A general falls. A red monster rises. Stay tuned.

Pat Olliffe

RULK REVIEW and ANALYSIS : WHAT IF GENERAL ROSS HAD BECOME THE HULK!

In 2008, the mysterious Red Hulk burst onto the comic scene with a vengeance. 

The premiere issue debuted at #1 and left the comic community guessing exactly who was the man inside the crimson red beast!  Based initially on an idea by then Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada and fleshed out by co-creators Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness and arguably Jeff Parker (see Fall of the Hulks : Alpha), it took 22 issues to finally reveal Rulk’s identity as no one other than the General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.  It created shockwaves among Marvel fans.. yet most readers were unaware that writer Peter David realized an idea to also turn General Ross into a rampaging Hulk three years earlier in 2005’s WHAT IF GENERAL ROSS HAD BECOME THE HULK.

The story begins with Uatu The Watcher.  Testing a theory that his mere presence of observing an event can change an outcome of that very event, the Watcher observes a tragic alternate reality unfold when he revisits the one in a million gamma bomb explosion that turned the mild mannered Bruce Banner into the raging Hulk!  However, in this new string of time, it is Ross that calls off the countdown and attempts to forcefully remove Rick Jones from the testing area. Yet before Bruce can call it off, the notorious spy Igor successfully incapacitates Banner leaving no one other than Ross to absorb the life altering gamma rays! 

Like separating the story into parts, veteran writer Peter David does a terrific job emulating the tone and feel of the legendary first issue of THE INCREDIBLE HULK fifty years ago.  The feeling of excitement David gives Ross is infectious as he realizes he’ll no longer require any military hardware to defend his homeland.  He will be America’s best weapon!  And the poetic tragedy that results from his new thunderous form is terrific… except for the final action of Bruce Banner.

The way Bruce handles the tragic finale is shocking and severely out of character.  Especially considering the agitated history between the two (nor the battle over Betty) has yet to even take place, one would expect this man of science would opt to cure the General Ross of his hulking condition, rather than speaking so incredibly cold and harsh and taking the heartless action that he did.  However, the great artwork by Pat Olliffe mostly makes up for the story’s one deep shortcoming.  Olliffe effectively draws characters that feel both fresh yet appropriately (and pleasantly) dated.

ROSS HULKS IN COMPARISON :

Now that Ross has become the Red Hulk, it’s inevitable that new readers of this one-shot will find it impossible not to make a comparison between the Rulk and his alternate reality counterpart.  Fortunately for continuity sake, both Ross Hulks are logical and consistent variations of each other… the biggest factor being neither transformation of Ross (Gray nor Red) results in an alternate personality.

Neither Rulk nor the Ross Hulk has that common multiple personality disorder that seems to be a reoccurring side effect of Gamma over-exposure. Lacking that disorder is due to Ross simply never having a suppressed aggressive, dark and violent side. Violence was never suppressed… as a soldier he acted on it. Lived it. Used it to make him stronger. So satisfyingly, it makes sense that neither of the Hulks Ross had become were stricken with that duality.

However, much like a stroke victim, the Ross Hulk does lose one of his motor skills during his transformation… the ability to speak.  The Red Hulk suffered from no such affliction.  It’s possible that losing the power to verbally communicate was a one in a million result that occurred during gamma saturation, unable to be duplicated.  Or maybe the gamma energy reacts to a genetic defect in the General, or simply caused a minor stroke, which results in the speechless outcome.  Either way, it is not at all a stretch to believe the great minds of the Leader and Modok (who created the Red Hulk) would detect whatever caused this debilitating side affect and easily compensate for it and eliminate it

The color difference between the Ross Hulks is the easiest to explain.  While the Gray Ross Hulk was created under the same exact variables as the Banner Hulk which is solely exposure to gamma energy, the Red Hulk was constructed with both gamma and cosmic power, which ultimately created a Hulk transformation that mimicked a radioactive core. 

Finally, the disappearing mustache is the hardest to explain.  Obviously, where the Red Hulk is concerned, the removal of the trademark Ross mustache was first and foremost a necessary plot device to conceal the Rulk’s identity from readers until Marvel was ready to make the big reveal.  Fortunately though, the creators gave it enough thought to consistently make the General’s eyebrows disappear too, allowing readers to conclude that all short hairs on the body of Ross withdraw within his swollen red transforming flesh. So why didn’t this occur with the gray Ross Hulk transformation?  All one could hypothesize is that reaction is only produced as a byproduct of cosmic energy absorption or a mix of the two (both cosmic and gamma).  It’s not solely a gamma energy exposure trait.

Have any further input or insight to offer?  Feel free to put them in the comments below.

3.5 out of 5 Stars 

-A.J.
A general falls. A red monster rises. Stay tuned.
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