Captain America’s Final Adventure Has a Big Link to Marvel’s Darkest Future


WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Captain America: The End, by Erik Larsen, Dono Sanchez-Almara and VC’s Joe Caramagna, available now.

Marvel’s The End line-up explore final stories for many of the publisher's beloved characters, and Captain America has finally received his own last hurrah. The story, penned and drawn by Image founder Erik Larsen, involves Captain America’s post-apocalyptic last battle with none other than the Red Skull, or at least, the idea of him.

In doing so, the story bears a surprising similarity to Marvel’s darkest future: Earth X. Not only are the situations similar, but the Red Skull virus is an inhuman reflection of another scarlet-colored Skull.

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The Red Skull Virus & Earth X's The Skull

The main threat of the issue is the virulent Red Skull virus, which infects those who contract it with a similar appearance and mindset to the Nazi terrorist. They quickly devolve into a nearly mindless mob, seeking to either assimilate or destroy all those they deem different.

The virus has decidedly racial overtones befitting its Nazi origin, as a group of uninfected survivors are outcasts due to being Asian, Black and Jewish. The latter especially draws the ire of the growing Red Skull mob, who also hate and chase Captain America on instinct. Not even M.O.D.O.K. is immune to it, becoming a gigantic cyborg red skull in the process.

Earth X’s bleak future was meant as Marvel’s answer to DC’s Kingdom Come, seeing Marvel’s classic heroes no longer seeming very super in a world that had been mutated by the Inhumans’ terrigen mist. One of those who now finds himself empowered is Benjamin Beckley, who develops vast mind-control powers. These mental abilities also kill the other psychics in the Marvel Universe, leaving the teenage boy completely unchallenged.

Adorning himself with a Punisher t-shirt, he is dubbed The Skull, though the skull on the shirt is prophetically red. The youth comes into eventual conflict with the aged Captain America, whose never-ending fight for freedom is a stark contrast with the youth’s mental fascism. Unbeknownst to either party, having someone subdue the denizens of Earth, making them easier to control and destroy, was all part of the Celestial’s plan in Earth X.

Red for Death

Like the victims of the Red Skull virus, those under The Skull’s thrall can’t control their bodies or mental functions, even if they try to fight it. This results in scenes in both stories in which Captain America valiantly fights huge swathes of mindless aggressors who seek to either kill him or make him one of them. The Red Skull virus is also physically removed somewhat from the Red Skull himself, who by that time is long dead. Conversely, The Skull didn’t even realize the irony of a fascist with a red skull fighting Captain America, as he was unaware of who the original Red Skull was and simply chose the shirt because he thought it was cool.

Similar to how the virus eventually takes control of M.O.D.O.K., another villain, The Skull gains control of other villains such as an accursed, burning Namor. In the climax of Captain America: The End, Captain America declares that he himself is the problem, while The Skull, a handsome, blonde-haired and blue-eyed youth, resembles Captain America more than the Red Skull. This appearance also matches the Aryan aesthetic espoused by Red Skull and other Nazis, an irony that Captain America himself notes when eulogizing the child in Earth X’s climax. However, the most tragic link between The Skull and his World War II progenitor is that, upon burying him, Captain America is unaware of the boy’s name. Naming him the generic John Smith, which is the Anglicized equivalent of Johann Schmidt, the Red Skull’s real name.

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