions of working for a greater good, no delusions of nobility. Making him in ideological racist gives him these things, which I think goes against Lee and Kirby’s vision of him. To be a true believer in Nazism would make him someone who holds white people and Germans in some higher esteem, and he was crapped on his whole adolescence by white people and Germans. I can’t see him romanticizing them either. He strikes me under Kirby and Lee as someone who wants to make the whole world pay for how he was treated. Another reason I don’t like the idea of him as a true ideologue is Lee and Kirby showed he had no especially high regard or awe for Hitler and other nazis. So to have him spouting Nazi ideology doesn’t quite ring true in my book, upon further reflection.

I started off liking this scene, but it’s cooled some in my eyes after hearing Neil’s take.

That was a nice piece of analysis, Omar. Have to admit, the notion that the George Maxon Skull was based on Henry Ford never occurred to me. By the way, what did you think of the RED SKULL: INCARNATE mini-series by Greg Pak? I though that it was an interesting attempt to flesh out the Skull’s historical background.

“I’m not sure sure that the Lee-Kirby Skull’s lack of loyalty to Hitler is merely an exercise in “generic evil.” One can also see it as the ultimate extension of the fascist ubermensch ideal; after all, if the Skull truly views himself as the better man, Hitler’s intellectual and physical superior, why should he feel loyal to him? Wouldn’t that kind of sentiment be a mark of weakness, of degeneracy, in the Skull’s eyes?”
Then again, fascism is very big on absolute loyalty to the leaders and to the nation-state, not just self-interest.
I suppose one way to think of it is that just as Cap embodies the best of America, the Skull embodies the worst of people. Cap in the 1960s accepts civil rights and is staunchly anticommunist because those embody American ideals of the day (he also has no problem with fighting alongside women)–you’d never imagine he’d slept through the entire McCarthy era from some of his speeches. In the same way, the Red Skull is whatever the writer thinks of as pure evil.

To add to what has been a great character analysis, I’d say the difference between Dr. Doom and the Red Skull is the old acting trope that the villain is the hero of his own story. Dr. Doom doesn’t think he’s evil; he really believes the world would be a better place if he ruled it. Electro doesn’t think he’s evil for robbing a bank; he needs the money. Kingpin isn’t evil, he’s just conducting good business. Magneto, etc. But the Red Skull, if you called him evil, he’d say “yes I am” and embrace it. He knows he’s the villain in the story and loves it. Everyone makes fun of old school bad guys being bad for bad’s sake and doing all the hand rubbing and maniacal laughter, most of which isn’t true anymore or never was. But the Red Skull is the most EVIL character in the Marvel Universe, and that’s hie catch, that’s what makes him unique.

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