One of the things that makes good supervillain concepts into a great ones is when you can completely understand their points of view, and when you can almost agree with their motivations for doing what they do. Dr. Doom is doing what he feels is necessary to preserve the future of humanity, Magneto was fighting for the survival and success of his own people, and Lex Luthor believes that alien demigods completely neuter human achievement. They have their flaws, their egos, and abhorrent methodologies, but you get their point. With Jeff Parker's Red Hulk #41, he's given us a new entrant in this particular realm of baddie with Zero/One.
She was once human, but she's bonded with a technomorphic alloy under sudden, traumatic circumstances, and she's become a new life form dedicated to progress and scientific advancement, which is in itself a noble goal. However, this blend of sensibilities has left her somewhat conflicted in her thinking, to the point where she's decided to grill the human that created this fusion in the first place, one Thaddeus Ross, on why he is so intent on preserving his humanity when the abilities his Red Hulk form possesses are vastly preferable.
The Omegex is a robot monster that's focused on the Red Hulk as its genocide of choice (thanks to some crafty work by Uatu The Watcher in circumventing the inevitable Omegex cycle of death by focusing on a unique being rather than a whole race – although there's no mention of Red She-Hulk, but let's not split hairs). During this fight that the Red Hulk can't win, Zero/One keeps yanking Ross out of the fight not to save him, but to preserve him long enough to complete research on why anyone would treasure their human forms like the one she once had. Human forms she's been inclined to purge from the Earth herself. Even with her terrified assistant Jacob slipping Ross clues, it's very clear that when the fate of humanity is on the line, the last guy you want to have to make some kind of impassioned, convincing plea to spare us all is a belligerent and emotionally distant military man with a history of dangerous obsession.
This is why Jeff Parker is one of those must-read creators. He's managed to make a book about an old grizzled man compelling with mostly new characters. You can understand Zero/One's point – she's honestly trying to understand human nature, and we can all agree that we'd love to be able to have super powers and a hell of a lot more resistance to harm, and to be able to draw power from things other than eating food. Why would a normal human form be preferable to getting one's Hulk on? It doesn't make sense to her, and Ross doesn't have the verbal skill or enough happy moments in his life to make a case for us – and you really get the feeling that a 'happy' moment wouldn't have made a difference in Zero/One's analysis anyway.
We get some more Ross backstory in this issue as well, as Zero/One shifts around in the timeline to observe various crux points in Ross' life to try to discern what benefit there is to a weak and feeble humanity. We learn (or at least have it clarified) that the man he saw die in a plane crash as a boy was not his father, but the father of one of his friends, and although it traumatized the boy for life, somehow it galvanized Ross' desire to join the Air Force. And we learn that being the Red Hulk has humbled Ross enough now that he's able to give up on almost all his old resentments – including his mother cheating on his father with a man who turned out to be more of an actual father to him anyway.
There's just so much going on in this series, from cosmic heroics to small interpersonal drama all with the fate of the world on the line in both subtle and thunderingly obvious ways. It's all compelling, involving, stressful and tense at the same time. It helps to be a Hulk nerd, I suppose, to really appreciate getting this deep into the life of Thunderbolt Ross, but for a Hulk book, Parker's definitely not afraid to stray away from the smashing. That's where the most interesting stuff happens anyway. Let's hope it stays that way.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 8.8/10