Having diametrically opposite characters as antagonists is a staple for flagship superheroes. DC has mastered this craft and has created several iconic supervillains in comic-book literature. However, in Marvel’s scenario, the “mirror” antagonists have never been that popular among fans. Therefore, it was indeed a surprise as the appearance of Red Hulk in Marvel comics created a huge buzz, and the character became a fan favorite in no time. Also very recently, the MCU has cast renowned veteran star Harrison Ford to play Red Hulk, aka General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, in upcoming movies, replacing actor William Hurt (who had thus far portrayed the character multiple times in the MCU) due to his unfortunate demise. With the recent progression the MCU is making with the character Hulk, the introduction of Red Hulk is likely to play a significant role in Hulk’s lore and the political climate of the cinematic universe’s world-building. We will briefly discuss the comics’ origin of the character and how the MCU can integrate him further in upcoming phases.
‘Red Hulk’ Comics Origin, Explained
Now to be clear, in comics, Hulk already had one arch-enemy with Emil Blonsky, aka Abomination, who might be considered as the diametrical opposite in some sense. Abomination is also associated with Red Hulk as well. But it wasn’t until the introduction of General Ross’ Red Hulk persona that Hulk got a nemesis with solid motivation and a personal vendetta against him, something that made the character truly an anti-figure and unique in its own way. To discuss the origins of Red Hulk, we have to discuss both General Thunderbolt Ross’ association with Bruce Banner, aka Hulk, and the Red Hulk persona separately, as Ross has existed since the day Hulk made his comic-book appearance in the early 1960s.
Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross made his first appearance in Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s “The Incredible Hulk” #1 in 1962. Hailing from a military family background, Ross himself served as a US Air Force General and was in charge of overseeing the Gamma Bomb Project led by scientist Bruce Banner. Ross’ deep-seated resentment for Banner, whom he considered a frail human being, grew more after he came to know of his daughter’s relationship with Banner. Eventually, the gamma bomb project accidentally turned Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk, and Ross has been in pursuit of the rage monster ever since. In his quest to overpower or even hurt the Hulk, Ross stooped to the lowest deeds such as shooting Banner’s sidekick Rick Jones at Bruce and Betty’s wedding. Getting defeated by Hulk and being humiliated on several occasions led to a vengeful Ross seeking help from villains like MODOK and Leader, to break another Hulk nemesis, Abomination, out of prison. Something that, needless to say, was a major act of treason against his country. His diabolical methods cost him dearly when his daughter Betty died at the hands of Abomination. His tragedy escalated as he was also dismissed from the military. A depressed and suicidal Thaddeus prepared to take his own life but was unable to do so. As he resorts to drinking his sorrows away, MODOK and Leader once again reach out to him with a proposition to resurrect his daughter and to provide him with new, better means to confront Hulk.
Three of them banded together and, during a battle, siphoned out the Hulk’s gamma radiation. The radiation was combined with cosmic rays and used to turn General Ross into the Red Hulk, or, as fans call him, The Rulk. Ross’ Red Hulk persona first made an appearance in Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness’ “Hulk,” Vol. 3 #1, in 2008. Thus, General Ross played a major role in the creation of Bruce Banner’s Hulk persona and, in that sense, had been associated with him since the beginning, and ended up becoming a version of the very thing he hated all his life, completing the circle.
Apart from the obvious difference in skin complexion (red as opposed to Hulk’s green hue), Red Hulk shares similarities with Hulk in size and appearance as a hulking monster. The character differs from the Hulk in several ways, but primarily in that he retains his military tactical prowess and full intelligence, unlike Banner. Red Hulk can also siphon various forms of energy and grow stronger from them. Another notable difference is that just like Hulk grows stronger as he gets angrier, Red Hulk grows in energy and heat as he gets angrier. Therefore, despite being stronger than Hulk in his base form, Red Hulk loses steam and overheats like an uncontrollable reactor if a battle lasts too long. Unlike Banner, Ross does not revert to his human form after being rendered unconscious, and his eyes glow yellow when he is enraged. In comics, the identity of Red Hulk was initially a well-guarded secret, with neither readers nor the characters in the comics knowing the true identity of the original form of Rulk. The secret was guarded to the point that almost two years after Hulk’s first appearance, his identity was revealed as General Ross, which came as a shocker to readers. This was revealed in the comics by Betty Ross, who was transformed into the Red She-Hulk by Leader and MODOK in order to resurrect her from death. After knowing this, the Red Hulk siphoned off Leader’s gamma radiation and permanently left him in his human form as physicist Samuel Sterns. Also, as an act of revenge, Red Hulk brutally murdered Abomination. Throughout the years, Rulk has gone through various developments and turned from a maniac killer machine to a reluctant hero. In comics, he joined the Avengers and later led a group of Thunderbolts.
‘Red Hulk’ In The MCU: Role And Future, Explained
General Ross has been present in the MCU since as early as phase one, appearing in the Edward Norton-led “The Incredible Hulk” movie. In the movie, General Ross, portrayed by William Hurt as the army chief, witnessed the creation of Hulk and his subsequent escape, which injured Betty Ross and put her in a coma. Hating Hulk for this already, Ross was tasked with helping to restrain Hulk and stop his rampage. He also injected Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) with a version of super-soldier serum to stand a chance against Hulk and was partly responsible for the creation of Abomination. To stop Abomination’s destructive rampage, he briefly joined hands with Banner.
Following these events, Ross was promoted to the role of Secretary of State as he proposed the Sokovia Accords to the Avengers. The accords dictated governmental control over the interstate and international actions of superhuman beings. This created a major rift in the team as founding members Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, and Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, found themselves locking horns over the prospect of authoritative control over superhero accountability. Eventually, the Avengers officially disbanded (the Endgame climax was a one-time exception) and left Earth unprepared to face several otherworldly threats.
Due to the unfortunate demise of actor William Hurt last year, Harrison Ford is set to portray the role of Rulk/General Thunderbolt Ross in the MCU, replacing the former. With an MCU stint added to his already illustrious pop culture character gallery (Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan, Blade Runner, Star Wars), Harrison Ford might stay for a longer period of time than most other A-list stars working with MCU do. Ford will initially portray the character in the upcoming movies “Captain America: New World Order” and “Thunderbolts,” both of which will release in 2024 just a few months apart. Therefore, it is quite obvious that after gaining his Hulk form, General Ross will join the team of anti-heroes and villains like in the comics. The recently concluded “She-Hulk” series already showcased the Hulk-blood being used to create the eponymous heroine and other Hulk-like creatures. The series also name dropped the villainous team Intelligencia, a group led by MODOK and Leader in comics. With Leader, aka Samuel Sterns, set to make an appearance in “Captain America: New World Order,” MODOK being the secondary antagonist in the upcoming third Ant-Man movie, and even Tim Roth’s Abomination being in the picture, it is safe to assume the origin and aftermath of Red Hulk will follow a more comic-accurate route in the MCU too. It is interesting to note that in the MCU, what Ross was vouching for, a controlled version of the super team, has finally come to fruition with the introduction of “Thunderbolts,” and frankly speaking, the team-up was indeed looking bland without their own rage monster.