A couple of years ago, if you'd told me the Red Hulk would be one of my favorite characters, I wouldn't have believed you. In fact, I'd likely have slapped you across the face with a glove and challenged you to an honor duel. Jeph Loeb's obnoxious creation was stupid, annoying and he was puffed up by unceremoniously killing one of the Hulk's most enduring villains off-panel.
What a difference Jeff Parker made. By creating hands-down the coolest supervillain team ever in the Intelligentsia, and making big-headed bad guys The Leader and M.O.D.O.K. responsible for his creation, as well as finally giving him an identity in former General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross, I've done a complete 180 on this guy. It also helps that the real Hulk is back in his own book, too.
So Hulk #32 picks up with Ross in a rather large pickle. Namely, he's gotten a very bitter taste of his own medicine with the discovery that there's a two-star general named Reginald Fortean who is every bit as obsessed with destroying him as Ross used to be about destroying the original Hulk. The bitter irony is that Fortean is fiery pissed at the Red Hulk for supposedly killing his mentor – who happens to be Ross himself. To the rest of the world, Thunderbolt Ross died a hero's death, and only a tiny handful of people know the true identity of the Red Hulk, and Ross has no desire to sully his legacy by revealing that their war hero is the same monster who broke into the White House and tried to take over the country.
Another bit of irony is that Fortean's first time out on the job proves him to be more ruthlessly effective than Ross ever was. Thanks to him, Ross now has bombs implanted in his brain, and Fortean is tracking him and waiting for him to slow down enough to become human again so he can detonate those bombs and kill him. This means Ross has to go days on end without sleep, and he can't risk heading back to his gamma base home lest Fortean be led there to clean up the mess. So we've got another Hulk forced to wander alone across the country to do things like save small towns from tornadoes.
However, this issue focuses much more on the development of a new adversary for the Red Hulk – a creepy techno/human hybrid calling herself Zero/One, a creature that Ross doesn't yet realize he had a hand in creating (while trying to save her from a M.O.D.O.K. virus in her technomorphic alloy that… it's comic book science jargon). She's obsessed with the advancement of technology at the expense of human frailty (she's killed workers just to reanimate them into a tireless workforce) and she's determined to stop the Red Hulk from sabotaging her work again by tracking down a serial killer she remembers from her youth as the unstoppable bogeyman the Black Fog.
Parker's got an interesting concept here with a hybrid mind that can't separate myth from fact, as apparently "data is data." When she finds this Black Fog as a limbless prisoner unable to function, she reconciles the discrepancy by simply recreating him into a technomorphic force of destruction. Essentially a partner to herself, an engine of creation. The result is a big dude in a cloak with knives – scary, yes, but guys with knives aren't really threats to Hulks. The 'technomorph' thing, though, is something different. These people are unnerving, and Ross isn't gonna know what hit him – although he might if the newly reborn M.O.D.O.K. Superior decides to get involved.
Another thing coming down the pike that Ross won't be able to fathom is this Omegex creature that we've seen in previous issues, on its way to kill the Red Hulk and likely follow by killing the entire human civilization. I love the idea that Parker is taking Loeb's stupid one-off joke where he had Ross punch Uatu the Watcher in the face and turning it into an event that has a deep, resonating cosmic ripple effect that may exterminate humanity. I love it when guys like Parker, Pak and Slott take broken stuff from the big-name writers and run with them until they make some kind of legitimate sense for the characters rather than just filling an immediate plot hole or a silly splash page.
Jeff Parker's earned the loyalty of this Hulk nerd, and he continues to earn it with this Red Hulk book. If you'd told me a couple of years ago that T-Bolt Ross would have his own title, I'd have thought you batty.