Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Leader, 2.0!

If there were ever occasion to commission a poll on which Marvel character could be named as the incredible Hulk's arch-enemy, there's little doubt that the most tallies* would register in favor of not the Abomination, or the Absorbing Man, or even "Thunderbolt" Ross, but an ordinary laborer who wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time--Samuel Sterns, the Leader, who, like the Hulk, gained his power through exposure to gamma rays but instead found his intelligence and mental abilities boosted to an incredible degree, a result which was all too obvious.

*Though the Hulk's vote would probably have been cast for Bruce Banner without much deliberation.

Like Dr. Doom, Egghead, or M.O.D.O.K., the Leader's appearance didn't really require any variation through the years, his vertically-oversized cranium and hue making him stand out in any rogues' gallery lineup (and certainly on any issue cover). Even in the smaller panels of the mid-1960s, the early rendering of the Leader's appearance by artist Steve Ditko made for a striking impression.

Still, if an artist were inclined to change the Leader's appearance, he or she would probably tackle the character's most recognizable feature--but how to tamper with and improve on such a classic look?

For the answer, we'll need to "head" into another

Marvel Trivia Question

In what way did the Leader's appearance change--and why?

The adjustment occurs in mid-1987, during the run of writer Peter David and artist Todd McFarlane on Incredible Hulk, with the circumstances as bizarre as you might expect:

  • The Hulk, now gray and whose mental acuity remains on the hostile side but is no longer restricted to rudimentary expression, wishes nothing more than the complete subjugation of Bruce Banner's influence;
  • There is a second Hulk on the loose, this time with Rick Jones being afflicted with the curse; and
  • Sterns, of all people, has reappeared and is shadowing Banner, hoping to--what?

When the Hulk destroys a piece of crucial equipment that Banner had meant to be used to retain his own mind upon his change to the brute, Sterns finds himself in the position of having to explain his presence to Banner's agitated alter-ego, who has recognized his old enemy despite his altered form.

Sterns' ill-considered threat of course falls on deaf ears, but he does present the Hulk with an offer too tempting to dismiss outright: In exchange for the Hulk's assistance, Sterns promises him that he'll help him be rid of Banner forever. And so the bargain is struck, with the Rick-Hulk figuring crucially into reverting Sterns to his gamma-enhanced self.

But when the Rick-Hulk is lured to the site, and the time comes to pull the switch, the result is much different than even the Leader expects.

Later, McFarlane debuts the new Leader, who appears revitalized and ready to attract a new fan base of readers heading into the 1990s.

Thanks to a side-effect to the process, as we've heard, the Leader could conceivably hit the club circuit should Rick be unavailable--which would be a guaranteed show-stopper, and probably the strangest thing to hit the stage since Tiny Tim.

You can't keep a classic cranium down--as we see when
the Leader much later becomes a member of the Intelligencia.


Jared said...

The Leader is one of the best character redesigns from the late 80s and 90s. I generally consider this the time that artists were practicing making Image Comics as the typical character was given huge muscles and drawn way out of proportion. McFarlane’s version of the Leader really worked.

Unknown said...

That first steve ditko appearance was chilling -- those creepy sunken eyes and he just looks unhealthy like a gamma addict. Of course the tall head looked ole school but the version 2.0 to me looked fittingly like a talosian big brain -- but it was ruined when a friend balked about its testicular appearance. He thought it was hi-larious and of course then I just couldnt un-see it every time...
Thankfully the tall head returned and strangely it just works well. - Logan

Comicsfan said...

You're right, demetrius, you can't really unring that bell. (Much as I would like to!)

Jared said...

Did the Leader ever go up against anyone other than Hulk or She Hulk? I wish he could have been more of an overall Marvel villain. I would love to have seen him in Fantastic Four or Avengers to see his intellect go against Reed Richards or Hank Pym.

Warren JB said...

Demetrious: for some reason Ditko's Leader reminds me of Gomez Addams from Charles Addams' original cartoons! Only Gomez' head was a little flattened, not elongated. Weird.

Anonymous said...

Despite his huge brain the Leader always got beaten so he was no smarter than any other villain :D