Welcome to the D-List: Red Guardian

Maybe some of you youths are unaware, but Russia used to be part of a communist collective of nations known as the Soviet Union (what’s a yute). For decades, the Soviets and the United States were involved in an arms race, which came to be known as the Cold War. In comic books, however, that arms race extended beyond conventional weaponry to include super soldiers.

It is a friggin crime that he wasn’t trained to fight with a hammer and sickle. Art by John Buscema

Alexi Shostakov was the Soviet answer to Captain America. The character died in his second appearance, however, so Shostakov has rarely appeared outside of flashbacks. I think he has the potential to be an interesting character, and it appears that Marvel Studios may agree (Feige, hire me you coward). Before we go any further, I have to warn you about potential spoilers for the upcoming Black Widow movie—if you haven’t read any of her comics, have no idea who Red Guardian is, but plan to see the film, this column may spoil a plot point that could be used in the movie. For the rest of you, we’re painting the D-List red this month as we welcome Red Guardian.

Alexi Shostakov first appeared in Avengers vol. 1 #43 in 1967. Created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema, an alliance between China and the Soviet Union prompted the nations to create a communist counterpart to Captain America. Their experiments granted Alexi superhuman strength, speed and agility. Black Widow had been captured by the communists, so Hawkeye and Hercules came to rescue her but were both incapacitated by Red Guardian. It was then revealed that Alexi and Black Widow already knew each other—because they were married! (Gasp—so she’s not a widow) Natasha had believed Alexi was dead until he revealed his identity.

When the rest of the Avengers arrived to rescue their teammates, Red Guardian and Captain America fought and were actually evenly matched. Eventually, however, the heroes won and the compound in which they fought started to collapse. However, Alexi saved Black Widow by leaping in front of a bullet meant for her, and then stopped a Chinese general from shooting Cap in the back. The Avengers made it to safety, but the compound exploded and Red Guardian was presumed dead (because presuming death has never backfired in comics).

Even his hair is communist red. Art by John Buscema

Aside from the ridiculous villainous scheme and silly 60s fight scenes, this story featured a communist champion show respect to his American counterpart and the love of his life, which meant Alexi had some modicum of honor, which was pretty neat to see. It was even more interesting that the relatively new Black Widow had been secretly married to this man, yet very little was revealed about Shostakov’s past, especially with Natasha, for many years. Finally, in the 1980s, more was revealed about their history together.

Natasha and Alexi were both gymnasts, fell in love, and were married. Alexi eventually became a test pilot, but the KGB arranged to stage a plane crash so they could perform experiments on him and turn him into the Red Guardian (sounds like they were KGBeing mean to him). Natasha was told Alexi had died, but this was a lie—the government wanted Natasha to work as a spy and Alexi’s “death” convinced her to agree.

This certainly added some interesting depth to Natasha’s history before debuting in Marvel Comics, but Alexi was simply a plot device. Sure, this is a column about D-List characters and a different Red Guardian had already started appearing in Marvel Comics, but where were those character resurrections creators love so much? Finally, almost 40 years after his introduction and apparent death, Shostakov was revealed to be alive.

…is it really, though? Art by Manuel Garcia.

Alexi secretly had Madame Hydra released from Bulgarian custody, but Natasha caught him and called the Avengers. This appearance didn’t lead to anything substantial, but at least it confirmed that Alexi was alive. Others had since taken the mantle of Red Guardian, and Russia was no longer communist, so it made sense that Shostakov no longer donned the costume, but that didn’t mean Alexi was inactive.

Someone dressed as Ronin was killing spies, so Black Widow led a small team of heroes and eventually found the culprit—it was Alexi. The villain had secured help from Japan and was fighting against Russia, angry that his motherland had turned from communism to democracy. The heroes defeated his small army of Super Soldiers and assassins, and Natasha fought Alexi. The battle ended when Natasha shot Alexi in the chest (so she really is a widow now).

Once again, Alexi contributed little to a story and was apparently killed. It’s a shame, because even though the Cold War is over…maybe…a communist champion would still work quite well in modern day comics. Whether as a political statement or not, if a writer had a good story to tell, Alexi Shostakov could still become a very interesting character.

Alexi has appeared in a few alternate timelines within Marvel Comics, the Avengers Assemble cartoon, and Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2. Obviously, the primary reason I’m writing about him is because David Harbour will be portraying Red Guardian in a major film, and although I’m certain he will have a critical role in the movie, I am doubtful about his future in comics. However, Marvel does like to reflect in its comics what occurs in the movies, so whether as a villain or as a guardian, I hope we see more of Alexi Shostakov in Marvel Comics.

Jonathan Robert

Jonathan loves comic books and he loves coffee. Jonathan’s mother gave him his first taste of coffee at the tender age of 3 and it was love at first sip. He now needs to wheel around an IV drip of caffeine at all times or else he turns into a dark, monstrous creature that feeds on despair and makes babies cry. The local village-folk have kept him locked away ever since the “decaf catastrophe of ‘06.” When allowed out of his dungeon, he writes various articles for Geekade, including the monthly column, “Welcome to the D-List,” and records the "Mutant Musings" podcast with his geek-tastic girlfriend, Patti.

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