I don’t know why I have the Leader this low on my list. I have always enjoyed the character of The Leader. He runs a close race with The Abomination for The Hulk’s arch-nemesis, and it’s quite the pair up. Dr. Doom has his genius pitted against the genius of Reed Richards. Mandarin pits his almost magical alien technology against Iron Man’s tech. The Joker’s insanity is a great contrast to Batman’s near-obsessive quest for justice. The Green Goblin’s strength, agility, and insane abandon is an interesting foil to Spider-Man’s strength, agility, and great sense of responsibility. In the Leader, though, we have a villain who should either be able to completely dispose of his foe, or completely be disposed of by his foe. Yet, it’s a battle of super intellect vs. great strength, and the two are locked in this neverending battle that we comic fans love. It’s a dynamic that I enjoy about the Leader’s presence in the Hulk book and it was one of Stan Lee’s many strokes of genius along with Co-creator Steve Ditko. The Leader also carries with him the classic “take over the world” goal. That is, he did until thwarted by the Hulk, now his quest is one of ultimate vengeance. A dynamic that is unlike any other of the would-be dictators of the Marvel U. Add all of this to the cast of characters that The Leader has created with no regard to human rights at all, and you have a twisted villain that is always fun to pit against the hero (or in the Hulk’s case anti-hero) of the story.
If you want to read all about The Leader’s history, check out the wiki. Here is a brief history though. The Leader made his first appearance in TALES TO ASTONISH #62. Born Sam Sterns, The Leader had a very average intelligence. He worked as a janitor at a nuclear plant and found himself the victim of an accident involving gamma irradiated waste. While recovering, Sterns discovered that his head was growing and he couldn’t absorb enough information. Practically overnight he became one of the most intelligent people on the planet. Specifically, he is great with patterns, strategies, and problem solving. In fact, he is so good at strategizing, it is almost a psychic thing when it comes to his plans unfolding. Later, Sterns would begin to lose his intelligence. He then conned the Hulk (gray at the time) to help him absorb gamma radiation that had turned Rick Jones into a Hulk, thus curing Jones and restoring The Leader’s intelligence. he’s gone through some different looks over the years, but his goal has remained the same, destroy Bruce Banner and The Hulk.
He has died and returned on a couple of occasions, and he has even brought others back from death’s embrace. He was last seen doing battle with Hulk’s Hiroim that came to Earth with the Jade Giant at the end of Planet Hulk and the beginning of World War Hulk. He apparently died again. But I think it’s safe to assume that he’ll be back. It’s what he does. He’s The Leader….and The Leader…well, read the text on the comic book cover there.
The Leader has one trait that a villain must have if he’s going to be “villainy” enough. No, not the pencil stripe mustache. I’m talking about selfishness. The Leader has never had any qualms about who he uses, walks over, manipulates, or physically changes. In his day, The Leader has created quite a little cast of super-powered characters to do his bidding. Whether he pulled them from the jaws of death, manipulated them after a particularly bad run in with the Green Goliath, or just promised them things he would never deliver, he has mastered the art of conning someone into genetic manipulation. His creations include the likes of Rock, Redeemer, Ogress, and others. All promised something THEY wanted, but ultimately just pawns to bring about HIS desires. Selfishness at work friends. Selfishness at work. It also shows The Leader’s intelligence coupled with his depravity, that he would make someone a freak just to bring about his own means, and he does so with very little compassion or concern for the individual. It’s kind of chilling.
Not least among The Leaders creation are his Humanoids. Pink Robots that are nearly indestructable and look a lot like Muscle Men. Remember Muscle Men? They were a toy that came out in the eighties. They came in little plastic cans and there was an assortment of them. I don’t know if they were supposed to be aliens or wrestlers or what. You know what? Just check them out for yourself. Originally they were released as pink little guys. Later though they got some more colors to them.
Anywho, the humanoids (not to be confused with The INhumanoids) were a neat threat to the Hulk in that there were always a ton of them, or one really super big one, and their near invulnerability allowed The Leader a great way to come close to conquering the Behemoth.
The Leader is also unique in that he originally set his sights on total world domination. I, for one, don’t feel that there are enough Super Villains out to take over the world. The Leader’s initial plans involved grand schemes of taking over the planet and ruling, but were thwarted by the Hulk time and time again. So, he became a baddy more interested in vengeance than conquest. He turned his great intelligence to scheming ways to destroy the Hulk. It was often the Hulk’s savage unpredictability that caused the plans to unravel. I just think it’s interesting that this guy dropped all he was doing, all of his plans, just to stop the Hulk. This should make him a national hero, but his methods often hurt others too much for his actions to be sanctioned by the military. Also, if he did dispose of The Hulk, he’d just go back to trying to take over the planet.
As I stated earlier, I have always thought it was a stroke of genius to give the Hulk an arch villain who’s power is his intelligence. The Hulk was, for a long time, basically a big child. So it would seem that The Leader would outsmart him time and time again. However, he never quite did the job all the way.
Now, there is an interesting link between The Leader and not only The Hulk, but Banner as well. The Leader, in his own twisted way, sees the two as family. Because of the connection of gamma radiation in their origins, they are like opposite sides of a very strange coin. Almost family.
This dynamic intrigues me above all others when it comes to The Leader. He has cured Bruce, hunted Bruce, tried to kill Bruce, and even made alliances with The Hulk and Bruce.
If The Leader is involved in a Hulk story, count me in. I love a good Leader vs. Hulk story, and though there was a time where he was a bit overused, like Lex in Superman, or Doom in FF, he’s always a welcome villain in the pages of The Incredible Hulk.
As always, reactions and thoughts can be posted below.