By Vision2.0 1 Comments
"Familiarity Breeds Contempt"
One thing I can say unequivocally is that Red Hulk's human form is no stranger to the Hulk and his supporting cast. In his first battle with the real Hulk, Red Hulk states, "I've waited a long time for this!" and "For years, all I've wanted was to destroy you" (HULK #4), while in a later encounter, he admits, "This endless battle between us...can't continue" (INCREDIBLE HULK #600), both of point toward a longstanding feud between these two men. (And, per HULK #16's recollection of Red Hulk as a child passing off his cigarettes as belonging to some "other boy," he is indeed male.) Similarly, there's no love lost between Red Hulk and the Hulk's alter-ego, Bruce Banner, as is clear from HULK #11: "...[A]ll I hear is whining from a gutless milksop. The last person I'd ever listen to is Bruce Banner!" Yet at the same time he boldly claims, "[Y]ou've never had a friend like me." (HULK #4 again) He even has deep knowledge of important people from Banner's past, from the Harpy (INCREDIBLE HULK #168, 1973; more on her later), to Jarella (INCREDIBLE HULK #140, 1971, et al.), to the Defenders. But the coup de grace is Red Hulk's parting words in HULK #12, where he reveals an even deeper personal connection: "I realize now that I've left you even worse off than dead. With a broken heart. Just as you left me, Banner..." Obviously, then, the Red Hulk blames the death of a loved one, i.e. a dear friend or family member, on the Hulk.
If the above weren't proof enough that Red Hulk is someone we know, then it should be obvious when we consider that Rick Jones recognized his true identity in HULK #2. (Red Hulk's human self: "I thought you were dead." Rick: "You were wrong. What a shock." Red Hulk again: "I don't like being wrong. You ought to know that by now.") It's obvious that Rick's making a sarcastic commentary because he knows the individual who becomes Red Hulk, and it's obvious from Red Hulk's rebuttal that he, too, knows Rick. Plus, Rick was about to yell Red Hulk's true identity to Banner when he was stopped by Samson (HULK #6). Why would he have yelled with such urgency if Red Hulk were an unknown, or at least, not someone Rick and Bruce both knew?
"I've Faced That Scene Before"
The real origin of Red Hulk has finally been glimpsed in the recent FALL OF THE HULKS: ALPHA one-shot. Doc Samson stated, inINCREDIBLE HULK #600, that M.O.D.O.K. manipulated the satellites that brought down the Hulk in World War Hulk, using refracted cosmic energy to interface with Banner's gamma-irradiated cells to begin a "gamma-powered super soldier program." In FotH: ALPHA, we're told a bit more of the puzzle. The Leader and M.O.D.O.K. use the secrets stolen from the Library of Alexandria, then raid Edwards Air Force Base, giving them access to military satellites. M.O.D.O.K. theorizes that marrying the cosmic energy with gamma will produce "a truly unstoppable force." "The right subject," he says, "will produce a smarter Hulk. A more devious Hulk. One we can negotiate with." He has the perfect subject in mind to become their new..."RED HULK."
It seems to me we've seen this plan before from M.O.D.O.K., a fact which he freely acknowledged just pages previous. Back in INCREDIBLE HULK #168, he kidnapped Betty Ross Talbot, theorizing: "All I would have to do is bombard human subjects with larger doses of gamma rays than Bruce Banner received, until I create a creature stronger than the Hulk! However, to survive that much radiation, the successful subject must have a conditioned tolerance to gamma rays--he must be someone who has spent years living or working around gamma experiments...and...it must be someone whose mind I could easily control, so that I would not risk being turned upon like Dr. Frankenstein!" The result then was the Harpy, who defeated the Hulk before being cured. Of course, Betty was killed many years later by the Abomination, but in ALPHA, M.O.D.O.K. and the Leader abscond with her preserved corpse. M.O.D.O.K. has "some ideas on how [the radiation from the Abomination's toxic blood] can be converted," while the Leader states, "We can bring her back and save her...as leverage."
"(Military) Service With a Smile"
Another key component of Red Hulk's identity seems to be his military bearing and mindset. As Banner pointed out in HULK #11, he "(approaches) battle with tactics and strategy." He describes himself as a "master strategist," familiar with Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, one of the oldest and most successful books on military strategy. (HULK #16) He frowns on weakness, a trait he inherited from his father (more HULK #16), and berates himself for "underestimating" the Wendigo, proclaiming, "Where I come from, we don't tolerate mistakes," before "making an example" of the creature. In HULK #4, about to kill the Hulk, he again references the military: "They might just give me a medal for doing this. If I even cared about that sort of thing." He brags to Thor of how he's studied him and his "legendary" battle skills (HULK #5). Then he tells the Hulk he "will never understand what it takes to be in battle." (HULK #6) In the next arc, he strategically "plays dead" against the Lady Liberators to escape capture, then "recruits" Thundra to fight in his "war." (HULK #9) Most telling is Red Hulk's speech against the Grandmaster upon the resurrection of the Hulk and the rest of the Defenders in HULK #12: "Did you really think I was going to let you move me around like a tin soldier? You don't give me orders! I GIVE THE ORDERS!" And then, in HULK #15: "There. Must. Be. Discipline."
Hand-in-hand with service in the military is familiarity with weaponry. As seen on several occasions, he doesn't shy away--first using firearms (HULK #1, against the Abomination; #3, against A-Bomb; #4, against the Hulk, and against a Wendigo inKING SIZE HULK #1), then knives (also against a Wendigo, then against the Lady Liberators in HULK #8), and even Thor's hammer (against the man himself in HULK #5).
"A Bacchanal With Beelzebub"
On top of being of military bearing, the Red Hulk does fancy himself a patriot. In his monologue in HULK #14, he references the Marvel Civil War ("in open defiance of the [U.S.] government"), the "assassination" of Captain America ("a true patriot"), the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D., and of course, World War Hulk. So he "made a deal with...people who belong in prison," which he classifies as "[putting his] own life at risk one more time." He respects the Punisher for "[being] at war for most of his adult life." (For that matter, apropos of nothing, he states he can "respect" him because he "lost his family and takes it out on the rest of the world.") He can't stand Wolverine, because "When this country decided that men like him were worth honoring...that was reason enough for my choice--to become what I am." (HULK #15)
Why did he collude with the Leader and M.O.D.O.K.? He states, "We are going to change the world," and "One misstep and everything we've been planning for months...could unravel." Hence, the Leader and M.O.D.O.K. came to him with a plan, and he agreed with that plan. HULK #14 summarizes the activities where he's aided A.I.M.: "Leaving A.I.M. to pick up the pieces. Some real estate like Sam's Barbershop in lower Manhattan. The Gamma Base in Death Valley. The specs on the Life-Model-Decoy program. Access codes to the Helicarrier. Detailed personnel files on nearly everyone. And I mean, everyone." (All the above references the meeting place of Samson, Red Hulk & co. in HULK #14; the fact Gamma Base was, at the time of HULK #1, taken over by A.I.M.; the fact A.I.M. already had Life Model Decoy (LMD) technology at that time; and the fact A.I.M. had the codes to the Helicarrier when Red Hulk boarded it in HULK #2 and stole their personnel files, planting the virus.)
But could there be a more personal reason that he agreed? We know he wanted to use his newfound power to exact revenge on Banner/Hulk. We also know he killed the Abomination and Clay Quartermain. (More on this in a bit.) But could M.O.D.O.K. and the Leader have held something else above his head, or promised him they could do something for him if he helped them? Maybe help a certain someone he loved...?
One thing is certain: if Red Hulk in his human identity serves in the military, then by partnering up with A.I.M. and the Intelligencia [sic], he has engaged in treason against the United States of America.
"Motive, Motive, Who's Got The Motive?"
Anyone who investigates murder will tell you there are three things to look for when rounding up suspects: method, motive, and opportunity. Now, Red Hulk has killed two people familiar to longtime
HULKreaders: Emil Blonsky, the Abomination; and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Clay Quartermain.
Why was the Abomination his first strike, and why kill him with a big-ass gun? Per Doc Samson, it was "premeditated," it was "punishment." Of method, motive, and opportunity, we have to look at the one not covered by the "sudden" gaining of incredible amounts of power. Who had the motive to kill the Abomination? Obviously, the answer is, someone who lost someone or something as direct result of the Abomination's actions, and/or someone who felt partially responsible for his actions or origins in the first place. This fact alone should narrow the playing field. The Abomination was a spy at Desert Base (TALES TO ASTONISH #90, 1967; retold in KING SIZE HULK #1) when he exposed himself to gamma rays. Chiefly, he has become known in recent Marvel history as the murderer of Bruce Banner's wife, Elizabeth "Betty" Ross Talbot Banner (INCREDIBLE HULK #466, as revealed in INCREDIBLE HULK #468, both 1999). Who loved Betty enough to exact this manner of vengeance upon her killer?
Clay Quartermain's death is harder to define without knowing Red Hulk's identity, but in context it should make perfect sense. Obviously it isn't just a mistake, and Clay has done something or knows something that makes his death necessary in the eyes of Red Hulk. It should be noted that he began his tenure on the HULK book by becoming S.H.I.E.L.D.'s liaison to General Ross' "Hulkbuster" program, circa #187 (1975). He left soon then returned when Banner and the Hulk were separated (HULK #315, 1986), sticking around, then embarking on a road trip to recover stolen gamma bombs alongside Banner and Rick Jones.
"Talkin' 'Bout My Generation"
A few subtle, but nonetheless intriguing, clues appear in "Code Red," the most recent arc in HULK #14-17. The arc introduced the new Red She-Hulk, who appears in the wake of Jennifer Walters, the original She-Hulk's absence inINCREDIBLE HULK #600. If the Intelligencia [sic] needed the Hulk as a template for Red Hulk, then simmilarly, they needed She-Hulk as template for Red She-Hulk--and they got her in that issue. While those whose accoutrements Red She-Hulk wears have been eliminated from the list of suspects (Domino and Elektra) through their subsequent appearances late in the arc, it remains that whoever she is, Red She-Hulk has some military knowledge as well--even if she attributes it to the 1980s movie, Wall Street.
Red Hulk dismisses the pop culture reference in HULK #16, but inserts one of his own--to the 1950s TV game show, The $64,000 Question, a reference which too eludes Red She-Hulk. While it may appear like a throwaway line of dialogue, could it be more? People often quote pop culture references from an era with which they're familiar, which would indicate that there is a marked generation gap between Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk, with the former being considerably older than the latter.
That doesn't even start to get into the...antagonistic...relationship between Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk that hints strongly at deeper ties. She nearly jumps down his throat in light of his story about the blind men and the elephant, saying someone she loved told her that story once, but that "He's dead to [her] now." Red Hulk sees something familiar about her then, prompting his question: "Who are you--really?"
"And Then, There Were Four"
A clue too striking to ignore is that, at the moment of the Hulk's defeat in World War Hulk, four individuals were highlighted along with Hulk as having been caught in the cosmic/gamma radiation hybrid that, per FALL OF THE HULKS: ALPHA, was designed to create Red Hulk.
Those four individuals, as pictured above, were Doc Samson (who has since transformed into a larger, more aggressive version of himself simply named "Samson"), Rick Jones (who has since become the new, armor-plated Abomination, nicknamed "A-Bomb"), She-Hulk (who has, to date, suffered no apparent side effects from the exposure), and General Thaddeus E. "Thunderbolt" Ross (who has to date, like She-Hulk, not shown any effects).
Is it likely that one of these four individuals was suffused with the radiation and became Red Hulk? The Magic 8 Ball says, "You Bet."
"And Then, There Were Three"
In the wake of the Helicarrier crash in HULK #3, Iron Man asks Maria Hill if everyone is accounted for. She replies that there are three souls who have not been seen: Leonard Samson, General Ross, and Clay Quartermain (a sometime HULKsupporting cast member in the late 1970s and late 1980s). Later, in HULK #4, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Gabriel Jones shows Iron Man the corpse of Clay Quartermain, which seems to imply his death at the hands of Red Hulk. In the same issue, Hill discovers Samson's torn coat, replete with gamma radiation--the first hint of his new metamorphosis.
Overlap this point with the above and you realize...
"And Then, There Were Two"
We know that A.I.M. had Gamma Base in their possession from HULK #1-up, and somehow that fact slipped by Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. In HULK #1, General Ross and Doc Samson bypassed retinal scanners that verified their identities on the way inside the base. Samson would have been in A.I.M.'s files because he was already working for them in his newly mutated form (but his "Leonard" form was brainwashed to forget. Besides that, as stated in HULK #18, A.I.M. originally financed his Cathexis Ray, way back in INCREDIBLE HULK #141, 1971.) General Ross, as shown much later, has also been in on the conspiracy with the Intelligencia [sic] and so would similarly be in their personnel database. This begs several questions.
Later, in HULK #3, when Red Hulk fights A-Bomb, the retinal scanner activates and scans Red Hulk. It starts to confirm his identity but Red Hulk hurriedly smashes it. What does this mean? Either it means that Red Hulk is, in general terms, a member of A.I.M. having served under M.O.D.O.K., or else, specifically in the story, Red Hulk is either Len Samson or General Ross, as they are the only two individuals we've seen scanned by the device.
"Putting It All Together: And There Was But One (Or Are There Still Two?)"
So, what are we looking for in a suspect? He's an older man who's served in the military and has known Banner and the Hulk for years, dreaming of ways to rid the world of the monster. He's not averse to forming alliances with ne'er-do-wells like the Leader and M.O.D.O.K. He's been touched by personal tragedy at the hands of the Hulk, and the Abomination must have done something to him or someone he loved for him to kill him so viciously. He also had some antagonistic relationship with Clay Quartermain to have murdered him as well. He may or may not have some relationship with the woman who became the Red She-Hulk, but is clearly older than she is by a generation or more. Per Bruce Banner, he also has to be someone who has previous gamma exposure, or at least, per M.O.D.O.K., he has to have been around Banner long enough to pick up his residual tolerance to its more harmful effects, a la Betty Ross Talbot becoming the Harpy. He also calls Banner a "milksop" and Rick Jones distrusts him.
Let's also keep in mind Jeph Loeb's "rules" in mysteries--namely, that his suspects are nearly always in the narrative from the first part of the mystery (in this case, HULK #1 from 2008). That would likely eliminate one of the frontrunners, Colonel Glenn Talbot, as Talbot has been dead for nearly 30 years (circa INCREDIBLE HULK #260, 1981), but also he was not mentioned at all in Loeb's stories until HULK #18. Plus, unless Red She-Hulk is a teenager, I don't think Talbot is old enough to create an age gap the likes of which are hinted in HULK #16. The only things that qualify Talbot in any way are his pathological hatred for Bruce Banner, his love for Betty as impetus for the murder of the Abomination, and his military background. (Which is not to say he won't possibly be resurrected as some kind of red *ahem* herring.)
The above clues all point rather directly at one suspect:
General "Thunderbolt" Ross.
He fits all of the above criteria. He has even routinely allied himself with the Leader, M.O.D.O.K., and the Abomination (freeing the latter to commit treason, a deed which many years later may have led to her death)--committed treason. (INCREDIBLE HULK #287-289, 1983) He's also previously had the power of the super-villain Zzzax, an event in which Clay Quartermain assisted. (INCREDIBLE HULK #326-327, 1986-87) But of course, he can't be the Red Hulk, because they've been seen on-panel together on at least two separate occasions (possibly three--HULK #6, 14, and INCREDIBLE HULK #600).
Unless, that is, writer Jeph Loeb has been seeding all of the information about Life Model Decoys (LMDs) to us for absolutely nothing.
Exact duplicates of human beings, they were first created by S.H.I.E.L.D. but, as Red Hulk mentioned, A.I.M. appropriated the technology. They have functioned as guards at Gamma Base, from Banner's throwaway comment in KING SIZE HULK #1, to Doc Samson's expose in INCREDIBLE HULK #600. This also explains Red Hulk's special brand of arrogance toward "LMD Ross" giving him orders in HULK #14 (Red Hulk: "Who the hell are you to give me orders?" Ross: "You know exactly who I am."). Further, it explains why Red Hulk conveniently fingers Samson and not Ross as having betrayed him although it was the latter who gave him the list of people to assemble in his group. Why not blame Ross...unless Ross isn't who/what we think?
(Another hint: Banner used them to lure his savage son Skaar into a trap inINCREDIBLE HULK #602. Skaar could tell they weren't human by smelling them. Do I sense a future plot point?)
Of course, for bonus points: the generation gap, the fact that she's been mentioned as being in the Intelligencia's possession, the Leader's files, and the misdirection of Marlo as a new Harpy from
INCREDIBLE HULK #604all point toward Red She-Hulk being none other than Betty Ross Talbot Banner, back from the dead and warped in some new fashion.
Oh, and if the above isn't proof positive: I offer two more visual clues as to Red Hulk's identity. The first you already see, above with Ross standing above Red Hulk. Isn't there another way to read his dialogue? "You failed yourself"? And lastly, from INCREDIBLE HULK #600:
Has everyone seen the preview information about FALL OF THE HULKS: GAMMA? "A Murder Starts The War," they say. "Killed In Action" prefaces the issue in ALPHA. The variant cover for the book shows Red Hulk at a gravesite. So. who dies, and who kills him/her? I'm not a Marvel insider, but I can tell you both answers through simple deduction. Consider that lately, Red Hulk is on the outs with the Intelligencia. He's been betrayed by Samson. It's nebulous at best as to which side he's going to be on. How best to throw a spanner in the works? Enter...
Now, while some of you might say this puts the final nail in the coffin and Ross can't be Red Hulk, I would hope I've taught you folks better than that! Doesn't sending " LMD Ross " after Red Hulk in a populated area, in an obvious pages-long parallel to the Abomination's death scene in HULK #1, force Red Hulk's hand? If he kills " LMD Ross ," that means, in order to use his secret identity again, he would have to expose the Intelligencia, and for that matter the whole conspiracy, and his own treasonous activities. It definitely closes the loophole of anyone potentially knowing his identity in the wake of the "Code Red" arc. It also effectively isolates Red Hulk/Ross from using any other allies he has outside the Intelligencia. It brings to mind the question: is Red Hulk following orders in killing " LMD Ross ," or has he just played right into his co-conspirators' hands? I find it difficult to believe the Intelligencia wouldn't have predicted the Red Hulk to kill " LMD Ross ." It makes me wonder what the rest of the issue is like.