Friday, January 27, 2017

Soviet Super Soldiers-Verse

First Appearance: The Incredible Hulk #258 (April 1981)
Created By: Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Members: Blind Faith, Crimson Dynamo, Darkstar, Devastator, Fantasia, Gremlin, Perun, Red Guardian, Sibercat, Sputnik, Stencil, Ursa Major, Vanguard
History:The Soviet Super-Soldiers were initially established by the government of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a counterpart to American teams such as the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. The program was the inspiration of Professor Piotr Phobos, a latent mutant with megalomaniacal tendencies who convinced the government establish a program designed to identify and train superhuman beings in a program called the School for Super-Soldiers. The program's first trainee was Mikhail Ursus, an orphan with the power to transform into a grizzly bear. The next two students were Nicolai Krylenko and Laynia Petrovna, children of the nuclear scientist Sergei Krylov. Other students were identified by the KGB and sent to the School, though some remain unidentified and many died during training. When the Red Guardian revealed the motivations behind Phobos's operation, he gave talismans to his two prize pupils, Krylenko and Petrovna, and fled into a radioactive region of Khystym known as the Forbidden Zone.

Upon their graduation from the academy, Krylenko (who adopted the code-name Vanguard) and Petrovna (who called herself Darkstar) began working for the Soviet state as government agents. Darkstar was sent the United States with the Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man to bring back the former Soviet spy Black Widow, but she rebelled and remained with the Los Angeles-based superteam the Champions until it disbanded. Upon her return to the Soviet Union, she joined her brother Vanguard and the new Crimson Dynamo on a mission to investigate possible alien activities on the Moon, which led to a battle with the American superheroes Iron Man and Jack of Hearts and with the extraterrestrial Rigellians.

A few months later, Vanguard, Darkstar, and the Crimson Dynamo were sent on a mission with Ursus, who had now adopted the code name Ursa Major to eliminate the Presence, who the KGB believed was behind the spread of the radiation of the Forbidden Zone beyond its boundaries. There they battled the Presence, the new Red Guardian (Tania Belinsky) (who had also been turned into a nuclear being) and the Hulk. They soon learned that the Presence was in fact Vanguard and Darkstar's father, and that their former mentor Professor Phobos was behind the expanding radioactive wasteland. After defeating Phobos, his three students decided to sever their ties with the government, which they believed had purposely deceived them. After expelling the Crimson Dynamo (who continued to support the government) from their ranks, they began aiding the people of their country without government authorization.

Eventually the Soviet Super Soldiers were contacted by the director of the KGB, who offered them full amnesty for their unsanctioned activities if they would investigate the disappearance of the Devastator, who had been investigating the Gremlin, a renegade scientist believed hiding in the Forbidden Zone. Though uninterested in serving the state, the team accepted, believing that the Soviet people were in jeopardy. When they arrived in the Forbidden Zone, however, they found that the threat came not from the Gremlin but from the alien race known as the Dire Wraiths, who has built a scientific base in the Zone. With the help of the Gremlin and the Galadorian Spaceknight, Rom, they defeated the Dire Wraiths. In the aftermath, they offered the Gremlin membership in their team, and they made the Wraith citadel their new base of operations. The Gremlin later built a built a suit of armor and became the new Titanium Man, assisting in the investigation of the crash of Magneto's Asteroid M in Russian territory.

After Gremlin's death in battle with Iron Man, the remaining members of the team fled to the United States in search of asylum. They were pursued by a new team of super-powered government agents known as the Supreme Soviets. Using the powers of one of their members, they were able to infiltrate the Avengers base where the Soviet Super-Soldiers had been granted asylum by Captain America and defeated them in battle. Leaving the Soviet Super-Soldiers for dead, the Supreme Soviets teleported away, but the unconscious minds of Ursus, Krylenko, and Petrovna created a "Great Beast" using Darkstar's "Darkforce" power that attacked Moscow. When the Supreme Soviets arrived to battle the threat, they were absorbed by the creature and nearly killed before Captain America convinced the trio to let their enemies live.

Though the three remaining members of the Soviet Super-Soldiers were granted asylum by the United States government, they were later captured by the People's Protectorate, the successor to the Supreme Soviets. Returned to the Soviet Union, they escaped and later joined the underground mutant group known as the Exiles.

Sometime later, the Super-Soldiers awakened and were absorbed into a group of mutant outcasts and exiles led by Father Alexei Garnoff, occasionally known as Siberforce. Eventually, Siberforce and the Supreme Soviets reformed under the new name the Winter Guard which reflected the current political climate in Russia.New members included Blind Faith, Stencil, Sibercat, the third Red Guardian, Fantasia, Perun, and Sputnik, and the returning Crimson Dynamo.

First Appearance: Iron Man #9 (1998)
Members: Crimson Dynamo, Darkstar (Laynia Petrovna), Red Guardian, Ursa Major

History: Recruited by dictator Josef Stalin himself, World War II's Red Guardian was one of the earliest known costumed heroes of Russia, then the USSR, but little else about its early heroes is known. While the USSR launched an orbiting facility in 1942 for advanced research, American forces manipulated the Soviets into destroying it at war's end, costing them technology it would take years to redevelop. In 1948, Trofim Lysenko's bizarre theories dominated the USSR, coloring perception of natural sciences, and the Soviets developed the atomic bomb a year later; these developments may have led Stalin to launch a genocidal campaign against Russia's mutants, killing many in infancy. With scientific research questionable, mystic resources were explored under the supervision of Gregor Smirnoff, although his results remain sketchy. In the 1950s, Natalia Romanova began her lengthy KGB career as the Black Widow, while the so-called Ivan the Terrible dominated counterespionage unit SMERSH; Soviet espionage in the USA was overseen by an operative known only as the Man. However, many Soviet endeavors were foiled by American soldiers, spies, and adventurers; moreover, the USSR was infiltrated by Eternals and Deviants in their millennia-long feud, and the Communist Bloc witnessed many superhuman forays against the USSR, ranging from mystic attacks to alien incursions. Stalin himself was impersonated by a demon in 1953 and died shortly afterward. His successor, Georgy Malenkov, recruited a new Red Skull as an operative, but this Skull and others, including the electric-powered Electro and the armored Oleg, met defeat from American super heroes. Attempts to form alliances with Atlantean and extraterrestrial renegades failed, and biological automata called Meatspore Stormtroopers proved uncontrollable and were incarcerated at research facility Science City 53. In 1955, Nikita Khrushchev usurped power, and two years later the USSR launched Sputnik I, widely believed to be the first manmade satellite. By 1961, the USSR, having weathered attacks by the alien-controlled It, The Living Colossus and the dragonlike Grogg, had made remarkable advances, including the manned spacecraft Vostok I; research at Science City 53 was redirected, and vague reports existed of a Soviet unit called the Red Front, enemies of the American First Line. Khrushchev was impersonated by the alien Pretender in 1962 and deposed by Leonid Brezhnev two years later, and an end to Lysenko's dominance that same year presumably contributed to developments later in the decade, including extensive parapsychology studies at numerous facilities such as the Pavlov Institute. The Soviet space program was enhanced by superhuman astronaut Epsilon Red, succeeded in later decades by Doctor Volkh and Mikhail Rasputin. However, such operatives as the flying Katyusha and the deadly Omega Red either defected or proved uncontrollable, and the USSR placed Omega Red and other super-agents, including Cold Warrior and Chernobyl, in suspended animation for future deployment. It may have been during this period that the mutant genocide program fell under the directorship of East German scientist Wolfgang Heinrich, a.k.a. Doppelganger, who launched horrific experiments upon surviving mutants in an effort to duplicate their powers. The USSR employed such specialized assassins as the Confessor and Deadmaker, while the elite soldiers of the Pravda Patrol represented Soviet interests abroad. Dr. Constantin Racal developed Warborgs, technologically reanimated corpses, as super-soldiers in select circumstances; superhuman Sleeper agents were dispatched to the USA, with the intention of, like Chernobyl and others, being activated if necessary.

Over twenty years ago, Professor Piotr Phobos convinced the Soviet government that Russian mutants could, if trained from childhood, become reliable operatives; the mutant genocide program, known to few since Stalin's death, was curbed or shut down, although a number of far less sinister mutant "Province" camps remained, and Heinrich covertly continued his work. Select mutants were placed under Phobos's care in the Siberian Project, while others remained with their families under covert observation by the Flagwatch program. Phobos's work was supplemented by Professor Anatoly Vonya, eventually mutating the operatives who later rebelled as Peristrike Force. Following an upsurge of mutant births in a nuclear accident's wake, government factions developed giant robots called Strazhi (or "Sentinels") for potential use against mutant threats. The USSR's non-mutant operatives included the armored Iron Maiden, the cyborgs Black Brigade and Geo, the athletic assassin Ghost Maker, the costumed Cossack, and several others. Among the USSR's top scientists were biochemical specialist Doctor Yes and geneticist Emil Kovax, while some its more exotic endeavors were overseen by Colonel Alexi Vazhin, later Head of Mutant Affairs. Many of the USSR's scientific advances were created by the mutated genius called the Gargoyle, allegedly supported by the similarly mutated Ant Queen.

Soviet technology was apparently acquired by outside communist factions and nations; unconfirmed reports of strange phenomena swept the USSR, possibly indicative of escapes from or faulty shutdowns of superhuman programs. As the Soviet governments changed, many of Russia's programs, left from earlier regimes, were occasionally designated "Soviet super-programs" even after the Soviet government itself was no more. The USSR's breakup heralded an upsurge in Russian organized crime, led by the former KGB mastermind called the General and employing such operatives as the armored Vindiktor and the shape shifting Skull-Jacket.

In recent years, the Fantastic Four's debut heralded widespread superhuman activity, and several alleged Soviet and/or communist operatives, their true allegiances unclear, were active early in this period. Some, including the Chameleon (Dmitri Smerdyakov), the Red Ghost, and the Purple Man, embarked upon prolonged rivalries with American heroes; others, such as Mongu (Boris Monguski), the Rabble Rouser, and the Wrecker (Karl Kort), soon vanished from the scene. A few, like Comrade X and the Beasts of Berlin, subsequently joined the communist unit called the People's Defense Force. Russia's most prominent super-operatives were the Titanium Man and agents using the armor of the Crimson Dynamo; the Red Guardian identity was reassigned to Alexei Shostakov, husband of the now legendary Black Widow, who had defected to the USA. Following Shostakov's seeming death in battle with the Avengers, his codename was coopted by the vigilante later called Starlight, who also defected to the USA; an android duplicate of the Shostakov Red Guardian was used years later as an operative of hardline communists. However, not all Russian operatives were hostile toward American forces, as seen by Yuri Brevlov's leadership of a S.H.I.E.L.D. faction. Other Russian superhumans included the mutated Metazoid, the costumed assassins collectively called Agent Syn, and the rebellious Elements Of Doom.

Russia's first known modern super-team was the Soviet Super-Troopers, armored soldiers outfitted by the Gargoyle's mutant son Gremlin and led by Devastator. However, two of Phobos' now-adult students, Vanguard and Darkstar, were also recruited as government operatives, occasionally working with a Crimson Dynamo. Following a clash on the Moon with the alien Rigellians, the three were joined by Ursa Major, another Phobos alumnus, as the Soviet Super-Soldiers, named after the decades-old programs from which the team was extrapolated. An early assignment of the Soldiers exposed Phobos's efforts to expand the radioactive Forbidden Zone, created by the renegade Presence, across Russia; the incident left the Siberian Project a shambles, with such trainees as the Snow Leopard forced to fend for themselves. After months of activity, the three mutant Super-Soldiers grew dissatisfied with government supervision and, following the exposure of government infiltration by Dire Wraiths, they became free operatives, dismissing the Dynamo and allying with the Gremlin, now using the Titanium Man's armor.

Following the Gremlin's apparent death in battle with Iron Man, his teammates fled Russia, planning defection to the USA. However, the Russian government had created a new team, the Supreme Soviets, led by Josef Petkus, the latest Red Guardian; sent to retrieve the three mutants, the Soviets captured them but were eventually defeated. Nevertheless, the threesome was later imprisoned, but freed by underground mutants called the Exiles, some survivors of Wolfgang Heinrich's work. General Valentin Shatalov dispatched the cyborg Firefox, who decimated the Exiles' ranks before being defeated. Vanguard, Darkstar, and Ursa Major joined the remaining Exiles, later renamed Siberforce, which continued outlaw activities against anti-mutant prejudice. Shatalov formed a new super-team under communist guidelines, Remont-4, but this endeavor was brief; a similarly motivated team, the Bogatyri, was organized by ex-astronaut Doctor Volkh in hope of rebuilding the USSR but was also short-lived.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Soviets, reorganized as the People's Protectorate, joined forces with the USA's Avengers, Canada's Alpha Flight, and other heroes against the radioactive Combine, the extraterrestrial Starblasters, and others. When the Russian government apparently pardoned Siberforce, the team was merged with the Protectorate as the Winter Guard ("Zimniy Storozh" in Russian); the Red Guardian, Vostok, and Fantasma were recruited from the Protectorate, while Vanguard, Darkstar, Ursa Major, and Sibercat emigrated from Siberforce, with the mutated Powersurge completing the roster, although Darkstar later joined the X-Corporation and was apparently slain. While remnants of earlier USSR programs occasionally resurface, the in-fighting between super-teams is apparently over, and Winter Guard has enjoyed success against the Mandarin, the Presence, ULTIMATUM, and other threats, their role as Russia's protectors supplemented by covert operatives such as the Warborgs and the new Black Widow (Yelena Belova), as well as by freelance vigilantes like the newest Crimson Dynamo (Gennady Gavrilov), gun-wielding Dragunov, and the long-time adventurer Night Raven. 

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