Marvel's long awaited Black Widow has finally arrived and is currently dominating the box-office, as well as the streaming service Disney+, as Marvel fans are storming up to witness the 24th installment of their favorite franchise. It was high time that Scarlett Johansson got proper treatment for the character she has portrayed for more than a decade. The film, set right after the events of Captain America: Civil War, came four years too late, but it was enthralling to witness a story delving deeper into Natasha Romanoff's past life which has just been teased here and there since The Avengers in entries that featured Black Widow's character.
But, while looking back into the past of the former Avenger (who is deceased in the current timeline), we also got introduced to new characters from the Marvel comics associated with Widow and the Red Room story line which always had a past existence within the MCU (as teased briefly in Avengers: Age of Ultron). One of those characters was Red Guardian, played by Emmy-Award nominee, Stranger Things fame David Harbour.
Red Guardian, in Marvel Comics, has been written as a Russian equivalent to Captain America. Just like Steve Rogers, he was a war hero and had combat achievements from his time in Stalingrad during WWII. He later was chosen for the super soldier program and trained as Red Guardian. He is said to have engaged in face-to-face combat with Steve Rogers as well. But, this new version of the character is not exactly the way comics have introduced him.
Red Guardian in the MCU
Red Guardian's presence in the year 1995 suggests that Alexei was experimented on with the serum long before that and that the Russian counterpart to Captain America has been around for a while. While in prison, Alexei is shown to boast about his days as Red Guardian and makeup stories of his battles with Captain America. However, those stories are arguable as Steve Rogers' version of Captain America was in suspended animation when Red Guardian was running missions for the Soviets.
Alexei Shostakov is shown to be a Soviet patriot, who takes immense pride in being a super soldier and wishes to be in front of combat missions and display his strength. In his prime, he was Dreykov's muscle and allied with strategist Melina Vostakoff. However, after Ohio, he was probably thrown into prison by Dreykov, probably because Dreykov felt having a stubborn and relentless super-soldier would hamper his mission to create a secret unit of assassins.
While Red Guardian's past was left a bit unexplored for now in the film, there was a subtle hint to his past as the Soviet super-soldier. Harbour's Red Guardian claims that he was Soviet Union's first and only super-soldier, but it doesn't mean he was the only superhero. And Yelena Belova (played by Florence Pugh) gave the audience a subtle hint to the existence of Red Guardian's allies from the comics.
In a discussion with Yelena, he is mocked by her for his ignorance towards her when she was a child and unaware of the reality of her "family". She mocks him for being too busy being the Crimson Dynamo in his prime days; to which, Alexei corrects her by saying that he's called Red Guardian. This moniker, Crimson Dynamo, isn't just a name Yelena came up with but is a direct hint to the existence of another team of super-beings within the MCU.
Who is Crimson Dynamo?
Interestingly, Crimson Dynamo is the name taken up by a number of characters from Marvel Comics. Just like Iron Man, Crimson Dynamo wore armor-powered exoskeletons. In the MCU, while there isn't any revelation of the superhero yet, one of the wielders of the moniker has a significant role. It's Anton Vanko, father of Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash.
In the comics, Anton was one of the most notable carriers of Crimson Dynamo. The fact that Crimson Dynamo exists in the MCU also gives a nod to Anton Vanko's character development in the franchise. In the cinematic universe, Anton is the co-strategist behind the invention of Arc Reactor, which Tony Stark later used to create Iron Man.
Though MCU ends Anton's story line with the information that he was exiled to Siberia after he failed to recreate the technology for the Soviets, this particular mention of Crimson Dynamo suggests that Vanko did try to create his own version of exoskeletons before passing on the research to his son Ivan. It's possible that after Howard Stark had Anton deported, he used his knowledge to create the armors, later dubbed Crimson Dynamo, and even shortly succeeded. There's a chance that he might have collaborated with Red Guardian on a mission, but the lack of reliability of his creation might have pissed Soviet authorities.
Nevertheless, this mention of Crimson Dynamo further expands Marvel Cinematic Universe to Russia and also subtly gives a nod to another team of superheroes, the Winter Guard also dubbed as the Russian Avengers.
Winter Guard, in the comics, is a team comprising Russian superheroes. While many such teams in the comics are often depicted as adversaries of Avengers, Winter Guard ran on its own agendas of Soviet patriotism. The team was comprised of different members at different times, but one of its iterations had both Read Guardian and Crimson Dynamo at the same time.
However, in the comics, it wasn't Anton Vanko who joined in Winter Guard but as per the current MCU lore, Anton seems to be the most obvious wielder of Crimson Dynamo's moniker that Yelena mentioned. Winter Guard further consisted of Darkstar, Chernobog, and Red Widow along with a humanoid bear known as Ursa Major. A character named, who is imprisoned in the same facility as Alexei is shown in the film; however, it can't be confirmed if it's a hint to the same Winter Guard member or not.
Future of 'Black Widow'
Black Widow's story line completed Natasha's character arc and set up Hawkeye, the upcoming Disney+ original which will feature Florence Pugh reprising her role as Yelena Belova, who will take on the mantle of Black Widow in the MCU. The film has confirmed that Natasha's character, for the time being, is deceased unless she shows up in an alternate timeline in the multiverse (a concept teased in Loki and set to be explored in Doctor Strange 2).
As for the other characters, including Taskmaster and Red Guardian, nothing could be confirmed if any of them would show up in the future entries of the MCU. For now, there is no sequel planned to follow up Black Widow and there probably would not be any until Phase Four is complete. But it would be interesting to see how the future of these characters would shape up and if Marvel would ever bring Winter Guard to a live-action reality.
Black Widow is currently running in theaters and is also available to stream on Disney+ Premier Access. A follow-up, Hawkeye, would release on Disney+ as a limited series, starring Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton, with Hailee Steinfeld, Alaqua Cox, Vera Farmiga, and Florence Pugh.