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This July, moviegoers everywhere will meet some of Russia's finest Marvel heroes on the big-screen, as Alexei Shostakov and Yelena Belova join the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Black Widow. Just one month later, fans eager for the further adventures of the characters also known as Red Guardian and White Widow can get their fill in an all-new Marvel miniseries that puts Alexei and Yelena on the run from their own government, and in the crosshairs of Russia's very own superhero team.
Today, SYFY WIRE can exclusively reveal Winter Guard, a four-issue series from writer Ryan Cady (Hyperion & The Imperial Guard, Infinite Dark) and artist Jan Bazaldua (Loki, X-Force) that will put Red Guardian and White Widow front and center as part of their own epic espionage adventure, with the title team of Russian heroes hot on their tail.
"Fans of the Black Widow movie should find our Yelena Belova and Red Guardian pretty familiar - though in this cat and mouse series, they're the ones on the run," Cady told SYFY WIRE. "They've crossed back over the border, and now they're Russia's most wanted; the top of the Winter Guard's hit list.
"Coming off of last year's Widowmakers one-shot (and all of Kelly Thompson's work on Black Widow), you're looking at two disillusioned super-spies who want to kind of 'redeem' their homeland in ways that the standard 'find villain, punch face' approach can't handle. Unfortunately, they're more than willing to violate international law and beat up a few state-sponsored super 'heroes' in search of that redemption."
As Cady hinted, Red Guardian and White Widow's search for redemption, including a quest to obtain and reveal Russian state secrets, will bring them up against the current roster of the Winter Guard, which includes Russian heavy hitters like Vanguard, Crimson Dynamo, Darkstar, and the legendary bear-man known as Ursa Major. In the gallery below, you'll get a taste of exactly what that fight looks like.
It's definitely not an easy road ahead for Alexei and Yelena, and that's before you start talking about the two Slavic gods Cady and Bazaldua have brought into the mix.
"Ostensibly, these are the good guys - and they're trying to be," Cady said of the current Winter Guard lineup. "You've got classic heroes like the Crimson Dynamo, the siblings Darkstar and Vanguard (Red Guardian's spiritual successor), and of course, everyone's favorite Russian Mutant - no, not Colossus - Ursa Major! He's a drunk who turns into a bear, and I love him with all my heart. There are also two Slavic deities on the team, Perun the stormbringer and Chernobog of blood and darkness, and as any Marvel fan will tell you, it's always a bad idea to put two gods on one team.
"But there's a lot of motives within motives for these heroes, and a lot of them are more sympathetic toward Red Guardian and Yelena than they should be. A catastrophe is going to rock the Winter Guard in this first issue, and they're going to have a hard time trusting each other. Especially since their boss on the Russian Security Council is the mysterious Red Widow, a stoic assassin with a secret identity and Red Room assassin training, who seems to be taking this mission a little personally…"
But of course, this isn't just the story of a pair of Russian superheroes fighting a few of their former allies. It's also the story of the twisted Marvel espionage world as a whole, and the bigger picture that Red Guardian and White Widow are trying to play into.
"If you look at the Marvel Universe right now, there's a lot of tension in the geopolitical climate, all these nations' superteams and dubious histories are clashing - Yelena and Red Guardian are trying to light that powder keg's fuse," Cady explained. "These particular state secrets are all things that were supposed to be swept under the rug back during the Cold War, and if you believe our antiheroic duo, the intel paints every nation involved in a bad light.
"Alexei Shostakov is a washed up super soldier, a national symbol that's incredibly disillusioned with his past. Yelena is an assassin that's sick of being used by the world's one percent for their own gain. They're on a 'destroy the oligarchs at all costs' mission, which puts them at odds with anybody invested in their homeland's current power structure… So, damn near everyone."
Just as the long-awaited Black Widow movie is making an ambitious effort to dive into Natasha Romanoff's past, and the figures back home who helped shape her, so too is Winter Guard looking to dive into what's perhaps a less-explored corner of the Marvel espionage world. So, if you saw the movie and craved an even deeper dive into the Russian spies and super soldiers of the Marvel Universe, Cady thinks you'll be right at home in th pages of Winter Guard.
"We've taken a lot of inspiration from espionage films and novels, using some of those old Cold War spy aesthetics, and there's a lot of appeal in that alone," Cady said. "Do you like spy stories? Do you like betrayals and complicated motives and superhero sagas where everyone comes out a little messy in the end? This is a whole series full of the things that people enjoy about Black Widow or the Winter Soldier.
"But it's also a deeply personal story. It's ultimately about a bunch of people trying to do what's right for their country, and they've all got different views on how to go about that...and that means conflict. There's plenty of fighting and chase sequences and cool reveals, but beneath it all is that drama, that core conflict - are we doing the right thing?
"Are we really the good guys here?"
We'll get the answers to those questions and more (Could Dracula and his new nation of vampires in Chernobyl have a role to play?) when Winter Guard #1 arrives this August.