Black Widow’s Red Guardian Explained
Like Natasha Romanoff herself, we don’t know much about the upcoming Black Widow solo film other than a few carefully disclosed secrets and what we can discern from the trailer. We do know the story takes place shortly after Captain America: Civil War, opening the way for cameos for the original Avengers. Some of the classic characters from Black Widow’s long comic book history will also appear in the film, including Red Guardian, played by David Harbour (Stranger Things).Is he a hero or a villain? And why is he important to Natasha’s story? The red-clad super soldier hasn’t shown up much in the comics since debuting in two issues of Avengers in the 1960s, but he left quite an impact with a huge revelation after that first appearance. Let’s meet Red Guardian and examine the clues he might hold about Black Widow’s past. These are the topics we’ll be covering here:
- Who Is Red Guardian?
- Red Guardian’s Origin
- Red Guardian’s Powers and Abilities
- Red Guardian and Captain America
- Red Guardian Returns… as Ronin
- Who Is David Harbour in Black Widow?
- Red Guardian in TV and Games
Red Guardian’s Connection to Black Widow (and Captain America)
Who Is Red Guardian?
More than a few characters have held the mantle of Red Guardian, but it will be Alexi Shostakov bearing the red mask in 2020’s Black Widow. The Red Guardian was intended to be the Soviet Union’s counterpart for Captain America, a national hero for a grateful country. Dressed all in red with the Soviet star in the center of his chest, the massive Shostakov was also a highly trained combatant with both brains and brawn.
More significant than his costumed alter ego, Shostakov was once married to Natasha Romanoff. Ironically, it was this relationship that eventually led to Natasha fulling embracing her life as a spy for the KGB.
Red Guardian’s Origin
Red Guardian first appeared in 1967’s Avengers #43, which was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by John Buscema. In that story, Natasha was kidnapped by her former employers. The Red Guardian was waiting for the Avengers to attempt a rescue — especially one Avenger in particular. He was desperate to prove himself better than Captain America.
Eventually, it would be revealed that Shostakov and Natasha had been married years earlier in Russia, before the two were conscripted into the service of the KGB. They loved each other, but when Shostakov was seemingly killed in his line of work as a test pilot, Natasha moved on by fully embracing her life as a secret agent. His apparent death was arranged by the KGB to manipulate the grieving Natasha into becoming one of their top spies.
Red Guardian’s Powers and Abilities
Red Guardian’s powers aren’t clear, although he was able to go toe to toe with Steve Rogers without flinching in their initial encounter. Captain America was also shocked by his speed and reflexes. “I was trained to be your counterpart,” he told Cap on their first meeting. “But I am no mere copy!”
Shostakov threw the large metal star on his uniform similar to the way Captain America uses his shield to attack, with the help of a magnet to return it to his hand. He could hurl it with enough power to not only take out his foes but also damage Cap’s vibranium shield.
Before becoming Red Guardian, Shostakov was an ace test pilot for the Soviet Union.
Red Guardian and Captain America
While it’s never said that Shostakov received any superhuman abilities similar to Captain America’s, when Cap arrived to help save Black Widow in those original Avengers issues, the Red Guardian brashly took him on hand-to-hand. He clearly felt he had something to prove against Cap. The two traded blows and Shostakov proved to be a match for one of Earth’s mightiest heroes.
We’ll never know who might have finally won the fistfight. Enraged when his allies interfered with his one-on-one battle with Cap, Shostakov seemingly changed sides and saved both Captain America and Black Widow. Hawkeye (and readers) were shocked to discover he still loved his estranged ex-wife.
David Harbour explains how Red Guardian helps bridge the gap between Civil War and Infinity War in the video below:
Red Guardian Returns… as Ronin
Shostakov seemingly didn’t survive his first encounter with the Avengers, but, because comics, he would return years later under the name of Ronin. Yep, that’s the same codename that Hawkeye and others would take, and this time it was Shostakov behind the mask.
In Hawkeye & Mockingbird/Black Widow: Widowmaker (2011), someone was taking out the spies of the Marvel universe. The assassin set their sights on Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse and Natasha Romanov. Natasha recognized who was behind the deadly attacks and unmasked none other than her ex-husband, Alexi Shostakov.
When her allies questioned how the former Red Guardian could’ve returned, Natasha explained simply, “Youth serums are all the rage.”
Shostakov, disgusted with the current state of Russia, plotted to take over his former homeland after removing all the prying eyes of spies from the equation. “This is not my motherland!” he declared. “I fought for an empire. The greatest power in the world. Now it withers, a shell of its former self… but now comes the time for revolution.”
Shostakov and Natasha faced off in close combat. Natasha finally defeated her ex-husband, but left him alive to face the consequences for the lives he took.
The would-be super soldier also appeared in a Black Widow-centric story when Natasha discovered he was behind an attempt to destroy her life in a 2004 arc of Daredevil. “I don’t like you,” was all Shostakov would say of his motive.
Who Is David Harbour in Black Widow?
During San Diego Comic-Con, David Harbour not only revealed Red Guardian’s real name, but he also teased a little about the character. “The Americans developed Captain America and in response, in retaliation, the Soviets developed the Red Guardian. So, in that way, he is a foil,” he told IGN.
Similar to his comic counterpart, the Captain America of the Marvel Cinematic Universe apparently looms large in Harbour’s version of Shostakov’s life. And Harbour also revealed that Red Guardian might share another trait in common with the comics as well, hiding a surprise or two up his sleeve. Whether the film expands the character’s history with Natasha Romanoff or even sees Red Guardian fighting for more than one side remains to be seen, but either way, Shostakov will surely be an intriguing addition to the MCU.
Marvel Phase 4: Official Lineup
Red Guardian in TV and Games
- TV: In the “Secret Avengers” episode of Avengers Assemble, the Red Guardian fights against and alongside Captain America and the Avengers as a member of the Winter Guard.
- Games: Red Guardian is a playable character in Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 as a member of the Winter Guard.
It remains to be seen how David Harbour’s version of Red Guardian in Black Widow will differ from his comics counterpart, but it’s already clear that several elements of the character will make it to the big screen intact. We’ll know more when Black Widow is released on May 1, 2020!
Kelly Knox is a freelance writer who also contributes to StarWars.com, DCComics.com, Nerdist, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox to talk Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, and comics.
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Black Widow’s Red Guardian Explained