Marvel Studios packed an overwhelming number of familiar faces into this year’s Avengers: Infinity War, and perhaps none were more surprising to see than Captain America’s old foe Red Skull.
Since we last saw this figure at the climax of The First Avenger, the villain has undergone quite a few physical changes. For one thing, he’s looking a lot less like Hugo Weaving and a lot more like Ross Marquand, but more importantly, Johann Schmidt has taken on a newly spectral form that was almost reminiscent of another famed Marvel character whose skull is on full display: Ghost Rider.
That’s the comparison which this recently shared concept art has earned, and it’s not hard to see why, with the character’s head even displaying that fiery orange glow that we’ve come to associate with the antihero.
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This design was the work of Marvel’s development illustrator Rodney Fuentebella, who’s explained how the character’s appearance was intended to reflect the influence of the Soul Stone.
“We learned pretty early on that Red Skull was going to be returning,” Fuentebella said. “I was so excited to work on this character that has been pivotal in the MCU. I was playing with how early the audience should know that this character–previously called the Stonekeeper in the script–is the Red Skull.”
“I designed versions hiding his face and versions showing how much life or soul the stone took from him. I wanted to play with the idea of what the Soul Stone had done to him and whether he is a ghostlike being now or something soulless.”
As it stands, it’s unclear whether Red Skull’s comeback will ever go beyond this surprise cameo, but Avengers: Infinity War directors Anthony and Joe Russo have suggested that it’s quite possible, arguing that since the Soul Stone has been given away, Johann is now free to leave his Vormir prison and perhaps even pursue the Infinity Stones once more.
But before we can see if and how this villain continues his journey, the fight against Thanos rages on with next year’s Avengers 4, and you can expect at least a few more blasts from the past when the film hits theaters on May 3rd, 2019.