(Colonel Alexei Shostakov)
Appearing in 1967, the Red Guardian was 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.
I’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.
- 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), possibly a deceased mother.
- 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” (1.88m). Weight: 220 lbs. (100 Kg.).
- 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.
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. Notably, one cryptic flashback stated that most of its recipients became insane. It would match the serum when used without the “vita-rays”. And 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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, the 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 HypothesisA made-up explanation to plug a plot hole. is that, like Natalia Romanova was for decades unaware that she had a slightly superhuman constitution, Alexei Shostakov was unaware that he had an anagathicWhich suspends aging. 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.
As it happens, a Russian song was quite popular in the West during the 1960s. It was a cover of Дорогой длинною (” By the long road”) by Mary Hopkin et al, under the title “Those were the days”. It’s a great song !
So here’s a version in Russian. By the Red Army’s choir, since we’re talking about Red Guardian.
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.
- He seemingly loses his mother in 1942 in the Stalingrad Oblast.
- 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 2014, 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 also 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.
The battle of Kronas
It is possible that a young boy answering to “Alek”, seen in mid-November 1942, was Alexi Shostakov. But it is implied, not unambiguously stated.
If so :
- Alexei grew up in the village of Kronas, in the Stalingrad Oblast.
- There was a battle there, pitting the Red Army and the Invaders against special Nazi forces.
- One get the impression that the German troops there were active at the behest of the Red Skull (Johann Shmidt). One possible scenario is that Shmidt correctly predicted that the Soviets would soon counter-attack, which the Wehrmacht’s command arrogantly disbelieved.
- The Invaders forced the Skull and his bodyguard/special weapon Master Man (Wilhelm Lohmer) to retreat. Without this, it is quite possible that the Soviet counter-attack, Operation Uranus, would have failed.
- However, the mother of little Alek was slain during the battle. Possibly by the Red Skull’s strange energy cannon.
A NKVD officer named Vasily Karpov took Alek with him, and apparently intended to adopt him. Mr. Karpov would go on to become a key man in Soviet special assets operation, including training the Winter Soldier (James Barnes).
Since Karpov had been impressed by how Captain America (Steve Rogers) fought, and lamented that the Soviet Union didn’t have super-assets like the Invaders or Master Man, there’s an implication that he raised — and perhaps enhanced — Shostakov to became his equivalent of Captain America.
Pale little spider
In 1957, Colonel Shostakov was introduced to a top Soviet espionage agent, Natalia Alianovna Romanova.
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.
Fruit of the poisonous tree
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.
The widow 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.
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… unlikely. This raises the possibility that the Red Guardian was working for a 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. But she was captured.
Her lover Hawkeye (Clint Barton) headed for China to free her, with fellow Avenger Hercules in tow.
The Red Guardian summarily defeated the two Avengers by exploiting their temper.
- He trapped Hercules within the dreaded Psychotron’s test chamber.
- He then punched Hawkeye out when the archer foolishly tried to rush the scarlet-suited 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.
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 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.
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. The two men were engulfed in an explosion that triggered a volcanic eruption.
For decades the Red Guardian was presumed to have died in these blasts.
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 LMDLife-Model Decoy. A lifelike robot double. of Alexei Shostakov. By threatening to kill “Alexei”, they forced Natalia to conduct espionage against the US, serving 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 :
- The one assembled when the Grandmaster (En Dwi Gast) challenged Death to a game.
- The one animated by the Grim Reaper (Eric Williams) years later.
In the first he looked alive and had supposedly been 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.
The whole international incident had been engineered by Alexei Shostakov. Now in his 70s, Shostakov had come to hate how his ex-wife remained physically in her early 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).
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 among both :
- 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 capable of detecting the real 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 would 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.
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. Morse and her allies took the former Red Guardian with them on a medicalised flight.
In more recent appearances, Colonel Shostakov was depicted with brown hair and eyes for some reason.
In 1990 he was blond.
In 2004 his hair was black.
The previously heroic, loving Alexei 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 Soviet superiority over the Americans. He was obsessed with this, and made long-winded tirades about his superiority over decadent capitalists.
Shostakov was also focused 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.
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 Adaptation
(This section proposes ways of using this character in DC Universe stories).
Given the similarity in uniforms, the Red Guardian was probably the inspiration for the Soyuz youths in the DC Universe.
DC Heroes RPG
Tell me more about the game stats
Red Guardian (at his peak)
|Dex: 09||Str: 05||Bod: 06|
|Int: 07||Wil: 06||Min: 05|
|Inf: 06||Aur: 05||Spi: 05|
|Init: 026||HP: 055|
Acrobatics: 08, Charisma: 07, Martial artist: 10, Thief (Stealth): 04, Vehicles (Sea, land): 05, Vehicles (Air, space): 08, Weaponry: 09
Expertise (Espionage), Language (Russian and perhaps Mandarin Chinese), Lightning Reflexes, Schtick (Provoked attack).
KGB (Low), Red Army (High), Colonel Ling (Low).
Minor Psychological Instability. The Red Guardian will also have a Serious Irrational Attraction, usually some sort of fixation about his ex-wife.
Uphold the USSR.
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].
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 (Skilled Use) [BODY 04, Enhance (EV): 02 (cap is 05), Enhance (Wrestling/Grappling EV): 01 (cap is 07), Enhance (Disarming AV): 02 (cap is 11), Enhance (Disarming EV): 02 (cap is 07), Stagger (No Range): 04, Stretching (No Fine Manipulation): 00, Note: OV/RV when using the Block Manoeuvre is 1 AP when Blocking most melee weapons, and 2 APs when blocking swung melee weapons].
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|
|Int: 03||Wil: 03||Min: 03|
|Inf: 03||Aur: 02||Spi: 04|
|Init: 015||HP: 015|
Acrobatics: 06, Martial artist: 06, Vehicles (Sea, land): 05, Vehicles (Air, space): 06, Weaponry: 07
Language (Russian), Lightning Reflexes.
MIA toward the Black Widow.
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.
DC Adventures RPG
Tell me more about the game stats
Red Guardian (Shostakov) — Averaged PL9.8
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)
Magnetic belt buckle ● 9 points (Removable) ● Descriptor: Technology
Ranged blunt Damage 4, Accurate 2, Takedown.
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.
Contacts, Languages (Russian and perhaps Mandarin Chinese).
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).
|Unarmed +15, Close, Damage 4|
|Belt buckle +14, Close, Damage 4|
* Without Defensive Roll.
- 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.
- 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.
As Ronin, he used ancient Japanese weapons as Equipment.
Source of Character: Marvel comics (chiefly Avengers).
Helper(s): Roy Cowan, Darci, Capita_Senyera, Pawsplay.
Writeup updated on the 31st of May, 2012.