Quote1 Shakespeare said the world was a stage. He was wrong. The world is a puzzle. But it takes an intellect such as mine to see just how the pieces fit. Quote2
-- The Leader

Early life

Samuel Sterns was originally a slow-witted individual and a high school dropout. He was alienated from his family as they doted on his more intelligent and successful older brother. As an adult, Sterns found employment working the night shift at a chemical research plant. One evening, he was moving canisters of waste material when one of the containers cracked open bathing him in gamma radiation. Sterns survived what would normally be a lethal dose of radiation, but not without cost. Initially, however, the side-effects seemed completely beneficial. Sterns discovered that his intellect had increased a thousand-fold, and he retained information with the accuracy of a computer. He began reading voraciously, accumulating as much knowledge as he possibly could. Before long, however, his gamma-irradiated body continued to mutate. His skin turned permanently green, and his cranium increased in size.[6]

The Leader

Abandoning his true human name, Sterns instead began to refer to himself as the Leader. Over the course of a year, he used his heightened intellect to become a criminal mastermind, and he developed an extensive spy ring with plans of taking control of the United States government. His efforts soon earned him the attention of another gamma-spawned mutation, physicist Dr. Bruce Banner, also known as the Incredible Hulk, clashing with him on numerous occasions[7] and at one point, even ruining Banner's wedding to Betty Ross.[8]

Eventually, Sterns' increased mental capabilities began to lessen. It was not until too late that he noticed this, until the external changes were seen through his reversion to a regular sized head and the disappearance of his green skin. The Leader attempted to retain his super-intellect, but realized the time had run out that he was now an ordinary human with baseline intelligence. Resigning himself to his fate, he took advantage of the regaining of his ordinary appearance to reintegrate himself into conventional American society and abandon his delusional ideas of taking over the United States, eventually getting a job as a coroner's assistant in New Mexico. Much to his surprise, he was asked to help on a job at Gamma Base, to retrieve the body of General Thaddeus Ross after his death at the hands of Zzzax. Sterns killed his co-worker and took the ambulance that had Ross' corpse within, following Bruce Banner, who was on his way to one of his old hidden laboratories. Though he arrived too late to save the gamma-ray equipment that the Hulk destroyed after manipulating Banner into using it on himself. He told the now gray Hulk that he could permanently get rid of Banner if he helped get Rick Jones' version of Hulk's gamma radiation into Sterns' body. Hulk managed to use the knowledge in the Banner part of his brain to construct a new gamma-ray machine before knocking out the Jones-Hulk and strapping him into it. The resulting experiment successfully infused the gamma radiation into Sterns' body but also destroyed the lab, causing Hulk and Jones to believe The Leader had perished. He escaped and stole Ross' body, making his way to one of his own labs.

With his regained intelligence, Sterns also had a larger, bald cranium which was more mutated than his former look. He contacted a being called Half-Life and gave him work to stall the Hulk lest he stop the Leader's plotting. After Half-Life's defeat, Leader gathered up his parts and returned him to his base, outfitting him with a suit of armor and a camera, then sending him out again. He knew that Hulk would ultimately win, and so recorded a message to him which he would later leave. He developed technology around this time that was capable of returning life to dead bodies. He used it on General Ross though the procedure resulted in a waking-coma, life without a mind.

Two former Hulkbusters were convinced to join his ranks and outfitted as Rock and Redeemer.[9] He sent the two to steal a gamma bomb from a US government facility, then had them plant it in Middletown, Arizona. Taunting Hulk with the fact there was a bomb that would go off in mere hours, Leader waited for him to find it before setting Rock and Redeemer on him. In the resulting battle, Hulk was weakened but triumphant, reaching the bomb with minutes remaining. Leader, being a sore loser, had teleported himself, Rock and Redeemer away before manually exploding the bomb. The Leader had shield generators installed around the town, keeping the blast contained, and decimating what would become known as Gammatown.[10] There were only five survivors, who were rounded up by the military. Leader hijacked the vehicle containing them and took them to his under-ice town of Freehold.[11]

Sterns had been populating Freehold with radiation victims, both great and simple-minded alike, knowing that some form of total-annihilation was due to happen on Earth, by the various world governments sometime in the future. Freehold would survive and they would repopulate. Because of his generosity and kindness, the people loved him.

When Leader next surfaced, he had sent the U-Foes to break into the Pantheon headquarters at The Mount, seeking an audience with Agamemnon. They arranged an agreement that Pantheon would render aid to Freehold if and when it came under attack. He then approached Rick Jones with an offer to revive his dead girlfriend. The transfer of gamma radiation seemed to have bestowed an empathic link between the two, meaning Sterns also felt Rick's loss. He already had the body, all that was left was his consent. It was eventually given and Jones joined Leader, albeit reluctantly. When at Freehold, Jones found that Leader had restored General Ross to life and installed him as the new Redeemer. He began to doubt his decision to bring Marlo back to life if she would only be a vegetable like Ross was, but was placated by Leader who ensured him that he had perfected the process. One of those who did not die in the Gammatown incident, Jason McCall a priest, had the ability to bind the soul back with the resurrected body.

The Freehold came under attack when Hydra raided the facility seeking to take control of it. Hulk was sent by Agamemnon, both keeping his promise of aid and allowing Hulk to think he was breaking it by simply handing over the position of Freehold for Hulk to take revenge on Leader for the 5,000 killed in Gammatown. The experiment to bring Marlo back to life had been begun and Leader dispatched Jones to stop Hulk from destroying the process before it was completed. Leader had instruments logging everything Soul Man (Father McCall) did, believing that the man's powers could be duplicated to give himself immortality. However, Hulk burst in and destroyed the machine by throwing Leader into Soul Man and it. The Leader did not come out of the resultant explosion.[3]

During a time of great personal duress for the Hulk and Bruce Banner, who had begun to merge their personas, it became clear that Home Base, a secret organization who had relentlessly pursued the Hulk in order to obtain his genetic material, was secretly led by the Leader. In the end, after all his other agendas had failed, the Leader finally managed to mind-control the Hulk and guided him towards his secret base, with the intention of taking his indestructible body for himself. Because of intervention by Nadia Blonsky, Betty Ross, Doc Samson, and Iron Man, the plan failed and the Leader died again.[12] These events, bizarre and nebulous as they seemed, may or may not have taken place... they may be partly true, or entirely a construct by the extra-dimensional demon Nightmare in a bid to avenge himself on the Hulk.[13]

The Leader was captured by S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Hulkbusters, and brought to trial for his crimes. He was represented by Attorney Mallory Book from She-Hulk's firm Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway. During the trial, Ms. Book argued that the Leader was not responsible for his actions since the Gamma exposure forcibly changed his personality. To prove her point, Book compared She-Hulk to Jennifer Walters, revealing that Jennifer was much more promiscuous in her She-Hulk form. In the second day of the trial, Leader's humanoid droids arrived to rescue him. Instead of escaping, the Leader called off the attack, opting to see the trial to its conclusion, as he correctly predicted that his defense was going to win. He was found not guilty.[14]


Sterns resurfaced months later when the Hulk's Warbound escaped from S.H.I.E.L.D. in New York after World War Hulk. He erected a shield around Stoneridge and flooded it with gamma radiation. His head was larger and more misshapen, and he needed a device on his shoulders simply to stop his neck from being broken by its weight. The device emitting the shield was powered by Hiroim's Oldpower so it could only be destroyed by his death. The SHIELD agent with the Warbound discovered that the humans inside the dome would die if it was opened as the gamma radiation was the only thing keeping them alive. The Leader had set it all in motion to bring his body back to full strength after the stress of all of the transformations he had been through since his irradiation. In battle with the Warbound, the Leader was stabbed through the chest with an iron pipe. The Leader then absorbed the power of the dome, turning himself into a gray-skinned giant. Hiroim also absorbed the power, and battled the Leader, draining both of their powers. In death, Hiroim channeled his old power into Kate Waynesboro, who attacked the Leader, and forced him to teleport away.[15] Red Hulk drained his body of all radiation and he was no longer the Leader.[16]


Thunderbolts Vol 2 3 Textless

The Red Hulk gave Sterns a red gamma treatment to give him his powers back in order to use him as his intelligence agent.[17] He was later killed by the Punisher as soon as he discovered Ross tried to use him.[18] After he was shot, the Red Hulk took him to a pipe line that feed Gamma energy to the Madman's lab. He fed it to the Leader, bringing him back to life.[19][20] The Red Leader became a full-time member of Ross' Thunderbolts after these events.[21]. After the Punisher quit the team, the Leader, long looking for ways to kill the Thunderbolts and knowing Castle had counter measures to take each of them down, put a bomb in his safe house with a note "You don't quit us. You're fired," knowing he would survive, and he would think it was Ross who attempted to kill him, and would take the Thunderbolts down.[22] When the Punisher attacked the Thunderbolts, he shot Sterns from the distance,[23] but he was eventually revealed to be a LMD.[22]

Six months after the Thunderbolts disbanded, the Red Leader had built his own criminal empire in Kata Jaya. Living a life of luxury and trying to conquer the heart of the girl he was in love with, Sterns saw everything he had built be destroyed by his former partners and the Avengers. Betrayed by Caitlin (the girl he loved), Sterns was captured by them and put on a jail. The Punisher used the Ghost Rider's skull to put Sterns under permanent Penance Stare, but he was eventually freed from it by Mephisto, with whom he had made a deal when he went to Hell along with the Thunderbolts.[24] Enraged by the fact that Sterns had reneged their deal, Mephisto made him sign a new contract and led him to Hell.[25]

The Ωmega Hulk

As part of his measure to neutralize Gamma mutates across the world, the Hulk's new personality "Doc Green" pinned down the Red Leader, who through unknown means had escaped from Hell and started to dabble in the occult, and neutralized his Gamma-powered abilities. However, the Leader had been reached out previously by Gammon, an artificial intelligence duplicate of Doc Green, who had implemented a countermeasure against Doc Green's actions. As soon as he was depowered, Sterns slowly transformed back, but instead to his newer identity of the Red Leader, to that of the Leader. He and Gammon agreed to work together.[26]


  • Super-Genius Intelligence: The Leader has superhuman mental acumen. He possesses enhanced intuition, pattern solving, information storage and retrieval, and logical and philosophical structuring. The potential of his intelligence is nearly unlimited. It is assumed (in theory) he is capable of knowledge and comprehension above and beyond the normal human spectrum of thought. He is potentially capable of mastering every worldly subject and capable of adopting concepts completely foreign to his environment. His ability to predict probable outcomes of tactical and strategic scenarios is so advanced that it borders on clairvoyance. His intuition is heightened to the degree that his hunches are almost always correct. The Leader has a perfect memory with the ability to recall every moment since the accident that gave him his powers.[27]
  • Telepathy: In addition to his extraordinary intelligence, the Leader has some psionic powers that enable him to mentally control certain individuals (provided they are weak minded).
  • Telekinesis: Psychokinesis, among other telekinetic abilities.
  • Gamma Radiation Projection: After becoming the Red Leader, the Leader is able to project Gamma Radiation at will.[28] It has yet to be seen if he still possesses this power after becoming his original Leader persona.


The Leader possesses knowledge of genetics, physics, and robotics, and has designed a large number of sophisticated weapons, vehicles, computers, androids, and synthetic humanoids. He is particularly adept at genetic engineering and manipulating radiation for various nefarious purposes.

Strength level

Normal human male with minimal regular exercise.


Despite his limitless intelligence and supreme knowledge, his effectiveness is greatly hampered by his own arrogance, immaturity, and obsession with defeating the Hulk which constantly causes him to lose sight of necessary details and act prematurely, causing the ruin of his schemes. His egotism has led him to embark on mad, impractical schemes to turn the rest of humanity into green-skinned beings like himself.


The Leader has created devices with a variety of functions. He has developed a means to telepathically control the Hulk and the Rhino.


The Leader always has access to various highly advanced vehicles and death machines. One such conveyance, the Murder Module, was used to combat the Hulk during the Leader's brief command of Gamma Base.


An army of robotic Humanoids have been developed by the Leader, able to perform a variety of tasks. The Leader also utilizes a unique assortment of weaponry including laser pistols, pulse weapons, kinetic gauntlets, etc.

  • Early appearances of the Leader portrayed him with black hair, but later versions of the character revealed that his hair (before going bald) was actually a very dark green.

Recommended Readings

  • Incredible Hulk Vol 1
  • Comics:Tales to Astonish Vol 1

Discover and Discuss


  1. Incredible Hulk #221
  2. Incredible Hulk #608
  3. 3.0 3.1 Incredible Hulk #400
  4. Incredible Hulk #157
  5. OHOTMU Hulk 2004
  6. Tales to Astonish #63
  7. Tales to Astonish #62
  8. Incredible Hulk #124
  9. Incredible Hulk #343
  10. Incredible Hulk #345
  11. Incredible Hulk #346
  12. Incredible Hulk Vol 2 #75-76
  13. Incredible Hulk Vol 2 #81
  14. She-Hulk Vol 2 #18-19
  15. World War Hulk Aftersmash: Warbound #1-5
  16. Hulk Vol 2 #23
  17. Thunderbolts Vol 2 #2
  18. Thunderbolts Vol 2 #4
  19. Thunderbolts Vol 2 #5
  20. Thunderbolts Vol 2 #6
  21. Thunderbolts Vol 2 #7
  22. 22.0 22.1 Thunderbolts Vol 2 #31
  23. Thunderbolts Vol 2 #28
  24. Thunderbolts Vol 2 #20.NOW-#22
  25. Thunderbolts Vol 2 #32
  26. Hulk Vol 3 #13
  27. Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Vol 2 #7
  28. Thunderbolts Vol 2 #19
  29. FOTH: Alpha, one-shot

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