Spoilers ahead. Avengers: Infinity War certainly had a lot of surprises, but one of the most shocking twists of the film was the appearance of the Red Skull. The terrifying villain didn't have a huge role in the film, but he definitely made an impact and left people talking. But just who is the Red Skull in Infinity War, and why should Marvel fans be familiar with him? For that answer, you've got to go back to 2011, when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still in its infancy.
In the world of comic books, most superheroes have a collection of villains they regularly fight that's known as a rogues' gallery, and at the top of every rogues' gallery is an archenemy. Some famous examples include Loki, the archenemy of Thor; Magneto, the archenemy of the X-Men; Lex Luthor, the archenemy of Superman; Doctor Doom, the archenemy of the Fantastic Four; and the Joker, the archenemy of Batman. The Red Skull, meanwhile, is the archenemy of Captain America, and while he may not be as widely known as those other examples, he is no less evil. Just take a look back at the character's appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger; a role that remains one of the best portrayals of a villain in any Marvel movie.
In The First Avenger, Red Skull is a Nazi in 1940s Germany named Johann Schmidt. He is the head of an advanced weapons division for Hitler, and also the leader of the Nazi offshoot known as Hydra. Hydra, of course, has remained a big presence in the MCU since the film, but its on screen presence began with Red Skull. Red Skull received the same super soldier serum that Captain America did, giving him similar abilities, but it also reacted differently, resulting in his rosy facial disfigurement. In The First Avenger, Red Skull obtains the Tesseract — which is later revealed to contain the Infinity Stone known as the Space Stone — and uses it to create technologically advanced weapons of mass destruction. These weapons are originally intended for Nazi use, but Red Skull and Hydra go rogue and attempt to conquer the world for themselves. Near the end of the film, at the conclusion of the final battle between Red Skull and Captain America, Red Skull touches the Tesseract with his bare hand and is disintegrated and beamed into outer space, never to be seen again. Well, until Infinity War, that is.
Red Skull was the first character to wield the power of an Infinity Stone in the MCU, so it makes sense that he would return for Infinity War, a movie that is all about the stones. His return confirms a theory long held by many fans in that he wasn't killed at the end of The First Avenger, but rather was somehow preserved as a type of cosmic being my the power of the Space Stone. Even before Infinity War was released, this theory was more or less confirmed by the Marvel tie-in prequel comic Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War Prelude, which contained a flashback panel clearly showing Red Skull being shot into outer space and not killed, according to Screen Rant.
With the MCU now 19 films deep, few villains stand out as being legitimately great. There's of course Loki, Thanos — now that he's finally done something, and Killmonger, but people shouldn't forget about Red Skull. The Nazi scientist/literal monster remains one of the most terrifying and legitimately evil bad guys to ever set foot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and his frightening, scene-stealing return in Avengers: Infinity War only adds to his villainous reputation.