The Leader: 7 Things To Know About The Marvel Villain Before Captain America 4

Tim Blake Nelson in The Incredible Hulk
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

If you’ve been following the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a short time, the name ‘The Leader’ might not mean that much to you at this point. In your eyes, I’m sure you’ve thought there were tons of leaders in the MCU, but we’re not talking about team leaders – no, we are talking about The Leader. As in the supervillain, The Leader, who was announced to be coming back in Captain America: New World Order. 

But, who exactly is The Leader? And why are comic book fans everywhere making a big deal out of this? For all of your questions, here are seven things you should know about The Leader before his real big-screen debut in Captain America: 4.

Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns in The Incredible Hulk.

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The MCU’s Leader First Appeared In The Incredible Hulk

The major announcement that came out was that Tim Blake Nelson would be reprising his role in the MCU to play The Leader, who was last seen in the 2008 film, The Incredible Hulk. However, he wasn’t necessarily The Leader just yet. 

In that film, he was still just Samuel Sterns, a cellular biologist who was working on an antidote for Bruce’s condition, but at the end of the film, he was exposed to a substance and started his transformation into The Leader. 

I can honestly understand why people wouldn’t know exactly who this man is, considering there are so many things that separate the 2008 The Incredible Hulk from the rest of the MCU – namely that Edward Norton portrays Hulk and not Mark Ruffalo, who has been portraying the character since The Avengers. But it’s still exciting to see that The Leader is going to be back in full force, after being absent for so long.

The Leader in Marvel Comics.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Even Though The Leader Is Facing Captain America, He’s Hulk’s Arch-Nemesis In The Comics

I have to say, though, it is surprising that The Leader is going to be making a real big-screen debut as an antagonist in Captain America 4, because he’s not necessarily known to be Captain America’s enemy – he’s mainly Hulk’s archnemsis in the comics. 

To be honest, I’m genuinely shocked that they didn’t have some sort of callback or hint to his return in the Disney+ series, She-Hulk, which featured not only one but two Hulks and could have been a nice tie-in to his next appearance. But, maybe we’ll get to see The Leader and Hulk interact in some other movie down the line. In the comics, The Leader doesn’t even really care about Bruce – rather, he's just obsessed with Hulk, and wants to bring suffering to that part of Bruce. 

The Leader in Marvel Comics.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Leader Is An Incredible Genius

I feel like at this point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is known to have pretty smart characters, from Robert Downey Jr’s version of Tony Stark to Peter Parker to obviously Bruce Banner, but The Leader is on another level of intelligence in the comics. There, when he is exposed to gamma radiation, his skin not only turns green, but his head grows. 

What happens when your head grows in comics? Your brain grows, too – and The Leader’s grew a ton. It’s really one of his defining features, because in nearly every illustration you see of him, he’s featured with a giant head and green skin. Because of this high intelligence, the Leader is able to come up with some of the most dangerous weapons that can truly help take over the world. 

The Below-Place in Marvel Comics.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

He’s Sort Of Obsessed With The Afterlife

I mean, aren’t we all? The Leader, honest to God, has a good reason to be obsessed with the afterlife, because in the comics he has been killed and resurrected God knows how many times. 

Instead of just making a joke out of it like Deadpool would probably do or, ya know, going to therapy, this man has become so obsessed with the afterlife that he will literally do anything to discover more about it – and talk to strange entities that he really shouldn’t be because of his curiosity. 

Brian Banner and the Hulk in Marvel Comics.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

But Because Of This, He Actually Met Bruce Banner’s Father

However, with this obsession that The Leader has with the afterlife, he’s actually been to Hell and back in Marvel Comics, and uses that to his advantage to find Bruce Banner’s father, Brian. 

For those who don’t know, Bruce Banner in the comics has been through a ton (as has the MCU version), and a big reason why that happened was because of his father, who was incredibly abusive – and, spoiler alert, killed Bruce’s mother, so yeah, he’s not the best guy to be around. 

However, The Leader finds him skulking around in the afterlife in the lowest pits of hell, and finds it easy to manipulate Brian’s soul and gain access to all of his memories, further getting more info to torment Bruce, and learn more about the Green Door, a pathway that connects the Below-Place (where Brian is) and the rest of the multiverse. 

Red Hulk in Marvel Comics.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Leader Was A Big Part Of Creating Red Hulk

If you’ve ever heard of the Red Hulk, there’s a reason why, because he’s like the Hulk, only red, and pretty dang powerful. You want to know who helped created it? The Leader, because of course. 

As part of Intelligencia, a villain group that is literally made of the smartest supervillains in Marvel, he and the rest of the members were able to create Red Hulk by using a serum they made on Thaddeus Ross – who was just re-cast with Harrison Ford for Captain America 4, so could we be seeing Red Hulk in this movie? I’m even more excited now and the theories are flying. 

The Leader as Red Leader in Marvel Comics.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

He Has History With The Thunderbolts...As Red Leader

Last but not least, we need to talk about the Thunderbolts, and how The Leader actually has ties to them as Red Leader. He became a part of it after he was killed and brought back to life, turning him red now, and becoming a full-time member of the villain team.

For those who don’t know, Thunderbolts is an MCU movie that is in production, and already announced a good amount of its cast, but who knows? We might end up getting more as time goes on – and Red Leader could end up being a part of that, but let’s get past Captain America 4 first. 

What are you the most excited for when it comes to The Leader? All I can say is that I hope Captain America 4 gets here quicker than ever because I’m going to freak out once I see him again, especially for the stories we could get in the future. 

Alexandra Ramos
Content Producer

Big nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. Will forever hate season eight. Superhero and horror geek. And please don't debate me on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!