The Soviet Super-Soldiers were primarily active in the Marvel Universe during the 1980s.
They were some of Marvel’s main Russian characters.
Unlike many Cold War Soviet characters, they were usually depicted as relatively benign.
To serve the State while protecting the population. This primarily means people within the USSR.
By 1983, the Soldiers no longer serve the State.
Superhuman force response. Until 1983, they acted on government orders.
Extent of operations:
Primarily the USSR. But Darkstar’s teleportation power gives the Soldiers extreme mobility.
They once were issued a rocket to land on the Moon.
Bases of Operations:
Governmental. But by 1983, none is apparent.
- Professor Phobos.
- Dire Wraiths.
- Colonel Kutzov.
- Red Ghost (Ivan Kragoff).
- Magneto (Max Eisenhardt).
- Eventually, their own government.
- The Soldiers have had temporary alliances with foreign superhumans such as Dr. Bruce Banner, or Rom the Spaceknight.
- Colossus (Piotr Rasputin) helped at least once.
Originally, the Super-Soldiers were students supervised by Professor Piotr Phobos.
(Phobos’ given name is once erroneously transcribed as “Pieter”).
After graduating, the Soldiers were detailed to one Colonel Brevlov. Brevlov ran a discreet, small department in the Kremlin. It seemed in charge of superhuman affairs. But Brevlov was their handler, not their commander.
By 1983, the Super-Soldiers are a small team without a specific organisation.
- Vanguard (Nicolai Krylenko).
- Darkstar (Laynia Petrovna).
- Ursa Major (Major Mikhail Ursus) (rejoins in 1981).
- Crimson Dynamo (Dimitri Bukharin) (mostly leaves in 1981).
- Gremlin (Kondrati Topolov) (joins in 1983) (also goes by Titanium Man).
Approval by current members and — before 1983 — Colonel Brevlov.
The Super Soldiers were a small team with a light footprint. It is unclear whether they even had specific facilities for training after leaving the school. Or a budget.
However, when on good terms with the State, they could be issued vehicles to conduct their State-mandated missions.
History (part 1)
The status of homo superior mutants in the USSR seems to have been tied to the influence of Professor Piotr Phobos.
His biography is undocumented. He doesn’t seem to have been part of the Communist Party, yet wielded definite influence. It seems to have been based on his personal power. And, fittingly , fear.
When Phobos had a lot of pull, superhuman mutants were considered an important resource for the State. Their destiny was to serve as soldiers. When the scientist was less influential, mutants were seen as too dangerous and murdered.
(I would *imagine* that the vagaries of mutant status in the USSR could be based on the fluctuations of antisemitism. But they wouldn’t be identical – the dates can’t match.)
Firefox (Grigori Andreivitch) seems to have been the primary, most successful mutant termination expert.
The Soldiers of yore
A team of Soviet Super-Soldiers operated early during the Cold War. *Possible* dates for it are something like 1946-1951.
Phobos’ Soldiers likely took their name after this team. Whether there exist more ties is unrevealed.
These Soldiers were commanded by the WWII Red Guardian, Aleksey Lebedev. He apparently now had a sidekick, the Proletariat (name unrevealed).
The other members were :
- The Night Witch (Alexa Volkoff). Flash Gordon-like tech.
- The Iron Comrade (name unrevealed). Seemed to wear power armourStrength-enhancing body armour, like Iron Man’s.
- Sunbird (name unrevealed). She flew and fired heat beams.
The Red Guardian (Lebedev) is thought to have been purged during the early 1950s.
What became of the rest of the team is unclear. But the Witch married and became Alexa Lukin.
Some 1980s underground Russian rock seems mandatory.
Let’s go with Скованные одной цепью (“All jailed by a single chain”) — from Nautilus Pompilius’ 1987 album. It’s quite famous and it has the needed vibe.
History (part 2)
After World War Two, Piotr Phobos was at the peak of his influence.
He established a sort of discreet boarding school in Moscow, for superhuman mutant children. KGB agents reluctantly helped find potential recruits.
The researcher’s main argument was that NATO would likely weaponise mutants. Such a superhuman gap might become a major problem for the Union.
That didn’t quite come to pass. But the fervour of anti-Communist American super-heroes during the 1950s mean that he wasn’t quite wrong either.
One early find appeared to be a bear cub. But it was actually a feral mutant child, able to turn into a super-ursine. Living in the woods had saved him from execution.
Professor Phobos then arranged that two newborn mutants be allowed to live. Nervous KGB agents brought them in.
Phobos raised these babies to become Vanguard and Darkstar.
As usual, we’ll be using publication time rather than sliding time. Especially since this team is tightly woven with historical events and entities (such as the Cold War and the USSR) that are now 30+ years in the past.
As always you can fold this timeline back into a sliding time one. But it means rewriting, well, everything. For starters they’re not going to be the “Soviet” Super Soldiers.
Furthermore, one flashback firmly shows an underage Ursa Major in 1951.
Publication dates suggest the following timeline :
- 1936 – Birth of Ursa Major.
- 1948 – Possible date for Professor Phobos to start looking for mutants.
- 1951 – Ursa Major recruited by Phobos.
- 1952 – Birth of Darkstar and Vanguard.
- 1972 – Possible graduation date for the original three Soldiers.
- 1976 (Champions Vol. 1 #7) – Darkstar joins the Champions. Ursa Major leaves the team for a while. This is the core date used to calculate everything else.
- 1978 – Dimitri Bukharin joins the team.
- 1981 – Ursa Major rejoins the team.
- Etc.. From 1976 onward we just go by publication date.
There’s no way to make the Soviet Super-Soldiers’ timeline work without ignoring some material. The one above strives to minimise contradictions, and favours more recent Marvel material.
What conflicts with it is :
- The caption in Incredible Hulk Vol. 2 #259 about the siblings being handed over to Phobos “19 years ago”. I consider it a sliding time one. Since it never worked with Darkstar having been around since at least 1976.
- One caption and a few panels that establish that Ursa Major was 7 when the twin babies were delivered to Phobos.
- Two flashback panels where, at graduation, Darkstar and Vanguard seem to be maybe 14. This one smelled like a small mistake even when it was published.
Normally, homo superior mutations emerge at puberty.
There are of course exceptions. Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner) or Goblyn come to mind. Ursa Major may have been another such exception.
But both Vanguard and Darkstar look unaltered. They likely didn’t manifest at birth. And the pre-1950s Soviet policy was apparently execution of mutants during infanthood.
The logical conclusion is that the USSR under Stalin had developed means to scan newborns for homo superior mutations. But given Firefox’s activities, this clearly only concerned part of the population. Only hospitals in Moscow and Minsk, maybe.
Occcam’s RazorA logic rule about favouring the explanation involving the fewest entities suggests that this tech was developed by Phobos, but not used according to his wishes.
Phobos’ school evolved into an equivalent of Professor X’s. There even was a danger room with combat robots and other perils. The students wore costumes.
Some students were also fluent in English. This suggests that they were trained for infiltration missions, à la Spetsnaz .
How many students there were is unclear. Sibercat (Illya Lavrov) seems to have studied there. But we only ever see three students in the flashbacks.
Darkstar was trained by renowned KGB instructor Alexi Bruskin, who also helped instruct the Black Widow (Natalia Romanova). It seems possible that Phobos’ other students also went through Bruskin’s classes.
The lack of detail about other students is because Phobos killed most of them.
The Professor’s sinister secret was that he had developed a way to drain mutant energies. He would then convert the tapped energy into psychic powers for himself. However, this constant energy drain could easily be fatal.
The Professor is seen using psychic powers back when the twins were newborns. Therefore, he likely already had other students back then. Who presumably didn’t survive.
History (part 3)
During the mid-1970s, the Red Guardian (Tania Belinskaya) discovered Professor Phobos’ true agenda. He overpowered her, but knew that he was now exposed.
He thus set up a quick graduation ceremony for his students. The graduation tokens he added to their costumes would continue to remotely drain their power.
Phobos then fled to the Forbidden Zone.
However, his students did not suspect what had happened. And the State never informed them of Dr. Belinskaya’s discoveries about their beloved mentor.
This is presumably when Colonel Yuri Brevlov became their handler.
Brevlov carefully hid how much the State distrusted mutants. Thus, the Soldiers thought the government was genuinely supporting them.
The first documented deployment of a Super Soldier was Darkstar joining a small team commanded by her lover the Crimson Dynamo (Yuri Petrovitch).
During this mission in the US, she chose to defect. Darkstar joined the Champions for several months before returning to the USSR.
In 1978, Darkstar and Vanguard were joined by Dimitri Bukharin. He was the then-current operator of the Crimson Dynamo power armour.
(This trio isn’t identified as the “Soviet Super-Soldiers” in this story, or the next. But for this profile’s purposes we’ll consider them such.)
The Soldiers went to investigate an alien object on the Moon. This led to a clash with Iron Man (Tony Stark) and Jack of Hearts (Jonathan Hart). But Darkstar deescalated.
The Soldiers presumably were the first Soviets to discover the Blue Area on the Moon. There, they fought the invading Colonisers from Rigel, defending Earth along with the Jack of Heart and the Knights of Wundagore.
Anti-matter for the people
The Super-Soldiers were then tricked into working for the renegade General Nikolai Kutzov. He used forged letters to convince them that he was still working for the KGB. Kutzov told the Soldiers he was trying to prevent a nuclear assault from the US.
Kutzov’s plan was to kidnap American researcher Dr. Ironwood. He would then force him to build an anti-matter bomb. The renegade did not understand that such a device might destroy the Earth.
The actual KGB did, however. Elite operative Colonel Vazhin tracked Kuzov down. He then enlisted Dr. Bruce Banner as a scientific consultant, to stop the anti-matter plot.
The Super-Soldiers defeated the Hulk, even though Spider-Man (Peter Parker) was interfering.
But while talking with Spidey, Darkstar’s doubts about General Kutzov were confirmed. She abandoned the mission and evacuated her unconscious comrades.
Unstructured outdoors lunch alongside a thoroughfare
In 1981, Brevlov reunited the trio with their old friend Ursa Major.
Col. Brevlov then sent them to the Forbidden Zone. This is a large radioactive zone in Khystim. A result of a 1957 nuclear accident , the Zone had since been stabilised.
However, the renegade Presence (Sergei Krylov) now seemed to expand it.
(This is 1981. So the Forbidden Zone — sometimes the “Dead Zone” — well precedes the Chernobyl disaster. But the 1957 Khystim disaster only became known in the West in 1976. So it was still topical when the Soldiers appeared.)
(Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic was already famous in world sci-fi literature. But the Forbidden Zone doesn’t particularly resemble The Zone.)
Into the Forbidden Zone
The raid ran into issues :
- The Hulk was there. Of course, a brawl erupted between the Soldiers and the jade giant.
- Professor Phobos was still there. Though his students trusted him, he was still leeching their power. He also planned to drain the Presence’s great might.
- The Presence and his new friend, Red Guardian (Tania Belinskaya) mostly ignored the foolish mortals’ intrusion. But the Presence eventually depowered the Hulk and Ursa Major to get them out of his hair.
- Dr. Bruce Banner ended up helping Phobos build a weapon to stop the Presence and the Guardian. The American thought that it was non-lethal.
As a result, Professor Phobos was on the verge of gaining the Presence’s power. But his evil was exposed by the Red Guardian. The Soldiers thus learned :
- That the State had never trusted them.
- That their mentor had always preyed on them. And had killed most other students at the academy.
- That Phobos also had put backdoors into their graduation tokens. These allowed him to ignore his students’ defences.
- That Vanguard and Darkstar were Sergei Krylov’s twin children, taken shortly after birth. And thus that their father was still alive, and they were siblings. How Star Wars.
- That Professor Phobos was actually the one scheming to extend the Forbidden Zone. This would kill millions, but also create mutates for him to drain.
- That their colleague Dimitri Bukharin was also tasked with keeping the mutants under watch.
With the Hulk’s help, Professor Phobos was defeated. The Presence and the Red Guardian stopped the spreading of the Zone, but they had to leave and turn into energy to do so.
Mr. Bukharin was then expelled from the team. However, he and the Soldiers would continue to grudgingly collaborate on non-political missions.
The three Super-Soldiers were left wary about their allegiances. Their relationship with the government continued to degrade over the next few years. It is unclear whether they still dealt with Colonel Brevlov.
In 1981, they were stopping the Red Ghost (Ivan Kragoff) when they vanished.
The Soldiers had been summoned as participants in the Contest between Death and the Grandmaster (En Dwi Ghast). Both Darkstar and Vanguard fought in the actual contests.
By 1983, their relationship with the State had degraded enough that they swore to never again work for them. But they continued to protect the people.
(The dialogue implies that they restricted their activities to Russia. But I suspect that this is the common and incorrect conflation of all Soviets with Russians.)
Many-faced mutant meltdown
The Soldiers also intervened to stop what seemed to be another nuclear plant meltdown. But they couldn’t reach the sunken reactor core, even when reinforced by the Crimson Dynamo.
While the area was being evacuated, Darkstar asked for Colossus (Piotr Rasputin)’s help. He agreed, and the Soldiers came to the US to fetch him. Presumably, it was the Dynamo who obtained a business jet from the State.
Colossus, with Kitty Pryde’s help, reached the core. However the Soldiers were being chased by Wolverine (James Howlett), who thought that his teammates had been kidnapped.
In the end :
- The “nuclear plant” was exposed as an inhumane lab. Its researchers were developing superhuman mutates from expendable persons.
- Since the Dynamo was unaware of that, it likely was an umpteenth example of the State’s left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing.
- (One suspects that it was an early example of Professor Phobos returning into grace thanks to discreet supporters within the government. But this isn’t mentioned in the story).
- At least one of the subjects had the genetic x-factor, which the irradiation activated. All the victims thus formed a collective being. They wanted to detonate the radiation equipment to form another Forbidden Zone.
- They absorbed Colossus and Ms. Pryde. But the latter took over the collective consciousness. She returned its components to their mental and physical individuality.
- The mutant Soldiers resolved to hunt down whoever was behind this research.
History (part 4)
In 1983, the KGB requested that the Super-Soldiers return to the Forbidden Zone.
The Soldiers were highly reluctant. But they were told that the Gremlin (Kondrati Topolov) was posing a grave threat to the population.
This, too, was a trick. The KGB officer was one of the many alien Dire Wraith infiltrators on Earth.
The truth was that the Gremlin had discovered how badly Wraith-infiltrated the Soviet government was. The Wraiths thus wanted him dead, and manipulated the Soldiers into going in.
Freelancers and spaceknights
However, when the Soldiers came in the Gremlin was accompanied by the Spaceknights Rom of Galador and Starshine (Brandy Clark).
During the battle, Ursa Major stumbled upon the Dire Wraith base in the Zone. The aliens’ plan thus completely backfired :
- The Soldiers allied with the Spaceknights and the Gremlin.
- They destroyed the Dire Wraith base. And the army of Hellhounds that was being bred within.
- The Gremlin joined the Soldiers. They worked together to destroy Wraith infiltrators in the USSR.
- The four Soldiers also rebased in the Zone. They wanted both to deny it to the Wraiths, and make it a haven for mutants in the USSR.
In 1985, the four Super-Soldiers were in the field with S.H.I.E.L.D., multiple militaries and an army of super-heroes. This last stand saved Earth, and destroyed the Dire Wraiths.
(One panel, which shows the Soldiers ready to fight Wraiths, features a Crimson Dynamo. Presumably it’s again Bukharin uneasily collaborating with his former colleagues.)
Mutant master of magnetism
By 1987, the Gremlin was operating as the new Titanium Man. He had built a power armour suit patterned after the one once worn by Boris Bullski.
As the four Soldiers were working to prevent a train crash, Dimitri Bukharin approached them. He helped with his new-generation Crimson Dynamo suit, and asked for their assistance.
Though the Soldiers were wary, Bukarin wanted to seize an opportunity to kill Magneto (Max Eisenhardt). He sought to avenge the sinking of the nuclear submarine Leningrad, with all hands aboard.
However, the Soldiers and the Dynamo came in while the Avengers and X-Men were in a stand-off about Magneto’s arrest. A four-way battle promptly erupted, but the Super-Soldiers couldn’t take on either team.
During one of the clashes, the Dynamo accidentally sunk a large ship. The X-Men and Avengers helped evacuate the sailors.
Mr. Bukharin denied that he was responsible for this, against evidence. This shamed the other Soviets. They volunteered to arrest the Dynamo and bring him to maritime authorities.
A hate supreme
In 1988, Gremlin was accidentally killed by Iron Man (Tony Stark).
By 1989, the waning USSR had assembled a new official super-team. These were the Supreme Soviets, led by a new Red Guardian (Josef Petkus, later the Steel Guardian).
This meant that the government no longer needed to maintain a light hand with the Soviet Super-Soldiers, in case they needed their help. Tensions swiftly escalated, until the Soldiers saw no option but to defect.
The team approached Captain America (Steve Rogers) in the US. However, the Supreme Soviets were hot on their heels.
Stop in the name of love
The Supremes’ ambush put the Soldiers into a coma. They used illusions to make it look like the Avengers were the culprits.
As they were dying in the US, the Soldiers joined in astral form. They formed a giant Darkforce bear, possessing their combined powers. The creature rampaged in Moscow, drawing the Supremes in.
The plan was to kill the Supreme Soviets to take their lifeforce, and resuscitate the Soldiers. But Captain America, on a diplomatic mission in Moscow, convinced the “shadow bear” to take just enough life force without killing anyone.
Fall of a rotting empire
The Soldiers awoke from what they had perceived as a dream. However, not killing their preys meant they weren’t fully healed. They thus had to be put into a controlled coma to stabilise them.
(This isn’t stated in the story. But one story ends with them awake, and the next begins with them in suspended animation. So, the above is a No-Prize HypothesisA made-up explanation to plug a plot hole).
To Cap’s dismay, diplomatic wrangling meant that the unconscious Super-Soldiers were eventually shipped back in late 1992. Their destination now was the Russian Federation, the USSR having fallen in 1991.
The trio was immediately rescued and healed by the mutant underground movement led by Blind Faith (Father Alexi Garnoff).
At this point the trio joined the mutant underground. The Soviet Super-Soldiers effectively ceased to exist as an independent team, though they retained close ties.
(For what happened next, see the Siberforce a.k.a. Exiles team profile).
Source of Character: Marvel Comics (1978/1992).
Writeup completed on the 26th of May, 2020.