5. Valentina Vostok (Negative Woman/White Queen)
(First Appearance: Showcase #94 (1977))
Even though she’s mainly known as Negative Woman of the Doom Patrol as written by Paul Kupperberg, Valentina Vostok has filled a variety of roles in the DC Universe, and is one of the few Russian superheroes who didn’t start out as a bad guy. This is ironic, because when Vostok appeared in the TV show Legends of Tomorrow she was a Soviet scientist who was trying to replicate the hero Firestorm and his unique ability to transmute matter and synthesize nuclear energy for the Soviet Union and that season’s Big Bad, Vandal Savage. However, in the comics Vostok was a Soviet Air Force officer who stole a special plane to defect to the United States, and had a near fatal crash landing.
Luckily, she crashed where the original Doom Patrol lineup died, and got the powers of the late Larry Trainor (or Negative Man) allowing her to change into a powerful “negative being.” Unfortunately this made her radioactive and strained her growing romantic relationship with her teammate Tempest, as she could only touch him while wearing special bandages. Trainor did return and merge with the “negative being,” which healed her radioactivity but de-powered her, and she left Doom Patrol right before superstar writer Grant Morrison took over. Because she didn’t appear in the Morrison run, Vostok is less known than other Doom Patrol members.
However, Valentina Vostok found new life as a member of both the Agency and Checkmate, a highly skilled group of the operatives tasked with keeping peace in the DC Universe. She recurred as a member of the organization in DC Comics stories in the 1990s and early 2000s, and even took Amanda Waller’s place as the White Queen in 2007 during Greg Rucka’s run on the book. This was the peak of her glory as a character, however, as she was killed off during both Final Crisis and the DC New 52 event Forever Evil. Hopefully her mix of spycraft and freakish abilities will find its way to Gerard Way’s Doom Patrol, but it’s not likely, as Larry Trainor is already on the roster.
(First Appearance: Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975))
Ilyana Rasputin began as the X-Man Colossus’ adorable, unnamed little sister, but she later became the teleporting, Soulsword-wielding, Limbo-ruling Magik, one of the most powerful magic users in the Marvel Universe. Magik’s mutant powers were activated painfully when she was kidnapped and taken to Limbo by the demon Belasco, who was corrupting her so he could free himself from this dimension with special bloodstones. She ages from six to thirteen in the 1984 Magik miniseries, learning both dark and white magic from Belasco and the Limbo version of Storm respectively, such as the ability to teleport by summoning magic disks. Magik also uses the literal energy of her soul to create the obviously-named “Soulsword,” a mystical blade that disrupts magic energy and can also be used as a melee weapon.
With her magic Soulsword and armor in hand, Magik was a key member of the New Mutants (a junior X-Men squad) until she died in the 1993 “Legacy Virus” storyline. Belasco resurrected her in 2007, and she was a member of the New Mutants until getting promoted to Cyclops’ Extinction team in 2012. While on Cyclops’ team, she received Phoenix powers during the Avengers vs. X-Men crossover along with Colossus, Cyclops, Emma Frost, and Namor. After this incident, she started training her magical abilities with Doctor Strange, and has been a mainstay of the X-Men during Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Uncanny X-Men, as well as the current Extraordinary X-Men title where the X-Men’s headquarters is Limbo.
Magik has a super-convoluted backstory, but her mystical abilities add fantasy and even Lovecraftian horror elements to the usual X-Men superhero and science fiction stories, as she has fought Elder Gods and their representatives countless times in her character’s history. Because of her demonic roots, Magik always has at least one foot on the dark side, and even took the form of the evil spirit Darkchilde when she came back from the dead. In recent years Magik has been written as one of the most powerful mutants, but this power usually comes at the cost of losing parts of her soul or being corrupted by dark magic.
Sadly, the superpowered version of Magik has yet to show up in any X-Men cartoons, live action films, or video games. Scott Pilgrim did try to explain her backstory to Ramona Flowers in the fifth volume of the comic Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe, though.
(First Appearance: Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975))
Colossus is my personal favorite of the superheroes on this list. He was a Russian farm boy with the ability to turn his body into organic steel, and was one of the first members of the All-New, All-Different X-Men team. A gentle giant, Colossus developed bonds with Wolverine, who he would throw into action in the famous Fastball Special, and Kitty Pryde, who he fell in love with and even killed the Marauder Riptide for when he thought she was dead in the “Mutant Massacre” story. After Magik died of the Legacy Virus, he abandoned his peaceful ways and was a member of Magneto’s Acolytes before eventually joining the British superhero team Excalibur (he almost killed Kitty Pryde’s new, roguish boyfriend Pete Wisdom in the process).
In 2001 Colossus sacrificed his life so that Beast’s cure for the Legacy Virus could be spread through the air and no more mutants would get it. Joss Whedon and John Cassaday brought him back in Astonishing X-Men in an exciting scene where bullets bounced off his metal chest, and he embraced Kitty Pryde. They finally slept together in this run, and it was revealed that the evil alien Ord of Breakworld stole his body after his “death” to make a cure for mutants. He also fought toe-to-toe with the Hulk in World War Hulk: X-Men, although his arms got snapped off.
More recently, the Colossus became the Juggernaut, and he struggled to balance his peaceful nature with a thirst for destruction. Becoming one of the hosts of Phoenix complicated things even more, but Cable helped stabilized his abilities in the Cable and the X-Force series. He is currently a main cast member in Extraordinary X-Men, and is rocking a killer beard. Despite his great size and isolated moments of rage, Colossus continues to be one of the most peaceful and tender X-Men, and a fan favorite. His relationship with Kitty Pryde is one of the all-time great superhero romances, even though they haven’t been a couple for years.
Outside of comics, Colossus showed up in basically non-speaking roles in X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, and X-Men: Days of Future Past (at least, he got to do a Fastball Special in Last Stand). He was better utilized in CGI form in Deadpool, where he plays the voice of morality and traditional superheroism in contrast to the wacky ultraviolence of Deadpool. In the video game realm, Colossus was an excellent tank character in the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii versions of Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
2. Black Widow
(First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #52 (1964))
Natasha Romanov aka Black Widow is probably the best-known character on this list, with Scarlett Johansson playing her in five Marvel films – most memorably in Captain America: Winter Soldier, where she and Steve Rogers go on the run and discover a dark connection between SHIELD and HYDRA. She is also the only character on this list to consistently sustain a solo comic book series, and her current comic by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee is a masterpiece of lean, expressionist storytelling. True to her name, however, Black Widow hasn’t always been on the side of the angels.
Black Widow began as a recurring Iron Man villain, a fishnet mask-wearing Soviet spy and femme fatale in Stan Lee and Don Heck’s Tales of Suspense. She started out manipulating Hawkeye to fight against the United States as a Soviet operative, but she ended up falling in love with him and defecting to the U.S. Black Widow was later a member of the L.A.-based superhero team the Champions, co-headlined Daredevil’s ongoing comic for a while in the 1970s, and joined various incarnations of the Avengers.
Black Widow has had several ongoing and limited series in the 21st century that have fleshed out her origins, including how she was brainwashed to be a Soviet assassin for an organization called the Red Room. She even had to fight a new Black Widow, Yelena Belova, in Devin Grayson’s and J.G. Jones’ 1999 miniseries, and it seems like every story centered around Black Widow digs up more of her past trauma. Her recent solo comics have been showcases for some of Marvel’s finest artists (including the earlier-mentioned Samnee and Daniel Acuna), as her fluid fighting moves, the intense pain of her past, and the intrigue of espionage makes for entertaining reading.
Black Widow is one of the most connected members of the Marvel Universe, and has romances and friendships with everyone from Daredevil and Wolverine to Jessica Drew, Spider-Man, and even Bucky Barnes, who she knew back in his Cold War days as the Winter Soldier. She is one of its most skilled spies and hand to hand combatants, and a worthy addition to any spy or superhero team, even though she’s not an over-sharer. The relational aspect of Black Widow has also extended to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where she has forged a strong bond with Steve Rogers in the Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War films that not even the Superhuman Registration Act can break.
1.Crimson Dynamo (Anton Vanko)
(First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #46 (1963))
Anton Vanko aka the Crimson Dynamo has the least panel/screen time of any of the characters on the list, but he’s older than all of them. Vanko was originally created by Stan Lee and Don Heck as a Russian foil to Iron Man. He was a genius physicist who made weapons for other villains like the Unicorn, and also had his own suit of power armor that was the same shade of red as the flag of the Soviet Union. Vanko was sent to defeat Tony Stark’s “bodyguard” Iron Man and steal intelligence from Stark Industries. He lost in battle and defected to the United States because he was afraid that his handlers would punish him for losing.
What makes Anton Vanko such a groundbreaking character is that he was one of the first Marvel villains to make a heroic turn, paving the way for more prominent heel-face turns, such as Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and more. Even though he only made a handful appearances in Tales of Suspense, Vanko helped Tony Stark improve upon his Iron Man armor and saved him from the second Crimson Dynamo, Boris Turgenov, and Black Widow by shooting Turgenov with a laser pistol. His redemption arc was a departure from the usual broad-brushed way of portraying Russian characters in American superhero comics, and was later expanded upon in the 2007 miniseries Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin.
Sadly, his heroism didn’t extend to the cinematic versions of Iron Man, where it’s revealed in Iron Man 2 that Anton Vanko tried to sell the patent to Howard Stark’s Arc reactor that he co-developed on the black market. Nevertheless, fans of classic comics will never forget his all too short legacy as the first significant Russian superhero in American comics.
Honorable mentions: Major Grom, Friar, Rocket Red (Justice League), Creote (Birds of Prey), Red Star (Teen Titans), Perun (Firestorm), Winter (Stormwatch), Bora (Amazing Spider-Man), Starlight (Quasar), Darkstar (Champions), Mikhail Rasputin (Uncanny X-Men), Comrade 7 (Love and Rockets), Linka (Captain Planet)