Red Guardian: What We Know About David Harbour's Black Widow Character From The Comics

David Harbour as Red Guardian in Black Widow

One of the most exciting moments of the Black Widow teaser, and its latest trailer which dropped in mid-January, was seeing a costumed David Harbour in action. The Stranger Things star has experience playing a comic book character after last year’s Hellboy, but makes his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in the solo affair of Scarlett Johansson’s Avenger as the Marvel comics character Red Guardian, despite early fan speculation that he might be introducing the Fantastic Four’s Thing to the MCU.

However, those less averse in Marvel comics history probably were scratching their heads at the sight of David Harbour squeezing into a suit that resembles Steve Rogers’ Captain America uniform, but painted red. As it turns out, even that confused observation would put you on the right track to unlocking the Red Guardian’s origin.

On that note, what else is there to know about Natasha Romanoff’s Russian-accented ally? Is he superhuman like Captain America and are the trailers’ mentions of a “family reunion” hinting at blood ties between Scarlett Johansson and David Harbour’s characters? Prepare yourself for Black Widow by taking a deeper look at what the comic books have taught us about the history of Red Guardian.

An early image of Red Guardian from Marvel comics

Yes, Red Guardian Is Essentially The Russian Captain America

In the upcoming Black Widow movie, David Harbour stars as Alexi Shostakov, who was created by Marvel writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema and depicted in the comics as a star fighter pilot for the Soviet Union during World War II. His extraordinary skills in combat and espionage and his loyalty to the KGB earned him the chance to undergo training to become Red Guardian, a costumed fighter intended to be the Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America.

Also like his United States counterpart, the Red Guardian title is one that has been passed down from person to person for generations, with each one to wear the red and white star-spangled outfit being of Russian descent, and even inspired an entire team of heroes honoring the namesake in an alternate reality. In fact, while Alexi Shostakov made his official Marvel comics debut in a 1967 issue of The Avengers as the costumed hero, he is actually only the second person to hold the moniker canonically after Aleksey Lebedev, retconned as the inaugural, 1940s-era Red Guardian in the early 1990s.

David Harbour's Red Guardian prepares for battle in Black Widow

No, Red Guardian Does Not Possess All Of Captain America’s Abilities

Red Guardian is actually one of a few heroes from overseas inspired by Captain America, such as the United Kingdom-born Captain Britain. However, while he may bear a similar aesthetic and much of the same talents, he is not an exact copy of the founding Avengers member.

As Tony Stark would put it, everything that makes Steve Rogers special “came out of a bottle,” but Red Guardian’s skills are not the result of a science experiment to create the next super soldier - just a strict workout plan. In addition to lacking the superhuman abilities and athleticism of Captain America, instead of a large shield, Alexi’s primary piece of combative equipment is a modestly-sized disc that would detach from his belt, which was embedded with magnets that allow it to easily return to him after throwing. For inaugural Red Guardian Aleksey Lebedev, it was a pistol.

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow

Red Guardian Has An Intriguing Connection To Black Widow In The Comics

The Black Widow trailer sees David Harbour’s Red Guardian calling his alliance with Natasha Romanoff, her sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) a family reunion. While it is not clear as of now how literally that should be taken in regards to the characters’ MCU iterations, Alexi and Natasha’s relationship in the comics actually goes pretty deep.

Prior to their careers as costumed warriors, Alexi Shostakov and ballerina Natasha Romanoff (referred to in the comics as Natalia Romanova) were husband and wife until Alexi’s Red Guardian training forced him to abandon his past life and Natasha was informed he was dead before she was drafted into the KGB as an operative. Natasha eventually redefined her Black Widow alias as a member of the Avengers, with whom she would face-off against the Red Guardian and come to the horrifying realization that the Russian vigilante is her thought-to-be-dead husband.

Alexi Shostakov as Ronin in Marvel comics

David Harbour’s Red Guardian Character Took Up Another Familiar Name In The Comics

Alexi Shostakov is most famous in Marvel comics, of course, for wearing the red and whites as Red Guardian for decades. However, there would eventually come a time in his crime fighting career when he would adopt a new color scheme (black and gold), a new arsenal of weaponry (samurai sword and nunchucks), and a more independent agenda.

In 2011, Alexi Shostakov was revamped as Ronin, an assassin whose identity, like Red Guardian, has been shared among multiple owners since its 2005 debut, including Hawkeye himself, Clint Barton, as seen in Jeremy Renner’s portrayal in Avengers: Endgame. Alexi is revealed as the third person to bear the Ronin title when he comes to blows with Hawkeye and Black Widow (this guy can’t catch a break when it comes to awkward run-ins with the ex-wife) when the murder of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent sends them to Japan to find the base of operations for the Dark Ocean Society, now led by a new Ronin who turns out to be Alexi.

The Red Guardian seems to be a Marvel character with quite a bit of weight to him (which I mean in reference to his comic book history, not jokes of his physical weight gain in the trailer), making me wonder how David Harbour’s evidently goofy portrayal will touch on Alexi Shostakov’s tragic past in the film. Until the Russian Captain America’s secrets are revealed when the Black Widow movie hits theaters May 1, 2020, be sure to check back for more updates on the MCU spin-off and other Marvel endeavors here at CinemaBlend.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.