Hulk: Winter Guard

Issue Date: 
February 2010
Story Title: 
Untitled (Prologue)<br>Incredible Hulk (2nd series) #393 (Interlude)<br>The Winter Guard(Main Story)

Prologue & Main Story: Dave Gallaher (writer), Steve Ellis (artist), Scott O Brown (letterer), Rev Paul Acerios (production), Jordan D White (editor), Mark Paniccia (supervising editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)

Incredible Hulk (2nd series) #393: Peter David (writer), Dale Keown (penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Glynis Oliver (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer), Bobbie Chase (editor), Tom DeFalco (editor in chief)

Brief Description: 

The Presence, after hearing rumors that his daughter, Darkstar, had been resurrected, has attacked the new Winter Guard, only to discover that this Darkstar is not his daughter. He battles her, even offering to reshape her to become his daughter, while Ursa Major, Red Guardian and Crimson Dynamo battle Igor Drenkov, whom the Presence has transformed into a tentacled creature. The new Darkstar manages to free her teammates from the transformed Drenkov, and while Red Guardian knocks out the Presence, the new Darkstar uses her powers to suck the transformed Drenkov into the Darkforce - but not before the Crimson Dynamo is killed by Drenkov. Red Guardian radios to headquarters for another Crimson Dynamo to be sent out, and shortly, the Winter Guard face a press conference, before returning to headquarters. On the way the new Crimson Dynamo is revealed to be a female, while memories of Igor Drenkov begin to plague the new Darkstar.

Igor Drenkov finds himself seemingly reliving a bad nightmare over and over - one where he does not hit the abort button at Gamma Base, resulting in Dr Bruce Banner being transformed into the Hulk. Meanwhile, the People’s Protectorate - Red Guardian, Perun, Fantasma, Crimson Dynamo and Vostok - are en route to New Mexico to collect Igor Drenkov. The usual comments are passed throughout the team, before they are attacked by a group called the Pantheon. Drenkov is then attacked by the Hulk who wants Drenkov to pay for his crimes - but the People’s Protectorate, after evading the Pantheon, locate Drenkov and begin battling the Hulk, and once again the Pantheon, who soon arrive on scene. However, the Hulk eventually takes everyone down, and explains that he just wants justice for what he and humanity have suffered - but Drenkov points out that in creating the Hulk he also created good, as the Hulk has been a hero - before Drenkov seemingly goes insane.

Main Story:
The new Darkstar explains to the Winter Guard’s handler, Dimitri Bukharin, a former Crimson Dynamo, that she has been having strange dreams, and that she can feel the original Darkstar inside of her. The Red Guardian, Ursa Major and the new Crimson Dynamo get to know each other, and discuss whether they are “disposable heroes“, before Bukharin informs them that The Remont Six have raided an AIM factory. En route, the Winter Guard learns that Remont Six comprises Titanium Man, Unicorn, Iron Maiden, Volga and the Snow Leopards. The two teams immediately battle, but Red Guardian and the new Crimson Dynamo, in her own armor this time, are taken down swiftly, leaving only the experienced Ursa Major. Back at headquarters, the new Darkstar has dreams about the original, before she confronts the Presence, who is being held prisoner. The Presence reveals that he discovered his daughter’s life-force shares a symbiotic relationship with the medallion the new Darkstar wears. He criticizes the new Darkstar, before she learns of her teammates’ plight, and for the first time ever, uses the Darkforce to teleport, arriving just in time to save Ursa Major. She then releases the transformed Drenkov, combined with the Darkforce, she takes down Remont Six, but now the radiation from Drenkov threatens to eradicate everything in the vicinity. Red Guardian takes a risk by getting close to the center, and takes the Darkforce diadem, effectively destroying the new Darkstar, but closing down the Darkforce portal and Drenkov. The Red Guardian loses an arm in the process - revealing that he is part LMD. After another woman is sent in to pose as Darkstar for the press conference, Dimitri gives her the Darkforce diadem.

Full Summary: 

My name is Darkstar. Once I was a Champion. But according to this man, I’m nothing more than an -

‘IMPOSTER!’ booms Sergei Krylov, better known as the diabolical Presence. Clutching the new Darkstar by her hair as she kneels before him, the Presence declares that from deep within his cell he had heard of his daughter’s demise. ‘Then, whispers of resurrection. Could my precious Laynia be alive?’ the Presence remarks. ‘Sadly, you are nothing more than a feeble imitation’. The new Darkstar tells the Presence that it is true, that she is not his daughter, and introduces herself as Sasha Roerich, claiming that she took his daughter’s codename to honor her memory in the Winter Guard.

While the Presence is fixated on the new Darkstar, the rest of the Winter Guard’s new line-up - the twelfth Crimson Dynamo, Ursa Major, and the sixth Red Guardian, sporting a new red, black and white costume - are dealing to a large one-eyed green multi-tentacled creature. They are heroes sword to uphold the principles of freedom and justice for Russia. They aren’t the first to serve these roles and they won’t be the last. Crimson Dynamo blasts away at one of the tentacles, while a tentacle with a large sharp-toothed mouth reaches for the trapped Ursa Major, and Red Guardian tries to him free himself from another tentacle.

‘Be gone from my sight, you inferior wretch!’ the Presence booms as he casually throws Sasha backwards. She lands near the Red Guardian, who quietly tells her to keep the Presence talking, as he has a plan. The new Darkstar does as requested, and turns back to the Presence, asking him to stop his rampage and insane experiments. ‘We can help you through this’ she tells him. The Presence blasts Sasha with energy, telling her that there is nothing to help him “through”. He adds that if Sasha really wants to honor his daughter’s memory, then why not just become her? ‘With my divine abilities, I can reshape you on the sub-atonic level’ he announces coldly.

Suddenly, ‘Hey, Presence…how about I reshape your face?’ the Red Guardian a.k.a. Anton asks as he manages to break free from the tentacle holding him captive, and smash his shield into the Presence, knocking the villain to the ground. ‘Punching? That was your plan? Sasha asks. ‘Never underestimate the science of punching’ Red Guardian replies, before telling Sasha to free the others. Sasha does so, blasting the tentacle holding the Crimson Dynamo a.k.a. Boris Vadim, who complains ‘Red Guardian was able to break this creature’s grasp, and yet I struggle?’

‘Thank you, my sweet little ponchiki’ Ursa Major a.k.a. Major Mikhail Urlokovitch Ursus exclaims as he, in his bear form, is freed from the creature. ‘The pleasure is mine’ Sasha replies. The Red Guardian holds his shield close to the Presence’s neck as he orders the Crimson Dynamo to get a full scan of the creature and figure out its weakness. The Crimson Dynamo directs a beam of energy towards the singular eye of the bizarre creature and announces that the biological data and gamma energy signature confirm what he suspected. ‘It is an unstable protoplasmic life form’ Vadim announces, before another scan reveals that monster is - or more precisely was - Igor Drenkov. ‘The man responsible for creating the Hulk!’

Ursa Major bites into one of the tentacles as he remarks ‘Leave it to the Presence to make a monster out of a madman’, while Sasha casts a Darkforce beam at the transformed Drenkov asking ‘Okay. How do we stop it?’. The Crimson Dynamo remarks ‘Apart from blasting it into orbit?’ before suggesting that he may be able to piece together a gamma transponder - but he doesn’t get to finish his sentence, as the jagged-tooth mouth tentacle moves up behind him - and swallows him whole! Only the Crimson Dynamo’s helmet drops to the ground, as one of the Winter Guard shouts ‘NO!’, while Red Guardian calls out ‘Vadim!’, before announcing that there is a man down, and tells the new Darkstar that it is time for her to devour this thing.

Sasha blasts the Darkforce around while remarking that her abilities come at a price. ‘Swallowing this thing whole…it could ruin me!’ she exclaims. Ursa Major holds a tentacle back as he exclaims ‘Please, Sasha - it is a risk we’ll have to take!’ The Darkforce pours from Sasha as she exclaims ‘No, Ursa, it’s a risk I have to take…alone!’. With that, Sasha Roerich releases the Darkforce over the transformed Drenkov, and bit by bit, the Darkforce swallows the monster - until, soon, it is nothing but a memory, and when the Darkforce closes, the Drenkov monster is gone. Sasha collapses mid-air, ‘Looks like I caught myself a falling star’ Ursa Major remarks as he catches Sasha. The three remaining members of the Winter Guard stand in the wasteland, and Red Guardian contacts their base, announcing that they lost Vadim. Mikhail remarks that Vadim was a good man, and Sasha agrees. Standing over the motionless Presence, Red Guardian asks the person he is speaking to at base to make the appropriate arrangements with Vadim’s family, and to see that they are taken care of. ‘Re-deploy Crimson Dynamo Mark XII. And send in the press’ Anton adds.

Soon, the Winter Guard - with the Crimson Dynamo amongst them prepare to board their jet. ‘We are okay, everyone!’ the Crimson Dynamo declares as the unconscious Presence is also carried onboard. ’Once again, Russia is safe thanks to the valiant efforts of the Winter Guard’ one reporter announces as media surround the Winter Guard. ’Ursa? Any truth to the She-Hulk dating rumors?’ another reporter asks.

Soon, inside the aircraft, Mikhail gets changed after transforming back to his human form, while Sasha holds herself sitting behind Red Guardian, who pilots the jet as he welcomes the Crimson Dynamo on behalf of his teammates. The Crimson Dynamo’s helmet is removed - revealing a dark-haired young woman as the operator. She thanks the Red Guardian, before introducing herself as Galina Nemirovsky. Ursus leans over to her and remarks ‘In my less grizzly form, I’m known as Mikhail’. The young woman tells him that it would be an honor to serve with him. Mikhail turns to Sasha and tells her that was quite a display, before asking how she is feeling. ‘I’m fine…’ Sasha replies, clearly not fine. ‘Everything is just fine’ she repeats, while an image of Igor Drenkov in his human form flashes before her eyes….

Flashback to Incredible Hulk (1st series) #393 - takes place as Darkstar II’s dream
Chapter 1: The Closing Circle
The man known as Igor Drenkov lies on the dirty floor of a laboratory. ‘I have a recurring nightmare’ he thinks to himself, knowing that it used to happen more frequently - with nightly screams, morning nausea, daily torment - and it drove him from his wife, children, and quite nearly, his sanity. ‘But I’d gotten better…or thought I had’ he tells himself. Suddenly, a voice calls out ‘Igor! What are you doing lying around like that? Don’t you have any sense of priorities? Stop napping and let’s get on with things!’

Igor spins around, and wide-eyed, gazes Dr Bruce Banner, only his form has been transformed somewhat, and he realizes that he has had a relapse, for not only has the nightmare returned, but it is not more real - and more insane then ever before. ‘I…I am not -’ he begins to tell himself, ‘Well?’ Dr Banner asks, smoking a pipe. ‘Are you going to sit there slack-jawed? There’s work to be done. The countdown for the g-bomb has started’ Dr Banner announces, motioning to the counter, which is at sixty seconds.

Drenkov realizes that the room stinks of decay and dust - there are cobwebs and madness - and a rat just crawled across his foot. He gets off the floor, and asks ‘What…is going on? I was…I was somewhere else, I think’ he tells Banner, who shouts at him, asking him what his problem is. ‘Is there something you want to tell me?’ he asks. ‘Dr Banner, you…you look -’ Igor begins, before Banner interrupts him, ‘Oh, is that all? You’ve noticed I looked overworked. Well…I am’ Banner replies, before remarking that Drenkov has not been working nearly as diligently as he had hoped. ‘Please strive to do better’ he tells him, before peering out a gap in the wall through a pair of binoculars as he declares that in a few seconds they will finally learn what happens when the powerful gamma rays are released, before suddenly, he sees something:

‘Wait! What’s that! Good Lord! It’s…a boy…!’ Banner exclaims. ‘A teenager! He’s driving into the test area!’ Banner gives Drenkov the binoculars and tells him to delay the countdown until he can get to the boy. ‘Hurry, man! Every second counts!’ Banner exclaims as he rushes out of the lab. Igor watches Banner leave the lab, just like before, and like so many times since then. He turns to the control computer, which indicates there are twenty seconds until detonation. He tells himself that Gamma Base was shining and new in his nightmares, not this decrepit, lifeless shell he sees before him.

But the events were the same - that day, a spy named Igor Drenkov held the fates of millions in his hand…and didn’t know it. All he saw was the chance to get rid of a noted American scientist. He could have stopped it then. He knows he could stop it now - stop the countdown - stop the Hulk. But as his hand rests over the ABORT button on the console, he reminds himself that his mission was to eliminate Banner. There are ten seconds on the countdown clock remaining as he wonders how he can betray his mission, his country. ‘But my country is gone. And the Hulk is still here’. Nervously, Igor looks at his hand over the ABORT button, and wonders ‘But where is he? Where am I?’. He tells himself that he cannot abort and that he must fulfil the mission.

‘No matter what the co -’ he begins, as the timer reaches zero seconds. Drenkov sees the light, and the sound follows moments later - the sound of the explosion. Drenkov hears a scream mingled with it - but he doesn’t know whose it is, before he is knocked back by the force of the explosion and the blinding light.

Chapter 2: The Hulk Challenged!
‘What’s going on back there?’ Dimitri Bukharin a.k.a. the Crimson Dynamo calls out as he pilots the People’s Protectorate jet. Fantasma screams, and he asks why she is screaming. ‘Is that not the accepted method in which human females scream?’ the android Vostok asks, while Fantasma clutches her head. Dimitri tells Vostok to be quiet, while Perun, God of Lightning, tells Fantasma to steady herself, and asks her if she saw Drenkov. Fantasma stops screaming and replies that she did, but that the visual link she shares with him was overwhelming for a moment. ’There was a light, and - he’s still being subjected to images from his past. I don’t know why’ Fantasma announces.

Suddenly, Josef Petkus a.k.a. Red Guardian stands up and tells his team that it doesn’t matter why, all that does matter is that an officer of the bodyguard service was kidnapped from the heart of Washington DC while part of a diplomatic mission, and they must get him back. Red Guardian declares that they cannot let the world think that the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the KGB has made them easy targets. ‘Oh! The Red Guardian has made another speech! And me without my notebook!’ Perun exclaims, staring out the window.

Josef tells Perun that his humor is ill-timed, before informing Fantasma that they have entered New Mexico airspace, so they will need more guidance from her if they are to locate Drenkov. ‘Isn’t enough that my shaking his hand created a psychic link when I met him? Must I do everything around here?’ Fantasma complains, telling her male teammates that they are such helpless children sometimes. ‘What bothers you this morning, Fantasma? Get up on the wrong side of the broom?’ Perun asks her, adding that they are supposed to be a team, when he suddenly notices someone on the wing of their jet.

He calls out to Red Guardian, ‘There’s someone on our wing!’ he shouts as a man wearing a black costume with silver armor and red goggles swings a mace around - bringing it down on the wing of the jet. ‘You guys must be the People’s Protectorate! We thought you might get in on this!’ he exclaims, before introducing himself as Hector of the Pantheon. ‘Welcome to the United States’ he jokes, before leaping off the jet, ‘Happy landings’ he calls out as the People’s Protectorate plummet to the rocky landscape below.

Inside, Red Guardian tells Crimson Dynamo to get out of his way, boasting that he is the only one experienced enough to land the jet under these conditions. ‘Be my guest. I’m the one in the armor, remember. I have less of a personal stake in this than you do’ Dynamo replies as Josef takes the controls. ‘Keep the nose up!’ someone tells him as the back of the jet lands with a B-KAAAM on the ground, before coming to a sudden halt. ‘Nice landing’ someone remarks. ‘Thank you’ Josef tells them. ‘I was being sarcastic’ they reply.

The People’s Protectorate emerge unscathed, and standing before them are four others - three humans carrying weapons, and one large mechanoid with a human face. Perun motions to Hector and exclaims that it was he who dared interfere with this mission. ‘I’m the Red Guardian…the People’s leader’ Josef begins, while Fantasma exclaims ‘Who the Devil are you?’. The man carrying the sword and shield, known as Ulysses, introduces his group, the Pantheon, and tells the People’s Protectorate that they are a long way from home. He explains that they have delivered comrade Drenkov to one of their valued associates, but that he does not remember the People’s Protectorate being invited.

‘You, American, are outnumbered!’ Red Guardian points out. ‘You, Russian, are outclassed’ Ulysses replies. Fantasma takes flight as the four males run behind her. ‘Positions! Here they - come?’ one of the Pantheon calls out, when suddenly, the People’s Protectorate vanish. Hector asks Ulysses what the deal is here, but Ulysses replies that he is not sure.

Meanwhile, Drenkov has made it out into open space of Gamma Base, telling himself that the nightmare is going on for much longer this time. ‘Perhaps…perhaps I am not dreaming. Perhaps I am dead’ Drenkov tells himself. ‘Dead, and in purgatory…or worse. Reliving my greatest sins’ he tells himself as he remembers wanting the plans for the gamma bomb. He sees a door with “Banner” on it, and decides the videos might be in Banner’s cabin. But entering Banner’s cabin, Drenkov decides that it is not as he remember, and that it is filled with stale air that makes his lungs itch.

‘The papers…the bomb plans! They must be here!’ he exclaims. He begins searching through piles of papers, ‘I have to complete my mission!’ he exclaims, before throwing all the papers on a desk to the floor, remarking that it if he insane or dreaming, or dead, then nothing he does matters. Drenkov begins rifling through a filing cabinet, ‘But it does! It matters to me! Have to do as I was -’ he begins telling himself, when suddenly he hears someone growling behind him. ‘I was a proud man. I did whatever my country needed. I…’

Chapter 3: The Hulk Unleased!
‘Yes. Yes, I must be dead!’ Drenkov decides, as he sees the Hulk, bigger than he remembers, dripping saliva and sweat and with a voice like a muffler dragging on asphalt. Rich Jones clings to the Hulk like a broken rudder, shouting “Hulk! Don’t hurt him!”. Drenkov decides that he can hurt the Hulk, ‘Maybe this time -’ he begins, before firing the pistol that is in his hand. ‘No, no!’ Drenkov exclaims. ‘You’re not human!’ he shouts as the Hulk picks him up. ‘Human? Why should I want to be human?’ the Hulk asks. ’Stop it! Don’t! You’ll kill him! Put him down!’ Rick Jones calls out. ’Down? I will put him down…so!’ the Hulk exclaims before throwing Drenkov across the room and into an array of scientific measuring devices, which shatter and crash as he slams into them.

‘Bruce, that’s enough!’ Rick exclaims, but the Hulk replies ‘No! Not nearly enough!’ as he grabs Drenkov, asking him if he has any idea what he has done, what he has unleased. ‘The destruction? The misery that your little act of sabotage put thousands, millions of people through?’ the Hulk asks, staring Drenkov in the eyes. The Hulk lifts Drenkov to the ceiling, exclaiming that Drenkov tried to kill him, but couldn’t even do that right. ‘You turned me into a rampaging monster! Destroyed any hope of a normal life for me!’ he exclaims, asking whether Drenkov stood trial. ‘No! Six months later, you went home as part of a spy trade! No one ever held you accountable! Until now!’ the Hulk declares as he slams Drenkov through the ceiling and out the other side of the roof.

‘Bruce, shut it down! This is going way too far!’ Rick tells the Hulk, adding that he agreed to this “mission impossible” head-trip payback, but that it is time to end it before - ‘Before what, Rick? Before someone gets killed?’ the Hulk asks, interrupting his friend, before shouting that it is Drenkov’s fault. ‘Don’t you get it? You always blamed yourself, Rick, but you were just a teenager! But he was malicious and cold-blooded! And I’m going to make him pay!’ the Hulk exclaims. Suddenly, the rest of the roof is ripped off - and standing overhead is the Crimson Dynamo! The Crimson Dynamo introduces himself and explains that he is of the People’s Protectorate, before asking the Hulk to release Drenkov and back away slowly with his hands over his head. ‘Friend of yours, Bruce?’ Rick asks. ‘Who can remember?’ the Hulk replies, holding Drenkov in one hand. ‘I repeat…release Drenkov now’ the Crimson Dynamo states calmly, before the Hulk throws Drenkov high into the air.

‘I am flying. When I was a boy, I dreamed of flying. What an exciting dream’ Drenkov thinks to himself, while the Hulk calls out ‘You want him? You got him?’. The Crimson Dynamo takes to the air, following Drenkov, while wanring the Hulk that he will settle him in a few moments. ‘Well, maybe I’ll just settle with you sooner than th-’ the Hulk exclaims as he leaps into the air, only to be interrupted as he cries out in agony, struck by an unknown force, he can no longer see or hear anything, and falls to the ground. ‘Like someone just threw a bag over all my senses’ he tells himself.

The rest of the People’s Protectorate appear, ‘I’ve got him, comrades! He’s all yours!’ Fantasma exclaims, while Vostok congratulates her on some excellent work. Red Guardian tells his teammates to wait, as their mission was to find Drenkov, which they have done. ‘Not battle the Hulk…not if it can be avoided!’ he tells them, adding that he wants to find out the reason for this, and simply attacking him won’t - Perun interrupts, smacking the blinded Hulk backwards with his mallet, Perun asks why they should waste time with reason when there is a foe worthy of his powers waiting to be defeated?

‘Perun! Get back here!’ Red Guardian orders, while Fantasma alerts her teammates to the “Pantheon” fools, who have now caught up to them. Fantasma readies another spell as she declares that she let the Pantheon off easily before by masking the People’s Protectorate’s own bio-electric fields so that they seemed to simply disappear. ‘This time, I wont be so generous. I’ll do for them what I did for the Hulk’ Fantasma announces as her power engulfs the Pantheon. ‘Oh, now what?’ the arrow-slinging woman called Atalanta mutters, while the mechanoid Ajax asks where everyone went. Atalanta calls Fantasma a witch and tells her she made the wrong move, before firing her arrow, remarking that she doesn’t need her eyes to hit her target.

Fantasma screams as the arrow strikes her, while Perun creeps up behind the Hulk once more, remarking that he is almost sorry Fantasma has blinded him, as this is too simple. But the Hulk realizes that his vision has returned, and spins around before Perun can hit him again, while shouting ‘So you’re the one who was using me for target practice while I couldn’t fight back! So what do you say now?’ Perun asks. ‘At last! A true fight!’ Perun exclaims as he loses grip of his mallet and sickle. The Hulk is surprised by Perun’s comment and remarks that he was hoping for groveling.

Nearby, ‘Who the blazes are you?’ Red Guardian asks Ulysses as the two of them battle. ‘To quote Spenser: “I’m the Tooth Fairy. I loosen teeth”!’ Ulysses replies as they battle. Vostok runs past Ajax, who calls him stupid and tells him to stay still. ‘Considering that I can manipulate the metal of your armor…so that it comes to life and assaults you…I’d be more polite if I were you’ Vostok suggests, before transforming Ajax’s armor so that several fists extend from the metal and begin punching his own form.

Up in the air, Crimson Dynamo tells Drenkov that it is all right, as it is over, before landing and putting him safely on the ground. Dynamo makes his way towards Perun and the Hulk, to assist his teammate in finishing the battle, while Perun calls the Hulk a fool and tells him that depriving him of his weapons will not stop him. ‘They don’t generate my electrical power…just focus it!’ he reveals, explaining that the power comes from within him. Perun begins to glow with an electric charge while the Hulk tells him to believe it or not, but he already figured that out, and throws Perun towards the approaching Crimson Dynamo, ‘So I wondered how your uncontrolled bio-electricity might interact with metal-mouth’s armor’ the Hulk declares.

The Crimson Dynamo falls to the ground, ‘Yup, systems shutdown. Though as much’ the Hulk declares, adding that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out, before turning back to Perun, who has landed nearby, while adding that he happens to be a rocket scientist in his spare time. ‘Don’t you ever shut up?’ Perun booms, while the Hulk jokes that he had to go through years of wielding a ten-word vocabulary, and grabbing Perun he claims that he is just making up for lost time, before slamming Perun’s face into his knee - unaware that the Crimson Dynamo has snuck up behind him, before Dynamo smacks Hulk hard in the back.

Vostok tells the Hulk that he should not have turned his back on the Crimson Dynamo, and reveals that although Bukharin is unconscious, his ability to manipulate machinery means he can still function - but Vostok doesn’t get to finish his sentence, as Atalanta fires two arrows through his android form, muttering that, if there is one thing she cannot stand, it is guys who explain everything they are doing while doing it. Atalanta stands over Fantasma, who is beginning to stir, but Atalanta exclaims ‘Don’t twitch, witch, or I’ll do you again like I -’ but she suddenly goes silent as Fantasma spins around and looks at Atalanta, ‘Your face…what happened to -’ she manages to utter, before Fantasma knocks her bow from her hands, and casts a spell over her, adding that since she dislikes explanations so much she sees no need to provide one for her true appearance.

Vostok’s form repairs itself as the Hulk tells him that he just keeps on going. ‘You’re a regular Energizer Bunny’ he jokes, referring to the battery and toy rabbit associated with it. ‘I am no bunny. I am Vostok’ the android replies, stopping the Hulk’s sudden punch. ‘Wrong. You are toast!’ the Hulk exclaims as he head-butts Vostok who falls to the ground, before holding up Perun’s sickle and telling Vostok that he is sure Perun wants him to keep this safe. ‘No! Do not -’ Vostok begins, but it is too late, as the Hulk slams the sickle into Vostok’s chest. ‘Too late’ the Hulk mutters as he leaps away. ‘Too late for all of us, isn’t it, Igor?’ the Hulk declares as he lands beside Drenkov. The Hulk asks Drenkov if the drugs have worn off yet and if he has figured out why this is happening, and where he is.

Chapter 4: The Hulk Confronted
Drenkov looks up at the Hulk who stands before him and thinks to himself that he was not allowed to believe in God, for when he was a child it was not permitted. But he knows his father believed in God, and at night he would tell him stories in a hushed, whispered voice. ‘That you would die and God would be waiting for you, demanding accounting for your sins’ Drenkov reminds himself. Drenkov’s father is long dead, and he wants to be with him right now, so badly. ‘Let it end. Let it end’ he says.

‘Right here, Igor. Right where you’re sitting. The bomb that you could have stopped went off right here. Even now, in this recreation…you could’ve stopped it’ the Hulk tells Drenkov as he sits on the broken landscape. ‘But you didn’t, did you. With all your old agendas long gone…still you could only think of destroying me. Knowing all the results, and you’re so unrepentant you’d do it again!’ the Hulk exclaims. The People’s Protectorate and the Pantheon gather around the Hulk and Drenkov as the Hulk tells them to witness a living example of obsession that will not die. He informs them that Drenkov was assigned to infiltrate the original gamma bomb test, and did so quite well, signing on as his assistant.

The Hulk explains that the mission was simple - swipe the plans and make sure he was not around to make more. ‘And his only regret is that he wasn’t more efficient’ the Hulk adds, before Red Guardian announces that it is the anniversary of the test. ‘Right’ the Hulk confirms, explaining that when he learned Drenkov was going to be in the States, he could not pass up the opportunity, as it is poetic justice. ‘My first battle was with a Russian - the Gargoyle. Things change, but they don’t’. The Hulk admits that he wanted a bit of justice, his own informal reckoning, to make Drenkov suffer for all the grief and misery he caused him, and caused humanity. Rick Jones tells the Hulk that Drenkov does not seem all that upset about it, before Drenkov bursts into a fit of laughter.

‘Wh - wha…?’ the Hulk asks, while Drenkov stands up beside him, ‘Don’t you see? I am going to get into Heaven! I saved the world!’ Drenkov exclaims, to which the Hulk asks him what he is talking about. Wide-eyed, Drenkov exclaims ‘Yes! Yes! I created that…that monster of destruction! Caused misery and ruin for so many! And I’d do it again, because the creature has also been a force for right!’. He reveals that he has followed the Hulk’s career, and remarks that if he carries the guilt and responsibility for the Hulk’s evil, then he should also get credit for the good. ‘Don’t I? Don’t I?’ he shouts, tears streaming from his eyes.

Drenkov pounds at Rick’s chest, ‘Every night! Every night I dream of what I did. The screams in my head. His screams, and theirs! His victims! His enemies! My victims, my -’ he mumbles, before his jaw drops and he exclaims ‘I know! I’m dead! I know it! No one can suffer like this and be alive!’. He turns to the People’s Protectorate and asks them ‘Don’t you understand? My soul died the day that bomb went off! I just want to know…where will my soul go? Will I burn or be blessed? Someone tell me!’

Igor Drenkov looks around at everyone, his mouth open wide, his eyes wide and blood-shot with tears still forming. ‘Speak to me, someone!’ he calls out. ‘You! I see your eyes burning into me…tell me! I gave the world a great power! Did I do right or wrong! Please judge me! End mey suffering! Please! I beg you…please…end it…end it…end…’.

Present / Reality:
‘And that is where the memories end, Dimitri. At least those memories’ Sasha remarks, running a hand through her hair as she stands in the office of Dimitri Bukharin. ‘The People’s Protectorate was folded into the Winter Guard many years ago, Sasha‘. Bukharin replies, adding that the event she just described, he was there. ‘And that’s why this intake is valuable’ he remarks, opening a file. He declares that the Russian Executive Security Committee appointed him as the Winter Guard’s strategic liaison for a reason. ‘I need to know things like this’ he remarks. Anxiously, Sasha replies that she knows. ‘It is just…I look at the paints of the Bogatyrs behind you. Mighty heroes, who despite their differences, worked towards a common goal’.

Sasha announces that as a young pupil she dreamed of one day serving her country as the Bogatyrs did. ‘I thought the Winter Guard would give me that opportunity. I was wrong’. Bukharin asks Sasha if she is having troubles with her teammates, but Sasha interrupts, telling Dimitri that he doesn’t understand the conflict. Dimitri tells Sasha that according to her doctors she is physiologically and physically healthy. Opening the file of his former teammate Laynia Petrovna, Dimitri tells Sasha that her body matched her predecessors power profile exceptionally well. ‘That’s not the point! I have the DNA of a dead woman inside of me!’ Sasha exclaims.

Clutching herself, Sasha reveals that, sometimes she feels Laynia crawling around inside of her. Dimitri tells Sasha that he understands, but simply feels that it is a side effect of over-exerting her Darkstar abilities. Dimitri tells Sasha that he does not want to decommission her just yet and will order some more tests if she thinks that will help. ‘But, in the meantime…I thought we could all use some rest and relaxation’.

In the rec-room of the Winter Guard’s headquarters, Mikhail, Anton and Galina are playing a game of pyramids. ‘You will not beat the Red Guardian so easily. I am one of the world’s foremost experts in engineering. I can master a game of pyramids’ he boasts as he lines the white ball up. ‘BAH’ he shouts after hitting the balls with the cue. Mikhail tells his teammate that he doesn’t know why he is complaining. ‘If we lose, I have to juggle all of these balls like a circus bear. Do you have any idea how embarrassing that will be?’ Mikhail asks.

‘Thank you for opening up the table for me’ Galina remarks as she chalks her cue. Anton asks Galina if she has given any thought to the armor she will be using, and as she hits the white ball with the cue, causing it to smack into all the other balls, enabling them to enter the pockets, Galina replies that she had considered the Ultra-Dynamo armor for its superior firepower, durability and targeting array. ‘Some engineer you are, Anton’ Mikhail mutters as the last ball enters the pocket. ‘We got fleeced’ Mikhail mutters as he transforms into his bear form. ‘Beginner’s luck, I assure you’ Galina smiles as she puts the cue back on the rack.

‘But getting back to your question about the armor…I think I finally decided on the Mark XIII. It’s far more manueverable than the previous versions’ Galina announces. She adds that she wishes they had the manpower to do their job more effectively. Aton replies that they are the iconic heroes of Russia. ‘This isn’t America. We don’t dilute our ranks with bit-players’ he exclaims, before pointing out that waiting in the wings are candidates, like Galina, who have been rebuilt or trained to step in at a moment’s notice. Anton tells Galina that Crimson Dynamo pilots are difficult to train, but are easily replaced. ‘Nobody understands that better than I do!’ he exclaims cryptically.

Galina looks rather nervous as she asks if they are disposable heroes, to which Ursa Major exclaims ‘Not disposable - eternal!’. He adds that there will always be a need for a Red Guardian, but that it might not always be Anton. ‘This is a debate for another time’ Dimitri exclaims as he enters the rec room. Anton asks Dimitri how Sasha is, to which Dimitri explains that she is in recovery, but that is not why he is here. He reveals that the Soviet Revolutionaries - The Remont Six - have raided an AIM facility. ‘You’ll need to stop them - without Darkstar’.

Soon, Ursa Major, Red Guardian and Crimson Dynamo are in their jet, streaking across the sky. ‘According to early reports, we are dealing with…’ Mikhail begins as images of Iron Maiden, the Titanium Man, Unicorn, the Snow Leopards and Volga appear on a monitor. Mikhail adds that, of these, the Titanium Man will be the most formidable. Galina replies that she has heard of the Titanium Man, but the others are new to her. ‘Red Guardian looks out the window and sees Remont Six down by the AIM facility, and tells his Galina to remember her training protocols and she will be fine. ‘So, let’s put them down’ Red Guardian exclaims as the trio leap from the jet down to the snow-covered wasteland below.

An instant later, the Red Guardian slams his shield into Unicorn, breaking his fall, while Iron Maiden, sword ready, rushes over to him, ‘Comrade! Why do you fight us?’ she calls out. Anton replies that he fights for the people of Russia as he throws his shield at her. ‘Yet you wear the color of the Soviets?’ Iron Maiden responds, batting the shield out of her way. ‘These colors I wear, I wear for the Russian Federation!’ Red Guardian explains as he tackles Iron Maiden to the ground. ‘And I’m not your comrade’ he adds, standing over her, only to be knocked out by a blast of energy, courtesy of Unicorn. ‘Nor are you that bright’ Unicorn mutters, while Iron Maiden motions upwards to the sky, where the Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man are battling. ‘Concentrate your fire on Dynamo!’ she orders.

Unicorn does so, and as the Crimson Dynamo is engulfed by energy, Galina looks down at Unicorn and exclaims ‘Unicorn? Isn’t that a girl’s name?’. ‘Insignificant worm! See how easily you are distracted?’ the Titanium Man points out as he blasts Crimson Dynamo with energy, telling her that she lacks the skill to battle he, before the Crimson Dynamo plummets to the snow below, where Ursa Major is dealing with the remaining members of Remont Six - the two Snow Leopards climb over him, while Volga rushes towards him, ‘Do you really think a bear can stop us?’ the creature asks.

‘Bear? I am no mere bear! I am Ursa Major! King of Bears!’ Mikhail roars as he throws the Snow Leopards from him with ease, and as Volga raises a fist - only Ursa Major slashes the creature across its front. ‘We’ll make sure it says that on your tomb!’ the Titanium Man declares as he, Iron Maiden and Unicorn lunge at Ursa Major.

Illustrative Flashback Images, shown as Darkstar II’s dream
‘This medallion will help you control your powers’ Professor Phobos remarked, gifting a medallion to Laynia Petrovna, some years ago. ‘Welcome to the team, Laynia!’ one of the Champions said to her, upon Laynia joining the Los Angeles based team. ‘She’s one life-force split between two beings’ was a comment made as exploration into Darkstar’s powers was made. ‘We are proud to welcome you and your brother to the Winter Guard, Darkstar’ a government agent said to Laynia upon the formation of the original Winter Guard. ‘You killed Darkstar. She was a super hero!’ is what was said after Darkstar was shot and killed by Fantomex, in Paris.

‘What the Hell is wrong with me?’ Sasha wonders as she wakes from the dream. ‘Was I always this haunted?’ she asks herself, before deciding that it must be the work of the Presence, and rushing out of her quarters, her costume materializing around her as she does so, she decides that it must be the work of the Presence. ‘I’ll be happy to put and end to this twisted, little game of his’ she boasts as she strides into the cells. ‘What have you done to me, madman?’ Sasha calls out. ‘Ah…the surrogate daughter returns’ the Presence remarks from his cell. ‘Tell me…does the darkness still linger inside of you?’ he asks.

‘Why am I haunted with memories of your daughter? Of Igor Drenkov?’ Sasha asks angrily. ‘Are you not the custodian of your own being?’ the Presence asks. ‘No more riddles, you monster!’ Sasha exclaims, the Darkforce exploding from her hands, she blasts it at him, exclaiming ‘Restraints or not…you’ve experimented on other people…tortured them…changed them. And if you’ve changed me…tainted me somehow…’. The Presence interrupts her, announcing that his answer is forthcoming. The Presence adds that the blame should not start with him, explaining that while remolding Sasha’s genetic structure, he discovered that his daughter’s life-force shares a symbiotic relationship with the medallion, bonded on the subatomic level.

‘You are simply a biological unit housing a power beyond your comprehension’ the Presence reveals, telling Sasha, who turns away from him, that she will never have Laynia’s strength. ‘Your fate is written. Your failure, inevitable’. Annoyed, Sasha exclaims ‘I’m not heroic enough - is that it? Not strong enough?’. And with that, she leaves, exclaiming ‘I’ll show you…I’m not afraid of your fairytales. I’m not afraid of the dark anymore!’.

Moments later, Sasha has found Dimitri and asks him where her teammates are. Dimitri reveals that they are fighting Remont Six outside of the Forbidden Zone. ‘Sasha, are you okay?’ Dimitri adds, to which Sasha exclaims ‘My name is Darkstar! And, for the first time in my life, I know what I am!’. With that, Sasha teleports away.

Back in the Forbidden Zone, Ursa Major shoves Iron Maiden and Unicorn away, ‘You call yourself fighters? I have battled the great and powerful Hulk!’ he booms, while the Titanium Man flies up behind him and exclaims ‘Enough of this’ as he lifts Ursa Major off the ground, remarking that he may think they are unworthy of his strength, before remarking that not even Ursa Major is strong enough to withstand the harsh impact of gravity. ‘Do svidanya, bear’ Titanium Man exclaims as he drops Ursa Major, just as Sasha teleports in. ‘Looks like I arrived on the scene just in - oh, my God…is that?’ she exclaims, before screaming ‘URSA’.

Sasha releases the Darkforce, thinking that the Presence said she wasn’t strong enough for this power, but she opens a portal to teleport Ursa to safety, but as she does, Titanium Man strikes her with an energy blast, ‘Are you fools not even capable of covering your own backsides?’ he asks. ‘Frankly, Titanium Man…you have no idea what I am capable of!’ Sasha declares as she unleashes the Darkfoce once more - a somewhat familiar looking tentacled-object emerges from it, and one of the tentacles grabs Titanium Man, before shoving him to the snow-covered ground. There is a massive explosion, and the sky goes green.

Nearby, Red Guardian rouses, ‘What the -?’ he wonders as he sees the green sky. ‘Oh, this is bothersome’ he remarks as he regroups with Ursa Major and Crimson Dynamo, who announces that, according to her sensors, it is about to get even more bothersome. ‘Whatever Darkstar is made out of…this is a gamma-charged version of It!’ Galina exclaims, motioning to the mass spreading around, which slashes through trees and earth. Red Guardian exclaims that if it keeps going it will consume all the light and radiation in the vicinity, to which Ursa Major remarks that something like this happened to Laynia, but never to this degree.

Red Guardian tells Mikhail and Galina to secure the prisoners, while he is going in. ‘Wait? Do you have a plan?’ Mikhail asks. ‘I’m an engineer, Ursa - I always have a plan!’ Anton exclaims as he rushes towards the sprawling mass of Darkforce energy. Making his way to the epicentre, Anton radios Dimitri, asking if Sasha’s powers come from her medallion. ‘Not exactly. But it does control her abilities to some extent’ Anton replies. Reaching the shinning star at the center of the Darkforce, Anton remarks ‘Close enough’ while Dimitri asks him why he wanted to know. ‘I’ll explain later - hopefully’ Anton replies as he reaches for the medallion in the middle of the shinning star, ‘Sasha, I’m sorry it has to be this -’ he begins, before screaming as he receives painful backlash, and being thrust out of the star, past the Darkforce, while the Crimson Dynamo flies up to catch him. ‘I’ve got you, Red’ Galina exclaims.

As Crimson Dynamo places Red Guardian on the ground, near Ursa Major, and Anton radios headquarters, announcing that they have lost Sasha. ‘Ensure her family is take care of. Deploy another Darkstar for the press conference’. And looking at his arm, injured after removing the medallion, announces that he will need repairs for LMD model RG7. Ursa Major finds the medallion in the snow, and picks up, before looking to sky, slowly clearing, and whispers ‘Rest easy, my sweet little ponchiki’.

Soon, Red Guardian, Crimson Dynamo, Ursa Major, and a new Darkstar stand before the captured Remont Six. ‘The danger has passed, my good citizens!’ Red Guardian announces to the media, one of whom asks if there is any chance the monster will return. ‘We are okay, everybody!’ the new Darkstar exclaims, while another of the media asks the Crimson Dynamo what they can say to the viewers at home.

Inside the jet, Dimitri tells the Winter Guard that he is sorry it had to be this way. ‘Sasha did the best she could with the circumstances she was given’ Dimitri announces that, in her absence, he is proud to welcome Reena Stancioff as the newest Darkstar. Dimitri hands Reena the medallion, and as she looks at it, Reena thanks him, announcing that it is really an honor to serve.

My name is Darkstar. Once, I was a Champion….

Characters Involved: 

Crimson Dynamo XII, Crimson Dynamo XIII, Darkstar II, Darkstar III, Red Guardian VI, Ursa Major (all Winter Guard)

Dimitri Bukharin (Winter Guard Liaison)

The Presence

Iron Maiden, Snow Leopards, Titanium Man I, Unicorn II, Volga (all Remont Six)

Igor Drenkov


In Illustrative Flashback Images / Darkstar II’s Dream:
Darkstar I at various stages
Angel, Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Hercules, Iceman (all Champions)
Professor Phobos

In Photograph:
Darkstar I

In Flashback: Incredible Hulk (1st series) #393:
Crimson Dynamo V, Fantasma, Perun, Red Guardian III, Vostok (all People’s Protectorate)

Rick Jones

Igor Drenkov

Ajax, Atalanta, Hector, Ulysses III (all the Pantheon)

Story Notes: 

The prologue of this issue originally appeared exclusively through Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited.

Darkstar II’s first name, Sasha, was revealed in She-Hulk (4th series) #35. This issue identifies her last name, Roerich. In her first appearance, Hulk (4th series) #1, she had red hair, it is now blonde.

The Winter Guard’s appearance this issue takes place after their brief appearances in Mighty Avengers #22-23.

Darkstar I a.k.a. Laynia Petrovna, daughter of the Presence, sadly died in New X-Men (1st series) #130.

The Presence was last seen, some years ago, in Avengers (3rd series) #42-44 where he was involved in Kang’s takeover of the world, before being stopped by the Avengers. He then aided the Avengers in Avengers (3rd series) #53-54, before being returned to his cell to prevent any contamination of others. He has not been seen since then and it is unknown how he escaped. Additionally, his long-suffering girlfriend, Starlight (a.k.a. Red Guardian II) was with him both times, but is notably absent this time.

Apparently ponchiki (paczki) are Polish doughnuts.

The comment about Ursa Major dating She-Hulk may stem from She-Hulk (2nd series) #35, where they encountered each other.

First appearance of Crimson Dynamo XIII a.k.a. Galina Nemirovsky, the first known female wearer of the armor.

The interlude of this issue is a direct reprinting of the 1st story in Incredible Hulk (2nd series) #393, originally entitled “The Closing Circle”, it featured the People’s Protectorate in their appearance directly prior to the Soviet Super Soldiers one-shot.

Fantasma’s true face is not shown on panel, so it is unknown what she really looks like. This hint of character development is not followed up on.

Dimitri Burkharin is better known as the fifth Crimson Dynamo and later Airstrike. Originally a member of the Soviet Super Soldiers, alongside Darkstar I, Vanguard and Ursa Major, but differing views of opinions drove them apart, and much later he joined the Supreme Soviets / People’s Protectorate, where he later took the name Airstrike. He was last seen wearing the Crimson Dynamo armor during “Dark Reign”.

Dimitri’s comment about the People’s Protectorate being folded into the Winter Guard is a reference to Iron Man (3rd series) #9, when the original Winter Guard debuted. The Winter Guard was originally formed after years of two main opposing factions within the Russian super teams - the government-sponsored People’s Protectorate and the renegade team known as the Exiles and then Siberforce, consisting mainly of mutants. Three members from each of these teams - Red Guardian III (now called Steel Guardian), Fantasma and Vostok from the People’s Protectorate and from Siberforce - Darkstar, Vanguard and Sibercat, as well another member, Powersurge. The actual formation of the Winter Guard has not been shown on panel.

Remont 6 is the latest incarnation of the Remont team, the previous being Remont 4 as seen in the Soviet Super Soldiers one-shot, Remont 4 was Titanium Man I, Unicorn II, Firefox and Crimson Dynamo VI.

Iron Maiden a.k.a. Melina Vostokovna is a character who has appeared very occasionally since her first appearance in Marvel Fanfare (1st series) #11. She appeared during the “Superia Stratagem” storyline in Captain America (1st series), and most recently appeared in The Order (2nd series) #1-2.

Titanium Man I a.k.a. Boris Bullski, long-time foe of Iron Man.

Unicorn II a.k.a. Aaiden Blomfield, last seen in during the “Civil War”.
Volga first appeared in Darkhawk #16 as Volga Belle.

The Snow Leopards first appeared in Fury/Black Widow: Death Duty.

Regarding the images in Darkstar II’s dream: Professor Phobos gave the medallion to Laynia during her days at the Super Soldier School [as seen in the flashback in Incredible Hulk (2nd series) #259], in reality it leeched Laynia’s powers to Phobos. Darkstar joined the Champions in Champions #11, however the costume she wore at the time was her original blue and purple, not the classic black and yellow depicted in this flashback. The formation of the original Winter Guard was never shown on panel, the team was simply shown together in Iron Man (3rd series) #9. Darkstar and Vanguard both had new costumes as members of that team, not the ones they are shown wearing in this image. Darkstar was killed by Fantomex after she was infected with the Weapon X bacteria. The line “You killed Darkstar. She was a super hero” was said by Monet St Croix, Darkstar’s teammate in X-Corporation.

Ursa Major battled the Hulk in Incredible Hulk (1st series) #258-259.

First appearance of Darkstar III a.k.a. Reena Stancioff.

This issue features only one advertisement (during the prologue section), and the original cover to Incredible Hulk (2nd series) #393 is reprinted on the second to last page.

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