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Will Red Hulk Join The MCU?

Bruce Banner's smashing days might be over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but an unlikely replacement may be waiting in the wings.

The Mighty Marvel rumor mill has been insisting of late that General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross — portrayed by William Hurt in the films of the MCU — will soon follow in the footsteps of his comics counterpart by becoming the Red Hulk. Furthermore, it's being posited that the character might anchor a team that could serve as a de facto substitution for the Avengers (via MCU Cosmic).

We'll dive into these rumors shortly, but first, a little background. If you're unfamiliar with Ross' history in the comics, it may seem a little counter-intuitive to learn that he eventually becomes the thing which he appears to hate the absolute most: a Hulk (perhaps it's just the color green that really grinds his gears). But indeed, he does — if only so that he can continue pursuing his vendetta against Banner, whom he engaged in epic Hulk Battles numerous times.

Ross' acquisition of Hulk-Out abilities came, unfortunately, at a time when he was — how shall we put this — not doing so well mentally, and it's safe to say that he didn't exactly handle his newfound power all too well. For just one example, Uatu the Watcher once attempted to observe a fight between Ross and Banner; Ross responded by punching the intergalactic entity in the face. For another, Red Hulk once took down a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier with then-director Tony Stark aboard. Basically, he became a full-on villain for a spell.

After receiving some much-needed help, Ross eventually came around to the side of the heroes of the Marvel universe, even serving as an Avenger for a time — and he eventually joined a different team, one made up mostly of reformed supervillains like himself.

Who are the Thunderbolts?

The Thunderbolts have a bit of a checkered history; debuting in 1997, the team was initially presented (in The Incredible Hulk #449) as a straight-up superhero team, before a final panel twist (considered to be one of the more jaw-dropping such twists in comics history) revealed them to be the supervillain team the Masters of Evil in disguise.

Eventually, the members of the team rejected their villainous ways (and their nefarious leader, Baron Zemo), to pursue their destiny as heroes. In addition to "Thunderbolt" Ross/Red Hulk and Zemo, the team's members have included Eric O'Grady, the the "Irredeemable" third Ant-Man; Mac Gargan, the former Scorpion and second character to host the Venom symbiote; Yelena Belova, the second Black Widow; Brock Rumlow, the mercenary known as Crossbones; Frank Castle, the infamous Punisher; Cain Marko, the Juggernaut; the conflicted villain known as Ghost; "Power Man" Luke Cage; Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier; and Wade Wilson, also known as everyone's favorite "Merc with a Mouth," Deadpool.

The Marvel rumor mill has been working overtime to crank out unsubstantiated reports that not only will Ross be Hulking out in the near future (perhaps in the upcoming She-Hulk Disney+ series), but that a feature film — or, say some sources, a Disney+ show — featuring some incarnation of the Thunderbolts is also in development.

Could a version of the Thunderbolts team be headed to the MCU?

At this point, we'd like to call your attention to our use of the word "unsubstantiated," because none of this is in any way confirmed. In fact, all of the outlets reporting these rumors — such as the notoriously hit-and-miss We Got This Covered and the wildly unreliable MCU Cosmic — cite nothing other than anonymous sources, and the fact that no mainstream outlets have caught wind of these developments strongly suggest that it might all be, as they say, a bunch of hooey.

We do know, however, that Hurt's "Thunderbolt" Ross will continue to have an MCU presence (after last being seen at Tony Stark's funeral in Avengers: Endgame) by way of an appearance in the upcoming Black Widow; one could also make the case that if Marvel Studios indeed wanted to assemble the Thunderbolts, they've already introduced a plethora of characters that could make the cut.

Cherry-picking from that list above (and excluding characters from Netflix's late, lamented Marvel shows for the time being), we could see Bucky Barnes, Ghost, Yelena Belova (who will make her debut in Black Widow), and perhaps even Deadpool suiting up for the team. Zemo (who will return in the Disney+ series Falcon and the Winter Soldier) could also factor in, as could the Abomination, who hasn't been seen since 2008's The Incredible Hulk.

Again, we're just spitballing here — but the MCU is in need of a new super-team or two, and one made up of morally conflicted former villains could add an interesting wrinkle. This is one rumor we're hoping has some substance behind it, and you can bet that we'll keep our eyes peeled for any official announcements.