Thunderbolt Ross

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Thunderbolt Ross
Publication information
Publisher Marvel Comics
First appearance As Thunderbolt Ross:
The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962)
As Red Hulk:
Hulk #1 (January 2008)
Created by Thunderbolt Ross:
Stan Lee (Writer)
Jack Kirby (Artist)
Red Hulk:
Jeph Loeb (Writer)
Ed McGuiness (Artist)
In-story information
Alter ego Thaddeus E. "Thunderbolt" Ross
Team affiliations Hulkbusters
United States Air Force
Notable aliases General Ross, Red Hulk, Rulk, The Thing (Future Imperfect)
Abilities As Thunderbolt Ross:
Expert military strategist
Access to advanced technology and weapons
Commanding officer with access to many soldiers and armies
As Red Hulk:
Immense superhuman strength, stamina and durability
Healing factor
Energy absorption
Heat generation

General Thaddeus E. "Thunderbolt" Ross (also known as Red Hulk) is a fictional character who appears in comic books published by Marvel Comics. Ross, the archenemy of the Hulk, is a United States military officer, the father of Betty Ross, ex-father-in-law of Glenn Talbot, father-in-law of Dr. Bruce Banner, and was head of the Gamma Bomb Project that turned Banner into the Hulk. After the creation of the Hulk, Ross pursues the creature with a growing obsession, and after learning that Banner and the Hulk are one and the same, Ross hunts Banner as well. In 2008, Ross was transformed into the Red Hulk in order to better combat his nemesis.

He was portrayed by Sam Elliott in the film Hulk and by William Hurt in the films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Publication history[edit]

Thunderbolt Ross first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962), and was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a nemesis for the Hulk. He was a reappearing character throughout this series. His character origin was revealed in The Incredible Hulk #291. The Red Hulk first appeared in Hulk vol. 1 #1 (January 2008) where he was created by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness, but his identity as Ross was not revealed until later. He starred in this full series of 5 volumes. The origin of Red Hulk was revealed in Hulk #23.

Red Hulk began appearing as a regular character in Avengers vol. 4, from issue #7 (January 2011) through its final issue #34 (January 2013). His popularity resulted him starring as a main character in the 2012 Thunderbolts series by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon.[1] He also guest starred in the issues #1-3 of the 2011 series, The Avenging Spider-Man (November 2008) by Zeb Wells and Joe Madureira as a team-up character for the main character Spider-Man.

Fictional character biography[edit]

Ross grew up in a military environment with both his father and paternal grandfather in the military.[2]

Ross is a General in the Air Force who is in charge of Bruce Banner's gamma bomb project. His daughter, Betty, takes a liking to the young scientist, a fact which only enhances the dislike the rough Ross has for the "weakling" scientist Banner. After Banner's transformation into the Hulk, Ross spends years chasing the monster, becoming obsessed enough with it to commit treason by allying himself with the Leader, MODOK and the Abomination[3] in order to destroy the Hulk. Dismissed from the military, he shows up at Betty and Bruce's wedding with a gun, and shoots Rick Jones. He is recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Clay Quartermain to merge with the electric creature Zzzax, a process that gives Ross superpowers, but also makes him mentally unstable. He is later restored to human form but retains some residual energy-generating powers.[4]

Finally, a mutant called the Nevermind who drains people of their life energy attacks Gamma Base in search for a strong host, in this case the Hulk. After witnessing Rick Jones (who was the Hulk at that time) and Banner heroically engaging the mutant, Ross, realizing that he has been wrong about the Hulk being a mindless monster, saves his daughter from being slain by allowing the mutant to latch onto him, and discharging the energy resources he retained from Zzzax. Giving his blessing to Bruce and Betty, he dies in his daughter's arms.[5]

Ross' body is later stolen by the Leader, who uses the powers of one of his followers to resurrect Ross. He turns him into a mindless replacement for his fallen soldier Redeemer. Ross is eventually recovered and revived by agents of the alien Troyjan, and returns to the Air Force. He would later come up with a more cost-effective method of confronting the Hulk when he is in his childlike stage: active non-resistance. He and his men simply do not fire on or engage the Hulk in any way. The Hulk, confused, does not smash and leaps away.[volume & issue needed]

Ross would make friends with Banner, but when Betty is seemingly killed due to what both Ross and Banner believed to have been Banner's gamma-irradiated DNA interacting with hers, he once more pursues the Hulk with a vendetta.[volume & issue needed]

Around this time, General Ryker takes over the pursuit of the Hulk. Ross is indirectly involved, observing when Ryker mentally tortures Banner to try to figure out how the Hulk works. The Hulk escapes from Ryker's control and after several adventures, is lost in space.[volume & issue needed]

After the Hulk returns from exile and initiates "World War Hulk", General Ross, now wearing the stars of a full general, makes his own return, electing to bring the fight to his nemesis once more after Iron Man is felled by the Goliath. After a failed assault on the Hulk, Ross and his men are captured and placed in chains under the watch of Hulk's Warbound, the army he has brought back from space. The Hulk is eventually defeated via satellite weapons that fire upon him, reverting him to human form.[6]

Military branch[edit]

Ross' military affiliation has been inconsistently portrayed in the comics. Many early Hulk stories depicted Ross as an Army general trying to capture or destroy the Hulk with his U.S. Army battalion, called the "Hulkbusters". However, he is also frequently seen in an Air Force uniform, as in his first appearance in Incredible Hulk #1. However, stories about his service during World War II portray him as an Army officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps, as the Air Force was not a separate branch of the Armed Forces until September 18, 1947. In a November 2010 Q&A column, then-Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada clarified that Ross is a member of the U.S. Air Force, and that inconsistencies in his uniform can be explained via the artistic license with which artists attempt to present a more dramatic-looking uniform, and that Ross may be a part of a special unit of the U.S. Air Force, or the Marvel Universe's version of it, which has its own unique dress code.[7]

The Army continuity is also followed in various Hulk adaptations, such as in the original 1966 and 1996–1998 cartoon versions of the Hulk, as well as the 2003 Ang Lee movie, Hulk in which he is portrayed by Sam Elliott, and in the 2008 superhero movie The Incredible Hulk, in which he is played by William Hurt. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Hulk 2004 issue officially indicates Ross to be a three-star lieutenant general in the U.S. Air Force.

Red Hulk[edit]

Cover of Hulk vol. 2 #1 (Jan. 2008). Art by Ed McGuinness.

Red Hulk (also known as Rulk[8] or The IncREDible Hulk) was introduced in 2008 in Hulk #1.[9] The Red Hulk was created to be an uninhibited, tactically intelligent adversary to the Hulk.[10][11] Although Kenneth Johnson, the creator of the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk, had suggested a red Hulk for that adaptation decades earlier,[12] Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada proposed the idea for the comics to debut a red version of the character, whose human identity was a secret.[13] Initially, Red Hulk's identity was unknown both to the characters in the story[14] and to the reading audience.[15]

The opening story arc of the Hulk series that premiered in 2008 established that the character is very aggressive, as the Red Hulk murders Hulk foes the Wendigo and Abomination; destroys the Helicarrier of the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D.; defeats several Marvel heroes and, after causing an earthquake in San Francisco, is finally defeated by the combined efforts of the Hulk and the thunder god Thor. In a subsequent storyline, the Collector teams the character with other villains in a team called the Offenders, an evil version of superhero team the Defenders, in a bid to prevent the original Hulk from reuniting with past love Jarella.[16] In this story Red Hulk siphons the Power Cosmic from the Silver Surfer seemingly killing him, steals his board along with Terrax' cosmic axe, and uses the power to go on a killing spree offing Namor, Tiger Shark, Dr. Strange, Baron Mordo, the Grandmaster and before that Terrax, a time displaced Hulk, and Psycho Man. However, when Red Hulk reveals this to Galactus the deity swiftly takes back the Power Cosmic from him. Subsequently, almost everyone he killed is brought back to life with no memory of the event.[17]

The subsequent "Code Red" story arc[14] made further allusions to Red Hulk's real identity, and introduced a Red She-Hulk character, when Domino identifies Red Hulk before his transformation.[18] This leads Red Hulk to creating a team consisting of Deadpool, Punisher, Elektra and Thundra to hunt down the X-Force.[19] Most of these members will team up with Red Hulk again in Marvel Now! Thunderbolts.[20]

It is later revealed that the Red Hulk was created as part of a Super Soldier program by persons including Doc Samson,[21] and the criminal think tank Intelligencia,[22] headed by the Hulk foe MODOK.[23]

In Fall of the Hulks: Gamma, Red Hulk is related in flashback to have killed General Ross at the behest of Bruce Banner, with whom he has formed an alliance.[24] However, the 2010 "World War Hulks" storyline reveals that Red Hulk is Thunderbolt Ross himself, the Red She-Hulk his daughter Betty,[25] and that the Ross who was "killed" was a Life Model Decoy used to convince the world that he had died. Red Hulk then thwarts the Intelligencia's plan to take over the United States with a Life Model Decoy of Glenn Talbot by destroying the Talbot LMD, and attempts to take over the country himself.[6] He is thwarted by a restored Hulk (in possession of Banner's intelligence) who beats Red Hulk mostly due to Red's exhaustion and from overheating. Hulk tells Red Hulk that it was his idea to fake Ross' death and that he can never again resume that identity. After imprisoning Red Hulk in the Gamma Base, Banner makes arrangements with Captain Steve Rogers for Red Hulk to join the Avengers.[26][27]

After Captain Steve Rogers recruits Red Hulk, Red Hulk manages to stop Intelligencia's failsafe plan, "Scorched Earth." Although Banner had claimed that he removed Red Hulk's energy-draining ability from him because it was killing Red Hulk, Red Hulk is shown to still possess this ability.[28] After the events of the Scorched Earth program, Red Hulk was paired up with a female Life Model Decoy named Annie. Red Hulk was occasionally assaulted by Thunderbolt Ross' former protege General Reginald Fortean (who used a special gun that caused remote-activated nano-mines to enter Red Hulk's brain that would take action if Red Hulk changed back), Zero/One (a scientist who was exposed to a virus created by MODOK), and Black Fog (a serial killer from India that was empowered by Zero/One).[29]

Red Hulk plays a vital role in the Infinity Gem crisis of the Heroic Age storyline. After being soundly defeated by a Power Gem-wielding Hood, he later helps Namor and Thor reclaim Namor's Time Gem from the ocean, and acquires the Power Gem from the Hood. Red Hulk is then inducted into the Avengers.[30]

During the "Fear Itself" storyline, Red Hulk attempts unsuccessfully to stop the Thing (in the form of Angrir: Breaker of Souls) from destroying the Avengers Tower,[31] as MODOK Superior and Black Fog converge on both combatants during the fight. Angrir dispatches Red Hulk by knocking him out of the city and into Vermont.[32]

During the "X-Sanction" story arc, Red Hulk fights Cable, who mistakes Red Hulk for "Talbot", as Red Hulk tells him that his true identity is someone that Cable had never fought before. Cable infects Red Hulk with a techno-organic virus,[33] but Red Hulk is able to superheat his body and burn the virus out of his system.[34]

During the "Avengers vs. X-Men" storyline, Red Hulk fights Colossus, damaging the pillar that held up the X-Men's island headquarters Utopia, and spurring Colossus to forfeit the battle.[35] Considering the Phoenix Five a threat to Earth, Red Hulk invades Utopia to assassinate Cyclops. However, he is confronted by Cyclops and the X-Men, who send Red Hulk back to the Avengers with an "X" carved in his chest. Nevertheless, Red Hulk considers that Cyclops lost the war the moment he spared his life.[36]

As part of the 2012 Marvel NOW! relaunch, Red Hulk leads a non-government sponsored version of the Thunderbolts.[1] This incarnation is a strike team that cleans up the messes left by Ross' military career, but the team later decides on a new arrangement where the team will do one mission for Ross, then a mission for a random member.

After Hulk's Doc Green form depowers Rick Jones, Skaar and Betty Ross, Thunderbolt Ross starts monitoring Hulk's moves. He finds Doc Green in San Francisco and engages him in combat as Red Hulk. Doc Green tries to inject Red Hulk with the cure in the middle of the fight, but Red Hulk breaks the needle. After having his arm broken by Red Hulk, Doc Green lures him to a portal to his base, the Beehive. There, Doc Green takes the time to scan Red Hulk for data before teleporting him back elsewhere.[37] The following days, Ross makes the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository his base, so he can be ready and absorb its radiation in case Doc Green found him. Doc Green ultimately finds Ross with the help of Deadpool.[38] He also uses Deadpool's help for another purpose....when Doc Green confronts the Red Hulk, Deadpool shoots Ross' ear with a bullet that delivers a compound that interferes with his ability to absorb energy.[39] After a furious battle, Doc Green is finally able to subdue the Red Hulk and inject him with the cure reverting him to Thunderbolt Ross. The Army is alerted to the confrontation. When they arrive, the Army arrests Ross for deserting his country.[40]

During the 2016 "Civil War II" storyline, it is revealed that Thunderbolt Ross is currently incarcerated in a classified military prison.[41]

Powers and abilities[edit]

Thunderbolt Ross is an expert military strategist.

Marvel editor Mark Paniccia has described the Red Hulk as "absolutely uninhibited, tactically intelligent",[10] while writer Jeph Loeb states "The Red Hulk is the kind of Hulk we haven't seen before—a thinking, calculating, brutal weapon-toting kind of Hulk." To further distance the character away from the original: "Everything the Green Hulk isn't, the Red Hulk is. Except, of course, for his powers which are identical. And he looks the same, except he's red. And he's the same size. But other than that, they're complete opposites."[11] The character has abilities almost identical to those of the current Hulk. The character can also emit heat at will from his eyes during non-enraged periods, and can augment power levels by absorbing various types of energy, such as gamma radiation (in one instance causing the Hulk to revert to alter ego Bruce Banner)[23] and the Power Cosmic.[42] When infected with Cable's techno-organic virus during the "X-Sanction" storyline, he was able to control this heat to burn the virus out of his system.[43] Red Hulk was created through a combination of gamma radiation and cosmic rays.[22] The satellites used to revert the Hulk to human form at the end of World War Hulk were used to power the device used to turn Ross into the Red Hulk.[25] Unlike the green Hulk, the Red Hulk does not revert to human form when rendered unconscious, and his blood is a fluorescent yellow instead of green,[44] remaining that color even in human form.[6][25] Unlike the green Hulk, who gets stronger as his rage increases, Red Hulk's body temperature rises with his anger. Though the heat is intense enough to melt desert sand into glass, it causes him to weaken when it becomes too intense,[44] as his physiology lacks a cooling mechanism to deal with the excess heat.[25] Red Hulk has also been shown to have a weakness to Negative Zone energy, which caused him burning pain and drained him when he attempted to absorb it.[45]

Red Hulk reception[edit]

Comics featuring the Red Hulk have sold well, but received mixed reviews. The first five issues of the Hulk title sold out, and second printings featured new covers.[46] Issue #6 was the second best-selling title of September 2008,[47] and issue #10 was sixth in February 2009.[48]

Augie De Blieck Jr. of Comic Book Resources gave the first six issues a positive review, describing it as a "silly fun action romp" and a "popcorn comic". De Blieck liked Loeb's lack of subtlety when giving out clues, saying "this is a book where anytime someone is about reveal the solution to the big mystery, they get knocked out by a slap in the face from the Red Hulk or a machine gun to the gut". His one criticism was that, although he liked the artwork, he would have preferred Dale Keown as the artist.[49]

Red Hulk was listed as #41 on IGN's "Top 50 Avengers".[50] IGN reviewer Jesse Schedeen was generally critical of the series, citing a lack of character development and the emphasis on continuous action sequences over the ongoing question of Red Hulk's identity.[51] Schedeen also derided the treatment of other mainstream Marvel characters within the pages of Hulk, saying about issue #5 "The series has already treated She-Hulk and Iron Man like ragdolls who crumple under the awesome might of Red Hulk. Now it's Thor's turn".[52] Claiming bad dialogue, poor pacing and maltreated characters, Schedeen stated that Ed McGuinness' artwork was the only saving grace for the title.[51][52]

Other versions[edit]

In other media[edit]


  • General Ross's very first animated appearance was on The Marvel Super Heroes, voiced by Paul Kligman.
  • General Ross appeared in the 1980s NBC animated series The Incredible Hulk, voiced by Robert Ridgely.
  • General Ross appeared in the 1990s UPN animated series The Incredible Hulk, voiced by John Vernon.
  • Thunderbolt Ross has a cameo appearance in Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes. In the episode "Hard Knocks", he is seen when the Army is arresting Agent Pratt and his men after the Hulk goes loose in the Badlands.
  • Thunderbolt Ross and his Red Hulk form appear in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, with Thunderbolt Ross voiced by Keith Ferguson and Red Hulk voiced by Fred Tatasciore.
  • General Ross is featured in Iron Man: Armored Adventures, voiced by Eric Bauza. He appears in the episodes "Heavy Mettle" and "Rage of the Hulk".
  • Thunderbolt Ross/Red Hulk appears in various animated Marvel cartoons seen on Disney XD, voiced by Clancy Brown.[63][64][65]
    • Red Hulk is one of the main characters in Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. alongside the Hulk, She-Hulk, A-Bomb and Skaar. He is shown as hot tempered, cynical and arrogant, joining the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. in order to regain the respect General Ross lost when he became a Hulk. He and Hulk still have a dislike of each other, but more as rivals rather than enemies. He is shown to be a decent tactician and proficient in most weapons but often takes every situation head on, and is also shown to grow hot when he gets angry.
    • Thunderbolt Ross appears in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series as Red Hulk in Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors and in his human form on Ultimate Spider-Man vs The Sinister Six. In the episode "Contest of Champions" [Pt. 2], Red Hulk is paired up with Captain America and Iron Fist by the Collector to help Spider-Man in a "Capture the Flag" game. Spider-Man uses Red Hulk's heating ability to defeat Sandman, causing the Grandmaster to summon Blastaar and Ymir. While the group make their way, Red Hulk attempts to thaw out Captain America after being frozen by Ymir only for Captain America to be removed from the game. During the fight at the docks, Red Hulk tries to take on Ymir only to be knocked down by Blastaar. Ymir then steps on Red Hulk, removing him from the game. The episode "Return to the Spider-Verse" [Pt. 3] features a Noir version who is a member of Joe Fixit's gang. Alongside A-Bombadier, Thunderbolt has an encounter with Spider-Man and Kid Arachnid while in the midst of a gang war.
    • Red Hulk is seen on Avengers Assemble. In the episode "Avengers Underground", he has been shown to have been shackled to the ground trying to fight the Squadron Supreme. Red Hulk has a supporting role on Avengers: Ultron Revolution. In the episode "U-Foes", he is Truman Marsh's choice for the Hulk's replacement on the Avengers as the episode ends. In the episode "Building the Perfect Weapon", Red Hulk is with the Avengers where the group fights off a Rock Troll invasion at a convention center which resulted in Red Hulk accidentally destroying a nearby building. The Avengers' complaints about Red Hulk falls onto deaf ears as Marsh claims that he's more obedient than Hulk. The Avengers, with Red Hulk, are then sent on a mission to stop the Leader from stealing A.I.M. technology where Leader gets away upon unleashing Ultimo on the group. Later at an offshore island, Leader arranges for Red Hulk to get by the traps so that he can be lured into a room that contains a particle-accelerating gamma bomb. Being unable to disarm it, Red Hulk tries to leave the room only to be caught in the explosion. The Avengers realize that Leader's perfect weapon is an enlarged Red Hulk. In the episode "World War Hulk", Red Hulk goes on a rampage. After beating Leader into a state of unconsciousness, he takes on the Avengers (in Hulkbuster armors) before heading towards Vista Verde where Hulk arrives to help stop Red Hulk. Under Hulk's suggestion, Iron Man and Black Widow use a gamma-enhancer on Hulk to be on even grounds with Red Hulk. With some special equipment, Hulk drains Red Hulk's excess gamma radiation and fires it towards the sky. Red Hulk is later taken away by Marsh while apologizing to the Avengers for the trouble he has caused and states that he'll be out when the doctors clear him. In the multi-part "Civil War" storyline, Red Hulk is seen as a member of the Mighty Avengers.


  • Sam Elliott played General Ross in the 2003 film Hulk directed by Ang Lee.
  • William Hurt portrays Thunderbolt Ross in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
    • In the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk,[66] Ross hunts down Bruce Banner, with whom he's forced to form an alliance when Emil Blonsky becomes Abomination. Ross also appears in the Marvel One-Shot "The Consultant".
    • In the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War,[67][68][69] Ross serves as the United States Secretary of State, and it is stated that he had retired from the army five years earlier after suffering a heart attack while playing golf.[70] He informs the Avengers about the Sokovia Accords, allowing the existence of a pro-registration Avengers. Ross later allows Tony Stark to interrogate the imprisoned anti-registration Avengers only for Ross' audio to be shut off. Ross is present when Steve Rogers breaks out the anti-registration Avengers. Joe Russo revealed the character's transformation into Red Hulk was considered during the production of the film, but it was decided that there was not enough room in the narrative to substantiate that development.[71]
    • The character's transition to Secretary of State is explained in a promotional WHIH Newsfront webisode; in which reporter Christine Everhart and President Matthew Ellis discuss how Ross was appointed and the rationale behind the decision.

Video games[edit]


Red Hulk has been merchandised in the form of toy action figures[77][78][79] and miniature statues.[80]


In 2009, Thunderbolt Ross was named IGN's 71st Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time.[81]

Collected editions[edit]

Title Material collected Publication date ISBN
Hulk Vol. 1: Red Hulk Hulk vol. 2 #1–6 February 2009 0-7851-2882-4
Hulk Vol. 2: Red & Green Hulk vol. 2 #7–9; King-Size Hulk #1 July 2009 0-7851-2884-0
Hulk Vol. 3: Hulk No More Hulk vol. 2 #10–13; Incredible Hulk #600 February 2010 0-7851-4052-2
Hulk: Fall of the Hulks Prelude Hulk vol. 2 #2, 16; Skaar: Son of Hulk #1; Hulk: Raging Thunder; Planet Skaar Prologue; All-New Savage She-Hulk #4; February 2010 0-7851-4315-7
Hulk Vol. 4: Hulk vs. X-Force Hulk vol. 2 #14–18 June 2010 0-7851-4053-0
Hulk: Fall of the Hulks – Red Hulk Fall of the Hulks: Red Hulk #1–4 August 2010 0-7851-4795-0
Hulk Vol. 5: Fall of the Hulks Hulk vol. 2 #19–21; Fall of the Hulks: Gamma November 2010 0-7851-4054-9
Hulk Vol. 6: World War Hulks Hulk vol. 2 #22–24 March 2011 0-7851-4267-3
Red Hulk: Scorched Earth Hulk vol. 2 #25–30 May 2011 0-7851-4896-5
Planet Red Hulk Hulk vol. 2 #30.1, 31–36 October 2011 0-7851-5578-3
Fear Itself: Hulk Hulk vol. 2 #37–41 February 2012 0-7851-5579-1
Hulk: Hulk of Arabia Hulk vol. 2 #42–46 April 2012 0-7851-6095-7
Hulk: Haunted Hulk Hulk vol. 2 #47–52 August 2012 978-0-7851-6099-1
Red Hulk: Mayan Rule Hulk vol. 2 #53–57 November 2012 0-7851-6097-3


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