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Characters You Should Know: David Harbour’s Red Guardian from the Black Widow Movie

Did you hear the news?! Jim Hopper is coming to the MCU!

Well, sorta.

David Harbour is set to bring a Marvel comics character by the name of the Red Guardian to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the Black Widow solo film. But who the heck is the Red Guardian?!

Nerds on Earth is here to help. This pretty obscure Marvel character has some pretty big ties to Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow, but how will those ties be explored in the upcoming movie?

Who Is The Red Guardian?

The mantle of the Red Guardian was actually held by more than half a dozen folks over the years in the comics, but Harbour has been officially cast as Alexei Shostakov, so we’ll focus on that one in particular.

A Tweet-length explanation of this Red Guardian would go something like this (*clears throat*):

He was married to Natasha but faked his death to basically become the Russian equivalent of Captain America. Oh, and his death was the inciting incident for Natasha to become Black Widow.

188 characters. More than an OG Tweet; significantly less than a new school Tweet. I’m counting it.

Under the secret care of the KGB, Red Guardian received extensive combat training but–and this is important–no Super Soldier serum. Alexei is just a dude who trained hard and achieved peak human performance without drugs, meaning he should be the personality on those cheesy gym videos prepping kids for the Presidential Fitness Test.

Alexei’s version of the Red Guardian did not wield a shield as did most other incarnations of the Red Guardian. Instead, he had a magnetic disc on his belt that he could us as a projectile that would return to him. I’m curious to see if Harbour’s version goes the belt route or the shield route to more closely mirror Captain America.

Alexei’s biggest comic arc had him joining forces with the Chinese to deploy a device called the psychotron (groovy, so 60’s sounding) that could create mass hallucinations. Black Widow (who again thought her husband dead), Hawkeye, and Hercules drop in on the operation. Hawkeye is captured, Alexei reveals his true identity, and Hercules is forced into the psychotron before Captain America shows up and Red Guardian seizes the opportunity to prove he is Cap’s equal or superior.

Red Guardian’s accomplice, Colonel Ling (who has even more ties to both Red Guardian and Black Widow), electrocuted Captain America through some plates in the floor and then tried to shoot him dead. Red Guardian felt that this was dishonorable and attacked Ling just as he took his shot. The beam from Ling’s gun then set off a series of explosions that presumably killed all the baddies, but none of the Avengers.

What Might We Expect of Red Guardian in the Black Widow Movie?

This origin story might not align all pretty-like with the backstory we’ve been fed regarding Natasha in the MCU, so some liberties will be taken along the way. In the comics, Natasha was convinced to undergo KGB training only after her husband was presumed dead in an experimental aircraft test flight. In the MCU, she was recruited to the Red Room Academy at a pretty young age, so I’m not sure how the marriage angle will work out.

The marriage angle would make for some pretty meaningful drama and gravitas, though.

The Black Widow solo movie is set to take place just after Captain America: Civil War. Maybe she tries to address some of the “red in [her] ledger” by returning home to shut down the Red Room Academy and ends up crossing paths with Harbour’s Red Guardian. He never defected as Romanoff did, so he might well be expected to protect that as a major Russian asset.

I haven’t heard word that Hawkeye or Captain America (or Hercules, for that matter!) would surface in this solo title, so a lot of the details are highly likely to be very different from what we’ve seen regarding Romanoff and Shostakov in the comics. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at all!

And how will Taskmaster–another comic character confirmed for the movie–fit into all of this? I sincerely hope he’s not just a blip on the movie’s radar, but I am biased. Taskmaster is the greatest! Maybe he is one of the new trainers at the Red Room Academy?

Red Guardian reveals himself as Alexi Shostakov.

With Harbour cast as Alexei Shostakov, I’d be shocked if he was just a man behind a mask that gets punched by Black Widow. I’m not entirely sure how they’ll meaningfully tie the two together. It won’t be as simple as saying they were “classmates” at the Red Room Academy as it was, as far as I can tell, strictly for girls.

Maybe they’ll just fiddle with the timeline a bit such that the two of them met sometime after her time at the Academy. Seems easy and plausible enough.

We know this much: Marvel is no dummy or slouch when it comes to weaving meaningful and emotional narratives. Even with the relatively stoic and unreadable Black Widow, I bet they tell a tale that’ll pull at our heart strings.

If Marvel has done nothing else, they’ve earned our trust. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that they’ll take this obscure Red Guardian character, make us care about him in some way, and further develop Black Widow as a strong female character in this Phase 4 movie.

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