Mariko Tamaki discusses the return of The Leader!

The Leader has come for Jen Walters again. And this time, he’s conscripted her biggest fan in the fight.

On December 13, writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Jahnoy Lindsay present SHE-HULK #160! Jen has barely started to deal with the trauma still lingering after Civil War II and now she finds even more difficulty coming her way. Trapped between the two most Hulk-obsessed people on the planet, Jen has to ask: what do they want from her?

Mariko stopped by to give us a couple of clues! At the start of this series, we found Jen dealing with some serious stress. How has she been progressing through that emotional journey?

Mariko Tamaki: It’s been a messed up couple of months for Jennifer Walters.

After she lost her cousin, Jen has really struggled to deal with the trauma of that and her own experiences with Thanos.

Post-Civil War II, she’s been working at a new law firm where she’s tried to focus on other people’s problems instead of her own. But you can’t treat trauma like a headache, like “Well, this sucks but it will go away.” It won’t go away! The more you avoid a thing like trauma, the more it shows up in your life. Jen wants to treat her pain like a cramp and shake it off and just focus on other people’s monsters. But no matter what she does, her monster stands there waiting all the time and it’s constantly messing with her. And so the grey state comes in.

Mariko Tamaki: Yeah, the grey state acts like a heightened version of Jen’s previous green state. Everything about grey Hulk seems bigger and angrier. And being grey kind of makes it hard to connect to Jen.

Being grey is basically like rage. Pure. Rage. Tell us a little bit about The Leader and his history with The Hulk.

Mariko Tamaki: The Leader is a brain (a very big brain, thanks to gamma radiation) and a schemer. He’s a tactician. The same way gamma radiation made Hulk and She-Hulk’s rage and anger larger than life, the Leader’s ambition, ego, and desire for domination and power, are also larger than life.

Of course, the problem with big plans tends to be that they always get foiled, and the Hulk has been a foil for The Leader time and time again. So the plans get a little more evil and a little more intricate every time… What makes him so obsessed with Jen!?

Mariko Tamaki: Aside from the ongoing backstory of Leader vs. Hulk, to paraphrase “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Jinkx Monsoon, I think there might be two reasons you go after a person: you go after the person who’s good at the things you’re not good at, and you go after someone who’s good at the things you are good at.

I think for The Leader, She-Hulk seems kind of a double threat in that regard. She’s smart and strong. Also, I think at some point you pick the person you want to destroy and, once you’ve committed to that, you just have to follow through. Professor Robyn Meiser Malt shows up in this arc as well! What inspires her in this story?

Mariko Tamaki: Robyn, a scientist working with The Leader, is a huge, huge fan of She-Hulk. Robyn acts as my investigation of a kind of fan. What happens when you put someone up in a place beyond being admired? What singular thing does the object of your desire become and how does that connect to your own vision of self?

Now, at the start of issue #159, she works with The Leader. Jen gets drugged and restrained in a bunker with this woman who sees Hulk as an answer—kind of the exact opposite of how Jen sees herself. Robyn has turned Jen into this fairytale, a story that (with some help) has filled up her whole brain with this singular vision…a very dangerous singular vision. If you could give Jen one piece of advice, what would it be?

Mariko Tamaki: You need to ask for advice…and I don’t think Jen would ask for advice. Fortunately, I do think Jen might be on the cusp of leaning into, instead of avoiding, her pain. I think the more you explore it, the more you understand it. But that’s just me.

Pick up Mariko Tamaki and artist Jahnoy Lindsay’s SHE-HULK #160 on December 13!

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Leader and Hulk continue the longstanding argument about the superiority of intellect & strength!

Every Friday we use the powers of Marvel Unlimited to look back at the very first appearance of a major character, place or object that made waves this week.

Great villains often show the darker potential of the heroes they face off against on a regular basis. In the case of The Leader – who reappeared in this week’s SHE-HULK #159 – he represented the brain side while Hulk clearly leaned towards brawn.

With his return, it’s a great time to look back at this character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and his rise to power starting in 1964! The man simply known as The Leader debuted in TALES TO ASTONISH #62 as a masked figure sending The Chameleon to the base that Bruce Banner worked at to steal his military secrets. 

Tales to Astonish (1959) #62

Tales to Astonish (1959) #62

  • Published: December 10, 1964
  • Added to Marvel Unlimited: November 13, 2007
  • Penciller: Steve Ditko
  • Cover Artist: Jack Kirby
What is Marvel Unlimited?

In the following issue, we learned not only that this man sported an enlarged head but also green skin! He also very helpfully revealed his origin! A simple laborer at a chemical research plant happened to pass a Gamma Ray Cylinder as it exploded. Though seemingly unhurt at first, the man gained an intense thirst for knowledge and an uncanny ability to retain what he read. More shockingly, though, he eventually developed a larger cranium and his skin turned an emerald color!

At first, The Leader didn’t even know about the Hulk, but wanted Banner’s secrets. However, when he sent a Humanoid to do his bidding, the Hulk popped up to defeat it. During this time, Banner did his best to keep his double life as the Hulk a secret from his boss, General Thunderbolt Ross.

Enthralled by the appearance of a fellow green-skinned human with abilities far beyond mortal men, The Leader intended to partner up with the Hulk at first, or else destroy him!

Though The Leader would attempt to use even more Humanoids to steal the secrets and grab the Hulk, he didn’t take into account the fact that Hulk would turn into Banner if he got too agitated. After that happened without the Leader seeing, Banner made a break for it, turned back into the Hulk and wound up swimming far out into the ocean where a Russian sub picked him up.

The Leader worked with the Russians at that time, but decided to sit back and wait until Banner and Hulk broke back through the Iron Curtain. That happened in TALES TO ASTONISH #68 – now drawn by Jack Kirby – wherein Leader attempted to steal Banner’s Absorbatron with the help of cell-sized Humanoids that could grow to much larger sizes.  

Tales to Astonish (1959) #68

Tales to Astonish (1959) #68

What is Marvel Unlimited?

The two gamma-powered individuals finally met face-to-face in #69 when the Humanoids brought a knocked-out Hulk to the Leader’s lab. Upon finally waking up, the Hulk destroyed Leader’s lab. Not long after, Hulk seemed to actually consider the Leader’s offer of partnering up and they did after a fashion as Leader sent Hulk to get the Ultimate Machine from the Watcher. The Jade Giant succeeded, but the immense amount of galactic knowledge absorbed by The Leader seemed to kill him! 

Tales to Astonish (1959) #69

Tales to Astonish (1959) #69

What is Marvel Unlimited?

Of course, good villains never stay dead and the big brain returned to hassle Hulk and other heroes on more than one occasion. Considered one of Hulk’s main villains, Leader – now also known as Samuel Sterns – made the jump to other media ranging from cartoons and video games to the big screen!

Flash Forward

Curious about how The Leader recovered from his apparent brain drain? Well, readers found out for themselves in the pages of INCREDIBLE HULK #115. In that issue by Stan Lee and Herb Trimpe, Leader said that he’d taken precautions before using the Ultimate Machine. He’d set it up so that, if his heart stopped beating, a specially-designed Humanoid would use a Revivor Beam to bring him back! He then spent his time planning his revenge on his nemesis!

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Mariko Tamaki fills us in on what Legacy has in store for Jen Walters!

The Leader is back on the scene to wreak havoc (it’s kind of his thing), but this time the big-headed ne’er-do-well strikes our hero when She-Hulk is at her weakest. Dealing with her new grey state has been challenging enough for Jen to face as it is, but what will happen when she is forced to face herself… literally?

SHE-HULK #159 by writer Mariko Tamaki with art by Jahnoy Lindsay presents their Legacy offering — JEN WALTERS MUST DIE: PART 1! Catch it on November 8th at a comic store near you.

We grill Mariko Tamaki on SHE-HULK Legacy and her strongest foe yet: herself. How has Jen Walters been holding up lately? Walk us through her state of mind, personally and professionally.

Mariko Tamaki: Professionally, Jen is good. Great, even! Work is busy because she’s got a full case load. Personally? Yeah, she’s burying everything under that workload. She’s still in a place where she’s not the Jen/Hulk she wants to be, but she’s determined to power through because she thinks it will be possible to deal with all the things she’s dealing with BY powering through… she is, of course, not entirely correct.

SHE-HULK #159 Jen does so much to help save other people, but why is it so much harder for her to save herself (from herself)?

Mariko Tamaki: I think dealing with your own stuff is a whole other skill set. It’s like knowing how to explain how to play baseball and knowing how to play baseball. It’s a whole extra bit of uncomfortable work! And delving into that pain and discomfort is something Jen is afraid will undo her, so she’s mostly avoiding it. Helping people feels good, so she’s focusing on that. What has it been like working with a new series artist (the wonderful Jahnoy Lindsay)?

Mariko Tamaki: I have been incredibly lucky to work with so many amazing artists on this series. I love working with Jahnoy! Jen recently opted back to the title “She-Hulk.” Is she a little torn on whether it’s right to take on Bruce’s title of “Hulk” in light of his tragic passing

Mariko Tamaki: I don’t think Jen is concerned with being called Hulk or She-Hulk. Jen is very busy and also, most importantly, Jen knows who she is. She is Hulk and she is She-Hulk! What does the Marvel Legacy mean to you personally as a reader of and a writer for the brand?

Mariko Tamaki: To me it means going big, bringing something somewhat colossal to the story. The Leader is the perfect person to bring in now. He’s so striking and evil.  I love writing him. With the Leader, we wanted to go big with the villain in this issue, to connect a novel foe with Jen’s current mental state. How does Jen feel about her grey form? What does she like and dislike about that new development?

Mariko Tamaki: Being grey Hulk is still sort of out-of-body for Jen, literally. It’s a powerful but still unfamiliar feeling. Also it’s connected to trauma, to being in pain, and that’s not an easy thing. It’s not a form she completely trusts, at this point, and for good reason… as we shall see.

Charge over to a comic store near you on November 8th for SHE-HULK #159 by Mariko Tamaki and Jahnoy Lindsay, everywhere Marvel comics are sold!

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