The Winter Guard – Russia’s Avengers Team

With the release of Black Widow set for tomorrow, Friday July 9 (finally), One thing that has been on a lot of people’s minds are the additional characters set to appear in the movie. Not only do we get Black Widow but we are also going to get Red Guardian (played by David Harbour), Iron Maiden (played by Rachel Weis) and White Widow (played by Florence Pugh). For me though, the character I most want to see on the big screen is none other than the main villain of the movie, Taskmaster. Ever since I saw him in his classic skull mask and cape get up in a Deadpool comic I purchased, I’ve been itching to see him show up either in a show or a movie. And I’m finally going to be able to see him wreck shop.

Recently though, through a page I frequent on YouTube, Variant Comics, it has come to my attention that these additional Russian character (played by non-Russian actors) are all at one point an active member of the team known as the Winter Guard. The Winter Guard are basically the Russian equivalent of the Avengers. They team has gone through several different incarnations throughout their run having first appeared in Iron Man #9 in October of 1998. The most well known members of the team are Red Guardian, Crimson Dynamo, Ursa Major and Darkstar.

The team is set to appear in a new title which is set to release this summer with the following roster: Ursa Major, Crimson Dynamo V, Darkstar, Red Guardian, Vostok, Chernobog, Perun and The Red Widow.

Now since most casual readers and or fans of the MCU don’t really know a lot about these characters, I’m going to give a brief rundown of each one along with their powers and abilities.

URSA MAJOR – Russia’s Drunkest Bear

Ursa Major first appeared in Incredible Hulk #258 from April of 1981and was created by Bill Mantlo & Sal Buscema.

Ursa’s real name is Mikhail Uriokovitch Ursus and he was born in Blagoveshchensk in the 20th century. He was one of the first known mutants born in the Soviet Union to be born and actually survive past childhood. Before his birth, the Soviet Union would unceremoniously kill any mutant once their powers had manifested. The reasoning isn’t very clear but given that it was the Soviets, I’m sure it was somehow in service of the Motherland. Mikhail was abandoned in the wilderness as a child and if it hadn’t been for his unique mutation, he would have died. Mikhail used his shape changing abilities to live amongst the animals in the wilderness of Russia. It wasn’t until a scientist named Piotr Phobos who pressured the Soviet government into allowing him a school to train mutants (sound familiar?). Mikhail was one of the first students to attend the school and nearly graduated but the doctor was corrupt siphoning the powers of the students and killing them in the process. Red Guardian defeated the doctor and rescued Mikhail, Darkstar and Vanguard.

Mikhail, Darkstar and Vanguard were eventually reunited as they were formed into the elite hit squad known as Soviet Super-Soldiers. Mikhail was given the moniker Ursa Major, a play on his rank and last name “Major Ursus”. The team was sent to investigate a new radiation contaminated area of Khystym called the Forbidden Zone. They encountered the Hulk and briefly battle him before they discovered the source of the radiation. It was Dr. Phobos trying to irradiate the entire Soviet Union to promote the birth of more mutants. He continued to work with the other super soldiers on various missions of their own choosing, declaring they would never blindly follow a mission for the State.

Ursa Major is a mutant with the ability to transform himself into a large anthropomorphic bear. He retains his intelligence but if he stays changed for too long, his feral nature comes to the forefront and he becomes more and more vicious. While in his bear form, he has super human strength (which allows him to fight the Hulk). He is also gifted with increased durability, stamina and senses. He also has large unretractable claws which when coupled with his super strength, can cause massive damage.

CRIMSON DYNAMO V – Russia’s Iron Man

Crimson Dynamo first appeared in Iron Man #109 in April of 1978 and was created by Bill Mantlo & Carmine Infantino.

Crimson Dynamo is a title given to several different antagonists throughout Marvel comics, the most popular version is Dmitri Bukharin who was born in Kuibyshev Russia. He was a former KGB operative who became the fifth individual to adopt the moniker of Crimson Dynamo. His first mission was to the Blue area of the moon with fellow “Russian Super Soldier” teammates Darkstar and Vanguard. Initially he thought Iron Man and Jack of Hearts had attacked his team and started fighting with them the moment they arrived. It took an encoded message from his superiors before he relented in his attack and began to work with the heroes against the real threat.

He fought with the Russian Super soldiers for several missions and was a member of the team when Ursa Major was recruited and added to their roster. After they fought with Hulk against the Presence, the rest of the Soviet Super Soldiers discovered that Dmitri was an active KGB agent and expelled him from the team. While he was investigating Asteroid M, Dmitri managed to convince the rest of the Soviet Super Soldiers to aid him in his mission. Reluctantly, the team agreed though they still didn’t trust him. The Avengers and X-Men managed to find Magneto first and revealed to the rest of the team that the whole mission was a ruse by Dmitri who was actually responsible for the asteroid crashing in the first place. The team turned on Dimitri and arrested him, turning him over to Russian authorities. Following Norman Osborn’s taking over of SHIELD after the Secret Invasion, Tony Stark becomes the most wanted man in America. Tony fled to Russian airspace when Dmitri, now going by the moniker Airstrike after his Crimson Dynamo armour was destroyed, intercepted and shot down Iron Man. Acting a liaison to the Russian government, he denied Osborn’s request to pursue Tony and enter Russia to apprehend Pepper Potts stating that ” He won’t be fooled the way Osborn deceived America”.

Crimson Dynamo is a regular man like Tony in a suit of powered armour. His suit allows him the ability to fly, superhuman strength and reflexes, hand blasters (much like Iron Man’s repulsors) and communications equipment. He is best known as being the Russian counterpart to Iron Man.

DARKSTAR – Russian Green Lantern

Darkstar first appeared in Champions #7 from August 1976; she was created by Toby Isabella and George Tuska.

Darkstar was born in Minsk Russia. Her real name is Laynia Petrovna and she is one of twins, her brother is named Nikolai Krylenko (Vanguard). Laynia led a very unassuming life as a child and once she was old enough she enlisted in the Soviet Military becoming one of their special operatives.

She was part of the initial team, along with Crimson Dynamo and Vangaurd who was dispatched to the blue area of the Moon and ended up fighting Iron Man and Jack of Hearts. Once everything was sorted out she assisted the others with fighting the Rigellians and Commander Arcturus who were in the process of attacking the moon. During the initial team up with Ursa Major and the Hulk, Darkstar and Vangaurd discover that The Presence is none other than their father who has been working with Dr. Phobos. They end up freeing their father along with Starlight who helps them to take down Phobos for good. She was also a member of the team that was duped into helping Crimson Dynamo investigate Asteroid M. When the double cross was revealed she was one of the most vocal members suggesting that they oust Crimson Dynamo from the group. When the Soviet Super Soldiers defected the to USA seeking political asylum, they ventured to Avengers island seeking Captain America. The team was duped by the Super Soviets who proceeded to beat Vangaurd, Darkstar and Ursa Major within an inch of their life. When her brother is killed on a botched mission with Quasar, Laynia and their father Sergei decide to kill Quasar in retribution. Quasar flees the planet letting the two grieving family members believe they were successful in their revenge.

Darkstar joined the Paris office of the X-Corporation where she came into conflict with Weapon XII. Weapon XII ended up taking telepathic control of the Russian hero and Fantomex was forced to kill her during a confrontation. A small funeral service was held in her honour and she is laid to rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. She managed to resurrect herself when the Dire Wraith succumbed to the Dark force energy that Petrovna controls. She used it to force her own resurrection and returned to active duty alongside her brother and Ursa Major.

Darkstar is a mutant who is able to psionically connect with the Darkforce dimension and manipulate its energies to her will. She is able to craft and control constructs made from Darkforce energy (like Green Lantern and their constructs) as well as fly and teleport herself and three others through the Darkforce dimension. She is also able to fly at subsonic speeds by manipulating Darkforce energy to propel herself into the air. The upper limits of her power are currently unknown.

RED GUARDIAN – Russian Captain America

Red Guardian is the title given to many characters in Marvel Comics universe since his first creation. He has always been the Russian Equivalent of Captain America. The most popular version is Alexei Shostakov who is the second iteration of the character; though, the leader of the Winter Guard is actually Vangaurd, Nikolai Krylenko, who has adopted the title.

He was first introduced in Avengers #43 in January of 1967, he was created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema.

Born in Moscow, Alexei Shostakov was the husband of Natasha Romanov (Black Widow). They both enlisted to become operatives of the Soviet government, Natasha becoming an Black Widow and Alexei becoming a military test pilot and KGB operative. After several years of work with both of the organizations, he trained to become Red Guardian the Russian Captain America.

During WWII, Shostakov was one of the best pilots that the Soviets had on the Eastern Front he is credited with dozens possibly hundred of Luftwaffe kills in defense of the Soviet Empire. He is single handedly credited with delivering the Soviet air supremacy during the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. He was the first test pilot for the MiG-15 fighter jet and as previously stated, married Natalia “Natasha” Romanoff, a Russian ballerina. When the Cold War began to heat up the KGB faked Shostakov’s death and trained him to become Red Guardian in secret. His suit was red in colour with a Soviet Star on his chest and he carried a magnetic throwing disc on his belt which he used as an offensive weapon. His marriage with Romanoff fell apart when she became disillusioned with the KGB and their tactics, eventually defecting to the USA and SHIELD. Alexei remained loyal to his country serving as their covert figurehead while the likes of the Winter Soldier worked in the shadows. As he continued to work for the KGB he began to lose that little bit of spark that helped to make him the man Natasha fell in love with. He became a cruel, ruthless and vindictive operative. When he was dispatched to protect a Chinese communist General named Ling. He came into conflict with Captain America and Black Widow.

During the fight, Natasha notice something very familiar about Red Guardian. Alexei took the time to reveal his identity to her and was shot by General Ling moments later when he chose to save the lives of Black Widow and Captain America. He perished in the secret facility when a volcanic eruption was triggered by the weapon the facility had been developing. His body was buried under molten lava as the eruption consumed the facility. There was a brief moment where he was thought to have survived, but this was quickly revealed to be an LMD who was trying to capture Natasha and bring her back to Russia to answer for her crimes.

With the exception of Ultimate Universe Red Guardian and the newest incarnation, none of the Red Guardians are super powered. They’re trained to the peak of human abilities and are masters of hand to hand combat. Most of them employ a steel shield much like Captain America, though his Vibranium/Adamantium alloy his much stronger than the regular steel that Guardian uses.

VOSTOK – Russian Wish version of Vision

Vostok first appeared in Captain America #352 in April of 1989, he was created by Mark Gruenwald and Kieron Dwyer.

Not much is known about who Vostok also known as Sputnik is. He was was once a Soviet scientist named Anatoly who through a lab accident with alien technology was accidentally created. He is a completely synthetic humanoid android with the ability to control other mechanical devices and machines. He can fly and has recently shown the ability to phase through solid material.

He was one of the founding members of the Supreme Soviets, the “officially” sanctioned superhero team of the USSR that replaced the Soviet Super Soldiers. He was one of the members of the team that hunted down and savagely beat Darkstar, Vangaurd and Ursa Major.

He participated in several missions with the Soviet government before they collapsed and he was then employed by the new Russian government.

Following the rising tension in the superhuman community around the world. The Russian government sought to form their own response team, The Winter Guard, when some of their submarines were attacked in the Black Sea by Namor and his team of Defenders from the Deep. Vostok has been recruited to be one of the founding members of the Winter Guard.

CHERNOBOG – The Slavic God of Chaos and Night (Discount Chthon)

Chernobog first appeared in Incredible Hulk #621 In January of 2011, he was created by Greg Pak.

Chernobog the Black is one of the Russian pantheon of Gods who was allied with the forces of evil during the war fought amongst the various Gods of Russia. Typically he was worshipped by witches, warlocks and the sick and dying, hoping to buy favour for when their time came.

Long ago, in 893 AD along the banks of the Neva River in northwestern Russia, Thor and the Norsemen were sailing up the river to lay claim to the land. Perun and Chernobog were on their way to provide assistance to the Slavic people defending their home when they were set upon by Gorr the God Butcher (Main villain in the upcoming Thor Love & Thunder). They put up a valiant fight but Gorr lived up to his name and killed both of them.

Recently, a Russian bartender was tired of tourists not respecting the history of his country or the country itself, made a deal with Chernobog. He would become the evil God’s earthly vessel and in return Chernobog could “haunt” the streets killing the unbelievers and siphoning their energy to become stronger. One night he was hunting for non believers when he encountered the Incredible Hulk. The two engaged in a fight but Chernobog was unable to drain the power from Hulk before he overloaded. as the evil God withdrew, Hulk deduced the connection to the bartender and confronted him.

Much like Vostok, Chernobog was recruited to join the Winter Guard along with a resurrected Perun. During one of their first missions the two came to blows over which one of them would get to kill Namor for his attack in the Black Sea. Since this altercation, Chernobog was removed from the team temporarily.

Allegedly “The Strongest There Ever Was”, Chernobog has abilities that are unmatched by most. He has incredible strength (enough to go toe to toe with Hulk), speed, durability and he can drain the souls and life essence from living being to bolster his own life. He is also known to have ridden around on a winged stallion composed of fire and darkness.

PERUN – The Slavic God of Storms (Discount Thor)

Perun first appeared in Captain America #352 in April of 1989, he was created by Mark Gruenwald and Kieron Dwyer.

Perun was born in the realm of Svarga, which is a pocket dimension adjacent to Easrth where all the Slavic Gods come from. *cough* Asgard *cough*

For hundreds of years he did the things Slavic Gods like to do, fighting with other Gods, intervening in the lives of mortals, making mortals revere them as Gods, siring offspring to one day usurp them in power and fighting monsters.

In 893 AD he was rushing to the defense of his people beside Chernobog when they were set upon by Gorr the God Butcher. The two Slavic Gods put up a good fight but very little is able to stand against Gorr and the Necrosword. Perun was beheaded and Chernobog was killed.

For reasons which have yet to be revealed, Perun was stripped of his Godhood and his essence was bound to an amulet. This amulet would eventually come into the possession of one Valeri Soyloyev, and agent working for the Russian government. The amulet allowed Perun’s spirit and essence to possess Valeri turning him into the God of Storms. (Like seriously… this is almost a carbon copy of Thor)

When the Russian government formed the Winter Guard, Perun was recruited to be a member of the strike force. He was meant to be their counter point to Thor who fought with the United States and the Avengers.

As previously stated, he and Chernobog came to blows over the killing shot on Namor, should they actually find him. The two were removed from the team temporarily until they could sort their differences out.

Much like Thor, he is the Slavic God of Storms. He has: superhuman strength, durability, stamina, reflexes, dense tissue (roughly three times that of a normal human), increased longevity, regenerative healing factor and energy manipulation. He is known to carry an axe or a hammer into battle which allow him to channel his powers more effectively. He, like Chernobog, also is known to use a winged stallion as transportation; though, his has less fire and shadow than Chernobog’s.

RED WIDOW – More Angry and Vicious Black Widow

Red widow first appeared in Avengers (vol.8) #10 in November 2018; she was created by Jason Aaron and David Marquez.

Not much is known about the Red Widow except that she is the most recent contribution from the Red Room (the training facility that trained Black Widow). She was once an orphan girl who was inducted into the training program to become one of their top agents. She started the program when she was just 7 years old and her current age is unknown, though it is estimated she is between 20 and 30 years of age.

She was recruited to become a member of the newly revamped Winter Guard under the command of Crimson Dynamo. Though Dynamo may call the shots, Widow has been shown to usurp his command and take control of the team in combat. Her allegiances are not currently known but she has been seen to stay near the back of the pack and observe the team in combat to report to her superiors.

One of her most outrageous accomplishments involves none other than Count Dracula himself. When the Count surrenders himself to the Russians, believing he is at the end of his life, the Red Widow was tasked with interrogating the Lord of Vampires. In order to force his cooperation, she rounded up all of his known consorts and began executing them in front of him. Dracula began to tell all of his secrets to the Widow in hopes of saving his brood from her wrath. When some of his people decided to try and attack the facility to break him out, the Winter Guard fought them to retain control of the Vampire Lord, as each member of the team was taken down Red Widow alone remained standing fighting the vampires off until the Avengers arrived to assist.

Unlike most of the other on the list, Red Widow has no powers or abilities of any kind. She is a highly skilled combatant with an unflinching nerve even in the most dire of circumstances. She has shown on occasion to be ruthless and cunning, not to mention tactically and strategically gifted.

She wears a full body suit of red armour with a full face mask and hood with a cape. She is seen to carry a staff with a large blade on the end, much like a Naginata from feudal Japan.

WILL THEY SHOW UP IN BLACK WIDOW?

So we already know that Red Guardian will be showing up in the Black widow movie along with White Widow and Iron Maiden. Do I think it’s likely that we will get the full Winter Guard team? unlikely. But I wouldn’t put it past Feige and Marvel Studios to jam pack this movie with Easter eggs to each member of the team or even mention them in passing. I would really like to see Red Widow and the two Gods on the screen, I think that would be awesome and expansive to help build the world. Not to mention making it known that SHIELD and HYDRA weren’t the only two organizations with superhumans fighting for them. Also… I mean I would love to see Ursa Major just duking it out with the Hulk. e kind of got him in that weird “low budget” Russian action adventure movie years ago, but it was pretty horrible looking to be honest.

There you have it! Russia’s Avengers team also known as the Winter Guard. Like I said I would love to see Marvel expand on some of these characters but I wouldn’t hold my breath on seeing them in the Black Widow movie which releases tomorrow! That being said, who doesn’t want to see bearded David Harbour beating the crap out of Taskmaster while screaming in a Russian accent? It will probably be a sight better than his run as Hellboy…

See you next week!

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