Winter Guard is the kind of comics series that seems meant to tie into the MCU. It features Yelena Belova — a key character in the Black Widow movie — and Captain Marvel to draw in casual readers, and has plenty of action. You might feel wary of a comic such as this, but Ryan Cady and Jan Bazaldua offer up an electric action comic featuring Russia’s greatest villains against Red Guardian and Yelena in a pulse-pounding miniseries. It’s a series that has a lot of ideas, especially for a fight comic, and is well done from cover to cover.
This trade paperback opens with Red Guardian and Yelena Belova as persons of interest largely due to She-Hulk being captured by Russia’s superteam Winter Guard. If you’ve read Jason Aaron’s Avengers, those events will help inform readers on what is going on here. Due to this, the opening issue feels like a booster shot for the main Avengers book but quickly rockets off from there.
Yelena is the star of the show here, though, and Ryan Cady writes her well. She’s got the Russian accent we all love to voice in our heads as we read her dialogue, but also her spark. She’s got history with Black Widow, who you can see clearly cares for her in the preview. Meanwhile, Red Guardian is all business, but also reasonable. Cady has also done a great job selecting some Winter Guard members you might not expect or even know about. It’s an intriguing team lineup that has an impressive array of powers. You’ll believe they’re as formidable as the Avengers, but are far more dangerous since they’re willing to kill.
The second issue might be even better than the first, as it features the incredible powers of various characters in cool ways. This issue opens with Darkstar looking up at the stars under a dome on top of a speeding train. Soon we’re checking in with Vanguard, Red Widow, Chernobog, and Perun, each of whom has a unique perspective and edge towards villainy more than heroism. They’re on the hunt for Yelena and Red Guardian while aware someone in their ranks may have backstabbed them.
Bazaldua’s art maximizes the various Russian superheroes (or are they villains?) to the nth degree, and their varied powers are quite cool to see. Cady sets up the big fight in the comic — this is superhero comics, after all, there’s gotta be a fight — with the fact that Yelena doesn’t have powers. That sets up the stakes well, especially when you know the Winter Guard easily handled the Avengers recently.
This story is good superhero comics, raising the stakes as needed with plenty of fight scenes. Each character gets to show off their powers and Cady gets inside each character’s head well too. These characters may actually be more interesting than the Avengers on a good day since they’ve each got a unique edge to them. Some are more evil than others and their dynamics are intriguing thanks to not quite knowing how they function just yet.
Letters by Ariana Maher are clean and easy to follow. Word balloon placement breaks up dialogue well and draws your eye in the right direction. There are a few word balloon choices that work well to convey elements like dialogue behind a door, or the unique sound of a futuristic gun. Props to her work on the page pictured above in the first issue, which has a lot of dialogue that’s effortlessly organized across the page without covering up too much or looking daunting.
Closing out this collection is Devin Grayson and Michele Bandini’s Widowmakers: Red Guardian and Yelena Belova one-shot originally published in November 2020. It’s a good one-shot acting as a tense, extended chase sequence. Like a good James Bond opener, there are plenty of twists and turns in the action along with a few surprises too. The opening and closing give a small taste of who Belova is, but plotting could have done a bit more to mix things up. Ultimately, you get just enough about Belova via the action and captioning, but she’s still a bit of a mystery by the end of the book.
Winter Guard is a fun spy story that’s really about the eclectic and strange Russian superhero team and our heroes navigating their efforts to stop them. Cady and Bazaldua are doing such a great job fleshing out these characters you’ll put this book down and only want more.
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