I'm doing great."
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 and de-powered by a re-Hulkified Banner. An all-new all-different Red Hulk will be a part of the upcoming post-Civil War II title U.S.Avengers.
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.
- Playing with Fire: Can superheat his body to the point that he is hot to the touch.
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.
Had his own title, officially taking over the Hulk series while Incredible Hulk was focused on Banner's story, up until issue 58, where the title was renamed and taken over by Red She-Hulk, his daughter Betty. The Red Hulk was further announced to be moving into a relaunched volume of the Thunderbolts, alongside other anti-heroes such as Deadpool, Elektra, Venom, and The Punisher.
Ross has made frequent appearances in other Hulk-related media. The Red Hulk made his cross-media debut in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!, and is part of the main cast in Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.. The Red Hulk is also available as an alternate skin for the Hulk in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and as his own playable character in Marvel: Avengers Alliance. He also appears as a free-roam boss fight and unlockable character in Lego Marvel Super Heroes. Red Hulk was added as a playable character to the roster of Marvel: Future Fight during the Ant-Man game update.
This comicbook character provides examples of:
- Aesop Amnesia: On occasion, Ross would mellow out on his Hulk hate... but sooner or later, he'd be back to form, hating Banner and Hulk alike.
- Alien Blood: Following his initial transformation, Ross now has glowing yellow blood in both forms.
- Always Someone Better: The Green Hulk of course. Banner even calls himself "the alpha," as in alpha Hulk of the other Hulks, at one point.
- Anti-Hero: Red Hulk is violent, almost sociopathic and trigger-happy.
- Archenemy: Probably the closest thing the Incredible Hulk has to one.
- 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, replaced by the Air Force as an entirely separate arm of the military).
- Back from the Dead: Twice, both before he ever became the Red Hulk.
- Badass Mustache: As Ross. It disappears when he takes his Red Hulk form, and oddly grows back instantly when he becomes human.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Ross always wanted to be the Hulk. Then he got Mode Lock.
- 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.
- Brought Down to Normal: At the end of the Omega Hulk storyline, the "Doc Green" Hulk removes his Red Hulk powers.
- Bullying a Dragon: He never could get it into his head that if he just left the Hulk alone, there'd be far less collateral damage.
- Provoking Galactus did not end well for him either.
- Butt-Monkey: Jeff Parker did his best to give Rulk what was coming to him for all the behavior of the early issues - effectively dropping Ross' Karma Houdini Warranty. Unfortunately, this was not good news for anyone around Rulk...
- Came Back Wrong: When Ross was brought back the first time, the Leader hadn't quite perfected the requisite technology... Originally, he came back as a Soulless Shell, which was later retconned as And I Must Scream.
- Catch-Phrase: Under Loeb, Red Hulk was prone to yelling "I'm my own man, my own monster!"
- Comic Book Death: He's killed during Coate's Captain America run. Actually gets explored over in Immortal Hulk. After the last two near-misses, his funeral's not exactly swarming with mourners, and Iron Man (who gives a half-hearted eulogy) keeps glancing at the coffin in case anything happens.
- 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.
- Ross has impeded and even outright stopped Banner's attempts to cure himself of the Hulk many, many times, usually unwittingly.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: He delivered lots of these to other heroes, before Galactus brought his winning streak to an end. After this, Rulk was on the receiving end of many.
- 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.
- Deal with the Devil: Has a distinct tendency to end up making these. He made one with one with MODOK, which made him the Red Hulk in the first place, then another with MODOK and Leader to resurrect his daughter. In Thunderbolts, he makes one with Mephisto on behalf of the team.
- Death Faked for You: During his plot against the Intelligencia, he and Banner make it look like the Red Hulk killed him.
- Determinator: Say what else you like about him, but Ross doesn't give up till the bitter end.
- Disproportionate Retribution: In Age of Ultron, he brutally kills Taskmaster for attempting to escape with the parts of the Ultron drones the group acquired. It gets even worse when you realize that Taskmaster didn't have any means of fighting the Ultron drones, was shaken after witnessing Black Panther's sudden death, and the fact that his job was to escape with the Ultron parts!
- Distaff Counterpart: Much to Ross' dismay, when the Intelligencia resurrected Betty, they turned her into the Red She-Hulk.
- 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.
- 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.
- Empowered Badass Normal: 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.
- Enemy Mine: Banner and Ross have teamed up on occasion.
- Evil Counterpart: To the Hulk, initially.
- Expy: General Maverick, who is new Red Hulk in U.S.Avengers. This guy exists solely because Marvel didn't let Al Ewing use Ross and make him Red Hulk again and the biggest difference is that he is even more of a General Ripper than Ross.
- Faking the Dead: As far as most of the world's concerned, Thunderbolt Ross is dead (in truth, it was a Life Model Decoy).
- 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.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: As Red Hulk, Ross has glowing yellow eyes.
- Hair Reboot: His mustache, as mentioned above.
- Hammerspace: Mark Waid has put forth the suggestion that Ross' mustache goes into the Negative Zone when he transforms. It has its own adventures there. According to Thunderbolts Volume 2 issue 21, it goes to Mephisto's realm of Hell. Some of the Thunderbolts have a fight with it, turned enormous.
- HeelFace Turn: He served as an Avenger for a time.
- Henshin Hero: Well, Anti-Hero.
- Heroic Red Ring Of Death: The angrier Red Hulk gets, the hotter he gets, until he overheats.
- Hero Killer: As Red Hulk, he murdered Clay Quartermain, a long time supporting SHIELD agent.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Ross just doesn't get that he's worse than the Hulk now that he has his powers, owing to his lack of restraint and even less compulsions about beating up whoever got in his way.
- Home Base: Where Banner has a number of hidden bases, Ross has only one so far: Gamma Base.
- Hot-Blooded: Literally.
- Hulking Out: He normally chooses when to change and keeps his own mind, but when the general is poisoned it causes him to immediately hulk out and go on an unstoppable rampage.
- Hulk Speak: Unlike the original Hulk, this is noticeably averted.
- 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 has finally found 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 Name Only: His team of Thunderbolts seemingly has no relation to previous Thunderbolts team. But then again, "Thunderbolt" is his nickname to begin with.
- In a Single Bound: Thanks to his super strength.
- In-Series Nickname: Ross was nicknamed 'Thunderbolt' by his troops because he 'struck like a thunderbolt' against their enemies.
- The Insomniac: Type D, superpowered. Red Hulk is able to go for long stretches without sleep... but even he needs to sleep eventually. It's 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.
- 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.
- Jerkass: Ross was never Mr. Nice Guy before. Getting the super powers he so craved didn't help his disposition.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Abomination most certainly had his fate coming, as weirdly-written as it may have been.
- 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.
- Laser-Guided Karma: For decades, he has ruined Bruce's/Hulk's life. And after becoming the Red Hulk, it was Bruce who gave him a taste of his own medicine by making the public believe Ross had died as a hero. Because of this, Rulk can't ever be Ross again in public and live a normal life, or he would (like Hulk said) hang for treason for his crimes as Rulk.
- 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.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: At one point, gets briefly possessed by both the Venom symbiote and the Spirit of Vengeance, turning him into a gamma-mutated symbiotic red colored Four-Star Badass. It looks every bit as awesome as it sounds.Venom Rulk Rider "Wwe am smassh for venggeance!"
- 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.
- Radiation-Immune Mutants: In fact, he gains his powers from it.
- Red Baron: Known as "thunderbolt" to many.
- Red Is Violent: As Red Hulk, being even more ravaging than Hulk himself.
- Reluctant Retiree: All Ross has known has been military service. Once he was unable to go back, he was at a loss for what to do with himself. Always somewhat unhappy about superheroes and super-teams, he joined the Avengers, probably because it was the closest thing to military service he can do now.
- 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.
- Secondary Color Nemesis: Inverted, along with Primary-Color Champion. The green and purple original Hulk is the hero, while Red Hulk is the villain.
- 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: Again, getting Hulk powers did not do the man's ego any favors.
- The Stoic: Ross allows himself few displays of emotion beyond anger. The Red Hulk's a different matter.
- Supernaturally Delicious and Nutritious: Vampires love snacking on his blood.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Look at this guy.◊ Old Soldier and General Ripper Rulk with a handlebar of sheer, unadulterated MAN! Oh, it's Thunderbolt Ross? Nope. Meet Robert Maverick, everybody.
- Two Beings, One Body: The Compound Hulk in Hulk #30.
- Two First Names: His first name is Thaddeus — a name relatively popular in America during the 1970s — and his last name is Ross.
- Weaponized Exhaust: When he starts overheating, the heat is extreme enough to melt sand, let alone the effects it can have on his opponent.
- 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. It turns out these LMDs dissolve when they're destroyed; they can't be repaired. Like humans, they only have one life. Taken further when Ross eventually enters a relationship with Annie.