Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rise Of The Red Hulk!

We've already seen the life and career of Gen. Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross dragged down by his relentless pursuit of the incredible Hulk, a situation he had virtually made his peace with by the end of the run of the book by offering words to that effect to his deceased daughter, Betty, who had been killed by the Abomination. By that time, Ross's fruitless encounters with the Hulk had taken their toll on the old soldier. After he had been merged with the electrical creature known as Zzzax, and once again failed to destroy the Hulk, he lost his own life attempting to save Betty from a mind-usurping mutant; but he was subsequently retrieved by the Leader and made to serve him as the Redeemer. Once more defeated by the Hulk, Ross was later made whole again--but the wheels had been set in motion to bring Ross much closer to being able to deal with his green-hued enemy once and for all.

And when it came to Ross gaining the power he needed to destroy the Hulk, "hue" is indeed the operative word here.

There's no doubt that, with the appearance of the so-called "Red Hulk," the 2008 Hulk series breathed new life into the character, one who appeared to have changed so radically. The Hulk had last appeared in the epic World War Hulk crossover event, in which he returned from his exile from Earth to claim his vengeance against those he held responsible for the tragedy he'd suffered. Created by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, the new Hulk's origin was shrouded in mystery for nearly two years (with no small thanks to one or two red herrings thrown our way), the better to milk his appearances in his own title as well as in others for all they were worth.

During that time, the Red Hulk trampled his opposition with ease, no matter how powerful his foes. It's part of the reason I'd stopped buying the book, since Loeb's approach was to basically have the Red Hulk arrogantly pound his opponents into the ground just to take advantage of the shock value, only to up the ante and make the threat against him next time seem more certain to put him down. The Red Hulk carved a swath of destruction through the heavy hitters of the Marvel lineup--and if you're decking the Watcher, it appeared that no stone was going to be left unturned.

Unlike the "Hulk will smash!" creature we're more familiar with, the Red Hulk proved to be canny and calculating, with power to spare as well as the ability to absorb energy from others. His prime opponent, the Hulk, was dealt with fairly early in the title--and from that point, facing further opposition was no sweat.

And then came... perhaps to no one's surprise... the Red She-Hulk, given life by the same procedure that created her predecessor. The twist to this character was that she was revealed to be none other than Betty Ross--and when she defeats the Red Hulk, we at last learn his identity, a revelation which lends new meaning to the phrase "all in the family."

And so Ross relives the events that brought him to this point. From his time as the Redeemer:

...to when he is restored to his original form--though now with his path set to put an end to what had become the bane of his existence, despite his comforting words to his daughter.

Through flashbacks, we discover that by the time the Hulk had returned to Earth from his forced exile, Ross's life had unraveled in his eyes. His daughter dead... himself having committed treason... Captain America, a hero and patriot he greatly admired, assassinated... Ross felt he no longer had a purpose. While drowning his sorrows at a bar, he's paid a call by the Leader and M.O.D.O.K., part of a cabal known as the Intellgencia--and they make him an offer that he finds hard to refuse, planning for the day when the Hulk returns to Earth to plague the human race once more.

And so the alliance comes to pass--and the Intelligencia is prepared when Tony Stark, at the culmination of the Sentry's battle with the Hulk, triggers a satellite to down the monster, though unknown to Stark the Hulk's energies are siphoned and put to use elsewhere.

In time, however, the original Hulk engaged the Red Hulk in a rematch--and the Intelligencia's plan for Ross fails because of their hired muscle's one weakness, which Betty kindly recaps for her beleaguered father...

...a weakness which the original Hulk exploited to achieve victory.

Following his defeat, the Intelligencia promptly washes its collective hands of the Red Hulk. (I know the feeling. By this time, I couldn't have cared less about the Red Hulk, the Green Hulk, or even Ross, who made his bed and was welcome to sleep in it.) But with the help of Bruce Banner, the Red Hulk goes on to defeat their immediate plans--and then seizes the White House in yet another act of treason, with the original Hulk putting an end to his bid for power. From there, hoping for redemption, the Red Hulk turns to Captain America, who taps him for the Avengers after once again dealing with the Intelligencia.

The Red Hulk kept his hold on the Hulk title until the end of its run in late 2012. The last time I touched base with the character, he was experiencing a bit of karma when the tables were turned and he found himself hounded by his own military nemesis--specifically, General Fortean, who vowed to take him down. "It's classic Hulk big action that breaks new ground [emphasis added]--breaks it to pieces, really," said writer Jeff Parker--but, haven't we been to this party before?

A checklist of the many, many mags that gave the Red Hulk a truckload of exposure--
and Marvel's coffers a considerable infusion.


Warren JB said...

Being one of, like, two or three people in the world who didn't like Planet Hulk, it's faux-Conan theme, and all the uncritical hero-worship going on, I had a bit of schadenfreude in watching the Red Hulk slap Original-Flavour Hulk around some. But I can't blame you or anyone else who dropped the title not long after. I did myself. It was a mess - Jeph Loeb going crazier than (how I thought) Greg Pak did. I only dipped back in to keep up with the resolution of Rulk's rampage in World War Hulks and Fall of The Hulks. And even then, things like Hulked-Out Heroes and Hulkpool were fairly cringeworthy.
But like you might expect after my comment to the last post, I think Jeff Parker's run is where the story gets good, and the tone almost completely changes. Heck, I think you could almost skim over the previous two years with, say, your post here, or an even more bare-bones synopsis, and call Parker's Scorched Earth arc the beginning of the Red Hulk story.

And it might sound boring, but I think it's great because of the character exploration and deconstruction, rather than any superhumans or monsters he fights. Sure, there's some story closure or turnabout with a few of his previous victims (don't tell me this cover wasn't intended to satisfy many readers! https://abload.de/img/hulk25coverz3lwe.jpg) but then it gets into Ross's head. Beaten, imprisoned for treason, unable to show his real face anywhere again, isolated with only what he considers a bunch of cold robots to talk to. It's arguably lower than any of his other low points. (apart from, maybe, being dead) He has to look at his life and his recent actions, how he's now the monster he always hunted, and how he's lost everything. Parker does spell it out, but I think you can almost feel the relief when Steve Rogers is brought in to give him his orders! (I think it was a decent link, after his despair of Cap's assassination) The rest of the run carries on in the same vein, where Ross has to deal with both superpowered menaces and personal, emotional problems that are largely of his own making. Only he doesn't have his stars or the excuse of the Hulk to hide behind. Others might not think so, but I think Jeff did very well in making Ross earn a kind of redemption, and making him fairly sympathetic.
The switch of main artist from Ed McGuinness to Gabriel Hardiman also helped ring the changes. Out with the bold, brash, cartoony, thickly-inked, saturated-colour style featuring the overmuscled grinning maniac; in with the more subtle, realistic style featuring a more subdued, introspective... well... hulk. Hardiman's style is one I like - unusual and 'sketchy' at first, but it quickly grew on me.

On the topic of General Fortean, I think you have a point. Myself, I raised an eyebrow that we were meeting Ross's close personal protegé... who'd never been mentioned before. But I don't think he needs too much scrutiny except as a plot device: mostly there as just one, particularly ironic way to give Ross first-hand experience as the hunted. (The response I trot out for the much lamer complaint of 'it's just a Hulk that's red!': it's not that he's red, it's that he's Ross) He makes relatively few appearances, and once his main trick is neutralised, I don't think he's seen again.

I could go on about what happened after Jeff Parker, but suffice to say I gave up on ongoing superhero comics not long after.

Anyway. It's an uphill struggle trying to convince people that "Jeff Parker's Red Hulk is good - no really!", and given what had gone before, it's not a big surprise. But even after all this time, and my indifference to current Marvel et al, I still type overoptimistic essays like this. I think it's that good.

Colin Jones said...

In 2015 the Red Hulk was defeated and stripped of his powers by Doc Green (aka the super-intelligent green Hulk) and General Ross was taken into military custody but I don't know what's happened since then.

The producers of the 1977 Hulk TV show wanted to make the Hulk red instead of green but Stan Lee refused.

Comicsfan said...

Warren, just a few observations on your well-written comment:

- I also veered sharply away from the Planet Hulk story--by that time I had finally jettisoned my "completist" impulse and was finding how wonderful it was to reject stories that didn't appeal to me and simply come back later when whatever I'd passed on had run its course.

- In your list of adjectives describing McGuinness's Hulk, how could you overlook "densely veined"?

- You make a good case for giving Parker's story a fair read, quickly addressing the point that people may be a bit gun shy when it comes to returning to the Red Hulk (a character I refuse to refer to as "Rulk," which always struck me as an attempt to generate buzz for this new Hulk with a made-to-market buzz word) but recommending the writer's take on him nonetheless. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted. ;)

And last but certainly not least...

- I'd love to see you take a crack at your own comics blog--it's quite interesting to read your thoughts on a subject. (And it probably seems obvious which subject you should inaugurate it with!)

Warren JB said...

Thanks CF! I'm very flattered by your words. Unfortunately my stash of raw material is pretty minimal at present! My attitude shuttled between 'hoarder' and 'dumper', and only skimmed past 'collector' at best. You've given me some food for thought, but it might take some time and effort to pull even missing parts of Parker's Hulk run back together. (On Comixology/Kindle/Whatever-it-is, I see more results for 'Totally Awesome Hulk', which makes me tired)

Everything else: yes. Agreed! I especially understand the feeling when you realise you don't have to buy comic arcs you don't enjoy. Trouble is (and maybe I'm guilty of what I accuse Red Hulk shunners) I can't remember many titles that drew my interest back. Hence my current situation!

Jared said...

I am probably one of the few people who enjoy this era of Hulk (really, I like most Hulk stories provided they fill their quota of destruction and are well drawn). It's certainly not the greatest work Marvel has ever done. But it doesn't deserve the hate lodged at it.

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