The New Black Widow Characters Explained: Yelena Belova, Red Guardian, and Taskmaster
Marvel finally dropped its teaser trailer to the long-awaited Black Widow solo film earlier this week, and it looks as epic as any other first-rate spy movie.
In fact, the film shares the same stunt coordinator as John Wick, so you know this espionage flick is going to be insane. But, the intense fighting scenes are only half the reason why so many MCU fanboys and girls are dying to see Black Widow’s history finally explored.
What’s better than watching crazy action-packed sequences? How about iconic comic characters finally being given a chance to shine on the big screen?
The trailer shows Natasha in Budapest, Hungary, a place so often referred to by herself and Clint Barton in previous Marvel films. Here, Natasha’s voiceover explains how she had nothing and no one until she formed a family with the Avengers but, in her present-day, she soon battles an equally skilled woman who she refers to as “sis.” The familial theme continues with Romanoff saying: “It’s gonna be a hell of a reunion,” before we see her reuniting with Rachel Weisz as Melina, Florence Pugh as her “sis” Yelena Belova, and Stranger Things’ David Harbour donning his Red Guardian mask.
All three characters are tied to her past in the Red Room somehow, and it seems even more of her mysterious past is catching up with her as Natasha is chased down by the militant Taskmaster, leading to some of the epic action sequences previewed in the teaser. This movie can’t arrive soon enough!
If you’re craving more things Black Widow, or need an explainer as to who these new characters are, stick around. We’re going to discuss the history, powers, and significance of these new characters making their MCU debut.
Saying Yelena is Natasha’s equal is no hyperbole since she also trained in the Red Room and she shares many abilities as the original Black Widow. She has expertise in martial arts, espionage, and tactical skills.
In 2006’s New Avengers Annual #1, Yelena leveled up a notch- a preternatural amount– as both A.I.M and Hydra decided to turn the Black Widow into a Super-Adaptoid. As the name suggests, this granted her the ability to expertly mimic the powers of just about anyone.
Natasha’s mystery “sis” is her frenemy and equal. The character first appeared in 1999’s Inhumans #5. However, it was a mini-series starring Black Widow and Yelena a few months later that really cemented Yelena as Natasha’s equal. By chance, the two spies encountered each other while investigating a terrorist attack. While working together, Yelena claims to be a better Red Room graduate than the legendary Black Widow. Natasha, on the other hand, focuses her energies on exposing Yelena to the corruption of espionage in hopes of convincing her to quit her life as a spy.
As nice as that sounds, Natasha isn’t without fault. She and Nick Fury use Yelena to get to General Yuri Stalyenko by surgically swapping the women’s faces as a part of Operation Validate, leading Yelena to take the fall for some of Natasha’s exposed crimes while the original Widow showed Belova that the girl was considered expendable and replaceable. In another storyline, the death of her Red Room trainer, Pyotr Vasilievich Starkovsky, leads Yelena to officially accept the role and responsibility of Black Widow.
Throughout comic history, Yelena is painted as strikingly similar to Natasha. She is a conflicted brutal assassin and spy who can rise above her past and do the right thing.
Many fans have already speculated that Pugh’s character is coming in at a perfect time to replace ScarJo. Since the film takes place before Natasha’s death, it would be a great way to say a proper goodbye to the original Black Widow and allow an equal to take her place. Yelena Belova has proven to be that equal.
Unlike Steve Rogers, Red Guardian isn’t so lucky as to be juiced up with Super Soldier serum, but instead is just a highly skilled athlete. That’s about all that differentiates Captain America and his abilities. Alexei Shostakov is similarly trained in hand-to-hand combat, espionage, is proficient in the use of various weapons, and utilizes a shield to defend and attack his foes.
Is it just me or does Red Guardian remind you of someone we know all too well? Let’s face it. Red Guardian is the Russian equivalent of Captain America. He was created to be.
Before the Red Guardian was the national hero of Russia, he was Alexei Shostakov, a Soviet Union test pilot so impressive that he quickly gained the attention of the KGB and was soon absorbed into the Red Room. Like the Red Room has traditionally done, it manipulated Shostakov and Black Widow into a marriage. The Red Room eventually decided to stage a fake death wherein Shostakov would appear to die in a plane crash. This would force Natasha deeper and deeper into her spy life. It worked for some time until Natasha left for the States, and Alexei’s survival was kept entirely secret.
Alexei became the Red Guardian after the death of his civilian identity. He was portrayed as the evil twin of Captain America (if you will). But it isn’t so easy to paint him as the villain just because he started in the Red Room. The Red Guardian has fought alongside Captain America and even saved the Avengers on occasion.
Unlike Yelena, it seems highly unlikely that Red Guardian will replace Steve Rogers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, the two have so much in common but Falcon already took up the job for that. Plus, Alexei is Russian. So, why have him as such a major character in Black Widow’s solo film?
Like Yelena and Natasha, Alexei most likely has a vendetta against the Red Room. They did brainwash and manipulate him. What remains to be seen is how deeply his and Natasha’s histories are tied in the MCU, and whether their past will match the comics.
Very early on, Tony Masters realized he had photographic reflexes that allowed him to perfectly mimic anyone he observed. He could copy rope tricks from western flicks, complex dives off a diving board, and he became his school’s quarterback after watching a single NFL game.
His ability to study, copy, and predict others make him an excellent foe to any Marvel hero. Taskmaster has studied many great Marvel heroes, too, including Daredevil, Punisher, Hawkeye, and Captain America. With this skill, it makes him easily apt to fight anyone—even without an ounce of Super Soldier Serum or traditional “powers”.
Taskmaster is a popular supervillain who first appeared in comics in 1980 and, similar to everyone else mentioned in this article, has been both a villain and a spy.
Tony Masters didn’t grow up in crime. His roots in crime took place after several successful stunts in which he expertly mimicked superhero fighting techniques and committed a number of grand larcenies. However, Tony didn’t appreciate the constant interactions with law enforcement and later decided to train potential criminals and villains instead. This is when he finally took up the costume and alias, Taskmaster.
Taskmaster doesn’t have comic ties to the Red Room but it’s easy to see how the villain could fit into the Black Widow film as a possible Red Room trainer. Natasha seems like she’s out to save Yelena and former Red Room allies from the establishment that manipulated them all for so long. It would be fitting for her to save Yelena from it, and so Taskmaster would be tasked with stealing his student back.
What did you think of the Black Widow teaser? Are you ready to meet the newest additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Let Your Geek Sideshow and tell us in the comments below!
Black Widow hits theaters as the newest MCU film on May 1, 2020.