The FAQ of the Leader

(Vroom, vroom.)

The history of the Leader from The Incredible Hulk #329 to #467, compiled and created by Jonathan Woodward.

The Leader, the Hulk, and all related characters are trademarks of Marvel Characters, Inc. No threat to trademarks or copyrights is intended.

Warning: Major spoilers for various Incredible Hulk plotlines throughout Peter David's run.
Note: I'm going to refer to the Leader (and some of his creations) in the present tense, even though he was dead at last report.

Who is the Leader?
The Leader is a Marvel Comics comic book character, introduced in Tales to Astonish #62-63. His most common role is as arch-foe to the Hulk.
Who is the Hulk?
Why are you reading this? Go here for Hulk 'fo.
Tell me more about the Leader.
His real name is Samuel Sterns. He is just under six feet, and of unremarkable build save for his overdeveloped skull. His skin is green.
What is his origin?
He was originally an ordinary laborer, moving various radioactive wastes for the US government when a container unexpectedly exploded, bathing Sterns in gamma radiation. Within days, he had gone from average (or possibly below-average) intelligence to being one of the most formidable intellects on Earth. He also acquired eidetic memory. A few weeks later, the physical half of his mutation kicked in, giving him a forehead measured in feet and an emerald complexion. He quickly set his new mind to the task of world domination.
Describe the recent career of the Leader.
I'm hazy on the details of the Leader's exploits between his origin and his re-introduction by record-setting Hulk author Peter David. Suffice to say that, some time prior to The Incredible Hulk #331 (May, 1987), the Leader had become de-powered and forced to resume his career as a manual laborer. In #331 (PAD's second Hulk issue, and the eighth issue since the return of the gray Hulk) Sterns finally managed to make contact with the gray Hulk, and talked him into helping him regain his intellect (#332). Together, they managed to siphon gamma energy from the temporarily-Hulkified Rick Jones into Sterns, who regained his abilities, along with a slightly different look, and some enhanced mental abilities including illusions, telepathic control, and possibly psychokinetic force-bolts. He promptly vanished (#333), and began laying plans. For starters, he stole the body of General "Thunderbolt" Ross, but we didn't see the logic behind that until #400 (5½ years later, real time), when he revealed... well, let me do this in order.
What was Gammatown?
It was the Leader's first major plot post-#333, involving the theft of one of the US government's secretly-stockpiled gamma bombs, and its subsequent detonation in the center of Middletown, Arizona, population 4,917. (PAD may have named it for the town in Edmond Hamilton's City at World's End, another city hit by an unusual bomb.) Along the way, he also kidnapped two of Bruce Banner's former allies (and transformed them into engines of destruction, see Rock and Redeemer, below), stole his wife, Betty, ran the Hulk through a dozen different hoops, and very very nearly succeeded in killing the Hulk.
What happened at Gammatown?
(#345) The Leader told the Hulk about the bomb, and said that it would go off at 10pm. The Hulk and his entourage raced to the town, and completely failed to convince the local authorities that there was any danger. While his friends were calling in SHIELD, the Hulk tracked down the bomb, and was promptly assaulted by Rock, Redeemer, and the enhanced Leader. They teleported away, leaving him badly wounded. He crawled to the bomb (which still had 2½ hours left on the timer) to deactivate it... and the Leader detonated it early, murdering 4,912 people and nearly killing the Hulk. (These events are collected in the Ground Zero trade paperback.)
How did the Hulk survive?
He was teleported away by some alternate-dimensional fantasy aliens. Long story.
Who are the Riot Squad?
The Riot Squad is the Leader's private superteam, composed of the gamma-enhanced survivors of Middletown, along with Rock and Redeemer II. In order:
Redeemer I
Craig Saunders, former member of the Hulkbusters. Converted to Redeemer I by the Leader in #343, died (more-or-less killed by the Hulk) in #345. Technically not part of the Riot Squad.
Samuel John LaRoquette, also a former Hulkbuster. Converted to Rock in #343, still active at last report.
Redeemer II
The late General "Thunderbolt" Ross, reanimated by the Leader sometime between #345 and #366, and not revealed as Ross until #400. Died again in #400, then returned again in #455 without the Redeemer persona.
Louis, teenage rebel. His exposure to the gamma bomb gave him the ability to fire energy bolts from his hands.
Jesse, also a teenage rebel. She gained the ability to project energy cages.
Diane, former lawyer. She became a near-mindless powerhouse.
Burt Horowitz, former encyclopedia salesman. He gained a heightened intellect and encyclopedic knowledge. (Sound familiar?) Presumed dead as of #442.
Soul Man
Father McCall, former priest. He gained the ability to channel the souls of the dead. Killed in #400.
Can't they get consistent coloring on the Riot Squad?
In a word, apparently not. In #346, they're all glowing green, with vari-colored greenish hair. In #366, Hotshot has white-green hair, Jailbait has black-green hair, Ogress also has black-green hair, and all three have pale green skin. In #367, Hotshot and Jailbait both have pale blond hair and pale green skin. In #397, Jailbait is back to black-green hair, and Hotshot's is now pale green. Ogress is unchanged. In #400 Jailbait varies from medium green to black-green hair, and Soul Man, Omnibus, and Ogress are pink-skinned. In #401 Omnibus and Ogress are green-skinned, and Jailbait and Hotshot seem to have stabilized at dark green and pale green hair, respectively. Ogress returns to pink skin by #439, but Omnibus continues to be green.
Late-breaking news: Per a conversation with Peter David, all the Riot Squad are supposed to be green, including Soul Man.
What did the Leader do next?
He created the town of Freehold beneath the Columbia Ice Fields of Alberta, Canada, and populated it with radiation victims. Though this is in general to their benefit (their lives are much prolonged under the Leader's care), it is suspected the Leader wanted to gather more data on the nature of gamma transformations. He also created the Headshop during this period. We did not find out about Freehold until #400.
What was Countdown?
In Hulk #364-367, Banner was poisoned by the Leader's insane brother Phil, a.k.a. Madman. The Leader arranged to save the Hulk's life, if he would kill Madman for him. The Leader was frightened of Madman, but couldn't bring himself to kill his own brother. The Hulk confronted Madman, and left him dying of the same poison. We later found that Madman survived.
What was Ghost of the Past?
In #397-400 the Leader coordinated an assault on the Mount (HQ of the Pantheon) by the U-Foes and the Riot Squad for the purposes of having a chat with Agamemnon. Why he didn't use the phone is beyond me. Aggy agreed to help defend Freehold against Hydra, and the Leader agreed not to kill anyone while his followers were tearing up the Mount. As you might expect, Aggy kept his promise for all of ten seconds before giving the location of Freehold to the Hulk, who promptly went there and started busting heads.
Meanwhile, the Leader confronted Rick Jones, who was grief-stricken over the recent death of his girlfriend, Marlo. Due to the gamma-siphon which restored the Leader, he shared an empathic bond with Rick, and he couldn't deal with the emotions he was getting. So, he arranged to bring Marlo back, by combining the reanimation process he used on General "Thunderbolt" Ross and the powers of Soul Man. The Hulk interrupted this process midway through, and in the resulting fracas Redeemer II, Soul Man, and (apparently) the Leader were killed. Marlo eventually made a full recovery. In the aftermath, Omnibus took over as head of Freehold, and began acting... peculiar.
What was Ghosts of the Future?
In #436-440 we learned that Omnibus had been taking control of important governemnt officials using what appeared to be the Leader's old telepathic control abilities... and at the end of #436, Omnibus looks in a mirror and sees the Leader's face, much to his surprise. Omnibus/Leader was orchestrating a global wave of terrorism, so that he could pick up the pieces after pushing the world to the brink of Armageddon.
Meanwhile, the Headshop broke the Hulk out of prison to get his help in exacting revenge upon the Leader. The Hulk was nearly killed when, in his Banner form, he threw himself on a grenade. After informing the Headshop that the Leader was dead, he went to Freehold to use the Leader's equipment to remove the grenade fragments from his body and brain. Omnibus/Leader stalled him, and the Hulk left to try and stop nuclear Armageddon. Omnibus/Leader started gloating over his ultimate triumph... when the Freeholders, led by Hotshot and Jailbait, burst in and put him on trial for his actions. He was found guilty, and they decided to abandon him in the Arctic. Just as they were about to push him out of the vehicle, he explained that it wasn't really him, it was the Leader. He then appeared to be taken over by the Leader's intellect, but there was no physical transformation, and no one believed him. At last report, Omnibus was about to be attacked by a hungry polar bear.
Who is the Headshop?
Former citizens of Freehold who were experimented on by the Leader. Thay apparently all have detachable heads, and a variety of superpowers, usually including enhanced strength. They are Frost, Largo, Deadhead, Headgear, Thunderhead, and Headmistress. They have a passionate hatred of the Leader.
So, was the Leader really in Omnibus' head?
Good question. Probably, I'd say. There's no proof the Leader actually changed Omnibus' physical appearance when he took control of his body.
Is the Leader really dead?
According to whom? Ghosts of the Future was Peter David's last word on the subject. It's hard to say whether he intended to bring the Leader back; the future Rick Jones in #467 made no mention of the Leader playing a part in the Hulk's future. I'm sure some writer will bring him back eventually.
Was the Leader really the Hulk's greatest enemy?
No. The Hulk is his own worst enemy. The green Hulk hates the gray Hulk, the gray Hulk hates Banner, Banner hates the savage Hulk, and they all hate and fear the Maestro, who is their smartest, strongest, and evilest incarnation. If Bruce had to choose between the Leader and the Maestro to rule the world, he'd pick the Leader seven days a week and twice on Sunday.
So the Leader has his good points?
Yup. He refused to kill his own brother, for example. Freehold (motivations notwithstanding) is a good place for its inhabitants. He's not exceptionally cruel, though he's ruthless to the nth degree. And he's actually been known to do things that were apparently altruistic or close to it. Of course, he may have his reasons.
Are you going to continue to update this document?
I stopped reading Hulk when PAD stopped writing it. I may add more details from before his twelve-year tenure, but I won't be aware of any recent news.
Why does it say "vroom, vroom" at the top of this document?
If I explain it to ya, you won't learn nothin'.


Jonathan Woodward,

All original content is copyright Jonathan Woodward. Legal minutiae here.