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Archrivals: Hulk vs the Leader

Smarmy smarts meet savage strength as we recount the greatest gamma-irradiated battles between these two green gladiators

By Jim Beard Some guys get all the brains. Exposed to gamma radiation, loser Samuel Sterns found his cranium-and the gray matter beneath-enlarged to inhuman proportions. Realizing he no longer resembled humanity in either hat size or intellect, he restyled himself as the Leader and one of the Incredible Hulk's greatest archrivals first reared his big, ugly head. The pre-Leader Sterns debuts in this summer's "Incredible Hulk" film, opening on June 13, and sets the stage for future big-screen deviltry from the Hulk's huge-headed foe. Here's a look back at their 40-plus year feud!

TALES TO ASTONISH #65 (1965) Seeking to "take over the reins of government," the Leader inaugurated his first bid towards world domination. Having dispatched his amazing Humanoid to snare a nuclear device of Dr. Bruce Banner's, the criminal genius ran afoul of a rampaging Hulk. His versatile android beaten by the Green Goliath, the frustrated Leader pondered his new opponent and sized him up for ultimate destruction.

INCREDIBLE HULK v1 #139 (1971) Still peeved at his inability to destroy the Hulk, the Leader sketched out a scheme to deliver a massive heart attack to his enemy by inducing mind-numbing rage. The U.S. government's "Brain-Wave Booster" served as the means to this end and the Leader used it to send numerous spectral Hulk foes against the brute. Ultimately, the Hulk's friend Jim Wilson scurried into the Booster's mechanical guts and the resulting backlash drove the brainy ne'er-do-well into a catatonic state.

INCREDIBLE HULK v1 #224 (1978) Bruce Banner drifted towards death while the Leader brought the entire world's information and communications systems under his domination. Saved by Doc Samson, Banner became the Hulk once more, but the two powerhouses fell to the wrath of the Leader and his humanoid horde. Finally, the gamma giant faced off against the Leader himself, but the evil genius utilized "kinetron" gloves and pummeled his enemy with his own kinetic energy. The Hulk persevered and his anger-born strength won the day. Vanquished, the Leader seemingly disintegrated in a botched transportation attempt.

INCREDIBLE HULK v1 #342 (1988) Possessed of a new, further-gamma-irradiated form, the Leader illustrated his nigh-complete mastery over manipulation and machination by sending the strange, deranged creature known as Half-Life to kill the Hulk. During the gambit, the arch-fiend also revealed a psychic link he shared with Banner's longtime friend Rick Jones. Half-Life's attack ended in defeat, which came as no surprise to the clever Leader, who chortled over his plans within plans, which included the capture of Bruce Banner's wife, Betty.

INCREDIBLE HULK #400 v1 (1992) Ensconced as a kind of religious savior, the Leader, along with a strange being known as Soul Man, claimed he could raise the dead. They promised Rick Jones they would grant his late lover Marlo new life and after much deliberation, Rick agreed. The Hulk decided once and for all he would bring the fight to the Leader and bore down on the criminal genius' sanctuary town Freehold-just as Hydra also attacked. Rick begged his old friend to allow the Leader to revive Marlo but during the melee the Leader, mortally wounded, swore vengeance on the Hulk and apparently perished in a fiery explosion.

WORLD WAR HULK AFTERSMASH: WARBOUND #1-3 (2007) A still-breathing Leader ensnared the Hulk's Warbound gladiators and brought them to Nevada to help prolong his quickly-expiring existence. He used one of the aliens to erect a gamma-powered shield in the desert and named it "Gammaworld." The Warbound attempted to protect a nearby town from giant, irradiated insects but the appearance of the odd radiation-spawned being Horde complicated matters. A battle ensued between the Leader and the Warbound and it proved to be a swansong for the Hulk's longtime foe. Stabbed through the heart, the Leader suffered his latest and perhaps final defeat. Need to catch up on your Hulk reading? Looking for the perfect stories starring the Jade Giant? Check out our list of the 10 Collections marked as required reading by any Hulk fan! Read classic Hulk stories in Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited! Take pictures with a life-size Hulk statue at select theaters nationwide! Visit the official "The Incredible Hulk" movie site! Remember, "The Incredible Hulk" comes to a theater near you on June 13!
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