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Authentic Russian Superheroes?

by Ishiro Finney

As a follow-up to my last article about world-building and foreign superhero traditions, I thought I’d do a brief overview of superheros who hail from Russia. Unlike the nations mentioned in my previous article, whose native superheroes can be traced as far back as the 1950s, Russia didn’t enter the hero game until recently. In fact, Russia didn’t even have comic books until around 1990 when bootlegged translations of American and Japanese titles first started appearing on the black market. This has lead to legit comic stores opening in Russia in the last decade, as well as prompting the creation of a  few homegrown superheroes.

Still in its fledgling stages, Russia’s superhero genre is currently small enough that I can offer a somewhat decent overview here.

BLACK LIGHTENING (film)
An extraordinary item falling into the hands of an ordinary person has been the stuff of many a superhero story. Green Lantern’s ring. Star Girl’s staff. Black Knight’s Sword. Black Lightning is about an unassuming college kid who is gifted with a vintage car that can fly. And, hey, if you’ve got a flying car, why not fit it with machine guns and become the guardian of your city? Especially when a corrupt businessman’s diamond mining operation threatens to send your hometown crumbling into the depths of the earth. As weird as the concept may sound, Black Lightening is essentially a “With great power comes great responsibility” tale, but with a flying car.

THE GUARDIANS (film)
Clearly inspired by the movies that have been coming out from Marvel Studios for the last decade, Guardians is the closest we’ve seen to a genuine Russian take on the Avengers. Comprised of four “enhanced” heroes who are the product of a secret Cold War era super soldier program, the plot revolves around the Guardians coming out of hiding when the scientist who created them attempts to conquer Russia with an army of robots. Rife with themes of patriotism and national unity, the team includes representatives of the different nationalities of the former USSR. There’s Ursus, who can shapeshift into a bear-man and carries a gatling gun. Khan, who is gifted with super-speed and wields a pair of curved swords. Ler, who can manipulate earth and stone. And finally, Xenia, who has the power of invisibility and can transform her body into water.

What sets Guardians apart from all the other titles on this list, is that it is the only group of characters who truly embody the themes and aesthetics of traditional superheroes. They have big, flashy powers. They fight an over the top mad scientist in the vein of Doctor Doom. And most notable, Guardians are Russian superheroes who wear stylized costumes. As a side note, it is interesting how much Guardians resembled Marvel’s 80s-era USSR team, the Soviet Super Soldiers.

Marvel’s Soviet Super Soldiers on the left, the Guardians on the right.

THE BUBBLE UNIVERSE (books)
Launched in 2011, Bubble Comics is not only the largest publisher of comics in Russia, it is the only native company which produces original monthly titles taking place within a shared continuity. Described as Russia’s answer to Marvel Comics, in truth, the two universes have very little in common. Diverging from the Marvel/DC tropes of costumes, super powers, and flashy battles in public, the Bubble Universe looks much like our own. Extraordinary events, supernatural fights, and the rest all occur mostly in the shadows while the world remains blissfully unaware. It’s roster of heroes are distinctly unique, featuring everything from a hard-nosed cop, to bad ass friar with a magic cross.

This is nothing like Marvel.

If anything, it more like the world of Vertigo’s Hell Blazer when editorial finally just decided John Constantine didn’t really inhabit in the DCU, but his own setting.

Anyways, here’s a rundown of Bubble’s current titles:

DEMONSLAYER
When the Antichrist unites the legions of Hell under one banner and sets his sights on Earth, the world finds itself on the brink of the Apocalypse. Rising to the occasion is mankind’s protector—the Demonslayer—whose occult power is derived from his “living” tattoos inked in the blood of Satan. Aiding him in his fight is an imp named Sneak, a shaman named Black Hound, the witch Queen of the Rot, and Yanna, a homeless girl with a living nightmare inside her mind.

MAJOR GROM
Major Igor Grom is a hardnosed police detective working the mean crime infested streets of St. Petersburg. Strong, analytical, and morally incorruptible, Grom is the perfect cop to face down a world filled with criminals who can buy anyone and anything. Be it terrorist, the mob, or the inhuman minions of an ancient pagan god, Grom always faces an enemy head on.

RED FURY
Once the best thief in the world, Nika Chaikina is recruited into the secret International Control Agency. Created shortly after World War II, the ICA was formed for sole purpose of prevent armed conflicts around the globe. And Nika, codenamed The Red Fury, is their best agent.

FRIAR
Andrey Radov, alias “The Friar”, is the heir to a powerful holy artifact–a cross inlaid with sacred gems. For many centuries the forces of evil have tried to get hold of this unique item, clashing with the the Radov family for generations. Now Andrey must carry on the fight. Traveling between the worlds, the Friar must help every innocent man, woman, or child he meets.

EXLIBRIUM
Belonging to the mysterious order of bookwizards who guard the border between reality and fiction, teenage geek and avid reader, Lilia Romanova, must deal with creatures from art and literature who have escaped into our world.

You can find more details about at the Bubble Universe at Bubblecomics.com  or read their titles digitally on Comixology.

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