Winter Guard #4

Issue Date: 
January 2022
Story Title: 

Ryan Cady (writer), Jan Bazaldua (artist), Federico Blee & Fernando Sifuentes (colorists), Virtual Calligraphy's Ariana Maher (letterer & production), Toni Infante (cover artist), Ivan Shavrin (variant cover artist), Winter Koifman (special thanks), Kaitlyn Lindtvedt (assistant editor), Sarah Brunstad & Alanna Smith (assistant editors), Tom Brevoort (executive editor), CB Cebulski (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

Aboard the Winter Guard's mobile command center, the Red Widow interrogates Yelena Belova about her involvement with Alexei Shostakov's plan to retrieve all of the Operation: Snowblind hard drives and expose the information contained within them. Yelena asks the Red Widow if she ever feels used by the Security Council, and tells her that she is happy to see this information exposed. Yelena reminds the Red Widow that there is a traitor within the Winter Guard, and the Red Widow is about to physically assault Yelena, until Vanguard stops her. Red Widow doesn't like being challenged by Vanguard, but her troubles continue when Perun announces that he has had enough of holding his tongue. He reveals that he and Alexei spoke at the border facility, and shared old dreams. The two worked together to save the village from the flood, and when Alexei fled Dracula's castle, Perun could have stopped him – but he didn't. He tells his teammates that he has felt his people's disappointment and dead dreams for centuries, and that Alexei understands this. Red Widow accuses Perun of being the team's traitor, but he refutes that claim. Yelena even defends Perun, telling the Red Widow that Alexei never mentioned a traitor to her. Perun is disappointed in his teammates, but before he can do anything, Chernobog attacks him. Darkstar tells Chernobog to stop, but it's no use, and Perun responds by summoning a massive surge of lightning, which causes the mobile command center to crash. Perun vanishes, and Darkstar teleports after him – with Chernobog following her. The Red Widow, Vanguard, Ursa Major and Yelena emerge from the wreckage, and Yelena reveals where Alexei is headed. She rushes off into the wilderness, but Ursa Major goes after her, while Red Widow and Vanguard head to Alexei's location. Darkstar finds Perun standing on the edge of a cliff. Perun knows that Darkstar feels similar to him, but before they can discuss the situation, Chernobog attaks Perun, and the two gods fight – but when Chernobog believes Darkstar to be in danger, he steps in front of her and takes the brunt of Perun's lightning. Perun and Darkstar are both shocked by this, and Darkstar asks Chernobog why he keeps following her, what he sees in her. Chernobog reveals that, years ago, Darkstar rescued his human vessel from a fire, and that whenever she is around, things seem bright. Ursa Major finds Yelena in an ice cave, and they fight, too. Ursa Major overpowers Yelena, but he can't bring himself to kill her. Yelena asks him to come with her, but Ursa Major claims that he is a prisoner in Russia, and even unchained he knows no other way, no other place. Red Widow and Vanguard confront Alexei, and after Alexei takes out the Red Widow, he and Vanguard face off in hand to hand combat. But when Alexei looks to escape, Vanguard uses his mutant power to destroy the discs containing the information about Operation: Snowblind. Later, Crimson Dynamo and Vostok have recovered and rejoined their teammates. Crimson Dynamo debriefs the team on the recent mission and decides that there is no traitor on the team, and that Perun's actions were due to extenuating circumstances. He asks the Red Widow if she figured out where Alexei got the remote from, but the Red Widow reports that she did not. The Red Widow later reports in to her superiors, and amongst her files, a document detailing the remote that was used to disable the Crimson Dynamo's armor can be seen. Crimson Dynamo asks Ursa Major about Yelena, and whether she is dead, to which Ursa Major tells him he only knows what it takes to survive out there. Yelena has made her way to a Siberian mountain range, where she is assisted by Bucky Barnes – and reveals to him that she has a copy of one of the Operation: Snowblind drives.

Full Summary: 

Twelve hours east of Chernobyl, inside the Uragan, the Mobile Command Center of the Winter Guard. 'So, Red Guardian uses you to recover his Cold War secrets, offers you data to use in your crusade against the world's oligarchs... but now – after he betrays you in front of literal vampires – you claim you didn't know his plan to “redeem Russia” is an infosec apocalypse?' the mysterious Red Widow asks the White Widow a.k.a. Yelena Belova. She tells Yelena that this is not an especially satisfying interrogation and asks why they should believe a word that she says. Yelena sits on a chair, her wrists cuffed as she announces that Alexei kept a great deal hidden from her and that she underestimated him. She explains that she could have used Snowblind's secrets to seed revolutions and destroy plutocrats for the next decade, while Alexei will blow all the whistles at once and put his faith in anarchy.

Yelena assures the Red Widow that she has told her everything she knows. 'Except for where he's headed' the Red Widow points out. 'The same direction we are, Red Widow. Specifics mean I lose my only bargaining chip' Yelena declares. The Red Widow is with other members of the Winter Guard team. Major Mikhail Ursus stands to her right, while the god Perun stands at the back of the room, arms folded, Chernobog, another god, stands to one side, while Laynia Petrovna a.k.a. Darkstar is seated next to him, and her twin brother, Nicolai Krylenko a.k.a. Vanguard stands opposite the Red Widow, arms folded as he stares at Yelena Belova. 'If this is about some kind of pardon request -' the Red Widow begins. 'This is about damage control' Yelena interrupts her. She states that Red Guardian's “revolution” is just another populist fantasy – dangerous, but desperate, the kind of scheme he would gturn to with Russia's super heroes under the Kremlin's thumb.

'His actions aren't our fault!' Darkstar exclaims. 'You don't feel used? The Security Council threw you at Alexei like petrol at a bonfire' Yelena replies. 'Get to the point' Vanguard tells her, slamming his hand on the table. Yelena supposes that Alexei may have planned to betray her from the beginning, noting that this operation should have been simply and clean. 'We knew what we were after – and where to get it' she points out, referring to the four hard drives. Yelena points out that Alexei wanted loud – and the Security Council saw an opportunity. 'They don't send a few dozen spetznaz to shut us down quietly – they send you. And you escalate everything. The Crimson Dynamo gets sabotaged? There's a traitor in the Winter Guard?' Yelena recounts the events of the last few days. 'Now you can really justify turning your super heroes into a hit squad' Yelena adds. 'See where I'm going with this?' she asks.

'Enough! Alexei's exact location now, or I'll start -' the Red Widow begins, threatening the White Widow, she raises a hand as if she was preparing to slap Yelena – when Vanguard suddenly grabs her wrist. 'Let her finish' Vanguard snarls. The Red Widow spins around: 'Oh, don't stop being a good little soldier now, Vanguard' she tells him, when Perun speaks: 'Too long have I held my tongue' he calls out. 'Too long have I watched you children bicker and lie, while our homeland rots from the inside out' Perun declares. Vanguard turns to his teammate, confused, before Perun suggests that, perhaps, Red Guardian's success will not be their failure. 'What are you saying, Perun?' Red Guardian asks. Perun announces that he disagrees with this mission. 'Your goals...are not my goals. But Alexei? That first mission – he found me in the fog. I did not aid him, but we spoke like old men sharing old dreams' Perun reveals, remembering the mission at the border control center. Perun continues, informing his teammates that when the storm threatened Red Guardian's village, Red Guardian listened to him, while his teammates wouldn't, and Red Guardian helped him save those people. Finally, at Dracula's castle, he reveals that he had the chance to kill Red Guardian – but instead, he did not take it, and let the Red Guardian run past him.

Perun closes his eyes as he states that this land, the people – they are his, and he has felt their disappointments, their dead dreams – for centuries. 'You cannot understand this. Red Guardian does' he adds. Vanguard and Darkstar become wide-eyed, while Chernobog looks unimpressed, and Mikhail Ursus looks shocked. 'You call yourself a god? I call you a traitor! You're Alexei's man on the inside!' Red Widow snaps, pointing at Perun. Perun opens his eyes and looks back at his teammates as he replies 'What? That's not what I'm saying'. Mikhail switches to his Ursa Major bear form and exclaims 'The old man all along!' while Chernobog moves in closer to his fellow god, 'Well, well, well...' he utters. 'You gave him the remote? Alexei never mentioned a traitor before that day, and he never said -' the White Widow begins, before the Red Widow spins back around and points at her: 'Silence!' she declares.

'All these lies! These secrets have turned you all -' Perun begins, before Chernobog interrupts him, declaring that secrets are their domain. 'No more words from you! No more thunder!' Chernobog exclaims, moving forward, he attacks Perun, slashing him with his claws. 'Chernobog! Stop!' Darkstar cries out. 'Heed my words. I am not another mortal, blind and deaf and tangled in widow's webs!' Perun booms as he slams his ax into the table in front of him, shattering it and causing lightning to crackle around him. 'I am a god, and I will suffer no more scheming! I throw lightning and call thunder! I am the truth carved into the firmament!' Perun boasts. The lightning intensifies so much that it causes the Uragan to buckle and crash. 'I am Perun, and by the storm -  YOU WILL HEED ME!' Perun shouts as he vanishes as thunder roars.

'I'm going after him!' Darkstar calls out as she opens a portal and teleports away. 'You, Darkstar – and your shadow' Chernobog utters as he follows Darkstar through the portal. 'So reckless, Laynia' Vanguard mutters about his sister as he emerges from the wreckage of the Uragan, pushing a large piece of the train up off of him and the Red Widow. He asks the Widow if she is hurt, but the mysterious woman tells him that there is no time for that, and to forget his sister and forget Perun. 'We need to know where Alexei -' the Widow starts to say, before going wide-eyed beneath her cowl and gasping, as Yelena emerges from the wreckage nearby. 'Lukomorye! You want Alexei, right? That's where he's headed!' Yelena reveals. ' in Pushkin?' Vanguard asks. 'No. she means  Lukomorye Park' Red Widow explains, adding that there is an art installation near Baikal, and that they are close.

Yelena tells the Winter Guard that they can still catch Alexei if they hurry, and that they shouldn't waste time chasing her, as she rushes off into the mountains. 'I could fly there now, but -' Vannguard begins, to which the Red Widow tells him that she is coming with him. 'But Yelena! She could -' Vanguard starts, only for Ursa Major to appear, and tells his teammates to go. 'Ursa, if you're hurt...' Vanguard tells his friend, but Ursa Major just tells them to go, as he and the White Widow have unfinished business.

Darkstar emerges through her portal and finds Perun standing on a ridge atop a snow-covered mountain terrain. 'That devastation. That took almost all of your strength, didn't it?' she asks the old god, pointing out that he can fight or flee, but not do both. Perun acknowledges Darkstar by telling her that she understands, that in her hear, she feels that the Winter Guard are not on the right path. 'I pray that all is not lost' he adds. Suddenly, 'You want to pray? Pray for a swift death!' Chernobog suggests as he rises up above Perun. 'No, not now! Not now!' Darkstar exclaims. 'Been looking for an excuse for millennia, haven't you?' Perun asks as he turns to Chernobog. 'So be it. Today's a fine day for slaying monsters!' Perun booms as he raises his ax to Chernobog, lightning crackling around him.

Meanwhile: 'I know Siberia better than you, Belova. That gulag they left me to rot in – we are almost close to it, here' Ursa Major calls out as he runs across a frozen lake, towards some icy caves. Yelena is hiding in the caves, behind some icicles as Ursa Major lumbers into the cave. 'as close as any two places can be in this wasteland' Ursa Major remarks, before shattering the icicles with his powerful claws – only Yelena has vanished. Ursa looks around the cave and asks Yelena if she will hide forever. 'If I fail here, they will send others. She will send others' Ursa points out.

On the edge of the ridge, Perun raises his ax and summons more lightning, while Darkstar comes between him and Chernobog. 'Stop fighting and listen!' Darkstar calls out. But as the lightning is released, Chernobog moves in front of Darkstar. 'Not her! Won't let you hurt her!' he tells Perun as the lightning strikes him and knocks him to the ground. 'Chernobog...he sacrificed himself?' Perun asks, shocked, as he drops his ax and looks down at he fellow god. Darkstar crouches beside Chernobog and tells him that he is a stupid devil, always lurking and pestering. '...and now this? Why? What do you see in me?' she asks him. 'We...admire you' Chernobog utters, before revealing that their human vessel, Darkstar once rescued him from a fire. 'It was before our time, but still, whenever you're around...everything seems so bright' he utters. Darkstar seems to take control of the Darkforce energies seeping from Chernobog, while Perun stands behind her and remarks 'He almost died for you. I never thought him capable'. Darkstar tells Perun that if the God of Blood and Darkness can be heroic, then it might not be too late for the rest of them.

Back in the cave, Yelena suddenly drops down onto Ursa Major's shoulders, a sharp icicle in her hand. 'Sorry, Mikhail -' Yelena begins, before Ursa tells her that he is sorry, too, as he throws her off of him, slamming her into some ice, which shatter around her as she falls to the cave floor. ''re not going to kill me, old friend' Yelena tells Ursa as he positions himself over her, preventing her from escaping. 'I can't kill you. But I can't help you, either' Ursa replies as he stands up. 'You can come with me' Yelena tells him as she sits up. But Ursa turns and runs from the cave, remarking that he is still a prisoner in Russia – even unchained, he knows no other way, no other place.

Lukomorye State Park, near the Mongolian Border. Vanguard and Red Widow have arrived. 'It's not like Pushkin's Lukomorye at all. Gives me the creeps' Vanguard remarks as he and the Red Widow make their way through a dark and damp forest, with statues appearing in several clearings. Red Widow tells Vanguard to stay alert, because if Alexei is waiting for a pick up, he will stay hidden. 'The coward could be anywhere...' the Red Widow remarks, coming to a stop when she looks at a cloaked statue, only to be slammed backwards against a tree. 'That's where you're wrong, I'm afraid' Alexei Shostakov a.k.a. Red Guardian tells her as he stands on a rock nearby, catching his boomerang as it returns to him after slamming the Red Widow backwards. 'I've never been much for hiding' Alexei declares, before telling the Red Widow that if she is expecting a surrender, he will disappoint her there, as well, as he has come too far to give up now.

'If you were telling the truth about Snowblind, maybe you have a point. Maybe the worst of us stole the government – the world – and covered up the details. Maybe you failed to save Russia in your time...but I won't let you destroy it in mine!' Vanguard calls out as he hurls his shield towards Red Guardian, who responds by flinging his boomerang. The two weapons clang together, then dart away from each other. Vanguard uses this moment to release some of his mutant power at the boomerang, before Red Guardian punches him in the face – an instant later, the Red Guardian's own boomerang strikes him in the face, knocking him backwards. 'How -?' Red Guardian asks. 'Kinetic energy. I have actual super powers, remember?' Vanguard declares as he retrieves his shield. 'Impressive! And's too late now. No other way' Red Guardian replies as he kicks Vanguard in the stomach, knocking him over.

The Red Guardian remarks that Vanguard may have done better in his place. 'You are less naive... but still, I think you have a good heart' he tells him. There is a beeping noise, and Red Guardian picks up his briefcase. 'Ah. Right on schedule' he states, as a rope drops down from above. Red Guardian takes hold of the rope and announces that he awakens Russia – the world – from this dream, that Vanguard's heart will serve him well. 'There will be chaos, but that is the best time for heroes. Be steadfast' he tells Vanguard. 'Your shield' Red Widow snaps, attempting to take Vanguard's shield from his hands. 'Can't – dizzy – concussion' Vanguard replies, wearily. The Red Widow tells him that she will throw it, and he can use his powers to guide it. 'Amplify the force and velocity' the Red Widow tells Vanguard, who goes wide-eyed as he watches the Red Guardian and the briefcase be pulled upwards into the air on the rope.

'Your aim doesn't have to be perfect. This close, you'll rip through him like tissue. Shostakov must die. There's no other way' the Red Widow announces. Vanguard releases his mutant power onto his shield, while Red Guardian goes wide-eyed, and utters 'Yes, there is' before the shield slams into the briefcase, shattering it – and the Snowblind drives. 'No!' Red Guardian cries out in shock.

Several weeks later, in Moscow. 'A commendation?' a surprised Vanguard exclaims, wide-eyed. 'But I let Shostakov get away' he remarks. He and the other members of the Winter Guard are in a meeting room at their HQ, and the Red Widow tells Vanguard that by destroying those drives, he completed Operation Snowblind, and that as far as the Security Council is concerned, he has claimed up his predecessor's mistakes. The Red Widow adds that she has been told Red Guardian has fled to Madripoor, but that her people will eventually find him. 'Then I consider the matter settled' Dimitri Bukharin a.k.a. Crimson Dynamo announces as he and the synthezoid member of the Winter Guard called Vostok enter the meeting room. 'Dimitri! Vostok! Recovered already?' Vanguard asks as the team turn to their returning teammates. 'Recovered and ready to get back to the official leader of the Winter Guard' Crimson Dynamo declares, while looking at the Red Widow.

Chernobog, Perun, Ursa Major and Darkstar gather around as the Crimson Dynamo thanks them all for their hard wor in his absence. He notes that they have all been fully debriefed, but has something else he wants to say. Everyone listens as Dynamo tells them that if they are going to move forward, it must be with trust. 'As far as I'm concerned, there are no traitors on my team' he declares. He acknowledges that Perun may have acted against the mission, but that these were extenuating circumstances. 'He was not the only one who acted poorly to secrets and lies. Otherwise, no evidence of premeditated sabotage has been presented. Other than that remote'. Dynamo turns to the Widow and asks her if she ever figured out where Alexei got the remote from. The Red Widow pauses, before telling him that she is afraid not.

The Widow then stands up and claims that she has an urgent call, and that she will be back next time the Security Council has need of them. Perun and Dynamo shake hands, while Vanguard goes over to Darkstar and tells her that he is sorry he hasn't been much of the hero she wants him to be. 'Really, brother? Because I think you might have saved the day' Darkstar replies.

Outside, the snow falls as the Red Widow approaches a vehicle. She is in communication with one of her superiors. 'Now we can focus on real threats. Drakul, and now the She-Hulk...' Red Widow begins, before telling her superior that she agrees it could have gone much worse. 'If Crimson Dynamo hadn't been wounded...he might have sided with Shostakov'. She opens a file in the vehicle, and an image of the device that was used to take control of Crimson Dynamo's armor is seen. 'We may want to take similar countermeasures again' she suggests.

Back inside, Darkstar and Vanguard look out the window of the conference room, while Crimson Dynamo asks about the White Widow. 'You're sure she's dead?' he enquires. 'I know what it takes to survive out there. If Yelena wanted to escape, she'd have called for help' Ursa Major responds as he takes a drink.

Siberia, several dozen kilometers north. The White Widow climbs up a steep rocky cliff face, using nothing but her own hands. 'Perfect timing' a voice calls out. 'I just made coffee'. Yelena looks up and sees a handsome man standing over her – Bucky Barnes the Winter Soldier. 'It better not be decaf' Yelena mutters as she sits on a stool next to a table that Bucky has propped up on a small ledge jutting out from the mountain. 'Tovarich, please – it's Starbucks' Bucky exclaims. A hang glider can be seen next to a small tent, and Yelena tells Bucky that it will do, and that when she can feel her fingers again they can leave. 'Good' Bucky replies, telling Yelena that he hates it here. He adds that he is sorry to bring her home empty-handed, but Yelena holds up a hard drive labelled “Red Guardian – Operation Snowblind” and shrugs as she tells Bucky that she's not entirely empty-handed, as she managed to steal her consolation prize. 'It's not the revolution, but hey – it's a start'.

Characters Involved: 

Chernobog, Crimson Dynamo V, Darkstar, Perun, Red Widow, Ursa Major, Vanguard, Vostok (all Winter Guard)

Red Guardian II/Alexi Shostakov
White Widow/Yelena Belova
Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes

(in flashback images)

Red Guardian II
White Widow


(in flashback image)


Story Notes: 

On pages two and three as the Winter Guard and Yelena discuss their situation, Matryoshka dolls (Russian dolls) are used to artistically decorate several panels. The dolls are in the forms of Darkstar, Vanguard, Perun, Ursa Major, Yelena Belova and Alexei Shostakov.

Crimson Dynamo and Vostok were both injured in battle in Winter Guard #1.

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