Ronin: How a Black Widow MCU Hero Stole the Avengers’ Most Dangerous Name

One of the Black Widow’s fan-favorite characters used the Ronin identity long before they stepped foot inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

WARNING: The following contains mild spoilers for Marvel Studios’ Black Widow, written by Eric Pearson and directed by Cate Shortland, in theaters and on Disney+Premiere Access now.

Alexei Shostakov’s Red Guardian is set to become a new Marvel Cinematic Universe fan-favorite thanks to his appearance in Black Widow, played by Stranger Things star David Harbour. However, the Alexei of the comics is quite different from the live-action version, with a more twisted history with Natasha Romanoff.

And in one plot to take over his homeland, the former Red Guardian donned an identity used by several Avengers to become Marvel’s Ronin.

 RELATED: Red Guardian May Have Fought Captain America – But It Wasn’t Steve Rogers

Black Widow Ronin Alexi Red Guardian

Alexi was created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema and first appeared in Avengers #43 in 1967. As one of Russia’s top military pilots in World War II, he married Natasha before the two of them were selected for recruitment into Russian intelligence. Natasha was told that Alexei was killed in action, leading her to volunteer for the training in the Red Room that made her the Black Widow. Meanwhile, Alexei was transformed into the second Red Guardian, a Soviet equivalent to Captain America and the brutal training he went through turned him into a more ruthless, less moral person. While his adventures brought him up against Natasha and the Avengers, he ultimately sacrificed himself to save the woman he once loved. However, he was revealed to be alive when Natasha and Daredevil unraveled a plot he made against her life years later.

Alexi’s transformation into Ronin occurred in the 2010 miniseries Widowmaker, by Jim McCann, David Lopez, Duane Swierczynski and Manuel Garcia. This series teamed up Black Widow with Hawkeye and his partner Mockingbird, to investigate a new Ronin who was assassinating covert agents and working with the Dark Ocean Society, a Japanese ultranationalist organization.

Alexei eventually revealed himself as the new Ronin and explained his plot to start a revolution and create a united Russian/Japanese empire that would better serve the ideology he believed Russia should follow. While Hawkeye, Mockingbird and the mercenary Dominic Fortune battled Alexei’s Soviet super-soldiers and Dark Ocean operatives, Natasha took on her former husband herself, defeating Alexei by turning one of his superpowered operatives, the illusionist known as Fantasma, against him. Since Widowmaker, Alexei has returned on a few occasions. And when he recently returned in Kelly Thompson and Elenna Casagrande’s ongoing Black Widow series, he had once again taken the Red Guardian identity back up.

RELATED: How Black Widow Changes Captain America: Civil War’s Ending

Black Widow Red Guardian Ronin

The costumed identity of Ronin first appeared in Brain Michael Bendis and David Finch’s New Avengers. True to its namesake, the Ronin identity has generally been used by different superheroes who were adrift in times of transition or uncertainty, often during their more violent periods. The first Ronin was Maya Lopez, a.k.a. Echo, who was sent by Daredevil to investigate the Japanese underworld for the New Avengers. Maya continued to operate as Ronin until after the superhero Civil War, when she was killed, resurrected, and brainwashed by the Hand. When the New Avengers returned to Japan to rescue her, Clint Barton, who had been brought back to life in House of M, joined them as the new Ronin, as he felt lost in a world without Steve Rogers until Siege ended Norman Osborn’s reign as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. stand-in HAMMER.

After Blade briefly used the Ronin identity during his stint with the Mighty Avengers, Hawkeye resurrected it to battle the Hood during Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt’s Hawkeye: Freefall miniseries, but this ended poorly when the Hood hired Bullseye to commit crimes dressed as Ronin to frame Clint.

While the MCU’s Clint Barton has already suited up as Ronin, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the MCU Alexei would feel the need to become Ronin. By chance, Echo and Blade also happen to be set to join the MCU in the coming months and years, but it’s not clear if either will have any connection to the Ronin mantle. While Ronin may cut one of Marvel’s more distinctive profiles, it doesn’t seem like the MCU’s Alexi is in any rush to shed his Red Guardian costume.

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