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Thunderbolt Ross' 12 Best Moments From The Comics Ranked

General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross is known for a lot of things. He's a war hero. He's a father. He was involved in any number of important government projects involving powerful weapons. He was present at the birth of the Hulk and later tried to hunt him down for years. He became a traitor, died a hero, and was reborn as a monster: the ferocious and cunning Red Hulk. In many ways, he's the Hulk's greatest foe. Even before he knew that the Hulk was Dr. Bruce Banner, he was tireless in his pursuit of the monster while suspecting that Banner was a traitor. Later, when he became the Red Hulk, his mix of ruthlessness, tactical brilliance, and total uninhibited violence made him the Hulk's match.

Ross' greatest battle has always been tempering his single-minded rage and self-righteousness with his essential humanity. The love of his daughter Betty has always been the single biggest factor in keeping him tethered to reality, even as the Red Hulk. His sense of duty and doing things for the right reasons has always been at odds with his personal vendettas and thirst for vengeance, making Captain America an important figure in his life. As one of the few heroes that Ross respects, Cap in turn gives Ross any number of chances at greatness as the Red Hulk. To his credit, Ross balances his hunger for power with his core decency. Let's take a look at his 12 best moments, ranked from least to greatest.

12. Ross commits treason to get to the Hulk

At a certain point, Thunderbolt Ross' mandate to capture the Hulk changed from being a matter of national security to a full-on vendetta. He becomes so obsessed with the Hulk that he's willing to work with villainous monsters that the Hulk opposes. Ross does this a number of times. First, he uses an imprisoned Abomination (a former Soviet agent, no less!) to attack the Hulk, promising Abomination freedom if he kills his foe, in "Incredible Hulk" #159. This doesn't work out. 

In "Incredible Hulk" #195, Ross, Clay Quartermain, and Doc Samson find Abomination later, plant a bomb in his head, and tell him to capture the Hulk or else he dies. When Abomination confronts him, the Hulk manages to destroy the device. Ross' plan backfires when Abomination convinces the Hulk to team up with him against the military.

The most egregious act of treason comes when Ross is in command of a base called Project: Earthfall. When the monstrous MODOK comes to the base, Ross initially confronts him. However, MODOK tells him they aren't enemies, and they free the Project's secret captive together. This is, once again, the Abomination. The Hulk at this point has received a full government pardon, so siccing Abomination on him is unquestionably a federal crime. The Abomination not only fails to kill the Hulk, but an apoplectic Ross arrives on the scene and blurts out his plan to both Bruce and Betty. This arc, spanning "Incredible Hulk" #287 to #291, culminates with Ross tortured by the lengths he went to hunting the Hulk and contemplating suicide. He instead commits himself to becoming a better man, proving that even Ross has his limits.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

11. Ross gets the powers of Zzzax

Disgraced after his treason is revealed, Ross goes off the deep end. He becomes a drifter and eventually tries to kill Bruce Banner as he's getting married to Betty Ross. Instead, he winds up shooting Rick Jones. Through a complex series of events, Jones becomes a Hulk and Banner reverts to his old Gray Hulk persona. Ross is institutionalized, but his old buddy Clay Quartermain, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, pulls him out and asks him to be part of an experiment in "Incredible Hulk" #325

That experiment involves the alien electricity monster known as Zzzax, whom Quartermain gets his hands on after the West Coast Avengers beat him. The guess is that they can control Zzzax long enough to give his electricity powers to a human, and Ross volunteers. It works all too well. Ross is powered up, but Zzzax is able to escape. However, Ross' will is so strong that he takes over Zzzax's monstrous electrical form.

He quickly finds the Hulked-up Rick Jones fighting Gray Hulk and quickly defeats the latter. Reverting back to Bruce Banner, Bruce helps Rick fight the monster. In "Incredible Hulk" #327, Ross follows them to a small town as Zzzax fights Ross to get back control, and he tears up the town trying to kill Rick and Bruce. Bruce realizes that Ross doesn't know he's a monster until he shows him his reflection. Horrified, he flees, realizing he was now the monster. Eventually, his mind returns to his body, retaining most of his electrical powers.

10. Cease fire!

Perhaps Ross' greatest brainstorm on how to deal with the Hulk was ... be nice to him? After returning from the dead after sacrificing his life for Betty, Ross is a somewhat changed man. He still wants to keep the world safe from the Hulk, but the fact that Bruce Banner is married to his wife Betty is something he simply can't ignore. Working with Colonel Cary St. Lawrence, he operates with the idea of using a "kinder, gentler" approach with the Hulk. This begins in "Incredible Hulk" #461, after Ross confronts Banner in a small-town diner. They are interrupted by the Hulk's future self, the Maestro, who is inhabiting the armor of the Asgardian Destroyer. 

The Hulk saves Ross from the Maestro, finds a way to defeat the Destroyer, and reverts back to being Bruce Banner. Surrounded by the army, Ross tells them to stand down and hands Banner a cigar. Voluntarily turning himself in, Banner eventually transforms into the Hulk again. Instead of attacking him, Lawrence puts "Plan Laissez-Faire" into place. They tell the Hulk he's free to go. When the Hulk encounters some soldiers, they ignore him. St. Lawrence then tells him to break a tank if he wants to. Ross says if the Hulk wants to be alone, they'll find an island for him to be away from everyone ... including Betty. This astounding bit of reverse psychology actually works, as the green giant says, "No one tells the Hulk what to do. If I feel like staying, I'll stay."

9. The Red Hulk debuts with a bang

When Ross becomes the Red Hulk, he's working for a group of villains that include MODOK and the Leader that call themselves the Intelligencia. In his first mission, he goes to Russia to kill the Abomination, who killed his daughter Betty. Along the way, in "King-Size Hulk" #1, Red Hulk encounters the cannibalistic monster Wendigo in Canada. He decides to make an example of the creature and kills it with a red-hot stake.

In Russia, he tracks down the Abomination, beats him badly, and then shoots him with a specially-made, S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue gun. Unlike the Hulk, the Red Hulk thinks and acts like a soldier. He's willing to kill if it's part of his mission, and it's clear that he often defines his own mission parameters. He easily takes down Iron Man and beats the She-Hulk so decisively that he tells her, "I could kill you any time I want."

Prior to his first battle with the Hulk, the cosmic being Uatu the Watcher comes down to Earth to observe their battle in person. Red Hulk takes exception to this and attacks the Watcher in the middle of a monologue. He is beating the stuffing out of him before the Hulk intervenes. Red Hulk goes on to beat the Hulk in their fight, and even gets the best of Thor, battling him to the Moon and back. Group efforts would later take him down, but the Red Hulk proves his toughness right away. 

8. Thunderbolt and his Thunderbolts

Being a military man, Ross often likes to work as part of a team, especially if he's in command. For a time, he led a group called Code Red, a team of mercenaries. In later years, he forms a new version of a team with a storied name: the Thunderbolts. The original Thunderbolts were secretly villains who later try to redeem themselves. Later versions are government teams with dangerous tactical missions. 

Ross put together his own team of mercenaries with a number of notorious names he chooses because "their conditions cannot be cured." This includes the Punisher, Deadpool, Elektra, and Agent Venom. This is a team that immediately has no trust for Ross or his plans, as the Punisher shoots the Red Leader as soon as Ross tries to revive him. 

The team, distrusting Ross, agrees to carry out personal missions in exchange for working with Ross. Deadpool's wish to kill the actor Ryan Reynolds is denied in favor of battling Agent Venom's symbiote. Punisher wants to take down Doctor Faustus. The Punisher tries to quit and is almost killed by a bomb he thinks is set by Ross (it is actually the Leader). He takes the team members out one by one and takes down Ross in an epic battle before both are arrested by the Avengers. When Ross learns about the Leader, he dissolves the team. Ross' idea was sound, but his methods were questionable.

7. Ross saves Glenn Talbot

Thunderbolt Ross thinks he's having a good day. He's finally captured the Hulk. His beloved daughter Betty marries his right-hand man, Major Glenn Talbot. He even gets a visit from Gerald Ford, the President of the United States. Unbeknownst to him, the Gremlin, a mutated Soviet super-genius, has captured Talbot and replaced him with one of his own agents brainwashed into thinking he's Talbot. He also has a bomb planted in his chest. 

Ross' colleague, Colonel Jack Armbruster, realizes what's happening and saves the President at the cost of his own life in "Incredible Hulk" #185. However, Ross' scientists realize that this isn't the real Talbot. With the help of S.H.I.E.L.D., Ross learns that Talbot is being held at Bitterfrost, the Soviet fortress of the Gremlin. Ross and agent Clay Quartermain use a stealth ship to slip into Bitterfrost. Unbeknownst to them, they are aided by the Hulk, who decides to tag along to help. The usual shenanigans ensue, as they are briefly captured but then escape. Talbot thinks he's a Soviet agent, but he's brought back to America, where he regains his senses. While Ross hadn't been on a mission like this in years, he didn't hesitate to help Talbot and try to make things right with Betty. He's even grateful to the Hulk for his help on the mission. 

6. Red Hulk absorbs the Power Cosmic

As the Red Hulk, Thunderbolt Ross is as bold as he was for his lightning strikes as an officer in the war. He doesn't really care who he's fighting, because his strength, intelligence, relentless aggression, and energy-absorbing abilities make him a match for anyone. The Elders of the Universe, the Collector and the Grandmaster, decide to engage in a game. The Grandmaster offers the Hulk a chance to be with his beloved Jarella, who died on the subatomic world he finds her on. He selects his old friends, the Defenders, which includes Doctor Strange, the Silver Surfer, and Namor. The Collector selects the Red Hulk as his champion, and his team includes the heroes' counterparts: Baron Mordo, Terrax, and Tiger Shark. After the foes seem evenly matched, the Elders spice things up with new threats. The Red Hulk takes advantage and kills the Hulk. He then goes to the Surfer vs. Terrax fight and absorbs the Surfer's Power Cosmic and kills both him and Terrax. Then he kills Namor and Tiger Shark. 

When he goes up against Galactus, he's not so successful. The world devourer strips him of his comic powers, sends him back to Earth, and tells him he's going to go after the Elders. The Elders stop the game and resurrect all of the players. An enraged Red Hulk kills the Collector. Red Hulk is angry about the game but happy that the Hulk, reunited with a lifeless Jarella, suffers from a broken heart.

5. The Red Hulk wields the Power Stone

After the Red Hulk helps stop Scorched Earth, he encounters the criminal known as the Hood out in the desert. Unbeknownst to him, the Hood learns about the existence of the Infinity Stones in prison from an Inhuman who hid one for Black Bolt. He uses all of his resources to find the Reality Stone and then the Power Stone. He uses them to utterly overwhelm the Red Hulk as he searches for more of them. 

The Red Hulk turns to the Avengers with this knowledge and offers his assistance. Captain America is the only one who knows his identity and vouches for him. It takes the Avengers and members of the Fantastic Four and the X-Men to oppose the Hood. However, it's the Red Hulk who's able to wrest away the Power Stone, which just happens to be Red. Even going up against the Hood possessing the Time, Space, and Reality Stones, the Red Hulk's dogged determination never lets his foe get away. Giving the Power Stone to one of the most powerful beings on Earth, who also happens to be a great hand-to-hand fighter and an expert tactician, gives the rest of the Avengers a chance to devise a strategy. Iron Man develops a version of the Infinity Gauntlet, draws the Stones to him, and sends the Hood back to prison. For his service, Captain America makes the Red Hulk an Avenger.

4. Ross stops Scorched Earth

The Red Hulk conspires with the villain group Intelligencia, spearheaded by MODOK and the Leader, to gain power and revenge. He's on the verge of taking over America when the Hulk stops him cold and imprisons him. However, Banner has a few ideas in mind to use Ross while getting a bit of payback. The first stop on his road to redemption is dealing with the fail-safe plan of the villains, called Scorched Earth.

Essentially, it's every ridiculous doomsday plan designed to destroy the Earth and kill everyone on it, in a variety of highly creative ways. While Banner is trying to track the program and shut it down, he assigns various heroes to shut down these disastrous schemes across the world. Banner convinces Captain America to use the Red Hulk on missions, and Cap is one of the few people Ross respects. 

The Red Hulk teams with Iron Man against a techno-virus. Thunderbolt then teams with the God of Thunder, Thor, to stop two comets from hitting Earth. He teams with Namor to stop sonic monsters in Atlantis. Every hero also takes their pound of flesh from the Red Hulk, getting some payback. Even the Watcher observes the Red Hulk nearly fall into a black hole, telling him all about it. Finally, the Hulk, A-Bomb, and Red Hulk discover the source of Scorched Earth: a volcano with cloned brains. The Red Hulk destroys them, starting his true road to redemption. 

3. Red Hulk gets a Symbiote and the Spirit of Vengeance

The Red Hulk tracks Venom to Las Vegas, where he is supposed to apprehend him. Instead, Blackheart brings a little bit of Hell to Earth and sends the antithesis of various heroes to kill them. In the "Circle of Four" saga, the Red Hulk winds up in Hell with X-23, Venom, and Ghost Rider as they all oppose Blackheart. Mephisto, warring against his son, brings the heroes back to life. Blackheart is on the verge of defeating them, having learned their plans, when he realizes to his horror that Red Hulk has not only taken on the Spirit of Vengeance, but he's also absorbed Venom's Symbiote. He declares, "We am smash for vengeance!"

While others work to take down Blackheart's flunkies, the Red Hulk uses the combined powers of the Symbiote and Spirit of Vengeance to battle Blackheart. His battle skill and strength is all part of the package, as he rides a huge motorcycle and hits the demon with a "penance punch" and later the Penance Stare of the Ghost Rider. He defeats Blackheart once and for all by finding the magic mirror he used to create the antitheses for the heroes and turning it on the demon. A kindly, salvation-oriented version of Blackheart appears and dooms him. Red Hulk gives back the Spirit of Vengeance to its host, Alejandra Blaze, and gives the Symbiote back to its host, Flash Thompson. He even vouches for Flash to Captain America. 

2. Return of the Red Hulk

When a persona of the Hulk named Doc Green makes it his personal mission to depower every gamma radiation-based being in the world during the "Omega Hulk" storyline, the Red Hulk is one of his final victims. He's eventually put in a military prison for being a deserter, but he later helps the resistance against the HYDRA-led government spearheaded by an alternate-reality Captain America. 

After this, he joins a secret group of influencers called the Power Elite but becomes suspicious of their motives. In Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Captain America" #22, Red Hulk eventually starts to aid the Daughters of Liberty, a group led by the Black Widow and Sharon Carter. Ross is found out by his old group and captured. The vicious mercenary Crossbones tortures Ross and then leaves the task of killing him to his flunky, Cutthroat. 

Unbeknownst to them, Ross starts to absorb energy from Cutthroat and begs to be hit some more. Suddenly, one last hit causes Ross to change back into his big red form. Aiding Captain America and the Daughters of Liberty, he helps rout their forces. He salutes Captain America, someone who had stood behind him for a long time. A changed man, Ross finally becomes a hero.

1. Ross sacrifices his life to save his daughter, Betty

After Thunderbolt Ross recovers his mind after he receives his powers from the energy being Zzzax, his daughter Betty is at his side. Ross forgets his moment of clarity when he nearly destroyed a town in his monstrous form and immediately declares his intention to kill Bruce Banner and a Hulked-up Rick Jones, once and for all. He does this despite Betty's pleas to see reason.

Unbeknownst to him, a new threat stalks Gamma Base in "Incredible Hulk" #330. A horrifying mutant in the form of an ambulatory brain needs a new host, and it is seeking out the Hulk. Dubbing itself "the Nevermind," the creature hops from target to target. Possessing the super-powered Doc Samson, he aims to possess Betty to force Rick-Hulk to surrender voluntarily. Ross observes Rick heroically battle against this monster to save Betty. Just as Nevermind tries to leap on Betty, Bruce runs interference, and the Nevermind lands on him instead.

Ross is stunned at Banner's sacrifice. The Nevermind tries again, and this time, Ross gets in the way. As the Nevermind tries to take control of his mind, Ross fries him with all of his residual Zzzax energy. He kills the monster, but at the cost of his own life. He dies in a weeping Betty's arms, apologizing for his years of "unreasoning hatred" and tells her that he loves her. It's the ultimate sacrifice from one of Bruce's greatest foes.