6027 in-depth character profiles from comics, games, movies

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

Red Guardian

(Colonel Alexei Shostakov)


Context

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

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.

It’d suggest first reading our first profile for the Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff), which discusses some of the historical stuff. Check our guide to Black Widow character profiles to see what’s there.

If you want to be thorough you can then read the Red Guardian (A. Lebedev) profile.


Advertisement


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 could fight Captain America (Steve Rogers) toe-to-toe. His swiftness surprised everyone who saw him in action, and he possessed great strength and precision.

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. It was made of solid metal. It flew through the air, aiming itself and manoeuvring to knock the Guardian’s enemies down. But this signature weapon was never featured again.

Shostakov is a sharp one. He outmanoeuvres his opponents, tricks them into traps, lays dangerous ambushes, etc. This tactical acumen and ability to manipulate foes (especially impulsive ones) might be his greatest strength.

Shostakov was also described as a master of espionage and mind games. But it is likely that he acquired these skills after 1967.


Advertisement


Harder, better…

Shostakov *seems* to be the result of a Soviet Super-Soldier program. But not the same as Omega Red or Epsilon Red. The clearest info is a secondary source  stating that the WW2 Red Guardian, Alexei Lebedev, was murdered for opposing the research that made 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. It would match the serum when used without the “vita-rays”. Shostakov did behave like a psychopath after 1967.

A program called Wolf Spider researched male versions 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.

… faster, stronger…

Our game stats assume a physically enhanced Red Guardian (Shostakov). Since all of his recent appearances hinted at such. Specifically, his strength score was highballed by one point.

The Red Guardian (Alexi Shostakov) (Marvel Comics) demonstrates his speed

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.

  1. 1967 dialogue (reproduced in the illustrations for this entry) implies that the Guardian was given abilities by scientific processes more recent than the ones used for Captain America.
  2. 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. But the truth of the statement is dubious. The chronology might also not work since Maria Trovaya-Pym was kidnapped by the Hungarian secret police in 1963.

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

… and unageing ?

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

Our suggested No-Prize Hypothesis  is that, 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 hypothesis, the Widow would have told the truth to Shostakov after her 2004 investigations into her own enhancements. Thus allowing him to shake off the unnecessary ageing. Mmmm.

In any case, Shostakov appeared to age normally until 2004. By 2010 he had bounced back to his early 40s, and by 2011 he seemed to be in his 30s. His 2011 physical and martial abilities were the same as those he had back in 1967.


Soundtrack

I’m not the biggest fan of the Soviet Union, but in the case of this guy I’m not sure I have much choice, musically speaking.

Available for download from the epitome of capitalist running dogs, namely Amazon .


Chronology

In this entry we use the usual writeups.org approach, where events happen at publication date. And 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 1953-1963 or so. 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.
  • Shostakov was presumably involved in the Vostok project, which pioneered much of early human space exploration. One flashback depicts him flying some sort of space plane. It 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.

For those of our readers who use a sliding 10-year timescale… well, good luck. 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, an era poor in Soviet unions.


History (part 1)

Alexei Shostakov was one of the Soviet Union’s most acclaimed test pilots. With his extraordinary skill and fitness, he did the most secret and dangerous flight tests for the Union. He was a part of the space program, and presumably trained as a cosmonaut.

The press glorified his non-secret exploits. Shostakov was also decorated as a Hero of the Soviet Union. He seems to have become 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.

The Red Guardian (Marvel Comics) (Alexi Shostakov) fighting Captain America

It seems that Soviet officials, including Khrushchev and Ivan Petrovitch Bezukhov, were playing matchmakers. Romanova had just been retired, and the older men apparently considered that it would be nice for a dashing pilot and a stunning dancer to get hitched.

Romanova was at that point experiencing severe disorientation. Her psychotechnical conditioning was coming apart. Implanted memories were conflicting so badly she couldn’t even tell whether she was 17 or 29.

As a “fix”, Romanova was conditioned to believed 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 have a normal happy, life – with him.

Their marriage was rocky but passionate. Both still consider that it was the most important romance in their life. However, Natalia Shostakova was devastated to learn that she couldn’t have children. Her husband correctly guessed that it was caused by 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.

Some sort of physical enhancement, such as a super-soldier serum, might have been used to augment Colonel Shostakov.

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

His wife was hit hard by these news. 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. Her conditioning had eroded again and she now dimly remembered having a very particular set of skills.

It is unclear whether the KGB intended all along for this to happen. Or if they just quickly exploited the opportunity, pressuring Khrushchev to agree to her demands.

Meurs, pourriture communiste !

Colonel Shostakov felt distressed over losing his beloved wife. But he soldiered on out of patriotism.

The Red Guardian (Alexi Shostakov) (Marvel Comics) face closeup

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 are likely.

During the Great Patriotic War the Red Guardian had been an ally of Captain America. But 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 in 1966 seems… difficult. 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.

Battle for the Psychotron

S.H.I.E.L.D. sent the Black Widow (Natalia Romanova) to infiltrate the base and destroy the dreaded Psychotron. She was captured. Her lover Hawkeye (Clint Barton) 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.

  1. He trapped Hercules in the dreaded Psychotron’s test chamber.
  2. He then punched Hawkeye out when the archer foolishly tried to rush the scarlet-garbed Soviet.

The Red Guardian 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

More Avengers came in — including Captain America (Steve Rogers). 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 took down Captain America by electrifying the catwalk Rogers was on.

The Red Guardian (Marvel Comics) (Alexi Shostakov) vs. Captain America

The Red Guardian was furious about this. The Widow seized the confusion to blast a key part of the dreaded Psychotron.

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.

Explosions !

In the confusion Ling spotted Hercules carrying the unconscious Captain America to safety. He grabbed a laser gun to kill the star-spangled Avenger But despite his wounds, the Guardian body-blocked Ling 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.


History (part 2)

In 1990, Russian agents created a Life Model Decoy  of Alexei Shostakov. By threatening to kill “Alexei”, they forced Natalia to conduct espionage against the US for Russian interests.

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

First the robot, then the zombie

The Red Guardian also appeared among two versions of the Legion of the Unliving :

  1. The one assembled when the Grandmaster challenged Death to a game.
  2. 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 Legionnaires of the Unliving who later turned out to never have been dead. These are thus 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.


History (part 3)

In 2004, the United States government attempted to have Natalia Romanova handed over to the government of an unspecified Eastern European country. This was in exchange for having Madame Hydra (aka the Viper) released into custody of the United States.

Ronin (Alexei Shostakov) (Marvel Comics) with a kusari gama over a white background

The whole international incident had been engineered by Alexei Shostakov. Now in his 70s, Shostakov had grown to hate how his ex-wife remained physically in her 30s.

His plan failed, and he was arrested by the Widow with support from S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers and Daredevil (Matt Murdock).

Widowmaker

Shostakov then regained his youth over a few years. He 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. Shostakov was heavily involved in a murderous conspiracy.

He made allies both among :

  • Soviet nostalgics looking to re-establish the regime.
  • 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 . Then 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.

Cure or Kuril

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 identity had been previously 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.

From Russia with love

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.

Ronin (Alexei Shostakov) (Marvel Comics) and his henchmen

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

However, the unstable Shostakov leaked intel to his ex-wife. 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. She indirectly showed 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 previously heroic, loving Alexei became a cold-blooded, ruthless, overbearing cold warrior. And quite probably a psychopath.

Ronin (Alexei Shostakov) (Marvel Comics) vs. the Black Widow

In 1967 the Red Guardian played the same role as the Russian space program. He was to demonstrate Soviet superiority 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.

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. Shostakov’s plans are now manipulative and disloyal.

His mindset seems to be stuck in 1951, wanting to restore Stalinism and avenge decades-old grudges against many, including his wife. He’s a competent strategist, spymaster, leader and the like. But he will probably do something irrational, obsessive and stuck in the past. Which 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 !”

“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 !”


DC Universe History

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


Sharing



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 and perhaps Mandarin Chinese), 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 06, EV 05, Flight: 06, Multi-Attack 2, Limitations: Flight only to fly back to the Guardian when thrown].

Equipment:
As Ronin he wielded typical medieval Japanese weaponry, such as a katana [BODY 07, Enhance (EV): 02 (cap is 09), Descriptor: Slashing, Piercing] or a chain weapon such as a kyoketsu-shoge or kusari-gama [BODY 05, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 06), Extra Limb: 03, Descriptor: Slashing, Blunt, Limitation: Extra limb has no fine manipulation].


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 06, 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)


Game Stats — DC Adventures RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Red Guardian (Shostakov) — Averaged PL9.8

STR STA AGL DEX FGT INT AWE PRE
04 04 05 05 10 02 03 02

Powers

Elite test pilot ● 6 points ● Descriptor: Skill
– Vehicles 6 (+11) (Limited 1 to aerospace vehicles).
– Expertise (Military and intelligence pilot) 6 (+8)
– Enhanced Advantages (Second chance, Luck – both Limited 1 to piloting)

Devices

Magnetic belt buckle ● 9 points (Removable) ● Descriptor: Technology
Ranged blunt Damage 4, Accurate 2, Takedown.

Combat Advantages

Agile feint, Close attack 3, Defensive roll 3, Evasion, Improved Initiative, Improved trip, Move-by Action, Power Attack, Quick Draw, Ranged attack 3, Redirect, Uncanny dodge.

Other Advantages

Contacts, Languages (Russian and perhaps Mandarin Chinese).

Skills

Acrobatics 6 (+11), Athletics 7 (+11), Close combat (Unarmed) 2 (+15), Deception 6 (+9), Expertise (Communist lore) 4 (+6), Expertise (Espionage) 8 (+10), Insight 6 (+9), Perception 6 (+9), Persuasion 4 (+7), Ranged combat (Belt buckle) 2 (+10), Stealth 1 (+6), Vehicles 1 (+6) (Limited 1 to common land and sea vehicles).

Offense

Initiative +9
Unarmed +15, Close, Damage 4
Belt buckle +14, Close, Damage 4

Defence

Dodge 13 Fortitude 09
Parry 13 Toughness 04*/07
Will 07

* Without Defensive Roll.

Complications

  • Homo sovieticus Shostakov is a propaganda vehicle and must act as an examplar.
  • Great game Shostakov is usually working as part of complex, deceitful espionage schemes.
  • Tankie The Red Guardian’s sanity apparently degraded over the decades. He was subjected to angry fixations, particularly about his ex-wife.

Powers Levels

  • Trade-off areas. Attack/Effect PL 10, Dodge/Toughness PL 10, Parry/Toughness PL 10, Fort/Will PL 8.
  • Points total 152. Abilities 70, Defences 20, Skills 27, Powers 6, Devices 9, Advantages 20. Equiv. PL 11.

Notes

As Ronin, he used ancient Japanese weapon as Equipment.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Marvel comics (chiefly Avengers).

Helper(s): Roy Cowan, Darci, Capita_Senyera, Pawsplay.

Writeup updated on the 31st of May, 2012.

Writeups.org is a non-commercial, community site

You can learn more with the writeups.org FAQ.