Daddy Issues #4: Thunderbolt Ross Marvel’s INCREDIBLY Possessive Father
To “celebrate” Father’s Day, I’ve written a selection of essays on some of comics worst ever dads. From adoptive fathers to absent ones, from rich and fascist to poor and useless, I’ve got ’em all! So strap in, grab your daddy issues, a stiff drink, and get ready to realise that pretty much all of your beloved men in tights are not only terrible people, but also terrible parents. Welcome to DADDY ISSUES – COMICS’ WORST FATHER FIGURES.
General Thaddeus E. “Thunderbolt” Ross may not be someone that you are immediately familiar with. His name is not synonymous with comics history in the same way as some of previous Bad Dads on my list. But trust me—in the annals of comic book awful parenting he is way up there. Thunderbolt was the man in charge of the Gamma Bomb experiment that turned mild-mannered Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk. It just so happens that before this tragic world-changing incident Thunderbolt’s daughter Betty had fallen for the quiet brainiac, which had made daddy very unhappy as he had a deep dislike for the “weakling” Banner. Though you’d think if Bruce’s lack of strength was the thing that made Ross most unhappy, he’d have been cheering on a relationship with Betty and the now hulkified Bruce. But alas, no. Thunderbolt took it upon himself to dedicate his entire life to killing the man his daughter loved–like any good dad would do, right?
Ruining a woman’s life to further a male character’s storyline has long been one of the most prolific and lazy tropes within the artform of comics. Most of the medium’s seminal and celebrated works have included a woman who is hurt or harmed in some way, though it’s hard to find a character who has been so determined to destroy the life of someone they supposedly love as Thaddeus E. Ross. Every decision he makes seems to recklessly harm his daughter in a way that is almost pathological. From the most simple decisions (like that to “stop” the Hulk whom he created) to the most complex and awful choices (to team up with villains cos he hates the Hulk so much), Thunderbolt cannot seem to do anything unless it directly fucks with his daughter.
The creepy-ass inappropriate shit that Thaddeus has done because he wants to control his daughter’s life, body, and choices have ranged from the terrible to the abhorrent. His obsession about who Betty spends her time with consumed him so deeply that he once decided the only logical thing to do was to team up with MODOK in a grand scheme to take down the Hulk once and for all. Yeah, you know, casually working with one of the most evil alien machine hybrids of all time, but it’s for the most noble of causes: stopping his daughter from getting that incredible Gamma Ray D.
If you think teaming up with someone whose full name is literally “Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing” was the peak of Thunderbolt’s terrible parenting, you were wrong. You know what they say about your wedding day? That it’s the best day of your life, a day you’ll never forget? Well, Betty’s as unforgettable as it was terrible. Why, you ask? Well, that would be because her own father decided to turn up with a gun and shoot people. On her wedding day. In Ross’ defense, he shot Rick Jones, one of comics’ most annoying and notorious sidemen. But that’s no excuse! Don’t shoot people at your daughter’s wedding, guy!
There’s something insidious about Thunderbolt’s obsession with his daughter and her love life. From the moment that she first falls for Bruce he takes an unhealthy interest in the man that his daughter loves. After being an instrumental part of the horrific gamma ray incident, which ruined Banner’s life and turning him into an emotional rage monster, Thunderbolt suddenly had a reasonable looking excuse to dedicate his whole life to making sure Betty didn’t sleep with anyone. So like any—terrifyingly creepy—dad would he set his mind on not only controlling his daughter’s life but ultimately becoming the thing that he was so desperate to protect her from. Oh, you didn’t know? After years of hunting Bruce and trying to ruin his and Betty’s relationship, Ross took his obsession with his daughter one step further and became the Hulk himself.
In some kind of awful reverse oedipal horror story, Thunderbolt became an even more masculinely coded and throbbing version of the man who his daughter loves. He became the Red Hulk. Designed as a tactically intelligent adversary to Banner’s emotionally unstable Hulk, Ross became an ultra aggressive and maniacally powerful force in the Marvel Universe. Killing numerous heroes during his time as a gamma-powered monster—including Namor, Dr. Strange, Wendigo, Abomination, and Baron Mordo—he seemingly lost his interest in Betty for a short time, becoming even more obsessed with Bruce and at one point teaming up with a group of villains just to stop Bruce from hooking up with an ex WHO ISN’T BETTY. Make up your mind and also stop cockblocking the Hulk cos it’s fucking weird.
Continuing the theme that Thunderbolt can do nothing without it destroying Betty’s life too, during his tenure as the Red Hulk, Ross thought it was a great idea to urge MODOK to resurrect his now dead daughter and bring her back in the guise of Red She-Hulk. Torturing his own daughter with gamma radiation (who already died at the hands of the very men who you allied with to bring her back to life) is some seriously terrible parenting, even from Thad “shot a guy at my own daughter’s wedding” Ross. Luckily, in some kind of universal cosmic vengeance, the very evil alien robot hybrid whom he teamed up with turned Betty on her own father and sent her after him to end his life, which she attempts by kicking him off the Empire State Building like the badass that she truly is.
Alas, no one in the Marvel Universe stays dead for long except for poor old Uncle Ben, so Thunderbolt returned, and at some point, he became human again. Though his physical humanity returned it’s hard to say if his actual humanity did (or was ever really there to begin with). Thaddeus really is one of comics’ most creepy and dangerous dads. He takes the age-old trope of the overprotective father, merges it with cartoonish villainy, and creates some kind of hyper-toxic mix of the two, the likes of which has rarely been matched.
I often lamented being the child of an absent dad, but I guess I’ll take that over a dad who loves me so much that he’ll turn into a super villain to bring me back to life. But our main takeaway here is that a dad who’s obsessively bothered about his daughter’s love life is a guaranteed creep who’ll likely shoot someone or turn into a monster. There’s your PSA, courtesy of Daddy Issues.
Join us next time for DADDY ISSUES #5: AQUAMAN – HE CAN TALK TO FISH BUT CAN’T RAISE A KID.