In 1962’s “Incredible Hulk” #1 the legendary Marvel Comics creative team of writer Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced readers to a character who would go on to clearly illustrate Nietzsche’s warning about those who hunt monsters running the risk of becoming them. That character’s name was General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and the Air Force tasked him with stopping the gamma powered Hulk. Ross relentlessly hounded the jade juggernaut for years, employing all manner of dangerous and despicable tactics to try and bring him down.
During the course of his pursuit of the Hulk, Ross discovered that his quarry’s human form was Bruce Banner, the man romantically linked to his daughter Betty. Initially, this caused his feud with the Hulk to intensify, but eventually Ross saw how happy Banner made his daughter and gave up his vendetta against the Hulk. The peace didn’t last long, however. When Betty was killed by gamma radiation poisoning, Ross blamed the Hulk and Banner and vowed vengeance. He allied himself with the villainous think tank known as the Intelligencia who resurrected Betty and transformed Ross into a crimson hued counterpart of his hated foe.
As the Red Hulk, Ross waged war against the Hulk and all gamma irradiated heroes and villains. Eventually, he was forced to ally with Banner when he discovered the Intelligencia’s plan to take over the United States. After thwarting the Intelligencia’s scheme, the Green and Red Hulks fought one last time because the Ross had decided he should take over America. Ross was defeated and sent to jail, but his incarceration wasn’t meant to last. In “Hulk” #25, in stores now, Banner and Steve Rogers gave Ross a shot at redemption and a new war to wage when they tasked him with cleaning up the mess left behind by his former allies. The issue kicked off the run of the new “Hulk” creative team of writer Jeff Parker and artist Gabriel Hardman. CBR News spoke with them about the issue and their plans for the series.
CBR News: In the opening scenes of “Hulk” #25, Bruce Banner forces the Red Hulk to confront his thoughts and actions by placing him in a gravityless void called the Womb.The tactic seems to be effective, but why is that? Which of the Red Hulk’s actions during the first two years of the series do you think caused him the most regret?
Jeff Parker: I’ve got to think there’s been lots of moments when the mission-centric Ross knew too much reflection on a decision would knock him off his game plan, so he’s always been able to busy his mind with objectives. Banner by now knows him as well as anyone – he’s been on the business end of Ross’ wrath for years. And I liked the idea of Red Hulk in a sensory deprivation chamber.
Speaking of psyches, when Ross is in his Red Hulk form, how much control does he have over his personality? Does he have to fight against overly aggressive tendencies or is he still in control of his personality?
Parker: I know some think there’s probably no difference, but there is. In some respects, I think he holds back as Red Hulk the same way a more nervous smaller guy will start a fight and a bigger tough guy often won’t- the big guy is more assured, not as worried and therefore not striking first. There’s a fine line between fear and anger and we’ll explore that more in the future.
Ross doesn’t directly express it through his dialogue or his actions in issue #25, but based on his body language and his facial expressions he seems to feel a sense of self loathing. Is that true? Or am I picking up on something else?
Parker: I think that’s Gabe’s persona coming through. Gabe?
Gabriel Hardman: Yes, me and Red Hulk are all about self loathing. But seriously, I’m always trying to incorporate subtler “acting” moments into the art. In a book like “Hulk” that’s all about punching, the smaller moments are the downbeats that make the big action scenes feel even bigger.
One of Ross’ emotions that was crystal clear in this issue was his concern for his daughter. How would you describe his current feelings for Betty?
Parker: He’s always loved Betty more than anything else since his wife, but he doesn’t show it well. But as we saw back in “World War Hulks,” he was willing to risk a lot for her.
Jeff has offered up some thoughts on what’s going on in internally with Ross, so let’s talk a little bit about the visual representation of the character, Gabriel. Who are Ross and the Red Hulk to you? Which elements of their characters do you really want to capture and bring forward in your depictions of them?
Hardman: Ross is a guy who has seen and done a lot of things in his life, good and bad. That has to come through visually. Red Hulk is huge, powerful and confident. But as long as we know who Ross is, it gives Red Hulk a texture that keeps the character interesting.
In issue #25, both Banner and Steve Rogers go out of their way to try to reach out to and redeem Ross. Why are they working so hard to do this? What do you feel Ross means to them and how big of a presence will Banner and Steve play in this series moving forward?
Parker: Steve respects that Ross’ heart is in the right place, if nothing else is, and he likes the idea of a tactical minded Hulk who could be doing good in the world, he likes it a lot.
Banner is mostly trying to find direction for Red for Betty’s sake. At least he thinks he is. We may find out more on that later.
During his run on “Hulk,” I noticed that writer Jeph Loeb often gave us the character’s inner monologue, but in your debut issue, you don’t give us access to any of Ross’ thoughts. What made you want to change that up?
Parker: Jeph often had to bear the burden of keeping the mystery of the Red Hulk, and I think the narrative worked well for his purposes. I like him being a quiet guy and we getting who he is from his actions. In my mind, he’s blustery as Ross, so he wouldn’t yell and rage a lot as Red Hulk, just the opposite of Bruce.
In terms of plot and theme what is “Scorched Earth,” your initial arc of “Hulk,” about? What can readers expect from the remaining chapters of the arc?
Parker: It’s a race against time – all of these doomsday plans have been set into motion and they are of the kind that doesn’t leave a world left to rule; it’s what MODOK and the Leader [The two most prominent members of the Intelligencia] figured might as well happen to the world should they not exist – which they don’t, in those forms. We get to see more of how Red thinks as he takes each on and has to work with other power players. But he has the additional burden of karma – all of the ways he abused his power upon becoming a Hulk come roaring back to plague him.
In issue #25, Steve Rogers and Banner tasked the Red Hulk with dealing with the victims of a bionic virus that has been unleashed as part of MODOK and the Leader’s contingency plans. They also made arrangements for Iron Man to aid him, but what resulted was a classic Marvel misunderstanding team up/fight between the two. It looks as though Ross will run afoul of more Marvel characters that he butted heads with in the initial issues of this series. Is that correct?
Parker: Yes. I don’t go for a misunderstanding every time – I don’t want to spoil it. Some lessons have to be learned with a big hammer to the face!
Jeff and Gabriel, you guys regularly collaborated on Marvel’s “Atlas” and “Agents of Atlas” books, and Elizabeth Breitweiser, who frequently colored those series, is also working on “Hulk.” But that’s not the only reason this book has an “Atlas” vibe to it. The weird monsters and secret doomsday plans also have the sort of pulp weirdness that made “Atlas” so cool. Did you intentionally want to give the story that kind of tone and can we expect more of that blend of pulp strangeness, monster action and Marvel Universe style heroics in future issues?
Parker: “Hulk” will have its own voice, but we are who we are and we like what we like. It’s going to evolve into something pretty distinct just because of this team. But generally, to actually answer your question, yes. It will be more sci-fi than anything else, most likely.
How far out do you currently have your run on “Hulk” planned? Any hints or teases on where you want to take the book next?
Parker: I think it’s important for Red to start building up his own new rogues’ gallery. Besides, I’m tired of tapping around the office doors asking if I can have a cup of Blastaar from week to week.
I’m really enjoying working with a much smaller cast in this book, I feel I can do some stuff that’s fresh to me. And I have the crazy confidence that comes from working again with Gabriel, Bettie, The Duke (Ed Dukeshire) and Mark Paniccia and Nate Cosby.
I hope you all like seeing things smashed, too.