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"I've trashed my military career, I'm constantly being attacked by my supposed allies, my family won't talk to me... and the only place I can be human is on a secret base with the one man I can't stand.
General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross was overseeing the testing of the gamma bomb when Bruce Banner raced out onto the testing grounds to save teenager Rick Jones. For Banner's pains, he was blasted with gamma radiation, turning him into the Hulk.
Ross became the Hulk's most persistent enemy, initially because of the Hulk's attacks against the U.S. Army; as time passed, it developed into something more personal, an obsession. Even as Ross sought to bring the Hulk down, he envied and coveted the power the Hulk possessed.
In the end, the death of Ross' daughter Betty at the hands of the Abomination, the Hulk's betrayal by the Illuminati, and the assassination of Captain America plunged Ross into the depths of despair, where the Intelligencia, a cabal of Mad Scientist supervillains, found him. They made Ross an offer: the power to "rescue" America, and the chance to have Betty brought Back From the Dead. He accepted, and by combining cosmic energy with gamma radiation siphoned off from the Hulk, the Intelligencia transformed him into the Red Hulk.
The Red Hulk persona first appeared in Hulk vol. 3 #1 (March, 2008), created by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. The Red Hulk's first mission was killing the Abomination, and from there he proceeded to run amok across the MU, kicking a lot of dogs and getting on the bad side of a lot of major players - culminating in his stripping Banner of the Hulk.
There was at least some method behind the rampage: the Red Hulk was working with the Intelligencia on a coup to overthrow the United States government in the hope of making a better world. Finally, his treatment at the Intelligencia's hands led him to break ranks with them, teaming with the Hulkless Bruce Banner to bring them down in Fall of the Hulks.
In the end, believing he'd been let down by both sides, the Red Hulk made his own bid for power - only to be stopped by a re-Hulkified Banner. Now Ross is discovering that when you become a Hulk, there are certain consequences...
The Red Hulk's powers are somewhat different from the original's:
- Voluntary Shapeshifting - typically has full control over his transformation, though he sometimes reverts when he sleeps.
- Super Strength, though he can't reach the levels Banner can.
- Healing Factor - when he sleeps or transforms.
- Energy Absorption and Super Senses - able to see various forms of energy, including gamma radiation and cosmic energy, and absorb them to boost his strength. He's even able to use this on living beings, allowing him to permanently rob gamma mutates of their powers. However, doing so runs the risk of burning him out, forcing him into Shapeshifter Mode Lock.
Unlike Banner, getting angry causes the Red Hulk to overheat and collapse. He also lacks Banner's Split Personality, retaining his identity in both forms.
Has his own title, Hulk (Incredible Hulk is Banner's).
- Alien Blood: Following his initial transformation, Ross now has glowing yellow blood in both forms.
- Anti-Hero: Type IV
- Anti-Villain: Type III
- Artistic License History: Word of God from Jeff Parker, supported later in the comic, is that the Army Air Force being currently active was intentional (in Real Life, it was abolished in 1947).
- Back From the Dead: Twice, both before he ever became the Red Hulk.
- Badass Abnormal: Quite apart from the Red Hulk, there was the time Ross took over the body of Energy Being Zzzax. Or the time he was given the Redeemer armor.
- Badass Grandpa: He was in his fifties at least when he began Hulk-hunting, and that was over a decade ago in Comic Book Time.
- Badass Mustache: As Ross. It disappears when he takes his Red Hulk form.
- Oddly, the mustache just instantly grows back when he becomes human.
- Biological Mashup: The Compound Hulk in Hulk #30.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: New MODOK is looking to completely avert this. He knows not to underestimate anyone and is very pragmatic. He even thanks Black Fog for beating him down, reminding him to never think oneself invincible.
- Butt Monkey: Jeff Parker did his best to give Rulk what was coming to him for all the Villain Sue behavior of the early issues - effectively dropping Ross' Karma Houdini Warranty. Unfortunately, this is not good news for anyone around Rulk...
- Create Your Own Villain/Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Bad idea disconnecting the scientist trying to stop the Synthegraft subjects before she was done, Ross; now she's been transformed into supervillain Zero/One.
- Darkest Hour: During Bill Mantlo's run on Incredible Hulk, Ross was faced with either owning up to releasing the Abomination against the Hulk in defiance of a Presidential pardon and being charged with treason, or committing suicide. He opted to own up. The full implications of this were overlooked by later writers, as he eventually returned to military service.
- Jeph Loeb eventually explained Ross' return to service by revealing the charges had been dropped as part of the Intelligencia's schemes.
- Dating What Daddy Hates: Ross has never been happy with Betty's relationship with Banner.
- Daydream Surprise: The beginning of Hulk #32.
- Determinator: Say what else you like about him, but Ross doesn't give up till the bitter end.
- Distaff Counterpart: Much to Ross' dismay, when the Intelligencia resurrected Betty, they turned her into the Red She-Hulk.
- Dramatic Irony: General Fortean believes the Red Hulk killed Ross, and wants him dead. As such, he's unaware that the Red Hulk is Ross, or the extent to which he's following in Ross's footsteps. Ross, on the other hand, is all too aware of the irony.
- Enemy Mine: Banner and Ross have teamed up on occasion.
- Evil Counterpart: To the Hulk, initially.
- Eyes of Gold/Glowing Eyes of Doom: As Red Hulk.
- Faking the Dead: As far as most of the world's concerned, Thunderbolt Ross is dead (in truth, it was a Life Model Decoy).
- Fan Nickname: Rulk, which achieved Ascended Fanon status.
- Faustian Rebellion: Against the Intelligencia.
- Four-Star Badass: Ross himself. General Fortean also counts, although he's only two-star.
- General Ripper: Depending on the Writer, went between this and Inspector Javert.
- Heel Face Turn: He's an Avenger now.
- Heroic Red Ring of Death: The angrier Red Hulk gets, the hotter he gets, until he overheats.
- He Who Fights Monsters
- Home Base: Where Banner has a number of hidden bases, Ross has only one so far: Gamma Base.
- Hot-Blooded: Literally.
- I Love Nuclear Power: Gamma radiation + cosmic energy = Red Hulk.
- In Another Man's Shoes: In Jeff Parker's run. Transformed into a Hulk, hunted by the U.S. Army, unable to convince them of his good intentions... Ross is finally finding out what Banner was going through when Ross was leading the hunt. Whether he's actually figured that out yet is another matter - seeing the other person's perspective has never been one of his strong suits.
- In a Single Bound
- In-Series Nickname: Ross was nicknamed 'Thunderbolt' by his troops because he 'struck like a thunderbolt' against their enemies.
- Instant Awesome, Just Add Ninja: Black Fog is an Indian cyborg serial killer ninja... and an all too serious threat.
- Interrupted Cooldown Hug: Was often the reason for this. Doesn't apply to him, though, since his anger usually shorts him out.
- I Wish It Were Real: Played for Drama. Zero/One, being unable to distinguish between the 'real' Black Fog, and the tall stories that sprang up around him, 'upgrades' him into the creature of her childhood nightmares.
- Jack Kirby: Ross' co-creator, with Stan Lee.
- Jeph Loeb: Creator and initial writer of Red Hulk.
- Lampshade Hanging: Hulk #30.1, "The Whale", points out Ross and Fortean's similarities to Captain Ahab, and to each other. Ross is aware of the parallels; Fortean isn't.
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Ross and Banner, following the Compound Hulk incident.
- Mad Scientist: Zero/One presents herself as rational and efficient - but to outside observers, she's a mad scientist with no sense of ethics who's unable to distinguish fiction from reality.
- Magic Pants: Although Ross' are black, rather than purple.
- Military Brat: Ross' family has been in the military at least since the American Civil War.
- Muggle Best Friend: Jacob's an unusual variant of this: he's the MBF for Zero/One, a villain. He's not exactly thrilled about it.
- Jacob is incredibly afraid of Zero/One. So much so that he refused her offer for synthetic skin graft transplants on his horrifically burned body.
- Not So Different: Subverted with Ross and Fortean. Ross attempts to point this out to warn Fortean off his mission to kill Red Hulk but, well, the Hulks have never been known for their good fortune...
- Not So Stoic: When it comes to his family.
- Old Soldier: A rare officer version.
- Papa Wolf: For all Ross' faults, he's fiercely protective of his daughter Betty. One of the reasons he hunted the Hulk so obsessively is because he felt Betty's relationship with Banner would endanger her... and he was arguably right. Not to mention that right after becoming the Red Hulk, he tracked down the Abomination, who had killed her, and murdered him.
- Playing with Fire: When he starts to overheat, it's quite literal, as his body puts out a extreme amount of heat hot enough to melt some of the sand in a desert he was in.
- Pride: Probably Ross's defining feature, for better and worse.
- Psycho Rangers: Headed up the Offenders, an Evil Counterpart team to The Defenders.
- Reluctant Retiree: All Ross has known has been military service. Now he's unable to go back, he's at a loss for what to do with himself.
- Remember the New Guy?: General Fortean, who used to be one of Ross' subordinates in his Hulk-hunting days.
- Revenge: Ross has been on both sides of this, but perhaps the most impressive example is Uatu the Watcher retaliating for Ross punching him in the face by launching what may be the most passive-aggressive revenge schemes ever, courtesy of the Alien Non-Interference Clause.
- Revenge Before Reason: Ross' desire to take down the Hulk took him down some very dark paths in the past.
- Ridiculously-Human Robots: The Life Model Decoys at Gamma Base, who are aware of their nature, and serve as Ross's supporting cast.
- Secret Identity: If Ross ever tries pulling a Back From the Dead, Banner will publicly reveal he's the Red Hulk... and given that he tore up the White House, that isn't going to go down well.
- Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Red Hulk's Energy Absorption abilities are set to force this sooner or later. General Fortean implanted him with nano-mines set to go off when he turned human, but he managed to get them deactivated.
- Shockwave Clap: Comes with the Hulk territory.
- Shooting Superman: When it came to the Hulk, this was generally his Plan A.
- Smug Super
- Stan Lee: Ross' co-creator, with Jack Kirby.
- Supernaturally Delicious and Nutritious: Vampires love snacking on his blood.
- The Dragon: Black Fog was this to Zero/One's Evil Genius, before being released from her control. He considers his 'debt' to her - for freeing him, and for the pain she inflicted on him - paid.
- The Insomniac: Type D, superpowered. Red Hulk is able to go for long stretches without sleep... but even he needs to sleep eventually.
- Which was very bad news when Fortean infected him with nanites that would kill him if he turned human. Which he does whenever he sleeps. Ironically, this prevented Ross from taking the opportunity to show Fortean that Rulk and Ross are one and the same.
- The Stoic: Ross allows himself few displays of emotion beyond anger. The Red Hulk's a different matter.
- Two First Names
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Ross has always been one of these.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: On the one hand, Ross is rather uncomfortable with the Life Model Decoys' nature; on the other, they're human enough he often acts as he would around flesh-and-blood humans.
- Then it turns out these LMDs dissolve when they're destroyed; they can't be repaired. Like humans, they only have one life.