I never actually disliked the Red Hulk. I never disliked the concept, but how he was presented to us was just all wrong. I hated how Marvel, Jeph Loeb specifically, created him - making a big guessing game as to what his real identity is - and then, on their big #600 anniversary issue they promise a big revelation -- they reveal that Bruce Banner is no longer the Hulk (Forever. ...At least for a while) Not only did they not reveal who the Red Hulk was, they specificly say in the story "If all you do is focus on the Red Hulk you're going to miss the big picture". THE HECK? Not focus on who the Red Hulk is?! The first story arch is titled "Who is the Hulk?" You had Ads everywhere encouraging speculation. You had a story in the Annual postulating on the very subject. Ignore who the Red Hulk is?! THAT WAS YOU'RE WHOLE SELLING POINT! .....Ahem..... I stopped buying issues of the Incredible Hulk after that. Haven't picked up an issue since. And likely wouldn't have even tried the Red Hulk series except for the ending of one of my favorite books Agents of Atlas, by Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman. That creative team went over to the Red Hulk book (just titled "Hulk", not "Incredible Hulk") after Loeb ended his run. I just love these creators. Jeff Parker has a great B-Movie mentality and style, which works wonders for comics - as he's eager to shove in classic and beloved ideas, like giant monsters, sci-fi gone amuck, lost civilizations - you name it, bringing all of these classic concepts back to comics; and it's all superbly well written. Also, I can't express how impressed I've been by Gabirel Hardman's art. He has this talent to make the most dark and seedy pitt burst alive with detail and imagery, making every local look beautiful. His characters are equal parts gritty and cartoony. Every page is simply to die for.
This new creative team wasn't initially enough to get me on board, as I skipped the first few issues. I didn't want to get sucked back into the Hulk series again. Yet I kept hearing how impressed everyone else was with the issues. So I finally went back and was lucky enough to get all the issues I had missed.
Essentially the Red Hulk is on a path of redemption. Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) wants to utilize and perhaps redeem the Red Hulk, one Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross. (That's who the Red Hulk is. It only took 2 years to find out. And my first guess was right all along.) The Red Hulk had previous teamed up with The Leader and M.O.D.O.K. - who transformed him into a Hulk as part of their plans. Ross eventually turned against them, and even faked his own death in the process. When all was said and done, Hulk knew that Ross could never go back to his old life again. He had already had his best day - a funeral honoring his service, where even Captain America spoke for him. Hulk told Ross that he was now trapped being the Red Hulk - just like is. At first Ross is in prison, and has to be taught a little humility before agreeing to work with Rogers and Banner. The goal is simple - to stop a series of back-up plans The Leader and M.O.D.O.K. had set up, a program called "Scorched Earth"; Essentially, if they couldn't take over the world - no one can.
Bruce Banner essentially is Ross' jailor, as in his off-time Ross is stuck in the Hulkbuster Facility where Banner is coordinating the battle against the Scorched Earth Protocols. The only company Ross has are LMD (Life Model Decoys), robots left over from the Leader/M.O.D.O.K. Alliance. Ross only has the LMDs and Banner for company. Their both trying to forge a working relationship, which isn't easy since they both hate each other.
Rogers still doesn't trust Ross, so for all of his missions he's being paired up with a who's who of the Marvel Universe's heaviest hitters. His first mission will team him up with Iron Man, against a tech company who's technology is running amuck. Red Hulk doesn't immediately take to being paired up with anyone, and leaps off to face the menace alone.
Steve calls Iron Man, who's in-route to the incident as well, to inform him he'd be working with the Red Hulk - but because of interference from the technology going haywire, Steve's call is dropped. When Iron Man gets to the scene all he can see is the Red Hulk fighting a bunch of possessed zombie/robots - and naturally assumes this is all the Hulk's fault. A great battle between the two ensue.
Ross still struggles to complete the mission - and goes to work destroying the source of the zombie/robot infection that has been spreading. Along with some cleaver work by Iron Man - the mission is ultimately successful.
Thor is called in for the next mission. Rogers tried to tell Thor that the Red Hulk is an ally, but mis-communication on coms leads to Thor and Red Hulk fighting. During the first few issues of Jeph Loeb's run writing Red Hulk - there was a point where, while in mid-orbit, the Red Hulk was able to grab and strike Thor with his own hammer. It was never really clear why that was possible, since only the most worthy are able to lift up the hammer. In a kind of continuity repair work Jeff Parker explains it as being possible because there was no gravity - and thus Red Hulk was able to manipulate the hammer. This new fight is on the ground - where Ross can't pick the hammer up now matter how much he tries.
Thor, appropriately, shows why he is the God of Thunder - and lands a Godly smack down on the Red Hulk. When the dust all clears, and Rogers is able to get in-between them and explain that the Red Hulk is working for them now - the fighting finally ends. Casually Thor remarks to Banner in private that there really hadn't been a misunderstanding - and he had heard Steve's message. He just wanted to kick the Red Hulk's ass to get him back after their last fight.
The next mission Thor and Ross embark on is to redirect a pair of comets that where being drawn towards Earth. The mission is successful, but Red Hulk gets a visit from another old "friend" from Jeph Loeb's run. The Watcher appeared before the Hulk -- giving his usually foreboding message of doom. (The Watcher does this a lot in the Marvel Universe. Whenever he shows up, it means something bad is coming. It has to be annoying.) The last time the Red Hulk had met the Watcher, he had been able to punch the Watcher in the face. In another case of post-Loeb repair, it is explained that this isn't usually possible. The Watcher is pretty much omnipresent - something like a haymaker landing on his face isn't something that's suppose to happen. It was funny when Loeb wrote it - but now Parker is dealing a bit more with the mechanics of why that happened. (And more on the Water later...)
The next Scorched Earth plot takes place under the sea where Red Hulk and Namor have to defeat a colossal beast before it does some serious damage to life underwater. It's not a happy team-up. Namor is usually an a-hole with everyone - but with the Red Hulk he had real cause, because of Ross' past machinations with the Leader and company. So once the threat under the sea is taken care of - Namor lands a righteous beat-down on Ross. It you haven't noticed, this has been a theme of this story arch.
The Scorched Earth storyline kicks into it's final phase. During this whole run there has been a back-up series starring Rick Jones, who's now A-Bomb - a Blue Armadillo-Style/Abomination-Style Hulk. Rick has spent his whole life around super-types - so he's particularly adapting well to being stuck in the form of a Hulk. (He was turned into one against his will during Loeb's run) Rick is on a big monster hunt - as giant monsters are popping up and threatening the world. Rick does a fine job fighting the monsters - and has a fun time while he's doing it. His mission eventually leads him to the source of these monsters - Monster Island. A secret and usually enclosed island where all manner of horrible giant beasts roam. The Scorched Earth program has opened up a portal for the monsters to escape - and Rick gets on the Island to stop them. Banner, who's been in communication with Rick during his missions, looses contact with him. Red Hulk is sent in after him - and they both discover that there is a kind of spore that attaches to the monsters and makes them "Want" to go through the portal and go on a rampage. Rick had been caught by one of these spores - but Ross was able to get it off him. The mission quickly begins to go south, as Ross over-heats when he also gets the spores attached to him. He heats up, destroying the spores - but this also reverts him back to human. Now he's a tasty snack for the endless army of giant monsters. Luckily Banner used a teleportation device to arrive just in the nick of time - and bash the monsters as the Green Hulk. Ross says he can't transform back. Hulk says he can, and goads him on, asking if his presence, and his hatred of the Green Hulk, was really the only think that was enough to make him transform. This does the trick as Ross turns back into the Red Hulk. Finally Rick, Green Hulk and Red Hulk team up and attack the source of the spores - the volcano in the middle of the island. Inside the volcano they find quite the horror experiment inside - giant cloned brains of M.O.D.O.K. connected together in a vat - acting as the computer controlling the Scorched Earth protocols. The brain-vat is destroyed any everyone can go home happy. Or, so they think.
One last cloned brain of M.O.D.O.K. still existed - and we see the rebirth of a new M.O.D.O.K. This version will be different, it tells the LMDs who are completing the finishing touches on his new body. See, the Scorched Earth Protocols where never about destroying the Earth - they where just a distraction while the new M.O.D.O.K. Superior was born!
Meanwhile, we're treated to a rare glimpse inside the world of the Watchers in two back-up stories. A female Watcher is looking for Earth's Water, Uatu. The Watcher's realm is a confusing and abstract realm, with previews of future events that can be seen. The female Watcher is concerned as Uatu has disappeared. She is told how a mortal being had been able to punch Uatu; she is disgusted by the idea of a mortal being able to touch one of them. She is given access to find Uatu is a secretive realm. There Uatu points out a new menace arising - the Omegex - a weapon designed to destroy all the species of a particular life-form. Upon it's creation it detects Uatu. Omegex came before the Watchers, even though it could not detect them. It did, however, detect the former contact that had been laid upon Uatu - the Red Hulk's signature. Omegex is now on it's way to Earth and is after the Red Hulk.
I was most pleased with these past 5 issues. This is a tremendously good start to the new run. I like that it's self-contained, and not requiring you to read the Incredible Hulk, or Avengers where the Red Hulk is going to be a new member. And it's quite simply good old fashioned comic fun! I'm greatly looking forward to upcoming issues, especially since Jeff Parker is launching an initiative to create a Rogue's gallery for the Red Hulk. Omegex is one of them, with three others to be revealed in upcoming issues. If you haven't read this series - it's worth trying. Along with Incredible Hercules, it's one of Marvel's best titles on the market. I'm loving the hard fought story of redemption Ross is on - and quite frankly being the Red Hulk has been a perfect way to make use of Ross, especially since he has the storied past of having hunted the Green Hulk all his life - and now is himself a Hulk. There's also a compelling story plot that Ross might have to choose wether to be human or a Hulk - as his powers are going to go one way or another. If he sticks with Rogers' orders, I think he'll make a fine hero. Or Anti-Hero, at least. It's a good story either way, and I encourage anyone to try the book. They have a great jumping on point with a .1 issue Hulk #30.1.