Thunderbolt Ross

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Thunderbolt Ross
Publication information
PublisherMarvel Comics
First appearanceAs Thunderbolt Ross:
The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962)

As Red Hulk:
Hulk #1 (January 2008)
Created byThunderbolt Ross:
Stan Lee
Jack Kirby

Red Hulk:
Jeph Loeb
Ed McGuinness
In-story information
Alter egoThaddeus E. "Thunderbolt" Ross
Team affiliationsHulkbusters
United States Air Force
Power Elite
Notable aliasesGeneral Ross, Red Hulk, Rulk, The Thing (Future Imperfect)
AbilitiesAs 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 the Red Hulk) is a fictional character who appears in comic books published by Marvel Comics featuring the Hulk. Ross is a United States military officer, the father of Betty Ross, ex-father-in-law of Glenn Talbot, father-in-law of Bruce Banner, and the 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 to better combat his nemesis.

The character has been merchandized in various products, such as toys and statues, and appeared in numerous media adaptations, including animated television series, video games, and live-action feature films. He was portrayed by Sam Elliott in the 2003 film Hulk and by William Hurt in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films The Incredible Hulk (2008), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019) and Black Widow (2021).[1]

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.[2] He was a recurring character throughout this series. His character origin was revealed in The Incredible Hulk #291. The Red Hulk first appeared in Hulk vol. 3 #1 (January 2008), created by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness, but his identity as Ross was not revealed until later. 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 in him being used as a main character in the 2012 Thunderbolts series by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon.[3] He also appeared 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 Spider-Man.

Fictional character biography[edit]

Ross grew up in a military environment with both his father and paternal grandfather in the military.[4]

Ross is the Air Force general in charge of Bruce Banner's gamma bomb project. His daughter, Betty, takes a liking to the young scientist, deepening Ross' dislike for the "weakling". After Banner's transformation into the Hulk, Ross spends years chasing the monster, becoming obsessed enough to commit treason by allying himself with the Leader, MODOK, and the Abomination[5] 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.[6]

Finally, the Nevermind, a mutant who drains people of their life energy, attacks Gamma Base in search of a strong host, in this case the Hulk. After witnessing Banner and Rick Jones (who was the Hulk at that time) heroically engaging the mutant, Ross realizes that he has been wrong about the Hulk being a mindless monster. He saves his daughter by allowing the mutant to latch on him and discharging the energy resources he retained from Zzzax. Giving his blessing to Bruce and Betty, he dies in his daughter's arms.[7]

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 later comes 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 a full general, makes his own return, electing to bring the fight to his nemesis once more after the Hulk beats Iron Man. 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 revert him to human form.[8]

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 a 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. 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.[9]

The Army continuity is also followed in various Hulk adaptations, such as in the 1966 and 1996–1998 cartoon versions of the Hulk, the 2003 Ang Lee movie Hulk in which he is portrayed by Sam Elliott, and in the 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk, in which he is portrayed 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]

Red Hulk as seen on the cover of Hulk (vol. 2) #1 (January 2008), art by Ed McGuinness

Red Hulk (also known as Rulk[10] or The IncREDible Hulk) was introduced in 2008 in Hulk (vol. 2) #1.[11] The Red Hulk was created to be an uninhibited, tactically intelligent adversary to the Hulk.[12][13] Although Kenneth Johnson, the creator of the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk, had suggested a red Hulk for that adaptation decades earlier,[14] 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.[15] Initially, Red Hulk's identity was unknown both to the characters in the story[16] and to the reading audience.[17]

The opening story arc of the Hulk (vol. 2) series that premiered in 2008 established that the Red Hulk is very aggressive, as he murders the Hulk adversaries 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 Thor. In a subsequent storyline, the Collector places the character with other villains on a team called the Offenders, an evil version of the Defenders, in a bid to prevent the original Hulk from reuniting with Jarella.[18] In that story, Red Hulk siphons the Power Cosmic from the Silver Surfer, seemingly killing him, steals his board along with Terrax's cosmic ax, and uses the power to go on a killing spree, killing Namor, Tiger Shark, Dr. Strange, Baron Mordo, the Grandmaster, Terrax, a time-displaced Hulk, and Psycho Man. However, when Red Hulk reveals this to Galactus, Galactus swiftly takes back the Power Cosmic from him. Subsequently, almost everyone he killed is brought back to life with no memory of the event.[19]

The Red Hulk was created as part of a Super Soldier program by several persons, including Doc Samson,[20] and the criminal think tank Intelligencia,[21] headed by MODOK.[22] The 2009 "Code Red" story arc[16] also made allusions to Red Hulk's real identity, and introduced a Red She-Hulk character, when Domino identifies Red Hulk before his transformation.[23]

In the 2010 storyline "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, 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.[8] He is thwarted by a restored Hulk, who beats Red Hulk mostly due to Red Hulk's exhaustion 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 Steve Rogers for Red Hulk to join the Avengers.[25][26]

After 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.[27] After the events of the Scorched Earth program, Red Hulk is paired up with a Life Model Decoy named Annie. Red Hulk is occasionally assaulted by Ross' former protégé General Reginald Fortean, a scientist given superhuman mutations by MODOK named Zero/One, and the Indian serial killer Black Fog .[28]

Red Hulk plays a vital role in the Infinity Gem crisis of the "Heroic Age" storyline.[29] During the 2011 "Fear Itself" storyline, Red Hulk attempts unsuccessfully to stop the Thing (in the form of Angrir, Breaker of Souls) from destroying the Avengers Tower,[30] 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.[31]

As part of the 2012 Marvel NOW! relaunch, Red Hulk leads a non-government sponsored version of the Thunderbolts.[3] 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 in which the team will do one mission for Ross, then a mission for a random member.[citation needed]

After Hulk takes away the powers of Rick Jones, Skaar and Betty Ross, Ross starts monitoring Hulk's movements. This leads to a battle in which Doc Green subdues Red Hulk and injects him with a formula that reverts him to Ross. The Army is alerted to the confrontation. When they arrive, the Army arrests Ross for deserting his country.[32]

The 2016 "Civil War II" storyline reveals that Thunderbolt Ross is incarcerated in a classified military prison.[33]

In 2018's Free Comic Book Day Captain America issue indicates that Ross is no longer incarcerated.[34] Subsequently, in that year's Captain America #1, it is revealed that Ross was paroled for helping a resistance cell during the "Secret Empire" storyline and appointed head of the investigation into the attack.[35] However, he was later killed, and Captain America was framed for his murder.[36]

Powers and abilities[edit]

Marvel editor Mark Paniccia described the Red Hulk as "absolutely uninhibited, tactically intelligent",[12] while writer Jeph Loeb said "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."[13] The character has abilities almost identical to those of the 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)[22] and the Power Cosmic.[37] 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.[38] Red Hulk was created through a combination of gamma radiation and cosmic rays.[21] 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.[39] 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,[40] remaining that color even in human form.[8][39] 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,[40] as his physiology lacks a cooling mechanism to deal with the excess heat.[39] 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.[41]


In 2009, Thunderbolt Ross was ranked as IGN's 71st Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time.[42]

Red Hulk[edit]

Comics featuring the Red Hulk sold well but received mixed reviews. The first five issues of the 2003 Hulk title sold out, and second printings featured new covers.[43] Issue #6 was the second-best-selling title of September 2008,[44] and issue #10 was sixth in February 2009.[45]

Augie De Blieck Jr. of 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.[46]

In 20212 Red Hulk was listed as #41 on IGN's "Top 50 Avengers".[47] 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.[48] 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".[49] Claiming bad dialogue, poor pacing and maltreated characters, Schedeen stated that Ed McGuinness' artwork was the only saving grace for the title.[48][49]

Other versions[edit]

In other media[edit]



  • Sam Elliott portrays General Ross in the 2003 live-action film Hulk. This version is a four-star administrator of Desert Base, later known as Gamma Base, in the 1970s and was colleagues with David Banner.

Marvel Cinematic Universe[edit]

Thaddeus Ross appears in media set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), portrayed by William Hurt. Director Joe Russo revealed the character's transformation into the Red Hulk was considered during production of Captain America: Civil War, but it was decided that there was not enough room in the narrative to substantiate that development.[62] Screenwriter Christopher Markus stated that for a brief moment Red Hulk's inclusion was considered again in Avengers: Endgame, and that it was possible the character could evolve into that character one day. Hurt himself stated "I wouldn't mind feeling like I had that much power... I created Thaddeus' ego with the same size as the monster's. With the same degree of messed up-ness. [sic] I'd take a shot at it."[63] Director James Gunn expressed interest in making a film featuring both Hulk and Red Hulk, but the project never entered development due to conflicts with Universal Pictures, who hold the film rights to Hulk and his supporting cast.[64]

Video games[edit]


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

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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External links[edit]