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Red Hulk's Complicated History With MODOK Explained

It seems like virtually everyone in the orbit of Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, gets exposed to gamma radiation, is experimented on with gamma radiation, or turns gamma radiation on themselves in order to match the peerless power of old Jade Jaws. Betty Ross was turned into the Harpy and then later into the Red She-Hulk. Rick Jones was transformed into A-Bomb, a variant on the Abomination, another gamma-powered monster. Leonard Samson refined the gamma process to become Doc Samson. Bruce Banner's blood transfusion with his cousin Jennifer Walters led to the birth of the She-Hulk. 

However, perhaps the trickiest transformation of all was the creation of the vicious anti-hero, the Red Hulk. His identity was a mystery for a long time, but it was eventually revealed that he was really one of the Hulk's oldest nemeses, General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross. Using a convoluted plan, two of the Hulk's arch-foes — the Leader and MODOK — conspired not only to defeat the Hulk, but to create a gamma-powered servant in Ross. This wasn't the first time MODOK messed with Ross's life, but he would certainly regret creating the Red Hulk. The cunning servant eventually turned against his masters and helped bring about their downfall. Let's unravel and explain the complicated history between Ross (both as a man and the Red Hulk) and the monstrous Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing. 

Creating the Harpy

 In "Incredible Hulk" #168, MODOK first conceives of a new way to defeat the Hulk: creating another gamma-powered monster to destroy him. He reasons that Betty Ross has absorbed small amounts of gamma radiation from her years of being around Bruce Banner and would be an ideal subject, so he traps her with a mental signal, convinces her to walk out into the woods in the middle of the night, and then captures his mind-controlled pawn. He then bombards her with gamma radiation and hits her with a greater initial dose than Bruce Banner received, thinking that it will make her stronger than the Hulk. 

The result creates a cocoon around Betty, and what emerges is a winged green monstrosity with talons that MODOK immediately dubs the Harpy, after the beasts from Greek mythology. The transformation twists her mind with hatred and she becomes fixated on killing the Hulk, thanks in part to MODOK's influence. They have a brawl and the Harpy even pretends to be Betty, begging for mercy, which fools the Hulk. After she knocks him out, her father Thunderbolt Ross rushes to try to talk sense into her. Confused, she flies away with the Hulk, and they are swept up into the sky city realm of the grotesque Bi-Beast.  The Hulk turns into Banner, who fools the Bi-Beast and finds a machine to drain the Harpy's radiation. MODOK intervenes, the Bi-Beast destroys the city, and everyone flees. 

The first alliance

In "Incredible Hulk" 287, MODOK once again devises a plan to use a gamma-powered monster to destroy the Hulk. Thunderbolt Ross is the military commander of a base called Project: Starfall, which holds a secret both Ross and MODOK want to put into action: the Abomination. One of the few gamma-spawned monsters to match the Hulk in raw strength, he had fallen to Earth and was kept in suspended animation in the project. 

MODOK busts in and knocks out everyone on the base except Ross. He knows how much Ross hates the Hulk and even gets Ross to admit that he was going to free the Abomination himself, even if that's an act of treason. It delights MODOK to push Ross to betray everything he holds dear. He knocks Ross out to make it look like he had been overpowered and frees the Abomination.

However, the Abomination is terrified of taking yet another beating from the Hulk. Even when told that this version of the Hulk is intelligent and not a raging brute, the Abomination has to be threatened with torture to engage the Hulk. The intelligent Hulk only starts to fight back when the Abomination threatens his friend Kate Waynesboro and nearly beats him to a pulp. When Ross arrives to survey the scene with Betty, he's apoplectic that the Hulk is alive, yelling that MODOK had guaranteed the Hulk's death. He confesses his own treason. 

Down on his luck

Ross eventually gets infused with the powers of the monster Zzzax, dies, and gets resurrected by the Leader as a mindless slave. Some aliens free his mind, and Ross manages to achieve a detente with the Hulk. He realizes that years of force have done nothing but provoke the Hulk, so he befriends him and Banner instead. For a while, this tactic works, and Ross seems satisfied. 

Then the Abomination kills Betty, and Ross is despondent. A number of heroes trick the Hulk into being sent into outer space, to prevent any further rampages on Earth without actually killing him. Ross has no purpose as a military man now with the Hulk gone, and he takes to drinking heavily. In "Hulk" #23, his nadir comes while he's sitting in a bar, and news arrives that Steve Rogers — Captain America — has been assassinated. Ross has a low opinion of most heroes, but Cap is his idol. 

At that moment, the seemingly unlikely duo of the Leader and MODOK walk into the bar, paralyzing everyone except Ross. They tell him that they agree that the country is broken, and offer him a chance to fix it as its leader. He scoffs at them, but the Leader tells him that he can bring back his dead daughter Betty with her full mental faculties. They tell him they all know the Hulk will return, and ask him if he wants to be ready for it. Ross accepts. 

Creating the Red Hulk

The Leader and MODOK are correct, and a vengeful Hulk comes back to Earth with an army in the "World War Hulk" storyline. He's out of mind with grief over the death of his wife and ready to take his anger out on Earth and the heroes who tricked him. He's furious with the members of the Illuminati, especially Tony Stark and Reed Richards, for sending him into space, but he's even angrier about something else. The shuttle that brought him to Sakaar was rigged to explode, and it killed his wife and countless millions. He blames Richards and Stark for this, but they deny their involvement. 

After defeating the Illuminati, the Hulk fights the Sentry to a standstill and is briefly depowered. When his alien friend Miek reveals that he knows what really caused the shuttle to explode (deposed enemies on Sakaar), the Hulk is beyond angry. At that moment, Tony Stark, with the help of Doc Samson, used his network of satellites to blast the Hulk and depower him. He's taken to a "Gamma Base" with SHIELD Life Model Decoys, but in fact, it's a lab held by the Leader and MODOK, as revealed in "Hulk" #23. Working with their inside man Samson, they redirect the energy drawn from the Hulk and use a willing Thunderbolt Ross as their new test subject with the Cathexis Ray. He becomes the Red Hulk, retaining all of his cunning and military acumen while possessing monstrous strength. 

The Red Hulk's first mission

In the Red Hulk's first mission for the Intelligencia, he's told to attack the Abomination in Russia and obtain some DNA samples. In "Hulk" Vol 2, #1, he uses a special gun to shoot the Abomination point-blank, killing him. The Leader yells at him for killing a potentially useful operative, but MODOK tells him it doesn't matter. Ross doesn't care about their reaction; all he wants is revenge on the Abomination for killing Betty. The Intelligencia uses the DNA on Rick Jones to create the blue-armored A-Bomb, a variant on the Abomination. Rick is happy to help his old friend Bruce as part of his Hulk family, but the Intelligencia has placed a deep suggestion within Rick's mind that will be activated at a key moment so that he can betray Bruce. 

The Intelligencia anticipates a lot of attention on the identity of the Red Hulk, and they have multiple agents in place to throw people off the scent. First of all, the primary investigator is Dr. Leonard Samson, who has already been brainwashed by MODOK with another identity ("Samson") that is in league with them — and he's a killer. Second, they put a Life Model Decoy in place for Ross, so the Red Hulk doesn't have to worry about having another identity to deal with. This Ross LMD appears to be adamant in getting to the bottom of the mystery, but he's only there to sow more confusion. 

The Red Hulk's second mission

The Ross LMD and Dr. Samson retrieve Bruce Banner from the fake "Gamma Base" that was an Intelligencia front, and task him with discovering the Red Hulk's true identity. As Banner is taking his findings to the SHIELD helicarrier, the Red Hulk attacks it in "Hulk" Vol 2, #2. The attack is a front, as his real mission is to drop off a computer virus that destroys all information on the original Hulk. The attack does knock the helicarrier out of the sky and draws more attention to the Red Hulk. 

In the attack, the Red Hulk accidentally destroys the Ross LMD. As he and Samson figure out their next move, Samson reveals his presence as a pawn of the Intelligencia. When SHIELD agent Clay Quartermain discovers them, Samson kills him, much to Ross's regret. Later, when the Red Hulk fails to kill the Green Hulk, Samson and the now-repaired Ross LMD tell him he's on his own. But this is just a temporary ruse. MODOK and the Leader use him again when the Red Hulk hunts down Domino, because she saw him change. However, the Red Hulk is phased out in favor of the Red She-Hulk, a Betty Ross who is completely under their control. 

Who are the Intelligencia?

Similar to how a group of heroes — including Reed Richards and Tony Stark — formed a secret group called the Illuminati to exchange information and make tough decisions about the world, so too did a group of villains form to plunder knowledge. As detailed in "Fall Of The Hulks: Alpha," the Intelligencia is created by the Hulk's arch-foe, the Leader. He assembles them because of their thirst for knowledge and disinterest in obeying laws that keep them away from it. Starting with the Wizard, the Leader adds Elihas "Egghead" Starr, the Mad Thinker, and the Red Ghost. They sneak into the Eternals' home of Olympia and steal the Library of Alexandria and a Hulk robot powered by cosmic rays. Their final member is Doctor Doom, who stores their spoils in Latveria. 

Years pass, and Egghead dies in battle against the Avengers. The Leader has an apt replacement: MODOK. He feels a kinship with him, as their physical forms are similarly grotesque and mutated. They form a bond as they make plans centered around Thunderbolt and Betty Ross. Even when Doom betrays them, the Leader and MODOK stick together and predict the Hulk's return after being sent into space. MODOK suggests using Thunderbolt as their Red Hulk test subject, given his past history with him. Having Betty as a failsafe is another key aspect of the plan, and a new version of the Intelligencia is born, one that will seek revenge on Doom as well.

My ally, the Hulk

The Red Hulk realizes that the Intelligencia can't be trusted, and he starts scheming against them even while still working for them. He reasons that the only person who can outsmart the Intelligencia is Bruce Banner. Even after the Red Hulk has drained his gamma energy and depowered Banner, the scientist is still a crafty, cunning foe. The first thing they do is use a Ross LMD to attack the Red Hulk using the Leader's Redeemer armor. The Red Hulk "kills" him, leading to a funeral for Ross. 

While Banner is training his son Skaar to take on the Hulk, he manipulates a number of heroes and villains into training Skaar and getting him ready for combat. Meanwhile, the Leader and MODOK prepare their plan: capturing the smartest people on the planet and draining their brains in order to create what they see as a perfect utopia. This is put into motion by temporarily Hulkifying the Avengers and a number of soldiers, causing chaos as they set up a coup. Banner tricks the villains into viewing what they believe is a recording from the future to make them think their plan would work, one where the heroes are dead and the Leader and MODOK are beloved. As part of Banner's plan, the Red Hulk helps the villains capture Reed Richards. Along with Hank Pym, Hank McCoy, T'Challa, and Doctor Doom, they are kept sedated in a fantasy setting until Banner breaks free in "Incredible Hulk" #610.

Depowering MODOK and the Leader

After the Hulk frees himself and the other geniuses, he uses the Leader and MODOK's tech to absorb the gamma and cosmic radiation that was about to kill the Avengers and a score of soldiers. The Intelligencia wants the Avengers to die, so the powers they're given are unstable. Skaar and others hold them at bay until Banner drains them of their energy. His plan all along is to reabsorb the energy he had lost (and was already starting to regain), knowing that only his body is capable of handling it. This makes him the Hulk once again. Leonard Samson breaks free of his brainwashing and helps him, in "Incredible Hulk" #610.

Right before that, Banner has the Leader on the ropes, but he manages to escape. However, Amadeus Cho has been exposed to the power-giving Cathexis ray, and he grabs on to MODOK. He uses his power to transform MODOK into his original form: lowly AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics) worker George Tarleton. This eliminates his threat once and for all. Meanwhile, the Red Hulk tracks down the Leader and drains all of his power away, turning him back into the ordinary Samuel Sterns. Drunk on power, the Red Hulk destroys the Glenn Talbot LMD that the Intelligencia had installed in the White House and claims command. The Green Hulk comes and batters him senseless, and doesn't even allow him the option of turning back into Ross in "Hulk" Vol 2, #24. 

Dealing with MODOK Superior

Bruce Banner outsmarts Thunderbolt Ross, and the Hulk decisively takes down the Red Hulk. Ross claims to be stuck in his Red Hulk form, which Banner finds ironic, considering how many years Ross tried to destroy the Hulk. Banner warns him that if he tries to become Ross again, he'll have him tried for treason. The Red Hulk sits in a holding cell in the same "Gamma Base" the Intelligencia used for Bruce Banner in "Hulk" Vol 2, #24. 

Banner tells Steve Rogers that he thinks the Red Hulk would make a good Avenger. He respects Cap, loves his country, and Banner thinks he'd be an ideal operative against Hulk-level threats. The Red Hulk proves himself against the Scorched Earth protocols that the Intelligencia put in place in case they were defeated, and eventually helps take on the Hood with the Avengers, even wielding the Power Stone. 

Ross's last encounter with MODOK is with a clone created by LMDs that dubs itself MODOK Superior, as it is free of all human weakness. MODOK Superior creates a new version of Zzzax, which Ross detects because of his former connection with the electrical monster. MODOK Superior offers Red Hulk an opportunity to resume their old partnership, but Ross refuses, takes over the new Zzzax, and uses it to zap MODOK Superior and send him running in "Hulk" Vol 2 #36. The Red Hulk might be an antihero, but he certainly isn't going to work with MODOK again.