Much of Black Widow‘s (Scarlett Johansson) past has remained shrouded in mystery throughout her many appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That all changes in Black Widow, the first cinema release from Marvel Studios since 2019’s Spider-Man Far From Home.
The Black Widow mythology is one of the richest in comics, even though the character’s history, to this day, is shrouded in mysteries and secrets. And one of the characters that is part of this enigmatic origin is Alexi Shostakov.
Alexi Shostakov is the Red Guardian, and he’s considered the “Captain America of the Soviet Union.” He made his debut in the MCU in Black Widow, Natasha Romanov’s solo film.
However, it is worth noting that there is more than one Red Guardian in the comics and that none of them are portrayed in the Black Widow movie. The Alexei Shostakov in the comics is quite different and has a much more tragic past and an equally complicated future.
Who is Red Guardian?
In the comics, Alexi Alanovich Shostakov, aka Red Guardian, was one of the most skilled pilots in the Soviet Union, so he was often required for the most secretive and dangerous missions. Such was his success that he was even decorated as a Hero of the Soviet Union.
Alanovich was married to Natasha Romanoff until they were both recruited by the KGB as special agents. Alexi was forbidden to contact his wife, and Natasha was informed that her husband had died on a mission. In the Black Widow film, David Harbour’s character becomes the Red Guardian, the Russian Captain America.
The Red Guardian First Appearance
Alexi Shostakov is the second Red Guardian and first appeared in The Avengers #43 in August 1967. Back then, Black Widow was already part of the superhero team, but we only find out about her background in later stories.
The character was the brainchild of screenwriter Roy Thomas and illustrator John Buscema, who ran the Avengers magazine at the time. However, his first appearance didn’t last more than two issues, and his origin was revealed little by little in the solo magazines that the spy would have in the following decades.
By the way, Aleksey Lebedev, the Golden Age version of the Red Guardian, first appeared in Namor, The Sub-Mariner Annual #1. He was the first Red Guardian and fought alongside Captain America (William Naslund) and the Prince Namor at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945.
When the Cold War began, he opposed the All-Winners Squad and the third Captain America. Aleksey reportedly was killed during Soviet purges in the 1950s to oppose the experiments that would lead to Alexi Shostakov becoming the next Red Guardian.
Between Hammer and Sickle
Long before he assumed the mantle of Red Guardian, the man known as Alexi Alanovich Shostakov was one of the best test pilots in the Soviet Union. He was trained by none other than Vasily Karpov – a Russian general responsible for the Winter Soldier‘s creation.
During World War II on the Eastern Front, he shot down many Luftwaffe fighter planes in air battles and was credited with helping the Soviet Air Force gain air supremacy over the skies over Stalingrad and Kursk.
The character was not only a creation of the Russian army but also of the government. Many of his missions were made public by Soviet-controlled newspapers, making him a kind of national savior – even awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal.
The Red Guardian and Black Widow
With his steps controlled by the government, he ended up marrying the dancer/spy Natalia Romanova. During this period, the government decided that he should become a special agent, assigning him to various missions. On one of these missions, Natalia was informed that he had died.
It was precisely this “death” that caused Natalia – later called Natasha Romanoff – to join the KGB (the Soviet secret service) and be trained to become a Black Widow, serving as a major spy in the United States. She then moved to the country, trying to make amends for her crimes.
The Soviet Captain America
On the other hand, Alexi was still alive and very well, by the way. He was also trained by the KGB to become the hero known as the Red Guardian, who was a kind of answer from the USSR to Captain America – and little by little, he became more cruel and violent in his missions.
One time, he was contacted to participate in a mission with some Chinese agents, who had developed a mind-control technology known as the Psychotron. The idea was to cause a collective hallucination in the United States, making way for the worldwide hegemony of the Soviet Union and China.
Confrontation with the Avengers
And it was precisely in this mission that the Red Guardian ended up face to face with the Avengers. He then decided to capture his ex-wife, Black Widow – who was followed by her current boyfriend at the time, Hawkeye, and the Greek demigod Hercules.
While facing Clint Barton, Shostakov removed his mask, revealing to Natasha Romanov that he had been alive all this time. After a major confrontation between the Avengers and the joint forces of Russia and China, he regretted it and even sacrificed himself to save his beloved, causing a major explosion – however, he survived.
Red Guardian Vs. Captain America
Although it was never mentioned that Alexi was given superhuman abilities similar to Captain America‘s, when Rogers arrived to save Black Widow in the comics, the Red Guardian faced him off as an equal. He felt he had something to prove to the Captain. They both traded blows, and Alexi proved to be a possible threat to one of Earth’s most powerful heroes.
We will never know who would have won the fight. Enraged when allies interfered in the fight against Captain, Shostakov switched sides and saved both Captain America and Black Widow. Hawkeye (and readers) were shocked to discover that he still loved his ex-wife.
Many years later, the Red Guardian appeared again. Now, he was an AVM (Artificial Life Model) created by Russian agents to deceive Black Widow. Later, Alexi revealed himself alive again to Natasha, which always caused major confrontations.
More recently, the character has returned under a new name. As the mantle of the Red Guardian was extinguished along with the Soviet Union, he appeared as Ronin. This mantle had previously been carried by the deaf vigilante Echo, Hawkeye, and the vampire hunter Blade.
Black Ocean Society
As Ronin, he led a new antagonist squad known as the Black Ocean Society, composed mostly of Russian agents looking to rebuild the “sweet days” of the Soviet Union, even if they needed to cause a new World War.
The team was composed of several operatives who possessed the powers and clothing of some great heroes of the USSR, such as the Scarlet Dynamo, Vostok, and Perun. During this period, he kidnapped Natasha Romanov and took her back to Russia (where she would be tried for treasonous crimes) but was thwarted by the Avengers and Daredevil.
Red Guardian’s Powers and Abilities
Despite being considered the Soviet version of Captain America, the Red Guardian does not possess any superpowers like his American counterpart. He did not even have his blood injected with the Super Soldier Serum, which did not guarantee him superhuman abilities.
However, the KGB trained the character, developing combat tactics, agility, and durability well above average. In addition, it is important to highlight his skills as a test pilot, which boosted his career before he cast aside his identity as Alexi Shostakov.
Red Guardian In The MCU
The character played by actor David Harbour in Black Widow is one of the film’s comic reliefs and, with his good-natured manner, has managed to win over the audience.
Part of that appeal lies in the jokes involving Captain America, whether it’s suggesting he’s already faced the hero during the Cold War or questioning Natasha if Steve Rogers has ever talked about him.
Of course, we know that in the MCU, the two characters had never met, as Captain America was frozen during World War II and only rescued in 2011 when his body was located by SHIELD.
On the other hand, a recent theory has emerged indicating that Alexei Shostakov may not be the liar many people believed when watching the film.
This is because, as Falcon and the Winter Soldier reveals, the United States kept trying to recreate the supersoldier serum after WWII, and some soldiers have achieved the equivalent abilities of the original Captain America – such as Isaiah Bradley.
So it may be that Red Guardian did indeed face a Captain America, albeit not the one he believes he was. And that may be a story featured in the MCU in the future, perhaps in Captain America 4 with Sam Wilson taking up the shield and facing this old rivalry.
In interviews ahead of Black Widow‘s premiere, David Harbour pointed out that the rivalry between his character and Captain America could be explored at some point, especially when there is a 25-year gap between his escape from the US and his prison appearance.
He also talked about a possible encounter with Sam Wilson now wearing the iconic shield. According to him, this clash would be interesting to see, especially when Alexy comes across a different Captain America than the one he has always dreamed of facing.
At the same time, Black Widow’s own demise leaves free for the Red Guardian to return as he escapes the Red Room explosion along with Melina Vostokoff.
And there are already some rumors claiming that both Harbour and Rachel Weisz have signed contracts for more MCU appearances – although Marvel Studios has yet to confirm the information.