Monday, July 24, 2017

"...To The Ends Of The Earth!"

There's no denying that General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross spent a great deal of his later career pursuing and attacking the man-monster known as the Hulk--but on occasion, he found himself in the awkward position of needing to use a carrot instead of a stick with the green goliath in order to attempt to make peace with him (or at the very least, settle for d├ętente). It would take the entire run of the second volume of Incredible Hulk before Ross and Bruce Banner were able to bury the hatchet to any extent, made possible in part by how much each of these men had lost along the way. Until then, Ross's moments of civility with the Hulk were few and far between, mostly due to the fact that the General was forced by both the Hulk's aggressive nature--as well as what he viewed as his daughter's misguided feelings for Banner--to come after the Hulk with cannons blazing. But the moments of reconsideration, albeit brief ones, were there. And their circumstances, like the Hulk himself, were tragic in nature.

Interestingly, when Ross chose to take a direct hand in smoothing things over with the Hulk, it was a third party that intervened and spoiled his good intentions, a staple of any continuing drama that seeks to prolong its conflict. For instance, when the Hulk's good friend, Jim Wilson, was seriously wounded in an encounter with the hordes of Hydra, we saw Ross locate him along with his rescuer--the Hulk, who knew that Jim needed help but of course had no clue as to what to do. At that point, the Hulk was willing to grasp at any straw to help his friend--but to his mind, good Samaritans weren't usually accompanied by military planes swarming overhead.

Thanks to Jim's timely intervention, Ross not only gets to live but he also has the opportunity to make headway with the Hulk in a more direct way than he's ever attempted before. It's a curious sight to take in, since there's no apparent reason for Ross to make the effort. The Hulk, after all, will eventually revert to Banner, the person who's the real key for Ross in making progress in dealing with the ongoing Hulk situation--and in the interim, as long as Banner remains himself, there is no rampaging Hulk for Ross to corral. It would be understandable if Ross attempted to strike up a trusting dialog with the Hulk if lives were in immediate danger--but with Jim safely on his way to a hospital, that isn't the case here. The only other reason to do so would be in the hope of getting the Hulk to revert to Banner; instead, however, it's solely the Hulk that Ross wants to deal with.

Unfortunately, "trigger-happy" is an all-too-familiar phrase in delicate military operations--and Ross's good intentions are derailed in less than a minute.

Ross gets another crack at putting aside his differences with the Hulk after the brute saves the Hulkbuster Base from the siege of the Rhino and the Abomination--and yet again, the decision is taken out of Ross's hands.

For better or worse, we see Ross definitely acting a little more G.I. towards the Hulk in other encounters--making sure civilians aren't put in harm's way, while taking every opportunity to capture and detain the Hulk. One such opportunity arrives when a decision is made by the Attorney General to prosecute Banner for the reckless actions of the Hulk--a decision which Ross is conflicted about, but he does his job in securing Banner for a flight to Las Vegas. For his defense, Banner chooses defense attorney Matt Murdock, who insists during the flight that Banner's sedation be ceased so that he's able to understand the charges against him. That indeed proves as disastrous as it sounds, when Banner's nerves cause him to change into the Hulk at 40,000 feet, and all hell--er, Hulk breaks loose. But, feeling responsible for the situation, Murdock acts to gain the Hulk's trust.

This time, though, the shoe is on the other foot--and Ross, acting out of concern for Murdock's safety, fails to let the moment play out and moves instead to get Murdock out of harm's way, harm that a betrayed and now enraged Hulk seems almost certain to deliver.

Given the government's desire to have Banner be held accountable for the Hulk's actions, clemency seems unlikely from the Justice Department, much less the White House--but a full pardon offer has been extended to the Hulk on two separate occasions. In neither instance was Ross in favor of the decision, though he carried out the decision of his Commander In Chief; but with the first pardon he was given a great deal of discretion in the matter. Saving the city of New York from a deadly missile and subsequently defeating a humanoid creation of the Leader named the "Hulk-Killer," the Hulk awakens to find himself the man of the hour in the public's eyes (and in those of the President, who's come to realize that the Hulk isn't dangerous so much as misunderstood), but becomes agitated by all the attention from the growing crowd--and the villain known as Boomerang, seeking his revenge, takes advantage of the situation to once more make the Hulk an outcast.

Regrettably, the courier brings news of the President's pardon, which is now a moot point.  With Ross empowered to make the call, the Hulk's recognition as a hero is quickly over and done with.

Later, the time would come when the Hulk was controlled by the mind of Banner, who, with Reed Richards' help, petitioned the government for a full pardon. Ross is again given a say on the subject, but is dead-set against it--yet this time the decision is not his to make.  And with a stroke of a pen, the deed is done.

(Nice symmetry for Mr. Murdock, eh?)

Regrettably, we know how badly things turned out for the Hulk, thanks to the entity known as Nightmare.  The Hulk becomes savage and uncontrollable once more--and sympathy from either the general public or the government seems unlikely to ever be offered again.

With two strikes against the Hulk, it goes without saying that each of the presidential orders of amnesty had been premature; and matters certainly didn't improve with the events of World War Hulk, when Ross received a communique from the White House voicing much different sentiments this time.  And in response, Ross brings himself full circle.

The "apocalypse Ross" scene is a far cry from eight years prior, where we came to the end of the regular book's run in 1999 and a scene that occurred following Banner and Ross finally coming to terms--as Ross returns to the person whose orbit he, the Hulk, and Banner all circled. It's a scene where Ross puts his enmity aside--at least for now.

War has indeed been hell for this soldier. But is Ross's war with the Hulk truly over?

 If you can't beat 'im, join 'im!


Warren JB said...

I have a feeling I might enjoy this series of Ross posts. I came into Hulk comics near the end of Peter David's massive run*, with Ross's reappearance after Heroes Return and the (IMO) well-written attempt at a truce at that time; so I always liked him, despite his long reputation as an obsessed Ahab character. Jeff Parker's handling of him was exceptionally good too, I thought, but you might be coming to that.
So, looking back instead, I'm interested to see that Ross was given other moments where he tried to bury the hatchet. I have mixed feelings about it, to be honest. On one hand it shows some attempts at character depth and growth, and that Ross hasn't been a complete one-dimensional madman for long periods of his existence. On the other, I feel that his WWH speech could be applied to him (to many Marvel heroes and vilains): every so often someone tries to develop him, have him do the right thing, and so on; but every time someone else has to revert to the status quo, making him a blinkered, Hulk-hunting monomaniac again. Keep the mythic cycle going and going and going...

*If only Marvel would release the rest of the PAD Masterworks series on Comixology, so I could read all of it.

Comicsfan said...

Warren, I did mention Parker's work in the follow-up post, though I found myself taking issue with his approach--which from his own description seems to recycle the Ahab/Ross concept into yet another general obsessively after the Hulk's hide, while describing that approach as groundbreaking. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I'd like to assume that there's much more to his work to be taken into account.

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