The Leader In Animation - A Retrospective
Part One -
Part Two -
A new Iron Man animated series started airing in 1994, paired with a new Fantastic Four animated series airing in syndication inside a block named The Marvel Action Hour. The stories were more or less faithful to the comics but the character designs and animations were pretty bad, making the first seasons of both these shows hard to sit through. The second seasons premiered in the fall of 1995, and just about everything about them was better than the first seasons. It was especially nice seeing characters that have been presented rather poorly in the first 13 episodes get some well deserved character development and actually become more interesting. The Leader (voiced by Matt Frewer) appears in one episode from the second season of the aforementioned Iron Man show, titled "Hulk Buster". In this story the Leader has found two of the Mandarin's rings (after they were scattered all around the world, following the events from the season two premiere - which is a story for another time), and now has the ability to open portals through time. His plan is to go back to the place and time where the Hulk was born, the testing of Banner's G-Bomb and change the course of history: he wishes to take the powers of the Hulk for himself. Here it's revealed that before becoming the Leader, Samuel Sterns was Banner's lab assistant.
Iron Man fights with Hulk for most of the episode, in various timelines trying to rescue Julia Carpenter (Spider-Woman) who fell through one of the time portals. The climax takes place on the day when Banner first became the Hulk, where the Leader tries to take him out and step into the G-Bomb's testing area to gain the incredible strength. He is however defeated by present-day Hulk (who arrived in the same place and time alongside Iron Man and Julia) who throws him back through the time portal. Iron Man tries altering history as well, wishing to save Banner so that he would never become Hulk in the first place - but is also stopped by present-day Hulk who realizes that if Iron Man succeeds, he would have never been born. In the end everyone returns safely to present day, except for the Leader who while it is mentioned he did escape, his whereabouts remain unknown.
Overall this was a pretty great adventure, and the Leader here was great - his design looked cool and pretty creepy as well (I think this is my favorite design for him).
In 1996 the Hulk received yet another new animated series, titled once again The Incredible Hulk, which originally aired on the television network UPN. Interestingly as opposed to the Iron Man series mentioned above, the first season of Hulk was great, while the second one turned out bad, thanks to changes to the story-lines and the inclusion of She-Hulk in every episode (and thus re-titling the show The Incredible Hulk and She-Hulk). The Leader (with Matt Frewer reprising the role) was the main villain of the show, and appeared in most of the episodes, usually coming up with schemes to take the Hulk's strength for himself. He was given a re-design from his guest-spot from the previous Marvel toon, which I thought looked decent enough but his red/orange costume looked pretty silly and didn't really look threatening enough. He also had a weird catchphrase, "So says the Leader", which got annoying at times.
The Leader is first seen in the series premiere, the two-part episode "The Return of the Beast". Here he sends the Abomination to capture Banner, before he completes his experiment to cure himself of the Hulk forever. Gargoyle was also one of the Leader's minions though it is revealed in this episode that he was only working for him because he thought the Leader will help him find a cure for his mutation, and make him look normal again - by the end of the story he realizes his boss has no intention of doing that so he steals all the data he can before leaving the Leader's lair and basically becoming a villain on his own. The episode also briefly shows the Leader's origin; apparently his origin was tied into the Hulk's - he was affected by Gamma radiations from the same blast that gave birth to Hulk, but whereas the Hulk gained brawn, he only gained brains. He believes the Hulk's strength is his by divine right so he spends most of the series trying to gain it. In the second part of the episode, he manages to capture Banner and places him inside a Gamma energy siphon, which will allow him to take what he desires. The machine malfunctions though and Hulk manages to escape from the Leader's base.
In "Innocent Blood", the Leader manages to obtain a sample of the Hulk's DNA (a Gamma irradiated strand of hair) with the help of one of his insect-shaped spy drones. He plans on using this item to create an army of mutants he will control. A premature prototype of his army is released in the episode "Fantastic Fortitude" - consisting of five or six Gamma warriors, but they are all defeated rather easily by the combined forces of Hulk, She-Hulk and Thing. The only one of his mutants that is given a name is Ogress, who also seems the most "intelligent" of them. The Leader claims that his next batch of warriors will be properly aged, and won't be defeated so easily.
The season one finale, the three-part story "Darkness and Light" saw Banner finally separated from the Hulk thanks to a nutrient bath Betty Ross and Doc Samson constructed. The Leader learns of this thanks to one of his Gamma warriors that infiltrated the base disguised as a soldier and sends his improved army to capture the Hulk's body so that he can finally transfer the creature's powers into his own body. Gargoyle is once again working for the Leader - he's the one who rebuilds the energy siphon destroyed in the series premiere. The experiment begins but due to difficulties it ends with the Leader's mind transferred into the Hulk's body. Considering himself the ultimate being, the Leader attacks the Gamma Base to prove what he is now capable of. However the Hulk's savage instincts start to take over the body and the Leader can't control himself anymore. The creature sees the Gamma reactor which he remembers hurt him, and tries to destroy it, but is stopped by Betty who manages to calm him long enough for the Leader to take back control over the body. Realizing he might loose control again, the Leader orders Gargoyle to undo the transfer. The experiment succeeds and Leader is back to normal, but the Hulk awakens and starts running amok inside the villain's lair, destroying everything he can find. Leader and Gargoyle manage to escape, and that's the last we see of them this season - they're not featured in the third part of the story. The episode ends with Banner once again merging with the Hulk, though this time transforming into the less savage, more intelligent Grey Hulk, and Rick Jones also becoming a Hulk after falling in the nutrient bath thanks to an insane General Ross.
Starting with the second season the show was re-titled The Incredible Hulk and She-Hulk, and the quality of the episodes dropped significantly. The season premiere, "A Hulk of a Different Color" works as a decent transition from the previous episode even though it rushes to find convenient conclusions to pretty much every storyline the first season started, so it can basically start anew, with pretty ridiculous plots. It's revealed that the energy siphon the Leader used in the season finale had a secondary effect on him, making him slowly loose his supreme intellect and eventually turning back into Samuel Sterns. Gargoyle takes over as leader for this episode and plans on capturing both the Grey Hulk and Rick to cure his former boss - but only if he agrees to help him find a cure for his own mutation afterwards. The Leader is now back to normal and tries to transfer his mind into the Grey Hulk's body, since he believes he could control it better as it's not that savage. Hulk is rescued by She-Hulk and the Leader's plan once again falls apart.
In "Down Memory Lane" She-Hulk returns home so she can attend her high-school reunion. Banner follows but is captured by the Leader's minions - Gargoyle (who has a crush on She-Hulk), Abomination and Ogress. The Leader plans on taking the Hulk's powers for himself once again (since it worked out so well the previous times...), and not very surprisingly fails once again. Overall, a pretty bad episode. But I thought his final appearance on the show, "Fashion Warriors" was worse. This time Leader and his troops attack a charity fashion show in Miami, planning to hold all guests there for ransom (since apparently they were broke). However they didn't count on She-Hulk being one of the models in the show, who alongside Betty and three more swimsuit models manage to thwart his plan. The last we see of the Leader and Gargoyle, their ship has crashed to the bottom of the ocean since they ran out of gas, with sharks surrounding them.
Looking back, I never really found this version of the Leader too interesting or menacing (not even during the first season). He was primarily a goofy villain whose plans always failed, some of which didn't really make a lot of sense in the first place.