In 2011, Marvel Studios introduced general audiences to one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time with Captain America: The First Avenger. The historical action-adventure film harkened back to the Golden Age of Marvel Comics, placing Steve Rogers right in the middle of World War II.The First Avenger had the daunting responsibility of establishing a foundation for the MCU's origins, while also crafting a unique yet familiar characterization for Captain America, who was an incredibly important character for Marvel Studios' future crossover plans.
In order to accurately portray the Star-Spangled Man's origin, the filmmakers decided to pit Steve Rogers against his most famous archenemy: Johann Schmidt - The Red Skull. Red Skull's storyline in The First Avenger revolved around his obsession with otherworldly power through the cosmic relic known as the Tesseract. The villain's infatuation with the Tesseract ultimately led to his downfall, as the film's finale saw Red Skull zapped into space by the object's mysterious powers. Now, a new piece of concept art reveals that the Tesseract almost had an even more impactful consequence on the infamous villain's scarlet origins.
In a new Instagram post, Marvel Studios concept artist Ryan Meinerding revealed an unused early concept for the Red Skull's origins in Captain America: The First Avenger.
The art shows a pre-transformed Johann Schmidt with a half-scarred red face, holding the Tesseract in his hands. Meindering stated in his caption that he was "trying to show that the Tesseract was actually changing him into Red Skull—that the light it gave off effected his skin and skull over time."
This is one of the most interesting departures from a final product that a piece of Marvel concept art has ever shown. In The First Avenger, Johann Schmidt was transformed into the Red Skull by testing an unfinished replice of the Super Soldier Serum on himself, which caused the horrid side-effects of his bright crimson skull. While the character initially wore a mask to achieve the sinister visage in the comics, it's interesting to see Marvel Studios entertain the idea of radically departing from those origins even further for the MCU.
Schmidt's slow transformation due to the Tesseract would have been a cool feature for the film, providing a physical representation of the character's further descent into madness. Captain America's final confrontation with the villain would have been a horrifying reveal, as the true Red Skull takes his final form in enacting his destructive plan to take over the world.
As appealing as this idea was, Marvel most likely passed on this because of the concept art's resemblance to another famous comic book villain, Two-Face. In the photo revealed by Meinerding, Schmidt has only half of his face turned red by the Infinity Stone, and this was most likely how the villain would have been presented for most of the film. Even though the final film's midpoint reveal of an already-transformed Red Skull worked perfectly, it's always fun to look back on what could have been.