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Ursa Major (Marvel Comics) (Russian superhero) master handbook

Ursa Major


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

Context

Ursa Major is one of the core Russian super-heroes in the Marvel Universe.

He debuted in 1981, as one of the Soviet Super-Soldiers.

Sequencing

This profile is to be read after :

  1. The Soviet Super-Soldiers team profile.
  2. The Siberforce team profile.
  3. The Winter Guard team profile.

This article covers everything from 1980 to 2019 (inclusive).


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Background

  • Real Name: Major Mikhail Uriokovitch Ursus.
  • Other Aliases: Balshoy Medvyed (“Great Bear”, spelled большой медведь).
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: None.
  • Group Affiliation: Soviet Super-Soldiers, then the KGB, then back to the SSS, then the Exiles aka Siberforce, then the Winter Guard.
  • Base of Operations: Khystym, Russia.
  • Height: 6’4″ (8’5″ as a bear). Weight: 255 lbs. (two tons as a bear).
  • Eyes: Brown Hair: Brown.

Man gave name to all the animals

“Ursus” is a bit on the snout – even by comic book standards. And his patronymic seems off to my inexpert eyes. Shouldn’t it be Urikovitch ?

So it’s possible that Ursus’ name is just something that Piotr Phobos made up.

On the other paw, Mikhail did give his name as Mikhail Uriokovitch in 1951.


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Powers & Abilities

Mr. Ursus is a mutant and an arktothrope. Which is a word I just made up for “werebear”, though I’m certainly not the first one to do so.

When he turns into a bear, Ursa Major :

  • Is larger and heavier than, well, your average bear. Such a huge, shaggy, clawed creature is particularly intimidating.
  • Is super-strong. He’s also extremely durable, and his fur provides insulation.
  • Is surprisingly fast, particularly in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Has acute feral senses. Mikhail can combine these with his outdoorsmanship to deploy exceptional tracking skills. He can reconstitute complex events from footprints and other environmental clues.
  • Seems resistant to some forms of telepathic intrusion due to his hybrid mind.
  • Is stealthier than you’d expect thanks to his padded plantigrade paws. He’s no ninja, but he makes much less noise than most two-ton creatures.
  • Might have a minor healing factor . It’s not clear.

He can also use his claws to force some locks open. But it only works on big, crude keyholes that could be picked using any suitable small, hard object.

сила

Back in 1981, Ursa Major seemed to be a “Class 40” or “Class 50” character. I’d err toward 50.

Ursa Major (Marvel Comics) (Russian superhero) king of bears

This is based on his fight with the Hulk. Or the way he crushed a Crimson Dynamo power armour  gauntlet.

The vintage OHOTMU lists him as “Class 15”. This is coherent with listing the then-current Crimson Dynamo as “Class 7.5”. But both these estimates seem lowballed. Which may in turn stem from the then-current estimate for Iron Man power armour being oddly low.

His strength seems to have grown slowly over the decades. But there aren’t solid benchmarks to estimate levels. Or any benchmark, really. It’s hard to make a solid argument for his strength level due to lack of material.

(We once see UM having some difficulties with one car from a freight train. That presumably weighs about 80 tonnes. But such scenes tend not to be reliable. And two panels later he has no issue tossing it aside.)

There’s a loose sense that his strength might increase when angry. But there’s no statement or clear observation about that.

More than I can bear

In human form he’s a fit, well-trained military intelligence officer. Major Ursus presumably also trained with a Soviet special operations unit.

He’s physically adept, and has years of experience with cold weather forest survival.

Major Ursus seems to have a high, perhaps abnormal endurance and power of recovery even in human form. He also clearly demonstrated a superhuman sense of smell even with his human nose.

Ursa Major seems particularly hesitant to harm women. If engaged in melee by one, he’ll noticeably underperform.

In some sequences, Ursus’ uniform inexplicably reappears intact after transforming. Let’s assume it’s an art glitch.


Video

Here’s a vintage Uzbek cover of huge French disco hit Supernature. It was apparently used in a 1980 or 1981 Soviet movie.

Aside from the lyrics being in Uzbek, it certainly evokes the right era and the right place. Plus, none can equal the power of Supernature. Even as a gentler cover.

Not available for download on Amazon, but the original is .


History (part 1)

When Mikhail Uriokovitch’s mutant powers emerged, he was expelled from his home by his parents. This took place circa 1949.

(A 2015 story retconned the timeline that had been established for Ursus and his colleagues during the 1980s. This revised timeline is the one presented in our Soviet Super-Soldiers team profile.)

This saved his life. Back then, mutants were to be slain on sight by the Red Army. His parents were arrested, but their son was already out of there.

Young Mikhail lived alone, apparently in the forests of the Tver Oblast . He would occasionally enter isolated villages at night, but the locals thought it was just a huge bear rummaging for food. They sensibly left him alone.

(Oddly enough, Mikhail spoke serviceable English. This suggests that his parents had unusual qualifications for the 1940s USSR.)

(He was also familiar with Mark Twain , but that means little. Translated Twain was widely read in Russia, both before and after the Revolution.)

A kodiak moment

As a bear, Ursus observed some sort of strange, crystalline spaceship in the wilderness. Days later, covert investigators showed up :

  • American billionaire industrialist and smug science adventurer Howard Stark.
  • Woodrow McCord, the then-current Man On The Wall.
  • Elite agent/troubleshooter Peggy Carter.
  • Tania Belinskaya, the future Red Guardian, then aged 16.


Ursa Major (Marvel Comics) (Russian superhero) as a teenager morphing

A teenage Mikhail Ursus morphing.


Belinskaya and Carter recruited Uriokovitch, who took them to the ship. They thus uncovered a Soviet/Hydra joint venture, investigating an alien artefact. The star scientist was a prisoner, Anton Vanko (the future Crimson Dynamo).

Unsurprisingly, Stark crashed the spaceship, wrecking the research facility. The situation erupted into chaos. This led to the Soviets turning against Hydra, whom they despised anyway.

The project was shut down, and an intrusion by the alien Ebon Seeker (Xanth) narrowly averted.

In the way of our forebears

While investigating the complex, Ursus noticed a familiar smell. He thus found his mother, who had spent years in a barren cell. Her imprisonment had left her extremely sick and seemingly insane.

(It is possible that she was detained there to determine why her son had been a mutant. Back then, only a few individuals such as Mister Sinister (Nathaniel Essex) or Apocalypse (En Sabah Nur) understood how the genetic X-Factor works.)

However, Mikhail Uriokovitch was bushwhacked while in his mother’s cell. He was then held prisoner and experimented on.

The #1 threat to America

From there, he was transferred to Moscow and became Professor Phobos’ first student. Mikhail was present when Laynia Petrovna and Nicolai Krylenko, still babies, were brought in by the KGB. He became a brother to them.

Ursa Major (Marvel Comics) (Russian superhero) shaggy monster

As a young man, Mikhail Ursus received military training and went to work for the KGB. This likely was part of the horse-trading between Phobos and the government, to prove the worth of superhuman mutants.

(Wolverine First Class #8 depicts Ursa Major as a “mere cadet”, whereas Vanguard and Darkstar are already Super-Soldiers. This is impossible in either the original B. Mantlo continuity or the revised K. Immonen one. So I’m ignoring it as a goof.)


History (part 2)

In 1980, Ursa Major was happily reunited with his childhood friends. The Kremlin had him join the Soviet Super-Soldiers.

(Since the government distrusted the Soldiers, it seems possible that there had been clashes between Ursa Major and his superiors at the KGB. Later events lend credibility to this hypothesis.)

From there Ursa Major :

  • Was present when Professor Phobos’ treachery was revealed.
  • Was the first to discover how badly the USSR had been infiltrated by the Dire Wraiths.
  • Etc.. See the Soviet Super-Soldiers team profile for more.

The Dire Wraiths thing also led to a scene where a giant mutant bear punches zombie dinosaurs. So there’s that.

Plantigrading on a curve

From 1989 to 1992, the Super-Soldiers were in a coma. Once they awoke, they joined an underground mutant resistance. See the Siberforce team profile for more.

Ursa Major (Marvel Comics) (Russian superhero) preved medved

Siberforce eventually brokered a deal with the Russian Federation. This resulted in a new, joint super-team – the Winter Guard. Ursa Major wasn’t part of the original roster, but joined during the early 2000s.

After Darkstar (Laynia Petrovna)’s death, the Guard went through a split. The grieving Major Ursus chose to stick with the team, as did the Crimson Dynamo (Boris Vadim).

See the Winter Guard team profile for more.

Hey baby what’s ursine

During the battle with the Dire Wraiths at the Citadel, Ursa Major went on his own to create a diversion. This allowed the rest of the team to storm the Citadel.

Though the team suffered severe casualties, Ursa Major won his battle. But he lost Vanguard’s hammer in the fray.

In the aftermath of the foiled invasion, the Guard reorganised as a return to the Super-Soldiers. The roster was Ursus, the Red Guardian (Nicolai Krylenko), a resurrected Darkstar (Laynia Petrovna) and the Crimson Dynamo (Dimitri Bukharin).

Shifting in the woods

Within weeks, Ursa Major got into a row with state security officers. It escalated, and he was arrested for killing five agents.


Ursa Major (Marvel Comics) (Russian superhero) death of darkstar

Death of Darkstar (Sasha Roerich).


Mr. Ursus was sent to a secret gulag. This special prison held many, lethal former agents who had honed their trade during the Cold War. These were forced into arena death matches.

Ursus was the champ until Captain America (James Barnes) defeated him.

Caniformia love

At this point there’s a most grizzly glitch. Ursus is established to be imprisoned, yet for years we see him in action with the Winter Guard.

Proposed No-Prize Hypothesis  :

  1. The Dire Wraith that hypothetically impersonated Ursa Major during the Neo-Soviets thing survived.
  2. It was then pressed into service by the government to maintain the appearance of Ursa Major still being active.
  3. Ursa Major being the hardest member to find a substitute for, such a stopgap measure makes some sense.

Bear & Spider

Meanwhile, the real Ursa Major was transferred from the gulag to the re-formed Red Room. He was partnered with the Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff).

During the late 2010s, Ursus and Romanoff conducted many assassination and terrorism actions for the Red Room. The idea was to seize the moment, as S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra had dismantled each other.

However, Mikhail saw Natasha as a great heroine of the motherland. He couldn’t accept how the Red Room was objectifying and manipulating her using their serial immortality technology.

Meurs, pourriture communiste

He thus sabotaged the Red Room process to resurrect their agents and manipulate their memories.

Ursa Major (Marvel Comics) (Russian superhero) with Darkstar Reena Stanicoff

Specifically, Major Ursus bribed Epsilon Red — whose psychic powers were used to manage the agents’ recollections — not to erase Romanoff’s memories.

The Widow then came up with a complex, lethal scheme to destroy the Red Room. It’s what she does.

With the help of Hawkeye (Clint Barton) and the Winter Soldier (James Barnes), Romanova and Ursus terminated this version of the organisation.


Description

Official Marvel height and weight for his bear form are 7’5” and 955lbs.. This doesn’t match the way he’s usually depicted. Measurements better matching the primary material are given in the Background section of this profile.

But as with many large characters, Ursa Major’s bulk isn’t always coherent.

One caption states that he weighs ten tons. This seems to be an exaggeration, since floors don’t constantly collapse under his mass.

Ursus’ human form’s official vitals are big. Early on he wasn’t drawn as a huge man. But during the 2000s and 2010s his size comes to match the Handbook values.

Other details

Ursa Major prefers to operate in ursine form – unless he’s aboard a vehicle or somesuch. This greatly lowers the odds of being taken out by a surprise attack.

Major Ursus is a smoker, but a relatively light one.

Ursus has kept a pile of surplus Soviet military clothing . This is low-key stuff, such as plain fatigues or white muscle shirts with a big red star. Presumably he was issued these in bulk since he goes through a lot of uniforms.

Unless he’s financed by an organisation that can afford unstable molecule briefs, Maj. Ursus will be buck-naked whenever he reverts to human form.


Personality

Like his colleagues, 1980s Ursa Major was depicted as speaking in elaborate, theatrical, wrought lines. So, not quite overwrought, but definitely not underwrought.


Ursa Major (Marvel Comics) (Russian superhero) with deathwing heavy metal hammer

Why this wasn’t drawn as a riff of the seminal Métal Hurlant poster , I’ll never know.


He is a patriot, but the quiet kind. He doesn’t think that his country or his politics are superior to all others. However, he strongly dislikes it when people take shots at Russia or Communism. And when Ursus gets angry, he gets physical.

Ursus is nostalgic about the USSR’s heydays. But it’s mostly apolitical. It’s more about things and habits that do not exist anymore, and memories from his youth.

In a full-blown battle and in bear form, Ursa Major can go a tad berserk. But he’s not really out of control, just on the animalistic side. And he seems to have gained a better control of his killer instincts over the decades.

Grin and bear it

Ursa Major isn’t entirely at ease in human society. It’s part of why his lifelong friendship with the twins is so important to him.

Though he doesn’t like people much, Ursus is unusually protective and supportive of children and young adults. He’ll take risks to ensure that they are safe, and will always offer a sympathetic ear and encouragement. He’ll also try to shield them from unsetting events. This is especially true with lasses.

When he has some vacation time, the Major likes being on his own in pristine Russian wilderness.

During such treks he seems to prefer classic Russian motorbikes. Maybe a lovingly-maintained 1970s Voskhod 2 , bought with his KGB/military compensations and preferential access. Major is a pretty senior rank.

Oh Jason Aaron no

During his 2019 appearances, Ursa Major acts as a cruel, murderous, boastful, shallow, anthropophagous brute.

Also he’s an alcoholic guzzling gallons of vodka. Which is a groundbreaking way of depicting Russian characters.

As of this writing, it is too early to determine whether this complete characterisation change will stick.


Quotes

“We were brought up as brothers, Nicolai ! I cannot desert you !”

“Then let brute force meet brute force.”

“Power of the proletariat, the Hulk is half my size — but more than ten times as strong ! What could create such a creature ?”

“Darkstar is correct, Vanguard ! The motherland is in danger, we must respond !”

“Thank you, my sweet little ponchiki.” (a ponchiki is a sort of light, sweet doughnut. Sometimes he says “lapsha” instead – a kind of comfort food noodle soup).

“PREVED !” (this battle cry is a joke/reference to a popular Russian meme featuring a bear. It’s a deliberately misspelled “hello”, which could be translated as “o hai guyz” or somesuch. Sometimes he says “PREVED MEDVED !” (spelled Преве́д Медвед), which is the fuller meme. “O hai its baer !” or somesuch).

“I’m a senior officer of the armed forces, Reena. I’ve been trained for any and every situation. Besides, I’m the one thing our enemies won’t expect… a badass bear with a hammer !”


DC Universe History

Perhaps Mrs. Gradenko is his mum ?


Sharing



Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Mikhail Ursus

Dex: 04 Str: 04 Bod: 05 Motivation: Uphold the Motherland
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 05 Occupation: Soldier
Inf: 04 Aur: 04 Spi: 05 Wealth: 003
Init: 012 HP: 040

Powers:
Analytical smell/tracking scent: 05, Regeneration: 01

Skills:
Military science: 04, Vehicles (Land): 03, Weaponry: 03

Advantages:
Alter-Ego (Ursa Major form), Familiarity (Soviet security/military lore), Language (Russian), Schtick (Reparative shapechanger).

Connections:
Father Garnoff (Low), Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) (Low).

Drawbacks:
None demonstrated.


Ursa Major

Dex: 05 Str: 13 Bod: 12 Motivation: Uphold the Motherland
Int: 06 Wil: 04 Min: 05 Occupation: Soldier
Inf: 06 Aur: 04 Spi: 06 Wealth: 003
Init: 017 HP: (Same)

Powers:
Analytical smell/tracking scent: 07, Claws: 09, Density Increase: 02, Cold immunity: 01, Growth: 01, Jumping: 01, Mind field: 02, Postcognition: 11, Regeneration: 02, Running: 05, Swimming: 03

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Density Increase and Growth are both Always On and Already Factored In.
  • Mind Field is Self Only and Always On.
  • Mind Field also classifies his mind as animalistic. This may affect Mental capabilities who have Limitations against non-human minds (BC +10).
  • Postcognition is Contingent Upon Analytical Smell, and requires smells to analyse.
  • Postcognition is limited to emotions felt by mammals. He deduces these from trace smells left behind.

Skills:
Charisma (Intimidation): 06, Military science (Tracking): 08, Thief (Locks & safes): 02, Thief (Stealth): 04

Bonuses and Limitations:
Power Loss — Thief cannot improve stealth against persons with APs of Analytical Smell/Tracking Scent.

Advantages:
Alter Ego (Ursine form), Familiarity (Soviet security/military lore), Language (Russian), Schtick (Reparative shapechanger).

Connections:
Father Garnoff (Low), Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) (Low).

Drawbacks:

  • Distinct Appearance.
  • Minor Rage.
  • During some eras, Mistrust (Mutant).
  • Partial Attack Vulnerability (-2 CS RV vs. slashing, piercing and ballistic Descriptors).
  • Partial Attack Vulnerability (-3 CS RV vs. non-concussive, non-cold-based energy attacks).
  • Power Loss (DEX drops to 02 as long as he’s fighting a female human in melee).
  • Attack Vulnerability. Ursa Major’s Alter-Ego can be Drained, Neutralised… by germane abilities affecting mutant powers. The OV/RV against such is his STR score as Ursa Major.

The proportional strength of a bear

Ursa Major seems to have had a STR of 12 early on. His BODY likely remained one AP below his STR for most of his career.

It is possible that he hit STR 14 during the 2010s, given his fight with Powersurge.

Some appearances (for instance his fight against the Winter Soldier, or his attempt to restrain Wolverine) seem to treat him as a “Class 15” character in terms of strength and durability. As per the Handbook. That would be STR 10 BODY 07, with both Attack Vulnerabilities reduced to – 1CS.

The material suggests that his STR and perhaps RV vary according to how angry he is. Perhaps with Hero Points spending being favoured. But though the pattern exists, there just isn’t enough data to propose something.

(Feel free to design something where he’s normally “Class 15” but can go to “Class 60” for a good while if driven enough. If you plan to use Ursa Major in your games a lot, that is.)

As a teen, he seemed to have STR 09 BODY 05 in bear form, but no Attack Vulnerabilities.


Design notes

Yes, the Claws aren’t strong enough to be a combat asset. And Ursa Major will indeed fight using hugs, slaps, and other ursine moves. When he does claw and bite, he’s just using his native STR for Killing Combat.

But he still needs APs of Claws for niche applications. Such as attacking things with Attack Vulnerabilities, biting through a rope, stuff like that.

(There are two odd scenes where he slashes at She-Hulk to make her bleed. I’m not sure what to make of those.)

The stats err toward assuming bear-like senses and mobility, even when not clearly demonstrated. And the Postcognition thing is only seen once in an obscure MCP short story.

The approach with an Alter-Ego is much cleaner than modelisation using Shape Change or Zoomorph. Yes, his form has bearlike visuals, but our goal here is to quantify what it actually does.


Discrepancies

Whether Ursa Major is fluent in English wobbles at first. I assume that the appearances where he only speaks Russian are the ones in error. Especially since he was nigh-fluent as a teen.

Ditto when it comes to not having Insta-Change.

There’s also a sequence where a caption tells us that he reverts to human form because he was too severely wounded to maintain his bear form. But what actually happens is that the wounds fade out and he transforms again, none the worse for the bear. Hence the Schtick.


A chivalry of bears

Likewise, there seems to be strong dither in his DEX and Physical RV.

However, as our contributor Darci noticed, his oddly poor performances usually take place against women (Storm (Ororo Munroe), Gladiatrix (Robin Braxton) and Domino (Neena Thurman)). That Ursa Major would be hesitant to harm women aligns well with his consistent characterisation.

Ursus having an awful DEX from Power Loss also allows highly skilled female fighters to do Criticals against him. Thus making their blows abnormally effective.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Marvel Comics.

Helper(s): Roy Cowan, Chris Cottingham, Darci.

Writeup completed on the 18th of July, 2020.

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