The rivalry between the Red Guardian and Captain America is played for laughs in MCU, but in Marvel comics, their most brutal battle was far from a joke.
Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are well aware Red guardianis obsession over Captain America in Black Widows solo film. But while the affiliation of the two supersoldiers is primarily played for laughs (and to highlight the Red Guardian’s apostasy) in MCU, a long-forgotten cartoon version of Cap and Red’s rivalry was portrayed through a much darker lens. And it ended in blood.
Marvel’s Ultimate Universe comic book series ran primarily through the 2000s and shared the same mission statement that MCU uses today: introducing new audiences to classic Marvel characters and stories with a modernized spin. An important difference between the two, however, is that the Ultimate Universe often served as a cynical reflection of American politics at the time. As a result, Ultimate Captain America was portrayed more as a jingoistic bully than a symbol of hope. This cap had a strict prospect of taking non-prisoners and there was no exception when he finally came face to face with his Russian counterpart.
That Ultimate nightmare miniseries from Warren Ellis and Trevor Hairsine takes place largely in a Russian bunker, which Nick Fury, Falcon, Captain America and Black Widow arrive to investigate the origins of a mysterious broadcast signal. The splinter group of heroes soon discovers that this abandoned fortress is home to a myriad of deformed superhumans. It turns out that the Russians used this secret bunker a long time ago in an attempt to replicate the super-soldier formula and create their country’s own Captain America. The program was eventually dismantled, and the failed test subjects were abandoned in the dark to evolve and replicate over the decades. At the very top of this twisted dungeon hierarchy is the Red Guardian who has been waiting for his chance to fight Captain America for over forty years.
It is unclear whether this version of the Red Guardian is Alexi Shostakov. He has not given actual insignia, but his crooked appearance fits nicely into the Ultimate Universe’s more cruel interpretation of classic characters. He wears the classic Red Guardian gear, but it is bloody, violent and torn to highlight the many insane years he has spent surviving in the dark. It also seems to visually equate Captain America’s unnoticed red, white and blue looks. Most relaxing of all is the unveiling of his own makeshift shield, which he constructed from the skin and bones of the countless super-powered freaks he killed to become the leader of the herd.
Regardless of the satirical embodiment of American exceptionism, Steve Rogers immediately sees the Red Guardian as his opponent and is more than happy to give him the fight he has been waiting for decades. True, this Captain America does not see the tragedy behind the Red Guardian being left by his country to evolve into a monster that the traditional Cap would. Instead, he sees only a threat to the American dream, a representation of American opposition. The fight is bloody, brutal and comes to a bitter end for the insane Red Guardian. After destroying his cruel shield, Cap throws a piece of bone from its wreck into the Red Guardian’s heart. When the Guardian dies, Cap utters the last words he hears, “Fight is not about glory, fight is not about pride … Fight is about winning.“
The Ultimate Universe Captain America is known for his unanimous approach to perceived American threats, but his short-lived rivalry with the Red Guardian is among the least discussed examples. While the chatty, slightly clownish rendition of David Harbor by David Harbor feels at home in MCU, the eerie mirrored reflection of Captain America is more than appropriate for the ultimate cartoon line. The Red Guardian is more evil than ever here, but Steve Rogers shows no shame in sympathizing that the Russians created this monster in response to America’s creation of him. This version of Captain America understand nothing more than to win, and Red guardian happened to be the obstacle of the day.
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