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In June 2008, a little over a month after Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Incredible Hulk was released in theaters. The movie has become a bit of a black sheep in the superhero franchise not only due to its events barely being referenced, but because it’s the only MCU introduction movie not to get a sequel due to Universal Pictures still holding the film distribution rights to The Hulk. As such, Bruce Banner has since appeared only in ensemble pieces and movies led by other characters, but Disney+’s upcoming She-Hulk series looks like it’ll finally allow for the MCU to explore the Hulk mythos more deeply.
On Thursday, it was finally confirmed that Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany will indeed be starring as She-Hulk herself, a.k.a. Jennifer Walters, and that Mark Ruffalo will show up as Bruce Banner/Hulk (who, as of Avengers: Endgame, have merged into one being). However, it was also revealed that Tim Roth will reprise Emil Blonsky, a.k.a. The Abomination, who Hulk narrowly defeated at the end of his one and only solo movie. While it’ll be nice to finally reunite with Abomination after all these years, there’s one other Hulk villain who deserves the spotlight in She-Hulk; someone we also already spent some time with over a decade ago. I’m, of course, talking about Samuel Sterns, known in the comics as The Leader.
Who Is The Leader?
Introduced in 1964’s Tales to Astonish #62, Samuel Sterns was once an ordinary man of average intelligence working at a chemical factory. One day, some radioactive materials Sterns was moving exploded, bombarding him with gamma radiation. However, rather than being turned into a super-strong being like Hulk, Sterns became super intelligent, as evidenced by his oversized cranium. It was later revealed that the reason Sterns’ brainpower improved came from his subconscious desire to be as smart as his brother Philip, who was a scientist and later became the villain Madman.
In addition to his super intelligence, Samuel Sterns also developed powers like telekinesis, telepathy and illusion-casting. Calling himself The Leader, Sterns embarked on a life of crime and created an army of super-strong plastic soldiers called Humanoids to carry out his bidding. It wasn’t long before he crossed paths with Hulk, and over the decades, he’s been cemented as one of the Green Goliath’s greatest adversaries. While there have been a handful of times that Leader has reverted back to his regular Samuel Sterns form, he inevitably goes back to being green-skinned and large-headed.
How Has Samuel Sterns Been Used In The MCU?
During The Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner was shown communicating with someone over the internet known as “Mr. Blue” about finding a cure for his… condition, to put it mildly. After going on the run and reuniting with Betty Ross, Banner tracked Mr. Blue to New York City, where it was revealed he was cellular biologist Samuel Sterns, played by Tim Blake Nelson. Sterns disclosed that he not only developed a possible antidote for Banner, but he also took the limited samples of Banner’s blood sent through the mail and synthesized even more, as he saw the blood as having other scientific applications.
Samuel Sterns successfully prevented Bruce Banner from turning into The Hulk during a test run, but while he and Banner were arguing about the numerous blood samples (Banner wanted them destroyed since he knew the military would weaponize them), General Thunderbolt Ross and his troops showed up to crash the party. This included Emil Blonsky, who’d already been injected with a variant of the Super Soldier Serum, but was still unable to defeat The Hulk. Desperate to be as powerful as his towering nemesis, Blonsky forced Sterns at gunpoint to transfuse him with Banner’s irradiated blood, which, in combination with the Serum, turned him into… an Abomination. As the monstrous Blonsky left Sterns’ laboratory to fight Hulk, he knocked the scientist aside, resulting in another sample of Banner’s blood dripping into Sterns’ open head wound. Our last shot of Sterns was him crazily grinning as his head began swelling.
Where Has Samuel Sterns Been All This Time?
Unlike Abomination, who was at least mentioned as being in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody in the One-Shot short film The Consultant, there’s been no on-screen reference of Samuel Sterns in the MCU following The Incredible Hulk. However, the comic book series The Avengers Prelude: Fury’s Big Week did show what happened to Sterns immediately after his accident. Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, hit the scene, and Sterns immediately started showing off his improved intellect, as he was able to determine which area of Russia Natasha was born in just by catching a faint hint of an accent. Before Sterns said anything else, Natasha shot him in the leg and brought him back to be studied by S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists.
Now obviously these MCU comic book tie-ins aren’t held to the same degree of canon as the movies and upcoming Disney+ shows themselves. So if Samuel Sterns were to return, his encounter with Black Widow could be ignored. Nevertheless, with the majority of Avengers: Endgame taking place in 2023, that means within this universe, approximately 13 years have passed since Sterns’ accident. He could have easily started causing trouble soon after, but there hasn’t been a peep from him. It would certainly make sense if S.H.I.E.L.D. had kept him in custody, although following the spy organization’s collapse in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (for the sake of argument, let’s assume the events in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. happen in another reality), it begs the question of who’s been keeping an eye on him since then. Or, if Sterns has been free this whole time, why has he kept quiet and not caused any trouble?
How Could The Leader Be Used In She-Hulk?
The MCU has accomplished a lot over the last 12 years, but the setup for The Leader is one of the few plot threads that never paid off. Since it doesn’t look like we’ll ever get The Incredible Hulk 2, Disney+’s She-Hulk series is the perfect opportunity to rectify that and finally deliver a fully-realized Leader, especially since Abomination is coming back. While no details about how Abomination factors into She-Hulk have been revealed yet, we can presumably count on him wreaking havoc. If a character that powerful were simply confined to a prison cell the whole time, that would be incredibly disappointing... no pun intended.
With Abomination serving as the muscle, The Leader can easily serve as She-Hulk’s brains, with him being the puppet master pulling strings from behind the scenes and, on top of being ridiculously smart, now has psionic powers and an armory of advanced technology at this disposal. We can finally learn what he’s been up to all these years, and while it would have been great to see him clash with the more primitive, standard Hulk, Leader is obviously smart enough to find a way to incapacitate Smart Hulk. This can pave the way for Jennifer Walters, Bruce Banner’s cousin, to use her newfound might to uncover Leader’s master plan and defeat him. However you feel about Leader as a character, there’s no debate that he’s a fitting villain to slot in as the ‘big bad.’
Rest assured, if it’s announced that Tim Blake Nelson will reprise Samuel Sterns in She-Hulk, we here at CinemaBlend will let you know. Keep your eyes locked here for more updates about the Disney+ series, and if you’re not already subscribed to the streaming service, you’re welcome to sign up using the following link.
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Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.