Originally written by Nicholas Raymond for Screen Rant
Russia's answer to Captain America, the Red Guardian, is joining the MCU in Marvel's Black Widow movie. The Russian super soldier has a history that goes back to the 1960s. Since then, the character has become entangled in the stories of Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.
After being talked about for years, Scarlet Johansson's Natasha Romanoff is finally getting a solo movie, despite being tragically killed off in a pivotal moment in Avengers: Endgame. Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow is the next movie in the MCU. Set for a May 2020 release date, Black Widow takes place after Captain America: Civil War but before Avengers: Infinity War. The movie's story comes at a time where Natasha is a fugitive on the run. Natasha will be on her own and without the Avengers when she has to confront her past.
Black Widow dives deep into Natasha's checkered past as she encounters several comic book characters, including the second Black Widow, Yelena Bolova (Florence Pugh), the villainous Taskmaster, and David Harbour's Red Guardian aka Alexei Shostakov. But who is Alexei Shostakov, and how important is he to Marvel Comics and the world of Black Widow?
RED GUARDIAN'S ORIGIN IN MARVEL COMICS
Marvel's first Red Guardian, Alexei Shostakov, debuted in the pages of The Avengers #43 in 1967. He was a Russian citizen who had an arranged marriage with a young Natasha Romanoff. Both ended up becoming agents of the KGB. After Alexei developed a reputation as one of the Soviet Union's best pilots, the Soviets decided to use him for an important project, but it was decided that he could no longer be in contact with his wife. Alexei's death was faked, and Natasha moved on with her life, unaware that her "dead" husband was being trained to be Russia's "Red Guardian", their version of Captain America.
During this time, training consumed Alexei's life, as making him superior to Captain America was the KGB's ultimate objective. Alexei devoted himself to his new purpose, making sure he worked as hard as he could to serve his masters. In the mid-1960s, Alexei was given a chance to prove himself when he went up against Black Widow and the Avengers. He revealed his true identity to Natasha, who was shocked to discover that Alexei was still alive.
At the direction of the Soviets, Red Guardian faced his greatest test when he fought Captain America. Despite all of his training, he was unable to defeat him. When his superiors became convinced that Steve Rogers would win the fight, they intervened. As a matter of honor and respect for his opponent, Red Guardian stopped them so that he could save Captain America and Black Widow. Red Guardian died so that Captain America - a man he had been trained to kill - could live.
RED GUARDIAN'S POWERS & ABILITIES EXPLAINED
As someone who was trained to be like Captain America, Red Guardian is a capable fighter who has a great deal of experience in several forms of martial arts. Red Guardian underwent intense training every day, so his strength and agility are near the limit of what a human can do. His fighting prowess was on display when he effortlessly defeated Hawkeye, and while he couldn't beat Captain America, he did prove to be a formidable adversary worthy of Steve's respect, which speaks volumes about his fighting ability. In combat, Alexei employs a weapon supplied to him by the KGB. Alexei wields an electronically-controlled "belt-disc", which, as the name implies, attaches to his belt. Alexei throws the weapon with deadly accuracy, and the magnetic devices inside of it cause it to return to his grasp.
Nearly every version of the Red Guardian since Alexei doesn't use the belt-disc. Instead, Red Guardians traditionally carry a steel shield similar to Captain America's. The primary difference is that it isn't as durable as the shield it was modeled after.
RED GUARDIAN'S MOST IMPORTANT MARVEL COMICS STORIES
Alexei's story in Marvel Comics was short lived, as he died in only his second appearance, which was in Avengers #44. While it seemed that Alexei's story was over, Marvel found a way to use him again decades later. In Marvel Comics' 2010 miniseries, Widowmaker, it was revealed that Alexei had actually faked his death a second time. Though the Avengers ended his story on a positive, redemptive note, Widowmaker sends him back to being a villain, and this time he isn't seen as a sympathetic character who was misused by the Russian government. In the series, Alexei has taken on the mantle of "Ronin", an identity once used by Hawkeye. No longer calling himself the Red Guardian, the new Ronin becomes an assassin and tries to start a war between Russia and Japan. His plan is thwarted by the combined efforts of Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Mockingbird.
Due to Alexei's short lifespan in the comics, the character hasn't had much to do in the comics. However, he isn't Marvel's only Red Guardian. There are few superhero titles that have been passed on to more characters than "Red Guardian". Over the course of 50 years, multiple characters have used the name and costume. Some have been villains, while others are heroes who serve Russia. Other Red Guardians include Dr. Tania Belinksy (a member of the Defenders), Josef Petkus, and the most recent incarnation, Nicolai Krylenko. Regardless, the most recognizable and well-known Red Guardian is still Alexei, simply because his first appearance in the comics is one of Captain America's best stories from the Silver Age.
DAVID HARBOUR WILL PLAY RED GUARDIAN IN THE MCU
Actor David Harbour is known for playing Jim Hopper, one of the main characters in the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. Harbour also played the title role in the Hellboy reboot. It was confirmed in April 2019 that the Hellboy star would have a role in Black Widow. At SDCC 2019, it was officially announced that Harbour's Marvel character is the Alexei Shostakov version of the Red Guardian. At D23, Red Guardian's mask was revealed in a poster for the film, which serves as confirmation that Harbour will indeed be suiting up as the Russian Captain America.