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Red Guardian (Shostakov) (Black Widow enemy) (Marvel Comics) from the handbook

Red Guardian

(Colonel Alexei Shostakov)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

“NO ! You cannot defeat him so unfairly ! Do you think that the Red Guardian is such a weakling… that he was unable to continue the fight ? I wish… I demand… that you allow Captain America to revive… so that I may best him in equal hand-to-hand combat !”


Context

Appearing in 1967, the Red Guardian was simply the Soviet equivalent of Captain America. He was cast in the “noble foe” mould rather than in the “despicable Communist vermin”, though.

Though he seemed to die in his first appearance, the Red Guardian came back in odd circumstances, and a mini-mythology developed around the name.


Background

  • Real Name: Colonel Alexei Shostakov. His first name has been rendered in Latin alphabet as both “Alexi” and “Alexei”. His patronymic was given as Petrovitch, and then as Andreovitch on the next page.
  • Other Aliases: Ronin
  • Marital Status: Legally dead, formerly married
  • Known Relatives: Natalia Alianovna Shostakova, née Romanova (ex-wife)
  • Group Affiliation: Former KGB operative, former leader of the Dark Ocean Society, former officer in the Soviet Military Air Forces.
  • Note: Like in most Western comic book Cold War stories, “the KGB” is treated as the whole of Soviet intelligence. Though he’s described as a KGB man, it’s entirely possible that Shostakov was actually a GRU agent.
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile
  • Height: 6’2” Weight: 220 lbs
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: Red


Powers and Abilities

In his prime, the Red Guardian was an incredible physical specimen, with fantastic speed, great precision and superior strength. His swiftness surprised everyone who saw him in action. The Red Guardian could fight Captain America toe-to-toe, though ultimately he wasn’t quite as strong and accomplished as his quasi-superhuman opponent.

He was also believed to be the best Soviet test pilot of his generation.

In 1967 Shostakov was armed with a magnetically-guided belt buckle made of solid metal. It flew through the air as if deliberately aiming and manoeuvring to knock the Guardian’s enemies down. Though it was his signature weapon, it was never featured again.

Shostakov is mentally pretty sharp. He often outmanoeuvres his opponents, tricking them into traps, laying very dangerous ambushes, etc. This tactical acumen and ability to manipulate foes (especially impulsive ones) might be his greatest strength.

One remark by Romanova depicts Shostakov as a master of the espionage game — though it is likely that he acquired these skills after 1967 — and of mind games.

Enhanced ?

There are obscure references to a Soviet Super-Soldier program, distinct from the one that produced Omega Red or Epsilon Red. In particular, one secondary source stated that the Red Guardian of the Great Patriotic War era, Alexei Lebedev, was murdered as he opposed the research that was used for make Alexei Shostakov the Red Guardian.

This program *might* have been based on the wartime German derivatives of the American Super-Soldier serum. One cryptic flashback stated that most of its recipients became insane, which would match the serum used without the “vita-rays”. Shostakov did behave like a psychopath after 1967, though one suspects that the matter was more editorial than psychiatric in nature.

A program called Wolf Spider is also known to have attempted to develop a male version of the Black Widow. It used enhancements similar to those developed by the Red Room for its girls, but it failed as the agents went insane. There thus might be a tie.

The Red Guardian (Alexi Shostakov) demonstrates his speed

Our game stats presume some level of enhancement for teh Red Guardian (Shostakov), since all of his recent appearances hinted at such. Specifically, his strength score was highballed by one point.

Mentions of Shostakov being enhanced mostly appear circa 2010. Before that he was always described as a normal athlete and fighter – with two possible exceptions. One bit of dialogue in 1967 (reproduced in the illustrations column) may imply that the Guardian was given abilities by scientific processes more recent than the ones used for Captain America.

Lastly, a person claiming to be Maria Trovaya-Pym stated that she had contributed to the development of many of the Eastern Block’s “superbeings”, including Red Guardian. The truth of the statement is dubious, however. PLus, there’s a chronological problem since Maria Trovaya-Pym was kidnapped by the Hungarian secret police in 1963.

If the claims are true, “Maria” may have been referring to a successor of Shostakov – probably Josef Petkus.

Unageing ?

Black Widow did state in 2010 that Shostakov had received “the serum”. This slowed his ageing in the same way as herself and, presumably, Ivan Petrovitch. This is problematic given that Shostakov’s 2004 appearances hinged on the fact that he had become an old man.

Our suggested No-Prize Hypothesis  is that, much like Natalia Romanova was for decades unaware that she had a slightly superhuman constitution, Alexei Shostakov was unaware that he had an anagathic  factor. His “ageing” was somatic.

In this somewhat far-fetched hypothesis, the Widow would have told the truth to Shostakov after her 2004 investigations into her own enhancements, allowing him to shake off the unnecessary ageing.

As far as we can piece it together, Shostakov appeared to age normally until 2004, with in game terms a concomitant erosion of his Physical Attributes and Skills. By 2010 he has bounced back to what might be his early 40s, and by 2011 he seems to be in his 30s. At this point he seems to roughly have the game stats he had at his peak.


Chronology

This section discusses the oft-vexing matter of chronology, to gain a sense of Shostakov’s life outside of the published material.

Using the usual writeups.org approach, where events happen at publication date, the key year is his 1967 confrontation with the Avengers and apparent death. Based on that date, some reasonable assumptions are :

  • Shostakov may have been born circa 1932. He was already a test pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union  when introduced to his future wife in 1957.
  • The bulk of his career as a test pilot would thus be around 1953 to 1963. He could have been instrumental in the difficult development of the MiG-19 “Farmer”  jet fighter (MiG’s first supersonic fighter) and the ubiquitous MiG-21 “Fishbed” , one of the signature Cold War jet fighters.
  • Given those dates, Shostakov was presumably involved in the Vostok project, which pioneered large chunks of early human space exploration. One flashback depicts him flying some sort of space plane, which may correspond to the Marvel Universe version of the Lapot space plane in the early 1960s.
    Or perhaps a version of the rumoured Uragan space interceptor existed 15 years earlier in the Marvel Universe.
  • Shostakov was presumably recruited by the KGB circa 1961, and had his death faked in 1963 once he was ready for deployment. His activities between 1963 and 1967 are unrevealed. If he did receive an anagathic factor, this likely took place when he was recruited by the KGB.

Those of our readers who use a sliding 10-year timescale are, unfortunately, on their own. Shostakov is both firmly affixed to the Black Widows’s chronology (the dates provided in the bullet points above) and as an early Avengers encounter, which as of this writing would take place circa 2001.

As with most Cold War characters, the later date also poses the obvious problem of a certain lack of Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics.


History

Alexei Shostakov was one of the Soviet Union’s most acclaimed test pilots. Because of his extraordinary skill and fitness, Shostakov was chosen for the most secret and dangerous flight tests for the Union. He was a part of the space program, and it seems reasonable to assume that he was trained as a cosmonaut.

The news media glorified some of his exploits, and Shostakov was decorated as a Hero of the Soviet Union. Later scenes imply that he became a personal friend of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev , perhaps even before Stalin’s death.

Pale little spider

In 1957, Colonel Shostakov was introduced to a top Soviet espionage agent, Natalia Alianovna Romanova.

Though it is difficult to tell, it seems that certain senior Soviet officials including Khrushchev and Ivan Petrovitch Bezukhov were playing matchmakers. The decision had been taken to retire Romanova, and the older men apparently considered that it would be nice for a dashing pilot and a stunning dancer to get hitched together.

The Red Guardian (Alexi Shostakov) fighting Captain America

Romanova was at that point experiencing severe disorientation as her psychotechnical conditioning was coming apart. Various implanted memories were conflicting and she couldn’t even tell whether she was 17 or 29.

The problem was eventually mostly fixed. Romanova become convinced that she was a young dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet and had never been a spy. Shostakov knew of Romanova’s actual past, but like the matchmakers he considered that she had the right to a normal happy, life – with him.

Romanova and Shostakov soon married. From dialogue, their relationship was rocky but passionate and both still consider that it was the most important romance in their life. Though they wanted to have children, Natalia Shostakova was devastated to learn that she was barren. The Colonel correctly guessed that it was a result of the biochemical enhancements she was the unknowing recipient of.

The Reds’ right hand

Colonel Shostakov was recruited by the KGB during the early 1960s to become the new Red Guardian. Like with Captain America, several men donned the costume in succession – see the writeups.org profile for the Red Guardian of the 1940s and 1950s, Alexei Lebedev.

It is possible that some sort of physical enhancement, such as a super-soldier serum, was used to augment Colonel Shostakov before he’d wear the uniform.

However, becoming the Red Guardian implied faking his death for security purposes. Colonel Alexei Shostakov was reported dead during a high-altitude test flight.

His wife was hit hard by the loss. She blamed the Americans for the space race and thus the loss of her husband. Shostakova demanded that she be made a spy to take her revenge – as her conditioning weakened again and she dimly remembered her skills.

It is unclear whether the KGB intended all along for this to happen, or just quickly exploited the opportunity and pressured Khrushchev to agree to her demands.

The Red Guardian (Alexi Shostakov) face closeup

Colonel Shostakov felt distressed over losing his beloved wife, but soldiered on out of patriotism. As he trained and/or was deployed in the field he became a cruel, ruthless operator – a far cry from the man who had married Natalia Romanova. In the hypothesis of a super-soldier serum, side effects affecting Shostakov’s mind and making him slightly psychopathic are likely.

Though during the Great Patriotic War the Red Guardian had been an ally of Captain America, during the Cold War he was his opposite number. The decision to activate Shostakov may have been a reaction to the return of Steve Rogers, as both occurred in 1963. In any case, some showdown between the two men was inevitable.

Only Shostakov could go to China

Circa 1966, the Red Guardian was detailed to the security of a secret base in China. There an experimental weapon of mass destruction, the Psychotron, was being developed. See our profile of Colonel Ling for more about China’s most secret base.

As discussed in Ling’s entry, a Sino-Soviet collaboration at this time is historically difficult to envision.

This raises the possibility that the Red Guardian was working for some sort of faction within the Soviet intelligence apparat rather than for the Soviet or mainland Chinese authorities. Perhaps his superior, General Yuri Brushov, was looking to establish himself and his secret Chinese allies as independent warlords.

S.H.I.E.L.D. sent the Black Widow (Natalia Romanova) to infiltrate the base and destroy the dreaded Psychotron. She was captured and her lover Hawkeye headed for China, with fellow Avenger Hercules in tow and the firm intent to free her.

The Red Guardian summarily defeated the two Avengers by exploiting their temper. He trapped Hercules in the dreaded Psychotron’s test chamber then punched Hawkeye out when the archer foolishly tried to rush the scarlet-garbed Soviet.

The Red Guardian eventually unmasked to reveal his identity to the Black Widow. Romanova was horrified, claiming that the Guardian was nothing like the man she had loved. As far as she was concerned, Alexei Shostakov had indeed died in 1963.

Cold Warriors

Hawkeye and Hercules being captured resulted in the arrival of more Avengers — including Captain America. The Guardian and the Captain fought a hand-to-hand duel, but the American gradually gained the upper hand. Feeling contempt for Shostakov’s straight-shooter attitude, the pragmatic Ling electrified the catwalk Captain America was standing on, shocking him unconscious.

The Red Guardian was furious, as he had wanted to fight to his last breath. The Widow then seized the confusion to damage a key part of the dreaded Psychotron with her electrical weaponry.

The Red Guardian (Alexi Shostakov) vs. Captain America

Ling opened fire on the Widow, but Shostakov reflexively interposed his body to protect his ex-wife. He was badly wounded, which allowed the Widow to finish the job and start massive fires throughout the secret base. In the confusion Ling spotted Hercules carrying the unconscious Captain America to safety and grabbed a laser gun to kill the star-spangled Avenger.

However, the Red Guardian saw him. Despite his wounds, he bodyblocked his erstwhile superior to prevent the craven murder of an honourable opponent. The stray laser blast hit gas pipes and the two men were engulfed in an explosion that triggered a volcanic eruption.

For decades the Red Guardian was presumed to have died in the blast. Other Red Guardians succeeded him – though the first known successor, neurosurgeon Tania Belinsky, was not affiliated with the State.

Robots, zombies and the like

In 1990, Russian agents created a Life Model Decoy  of Alexei Shostakov, which they used to dupe Natalia into believing her husband was still alive. By threatening to kill “Alexei”, they forced her to conduct espionage against the US for Russian interests.

After the Widow completed the job, the Russians revealed the truth and tried to kill her. But with Ivan’s help she defeated them and destroyed the Shostakov LMD.

The Red Guardian also appeared among 2 versions of the Legion of the Unliving – the one assembled when the Grandmaster challenged Death to a game, and the one animated by the Grim Reaper years later. In the first he looked alive and was supposedly summoned from Death’s domain. In the second he was a shambling zombie.

Colonel Shostakov is but one of the Legion of the Unliving members who later turned out to never have been dead. The Legion members are thus commonly thought to be simulacra rather than the original person. Howbeit here may exist some minor connection, such as a sliver of the spirit of the person they’re supposed to be.

The exchange

In 2004, the United States government attempted to have Natalia Romanova handed over to the government of an unspecified Eastern European country in exchange for having Madame Hydra (aka the Viper) released into United States custody. The whole international incident had been engineered by Alexei Shostakov.

Ronin (Alexi Shostakov) with a kusari gama over a white background

Now in his 70s, Shostakov had grown to hate how his ex-wife remained physically in her 30s, and wanted to take her down. This plan failed, and he was arrested by the Widow with support from S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers and Daredevil.

Over the next few years, Shostakov inexplicably regained his youth, and claimed to regret what he had done to his wife. They met in 2010, as part of an investigation of the Widow in her past, and seemingly buried the hatchet. This was apparently a ruse, though, since Shostakov was heavily involved in a murderous conspiracy.

Widowmaker

He made allies both among Soviet nostalgics looking to re-establish the regime, and a wartime Japanese cult called the Dark Ocean Society. Building up both sides of his allied forces presumably took years, and was funded by cyber-crime.

Their core plot was to blow up the Kuril islands  and have rogue Russian forces attack Japan and vice-versa. The goal was to create complete confusion then launch coups in both countries.

Shostakov also engineered a fake conspiracy to sabotage negotiations over the islands through a series of murder. The murders were intended both as a distraction, and to eliminate intelligence specialists who could detect the big main plot.

How Shostakov got involved with the Dark Ocean is unclear. But they agreed to have him step in the role of their traditional leader, the Ronin – perhaps because of his extraordinary fighting skills. The Ronin name and costume had been stolen in unrevealed circumstances by Echo (Maya Lopez) during Japanese operations, and later used by Hawkeye (Clint Barton).

Part of the deal was that Shostakov was to eliminate Barton and eventually Lopez to restore the purity of the Ronin ritual garb. Shostakov decided to trick Barton’s ex, Mockingbird (Barbara Morse) – she was likely to bring Hawkeye with her and was working with Dominic Fortune (Duvid Fortunov), who had killed a Dark Ocean cult leader during the 1940s.

Ronin (Alexi Shostakov) and his henchmen

The plan would probably have worked. The Dark Ocean assassins (quite possibly trained by Shostakov) were good, and on the Russian side the conspiracy assembled a small army of agents using knock-off gadgets resembling the abilities of the Crimson Dynamo, Sputnik and Perun.

He also had a superhuman – an illusions-casting teenaged girl who patterned herself after Fantasma.

However, the unstable Shostakov decided to have his ex-wife learn of the anti-peace-talks conspiracy. This way, she would collaborate with Morse and be there to see his plan come to fruition. This was of course a mistake. Unlike Morse, Romanova knew of Shostakov’s techniques and Russian allies.

During the final confrontation, the Widow saved the day by indirectly showing the faux Fantasma how Shostakov was manipulating her. The girl switched sides, and the illusion she created gave time to the Widow to get a gun and shoot Shostakov in the back. Romanova administered first aid and Morse and her allies took the former Red Guardian with them on a medicalised flight.


Description

In more recent appearances, Colonel Shostakov has been depicted with brown hair and eyes for some reason. In 1990 he was blond. in 2004 his hair was black.


Personality

The Red Guardian is such a changed man that it seems impossible to understand how the Black Widow ever fell in love with him. The previously heroic, loving Alexi became a cold-blooded, ruthless, overbearing cold warrior and quite probably a psychopath.

In 1967 the Red Guardian played the same role as the Russian space program. He was to demonstrate the superiority of the Soviet over the Americans. He was obsessed with this, and made long-winded tirades about his superiority over decadent capitalists. He was really big on defeating Cap, even after it became clear that Cap had the edge on him.

Ronin (Alexi Shostakov) vs. the Black Widow

That the Red Guardian wanted to fight fairly and despised treachery was his big characterisation point in 1967. But this redeeming feature has long since disappeared and Shostakov’s plans are manipulative and disloyal.

Assessing his personality since is difficult. His mindset seems to be stuck in 1951, wanting to restore a Stalin-like regime and avenge decades-old grudges against pretty much everyone, including his wife.

He’s a competent strategist, spymaster, leader and the like, but will probably do something irrational, obsessive and stuck in the past that the heroes can exploit to bring his plans crashing down.


Quotes

Hawkeye: “The ’Red Guardian’ ?? What in blue blazes is a— ? *OWW !*”
Red Guardian: “A sound question, Avenger. When I have disposed of your lumbering comrade, I shall awaken you — to give you the dreaded answer !”

“Soon, both of you shall die ! Yet first, it is our wish that you witness the downfall of the great Captain America ! What could better prove how superior to all Americans is the one they call… the Red Guardian ?”

“Never, accursed one… not till the heavens crumble… shall Captain America be killed by one so craven as you ! He… and the woman I have wronged… must live, even though we die !”


DC Universe History

Given the similarity in uniforms, the Red Guardian was probably the inspiration for the Soyuz youths in the DC Universe.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Red Guardian (at his peak)

Dex: 09 Str: 05 Bod: 06 Motivation: Uphold the USSR
Int: 07 Wil: 06 Min: 05 Occupation: Special agent
Inf: 06 Aur: 05 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 005
Init: 026 HP: 055

Skills:
Acrobatics: 08, Charisma: 07, Martial artist: 10, Thief (Stealth): 04, Vehicles (Sea, land): 05, Vehicles (Air, space): 08, Weaponry: 09

Advantages:
Expertise (Espionage), Language (Russian), Lightning Reflexes, Schtick (Provoked attack)

Connections:
KGB (Low), Red Army (High), Colonel Ling (Low)

Drawbacks:
Minor Psychological Instability. The Red Guardian will also have a Serious Irrational Attraction, usually some sort of fixation about his ex-wife.

Pet:
In 1967 he had a MAGNETIC BELT BUCKLE [BODY 10, EV 05, Flight: 06, Limitations: Flight lasts for two Phases – at which point it comes back to the Guardian, who has to spend an Automatic Action to catch it]

Equipment:
As Ronin he wielded typical medieval Japanese weaponry, such as a katana [BODY 06, EV 04 (06 w/STR, 11 w/Martial artist)] or a chain weapon such as a kyoketsu-shoge or kusari-gama [BODY 05, EV 03 (06 w/STR, 11 w/Martial artist), Extra Limb: 03]


Red is dead

Two versions of the Legion of the Unliving included the Red Guardian. Neither undead creature had the prowess of the real Alexei Shostakov, though.

The Red Guardian in the Grandmaster’s Legion, supposedly a man summoned from the afterlife, could be observed long enough to hazard some stats :

Dex: 07 Str: 04 Bod: 05 Motivation: Nihilist
Int: 03 Wil: 03 Min: 03 Occupation: Zombie legionnaire
Inf: 03 Aur: 02 Spi: 04 Resources {or Wealth}: N.A.
Init: 015 HP: 015

Skills:
Acrobatics: 06, Martial artist: 06, Vehicles (Sea, land): 05, Vehicles (Air, space): 06, Weaponry: 07

Advantages:
Language (Russian), Lightning Reflexes

Connections:
None

Drawbacks:
MIA toward the Black Widow

Equipment:
MAGNETIC BELT BUCKLE [BODY 10, EV 05, Note: Balanced for throwing]


Red Guardian (Grim Reaper’s Legion of the Unliving)

In the Reaper’s version of the Legion, he was basically just a tough zombie that remained animated even after having been cleft in two. Too little of this version was seen to provide stats, however.

One version of the Legion of the Unliving (group shot)

By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: Marvel comics (chiefly Avengers)

Helper(s): Roy Cowan, Darci, Capita_Senyera

Writeup updated on the 31st of May, 2012

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