In one grim reality, Red Skull’s plans resulted in a decimated Earth — and a wild team of resistance fighters led by Captain America.
The Red Skull remains one of Marvel’s darkest villains. A literal member of the Nazi Party in the core-Marvel timeline, his plans to kill Captain America and corrupt the world have largely been prevented by the hero with rousing success. But that’s not the case in every timeline in the Marvel Multiverse.
In one grim reality introduced in What If…?, Captain America was never found and couldn’t prevent Red Skull from enacting a plan that ended with his conquest of Earth. But just because he earned the victory doesn’t mean he can hold on to it — especially when genuine resistance rears its head.
The world from What If…? #67 and #68 (by Chuck Dixon and Darrio Carrasco Jr.) was one where a single act during a battle changed the fate of the world. Earth-11947 began as most other versions of the Marvel Universe — except for an early battle between the original Avengers and Namor. Namor’s failure to dodge an attack resulted in serious injury to the heir of Atlantis and kept him from traveling the world in search of his long-lost kingdom. Because of this, Namor never found Captain America in the ice and drastically changed the chain of events that would return the World War II hero to the present day.
Captain America’s absence allowed Red Skull to operate far longer in secret without any direct opposition. Without Steve Rogers’ watchful eye, a group of Third Reich agents known as the Sleepers was effectively able to stage a sneak assault against the free world (similar to Hydra’s subterfuge of SHIELD in the MCU). This assault was far more successful than in the cinematic universe — with Red Skull’s legion giving him an edge in their battles. Most of the Avengers and Fantastic Four were felled in the attack, and the surviving heroes and mutants were imprisoned to be experimented on. Red Skull quickly turned his attention to the world and decimated it all in a deadly nuclear conflict with Doctor Doom. Things changed, though, when Captain America was finally found years later by Doom.
After escaping, Captain America joined the resistance movement known as the X-Patriots. Despite the name, there were only three prominent mutants on the team — Namor, Jean Grey and Wolverine. The other prominent members were Human Torch, Spider-Man, Nick Fury, Ant-Man, Wasp, Black Widow and Iron Man, all left bitter by the losses they’d suffered in this timeline. Staging an all-out assault under Captain America’s leadership, the X-Patriots prevail — though Iron Man and Wolverine are seriously wounded and Spider-Man dies after ensuring the Red Skull’s death. The X-Patriots’ world is a dark one and is exactly what the Red Skull wants.
Even his initial attack carried out against humanity is portrayed as a massive ship assaulting the East Coast and decimating the nation before it can really respond — similar to the ultimate plan Red Skull had for his assault on America in Captain America: The First Avenger. If anything though, this proves how ultimately short-sighted Red Skull was in his plans, setting the stage for a conflict and takeover that he could never fully control. Organizations like Hydra can’t keep their control of the world for long without either attracting the attention of enemies like Doctor Doom or resistance like the remaining heroes of the planet Earth. While the Phase One villain’s plan may have been devastating to the world, Red Skull can never have permanent control over the world — especially when Captain America gets involved.
Brandon Zachary is an Associate Writer with Comic Book Resources and has written for CBR since 2018. He covers breakouts on comics, film, television, video games, and anime. He also conducts industry interviews, is a Rotten Tomatoes certified film critic, and knows SO MUCH about the X-Men. For requests, comments, or to hear his pitch for a third Avatar series that incorporates robots, you can contact him through email@example.com.