Who is The Leader? A Brilliant Marvel Villain Stands Up to The Hulk
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Who Is The Leader? The Brilliant Marvel Villain Standing Up To The Hulk

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BY May 31, 2023

Marvel Comics universe brings us another character who came to set the tone for the Hulk stories. He is The Leader, personified by Samuel Sterns, a villain born between Bruce Banner’s adventures.

The evolution of the Hulk brought several of them, such as the Red Hulk. But it was not until the fall of the Hulk that he revealed himself to be a grouping of great minds, Illuminati style. The character will return to prominence thanks to the MCU production Captain America: New World Order

So let’s introduce this character that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created in the 1960s. Samuel Stems is painted as one of the most intelligent villains ever in the Marvel comics world. Not for nothing, was he listed in 2009 as IGN 63 for being the greatest villain ever.

Who is Samuel Sterns, The Leader?

The Leader Reading Order! - Comic Book Herald Image: Marvel Comics

The Leader Samuel Sterns first appeared in 1964 in Tales to Astonish. His appearances have been related in comics to the Hulk. He is one of the most prominent characters in the relaunched Marvel NOW! Thunderbolts.

This character acquires his superhuman intelligence from exposure to toxic waste irradiated with Gamma rays. This experience also caused him physical alterations, where his skin turned green and his head enlarged.

All this made him position himself as one of the coolest Hulk villains. This, of course, is for combining the Hulk’s mindless strength with one of the most powerful intellects in the Marvel Universe.

In addition to his intelligence, he had telepathy and telekinesis, controlling minds and erasing memories. Also, among his most famous works is that of resurrecting the dead. He was in charge of creating the Red Hulk.

Fictional Biography of the Character

MCU: Why Is This Hulk Villain in Captain America 4? - IGN Image: Marvel Comics

Samuel Sterns was born in Boise, Idaho, United States. Of his childhood and adolescence, the story reveals nothing. But, as an adult, he worked for a chemical plant, moving radioactive materials to a subway storage area; he had an accident.

Some of the radioactive materials exploded and bombarded Sterns with gamma radiation. After recovering, he discovered that the radiation had changed him from an ordinary human into a super-intelligent entity. However, so did his appearance, acquiring green skin and large brain, which had a large size.

As indicated in other stories, there was a strong subconscious desire beforehand for those infected with gamma radiation. In Sterns’s case, it was to have more intelligence than his brother Phillip, a physicist who worked at the same place as he did. Thus, Sterns became The Leader, embarking on several criminal schemes against the Hulk.

Sterns began his formation of the Intelligence team. For this, he recruited Ivan, better known as The Red Phantom. He was noted for being a Russian scientist who experimented with cosmic rays that empowered him and three apes.

It continued with Dr. Bentley Whitman, the villain of The Fantastic Four, better known as The Wizard. It continued with The Mysterious Genius, aka The Mad Thinker, and finally with Starr, a genius scientist who took on Ant-man and The Avengers. Shortly after, The Leader also recruited M.O.D.O.K. Who is one of the most powerful Minds created by the criminal association.

The Leader and Thunderbolt Ross

After several unsuccessful adventures against the Hulk, the Leader hides and offers help to General Thunderbolt Ross to neutralize the Hulk, managing to contain him inside a plastic cage.

But, he didn’t count on Betty Ross hearing his real plan to take over the base and its nuclear missiles. The goal was to unleash a nuclear war to annihilate a large part of humanity.

Because of this, Ross ends up releasing the Hulk, who, in effect, stops The Leader’s plan. Despite this, the villain manages to escape and uses his powers to erase all memory of his scheme from the base’s inhabitants, which he did not do with Ross.

In his escape, The Leader hijacks a vehicle belonging to the U.S. Army, but the Hulk destroys it. Who, in revenge, attends Banner’s wedding, shooting him with a lightning bolt that turns him into an unusually savage Hulk.

The Riot Squadron

Before this phase, The Leader had irradiated Manhattan’s water supply with gamma rays. Thus, he was trying to mutate mankind into green-skinned beings like himself. This led him to engage in a plan to detonate a gamma bomb subsequently.

The intention was to affect the 5,000 inhabitants of the small Arizona town of Middletown. He would kill most of them, and the survivors would serve as research subjects. Who would be the superhuman executioners called the Riot Squad. In this way, he built a self-sufficient society called Freehold. A locality located in the Arctic, and whose civilians died in the Arctic.

S.H.I.E.L.D Captures the Leader.

The Leader began to have strange events, which may or may not be partly true, where there was the construction of the extradimensional demon Nightmare. All as a further attempt to get revenge on the Hulk.

Thus, the Leader was captured by the Hulkbusters of S.H.I.E.L.D., where he was put on trial for all the crimes committed. The lawyer Mallory Book of the firm of She-Hulk represented him in the trial.

In this process, his lawyer, Book, argued that The Leader was not responsible for his actions. Claiming that the gamma blast hurt him, forcibly changing his personality.

He made an analogy between Jennifer Walters and She-Hulk to prove his point, revealing that the former was much more promiscuous than when she became the latter.

On the second day of the trial, the humanoid team tried to rescue the villain. Who refused to leave, staying to watch the conclusions of the trial. Since he was sure he would win.

Marvel NOW! and the New Thunderbolts

An imposing Samuel Sterns appears during the events of Marvel NOW! at the end of the second issue of the new Thunderbolt series. Who is housed inside a shipping container.

His head is attached to a machine, presumed to emanate red gamma rays, Red Hulk style. Stern is seen as the custodian of this Red Hulk. In the third issue, Stern is seen with reddish skin but without powers.

Stern is killed by the Punisher, who is unhappy and fruit of the Red Hulk’s true plans. In the fight against Madman, he absorbs gamma energy from his laboratory and brings the Leader back to life. He joins the Thunderbolts under the pseudonym Red Leader.

The Leader in Hulkverines

In the Hulkverines miniseries, the Leader is held in a remote facility at Shadow Base 43B using Big Bob’s Lumber Lounge. There he was informed by Agent Castillo that the Hulk had returned from the dead.

Thus, the Leader’s help was once again required to defeat the Hulk. But, the villain decided to do it himself and stabbed Agent Castillo. He started his fight on his own.

He arrives in the area where the Hulk and Weapon H are fighting. The agents of the Shadow Base subsequently overtake him, which gives rise to chases and fights that end with villains and heroes devising a plan to stop the Hulk.

During the battle, the Leader and Dr. Alba participate arduously, realizing someone wants to manipulate them. The scene ends, watching from afar the aftermath, sharing a romantic kiss at the end after embracing.

The Leader’s Powers and Abilities

The Leader - the comics history of the MCU Captain America: New World Order villain | GamesRadar+ Image: Marvel Comics

The Leader is one of Marvel’s villains noted for his powers and abilities due to gamma-irradiated waste exposure, such as:

  • He possesses the ability to predict outcomes of tactical and strategic scenarios.
  • He can solve patterns and has enhanced intuition, logical and philosophical structuring, information storage, and retrieval.
  • He has a superhuman mental vision.
  • His memory is perfect. He is able to remember every moment since he had the accident that gave him his powers.
  • He has telekinetic and telepathic powers with certain limitations, but they are powerful.

This is one of the characters with extensive knowledge of physics, genetics and robotics. Managing to design many sophisticated weapons, androids, vehicles, computers, and even synthetic humanoids.

The story showed that The Leader can sometimes turn back to Samuel Sterns. But, in doing so, he lost his memories of his identity as The Leader because Sterns’s mind could not cope with his intellect.

Other Versions of The Leader

In other versions, The Leader has been:

Link to Marvel Cinematic Universe

Before the 2012 release of The Avengers, Marvel published comics titled Avengers Prelude: Fury’s Big Week, which is within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In issues 6 and 7, Sterns suffers a mutation in his head. He possesses an increasing mental capacity—the related storyline with Natasha Romanoff, where he ends up detained in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody.

Marvel Zombies

In Marvel Zombies vs. The Army of Darkness, The Leader appears as a zombie in a horde that infects The Punisher. He appears with a large hole in his skull that blows and does not stop. He is also present in Marvel Zombies 3.

Ultimate Leader

In Ultimate Human #1, miniseries starring Ultimate Iron Man and Ultimate Hulk, the Leader appears in the Ultimate version. He also appears as the Ultimate version of MI6 agent Pete Wisdom where. His psychic and mental abilities are very similar to the original Leader.

The Leader in Other Media


The Leader is in other media, such as:


On television, The Leader is present in:

  • Marvel Superheroes, voiced by Gillie Fenwick.
  • The Incredible Hulk, episode “Criminals at the Wheel”, voiced by Stan Jones.
  • Iron Man, episode “The Hulk Hunters”, voiced by Matt Frewer.
  • The Incredible Hulk from the 1990s, The Leader, was a recurring villain, with Matt Frewer reprising his role.
  • The Super Hero Squad Show, episode “Tremble Before the Power of M.O.D.O.K.”.
  • The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, voiced by Jeffrey Combs.
  • Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., voiced by James Arnold Taylor.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man.
  • Avengers Assemble, voiced by James Arnold Taylor again.


In the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk, Dr. Samuel Sterns, played by Tim Blake Nelson, appeared. The version presented was that of a university professor secretly trying to help Bruce Banner find a cure for his transformations.

But, he replicates Banner’s blood samples, transforming Emil Blonsky into the Abomination. In a fight between the latter and Sterns, he destroys his lab and becomes infected, expanding his skull.

In 2024, Tim Blake Nelson will return to play his role as Sterns in the next MCU movie, Captain America: New World Order. He will therefore be Sam Wilson’s villain.

Video Games

In video games, The Leader is a playable character in:

  • Hulk, voiced by Michael Dobson.
  • The Incredible Hulk, voiced by Tim Blake Nelson.
  • Lego Marvel Super Heroes, voiced by Jeffrey Combs.
  • Marvel: Avengers Alliance.
  • Lego Marvel Avengers.
  • Marvel Avengers Academy.

The Leader and Captain America

Leader (Samuel Sterns) Powers, Enemies, History | Marvel Image: Marvel Comics

Fans of the MCU are in anticipation of the release of the new Captain America movie. The Leader, Samuel Sterns, is one of the villains who has appeared in the Hulk stories. But this wasn’t the only MCU film; he also appeared in a prequel comic to The Avengers where Black Widow shoots him.

This new film already has an announced release on May 3, 2024, and it looks like it will come with everything in this fourth film. It will star Anthony Mackie and will be directed by Julius Onah. Thus, we will see again one of the most evil villains of the Hulk and Marvel Comics.

Featured Image Via Marvel Comics


I am a circus aerialist influenced by Dick Grayson and Spider-Man. Fortunate to write about the characters that inspired me. I also have a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and a Master's degree in International Trade.

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