Since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t revisited a sequel Hulk movie, although the character has appeared in other films. The same can be said for William Hurt’s portrayal of Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Initially known as General Ross, his character has developed and is currently the Secretary of State. So far in the MCU, Ross has appeared in four movies with a fifth appearing scheduled for Black Widow. This has led to a great deal of speculation regarding the character’s involvement and potential contribution to Thunderbolts, a film project heavily rumored to be in development as a villain-led team.
Why Ross Would Become Red Hulk
In The Incredible Hulk, audiences were introduced to a sequel program to Project Rebirth called the Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project. This was the project that lead to Dr. Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk within the MCU. Under the leadership of Ross, Banner was told he was recreating a serum which could help prevent cancer and save people from radiation poisoning. In reality Banner was recreating the infamous Super Soldier Serum which he accidentally enhanced in an attempt to impress Ross, who was the father of his girlfriend and colleague, Dr. Betty Ross.
While Betty developed a primer to help human blood cells absorb excess radiation, Banner substituted vita radiation with gamma radiation. Since Banner wanted to impress General Ross, he exposed himself to an extremely high-level amount of gamma which resulted in his transformation into the Hulk when the serum and primer activated. This is important to note as it establishes the Hulk transformation as something not unique to Bruce Banner.
A similar transformation was witnessed with Emil Blonsky, who became the Abomination after mixing Banner’s blood with a version of the Super Soldier Serum. With Bruce Banner’s recent research enabling him to merge the personality and intelligence of Banner with the physical appearance of The Hulk, that could be the type of breakthrough to inspire now Secretary Ross. This wouldn’t be viewed in the same way as before since the Hulk is now a celebrity and beloved hero around the world.
Especially with the Hulk now inactive and likely to never serve as a governmental operative under the Sokovian Accords, it could provide Ross with the motivation to become the next Hulk. The security in knowing he can keep his personality and intelligence could serve as security in becoming a gamma mutate. At the same time, Ross has been known to approach things with a “fight fire with fire” mentality which could translate into a Red Hulk development. The Russo Brothers hinted that at one-point Red Hulk was going to appear in Avengers: Endgame as a variant of Banner instead of Ross.
Why Secretary Ross Would Form The Thunderbolts
After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Secretary Ross assemble his own team. Betty Ross is a notable person “snapped” away which could have unknown effects on Ross’ mentality. There has been a rumor that Ross was assembling an Accords-approved version of The Avengers before the events of Avengers: Infinity War, which is why Ross may be appearing in Black Widow. According to this theory, Ross will recruit Taskmaster and Yelena into the Thunderbolts program at the end of Black Widow, which is set directly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Combined with the surprise invasion of Thanos and how hopeless Earth was without the Avengers, Ross may feel the need for a new super soldier and thus a new government-aligned Hulk.
The MCU has built up a group of anti-heroes and villains that can be brought together and turned into a Dark Avengers or Thunderbolts team. The initial Thunderbolts team, organized by Baron Zemo, was a supervillain team posing as superheroes. Another Thunderbolts team in comics was organized by Ross as the Red Hulk. When he organized this team, it was to do bad things for good reasons which is likely not the mindset for MCU Thunderbolts. Likely this version of the team will take inspiration from the Dark Avengers era which had the Thunderbolts as a black-ops team consisting of the various anti-heroes and villains the MCU has introduced so far.
Inspiration From The Comics
In the comics, Ross became Red Hulk in 2008’s Hulk #1 by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. While the identity of the Red Hulk was a mystery in early comics, he had a few changes from Banner’s Hulk which made for an interesting villain. For starters, Red Hulk maintained his intelligence and as he grew angrier, he would emit energy in a flame-like design. General Ross was mutated by A.I.M. to become the Red Hulk as he sought a better method to combatting the Hulk. Ross, before becoming depowered, organized his own version of the Thunderbolts which included Punisher, Agent Venom, Deadpool, Elecktra, Leader, and Red Hulk.
Another version of Red Hulk appeared in the U.S. Avengers series. General Robert Maverick used a device, called a Hulk Plug-In, which allowed him to become the Red Hulk for an hour. Eventually he was drained of his gamma enhancements like Ross. What do you think of a Red Hulk entering the MCU? Leave your comments down below and feel free to follow me at @JBaldera27 on Twitter!