What If General Ross Had Become The Hulk?
Marvel Comics (February, 2005)
This is not part of any of the regular What If series but one of a set of special issues doing the usual formula of the Watcher describing alternate universes where a key change altered events.
WRITER: Peter David
PENCILER: Pat Olliffe
INKER: Sal Buscema
COLORIST: Chris Sotomayor
COVER ART: Gary Frank & Morry Hollowell
LETTERER: Randy Gentile
ASSISTANT EDITOR: John Barber
EDITOR: C.B. Cebulski
Uatu the Watcher brings us all the way to the beginning. It’s General Ross and not Bruce Banner who goes out to push Rick Jones into the bomb trench, while Igor is now forced to knock everyone out with sleeping gas so he can search Bruce’s cabin for the gamma bomb notes. Ross’s side effect of the gamma radiation is different from Bruce’s. He transforms immediately into the grey version, landing on and accidentally killing Rick, and he retains his intellect but not his gift of speech. He tries to get help from Betty but scares her so badly that when he sees himself in the mirror he runs off. Talbot sends Bruce to check on Betty after they find what’s left of Rick but Talbot doesn’t take time to hear Bruce’s theory that the “hulk” is Ross. Ross finds Igor and kills him, but destroys part of the town as a result. Then he’s attacked by the military and is forced to fight back, but tosses a tank into his own home, killing Betty. Ross finally returns to normal and Bruce, now convinced that Ross might be right about the modern world, executes Ross.
What they got right: I’ll give my thoughts on the alternate reality in a separate section, and the same goes for the other remaining specials I have. This and “got wrong” are strictly on the story itself. The concept where Ross is the one who undergoes the transformation is certainly a good one. Having Ross’s side effect slightly different from Bruce’s follows a theme of how each gamma-irradiated character in the Marvel Universe has different reactions. (She-Hulk, Doc Samson, the Leader, even Ross himself after this story was written, when he becomes the first Red Hulk.) David does a good job showcasing what Ross is going through as he can’t communicate to anyone that it’s him.
What they got wrong: The Watcher’s assertion that just watching changes the timeline (quoting Werner Heisenberg) I can’t say I agree with. How did Igor get the sleeping gas canister into the bomb shelter? Was he planning that all along and just got lucky in the main continuity that Bruce went to save Rick? By the way, the trench must be bigger than it looks for a Hulked-out Ross to fall in it and on top of Rick.
What If: The Hulk’s history, and Bruce’s, is filled with tragedy but I thought this overdid it a bit. Rick and Betty are both killed, and while other What If stories over the years have done this as well Betty’s death has a decent sense of tragedy for both Ross and Bruce (given also Bruce’s history with his parents) but Rick’s felt unnecessary. This also effectively eliminates many of the gamma-people in the Marvel Universe. I believe the Leader’s origins are unconnected but no She-Hulk, no Doc Samson, and I believe no Abomination. These are all tied to Bruce and his attempts to rid himself of the Hulk, or in She-Hulk’s case to save her cousin. So I wonder if he still visits Jennifer and gives her the transfusion while on the run from the guys who shot her and how well she heals up without becoming She-Hulk? I think it works as a story but my personal tastes seldom run to the Hulk anyway. It might have been interesting to see what Ross would do with this power if he could learn control it but seeing Bruce immediately shoot him in the head the moment he changes back just feels weird to me.
Recommendation: It’s a good story overall, so if you’re a Hulk fan it might be worth checking out.